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While trying to explain how very cool it is that Neil Gaiman won the Newbery (which mostly consisted of me naming other books and sighing: The Hero and The Crown! The Tale of Desperaux! The Witch of Blackbird Pond! A Wrinkle in Time!) I also starting blathering on about Coraline, another book of Gaiman’s that was very, very popular in my classroom. To begin with, it had the three magic elements that attract middle school ambivalent readers: it looked short; it looked scary; it looked simple. Of course, all of those things were merely ways into the book. Although it was short, the story it told was complete and felt world-shaping. Although it looked scary, it was really *creepy* (more on that later). And, although it looked simple, the story, and the conversations it prompted in my classroom, proved it was anything but.

My favourite conversation of all was between two of my most-anti-reading girls. After nearly two years with me (and improving their reading levels a LOT), they were now willing to read, but still very picky and demanding about the amount of effort they had to put into the process. These were girls who would rather read a “meh” book that demanded less of them than an excellent book they would have to work at. (Of course, they were also Twilight obsessed, but that’s a different story). Coraline, though, Coraline got passed around the group like some sort of trifecta pick: the teacher liked it, the students liked it, the parents liked it.

Why was that? Well, everyone comes to a book from a different place, but I think these girls liked Coraline because it felt like an adventure. Also, though, because (as I overheard one day… what? teachers are consummate eavesdroppers!)

Dude, Coraline isn’t SCARY. Scary is, like, Nightmare on Elm Street. Scary’s not REAL. Coraline is CREEPY. I kept thinking that if I opened the wrong door at my own house, I’d end up somewhere really not good.

(13 year old girl)

So that was the magic then. These girls never really connected with Harry Potter, Frodo, or Merlin. Their lives were, quite frankly, too fraught with REAL danger to tolerate fantasy danger. But, they did connect with Coraline–the danger she faced, evil adults and world that made no sense, was something they felt was more real. It was creepy not scary. And they loved it.

Now, why they loved the completely unreal and unbelievably perfect Edward and Jacob is fodder for another post.

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so…

I may have effectively burned myself on packing. I just cannot bring myself to pack another item. Any item. I’m staring at the mess that is my house and squinching my eyes in an effort to make all of the stuff I still need to pack disappear.
It’s not working, so I decided to write a post about it instead. Think it’s gone now?

As a teaching aside, I just bought “Greater Expectations“. It looks good!

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I’ve been asked a few times what ‘magic’ I use to match my kids with books. It’s not really a trick, I just have a large store of books in my head, and I basically shuffle through them in a effort to match maturity level, interest, and possibilities to spur further reading.
It’s not much use just sitting there in my head though, so I turned to Web 2.0

And created a wiki at pb wiki for just this purpose. It can be found here, and I would love more input than just mine. Even if you don’t teach language arts, or middle school, I would love to hear recommendations and suggestions for books for our students to read, from the littlest to the biggest.
Check it out!

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And, we are learning about technology again. It’s too bad that teachers only get this sort of thing in one day snippets. I feel as if there is no way to get anything really accomplished when people have time to really explore and then come back and ask questions.
One of the greatest things about teachers is that they are (usually) eager to learn new things. One of the most difficult parts of teaching as a profession is that the amount of time teachers are given to learn new things is effectively—none. Which means, of course, that teachers need to use their free time to keep up with what is going on–creating a constant tension between work and, you know, the rest of life.

What does this have to do with technology? Technology has the potential to free up some of that time, to create some knowledge, to make the search for knowledge quicker and more accurate. It also, of course, has the potential to waste enormous amounts of time, but so does television and reading wikipedia and education blogs must do a little bit more for your mind right?

Teachers know that their students need time to learn, time to engage and think about what they have been exposed to, time to question and figure out what is going on. Teachers need that same opportunity; they need to have more time to learn the new stuff, and, of course, this needs to be an acknowledged part of their job, valued and supported, not a choice that pits personal necessity against teaching commitment.

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This year at promotion a number of my students were honored. As we were handing out the diplomas, a teacher-friend of mine noticed me stuffing some extra paper in a few of them.
“Whatcha doin?”
“Oh, I’m stuffing their nomination sheets into their folders. Even if they didn’t win, it’s nice to read nice things that someone else wrote about you.”
“Hmmm”

I thought the conversation ended there, but apparently my friend took my words to heart because I just got a copy of a letter that, apparently, nominated me for teacher of the year at our school (I didn’t win–our FANTASTIC science teacher won–and she is definitely an inspiring choice). The sentence that stood out the most for me was

“And she calls them “her kids” because each and every one of them is special to her. And because they know she values them, some of them perform only to make her happy…”

Now, I’ve often been asked why I have so few discipline problems (I’m youngish, and short, and…enthusiastic..so many people expect my classes to seem more chaotic than they are). I think this is why. I value each and every one of my students. Even the ones who stick noodles up one nostril to pull it out the other, or go home and “borrow” an Ipod from someone else (we got it back), or just generally have to struggle with school. I value and respect each and every one of them.

It was nice to hear someone thought the same of me.

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Because of various things (marriage! moving!), I won’t be starting the school year in a classroom come September. This is the first time since kindergarten (since I was in kindergarten) that I won’t be “in school” in some form or another. At the end of June (with 8th grade promotion fast approaching), I hopped around with renewed energy. I would have time to myself! I would read! I would return to school for a PhD the next September and use the year off to prepare! I would grow as a person!
Two weeks later?

I miss my kids. I want my classroom back. I have so much to teach! What in the world am I going to do with myself if I don’t have 64+ tweenagers to entertain, entice, and encourage?
I have no idea.
Suddenly, not working doesn’t sound like much fun.

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My students turned in their Writer’s Workshops today. Well, yesterday, but I’ve been grading them fairly constantly since yesterday afternoon, so the days have blurred together. As usual, my students have delighted and surprised me.

One of my favorite aspects of Writer’s Workshop is that it allows so much student choice. A colleague of mine just gave his first ever assignment that allowed students to pick their topic, and he was shocked at the number of completed, and well-written, essays he got. I just grinned.

So far I’ve gotten letters to authors (which, if the author is living, I mail off), letters to me, letters to friends(real and imaginary) and several short stories. I’ve also gotten a few passionate essays on the dress-code and cell phones written with the pleading only present in middle school.

It’s great fun. Of course, I also included an “essay” assignment in their contract, they do have to learn to write those, but because they were able to do other things that they wanted to do; the thing they had to do was made palatable. And easier. And more fun.

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