sharpread and Teach Mentor Text Unite

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Today marks the first day of a book club that showcases the power of social networking.  A couple of weeks ago, I met my dear Twitter friend Jen from, Teach Mentor Texts.  I had a blast hanging out and talking books with a fellow book junkie.

Our unique book club will take place either every month or every other month depending on how it goes.  It will work like this.  Each cycle, Jen and I will take turns picking a book for the other person to read that month. This month I purchased a book for Jen to read.  What makes it really exciting is that she has no idea what book she will be reading. The book is in route and will be delivered to her house tomorrow.  Sound fun? I think so.

We are not real sure how we will blog about it during the month, but one thing I know, we will have tons of fun talking books with each other.

Jen has been instructed not to read this post until after she opens the package containing her surprise book.

I have decided to give you sneak peak at our book club pick for December.  Feel free to read along with us!

I will post next week about why I picked Hound Dog True for Jen to read.

Happy Reading!

Just a Teacher

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My goal in this post is not to brag about all the wonderful people I met at NCTE, but in order for me to get my point across I will need to discuss the awesomeness that was my experience. Sorry for all the name dropping.
I spent last weekend surrounded by people that I admire. Somehow, I was lucky enough to spend time with some of my favorite authors, teachers, librarians, and illustrators. Through various sessions, meals, walks, and Christmas tree lightings (I watched the Palmer House Christmas tree get lit with John Schu and Jen Vincent) I learned more than I could have ever imagined about both myself and teaching.

Me and Jen at the Candlewick booth

Being surrounded by all these amazing people, I found myself feeling like I didn’t belong. When I would get introduced to someone, I kept saying, “I’m just a teacher.” Being introduced to Linda Urban, Candace Flemming, Kirby Larson, and Jennifer Holm was nerve racking. I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of those authors wins at least a Newbery honor this year. What are they doing shaking my hand and giving me hugs? I’m just a teacher. Donalyn Miller, who I think of as one of the best teacher on the planet actually wants to hang out with me. I don’t get it. I’m just a teacher.

When Jennifer Holm saw me wearing my Babymouse t-shirt she actually smiled, jumped out of her seat, and ran up and hugged me. Why is she hugging me? I’m just a teacher.

One of my heros, Kate Messner, introduced me to Linda Urban. Linda actually knew who I was. She isn’t even on Twitter. This totally blew my mind. We chatted a bit, and the whole time all I could think was: I’m just a teacher. Why does she know who I am?

My self doubting built to its climax at the Random House Author Dinner Saturday night. Jennifer Holm got me invited and I was nervous. I kept emailing her and asking her what I should wear (I’m not the type of guy that usually worries about what he wears). Once I got to the restaurant I walked around for about 10 minutes looking for Jenni. I kept getting more and more nervous. Why I am here? Why did Jenni invite me? This doesn’t feel right. I’m just a teacher. Finally, I asked a man at the door about the Random House Dinner, and he quickly ushered me to where I needed to be.

Before dinner started, I saw Candace Fleming standing and talking on the other side of the room. I quickly positioned myself in the opposite corner. A wonderful Random House person seemed to sense my nerves. She came over and chatted with me. She saw me keep peaking over at Candace. She asked me if I would like to be introduced to Candace. That was the easiest question anyone asked me all weekend. “Absolutely not,” shot out of my mouth. She smiled and walked over to Candace. Crap, I knew where this was going. The next thing I knew, Candace was walking over towards me. Okay, so now I am the most nervous wreck I have ever been in my life. Candace Fleming is heading my way. The lovely Random House people introduced us. We shook hands, I am completely awkward, and I manage to get in a couple “I’m just a teacher” comments. Thankfully, we are asked to take our seats for dinner, before I can do any more damage.

During dinner I’m talking with Jennifer Holm, Kirby Larson, and college professor/former member of the Newbery committee, Nancy Johnson. I was actually starting to feel pretty good. Jenni and Kirby are two of the most lovely people in the world. They made me actually start to settle down a bit, but then it came out, “I’m just a teacher.”

It doesn't matter that this picture is blurry. I'm with Kirby Larson and Jennifer Holm!

Then all heck broke loose. Nancy Johnson jumped all over me. “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. You are not “just a teacher”. You are someone that truly cares about kids and books!” she said to me almost shouting. My mouth fell to the floor. She continued, “You are part of the most important profession on the planet. You need to respect yourself, and start to understand that what you do is awesome (okay, awesome is my word, but she said something like that)!” Holy crap. It was intense.

My world was rocked. She was right. I am not “just a teacher”. “I am a teacher” and that is a lot different than being “just a teacher”. We live in a world today where politicians, community members, and the media often look at us a second class citizens. They want to take our jobs, our benefits, our pay, and our respect. It is so important that we don’t see ourselves as just teachers. We need to see ourselves as part of the most important profession on the planet. Our profession includes some of the best thinkers, hardest workers, and most caring individuals in the world. I am proud to be, a teacher.

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove . . . . but the world maybe different because I was important in the life of a child.
– Kathy Davis

November 2011 #titletalk

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I am very excited to co-host #titletalk with the lovely Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) again this month. Last weekend I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Donalyn. At NCTE I got to see first hand Donalyn’s passion and zeal for teaching and books.

#Titletalk tends to be broken apart in to two parts.  Part 1 is often centered around practice, and in part 2 we talk titles.  Last month we spent the first half discussing how we use read alouds in our classrooms.  The second half of our chat we looked at our favorite read alouds.

Read Aloud Archives

This month’s #titletalk topic:

Part 1: How has social networking added to your professionalism development, instruction, and your reading life?

I think that this topic is going to create a lot of energy and lively chat.  Social networking has rocked my reading  and teaching life.  Last year I read…I have no idea how many books, maybe 100. Since I joined Twitter last April I have read 560 books, and that doesn’t include a lot of the books that I abandoned.

I’ll save the rest of my excitement towards this topic for chat Sunday night.

Part 2: What 2011 books are you looking forward to reading between now and the end of the year?

A lot of the buzz on Twitter this holiday weekend has been about how people are starting to go through a little bit of reading meltdown.  The first half of the year may have felt like a spring, and many people are still recovering from various conferences they attended.

With all the great books out there, I know that I am frantically trying to read the best books before we get too far into 2012 titles. Personally, I really want to be able to say that I read the Newbery before the announcement is made. Did I read it when I read Okay for Now or The Trouble with May Ameila? Maybe, maybe not.  I still need to read books like Wonderstruck and A Monster Calls before I start making book book award predictions.

Put the kids to bed early, warm up a plate of leftovers, get your debit card ready because it’s time join Donalyn Miller and me Sunday night at 8 EST. Can’t wait to chat.

New to Twitter chats? I was only a few month ago.  Check out this video to help you get started.


Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

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When I picked up Ghetto Cowboy I expected to find a middle grade novel about African American cowboys post Civil War. It is post Civil War.  It just takes place about 100 years later than I expected. Ghetto Cowboy takes place in the world we live in today.  A world with crime, poverty, and high dropout rates in inner city schools.  All of these issues effect Cole, a 12 year old boy, living on the edge.

Cole’s mom is fed up with his shenanigans , so she throws him in the car and they drive through the night from Detroit to Philidelphia, where Cole is dropped off to live with his father. The father that he has never met.  The father that walked out on his mom when Cole was an infant. Don’t expect a warm and fuzzy meeting.

Cole sees something in Philly that he didn’t see in Detroit: horses. Cole finds himself in the middle of a stable full of horses.  A stable full of horses in downtown Philadelphia.  Going from doing whatever he wanted on the streets of Detroit, to shoveling horse crap in downtown Philidelphia is quite the shock for Cole, but the real shock comes when the lifestyle starts to grow on Cole.

Ghetto Cowboy, to me, is a book about a community standing up and fighting for what they believe in.  It’s a book about a community not settling for gang-banging and drive-by’s.  I enjoyed watching Cole and Harper try to figure out how to be father and son.

The idea for Ghetto Cowboy came from real life cowboys in North Philly.

I Need to Write

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Click to visit Donalyn's Blog

My Mount Rushmore of teachers includes lots of different wonderful educators that have shaped me as a professional.  Two of these teachers are “The Book Whisperer” Donalyn Miller and “The Swiss Army Knife of Children’s Literature” Kate Messner. I had the privilege of sitting with them over coffee and tea, Friday evening at NCTE. As I sat in awe, and as I  listened to my heroes, I kept thinking to myself,  please don’t ask me to join this conversation. I kind of felt like that kid sitting in class praying that his teacher won’t call on him.

Click to visit Kate's Website

Well, I did get called on. Kate turned towards me, looked me in the eyes, and said in the universe’s sweetest voice, “Colby, what are you writing?”(I still can’t believe Kate and Donlayn know my name).  I froze.  My writing includes sporadic blog posts and writing with/alongside my fourth graders.  I know that Kate wasn’t trying to call me out, but I felt guilty.  I need to write more.  My writing needs to be more authentic and a lot more consistent.

I feel that a great deal of my successes as a teacher of reading, are because of my reading life. I read a ton, and I read a variety of things.  These great habits that I live by as a reader need to be transferred to my life as a writer.  Kate’s simple question is reshaping my life. I am committing to writing more. Nowhere in me, is there a desire to publish a book, but I do feel that writing more will help me to become a better teacher.

Kate Messner’s 5 word question has pretty much occupied my every thought for the last few days.  After losing a lot of sleep, I have decided to do something about it. Starting after Thanksgiving I will be posting a minimum of three blog posts a week. I will try to run a routine schedule on my blog to help myself stay consistent and focused.

My New Blog Schedule

Sunday: Inspirations/What we’re doing

Two Sunday’s a month I will post on a person that inspires me. This will be a mushy post, but hopefully it will help me reflect upon and honor the people that help me be the man and teacher that I am today.  This post will also allow me to go back dig deeper into the work of that person.  Since I will be posting on this topic every two weeks, I will be able to spend the first week researching and digging deeper, the second week I will write the post. Very excited about trying this.

The other two Sunday’s of the month I will post something about what we a doing in room 23.  I have no idea how this post is going to go, but I promise, it’ll be fun (at least to me).

Monday: Reading Life

This will be a simple post highlighting my reading life.  It will probably include what I read in the previous week and what I plan on reading the following week. The more I think about it, the more I think this post should at times also include my writing life.

Wednesday: Book Talk

I think that it is important that I continue to write about books that I love.  Every Wednesday, I will be posting a book talk. I am really looking forward to being more consistent in discussing what I’m reading.

I would like to be a great writing teacher, and I don’t know how to do that if I’m not a writer myself. It’s time to “man up” and get to writing. Wish me luck.

Guest Post: Michael Scotto-Latasha and the Little Red Tornado

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I am very happy to have Michael Scotto on sharpread today as a guest poster.  His debut novel, Latasha and the Little Red Tornado drops this week.  Earlier this year Michael visited my school, and Latasha has since taken over independent reading. If you are looking for a great novel for young readers, I promise you, Latasha will not disappoint.

Hi there! Michael Scotto here. I’m visiting sharpread today because my debut middle-grade novel, Latasha and the Little Red Tornado, goes on sale this week. A tale about maturity,improvisation, and one wild little dog, it tells the story of Latasha Gandy, an 8-year-old African-American girl living in Pittsburgh with her hard working mother and a badly behaved puppy named Ella Fitzgerald.

During the months I was writing my novel, I read many great books to keep me motivated and inspired. I won’t share all of them here—it’s a long list, and after all, I’d like you to have the energy to read my book when you finish this—but I would like to tell you about the top three books that influenced me as I wrote Latasha and the Little Red Tornado.

Book 1: Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/91253.Ramona_Quimby_Age_8

This book bears the most direct similarities to my own, with both featuring an eight-year-old girl as the main character. I read this before I got to work brainstorming Latasha.Reading it reminded me about how though boys and girls have many different experiences growing up, there is a lot about growing up that is universal. It made me confident that I could write a story with a female lead that would appeal to both girls and boys. As a little nod to that, I gave Latasha’s name the same rhythm as Ramona’s. Ramona Quimby – Latasha Gandy.

Book 2: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37741.Tales_of_a_Fourth_Grade_Nothing

One of the main engines of my book is Latasha’sfeeling that she doesn’t get the respect she deserves. Fourth Grade Nothing, with its frustrated older brother character,Peter, helped me get back in touch with that sort of feeling.

Book 3: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2839.Bridge_to_Terabithia

On the face of things, this book would seem to have no relation at all to Latasha and the Little Red Tornado. Paterson’s book is rural; mine is urban. It features a male lead with a female best friend; mine does the reverse. This book’s subjectmatter gets a great deal darker than mine, as well. However, it was probably the most important book that I read while working on my own. Honestly, I read it cover-to-cover a solid five times while I was writing, and I read the final quarter of the book even more often. What Bridge reminded me to do was to write honestly, and not to shield my characters from whatever the story brought upon them, even if it made me upset. Hopefully, when you read Latasha, you’ll find that my aim was true.

#titletalk Read Alouds: Power Tweets

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#titletalk is a Twitter chat that takes place the last Sunday of each month at 8 EST. What makes #titletalk so great, is all the wonderful people sharing their knowledge on a given topic, and also sharing book titles that go along with the topic.  Last month I was a guest co-host with Donalyn Miller.  The chat went super fast and I missed lots, so I’ve been trying to read through the archives at: http://www.titletalk.wikispaces.com. I have officially made it through half of the 122 page archive.  The following tweets are just some of the great tweets that I read through this evening. I had lots more, but I lost them. I am really struggling with this post.

Donalyn Miller’s 6 Reasons for Reading Aloud to Children

@donalynbooks Reasons for reading aloud to children #1: Builds community. Creates a common experience. #titletalk

@donalynbooks Reasons for reading aloud to children. #2: Models what fluent reading sounds likes. Vital for ELL and developing readers. #titletalk

@donalynbooks Reasons for reading aloud to children. #3 Instructional purposes. Mentor texts for writing and literary elements. #titletalk

@donalynbooks Reasons for reading aloud to children. #4 Remind everyone that reading is enjoyable. No higher purpose. Just fun! #titletalk

@donalynbooks Reasons to read aloud to children. #5 Accomplishes the good things about whole class novels while doing away w/ the bad. #titletalk

@donalynbooks Reasons for reaidng aloud to children. #6 Introduces children to authors, genres, series, that they may not discover on their own #titletalk

POWER TWEETS

Some of the tweets I found to be powerful.

@literacydocent RA is about teaching students what pleasures await them between the covers of a good book #titletalk

@FoodieBooklvr @donalynbooks Having kids do so much independent reading gets lonely. They need a shared experience too. #titletalk

@CBethM I use read alouds for shared experience with my high schoolers. Reading Dear Bully now. But have read Graveyard Book & others. #titletalk

@beckybakeroo: 1 of 5 biggest ways to capture the brains attention : Read-Aloud, music, movement, being kind, humor. #titletalk

@TeacherThompson I teach 8th grade and LOVE read-alouds because they build community in each hour. #titletalk

@mentortexts I send audiobooks home and ask parents to get audiobooks from library when my students are learning English as a second language. #titletalk

@lkstrohecker I use read alouds to introduce students to great books they might not otherwise know about or pick up. #titletalk

@ReadSoMuch I use read alouds to build vocabulary, model good reading. My little groups love to get very close to a book and ask ?s. #titletalk

@Jeremybballer Read alouds need to be used to expose students to all of the genres available. We can’t cover every genre in our curriculum. #Titletalk

@frankisibberson For me, read aloud is more about talk and relationships around the talk. #titletalk

@literacydocent RA provides demonstrations of oral reading and fluency.

@mentortexts My students are delayed in language development because of their hearing loss . Reading aloud is a great way to get vocab in. #titletalk

@literacydocent RA is about teaching children why to read, not just how to read. #titletalk

@literacydocent RT @colbysharp: RA’s r a gr8 equalizer. I have 4th graders reading at a 1st grade level, but they can take in a book read aloud #titletalk

@jmaschari RA can be good for introducing new books into classroom library – gives readers a taste and encourages them to check out book. #titletalk

@TWRCtankcom: I can think of many reasons to read aloud to children. I cannot think of one reason NOT to read aloud to them. #titletalk

@MaryAnnScheuer one of toughest reading concepts to teach is how to INFER. Reading Wonderstruck really helped us talk about that. #titletalk

@literacydocent Read alouds are “blessing the books” for many students! They will re-read, find more bks. by author, or subject. #titletalk

@TonyKeefer @literacydocent like the idea of book talking first, may try it out. I have a “suggestion list” from last year and this year. #titletalk

@literacydocent @PolkaDotOwlBlog A great professional bk to look at about this is Reconsidering Read Aloud by @maryleehahn #titletalk

@mentortexts & explain how I’m showing them what a good reader does to strengthen their definition and understanding of what good readers do! #titletalk

Picture Book Month

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When Picture Book Month was created a few weeks ago I was confused. I had just learned about NaNoWriMo(National Novel Writing Month), and I was nervous to take on another project in November.  However, I am a giant picture book fan, so I decided to take the plunge (I have found that following Mr. Schu’s lead is always a good thing).

I love how much my fourth graders love picture books.  Giving them permission to read and enjoy picture books during class time, is something that they really love and appreciate.  At about second grade, it seems like kids often get the picture book rug swept out from underneath their feet.  They were taught for their entire life to read and enjoy stories through picture books, and then, once they start growing as readers, they are often told not to read picture books any more.

Don’t get me wrong, my fourth graders are not just sitting around and only reading picture books, but picture books are a part of their reading lives.

For picture book month my class decided that we would all share an Elephant and Pigge book with another class.  Students are doing a paired reading to either a class in our building or they are reading to another class via Skype.  Here is a sample of a day in our life during  Picture Book Month:

On November 10th, we celebrated Picture Book Month with 4 Skypes with a combined distance from our classroom of over 1200 miles. I have zero experience with Google Maps, but I thought it would be a fun way to share our day (excited to learn more about using Google Maps).

WANTED: Strong Male Protagonist

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I have written this post many times.  I’ll write and write and write, never being able to get my words across the way that I want.  Usually, when I post I just write a couple hundred words about what I’m think of a book and hit “publish”.  Always trying to shed a positive light on both reading and the teaching of reading.

In my many ways I feel that it is a great time to be a middle grade reader.  (My guest post at Lemme Library where I talk about the “Golden Age of Kid Lit“.) As great of a time that it is to be a kid reader, I am concerned about the male protagonist in middle grade fiction.  I have been reading a ton of middle grade fictions as a round one judge for Cybils (these are my thoughts no one elses), and I’m feeling a little nervous for the boy readers in my class.

I have a long list of titles that show these characters that concern me, but I have chosen to write about a character from my childhood.  A type of character that I hope does not disappear from children’s literature.  Before I get started, I would like to give thanks to my online friend, who helped me find a way to share my feelings, without bashing books.

My childhood was spent in a small house in a town of less than 700 people. Of those 700, nine lived in my house.  My parents, myself, and my 6 younger siblings.  We shared one bathroom, and since we didn’t know any different it wasn’t a big deal (it helped that my parents have 6 sons and only 1 daughter).

Our small rural elementary school was surrounded by woods.  Woods, that in fifth grade, my buddies and I dubbed: The Canadian Wilderness. Each day after school we would grab our hatchets (I know very unsafe) and head to the woods where we became Brian Robeson. Brian is the male protagonist in my favorite MG novel of all time, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.  In the woods we would build shelters, cut/chop “stuff” with our hatchets, and hunt for deer (We never saw a deer, but we did see tons of squirrels. No animals were harmed.).

Sitting in the woods we would talk about Hatchet.  We would recap the events that occurred in our daily read aloud, and think about how we would have handled ourselves in Brian’s shoes.

I feel that Brian Robeson is the type of characters that kids need to read about.  More than 20 years after it was published, Hatchet is still being read over and over again by students throughout the county.  I can’t help but think that it might have something to do with the character that Gary Paulsen created.  Don’t get me wrong the plot of this story is crazy awesome, but without Brian this is just an adventure story.  Brian is dealing with the divorce of his parents.  Throughout the book you see how hard this divorce is on Brian.  I mean, he is stranded in the woods, and he still can’t stop thinking about the separation of his parents.  I love how this book shows how divorce is alway weighs on kids.  This book taught me that I can’t just crawl into a hole and cry when things don’t go my way, I have to fight.  Brian taught me to fight.  He taught me that no matter how bad things get, I still have control of my situation.  I can’t always control other things, but I can control me. Okay, I’m starting to tear up, so I am going to end spare you my any more of my life-long man-crush of Brian Robeson.

Not all books can be Hatchet, and I don’t expect every book published, to do for kids what Hatchet did for me, and I do see strong male characters in some of my reading. My concern is what some of the most popular books being published today tell the young men in our classrooms.

Kids are still reading Hatchet today for many reasons. One of those reasons I believe, is that they are not getting what they need from some of the books being published today.  Kids are not dumb.  As we teach them to be thinkers, and we help them to become great readers, I believe that they will not stand for being insulted with anything less than great writing.  I believe, in my heart, that they will turn to books like Hatchet, Shiloh, and Bud, Not Buddy.  My hope is that our future leaders chose the right characters to model their lives after.  I just hope they don’t have to continue to work so hard to find those role models.