I'm excited to enter a contest with YAtopia that I found on the Figment forums. The contest, http://yatopia.blogspot.com/2011/07/elevator-pitch-competition-with-agent.html, is simple. Send in your name, the title of your book, and a few other details, along with an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is 3-4 sentences that sum up your novel, as if you had only a short elevator ride to impress someone with the gist of your book. The winner gets to submit their full manuscript to Bree
Back in oh the eighties or so, maybe it was the nineties, we found out that chicken was really healthy. Not dark chicken but chicken breasts. So people started buying chicken breasts. Lots of chicken breast recipes came out. More people bought chicken breasts. The poultry industry sat up and took notice and started churning out chickens. The trucks passed me on the highway- and it was gross. The chickens were in little cages all smushed up and headed to the killing place to go on my plate. They looked nasty. I separated the idea that those things were what I was eating and continued to buy chicken breasts.
They were expensive at first so I had to buy dark meat sometimes. Until, overnight it seemed, there were these great big bags of chicken breasts, only breasts and they were cheap. Just $7 for around 5 pounds of meat- awesome! I bought those for years and was happy to get them. I never thought about what kind of chicken might have a huge breast like that or how no real chicken I ever saw walking around on a farm had boobies that big. I just bought them, ate them and fed them to my family. I’m kinda slow on the uptake a lot of times and this was one of them. I didn’t begin to consider the whole organic eating idea until this last year. Now I won’t buy those big ‘ol cheap breasts. Just seems like common sense. I wondered what kind of chemicals or hormones they might be given to create that result and I decided, I didn’t want to eat that on a weekly basis anymore. I pay more now for less meat.
I’m now gonna relate this to our education system. M‘kay? Here goes: The students are the chickens. The teachers are the poultry workers. The industry leaders are the feds. They want results. They want to see growth and see it big. They want to be able to test it. They want to turn the whole thing into a chicken factory. Just put this in and take that out and they tell us how to grow our students. They want to test them and reward us if we do it their way. Waddyathink? Does the extended metaphor work for you?
To take it even further, I think that this emphasis on testing and growth is bad for our kids. Shoot me, I do. I think we should be able to chase a rabbit in class and learn from our discussions of said rabbit. I think we should have time to think and time to write. I think you can’t measure all kinds of progress that takes place in a student. I know you can’t.
Now, now, now- don’t get all het up on me. I agree students should have basic skills in writing, reading and math. They should. But I don’t agree with the direction we are going. I don’t agree that testing is what it’s all about. I don’t agree that America is stupid. We are still innovating, yes so are others. Great! Competition is good.
Let me teach. Let me change my lesson plan at the last minute depending on what I saw on the newspaper sometimes. Let me extend a lesson when they aren’t getting it. Let me grow some smart chickens who have big brains.
I saw Kelly Gallagher speak at the National Writing Project Spring Conference in D.C. in March 2011 and purchased a signed copy of Readicide. I read it from cover to cover immediately and have recently read it again more slowly, marking it with the post-its as you see. I checked Google before beginning this blog to see how widespread the book was- 31,700 hits today. So… I don’t want to beat a dead horse and you may all be rolling your eyes but I do notice that Readicide has become a favorite of tech and teaching book clubs this year so perhaps I’m not too late and maybe some of you haven’t heard of this book. You need to.
I want to write about this book because I’m excited about it. Just as the National Writing Project has helped me to learn great techniques for teaching writing, Readicide does the same thing for reading. It’s amazing when you’re reading a great teaching book that deals with problems you’ve tangled with over and over and the author makes the solutions seem so simple. It’s one of those books. It will impact your classroom, K-College, cross-curricular.
Gallagher begins with research about the importance of reading. Hasn’t this been proven, you might wonder? Of course it has, but in the last decade the importance of test scores has pushed reading for fun and reading full-length novels out of many classrooms. He comes up with a novel idea of balance, balancing fun and academic reading, balancing the teacher’s involvement and student effort, balancing a need for accountability with allowing the student to get in the flow of the book.
He promotes an idea of half reading for fun and half reading for depth and critical thinking. He allows students to choose their own books to read for fun but expects one a month. He even solves the problem of accountability with a one-sheet on the last day of the month in class. I had already incorporated reading a book of choice into my English 2 classes and a short writing project done in class on the day the book was due but I only asked students to read a book every 8 weeks on average.
Gallagher shows why novels are important and how to teach them without killing the joy of reading. He frames the novel and then takes students on a “tour” of the first half, showing them what to look at and what’s important, even giving them the essay question. I had done a lot of this but then I didn’t allow the students to finish the book on their own. I backed off but not enough. He also shows how to assign a lot of reading so students can get the feel of the book without being constantly bombarded with “literature questions” instead focusing closely on one portion of a chapter. It is simple but genius.
I tried out one new idea from the book before school got out and it went swimmingly. Before reading a novel, make a list of some of the topics and themes experienced in the novel then find current news about those (Google!). Print the articles and put students in groups of article subject. They have to read the articles, decide what the main idea is, create a poster with 10 words or less on it and then communicate to the class what the article was about. All members must be ready to speak because they don’t know who will be chosen. I followed the directions and found current articles about mercy killing, the death penalty, women’s rights, and racism. I gave each group one-two articles about their topic and loved hearing the groups discussing the articles and what they meant. They were arguing about which words were most important to put on the poster. They could also add symbols which forced them to think about how to communicate metaphorically. A little tougher was hearing the presentations. The energy of the small group discussion didn’t carry over for most classes into the big-group but I think with more practice it would. Although it was enlightening to see how hard this type of reading was for my students, it was disheartening to realize how much I could have done with them had we done this all year. This is the most difficult reading we did all year because the articles were written for news-reading adults. It was a success in that the students were interested and everyone stretched their reading muscles. They also learned a little something about the world.
Last but not least, his lesson “Article of the Week” focuses on the exact skills that my students were lacking in. I’m excited to incorporate this next year. He hands out a piece of “real world writing” such as a news story, blog, editorial or a speech to his classes on Monday and asks them to show evidence of a close read. The purpose is to broaden students’ knowledge of the world.
What do you think?
Are schools killing reading with worksheets and post-it notes and journals? (Take a gander at L.A. unit of study (p.62) on To Kill a Mockingbird- I’ve read that book over 20 times and it makes me want to scream.)
Do we value test-takers over developing lifelong readers? Are the feds mandating breadth over in-depth instruction? Are most schools ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading? Gallagher answers these questions in his book and you won’t like the answers but make a change in your classroom and start a grass-roots battle to bring the pure joy of reading back to our kids.
I tasted the fear in my mouth- metallic, powdery angst.
The freeways curved before me and I watched the signs and swallowed hard, so far so good. I wasn’t dead or lost yet. I was scared to drive to my hotel in downtown Kansas City. I had looked up directions on Google Maps and painstakingly handwritten the directions. I looked around frantically as the street I was on ended, or I thought it did. It curved and I panicked and went the wrong way. Embarrassed, I turned around and went back. There were a lot more one-way streets but that was okay. I was okay because I had made it off the freeway. I detest, loath and hate the city freeways.
I had especially worried about the knot I had seen on Google maps . Six highways converged into one ball and then all emerged out- I didn’t want to be on the wrong one - going the wrong way because it’s harder to fix than you might think sometimes- kind of a cool metaphor for life there.
At the same time as I felt the fear I was proud of it- proud of myself for doing something I was scared of. I face fears every time I sit down to write, every time I lace up my shoes to run, and every time I start a new idea in class. What if I fail? Sometimes I cave in to those fears (mostly if it involves dancing in public) but I conquer them some of the time. But this fear, this saliva-producing, mind-numbing, sweat-inducing, "Oh God where do I go?" fear- That’s unusual, and I think good for people to experience on some level.
Now I need to get up and drive to a friend’s house in Kansas City, Kansas and guess what?
Yep, I’m scared- somewhere new- and I gotta get on that big highway again- eeek- sigh- let’s do this -
The hardest thing about teaching is, for me, a constant sense of failure. Yeah, so I’m reaching them in that they are listening to me. Yeah, they love me for the most part and it goes both way; I love them too. But my heart breaks for many of them. The ones I can’t seem to help. They have issues. What can I do for them? I feel my hands are tied.
Yeah, most do the assignments I ask of them. But are the assignments hard enough? I want to do more but if I speed up I lose so many. If I ask them to do homework, I lose so many. I don’t want to lose any.
The failure beats me about the head: I’m not teaching enough, I want to help them be better writers, readers, communicators, researchers, citizens, friends. I want them to make better decisions for their lives, learn how to be curious and ask questions, learn that there are some books out there that they will enjoy reading. I want them to want more, more than what our little hometown offers, more than what they think they can do, more than a minimum wage job, more than getting married right out of high school and poppin’ out babies.
I want to them to think about beauty and truth and philosophy and think for themselves. I want them to read the newspaper and know there is another side to every story. I want them to think of others before themselves.
I want them to wonder:
About the stars when they look up
And the plates shifting when they look down.
About how human words cause joy
About why it’s important to struggle sometimes
And why coasting down the hill goes so much faster than climbing it.
I want them to wander:
To the cities where the museums, diversity, and money live
To the mountains where the air is thin, the beauty is free, and simplicity reigns
To the oceans where the sand squishes beneath your feet and the waves echo
To the universities where learning and struggling take place
To the foreign countries where the food, culture, religion, language is strange and uncomfortable
Through the journeys, epiphanies and stories of others through books.
See why I feel like a failure?
There is this constant pressure. Keep ‘em busy, I think. Keep ‘em thinking. Yes, keep ‘em quiet because all heck breaks loose when they all try to talk and nothing gets done. Keep those scores up on the Test. Keep ‘em in the room in their seats.
The status quo is to be easy, to give extra credit so they can pass, to turn your back during the test so that some can cheat, to go light on athletes and on game days, to let some problems lie because mommy and daddy are boosters.
Things I hate:
-the mean students who have everything but want to be “funny” too
-the teachers who say “Are you like your sister/brother? I hope so/not.”
-easy extra credit such as word finds
-wallowing in ignorance, knowing it and being proud of it
-never caring enough about the others around you enough to shut your mouth.
Thanks for listening.
It's all over the news today about the bill in Missouri that would outlaw teacher-student messaging on Facebook. It lumped us in with all the people who use Facebook to abuse children. Nice. FIrst of all, is anyone else offended to be assumed to be a pervert if speaking to students on Facebook? I am.
I searched "Teachers and FB" and got some interesting hits, depressing ones- teachers who let down their guard or posted idiotic statuses in a weak moment. I can't ever see myself posting that I would like my classes to die which is what one New York teacher did. She also said that her classes had been spitting and kicking each other so it had been a really bad day. I don't know if she's a good teacher or not. I do know that I have thanked God for those teacher friends that I could talk to after one of those days, and they happen to all of us at one point or another. But I don't think I would post it on Facebook. Perhaps they forget that it's like holding a microphone and think it's like a telephone.
I have a "student" page that is open to the world. I have no problem with this whatsoever, although that would seem to be more of a security risk than allowing only students and parents to see it; that's our school policy. I don't use it for class. I could take it down and be okay with that.
However, I don't like the government legislating that it is against the law for me to talk to a student in a message. What about those times when the student needs a friend? If texting and messaging and calling all become illegal what about the good teachers who are there for their students? Who help them cope with abuse? Or help them fill out a FAFSA and college apps and maybe take them on a college visit? What if parents are unaccessible for some reason? Wouldn't most people want teenagers to have access to a caring adult who has their best interest at heart than no one? Or just other teenagers?
Don't get me wrong. I don't message students normally. I have texted and messaged my journalism students to remind them of something but I don't butt into my students' lives. Sometimes however, I am pulled in by the student. I'm just trying to figure out what to say when this human being needs a listening ear of someone who cares and it is against the law for me to do so. I guess we could go back to notebooks, or is that wrong too? Do we just lecture and show our Powerpoints and ignore the problems that these young adults need help understanding? I can't.
Like it or not, FB and texting is the way this generation communicates. If we legislate caring, responsible, normal adults out of that environment, I think we are casting those teens adrift to solve their own problems. I, for one, want to be there if a student needs me. I hope the state figures out a way to continue to allow these "good exchanges" to take place.
I was a good teacher before the National Writing Project. I am still a good teacher. I care about the kids, always have. I try to have a sense of humor and connect, still do. I try to get the students engaged and working on project that stimulate their brains, so what changed?
I had taught for seven years when I attended the Summer Institute of the Ozarks Writing Project. I knew I was a good teacher but not an effective writing teacher. I wanted to be but had no idea how. Through the four-week intense seven-ten hours days of work in the Institute I found out. I became a writing student myself. I freewrote, I researched. I wrote as a student does in class by being a participant in my fellow teacher's demos. I wrote and wrote and wrote and found out what writers need. Writers need to talk sometimes, especially in a small writing group dedicated to helping them find the "holes" in their writing. Writers need choice. Writers need an authentic audience. Writers need time. Writers don't go through six steps in a row of the writing process; they cycle back and forth constantly. Writers revise, and revise and revise before they ever worry about a misplaced comma.
I also became a teacher-consultant through the Ozarks Writing Project. I have presented twice at Write to Learn, our statewide language arts conference. I have written a youth novel by participating in National Write a Novel month. I have started two websites and am beginning another book called "The Organic Teacher."
I have acquired a network of caring, dedicated, insanely intelligent educators to bounce ideas off of, learn from and emulate through NWP. I have found my voice, my passion, and feel like I'm almost an effective writing teacher. There's always room to grow and I'm ever-learning.
NWP needs funding. It's important today and tomorrow, for our students and our nation.
Kim Blevins is a teacher-consultant with the Greater Kansas City Writing Project.