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01 February 2015 @ 07:04 am
Readers of this blog are familiar with my Bengal cat, Scout. When I include a photo of Scout here or on Twitter or Facebook, readership increases. That is not why he makes a guest appearance here today, though.


I was playing with Scout the other morning. One of his favorite games involves a wadded up Post-It Note (there are always some around as I leave notes for myself most every day). He loves to play catch, and is quite good at it. He can catch the "ball" between his front paws. He also likes to bat it. He waits for me to toss the ball. He crouches down so he can spring up and catch or flick it in mid-air. After the game, he comes to me for some more attention and dances as I pet him. He will sit on front of the drawer where I keep his treats and look at me and the drawer. He has even learned how to open the drawer, pick up the treat dish and drop it at my feet. If the cat had opposable thumbs, he would not need humans, I think.

Why all this about Scout (other than bragging, of course)? It has to do with STANCE. Just as Scout has different stances depending on the "task" at hand, we have different stances when it comes to reading. Rosenblatt identified the ends of the stance continuum as EFFERENT and AESTHETIC. However, as it is a continuum, there are infinite places along the continuum between the two ends. So, in reading, I have the possibility of an infinite number of stances. Why, then, do reformists and others try to limit stances to those they deem worthy? Why do they ry to confine reading to the four corners of the text?

I am reminded of this tendency to narrow focus as I listen to how others respond to a book I have read. I belong to a community of readers (actually I belong to MANY communities) on Voxer. There are only 6 of us in the group, but even when we are talking about the same book, we are often talking about different responses. Different passages move us; different characters delight or annoy us. It makes for wonderful discussion. And so it is with my graduate students. We all read the same core set of books (I require about 50% of their reading to be in this set; the other 50% is choice). But, at the end of the semester, when to comes time to talk about our most and least favorites, there is generally wide disparity.

Years ago, I stole an idea from Chris Crowe's YA lit class. I have my students rank their books from 1 (most favorite) to 10 (least favorite. They send those lists to me. I tally them. Generally speaking, the "score" for most books falls somewhere around a 5. In other words, some student's favorite is another student's least favorite and so on and vice versa. It is an AHA! moment for everyone.

As the ALA Awards Are announced tomorrow, I suspect there will be some AHA moments for all of us. I suspect some of us will pleased and others not-so-much. What I will do then is pick up those books I have not read and begin to read them. I am coming to these books much as Scout anticipates the wad of paper: crouched and waiting for the thrill of the game.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: anticpating
31 January 2015 @ 06:44 am
I have no dog in the hunt for this year's Super Bowl, but even if I did, I am hard pressed to make predictions. I will, of course, root for my favorite team. But my Facebook feed is filled with many predictions about the ALA awards which will be announced in just a couple more days. I, too, participated in the predictions and then the armchair quarterbacking after the announcements. And then I served on some of those selection committees. Now I make no predictions, and I do not do any second guessing after the announcements either. Donalyn Miller teases me because my response is, "Trust the process."

It IS a process. There are procedures for the committee to follow. Voting takes place. But more than anything else is this: the committee members read far more extensively than anyone else. They also re-read and read again and read three, four, five, more times. They annotate. They discuss. They give impassioned reasons why a book should or should not be honored. They set aside the personal and operate on a professional level.

But let me make a few predictions about Monday's press conference:

1. The awards will be met with thunderous cheers.
2. I will have read many of the books (I hope).
3. I will not have heard about a few titles (a very few, I hope).
4. The rank of books on Amazon will shift IMMEDIATELY. Watch and see.
5. Some folks will be pleased; others will be disappointed.

Here's the bottom line (and I say this every year): if the book you are cheering for does not get the medal you think it deserves, it does not mean that book is not deserving of your praise. Take it into the classroom and share it with readers. But also take some time to read the winners and try to see what the committee members saw in the books. Do I always love what the committee loved. Nope. Do I have to love it? Nope. But I DO have to be able to see how the book met the criteria; I have to be able to note the literary excellence of the book.

You see, it's back to that one-size-fits-all fallacy I talk about frequently in these posts. One size does not fit all (or even most). One book does not fit all either. Charlotte's Web was an HONOR book. Secret of the Andes was the Newbery winner that year. Which book do I read over and over again year after year?

I am stating it here right now: Thank you, committee members, for all your hard work. I appreciate all you do for the field of literature for children, tweens, and teens! Thank you.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: excitedexcited
30 January 2015 @ 10:23 am
If you do not recognize the allusion in the title of this post, get thee to a bookstore and buy a copy of Jandy Nelson's I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN. Jude, one of our two protagonists, uses this phrase in lieu of OMG. I adore it. I am working on using it myself. OMCG! What makes me say this? A posting to Face=book from one of my friends. To wit:

Now districts are telling parents that the students who refuse the PARCC test will remain in the testing room but can only read "district-approved" books during that time. Specifically, only nonfiction.

My comment was a suggestion that parents who opt out keep kids at home and take them to the library or bookstore so they can select a book of their CHOICE. This would not work in Texas, because all books and materials have to be covered up in the testing area. Heaven forbid a kid might see the title of a book (I'll Give You the Sun) and be able to intuit an answer to a question on the test (how do you determine the volume of a cylinder?). There is a deeper problem here, of course. Part of me wonders if district administrators see having to read a book (especially a NF selection) as punishment. "Won't take the test, eh? Then, here, kid, read this!"

It is also interesting to see the response to the opt-out movement. Here in Texas, parents have been cautioned against opting out and told about measures that could be taken (including labeling students as truant, changing class rankings, etc.), but quietly there is growing support here and in other places. If this movement manages to take hold, parents will realize their power, I think. Right now, the bully tactics of threats, though, are causing some parents to reconsider.

I am relieved my own kids are far removed from this madness. But that does not ameliorate my concerns for this madness and how it affects kids.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: angryangry
29 January 2015 @ 09:19 am
I just read a piece online about how first exams in a semester can serve as a wake-up call for students. Perhaps it is just that I am a curmudgeon and can be a bit cantankerous before I am fully caffeinated, but this just struck me as GOTCHA! learning. I know that some professors and some teachers seem to take some sort of joy in the GOTCHA! approach. I have heard students discuss teachers who bragged about the number of failing students they had. I am the opposite. I worry about each student (even at the graduate level) who is not successful in my class. I do not "give" As, but I do try to structure my classes so that students can achieve As. I want them to feel successful and happy, too.

The first assignment in my YA literature course is for students to do a reading autobiography. It is not an assignment original to me. My professor had his students write one. And HIS professor had students write them as well. As a matter of fact, the content of hundreds if not thousands of those reading autobiographies became part of the basis for the book VOICES OF READERS by Anne Sherrill and G. Robert Carlsen. I keep up this tradition because I want to know my students as readers (or non-readers, though that is thankfully rare). Especially in an online setting, I want to know more about my students than their Twitter names and email addresses. And I want my students to reflect on their own reading lives and know more about their reading identity.

I read the submissions last week. Some opted for a traditional personal essay. Others conveyed their reading lives through timelines (we love for this; here is the link to one I provide as a starting point for them; it is not complete: Some used Prezi and Power Point. Some of their pieces moved me to tears; some made me laugh; others made me nod in recognition. And a few made me wince as I read about how some of my students overcame incredibly uncaring educators and decided still to be teachers and librarians. In almost every single piece, though, I saw connections to my own reading life: series books, hated of some classics, caring parents who somehow managed to buy books despite economic hardships, becoming lost in books and reading, needing more time to read.

One more thing: everyone received full credit for the assignment. Everyone is beginning MY semester with an A. I hope it is a wake-up call of another kind. I hope it awakens the reader and writer in them. I hope it awakens a feeling of success, a feeling of "Yes, I CAN!"
Current Location: home
Current Mood: puzzled
28 January 2015 @ 02:57 pm
I am finishing up some reading with my ears on my commute this week. I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson is the audio playing right now. On the drive this morning, I was in tears because of a scene in the book. I have had all manner of visceral reactions and responses to this book (and you NEED to get your hands on it and read it, NOW). But this post is not about this one book. It is about books that do this, that move readers: to tears, to laughter, to anger, to RESPONSE.

We often remark when we booktalk, "if this book does not make you weep, you do not possess a heart." Hyperbole is part of my trade, right? But think about those books that have made you weep. THE WALL by Eve Bunting, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by7 Katherine Paterson, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green, and NOW ONE FOOT, NOW THE OTHER by Tomie dePaola can reduce me to tears. And every time I read them and still cry, I wonder (Can you sense the burning questions coming?).

I wonder as well how some books can make me giggle, chuckle, and even guffaw. How other books make me so angry I want to enter into the character's world and smack some people around. So, burnuing questions time:

1. How do books manage to move me at that "gut" level?
2. What is it that the author does with a turn of phrase or a scene or sometimes even a word (Manchee!) that can feel like that sock in the stomach.
3. How can I show that and share that with other readers?
4. Do I respond differently than others to the same book?
5. How does THAT happen?
Current Location: home
Current Mood: curiouscurious
27 January 2015 @ 02:38 pm
So, a post I was reading today contained this line: "Committing to a book club can be overwhelming for busy professionals. " My burning questions follow.

1. Really?

2. Really?

3. Really?

4. You're a teacher, right?

5. And you are too busy to read a book?

Okay, a little over the top, I admit. But the truth is not so funny. At some point during the conference posts and tweets, someone NOT at the conference questioned a reference my friend and incredibly smart colleague Donalyn Miller made to my book READING LADDERS. She was showing the audience at the conference how to ladder some nonfiction texts on the same topic. The tweet questioned the fact that my book is FIVE YEARS OLD! Why not something more recent was the query. Well, the fact is that the books were all recent books, just the basic concept of the reading ladder was "old." And I posted that sentiment to Facebook. I think the basic concepts of the book do not need updating. The book examples should be ones teachers could come up with on their own. As a matter of fact, Paul Hankins and I have had wonderful FB posts and comments about laddering new books we are reading. Someone suggested I set up a Facebook page with new titles. I countered with the fact that I post every single book I read to Facebook and Twitter and my book blog. I started feeling as though somehow I was not doing my part if I did not set something new up (and never mind the wiki where folks can post their own ladders that I set up 5 years ago).

Now, I know not everyone has the flexible time I do to read as many books as I do. But every one of us can find time to read. If we do not, what does that say about the value of books and reading?
Current Location: office
Current Mood: confusedconfused
26 January 2015 @ 02:35 pm
I am beginning to think that I like the format of these posts. They help me think through something I am reading or seeing or experiencing. For instance, today I read an article about e-learning: A school is trying out the concept of designating some days as e-learning days, days where students work individually on their iPads at their own pace and in whatever order they prefer. The story is rather scarce on details, so naturally I have some burning questions.

1. Is this all done at school? It appears to be so since the article mentions that the campus is wired. But thee was some sort of sub-headline somewhere that alluded to a good use for snow days. So, I have the question. And the concomitant question: if it is also at home, what kind of access do kids have?

2. What sort of programs are available for students? Can they select apps and add them on their own or is everything owned by the school and driven by the company hired to set up this program? Can the kids use the tablets for other things?

3. Do kids then stay in one place all day on e-learning day? Are they allowed to wander? Is there a bell system where they can move from place to place but within parameters?

4. What role do teachers play in uploading the "learning"? Are these articles followed by worksheets and projects? How does the e-learning differ significantly from the "normal" stuff?

5. What sort of research is in place to measure success/failure/change?

Finally, I think back to my time as a middle school teacher when we worked in pods (teams) that were interdisciplinary, where team time was scheduled in blocks and teachers could allocate that time as desired, where kids could move at their own pace (I also taught in an IGE, Individually Guided Education, school). The district in which I worked did away with this concept because it was cheaper to departmentalize, put kids into individual classes, not worry about keeping them together as a team. And so MIDDLE school became JUNIOR HIGH school (see the immediate difference?).I recall students working across disciplines, collaboration, less direction and more choice. And I wonder if an iPad e-learning could substitute for a true middle school experience? I think not.

And a PS: anyone who knows me, knows that I love technology and gadgets. I had my iPod, iPad mini and smart phone with me all weekend at the conference in Houston. I carried a charger with me as well. I tweeted and posted and blogged (and even did some grading at night). So, my questions are not about tech at all.
Current Location: office
Current Mood: reflective
25 January 2015 @ 05:27 pm
After 3 days of PD at the Texas Council of Teachers of English conference (TCTELA), I have so much swimming around in my brain. This morning's closing session with Donalyn Miller was brilliant. I posted out tons of things to Facebook and you can see her power point here:

But some questions arose in other sessions I attended. And so I have some more burning questions to pose here. I will also follow up on the previous post about questions, too, in subsequent blog postings.

1. What role can and should serial reading play in the lives of our students? One session presenter sort of dismissed series books as not good literature and formulaic. I disagree. Not all series books are created equal. Is there no value in serial reading? You bet there is. Most lifelong readers either are serial readers or once were serial readers (Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, anyone?).

2. Are most reluctant readers boys? This was a statement from one of the sessions. I sort of know the truth here, but I think that girls are also reluctant readers. I think girls tend to play the game better. The game? "Why, yes, I did read the book. Thanks for recommending it to me." It is a bald-faced lie. I am just not sure that more reluctant readers are male.

3. Why, oh why, is there a need to assess every single book kids read? Some sessions talked about some new ideas for following up on the reading. It does not matter if we have new ways for kids to do book reports, why must we always have them DO something?


Why do teachers find it acceptable to talk during a presentation? I did post this to Facebook as well, but I want to state it here as well. During the luncheon presentation by Paul Janeczko, the noise from teachers talking made it hard to hear Paul. If students did this, what would happen? I suspect that these same teachers would be marching toward the offenders and using those "teacher look" and perhaps even escorting offenders outside. It is RUDE. It is DISRESPECTFUL. Someone suggested that perhaps these teachers were "processing" what they were hearing. Even if that were the case, go process elsewhere.

I feel better now. Rant over. For now.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: questioning
24 January 2015 @ 08:28 am
Someone posted a question in response to a tweet from a conference presentation at the Texas Council Of Teachers of English Language Arts (TCTELA) yesterday. The tweet stated that we need to be teaching newer books to kids, books that connect to their reality. The reply to this tweet questioned (snarkiky), so are old books then without value? Part of me just wants to say YES and move forward with the conversation about using authentic texts that speak to contemporary readers. After all, Paul Janeczko, noted poet and anthologist, had spoken at lunch about reading Silas Marner and feeling disconnected. Even English teachers were murmuring their assent. But it is not that simple, is it?

I am not suggesting we remove classic texts. I am, however, suggesting that we:

1. Stop using texts written for adults with younger and younger readers. Huck Finn in intermediate school? To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school? The list of crimes (yes, I said crimes) goes on as some keep pushing adult texts down into lower grades with rationales of rigor, complexity,many other nonsense.

2. Instead, let's focus on developmental appropriateness. Do the kids possess the intellectual, social, cultural, and moral development that will allow them ACCESS to the text and its meanings?

3. Reflect on why we are using a common text. Do we need to have ALL kids read the same text all year long?

4. When do we offer readers CHOICE?

5. What makes a text "worthy" of study?

I will come back in future posts and talk more about texts and text selection. But for now, discuss amongst yourselves.
Current Location: Houston
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
23 January 2015 @ 10:08 am
So, Wednesday evening, I joined a Twitter chat (#ptchat). The participants spent a good bit of time talking about PD books and making recommendations. Then, as usually happens when folks gather who love reading and books, we began to talk book recommendations. Someone asked for a "read alike" for Grasshopper Jungle. I suggested maybe reading some of A S King's books. What happened was that the next morning, I posted a comment to Twitter that pulled in Amy King and Pete Hautman and Angie Manfredi and Mindi Rench and a few others. Here is the Storify link so you can see the "conversation" that took place.

This does not include the DMs between Mindi and me. I wanted to make sure Mindi know that my tweet had to do with a larger issue. She was talking about a K-8 school, and so her comment about something being too edgy had more to do with developmental appropriateness than anything else. But it was the impetus for my original comment. My comment was about gatekeeping, the act of NOT selecting a book that might be controversial. I have heard several authors and experts in the field of censorship discuss the practice. And I know that it happens, a lot, even in Texas, especially in Texas.

I wrote about this in The ALAN Review column I edit on Censorship: Here is the piece on gatekeeping:

"A decade ago, a survey of several Texas school libraries revealed that many collections did not in- clude titles that appear regularly on lists of challenged and censored titles. Similarly, School Library Journal surveyed hundreds of librarians and found that almost three-quarters of respondents would consider not adding a controversial book to their collections (Whelan, 2009; see censorship/a-dirty-little-secret-self-censorship). This is not an isolated case, as Rickman (2010) observed in her research on self-censorship.

A survey I conducted with colleagues (Lesesne, Hynes, & Warnock, 2013) resulted in similar conclu- sions. We found that certain topics and issues may lead to gatekeeping, to self-censorship. To date, there has not been research about classroom libraries and how they might also be problematic. Are we limiting students’ access to books via gatekeeping? Are there texts we avoid adding to our classroom shelves for fear of potential challenges? This is a deadly part of that censorship iceberg that lurks beneath the surface."

Take a look at the Storify to see how this discussion ranged. Pete Hautman gave us a link to a piece he had written about "edgy" (you can see it in one of his tweets, but here it is: which, in turn, caused me to think about some books as "precipice" books.

I post the Storify here as I know this is a discussion better had in an auditorium at our professional conferences with a panel of educators and authors talking about censorship vs. selection, talking about library collections in schools, in classrooms, in public libraries, talking about dealing with the books that present tough topics in a realistic (or even a magicallly realistic) manner. We need more talk out in the open. We need to take this into the light.
Current Mood: motivated