Monday, November 21, 2011

Hunger Games FEVER

I've been pushing Hunger Games on reluctant readers for several years, so although I was not happy with the actor choices for the movie, after seeing this trailer, I can't resist - I'm not a Twihard, but I now have Hunger Games Fever - may even be caught camped out in the movie line.

Release date: March 23, 2012

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Picture Book Month: No Ke Kumu 'Ulu - Teaching through Place-Based Literature

Today's theme is Folk and Fairy tales, so I would be remiss to not talk about at least one Hawaiian folk tale. Hawaiians are an oral culture, so the mo'olelo (the stories) are numerous, so this is just one.
Summary:
Kawehi Avelino's tale is about Kū, a Hawaiian deity who took the form of a human in order to live a   normal life. He works hard as a human to support his family, but things begin to change and there is famine across the land. In order to save his family and his community, Kū sacrifices himself by leaving his family and goig on a journey through the earth. The tears of his grieving wife at the spot where he disappears sprouts and the first breadfruit tree is born. This tree grows and multiplies so that his family and his people can escape the famine.

What it looks like in the Middle:
Each region has its own indigenous culture and as middle school students struggle with their own identity, finding picture books that tell their story, with pictures of people that look like them is very important.

This book is a bilingual legend about this place and about how our ancestors were able to live on these islands. It can be used to introduce legends as a genre for writing workshop, but it also is a way to talk about values of our culture. This particular book exemplifies values like kuleana (responsibility) and lokahi (working together), but it also talks about what Hawaiians valued (water, land, community, family).

Students also learn important Hawaiian vocabulary through this book, but the real value is in the uplifting of a people through the honoring of their own place-based literature. Scour the small bookstores and local museums for these gems within your own community.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Picture Book Month: Math Curse

Even middle school math students want to be read to. Today's theme: school
Summary:
Math Curse by the hilarious Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith bring the magical and manic back into mathematics. Mrs. Fibonacci announces in math class that "you can think of almost everything as a math problem," and the next day, our poor narrator is afflicted with a "math curse" that changes how she views every facet of her day. Soon, everything is a math problem, from the real questions ("How many quarts in a gallon?") to silly nonsensical calculations.  


What it looks like in the Middle:
This book brings back the wonder, and curiosity into mathematics. Math should be fun and problem solving should be this hilarious. It's a great book to read aloud in algebra or pre-algebra, especially before the word problems that haunt as as adults. "Two trains leave a station going towards each other. . ."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picture Book Month: The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash -Cause & Effect

Summary:
Trinka Hakes Noble's hilarious use of flashback and deadpan storytelling paired with Steven Kellogg's hilarious, chaotic illustrations make the story of a fiasco on the farm an enjoyable read, even for older kids and adults.  A girl returns home after an excursion to a farm and when her mother asks her about her day she slowly unrolls her day of chaos that didn't get exciting until the cow started crying. 

What it looks like in the Middle:
My own children loved this book, as all boys do, but in the classroom, this is a great way to quickly model cause and effect. The fact that the story is told backwards is even more effective for teaching cause and effect.  
Why was the cow crying? 
Well the farmer hit a haystack that fell on her.
Why did the farmer hit the haystack?
He was distracted by the pigs that had overrun the bus.

The illustrations and all the side stories within those pictures just brings the idea of cause and effect home for the students. It's a fun romp and a less intimidating lesson when this book is used.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Picture Book Month: The Sweetest Fig

Summary:
Chris Van Allsburg's Monsieur Bibot is a very sadistic French dentist who is given a pair of magic figs as a form of payment by an impoverished patient. The fruit has the power to make dreams come true, according to the old woman, but he scoffs at the idea until after eating the first one, he realizes that his dreams have indeed come true.

Bibot makes plans for the second fig, including ditching his abused terrier for a string of Great Danes when in a twist of irony Bibot's relationship with Marcel (his terrier) changes drastically.

What it looks like in the Middle:
This picture book with its sepia-toned illustrations and its extreme angles lends mood and tone to this story, which can be a lesson by itself, but I like to introduce irony with this book.

As we're going through the story, and as the students are immersed in the illustrations, they are asked to make some predictions, and at the end they get to "see" irony and are able to define it in a student-friendly way.

When we follow this up with a classic middle school short story like Guy de Maupassant's "The Necklace," they get the concept of irony faster by doing some ground work ahead of time.




Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Picture Book Month: Books with Voice

What it looks like in the Middle: Middle school is a great time to perfect voice in student writing. Not only do middle schoolers have a lot to say as they struggle to find their own identity, but they have attitude coming out of their pores. These children's books are full of voice and are a great way to model voice in mini lessons.

I especially love Olivia who epitomizes the middle school attitude. She's sassy and brilliant, and oh so original. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Picture Book Month: Heroes

What it looks like in the Middle: 
This is a short mini lesson used before the students leave for Veteran's Day weekend.

On November 1, 2011, Japanese-American veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team received Bronze Stars. They also received Congressional Gold Medals on November 2 for their contributions during World War II.

Soon after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, all Japanese (both Japanese nationals and their American children) living in America were relocated to internment camps. When Japanese Americans were allowed to volunteer with the 100th Infantry Battalion, they were able to remove their status as "enemy aliens" and prove that they loved America too. These young men, AJAs (Americans of Japanese Ancestry), volunteered even when their families remained in the internment camps.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the United States armed forces. For my students in Hawaii, the story of the 100th Battalion is often a personal story of a relative, so I like to start our conversation on honoring all our veterans with Ken Mochizuki's Heroes.

Summary:
This story takes place in the Vietnam-era 60's and the protagonist, Donnie, often must play the enemy in games because his friends say he looks like one of the enemies. Donnie's father and uncle, both decorated soldiers are reluctant to step in and help, but in the end when they do come out in their uniform and medals, it is not to boast or help Donnie lord it over his friends. Like the brown-shaded pictures, this message is more earthy and subdued and dignified.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Picture Book Month: Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Summary: 
In this hilarious book on commas, students are "shown" through illustrations how the same sentence, with different punctuation can lead to humorous misunderstandings.

What it looks like in the Middle:
Yes, this is a cute book to review comma rules, and it's possible to assess students on the type of comma rules, but I use it to help students visualize the power of punctuation by creating their own pages with their own base sentence and illustrations to show the two different meanings based on punctuation alone. For an extra challenge, I select a comma "rule" that they need to show with their base sentence and illustration.

These pages are shared with 2nd grade reading buddies to teach them about punctuation. I find that if the students can teach it to someone else, then they own that knowledge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Picture Book Month: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Summary:
The story goes that a mysterious man, "Harris Burdick" dropped off some illustrations with a Boston publisher over 25 years ago and promised to return with the accompanying stories. Mr. Burdick was never heard from again. Chris Van Allsburg's book shares these somewhat dark and mysterious illustrations with the original captions, leaving the reader to fill in the story.

What it looks like in the Middle: (Thanks Shawna)
Hundreds of school children have written  short stories for these illustrations, and 14 authors just published their own stories for these illustrations, but in the middle, our students treasure group work and drama, so this is a great book to do just that.

Students are shown one illustration on the elmo to study closely and then they're given the caption. As a class we brainstorm what could have happened 2 seconds before and 2 seconds after this illustration. I try to choose one that will bring out a lot of discussion, but not so juicy that it limits the ones I use for the group work.

In smaller groups, they are given just one illustration with the caption. They talk about what they think is going on and what happened 2 seconds before or 2 seconds after. Once they get an idea, they come up with their tableau where they become the picture 2 seconds before or after.
From Miller & Tysen's musical "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick"
The other students get to see the illustration and the frozen tableau and they talk about what they see and get to "tap" characters (their classmates who are either animate or inanimate objects) and ask questions to try and understand what the group's story is about.

Individually, the students can then write a caption for their new piece, write a lead, write a 5 minute story, etc. - depending on what we're working on.

Other:
There's a really funny video on Amazon that interviews some of the 14 authors about their take on Harris Burdick. Too hilarious.




Monday, November 7, 2011

Picture Book Month: Pairing Up Children's Books with Social Studies


A book like Warriors Don't Cry for 8th grade is powerful because it's a memoir from someone who lived through and journaled their way through integration. She lived history. Another advantage is that the events are fairly recent and many of the participants are still alive so there are numerous primary resources out there so that students are immersed in multiple perspectives and after the fact reflections.

The front loading children's book was Ruby Bridgesbut during the reading of Warriors Don't Cry, I like to bring in more children's books for additional perspectives and to supplement some of the Jack Daws photos that they're using in social studies. If you are able to team with the social studies teacher, they can actually use these books in social studies.



Summary: 
Aaron Reynolds and Floyd Cooper tell the story of Rosa Parks' arrest through the eyes of a young boy riding with his Mama on the same Montgomery, Alabama bus.

What it looks like in the Middle:
 The marble that he plays with and his Mama's strong chin hint at a deeper message and a growing awareness in the boy that middle school students will be able to talk about as they're learning about the struggles that the Little Rock 9 students are facing in Warriors Don't Cry.



Summary: Poet Nikki Giovanni writes this tribute to Rosa Parks by writing about her courageous act as well as the events that followed it.

What it looks like in the Middle:
When Rosa is waiting for the police to come, she is thinking about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling and a question that comes up in our discussion has to do with the idea of her "tiredness." What are some of those daily struggles during this time that were so overwhelming and how did people react? How would you react?

Another interesting conversation around this children's book is just about Bryan Collier's cut-paper illustrations. "Reading" the illustrations leads to inferring through perspective, angle, and meaning-making just around the art.

Summary: This book by Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander chronicles the events preceding, during and following the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

What it looks like in the Middle:
James Ransome's collage type illustrations based on historical photographs as well as things like pull out pages really are the key to the book. His illustrations juxtapose in a haunting way with the sing song quality of the writing.
We talk about the pictures, the anger, the confederate flag, the cut up technique of the collage method and how it shows tone in a piece. Although it's not through writing, the tone conversation is a good seque to our mini lessons on creating tone in student writing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Picture Book Month: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Summary: In this Mem Fox gem, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a little boy who lives next to an old folks' home.  His favorite resident is Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper because she also has four names. When Miss Nancy loses her "memory," Wilfrid interviews the other residents in order to help Miss Nancy find her memories. He presents her with objects that help her to remember.

What it looks like in the Middle:
I present this children's book when I introduce character baskets as a possible way to present their individual summer novels. Like this book where Wilfrid uses objects as symbols to try and help Miss Nancy make some kind of connection to her lost memory, character baskets offer up physical objects as symbols for themes and concepts in the book. Students are tasked with finding "metaphors" (objects) that they place in a basket and use those objects to explain their symbolism with the story.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Picture Book Month: When I Was Young in the Mountains

Summary:
Cynthia Rylant reminisces about her childhood in Appalachia in this poetic and touching book.

What it looks like in the Middle:
Sometimes picture books are used as models for writing and writing starters. This is a powerful one with its simple prompt "When I was young. . ." I have had great success with this prompt from students in the Middle as well as younger students, older students and even teachers in our summer writing institutes.

I team this book up with the Hawaiian poet Hina Kahanu's "When I was young in the Islands" from Bamboo Ridge's Growing Up Local

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Picture Book Month: Ruby Bridges

Summary: The year is 1960, and six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her family have recently moved from Mississippi to New Orleans in search of a better life. When a judge orders Ruby to attend first grade at William Frantz Elementary, an all-white school, Ruby must face angry mobs of parents who refuse to send their children to school with her. Told with Robert Coles' powerful narrative and dramatically illustrated by George Ford, Ruby's story of courage, faith, and hope is now available in this special 50th anniversary edition with an updated afterword!

What it looks like in the Middle:
The courageous story of Ruby Bridges is a great picture book to front load historical facts about the civil rights movement. It immerses students into the study of Brown v. Board of Education and the personal toil and sacrifice it took on some African American students.

This is one of the books I use before we read our class novel Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the high school students that tried to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. 


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Celebrating Picture Book Month in the Middle


"I have always believed that literature begins in the cradle -- the poems we say to the babies, the stories
we tell them -- prepare them to become part of the great human storytelling community. We humans are
the only creatures in the known universe who make and remake our world with story."
- Jane Yolen from her Picture Book Month essay

Dianne de Las Casas is hosting a Picture Book Month site for the month of November, so I thought I'd concentrate on some of my favorite Picture Books that we use at the Middle School. We may have a different intent in bringing them into the classroom, but I think that it works because it continues to connect us to the "great human storytelling community."

Summary: Vashti is a frustrated artist who is ready to give up in her art class when her teacher challenges her to just make a dot, then sign it. When her teacher honors Vashti's efforts and helps her to see her work from a different perspective, Vashti is inspired to push herself and with practice and confidence, her dots do become great pieces of art. At the end when she meets a young, frustrated artist Vashti is able to turn around and become a mentor for this young child.

What it looks like in the Middle:
I love to start the year off with this book, read it aloud, then ask my students why I read it. What does this story have to do with this class and what I expect from you?

That's usually all I need to ask. Some of what the students get from the book about the coming year:
  • Just do it (in this case, since it's English, just write)
  • When you write it, put your name on it, own it
  • Don't edit yourself ahead of time
  • Work will be honored and published
  • Push yourself to do better
  • Mentor others



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