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20 December 2014 @ 03:35 pm
I am simply posting this email here for those of you who would love to add books by American Indians to your collections. Debbie Reese is one of my go-to people when it comes to books by and about American Indians. I have read several from this list, but I know I need to read and know more. And I love the idea of purchasing them through an Indie.

Good morning!

On Thursday of last week, I compiled American Indians in Children's Literature's BEST BOOKS OF 2014. There are comics, and picture books, and novels.

Here's the list:

The books are available at big bookstores, but if you can, please order from small stores like Birchbark Books or Teaching for Change


Debbie Reese, PhD
Tribally enrolled: Nambe Pueblo

Twitter: debreese

Website: American Indians in Children's Literature
Current Location: home
Current Mood: happyhappy
19 December 2014 @ 03:33 pm
I love my PLN. Yes, I know I say this often. But I really do love these folks who make me smarter every time we talk, text, email, and use our Voxer group for updates and reflections. This week, one of the members of the PLN was talking about having to transition from one brand of tea to another since the old brand was going away. Her local barista was helping her make the transition, giving her advice on how to develop a palate for the new flavors, strength, etc. Of course that made me think of how we do this for readers in our classrooms.

How do we scaffold transitions for kids as they move from board books to picture books to easy readers, chapter books, novels? How do we assist kids in moving from genre to genre? From fiction to nonfiction and back again? From graphic novel to novel in verse? Are we scaffolding these experiences? The answer is, I know from speaking to my PLN, a resounding YES. We book talk. We discuss. We demonstrate. We confer. We talk about our own experiences. We try to build scaffolds, ladders, thematic units, text sets, and the like.

I wonder how a program scaffolds?
Current Location: home
Current Mood: reflective
18 December 2014 @ 07:14 pm
No, not the usual holiday season. Tis the season to anticipate and predict which books will receive nods as the best of the year. Along with the predictions, though, has been some discussion about the previous award winners. For instance, there is some discussion on the yalsa-bk listserv expressing dismay about the previous winners of awards such as the Printz. This is not second guessing or armchair committee considerations. This discussion has expressed almost a contempt for the awards based on literary quality. Why not just go with popularity and appeal? Why do we need awards that recognize other merit?

As someone who has served on my fair share of award committees (AEWA, Teachers Choices, Children's Choices, Printz, Quick Picks, Morris, Excellence in Nonfiction to name a few), I see the need to recognize literary merit. And I think we have "awards" for popularity and appeal as well. Why the need to focus on literary merit?

If we do not demonstrate that YA has literary merit, it will be even easier to dismiss it as books kids will read that really have no place in the classroom or the canon. It happens anyhow. I read a blog post recently ( that talks about YA as a way to move kids to the classics. Yes, I get that. I do reading ladders to that effect. But I also think reading YA is an end and not a means to an end.

Recognizing literary excellence might be one step to getting someone to read a book and perhaps offer it to adolescents. I recommend that my grad students in YA read from an assortment of lists including Printz. My colleague Karin Perry and I have composed a course on reading YA critically. It is being offered through YALSA in February. Next week I will put together a one hour webinar on this same topic. Elevating the discussion to focus on literary elements makes educators more aware of the excellence in the field.

In short, I think we need both. We need awards for excellence in literature and awards that are reflective of popularity and appeal. Many state lists offer readers the chance to vote on their favorites as do the IRA/CBC lists. The bestseller list is, I would argue, more about appeal and popularity than literary excellence as well. I think we need both.

Finally, I am making no predictions. I will watch the broadcast from Chicago, note the books I need to order or find in the TBR stack and rejoice that our field is so rich that the work of the committees is arduous. I will celebrate the winning titles, but I will still book talk those books that spoke to me or that I know will speak to other readers as I offer inservice and PD and workshops. I am happy simply to celebrate it all.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: celebratory
17 December 2014 @ 08:43 pm
I was watching a "news" show this morning where reporters were commenting on results of a survey. Once again, what I really wanted was to see the actual survey questions. Here is why.

I could have a survey item that asks:

Rank order the following strategies and activities from best (1) to worst (5):

Corporal punishment
Round robin reading
Grammar instruction in isolation
Basal textbooks
Explicit phonics instruction

Can you imagine the headlines I could create from the results of this inartful question? But if you never see the question, I could write that 75% of teachers surveyed favored round robin reading (or basalt or phonics, etc.).

Some surveys from earlier this year declared most teachers approved of CCSS. When I dug into the survey itself, this statement was a tad misleading.

And so it goes.
Current Location: Home
Current Mood: Cynical
16 December 2014 @ 06:16 pm
A recent article caught the attention of some of my friends: The article declared that the best places to teach were the ones where the salaries were the highest (when adjusted for cost of living and inflation, etc.). My friend, the super-smart Donalyn Miller, sent a letter to the editor declaring that, given new legislation in Ohio, it might not be the "best" place to teach.

And I concur. What makes a place the "best" place to teach is not solely about the money. As a matter of fact, there are so many factors that go into making the work environment a good one for teaching.

1. Respect from the administration--a recent blog post by a principal touted things like allowing teachers to come to school in pajamas one day, giving them candy another day. Folks, this is not respect. Respect is what I experience constantly from my supervisors. My department chair listens to my suggestions, seeks my advice, sends me notes letting me know who appreciative she is of my work.

2. Respect from colleagues--I love my fellow teachers. We truly enjoy our meetings. All voices are heard. All points of view are considered. Even Skyping in from the west coast this week raised my spirits.

3. Autonomy--And perhaps this needs to be first, but it is an essential. I am given total autonomy to teach classes. I select textbooks and other materials. The assignment and evaluations are my decisions. Some of us who teach the same courses confer, but there is no pressure for us to have identical syllabi, approaches, etc.

4. Meaningful work--Very little of what I am asked to do is work that does not contribute to the benefit of the department, college, and university.

5. Opportunities--I am encouraged to conduct research, to write, to speak and present about my interests. Were it not for a colleague, I would never have traveled last summer to Sweden to present. Were it not for my being a part of a library science department, I might never have discovered my home within ALA, TLA, YALSA, and ALSC.

Yes, money is nice. I wish my pay were commensurate with someone who has a doctorate and nearly 40 years of experience on the job. I wish my raises did not rely on the merit system. But, it is something that is last on the list when it comes to other factors. So, the best place to teach? I think I am there and have been there for 20 years.
Current Location: home
Current Mood: questioning
15 December 2014 @ 04:09 pm
Even though I finished grading a while ago, today is the official day they are recorded. I still do not like awarding letter grades. I wish we had a different way of evaluating student work. I try to make it so that students can complete assignments successfully. But there always are instances where deadlines are not met, where directions are not followed, where circumstances cause an assignment to be missed it left incomplete.

And so there will be some students who are left unhappy today because they were not as successful as they wanted to be in the class. How I wish I could guarantee success. But if everyone did the reading of the books and the text, then there is success. The success will occur not with the awarding of grades but with the utilization of the jnowledge gained in the readings. The success will be when the students make successful matches between books and teaders. Perhaps then the feeling of success will wash over them all.

It took me a while to feel this success (especially when I did not make the coveted A in class), but even now I have those small successes when a book I recommended finds its way into the heart of a reader. Ultimately, I claim that as success that truly matters.
Current Location: Home again
Current Mood: draineddrained
14 December 2014 @ 04:58 pm
Headed back home after a remarkable week in Newport Beach. I am always happy to be home, but I have to admit that I also love getting away from home, too. I do not think this dichotomy is any different from what most folks experience. After all, home is supposed to be where the heart is. My BH is here, so there you go.

One of the reasons I have grown tool travel is that it provides me the time I cannot always find at home to sink into a book. The flight is just about long enough to complete a typical YA novel. And while no one likes delays, I do always have an extra book either in the bag or on my device. At home, Scout demands I take many breaks to admire him in all his Scout-ness. There are meals to cook, laundry to be done, emails to be answered. What if I simply schedule a "trip" each week and give myself he time to read as if I were on a plane? Hmmm.

A tip though about "plane" books: try to avoid ones that make you cry (it alarms others in your row) or guffaw (ditto the alarm).
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Current Location: in transit
Current Mood: thinking
13 December 2014 @ 09:08 am
BH and I are finishing up our trip to Southern California this weekend. My sister lives out here, and was planning to spend Friday with us. She changed her plans, though, when they announced it would be raining on Friday, and opted to spend a day in the middle of the week. Sure enough, the forecast was for rain Friday. According to the local news (mostly out of LA), it was Armageddon in liquid form. Inches of rain would fall. Inches! BH and I hunkered down the for downpour. Yes, it did rain. Yes, there was some localized flooding. But many folks opted to stay home and wait out the rain.

Well, if you hail from my neck of he woods, and you opt out of driving in the rain, you wold never get far, right? But when Texas has some sleet or snow, we shut down in much the same way as So Cal in rain. New Yorkers must guffaw at our fear of driving in snow, much as we raise our eyebrows and smirk at their grappling with heat and humidity. Whether you view certain weather patterns as troublesome depends, in large part, on your level of comfort with the particular weather pattern.

Okay, Teri, get to the part about books and reading.

Here it is: I have served on more than one committee where members were comfortable with, say graphic novels but not with novels in verse, with realistic fiction and not perhaps science fiction. I have heard members from other committees remark that they do not care for X, Y, or Z with X being an author, Y being a genre, and Z being a form or format. I get that. I have comfort books in much the same way I have comfort foods. I have preferences. I enjoy some types of books more than others. BUT (and you did see that coming, right?), when I serve on a committee, all that has to be put to the side. I need to consider the book itself and how to meets or does not meet the criteria for the award.

And so as listservs are lighting up with discussion of Newbery, Printz, and the like, I have to keep the weather analogy in mind. It is not about whether sun or rain or snow is preferable or more easily navigable. It is about the book at hand be it windy or cloudy or damp. I saw a post that said award committees dismiss funny books. Not so. My Printz Committee awarded GOING BOVINE the gold and an honor medal went to TALES OF THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND. OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA is just one of the Caldecott winners that contain great good humor. And how could anyone dismiss FLORA AND ULYSSES?

The work of the committees is an arduous process. My mantra this season leading up to the announcements is TRUST THE PROCESS. Yes, your favorite might not garner accolades. But if you love it and pass it along to kids, there are accolades to be had in that process.

Does this mean I agree with the selections? I do not have to agree or disagree. I merely have to know the titles, read them, and then share them with the appropriate reader. And one last thing, I need to thank the committee for their hard work.
Current Location: So Cal
Current Mood: damp
12 December 2014 @ 10:40 am
I have seen several posts lately on social media about handwriting. There is a question as to whether or not teaching cursive is "worth it." As soon who suffered through the Palmer Method of cursive writing, I can attest to the fact that I spent hours making circles and swoops and practicing parts of making a letter in cursive handwriting. I would have been better if that same amount of time was given over to free reading or recess or some other activity that had meaning. Oh, I had perfect penmanship for a while because we were graded in part on the penmanship. And I wanted As. And because I had been taught with this rather punitive manner, I found myself worrying over how "pretty" handwriting was instead of focusing on the content. I even discovered that I could write faster using a different approach, a sort of hybrid print/cursive manuscript. Writing faster was to pay off as I progressed through high school and into college. Now, I do most of my "writing" on the keyboard. Had anyone recommended I take typing in school, I might be even faster, But I am self taught and manage.

Why this discussion? There have been a couple of "articles" purporting that teaching handwriting has a positive effect on reading. Here is one such article citing research to show handwriting lessons are important: While I do not wish to denigrate the different fields of research, what I want to seer is a controlled experimental study that indicates superior reading when one group gets instruction in handwriting and the other group does not. What I see instead are psychologists and neuroscientist studies that talk about what part of the brain lights up when making letters. I want to see a study that says taking time to teach cursive improves one's reading comprehension. I think teaching cursive is sort of like teaching phonics in isolation. Take a sound and practice making it by itself (buh-buh-buh) instead of reading a story about bouncing baby bunnies. Making swoops and circles and other pieces of a letter IMHO is the same.

Yes, teach kids the alphabet. Have them write their names, words, etc. But let's not focus on this as an end but rather a means. For someone who was schooled for a long time in proper Palmer Method, my handwriting is fairly awful. I can almost see Sr. Ann Marie wincing from heaven as she sees me scrawl my name using all lower case letters. But I hope at the same time that she is smiling because of all the writing and reading I am doing.
Current Mood: puzzled
11 December 2014 @ 08:53 am
I will confess that I love math. I always have enjoyed most of the math classes I took (notable exception: geometry which confounded me then). I love playing with numbers (Sudoku). But I do draw the line in terms of where numbers are not quite as dependable and exact. Such is the case for measuring "achievement."

A recent op-ed piece in the Washington Post contains three misstatements in the opening paragraph (which is only 3 sentences long): "RESEARCH HAS shown that the single most important factor in helping children learn is the quality of their teachers. So it is a big problem when graduates of teacher education programs are ill-prepared to deal with the demands of the classroom. The Obama administration’s move to develop new standards of accountability for teacher preparation programs is a step in the right direction that will help both students and teachers." Here is the link to the article itself:

The most important factor in learning is not the teacher. Studies also point to parents, home, poverty, and other factors as influential. But it is simpler to point to the teacher as the most important when you are making a case to go after said teachers, their unions, and their preparation programs. But it does make me wonder. If the teacher is critical, why, then, do reformists demur when it comes to better pay and working conditions? Why do they tout TFA which offers 4-5 weeks of "training" for teachers? I feel rather like Dorothy in the WIZARD OF OZ when she is told not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

Second statement: teachers graduate ill-prepared for classroom demands. Yes, that first step into a classroom where there are no supervisors (and often no mentors) who can debrief with you after a lesson are scary. Thins do not always go as planned. But that happens to me still today after almost 40 years of teaching. Was it because I was ill-prepared? Nope. It has more to do with the fact that each class and each child needs something a bit different from me. It is because things CHANGE. Kids are not widgets on an assembly line. I cannot discard one because he or she does not meet the specs.

Third statement: the new proposal for accountability is a step that most agree is WRONG. VAM has been largely discredited. Yet, somehow, Arne Duncan plans to hang his hat on it. I wonder if he would hang his hat on ONE way to play basketball? One offense, one defense? Or would he argue for using different strategies depending on the game, the players, even the venue?

There is much more wrong with this editorial of course. It relies on the NCTQ report for much of its misinformation. Shoddy research seems to be the type of research preferred by reformists and journalists these days. Start any sentence with the phrase "research shows," and some journalist will run with it as if it were gospel truth. Truth is, there is much out there masquerading as research. It is, in reality, thinly veiled attacks on teachers and teacher education in general.

Thankfully, most of the comments on the article attempt to set the record straight. If only the paper would print them as readily as they print the editorials that present the lies and misstatements about education. And if only journalists would do their job and ferret out the truth about the "research."
Current Location: So Cal
Current Mood: tiredtired