Getting Students to Read More – What if?

While reading the articles for YA Lit, I wondered if I might have read more classics if I’d been given my choice of books in high school?  Why did I have to read The Pearl and Lord of the Flies? I hated them and got ZERO from them! Was it the length?  No one in my high school class would have read The Iliad willingly, I guarantee it!

Pride and Prejudice Jane AustenInstead of reading The Red Pony, perhaps I would have grabbed Pride and Prejudice with a little encouragement from my English teacher.  (Or not.)  My choice reading was romantic love stories as a teenager.  Pride and Prejudice is a great love story – the antagonistic relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy reminds me of Hermoine and Ron in the Harry Potter series, or Princess Leia and Hans Solo in Star Wars!  If my teacher had made such a comparison, I would have picked Pride and Prejudice up in a hot second!

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeI have yet to read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird or Anne of Green Gables!  How sad is that?  Every time my husband brings up a classic that I haven’t seen, he’s so surprised that I’ve never read it!  Well, who hasn’t heard of Moby Dick, but I haven’t actually read it!

In the article, Aim Higher: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English, Amy Rasmussen tells us that, “students in 9 and 10 grade preAP classes read 3-5 whole class texts of a complex nature. And students need to read 15-20 books a year to grow as readers.”  Wow!  I don’t know any students that brag about how many books they read per year, much less complex texts!

While reading Curing the Reading GERM by Jim Bailey, I came up with an idea – probably nothing new, but of course, new to me – daily book commercials (remember that idea from another article?) but given by the students!  No one knows how to promote a book to teenagers better than another hyped teenager!  I’ll be teaching 5-6 different classes, so we won’t get to read for 20 minutes per day in class, but I can always use a good recommendation for reading material!  I wonder how many books my students could read in a year?


What are you reading? Monday, April 13, 2015

Insurgent by Veronica RothInsurgent by Veronica Roth

I really liked Divergent. It was smart, philosophical, funny and sad. Although the premise was a bit unlikely, it wasn’t exactly Waterworld, for which we can all be grateful.  I was able to willingly suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the book.

For Insurgent, the second book in the Divergent series, Four, Caleb, and Marcus are also accompanying Tris as they travel to not only Amity, but Candor as well. They need to let everyone know about the war against Abnegation and that they have teamed up with Dauntless and Erudite. Unfortunately, they gain no support from either faction. A lot happens in Insurgent and it is easy to get confused on what exactly is going on. Jeanine Matthews is still on the loose and is collecting Divergent people for a purpose that isn’t fully known. Four’s mom also makes a comeback as the leader of the factionless, and all sorts of other sub-plots come out.

Veronica Roth takes us to the other factions’ compounds, and we got a glimpse of what their daily life is like. There were moments of raw beauty and power, like when Tris witnesses an Amity religious service, or when Tris and Tobias are interrogated by Candor. There were moments of chilling horror as well, like when a certain faction leader is executed. The author makes it increasingly difficult to be able to choose sides and to be able to see which factions are the real villains, compared to the factions that have made bad choices. It is an incredibly complex story that somehow just barely works.

The city was supposed to be Utopia, but what Utopia uses memory-erasing technology to maintain it?

Divergent was much better…

Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me! Using radio and podcasts as learning tools

I’m a huge fan of audio books, so for that reason, I really love podcasts that tell stories, especially those which sound like old-time radio shows. For instance, on Saturdays, my husband and I like to listen to NPR’s Lake Woebegone and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me radio programs.

As Far As You Can Go Without A Passport - Tom BodettWhen we lived in Alaska, I used to listen to Tom Bodett tell stories on the radio. Now I listen to his stories via audiobook – especially since he’s the one reading them!  There really isn’t anything like Tom Bodett telling a story!  For those not familiar with Bodett – he’s the voice on Motel 6 advertisements – “We’ll leave the light on for ya.”  I highly recommend reading or listening to his stories.  In fact, a book from him, such as As Far As You Can Go Without a Passport or The End of the Road, would make an excellent read aloud or mentor text because it’s composed of short stories.  (**Note to self!**)

The End of the Road- Tom BodettAll of that to say that audio books or podcasts would make excellent additions to an English or Language Arts class because they are fun to listen to, they activate previous knowledge, stimulate discussion and can be used to introduce a topic!  We don’t want student creativity to be limited but to expand using stories, podcasts or videos that we share with them, so use it as a “jumping off point” and turn the students loose! Writing projects will require collaboration of teams, analysis and research of the subject, and creative thinking skills,…plus it is fun!

I was surprised by how easily it seemed the videos could be used in class because they are only 3-7 minutes long, and can be tailored to subject and age appropriateness.  These videos would be great springboards for a lesson!  I think students could relate and would be inclined to respond to them in small groups or open classroom discussion.  However, I was not really excited by the single picture videos. Some of my favorite videos included:

1. Monster Mash – This video explores the psychology of how scary stories are taught in school and why children fear them at home.

2. Frankenstein – Engines of Our Ingenuity

3. Macbeth – This video reminds us of how Shakespeare’ Macbeth explores the dark forces of the human mind.

4. Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum and the social and political allegory of the Wizard of Oz.

5. The Most Dangerous Game – This digital story uses one of Richard Connell’s famous short stories, The Most Dangerous Game to provide ELA teachers with an alternative method for covering stories and testing reading comprehension as well as assessing whether students are developing a clear understanding of how literary elements are used in stories.

I can certainly envision using these videos in class.  My only question now is, how am I going to remember all this cool stuff to share with my students??

Sweet Potato by the Slice?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe humble sweet potato, a treat at Thanksgiving covered in mini-marshmallows, or anytime baked and stuffed with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Yum!

There are also dog treats out there that incorporate sweet potatoes, and a suggestion to use them as a doggy treat, dehydrated – so I tried it.

I got out my mandolin, sliced it up, and layed out the slices on the tray.  It’s a vegie, so I figured 135 degrees for 4 hours to begin.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It looks a bit like sliced pumpkin, and felt like a regular potato, if it was sliced similarly.  About halfway through, I checked the potato slices, and they were drying nicely.  I offered a scrap to Katie, but she was unimpressed.  So I tried a little light garlic butter on some of them.


That was a mistake.  The house began to smell strongly of garlic, which in small quantities would have been pleasant, like an Italian restaurant.  However, this was too pungent, and I had to shut it off!  Even dear hubby was objecting to this smell!

I left the slices to air dry overnight, without the dehydrating fan.


They looked like the other chewies that I’d fed Katie, but apparently, they didn’t smell or taste like them.  Katie took one from me, but left it on the living room floor, abandoned. 😦


I’d say it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped because Katie evidently didn’t like them.  I will look for a different kind of doggie treat, and try again.  This one was a bust.  (wah-wah-wah)

It’s Monday! What are you reading? April 6, 2015

Page by Paige by Laura Lee GulledgePage by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

In this story, 16 year old Paige Turner, (named that because both of her parents are writers) has moved with her family to New York from Virginia.   Paige decides to buy a sketchbook and draw a few pictures every week.  At first, it seems difficult to think of things to draw, but then she decides to draw what she knows – herself.  The sketchbook is where she draws representations of her worries, observations, experiments and creativity.  Slowly she makes friends, and as the friendships deepen, she becomes brave enough to share her sketchbook.

Like Paige, the author, also an artist, moved to New York from Virginia.  She has worked in art education, scenic painting, body painting, and event production, among other pursuits.  Her amazing art exposes the ups, downs and complicated feelings of a teenager in a new town.

This is, by far, my favorite graphic novel!  I was surprised by the drawings and how well they graphically represented the feelings of the main character.  I think I would have liked to have been able to express my feelings in this way as a teenager!

Skeleton Key by Anthony HorowitzSkeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz

Teen super-spy Alex Rider is back, for a third adventure in this action packed story!  This story has it all for a teen spy novel – Bond-like super gadgets, the megalomaniacal arch-villain and lots of action and danger!

Alex finds himself once again back on Mi6 duty, this time on ‘holiday’ on an island near Cuba, nicknamed the “Skeleton Key,” to investigate a rogue KGB agent.  He’s playing the son of two American CIA agents to gain access to the island on the pretense of a family vacation. What he finds on the dock forces him to race against the clock to stop an insane Russian general from detonating a nuclear bomb that will annihilate most of Europe.

The illustrations are strong and consistent with the story, with full color panels assembled to keep the action moving!  Of course, the best part is watching how Alex uses the gadgets he’s been given to get out of sticky situations!

This intriguing adventure will be enjoyed by teens and tweens, and is a super way to get hesitant readers involved in some great reading time!  If you like this adventure, you might want to read the first two adventures from Anthony Horowitz called Stormbreaker and Point Blank.

Tweet This, Retweet That…

Twitter Logo
Twitter Logo

Tonight I explored several social media websites to see just what people like to do with them.  I looked at Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Shelfari.

Instagram wanted me to build a profile just to get onto their site – pass.  I already have Twitter, Instagram just isn’t that interesting.

Shelfari is the Amazon version of Goodreads.  I have an Amazon account, so it was simple to set up a Shelfari profile, and I spent some time marking some as “Plan to Read” and some as “I have read.”  Books that I added to my “Plan to Read” include Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  I confess I’ve seen the Narnia movies, but I’d like to read the books now that I’ve seen them.  My Goodreads page is fairly up to date, so I didn’t explore that site.

I’m VERY familiar with Pinterest, and I love, love, love to scan it as often as I can!  This site is so educational and fun!  I use it for teaching ideas, recipes, crafts, gardening, etc.  Any topic I can imagine it can find some pins!  An amazing site, even better the Wikipedia or Google in my opinion!  (shhhh, don’t tell Google I said that, I’ll be banned! haha)

Writing PromptsFinally, I hit the Twitter page.  Of course, I have an account, and have become familiar with Twitter since I took the Digital Literacy and Young Adult Literature classes.  I explored the hashtags mentioned in our article, The Best Literary Hashtags.  Of the hashtags listed, I found that I liked #writingprompt, #fridayreads, and #amwriting the best.  In fact, I ended up going with #writingprompts for at least an hour, and started my own list of prompts from what I found on Twitter.  I even retweeted a couple writing prompt sites for my followers, in case they would like to look at some writing prompt ideas.  I’m always looking for good writing prompts, so I’ll be watching and Writers Carnival, along with ds106 for great writing prompts in the future.

Wait just a tick…I bet Pinterest has some great prompts too!  I better check it out!

Dehydrating marshmallows? Why?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs most of you know, I’m dehydrating food as my independent project, and I’d say it’s been going pretty well!  This week I experimented with marshmallows.  Why?  I saw that I could, so I tried it for fun!  I had this vision in my head that my fresh, Kraft Jet Puffed marshmallows would turn out like those tiny marshmallows I find in store-bought instant cocoa.  Well, that’s not exactly what happened…

I started with a fresh bag of  mini-marshmallows…mmmm, yummy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had to use a mat on the tray so the marshmallows wouldn’t slip through, then I slid the tray in and started the machine.  I thought I should check the marshmallows after a couple hours.  To my surprise, the marshmallows were plump, and larger than when I put them in – then it hit me…duh.  The dehydrating temperature was too hot, and I was basically cooking the marshmallows!  They were very soft and gooey.  Hmmmm…this wasn’t working out like I thought it would.

Maybe, if I turn down the temperature, and continue awhile longer, they’ll dry, and possibly shrink.  Back in they went for a few more hours…and then I checked again.

The marshmallows did not shrink, but they were dry.  They had the consistency of dinner mints (like you serve with nuts at a reception).  They still tasted great, but didn’t look anything like the tiny marshmallows I was expecting!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere you can see some of the marshmallows are plump and grew together, but the size of most hadn’t changed much!

Oh well, I can still use the marshmallows in my cocoa, and I won’t have to worry about them drying out at all!  I popped them into a freezer ziploc, and they’re going in the camper!

Does anyone have a good homemade cocoa recipe?

Ever Present Technology Ruling Our Lives?

Photo courtesy Jeramey Jannene, Flickr
Photo courtesy Jeramey Jannene, Flickr

Prior to “Literacy in the Digital Age” class I was on the edge of closing my Facebook page.  I only had it to keep track of some of my favorite people – where they’re acting, or who’s having babies.  It’s fun to see new pictures, and be able to cheer on friends who land the big part in a Broadway show.

My family and friends frequently accuse me of ignoring them because I’ve never gotten into the habit of checking my cell phone frequently as some do.  I miss calls and texts, only seeing them when I pick up my phone, or plugging it in at night.  I used to have a land line with a message machine.  I always felt the need to answer the phone, or to at least listen to the message.  Then people accused me of “filtering my calls.”  Okay, maybe I did – now I just do it with the cell phone, right? Of course, I check it when it rings, and I hear it – necessary call?  Do I know that number?

Photo courtesy of jackfre2, Flickr
Photo courtesy of jackfre2, Flickr

I don’t tweet using my phone, I only do it on my pc at home, so I don’t spend all day checking the “dings” that would go off if I did tweet.  This was a choice that I made, to limit how I use Twitter.  I don’t think I’ll ever be an “Instagram-er” or “Snap Chat–er” because I think that those who record every second of their day and share their every moment (boring or not) is sharing way too much information!! For that matter, I don’t think using these programs in this matter is safe – again, TMI, and way to useful to those who could do others harm.

I don’t always use technology mindfully.  For instance, when I look at Pinterest, I’d better have at least three hours because I really enjoy that!  Some of the posts I read right away, and some I save for later, but I know they’re there if I want a new recipe or special holiday craft idea.

Now that I’ve been introduced to some new programs, I may be using them for my upcoming teaching – for instance, get creative ideas from ds106.  I think we lose much of our creative time, or even time to pay attention to our families if we spend too much time with our technology.

As an example, here’s a “snapshot” from a moment in my own living room recently:  Me, my husband and son all sitting in the living room with the television showing a program we wanted to see.  What were we doing?  All three of us with tablets on our laps, monitoring our favorite sites.  Holy moly…can’t we unplug for two hours?

Photo courtesy Randy Talley, Flickr
Photo courtesy Randy Talley, Flickr

What are you reading? Monday, March 29, 2015

Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hazel Grace Lancaster is a teenage, stage IV Cancer survivor, and clinically depressed.  To help her deal with this, her doctor sends her to a weekly support group, where she meets Augustus Waters, a fellow cancer survivor, and they fall in love.  Augustus calls her Hazel Grace throughout the story.

Hazel shares with Augustus that she is fascinated with a novel about cancer, in which the main character dies, leaving the ending of the story ambiguous.  Hazel wishes she could find out what happens to its characters, but efforts to contact the author had failed.  Augustus uses his wish to make arrangements for Hazel and him to travel to Amsterdam to meet with the author.

John Green transcends the pitfalls of writing about kids with cancer, leaving behind the sentimentality usually associated with such a story.  The wry, and sometimes even gallows, humor of the afflicted characters are just the right touch to support the reader, while they process the descriptions of what it’s like to live with cancer, sometimes no more than a heartbeat away from death.  A poignant story, celebrating life and young love, while acknowledging its pain.