Hunting for Treasure

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."–Walt Disney

The Power of book boosts… April 2, 2010

If you teach middle school aged kids, then you know that the greatest motivator for them is their peers.  If I didn’t know that before, I certainly know it after incorporating book boosts into my daily routine.
Back in September, one of the first books I boosted was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  After my boost, I thought for sure I would have kids checking out my  two copies of the book.  But guess what?  Not a single kid wanted to check it out!  I couldn’t believe it!  This book was so popular the world around, but apparently not in my class.  Over the next few months, I recommended it to kids seeking advice for a new book to read, but to no avail.  I couldn’t get anyone interested!
Finally, in February, I noticed one of my boys pull The Hunger Games off the shelf and check it out.  He began reading, and zoomed through the fast-paced novel in three days.  Upon finishing it, he signed up for a book boost and shared it with the class.  Well, I suppose you can predict the effect of that book boost…within a day I had a waitlist for the book!  I had to go out and buy a couple more copies just to so I could stop hearing, “How much longer until I can check out The Hunger Games?”  from my class.  Patience is not in my students’ vocabulary when it comes to waiting for a good book!
My experience with The Hunger Games reminded me that even the best books need a little boosting, and the most qualified to do it are the kids.  The most popular books in my class library are the ones that the students recommend to one another.  Because of this, I reserve about five minutes each day for boosting books.  Those five minutes are invaluable to me.
By the way, I now have a waiting list for Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games!  The third book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, arrives in August 2010!

Tuck Everlasting and literary elements-post-reading activity March 30, 2010

One of the novels we read as a whole class this year was Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.  This is such a beautifully written novel.  It is a wonderful book to use for teaching theme, foreshadowing and conflict.  It’s also an excellent example of how an author effectively uses figurative language.

As a post-reading activity, I placed the class into small groups of 3, and gave each group a different literary element to represent through a poster.  The groups used their chapter summary maps (something I discovered in a Fountas and Pinnell book, Guiding Readers and Writers) to help them, as well as their notes on the literary elements.  After they were finished with their posters, each group presented to the class.

This was one of those impromptu activities that popped into my mind, and it turned out to be a great success.  It was simple, but worthwhile. It was a good way to review the story, and what I really liked about it was that my students had to refer to the notes they had been taking throughout the reading to complete the assignment.  I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but my students are still learning how to use their resources, so the requirement of having to go back and use their notes was good reinforcement for them.  As I was rotating to visit with groups, I was impressed with their dialogue with regard to the novel and their assigned literary element.  I was able to gauge who understood and who was struggling.  I will definitely use this as a post-reading activity again!  Maybe I will change it up by offering the groups an option to present in another format besides a poster, such as a skit or a poem.

Click on the link below to see a few of the finished products that made it home with me over the weekend!


Piclits and Poetry! March 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenucdavis @ 3:39 pm

Piclits is a fun website that kids can use to get poetic inspiration from photographs!  Here’s a little something I came up with….

I’m hoping to be able to use this site with my class, if it’s approved to be unblocked on our school computers.

Happy Writing!


Historical Fiction-top picks in my class March 14, 2010

This quarter, as part of my students’ independent reading assignments, they are expected to read at least one book from the historical fiction genre.  At first, this news was met with many groans and complaints.  But with a few book boosts from our school librarian and myself, my kids were able to discover that maybe historical fiction isn’t so bad.  Here are a few of the most popular titles I’ve seen kids reading:

* The Dear America/My Name is America Series by Scholastic
series of historical fiction.  Just about every kid in my class has found at least one title in this series that’s piqued their interest.  Here are the titles from the series I’ve seen kids reading

*Where Have all the Flowers Gone?  The Diary of Molly McKenzie Flaherty

*The Journal of Jesse Smoke, A Cherokee Boy, The Trail of Tears, 1838

*The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty, United States Marine Corps, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, 1968

* So Far From Home, The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl, 1847

Other popular titles being read include:

*The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle

* Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

* Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

*Sunrise Over Fallujah and Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

* The Secret School by Avi

* The Captain’s Dog:  My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Elephant Run by Roland Smith

* Incantation by Alice Hoffman

* Washington City is Burning by Harriette Gillem Robinette

* Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

*Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

* The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

* Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan

I don’t have a huge selection of historical fiction in my class, so requiring the students to read from this genre was an extra push to get them into our school library.   I’m happy that I chose historical fiction as an expectation this quarter.  The students discovered that there are THOUSANDS of titles to choose from, and that historical fiction doesn’t just have to be about war.  As a result, I’ve seen kids opting for historical fiction as one of their three free choice book selections!


Interesting commentary on Talk of the Nation/NPR about education reform March 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — jenucdavis @ 7:42 pm

Here is a link to an interesting episode on Talk of the Nation regarding teachers’ views of current education reform.  Have a listen..

Since I started back to grad school in January, I haven’t been keeping up with my blog!  I hope to carve out some time to begin contributing again to the blogging community!  Watch for more in the next couple of weeks!


Focusing on the “I’d rather…” readers December 15, 2009

In Janet Allen’s book Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12, she uses the term “I’d rather” readers to describe the kids in our classes who score proficient on reading tests and are good readers, but would much rather be engaging in other activities besides reading.  The past month I’ve really been focusing my efforts on my I’d rather readers.  Reflecting on them and similiar readers I’ve had in the past, I’ve noticed that they all have two common characteristics.  First, they’re all boys.  The second is that they all see the value in being “efficient”.  They are not lazy or careless in their studies, they are just focused on meeting goals in the most efficient way possible.  Somehow, reading does not seem to fit into their “efficiency” equation. 

During parent conferences last month, I had an in-depth conversation with the mother of one of these boys.  She  expressed a desire to see her son read more at home.  She told me that it is a nightly battle to get him to read.  During our conversation, I could sense her frustration.  The next week, her son and I sat down to have a post-reading conference on the book The Lightning Thief, which was recommended to him by a friend.   He was so excited to share about this book.  He was able to tell me, in vivid detail, about the characters, conflict and themes.  He was able to explain why he would recommend this book to others.  He was so fired up about it, and couldn’t wait to start The Sea of Monsters, the second book in the series.

After that conference, I began to notice a change in him as a reader.  During Independent Reading, he was actually reading.  Sometimes during English, I would catch him with the book under his desk trying to sneak in a few words here and there when he thought I wasn’t looking.  He became more in tune to our class novel, The Cay.  He would engage in more conversation about the class book, asking questions, predicting and putting in his two cents about his thoughts on the novel.  I even caught him sticking around on his break to peruse our class library! 

This week I plan on calling his mom to see if she’s seen a change at home.  Based on a couple of comments he’s made at school, I suspect it may still be somewhat of a battle on the homefront, but I am looking forward to reporting the changes I’m seeing at school.  I think she’ll be pleased.

Had I continued to teach reading the way I have over the past three years, this student would have continued to be an “I’d rather” reader this year.  I am confident that the decision to include more independent reading time and book sharing, as well as  focusing on matching books to readers made a difference with this kid.  The changes I’ve made in my class culture have provided an avenue for me to catch the kids passing through that may be good readers, but don’t think reading is good.  I caught this one, and I’m hoping to catch more!


Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass November 9, 2009

every soul a starEvery Soul a Star by Wendy Mass is a novel that caught me by surprise, because I didn’t expect to fall in love with the story.  But within the first few pages I was hooked!  Set at the Moon Shadow Campground during the summer of a total eclipse, Ally, Bree, and Jack  find themselves in the same place, but under very different circumstances, to observe the historic event.  Ally, whose grown up most of her life at the campground, is thrilled to be a part of such a astronomical phenomenom.   However, an impending change getting ready to happen in her life has cast a shadow on the event for Ally.  Bree would give anything to be back at home getting a manicure and facial.   Instead, she is stuck at the Moon Shadow, searching for exoplanets, and trying to come to terms with the fact that life as she knows it is about to explode.  Jack has “volunteered” to help his Science teacher host the eclipse tour in exchange for turning his failing Science grade into a passing one.  Initially it’s the eclipse that brings the characters together, but in the end they discover they have a deeper connection.

The thing I appreciate about this book the most is its integration of science into the story.  I am not “sciencey”.  But this book made me want to research more about eclipses, exoplanets, aliens and SETI.  I learned a lot about our solar system, and that piece of the story definitely kept me turning the pages.  Beyond that, I really appreciated the friendships that formed between Ally, Bree, and Jack.  Here are three kids that couldn’t be more different, and yet they discovered that once they looked past the surface, they had a lot in common.  I think that’s an especially important lesson for students to learn. 

This is the first book I’ve read by Wendy Mass, but I suspect if I read her other novels, I would see that she has a talent for writing with a distinct voice.  Since Ally, Bree, and Jack each take turns being the narrator, it was important for Mass to write in three different voices that represent each character, and she accomplishes this brilliantly.   After reading Every Soul a Star, I ordered another one of Mass’s books, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and plan to start reading it as soon as it arrives!