Log in

25 November 2015 @ 04:45 am
Yes, I am leaving on a jet plane today, heading home to BH and Scout. Tomorrow we will gather for Thanksgiving with family and friends (and mimosas). I have been on the road for 2 weeks in a row. I have one suitcase filled with dirty clothes, another one with books and audio collected from NCTE and ALAN, and the "spare" bag that contains the mementos I am taking home. It is very light. Here are the contents:

1. The program from the National Book Award ceremony
2. The wrist corsage I received as a judge for the NBA ceremony
3. The ALAN Workshop program
4. Emergency books in case flights are delayed
5. Power cord for the computer

But the real unpacking I will do is not physical. I will be sorting through my notes, physical and mental, from these past two weeks. There is so much there to ponder. One of the reasons I love being active in this profession is that I get the chance to learn more and more about what I love: books and reading and kids.

And so I head home today, suitcases filled with things. But mind stuffed with ideas, plans, and so much more.
Current Location: Minneapolis
Current Mood: happy tired
24 November 2015 @ 08:36 am
Or as Yogi would have said, "It ain't over till it's over." Today is Day 2 of the ALAN Workshop in Minneapolis. Even though I have been on the road since November 12, and I am more than ready to be home with this guy

I still am excited about sitting and listening to authors and educators. This morning open with Laurie Halse Anderson and Sharon Draper in conversation. Seriously? Why would I be anywhere else? Over this 2 days, I will have heard dozens of authors, received dozens of free books, and networked with colleagues. And I have had the chance to talk to others who are as passionate about YA as I am.

So, as all of you prepare to give thanks with family and friends, remember to lift up some thanks to the talented folks who work to bring the joy and love of reading to you and to your kids.
Current Location: Minneapolis
Current Mood: thankfulthankful
23 November 2015 @ 10:00 am
So, this is the first day of the ALAN Workshop. There are so many books that folks will be staggering to the UPS place to mail back books which would send their luggage over the limit. This is the polar opposite of the bad behavior going on in the Exhibit Hall during NCTE. Today, folks are stockage books in front of them and drooling over the embarrassment of riches.

There are tables stacked with additional books to give away from time to time. Here is Laura Renzi guarding them with her life. No one is stopping them up. Folks are waiting. Patiently.

And then there is the Exchange Table. Melanie Hundley and Marshall George are helping folks leave a book and select a different title.

Register for the ALAN Workshop. Join in the embarrassment of riches. Be a book junkie. See you next year in Atlanta, perhaps.
Current Location: Minneapolis
Current Mood: happyhappy
22 November 2015 @ 08:52 am
Okay, I blog this at least once a year, but it bears repeating. I am embarrassed beyond belief at the chutzpah of some attendees at the National Council of Teachers of English who wheeled huge suitcases and carts into the Exhibit Hall. They swooped up multiple copies of ARCS and loaded them into their carts. Their rationale:

1. They are free.
2. I need books for kids.
3. I cannot buy them on my own.
4. My school does not have funds for buying books.
5. ALL of the above.

Here is my response.

They are not free. Folks, these books all cost money. Publishers are kind enough to provide them to us free of charge. The purpose of these books is for PR, to get books purchased and onto shelves and into hands. If you school has $$$ for test prep, they need to use some of that $$$ for books, for libraries, for librarians. The research confirms that books and access to books can impact test scores and, more importantly, improve attitude toward books and reading. As for purchasing books out of your own pocket. I do. I always have. It is sad. But I also sought funding. I applied for and received grants from my state professional organizations, from ALAN, even from my university. With a small amount of $$$, I purchased books and audio and more.

Bottom line:

If your students acted as you did by taking ore than 1 book or waiting until someone turned attention elsewhere so they could take everything, how would YOU react? I know how I would as a teacher. I hold myself to standards. I wish all educators would do the same.
Current Location: Minneapolis
Current Mood: unhappy
21 November 2015 @ 04:07 pm
Paul W. Hankins has called this a micro blog. Not sure I would agree most of the time. I say what I have planned to say and then bring it to an end for the day. Since I do write daily, I like to keep it short and sweet and to the point. I doubt even the most ardent fans of the blog would want to read pages each and every day. All this preamble is to say that today's post will be micro.

I have been at the Minneapolis Convention Center since 6 am. I will not leave until 6 pm to join colleagues for dinner. It is NCTE time, and today included the ALAN Breakfast, two presentations, and some time in the ALAN booth.

And I just want to say that the ALAN Breakfast was an incredibly moving experience for me. I saw lots of folks I see only once a year. Hugs, grins, good natured ribbing about the blue hair. And then the awards were give. cj Bott received the Hipple Award for her service to ALAN. Her husband, Don Gallo was the first recipient. This dynamic duo has done so much for YA literature. Next, Lois Lowry received the ALAN Award for lifetime contribution to literature for YA readers. And finally, Chris Crutcher delivered the breakfast speech that left us all in tears. He basically told us all how we save lives, save kids. With that message still reverberating in my ears, I headed out to the other sessions of the day.


Important words to remember.
Current Location: Minneapolis
Current Mood: ecstaticecstatic
20 November 2015 @ 05:02 pm
Yes, I am flogging that dead horse. The annual report from Reading Renaissance lists the books that hundreds of thousands of kids have read. AS PART OF THE AR PROGRAM, I am quick to add. I find the lists interesting. So here are some highlights. But remember, these lists are from one program.

1. At 3rd grade, 9 of the top 25 titles are from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
2. At 4th grade, the top 10 out of 25 titles are Diary of a Wimpy Kid series books.
3. Grade 5, top 9 of 25 titles are (you guessed it) Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
4. Grade 6 includes 9 Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and DIVERGENT.
5. Grade 7 has those same 9 Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles plus FIOS and The Lightning Thief.
6. Grade 8 has only 3 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid titles and THE TELL TALE HEART.
7. High school lists are about 30-40% classic titles plus a couple of Nicolas Sparks' books.

So, what do we make of this? Some further observations:

a. It is interesting to see Dairy of a Wimpy Kid cross grades 3-8 for a couple of reasons. One has to do with reading levels. Normally, kids are not permitted to read books well below their grade level. And no one can take a test on a book they have already read. So...

b. Why are kids reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS in 6th grade? Yep, reading level is 5.5. DIVERGENT, on the other hand, is 4.8. So I am still a bit puzzled.

c. THE TELL TALE HEART is not a book but apparently it counts. There are a few more short stories in upper high school lists.

And a final observation: the only NF included in the charts are articles from the AR program. Few NF titles appear on the lists of the top 25. I think of all the wonderful NF out there and wonder why it did to make the top 25 lists? Is it not being promoted, discussed, recommended, purchased?

And I guess my final thought has to do with those individual classes and classrooms. It is fine to know what some kids are reading. But what are the needs and interests of your kids and your classes?
Current Location: NYC-Minneapolis
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
19 November 2015 @ 09:27 am
Heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota, today for the NCTE conference. Why would someone willingly go from balmy NY weather to sub-freezing weather? Because NCTE affords me the chance to develop professional skills and knowledge. Because I will have the chance for some FTF time with colleagues and friends. Because I will see loads of new books. Because, because, because.

For about 40 years, this has been my go-to conference. I come home exhausted but so much the richer for the time spent learning and laughing and listening. Look for tweets and Facebook posts from the conference using the #ncte15 hashtag. I know Karin Perry and Donalyn Miller and loads of others will be posting as much of the "nuggets" as we can. I have 3 back up power boosters hoping my phone and computer will have sufficient power to carry me through each day.

And if you are there, track me down (a good place to look is in the NCTE app to see my schedule, but I will also be found in the Exhibit Hall near books, of course). Hope to see many of you there.
Current Location: NY-MN
Current Mood: anticipatory
18 November 2015 @ 01:54 pm
Reading Renaissance has issued its annual report on reading. Forget that this is basically an ad for their canned approach to books and reading. It gets lots of press, and held spread a great deal of pseudo-research under the umbrella of its company's products. Here is a link to some of the nig=fty charts: https://www.learnalytics.com/wkar/.

The first one is a variation of one I have seen for about 25 years. It has to do with the relationship between amount of time read and vocabulary acquired. But be careful here: these are not all unique words being read.

The second chart is so confusing. However, I do want to point out that the average bestseller, fiction or nonfiction, for adults will not net out to 9th and 10th grade levels. As for articles in USA Today, I do want to see those articles at 10th and 11th grade. I want to see how this was determined. There is a great deal of data here, but the sourcing of that data is not provided. Finally, the final "column" of this chart indicate it is what adults read. Again, sort of nebulous here. Since the latest report indicates the average American adult reads fewer than 2 books per year, I fail to see how levels and lexiles even matter.

The third chart indicates that, with more practice, scores rise. I am not sure how this is closing the achievement gap, but the basic facts are random and not really interrelated. Does more time spent mean higher rates of comprehension? How does this happen?

Finally, all of this data comes from the program. I would dearly love to see some stats outside of a company's product. Fancy charts are lovely, but give me insight into how this helps each and every kid in my classroom, please. Generalized statements about the efficacy of AR and other programmed approaches to "teaching" reading make for great headlines. I doubt they make for lifelong readers.

As a matter of fact, let's go back to that stat about how little adults read. I wonder if those disaffected, disinterest adults might just be products of programmed reading approaches, approaches that killed any bit of enjoyment for reading. Of course, I do not have the data to back me up, but why should that stop me, right?
Current Location: NYC
Current Mood: miffed
17 November 2015 @ 01:29 pm
The company that owns Accelerated Reader is once again making broad claims. Some of these claims might just gut classroom practices already threatened by testing, standards, and other demands on class time. I am going to attempt to discuss this rationally, but I do know my blood pressure is already soaring and my fingers are searching for short, inappropriate words. Here is the link to the article which was part of one of the "Smart Briefs" (and how I detest the name of this newsletter).


Could we all just agree that if we accept the claim that a simple 4.7 minutes is sufficient to move kids from the lowest quarter of reading scores for their grade level to the "top half" of the grade? First, let's begin with some basics. How were the students scores measured? I suspect it was with the assessment AR uses. That is a flaw in the first place. And if the same assessment is the post-measurement, there is a second flaw. Batting around percentages also bothers me. At the end of the "study" (and trust me when I assert this is not a study but simply number-crunching, data-mining at its worst). Did the students move from 25% to 50% or are we talking percentiles and not percentages? Hard to tell from this article.

Student at the top read only 19 minutes a day; at the bottom (or what they designate the bottom), the amount of time reading using the software was 14.3 minutes. I have questions: why were some kids given more time to read than others? why were the lower scoring kids not given more time? what are they reading online? is any reading outside of online considered? was there a control group? I could go on, but I think there are some wide gaping holes here that need to be filled in before anyone proclaims that 4.3 minutes is key to getting scores higher. And that is the claim as it is presented.

So what happens when folks swallow this piece of misinformation? You got it. More programmed reading online. Less time for reading for pleasure or simply just time for reading period. Get the program; dedicate 4.3 minutes, and VOILA!

The article goes on to throw in factors such as vocabulary growth and comprehension to really muddy the waters which were already pretty murky. We have all seen the chart showing how 20 minutes a day increases vocabulary and test scores. Somehow, those extra 4.3 minutes amounted to hundreds of thousands of words and better comprehension. Of course that is because the magical AR program makes sure kids are reading the right books. Of course, the article also claims that AR lets kids select their own books (they don't), and kids were seeking harder books on their own (maybe, maybe not).

There are other things that trouble me here: references to immigrants, a side note indicting that maybe some teachers helped out here. But this is exactly what happens when a powerful company publishes "research" citing millions f kids and their data. For now I will head to the actual report mentioned in the article so I can finally know the answer to the question: what are their favorite books? It is something that brings me much amusement each year. For now, I think I will spend at least 4.3 minutes reading a real book of my choice.
Current Location: NYC
Current Mood: hacked off
16 November 2015 @ 03:28 pm
Old English teachers never die. Well, we do eventually die. But the English teacher in me, at least, is alive and well. I still cringe when I see plurals being made with apostrophes. I correct the grammar of journalists (prepositional phrases using objective case pronouns, guys).

And I am appalled by the lack of understanding of a literary theme, even among graduate students. Ask them for a possible theme in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and you might just get something like "adventure," or "love." Even after I explain that a literary theme can be expressed in a complete sentence, there still seems to be some notion that theme and main idea are one and the same.

So, when someone whose work I admire, boils a book such as A FINE DESSERT down to a book "about slavery," I am puzzled. I think in this case it is not a matter of not knowing a literary theme should be expressed as a complete sentence. I think in this case, it is a slam against the book that has already caused so much uproar. I am pleased to see the rational and reasoned discussion about the book. But ration and reason is gone when a picture book depicting how a fine dessert is prepared and served over 4 centuries is said to be simply a book about slavery. It is not a book about slavery, folks.

The call for better books about slavery also pains me to a degree though I understand the genesis of the call. What I would hope is that instead there is a call for more diverse books. And that perhaps some of those books have diverse characters simply because the world of the book is diverse. And that perhaps books with African Americans are not always about enslavement.

We have a long way to go. The latest available statistics about diversity in books is not cheering in the least. So, when I tour the book exhibits at NCTE, I will be looking for more diversity in books. I will be purchasing more diverse books if they are available. I hope others do the same. I also hope others will hesitate when it comes to educing what a book is "about." As Chris Crutcher is fond of saying, "The OLD MAN AND THE SEA is not about fishing."
Current Location: NYC
Current Mood: irrational