Thursday, December 31, 2009

Using Part 2: How To Review Books and Set Up Your Shelves

For the second part of my how to use in your classroom series, I will show you how to add books to your shelf, make multiples shelves, and how to rate and review books.

1. Once you are logged in to Goodreads, on the main page, you can search for a book to add by typing the name of the book in the search box.

2. When you have found the book you want to add, move the arrow over "Add to my books" and click on the appropriate button.

3. Now the book is on your shelf. In the view that comes up, you can give the book stars based upon how much you liked the book (if it's something you previously read), you can also type in your review of the book in this box that comes up, and there are advanced setting if you would like to enter when you read the book and other information.

Now, that is how you review a book. You will, by default, have three shelves to add books to. The primary shelves to add your books to are "read" (books you have already completed), "currently-reading," and "to-read" (a good option for books that you want to read later). Now, in the options at the top of the page, if you click on the MY BOOKS link, your shelf view will come up. The image here is what my shelf view looks like. If you click edit, then go to the bottom, you can add shelves. What I suggest here is adding shelves that you can then sort your books by. You can add books into multiple shelves, and if you have your students using this option, they can have different categories, which helps in terms of organization.

So this is a basic beginners guide on starting off with Goodreads. By following the two posts I where I have outlined the Goodreads experience, you should be a pro in no time. Good luck!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Setting Up A Classroom: A How To Guide

In the past I have discussed the merits of the social networking site for use in the classroom. I am currently teaching 4th grade and am using the site with my class. The goodreads environment is easy to monitor even with young students, and provides a social (web 2.0) place for sharing book reviews and book shelves. It is a good site for students to build a library of read books and books they would like to read, and using the classroom environment gives the students many options to expand on what is being read. So here is how to get started:

1. Your students need e-mail addresses. Some districts give these out for students, and if so you can use those (you don't need to log in to the e-mail accounts, they're just needed to sign up). If your district does not give accounts, you can either have students use their own e-mail accounts (appropriate more in the upper grade levels), or you can go to and create monitored accounts for all of your students. If you need to go to epals, just do the following:

SIGNING UP FOR AN E-PALS CLASSROOM ACCOUNT: Head off to Epals and click on the join now button. When you have finished filling out the information, sign up and then log in. You can then go to monitored accounts and create e-mails for your students. What I did was I gave the same beginning to each students address (in my case it was the abbreviation for my school), then I put each students name, first and last, into the form box. Epals then makes their addresses automatically, so once you've filled it all out, you're set.

Once your students have e-mail addresses, you're ready to go to Goodreads. If you haven't registered for your own account, do that first by clicking the register button at the top of the page.

Once you're registered, log in. From the options at the top of the page, start by clicking on GROUPS.

Now, follow these steps to make a group for your classroom:

1. On the page that comes up, in small letters, you will find a "create a group" link. Click it.

2. Fill out the form that comes up, giving your group a name and short description. You don't have to put rules in unless you want to. For topic, I suggest student groups / academic groups. Also, select the group type according to your needs and the level of privacy you would like to have. The group for my class is set to private. Once it's all filled out, click the create button at the bottom.

3. Once you're in the page that you created for your class, the basic items of interest are the discussion board, currently reading list, and the bookshelves for upcoming reads and books we've read. It's easy to add books to these lists. Simply click on the list you would like to add a book to, click add a book, search for it, and then make sure you give it a starting date you will begin reading it. To set a new discussion board topic, simply click the appropriate link and type in the information as you would like to see it.

FINALLY, you need to invite your students or have them request entry into the group. As an elementary school teacher, I invite the students in. This is a little more time consuming, because they need Goodreads accounts. What I suggest is having students each click the register button, type in the information as you give it to them (the e-mail addresses, either their own or the one you gave them). Once they're registered, they can fix their information, add a picture, and search for you as a friend.

Once each student has added you as a friend, you can go to the invite people link under the home page for the group, and add them through the friends link. Do this after you have confirmed your entire class as friends, then all you have to do is check them off in your friends list to add them. From here, you will have a group page set up, and each student will have access. Now from there, you need to show them how to do book reviews and discussion postings, and that will be the topic of my next post. Sorry if this was a little confusing, but with some basic internet skills, you can figure it out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, By Ishmael Beah

When my dad was in school, Vietnam was the conflict that had many people the world over calling for attention to the abuse of human rights. This was around the same time that many previously uncovered (in the United States media) events in Africa began boiling over, including the conflict in Sierra Leone. Of course, right now, the world conflicts that are garnering attention from human rights groups throughout post-industrial nations include what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the Darfur region of Sudan, and the civil war in Sierra Leone, among many others.

There are many books out there now in ya and children's literature circles about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the catalog of books is ever increasing. Darfur has moved to the forefront for many who decry what is happening throughout Sudan. A great book that discusses and showcases the human side of the events in Sudan (not necessarily Darfur) is called What is the What, written by Dave Eggers telling the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese refugee. Of course, this book is clearly written for adults, it is quite dense, and would be very cumbersome to read in a high school classroom, so I wouldn't recommend it.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, written by and about Ishmael Beah, a boy soldier from Sierra Leone, is a book that is sized just right for the young adult audience. Content wise, this book is gritty and disturbing, as Beah takes us through his horrible experience of fleeing the rebels after the presumed death of his family, and hiding alone, as a child, in the jungles of Sierra Leone. He is eventually found and turned into a boy soldier, capable of ruthless genocide.

This story disturbed many adults in my reading group to the point that they could not finish the book, yet I was looking at this text as a resource to be used in an 11th or 12th grade literature class. As a non-fiction story (which we don't use often enough), a clear picture is painted here of genocide in our time. This isn't reading about the Holocaust and saying "wow, we must learn from those mistakes," because these things in Africa are happening right now.

First of all, this book is bloody, it is gritty, it is disturbing. It was written for the ya audience, and it is not any less appropriate for them than reading Maus (Art Spiegelman) or showing videos about the Darfur crisis. It's not a long book, which makes it a good two or three week long read, and the discussion that will surely take place upon completion of the book will go in many different directions, including morality, regaining humanity, and the place of an American in this crisis.

Where Are the Wild Things.... Or, Wait... Where the Wild Things Are... There

If you've spent a little time with my posts, you know that I usually post about young adult or at least adolescent aged literature, usually things stay above the 4th or 5th grade level. Well, I'd like to start branching out a little bit into the world of children's lit as well. Now by children's literature, I'm meaning early children's literature, because I do review and discuss elementary literacy quite often, because I am currently a 4th grade teacher and have taught 5th in the past.

Today I took my own children to see Where the Wild Things Are, the Spike Jonze adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic picture book. I went into this movie not really knowing what to expect other than spectacular cinematography. My expectations, or lack thereof, were blown to pieces (or not, depending upon the philosophy of having no expectations) by a movie that was engrossing to young children yet appropriate for adults at the same time.

First of all, it was nothing like the book, which is undoubtedly a classic in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms across the world. The book is great whether told with your own voice, or using the classic narration that has influenced countless tellings of this book. The movie puts a human face on Max, one that many parents and teachers alike can relate to, that of the outcasted Oppositionally Defiant child. His tantrums lead him to the world of wild things, where the story really comes to life. Spike Jonze nailed this movie, it was a true masterpiece.

I'm writing about this because the book has become such a force in early literacy, and then along comes this movie that is, in my mind, Oscar worthy, it is a movie that adults will laugh and cry along with their enchanted children, seeing one of their favorite books come to life on the screen. Go out there and see this movie, and then read the book again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Departmentalizing (Blocking) Reading: Caution

This year, I moved to a new grade level in my building (a change that has been pleasantly nice), and we made the switch to departmentalizing reading across grades 3-5. If you're not familiar with the concept, to departmentalize in this case means that the grades involved share a common time for the subject, and students are put into ability groups, meaning that the majority will not be with their "homeroom teacher." This is also known as "blocking" in some circles, depending upon the jargon that is used where you teach. For the previous three years, the school I work in did self-contained reading groups (with the exception of some pull out special education students), and I was met with great success, because I was responsible for my students, and they performed up to the level that I demanded of them.

Now with this move to departmentalization, something I had previously dealt with four years ago, I have been forced to advocate for what I believe is best, both in my own experience and from what the research says.

I will first discuss my own opinions apart from the research:

I believe that self-containing classrooms in an elementary setting have many great advantages, ESPECIALLY in the area of literacy. We teach pre-service teachers that reading should be cross curriculur, that students need consistency, they need to reflect on their reading all day, and that they should have a classroom where they are able to revisit their readings and branch out into the other disciplines with their new knowledge.

My school has blocked reading from 3rd grade through 5th grade, and it basically looks like this:

Highest Group (taught by a 5th grade teacher)
2nd Highest (taught by 5th grade teacher)
Next (taught by 4th grade teacher)
So on and so forth, moving down the line to 3rd grade.

Now, for the highest groups, these teachers keep their high 5th graders, and are given the highly advanced 4th graders and off the chart high 3rd graders. So the highest 4th grade group is not truly the highest 4th grade group, because the highest 4th graders move up, while lower 5th graders move down. So basically, all but the top two groups become remedial in nature. Students, whether we want to admit it or not as teachers, are keenly aware of what group they are in. They know if they are "high" or "low," and this has detrimental effects on the motivation of all but the highest students.

Putting these facts aside, let's look at the effect of splitting the classes up for reading block. I love to teach literacy thematically, and let it flow over into social studies, math, and writing. With my students spread all over the building, I can no longer do this. To sum this up, everything that WORKS in the classroom is fundamentally impossible to do in a blocked environment.

The research in this area in the past has been mostly qualitative in nature, and has focused on standardized test scores, as well as student input, mostly in the form of narrative or question responses. For every study that opposes blocking, I can easily find one that is in favor of it, both in theory and in data. As with most issues in reading, there are opposing camps, and if this had been definitively proven one way or the other, it doesn't necessarily mean that we wouldn't be here anyways (because a shockingly low number of teachers actually read and understand current research). I am currently performing some doctoral level research on this very subject, and hope to have some beginning level results in by Thanksgiving.

Obviously I am opposed to the departmentalization of reading. I would like to continue this discussion. Maybe some of you have success stories, and that's great. But personally, I do not see the value, have not seen the value, and continue to not see the value.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Red Glass, by Laura Resau

Red Glass, by Laura Resau, is a great "coming of age" story. Sophie is an outcast (much of it born out of lack of self esteem and other internal conflicts) living in Tucson, when a young boy, Pedro, enters the lives of their family. Pedro was crossing the border illegally when his family died, and he was left alone.

Now, first off, Red Glass is an excellent piece of young adult literature that would be appropriate to the reading levels and content appropriateness for young high school students, possibly 9th or 10th grade. The reading itself is surprisingly easy to get into, I actually read this book in two evening sittings, it's a fluid, wonderful love story.

I can see many students relating to either Sophie or her love interest Angel. The characters are so well written that at times I felt like I was reading a first person biography. The way the story moves from Tucson to southern Mexico and then off to Guatemala is entrancing. This book is great for students living in the desert Southwest or the border areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

I highly recommend this book, and its wonderful play with words and metaphors. The metaphor of red glass will not be lost on high school students. This book is one of the better ya novels written in the last few years (published in 2007).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Back At It

The hardest issue that arose in keeping this blog running was one of time and resources. There's only so many books I'm reading, and now that I've read a lot more, I can do some more reviews. I've also been refining ideas and things like that, so I hope to be back to writing now. Check back, my first new book review should be forthcoming.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Michael Jackson Tribute

I've been thinking on and off about the legacy left behind by pop legend Michael Jackson. Now, even though this is an educational blog that focuses mainly on literacy, it's my blog, and as such, I wanted to share a few of my memories of Michael.

There weren't too many individuals in the world who were scrutinized as closely as Michael Jackson was, but I don't want to get into that here. Simply put, I have been a big fan of his music, and his message of making the world a better place. I think he was a misunderstood individual who really viewed the world through the eyes of a child, a man who really wanted to see the world as a peaceful and happy place, and I wanted to give my small, insignificant tribute to the man here on my pages.

I grew up in the 80's, so of course I adored Michael Jackson. I loved "Thriller," I thought his music was the greatest (still do actually), and think he changed the face of pop music forever. My favorite Michael Jackson moment comes from the 1993 Super Bowl in Pasadena, California at Rose Bowl Stadium. It was Super Bowl XXVII, and the Dallas Cowboys (who also happen to be my team) defeated the Buffalo Bills to win their first Super Bowl since 1977, and their first in my lifetime.

Michael Jackson did the halftime show to that Super Bowl. It was a show that, in my biased mind ranks as the best ever. Jackson did many of his great songs, including "Billie Jean" and "Black or White." He ended this with the song "Heal the World," one of my favorite songs. It has a great message of hope and love for your fellow man. He really was a show man, and he will be missed. So here's his performance from that halftime show:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why I Disappear

I've decided that I am in fact a creature of habit. It's the middle of summer vacation, and I'm not doing any kind of work this summer, and so I find myself far away from my normal professional interests, at least for a few more weeks. Later this month, on the 19th, I will head off to New York for the ExxonMobil teachers academy, and that's when I'll start thinking work again.

To all you teachers out there, I know I'm preaching to the choir. We have to take time to recharge our bodies and our minds. I personally have been spending my time trying to get back in shape, spending more time with my family, and trying to let my mind recover by having fun, playing video games, reading for pleasure, etc.

I keep telling myself I want to start getting back on the blog here, but the more I try the more I realize that I can't, because my head isn't in the game right now, so when that day comes, I will probably be around more.

Friday, June 12, 2009

No Child Left Behind, in the Words of Other Professionals

No Child Left Behind continues to loom over public education here in the United States. I think about the law a lot, I have written numerous (unpublished) papers on the topic, and am definitely an advocate against it. I have talked with President Obama's Administration twice on the matter (not that they really listened to me), once at a conference and once through an e-mail exchange. As a parent, I think No Child Left Behind hurts because it means that my son has to sit in the classroom and have the pressure of the law put on his shoulders. As a teacher, it puts the wrong focus on my job and forces me to do things that do not teach students, they teach them to test.

I've discussed this many times, so today, for those of you who are interested in hearing a little more, I'm going to throw a Youtube video titled "No Child Left Behind: Truths and Consequences." It's around 9 minutes long, but has some interesting information that I think most teachers could agree with. So here it is:

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Public Education: Yes It's Broken, But We Can Have Hope

Budget shortfalls are the norm here in the state of New Mexico as it relates to public education. Budgets are being slashed, salary raises are being frozen, and staff is being cut at schools all across the state, especially here in the southern part of the state.

Yes, things are bad, and it does not have all to do with the bad economy. Years of mismanagement or outright shady business practices by central office administrators all over the country (especially here in New Mexico) have put us in this mess. In my short career, I have already seen numerous snake oil salesmen come along, unloading their programs upon my district, all because one person downtown was impressed by what they had to say. I've seen millions of dollars spent on a program and a year or two later have seen that program forgotten. I have seen more and more kids crammed into classrooms, while the same central administrators who tell us that there was simply no more funds to hire another teachers gives themselves hefty raises. I've seen school funds funneled into new schools and schools where the wealthier students go while poorer and older schools literally fall apart.

There's no way around saying this, public education in New Mexico, and the United States, is in perilous disrepair. The people who actually do the educating, and the students, who are the point of this whole education thing, have been shelved so far down the food chain that they've been all but forgotten. In this age of standardized testing, with the multi-billion dollar testing industry banking in, and with the government happily playing along, there's not much left to go around. And what is left has been pilfered a dozen times before it reaches the classroom.

So yeah, things are screwed up, but there is hope. Hope lies in the fact that central administrators really don't do much (trust me, their decisions have minimal impact on classroom instruction, they could just sign paychecks and make sure the money is divvied out evenly and everything would work fine). Hope lies in the fact that there are many great teachers out there, who can make a difference without Reading First, Nancy Fetzer, Malcolm Baldridge, Reading 180, and all the other flavor of the moment programs. Hope lies in the fact that there are people out there who care, and who don't appreciate seeing tax money thrown away on nonsense.

There are a lot of reasons to think that public education is faltering, and I would agree with many of them. But that doesn't mean we give up. Public education teachers, support staff, and other interested people will keep caring, will keep working, and will do it even if there is 50 kids crammed into a class and there's not enough money to run the air conditioner. Because after all, at least we know that the head honchos can afford another year of membership at the country club, right?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Some More Technology in Literacy: Finding My Way Under New Mexico's Response To Intervention Model

I've been talking about technology in literacy a little bit lately, so I figured I'd stay on that topic today. My school district, like all school districts in the state of New Mexico, is implementing a "Response to Intervention" model (from here on referred to as RTI). The RTI model does have some MAJOR issues, including the fact that schools are basically left to their own devices to implement it, that it takes instructional time from the day, and that in many cases (whether the state department wants it or not) all students are given the interventions.

If you're not familiar, and I don't want to get too deeply into this, RTI is a mainly literacy intervention where kids are given extra small group tutoring sessions in heterogeneously grouped settings. I can't honestly say that I agree with the model and in the two years we have implemented it I haven't seen it do any good. But that's not the point here.

My grade level implemented RTI by taking one classroom teacher a quarter, as well as support staff, and splitting up the students in need of intervention (we defined them as "below benchmark"), while the other teachers took the kids not needing it and did science. When it was my turn, I had an intensive group of four students.

Rather than beat them over the heads with worksheets and mundane tasks, I pulled out some technology and had them interact with each other and texts in a new way. This was easy because there was four of them and I had eight computers in the classroom. One of the biggest things they did during their 9-weeks with me was they would read Diary of a Wimply Kid on This was basically the same book that I had six copies of on my bookshelf, but they came to me every day begging for more.

We were on computers four days a week during my RTI cycle (the entire 9-weeks). When these four students went to take the MAPS Test, an online assessment, they grew more than any other RTI intensive students that year. Of course, I knew why. They were excited about their reading, they were seeking out more, and they stayed positive. They were in an environment that allowed them to experiment with the text, to interact with it, and to get out of the mundane routine of worksheets and textbooks.

I guess my point(s) here are:

1. Sometimes school districts or state education departments implement programs that are not in the best interest of learning.

2. Sometimes teachers have to make the best of a bad situation (that is more than sometimes in some cases).

3. Think outside the box, even if it's just baby steps. I know that computers in the classroom aren't a "WOW" thing anymore, but they are still out of the routine.

4. Follow what works. Just because it worked for me doesn't mean it will for you. I'm just sharing in the hopes that maybe it will work for somebody else.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Computers and Video Games in the Classroom, How To Set It Up and Keep it Going

This past school year, I had set up four older computers in my classroom with video games (strategy games), including Free Civ, an open source version of Civilization, and Zoo Tycoon, an interesting game in which the player builds a zoo and takes care of the animals. As this was the first time I was using games in the classroom, I didn't build too many learning objectives around them. I offered my students coupons that bought them time to play the games.

Right from the start, Zoo Tycoon became very popular. Free Civ was popular among a few of my more analytical students, but it is definitely an advanced game for elementary students. I allowed them to continue to "buy time" to play these games, and would monitor their progress. I asked them to take their game seriously and act as if it were an assignment, and most of them did, they took their zoo or civilization seriously.

This got me to thinking about the next steps here. Of course, most teachers are limited in their classroom by the number of computers. This past year I had 18 students and 7 working computers (8 if you count the laptop, which they usually used only for research). This upcoming year, I will have 28 students and 8 computers (9 if you count the laptop). So there has to be some creative planning.

The way I planned computer usage last year is I incorporated it into the classroom environment. The first way I did this is by making the computers a station in my literacy groupings. My literacy groupings this past year (under the guided reading model, a requirement of my school district) had students rotate on a daily basis through four different stations (they would do one station a day for a period of 45 minutes) including vocabulary, book productions (brochures, dioramas, etc.), silent time, teacher time, group reading, scholastic newsletters, and computers. In computers, they were given various tasks to complete that went with our current book or their current individual choice. During the course of the year, they did powerpoints, video projects, webquests, blogging through Moodle, reviews, and many many other tasks.

I am going to incorporate something similar this upcoming year to include the video games in the classroom. I see valuable learning opportunities in playing strategy/simulation games. I would like to have my students complete tasks when the play Zoo Tycoon, tasks that could be science related (biomes for example), math related (they could keep a log of money spent and do some long term graphing), and reading (have them find books or information about the animals in the game and study them).

Oddly enough, what got me thinking about this was Roller Coaster Tycoon. That's right, THE original RCT. I pulled it out last night and was playing it, thinking about how cool it would be for students to get a shot at building a theme park. Of course, I don't want to overwhelm them, so I think I'll start with Zoo Tycoon, and when most of the class is getting tired of it, maybe move to Roller Coaster.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Multiple Intelligences in the Literacy Classroom

Howard Gardner's theory on Multiple Intelligences has sparked a mini-revolution in certain areas of public education. Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory rejects the notions of learning simply as a linear, reasoning and conceptualization, process. The implications that arise from MI theory include individual learning styles and students taking control of their own learning.

There are some great article in Edutopia magazine about MI theory (I highly recommend this magazine to educators all across the world, it's one of the best there is), and a good starting point would be with the article The Multiple Intelligences Redefine Smart. I don't want to get caught up defining the theory here and all of its details, so check out that link for more information on that. What I did want to discuss very briefly here are the uses in the classrooms.

There have been schools, especially over the last 13 years or so, that have made full use of MI theory and have created MI schools. Most of the schools that have implemented this program only were able to last anywhere from 3-5 years. So I'm thinking more practical, for classroom teachers to implement this, specifically in literacy.

I have managed to embrace parts of the Guided Reading Model of reading instruction into my intermediate grade level classroom. Using guided reading in a limited capacity (45 minutes per day the way I did it) gives students a chance to work individually, or in small groups, on projects over an extended period of time, and it offers them more choice in their reading as well.

It seems that multiple intelligences fits well into this model. By giving students choices that fit along the lines of the intelligences (i.e. art projects that are book based for those Visual-Spatial learners) and letting them use their group time to work on projects that fit their intelligences or their likes at that moment would give students choice, would be allowing them the chance to work in an area of strength, and would be fitting the guided reading model (something I'm required to do in my school district) all at once.

I have every intention of doing this in my classroom, and as I get some more solid ideas, I'll pass them along here on this blog. For now, a good starting point would be to find out what your intelligences are. You can also have your students take this quiz and get a look at their own learning styles. CLICK HERE to take the quiz on Edutopia. Here is what your results will look like (this is my profile):

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The World At Your Fingertips (Or Not): kgb_ 542 and Literacy

It may be stretching a little bit here, but I wanted to discuss the uses of text messaging "answer your question" services like Cha Cha and kgb_ 542. I finally gave in to life without a cell phone back in February (I tried, but it was too hard not being in touch with everybody) and went to the extreme by getting a Blackberry. I don't really find much of a need for services like Cha Cha and kgb_542 because I have the internet at my fingertips pretty much anywhere I am, which is a new concept for me.

I've had times where I'm out, and need to know the number to a place, or need to check on something, and I can look it up on the spot and find out what I need to know, without having to call directory assistance or my wife at home to look it up on the computer. So this is a novel concept that is revolutionary in many ways. For a lot of people who don't carry a "smart phone," they're beginning to rely on these text message answer services.

So I decided to sign up to become a kgb_542 "agent," someone who sits on the computer and finds the answers to peoples questions and sends them out to their cell phones via SMS text. The first thing I noticed is that the legitimate questions are pretty straight forward, things like "I'm looking to buy a 2003 Ford Ranger, what kind of gas mileage does it get?" These are the types of questions that owners of smart phones like Blackberry or iPhone would just jump online and find, so this is a valuable service in that respect.

The vast majority of those seeking answers seem to be teenagers just blowing time. They ask novelty questions, or attempt to antagonize the agents at work (which doesn't make sense, because if you continue a line of questioning, the same person won't get it). So working for them was somewhat interesting for a few days. I made a few bucks, and decided it was a neat experience, but it was pretty tedious and boring after a few days.

Now, for the implications on education. The whole "world at your fingertips" thing is the next logical step in the internet. It was a revolutionary idea when the internet started up and search engines like Yahoo! started indexing the web. Most classrooms have some sort of internet access, pretty much making encyclopedias obsolete (unless the individual teacher decides, as I do, to have students still use book based information on top of computers). But now, we are able to carry the world in our pockets.

The argument could be that this changes the world because there's unlimited information out there for anyone to get at any time. But who is actually seeking that information? Is it really changing the world? Text messaging services don't have educational implications, mainly because they're expensive ($1 a text at kgb_542, and only 4 texts every two days at Cha Cha) and because the answers the agents offer are often incorrect or very lacking in their substance.

I do intend on taking a step next year to incorporate texting into the classroom. I already use online classroom tools (Moodle and, and have students keep portfolios online. My gradebook ( is online and parents can access grades and reports at anytime online. I am going to offer, to my parents next year, the ability to subscribe to text message alerts from me. I will send out important announcements and such this way. I think this is a good first step for incorporating this technology, at least on the elementary level (I'm a 4th grade teacher next year).

So as far as kgb_542 and Cha Cha goes, they're neat, sure, but they're novelty. They're very shallow and aren't reliable resources for education. I'm sure many students use them to get a quick answer to homework problems, but considering that homework is pretty worthless to begin with, that doesn't change much.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sometimes a Break is Good

Over the first few days of summer vacation (our last day of school here was Wednesday, May 20th), I've been watching a lot of movies with my family and have not done much reading. Let me change that, I have not done any reading. Although I am a voracious reader who can put away a dozen books in a week if I so please, I have found that it's good to take a break sometimes. Part of it is that my eyes start to hurt (I have horrible vision), and part of it is that I start to over-read and have nothing else in the house left to read.

I tend to read by grabbing a stack of things I want to read, sitting them on the shelf, and plucking them off one at a time. I'm sure I will start attacking my stack sometime later this week, but it's good to get a chance to relax and enjoy some movies.

Of course, if you hold a similar definition of literacy as I do, then movies are literacy, but most of you know what I mean when I say that watching a movie is different than reading a book.

This extends into the world of the classroom by knowing that this is magnified in the lives of children, most of whom aren't big time readers the way that we are (I'm assuming that a lot of my readers are big "literacy people"). Kids need a break sometimes, and it's easy to gauge this. Give the child some free time, and if they pick a book, fine, if they don't, let them get away from it for awhile. It is difficult, coming back to a new school year, seeing a little regression in skills, but this is natural. School years are long and hard (for students and for teachers), and everyone needs a break.

There isn't really any greater purpose today other than that, sometimes a break is good.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Take on Watchmen

I had never read Watchmen, the highly popular graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (artist). When the movie came out a few months ago, the book gained in popularity again, and I finally caved and got a copy to see what all the hype was about.

I am by no means a graphic novel aficionado, I have just read a few things that have caught my interest over the years, so I'm not one who feeds on these types of books. I have, however, started branching out and trying to read more, and have found it to be a varied experience.

My first thought when I began reading Watchmen was "wow, this is just a big giant comic book." I was drawing back on my childhood experiences, reading X Men and Superman comics, among others. However, when looking at this book through a historical lens, knowing that it was written during the later years of the Cold War, there was a lot to this book. The cynicism, the disillusionment, and the tongue-in-cheek dialogue, especially from the narrator Rorschach, made this a great adult reading experience.

I'll admit that some of the Dr. Manhattan stuff got a little "out there," but I enjoyed the metaphor that lied behind it. That's a good way to describe my overall experience with this book. It was out there, but was a great story that kept having me go "ah yes, I got that, very nice."

Now, does this book have potential in the classroom? First off, if you're talking anything below AP English Literature for Seniors or really insightful Juniors, forget it, don't even bother. If this book fits some kind of unit of study on, say, the Cold War, or in a greater survey of graphic novels, comic books, or something along those lines, then sure, I can see it fitting in terms of its content along those subject lines.

It is a very witty, very multi-dimensional story. There is a lot more sophistication than I was anticipating, and I'm not saying that in a snooty, "those darn kids won't get it, they're just not smart enough," kind of way. I am saying that it simply might go over their heads and end up being just another comic book with an adult theme.

This is a great piece of literature that has aged well, but is an adult piece of literature. I commend anyone who has managed to use this in the classroom and go deeper than surface level with it. Personally, I say it's more of an adult read, but if you've had experiences teaching with this, please share.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Lightning Thief - A Book Review

I'm always interested in finding new books that seem to resonate with my students. Up through winter break this past school year, I had read aloud The Castle in the Attic (Elizabeth Winthrop), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau), The Giver (Lois Lowry), and had read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Barbara Robinson) right before the break. So coming back, I wanted to start things off with a bang.

Luckily, over the vacation, I had run across Rick Riordan's popular Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, namely the first book, The Lightning Thief. It was an interesting book, if not one obviously written for the pre-adolescent set (ages 10-13). It definitely wasn't a young adult or children's book that surpassed most adult books in quality, at least not from an adult perspective. But I was anxious to try it out with my class.

First off, The Lightning Thief clocks in at 375 pages, so it does require a commitment on the part of the read aloud teacher to really stick with it and read for at least 30 minutes every day. What my students loved about this book was its action, how it basically went from one monster to the next, and that the main character, Percy Jackson, is just "some kid."

This book lends itself extremely well to studying Greek Mythology. I had the class do companion projects where they studied a Greek God and presented a report on them, either using technology (like power point) or doing a poster board based presentation (for those artists who like to use their skills with pencil and paper).

This book resonated quite well with my 5th graders. It did take a little time to get through it. I made the commitment to read no less than 20 pages in each sitting. And even at that pace, it took a month to finish the book. By the time we reached the end, the class was very excited, had felt a sense of accomplishment by finishing such a large book, and many of them went on in the series. This series is currently at its fifth book, with more surely coming.

There are great reasons to read large books with your class. Too often read aloud turns into small books that can be finished in a few sittings or a couple of weeks (if the teacher even reads books in the first place, too many teachers still rely heavily on textbook basal readers). The amount of time involved with this book shows to those students who aren't used to sitting down with a large book the payoffs to reading something so big, and that it's ok to sit with one book for an extended period of time.

Right after we finished The Lightning Thief, my school had its book fair, and sure enough, they were selling the entire series. I bought a few copies of each, and followed the course of these books, as well as my students who bought their own copies, and believe it or not, out of a class of 18 students, 7 finished the second book, 4 went on to the third, and 2 also read the fourth by the end of the year. Finding a series that gets kids excited about reading, takes them into the world of mythology, and has them begging for more is a very exciting thing. Although it didn't really hold me as an adult reader, it is a great book (and series) for students. I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Tribute To My Students

So here I sit, in the beginning hours of another summer vacation. This was my last year in my four year tenure as a 5th grade teacher, at least for now. Next year I'll be venturing down the hallway (a journey that started this morning with many hours of boxing, taping, and moving items from one room to the other) into the world of 4th grade. I will be looping my future 4th graders, all 28+ of them, to 5th grade, and couldn't be more excited about the challenge that awaits.

Yesterday I cried. It's hard to believe, but with about 30 minutes left in the day, I gave my traditional end of the year speech to my outgoing 5th graders, and found myself looking in the faces of mature young people who grew up before my very eyes this year, and I lost it. In past years, I've choked up a little, but this year the tears flowed.

Something I've always known about myself is that I form deep attachments to the people I care about. My students become like members of my family, at least for the time that they're with me. Of course they move on, and many of them, most of them actually, get on with their lives and will soon forget the majority of our time together, but many of them come back to visit and seem to look back on our time together with fond memories. After I stopped the water works and finished my speech, they cried as well. We had a fitting last few minutes together, and they went on their way. It was a great year, the best of my career, and now it's time to head home for some rest.

I also said goodbye to my student teacher yesterday. Although he could have left the class at the first of May, he stayed to finish the year out with us. I know that he felt the attachment to the students in our class as deeply as I did. He became a close friend during this semester, and I am deeply saddened by the fact that we will no longer be working together.

Now I sit here, just one day later, looking out into the yard, smelling the rain and feeling the coolness on my face, thinking back on the latest group of young men and women who are ready for the next steps in their lives, and already thinking ahead to what awaits me in August, and I'll tell you, this is why I became a teacher. For those of you who share my passion for teaching and cry on the last day of school when you say goodbye to your students, I stand with you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Selection to the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teaching Academy

It took me awhile to get around to this, but I wanted to share my joy with everyone who reads. I was chosen last month to attend the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy this July in Jersey City, New Jersey (it's across the Hudson from Manhattan). I was one of 200 teachers (3rd through 5th) in the United States, and one of two in New Mexico chosen to go. I was nominated by one of my amazing 5th grade students, and get to spend a week of math and science professional development with 199 of my colleagues from the United States.

This honor is overwhelming, and I'm already excited. I've always considered myself a literacy teacher first and foremost (that's kind of the point of this blog), but as an elementary teacher, I'm always working on making myself the best teacher I can be in all subject areas, so it's great to get recognized for my math and science teaching. I'm going to be taking my wife with me on the trip. We're going to enjoy a week in New York City, because neither of us have ever been.

Here are some links you can go to in order to see what this is all about:

SEND MY TEACHER: At the bottom, you can click the link to see the names of all those chosen to attend. Also, you can do some nominating for next years academy.

News Release From My School District: This one will give away my true identity (holy snack cakes Batman!), but that's ok.

The write up that made the AP rounds: (I think the link explains it)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Welcome to the Future

Next year, it appears that I will be making the move to 4th grade (I've been in 5th grade for four years now). I'll be going there, and then looping to 5th with the class. I'm excited about the opportunity, and am seeking out research, information, etc. One of my topics this summer will be on how to teach a loop (if you're not familiar with the terminology here, looping involves staying with the same group of students for two or more years).

I've also got quite a few books to catch you up on, and I'll also focus on that this summer as well. So please, stick around, and be glad that I in fact wasn't dead, just busy.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Where Have I Been?

I haven't posted in pretty much four months. It's been a very hectic and busy semester. Between my full time teaching job, my doctoral studies, and having a family, I taught a course at NMSU this semester, which was a great experience that I'll be doing again this coming fall. In any case, I got really busy with all of that and had to decide to put this blog on the back burner. I do intend on coming back into it now that things are settling down. My last class at NMSU meets this week, and there's only two and a half weeks of school left in the year at work (unless swine flu shuts us down). I have been reading a lot of great books lately that I'd like to share here, and I also need to get out and start catering to my old blogging friends and pulling them back in.

Sorry about the hiatus, I'm glad to be back.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Welcome All

These last few weeks have been quite busy, what with going back to work (both my full time and part time teaching positions), and back to school (back to school, to prove to my dad that I'm not a fool, I have my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don't get in a fight, OOHH back to school...sorry, a little Adam Sandler humor).

In any case, I'm going to be using this blog as a resource this semester with my RDG 414 class at NMSU. So if any of you who are currently reading are from Wednesday night's class, you can use the tools along the right of this page, including the "book reviews" tag to find some ideas for this first text sample assignment.

Apart from that, I need to try to enjoy the weekend here, so until next time...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Concerns of a Different Nature (code for the dreaded personal post)

The lessening frequency of posts can only mean one thing. Yes, I have gone back to work. Fittingly, dark clouds descended over the area this morning, and it was as if the planet itself knew my gloom.

OK, it's not that bad, seriously, it's just hard to leave the warm house in the morning and not be here with my family reading and sitting around.

This upcoming semester should be very eventful. I plan on using this blog in the content literacy class I will be teaching at the university, as a resource. After all, I've typed 100 posts now (yes, that's right, this is post #100, how exciting!), and I might as well put them to use in some way.

I am still reading quite a bit, but here at the end of vacation, as I gear up to welcome my students back on Wednesday, I've taken to doing some pleasure reading, so I'm currently reading a Zombie book and some highly interesting graphic novels, none of which is appropriate for school work in any way, shape, or form. So, that's that.

Friday, January 2, 2009

WHY I Teach Literacy

I have a few more graphic novels, and another novel that I need to review, but I can wait on those until the time is right. Since today is Friday, and I head back to work for two days of professional development and planning on Monday and Tuesday, I figured it's time to start reminding myself about WHY I teach literacy.

Of course, on the surface, I teach literacy because it's part of my job as an elementary teacher, a major part of my job. But that's a given, and obviously I didn't become a teacher and then go "dang, I have to teach literacy." So, why then, why do I have my students engage in straight literary practice (aside from social studies, science, etc., which are literary as well) for over two hours every day?

I will continue to bring this point up in this blog, and that point is that I DO NOT teach literacy in order to have my students score better on a test, any test. I teach the way I do because I want my students to develop a love and/or appreciation for reading and writing, and to further their own critical thinking skills. I want my students to enjoy the things they read, and seek out more. I want them to become independent, quick (and slow) minded thinkers (there's a whole school of thought on long thinking and slow thinking, and it's really quite fascinating).

So next Wednesday, when my students return, I want to focus more on the process of reading and writing, on them understanding their books, understanding their own likes and dislikes, and understanding how to find books that they will enjoy. The problem in America is that many students, the majority actually, lack these self-awareness skills, and as a result, never develop good reading habits and don't read.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, it saddens me deeply to talk to college students and adults who have no appreciation for the written word. To say they've never read a book like it's something to be proud of and to claim that there is no merit in picking up a book is what I feel like I'm fighting against. It's a bigger issue now, because there are so many influences that pull kids away from books these days, and it's our jobs as literacy educators to pull them back into the wonderful world of reading.

So there, that's my rant, I'm done now.