Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Day No Pigs Would Die

This past week, we started reading the novel A Day No Pigs Would Die as part of our Family Dynamics unit. I had found this novel in our school's Language Arts book room in August and was very glad that I picked it up to read. After reading it, I discovered that both my now college-age sons (Peter and Andrew) had read the novel when they were in middle school. When I asked them about it, they both remembered it, and both of them said they were glad they read the novel. With their endorsement, I added it to our first unit readings for family dynamics!

The novel is a classic "coming of age" story, so it definitely works for the theme of Family Dynamics. And, the book is rich is vivid descriptions, great dialogue and characterization, figurative language including the use of idioms, and other fun things that Language Arts teachers love to teach and talk about. I'm experimenting with students developing their own vocabulary lists for our "chapter chunks" and working on developing meaning through the primary use of context clues. Students will also be completing reading comprehension questions and quizzes as well as learning about various literary and plot elements while reading it.

As background before starting the novel, we read several articles about the Shakers. Even though the family in the novel is described as being Shaker, they aren't Shakers in the most true sense. However, their strong religious beliefs are an important part of the story. In addition, the novel spotlights the farming life of the early 20th century and the tough lessons that farmers, and farmers' children, learn and live with as part of their everyday lives.

I invite parents, students, and others who've read or who are reading this novel to post their thoughts about it here. It would be great to have specific posts about the novel's language in addition to having posts about the storyline and plot! What do you guys think about it?

Monday, August 23, 2010

How Students & Parents Can Post Blog Comments

We had a great first day of school today! I've sent home a "syllabus brochure" with information for parents, and I've also sent home a letter for parents to read and sign. Students should also read and sign the letter :-)

To help students learn how to post comments on blogs while at the same time protecting their privacy rights, WMS staff have set the following guideline for posting online comments:
  • Students should not use their own names when posting on WMS teachers' blogs.
    • Students should post comments by using the following "code" names: "Lions" followed by the last 4 digits of their student ID number. (ex. Lions1234)
  • Parents can also "code" their comments if they would like to do so. Parents' codes could match their students' codes by adding descriptors. MomOfLions1234 or DadOfLions1234, etc.
Student and parent bloggers should write their names and blogger codes on an index card so I can know who is participating in our blog conversations. The index cards can be given to me directly or students can drop them in their class baskets in the back of my room. Students who participate can earn Pawllers for PBIS rewards and/or my weekly class raffles.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

This summer, I've been catching up on some reading of young adult fiction. I just finished reading Catherine, Called Birdy about a girl growing up in medieval England. It was good and was also fun to read aloud. I read it to my husband in the car while we were driving home from Maine as a way to keep us both awake and entertained. I also just finished reading Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn. It was set in Maine, and since I was on a vacation to a  lake there, I thought I'd take it along. Turns out, the characters in the book actually went to a beach at Pemiquid Point - the same beach near where we were staying!

While in Maine, I also read a young adult science fiction book titled Code Orange by Caroline Cooney. It was set in New York City, and since I'm spending a week in NYC this August, I thought it would be a quick read that would also get me a little familiar with some of the city. It's a great book about a boy who ends up in the midst of a terrorist plot after finding old scabs in a medical book when he's researching for an infectious disease project in his advanced biology class. It kept me reading late into the night while we were on our vacation. 

While at Bethany Beach earlier in the summer, I read Copper Sun by Sharon Draper. I've already passed it along to another teacher friend to read. It tells the gripping story of a young African girl who was captured and sold into slavery. It wasn't the type of book someone would usually read at the beach, but I couldn't put it down and had to finish it. Once I finished it, I found another book in a bookstore there to read. It was titled The Help and told a story about growing up in Mississippi in the 1960's. It's not a "young adult" book, but a good friend of mine had recommended it to me. It reminded me of places and people that I knew, but my family didn't ever have "help" like the main character in the book did when I was growing up.

One of the most interesting books I read this summer was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Wow! What an amazing nonfiction story. The author (a science journalist) told the story about how a sample of a woman's cancer cells that had been taken routinely from her without her knowledge ended up growing  in laboratories. Her cells eventually played a key role in many breakthroughs in medical science, but her family never really understood what had happened. It reminded me of another great nonfiction book I'd read this past spring - Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder. This book tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, an amazing doctor who founded an organization called "Partners in Health" to bring medical services to the people of Haiti. In both these books, the writers ended up putting themselves into the narratives as characters. That's interesting to me because that's not usually what nonfiction writers do.

Right now, I am reading a book (Shanghai Girls) that I picked up at the book fair we had at Walkersville Middle. It's not the type of book I thought it would be at all, but I am learning a lot about the Chinese immigrant experience at the beginning of the 20th century. It wasn't easy or pretty; in fact, it contains some extremely brutal scenes. I'm going to have to finish it, though, because the writer has really drawn me into the story and made me care about the characters. I've got to find out what happens to Pearl and May.

I also read an adult sci-fi novel, and of course, read Time Magazine almost weekly. I'll post some more about summer reads and summer reading soon.

I hope that all my incoming seventh grade students read at least one book from the WMS Summer Slide reading list. You can use this blog site to tell me what you read and what you thought about the books. What would you recommend I read next?