Monday, August 31, 2009

Thanks for the Nod, Annette

As I sit in my classroom, watching my 7th grade students devouring books, I marvel at the belief that kids no longer like to read. I have long known this to be a fallacy. Kids DO like to read, but only when they are given books that speak to them.

Sure, kids spend time with video games, athletics, and even texting their friends, but kids who are given choice and quiet time will also spend quality hours reading, IF they have had positive experiences at some times with books.

One of the first activities I do in my English classes is a presentation I call "Important Books." I spend a class period talking with my students about books that have played an important role in my life. I talk about those warm fuzzy moments of childhood when my mother read to me; I talk about my favorite books of childhood; I tell them about books which inspired me to action, taught me a lesson, and changed my way of thinking--all positive memories about books, something kids would expect me to do because I'm an English teacher.

But then I do something kids don't expect. I tell them about books I hated, books I abandoned, books I had never read yet still wrote reports about. I share my absolute worst reading experiences, reasons why I was frustrated with either the book or the teacher.

I have a really good reason to let them see this negative side to reading--kids who are reluctant readers have the mistaken impression that kids who like to read like to read--EVERYTHING! They believe all reading is created equal, and that the reader loves it all the same--textbooks and novels alike. Since the reluctant reader once found something they didn't like to read, that must mean they don't like reading--PERIOD.

But the next day in my class, we discover this isn't true. That's when they become the teacher by bringing in a list of 3-10 books they have read or had read to them that were important in each of their lives. The kids are anxious to stand in front of the class and share their reading experiences. They often discover they were not the only one to feel a certain way about a particular book. They hear about other books they might also like to read, and they find out which books to avoid.

My the time I turn them over to independent reading time, even my most reluctant readers are ready to give the experience one more try. I do everything I can to help them find the right book, the right mode (audio books are a great way to hook reluctant readers), or the right place to read (kids love the couch in my back room). I teach them to abandon a book early if it's not interesting, skip words they don't know, and always have a book handy to read when there's a free moment of time. And If they need help finding just the right book, I always have about a hundred suggestions in mind to give them. I don't ever let them STOP the process of reading, because as soon as they do, they STOP reading.

And as Annette Lyon mentioned in her blog today, using these strategies has helped me change the mindset of many a non-reader in a short period of time. If you've got a reluctant reader at your house, try talking with him or her about your important books and see what they come up with about themselves. You may learn a lot about why they stopped reading in the first place, and lead them to discover a new joy for reading that will last them their whole life long.

(Lu Ann Staheli was named Utah's Best of State Educator 2008, Nebo Reading Council Teacher of the Year 2007, Utah's English Language Arts Teacher of the Year 2000, and Utah's Christa McAuliffe Fellow in 1999 for her project on Literacy)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two Days Down and Counting

Yesterday was the first day of school--and what a day it was.

Less than ten seconds after the tardy bell rang to start the school day, the fire alarm went off. No kidding! Kids had hardly made into into their seats before they were filing out again. New teachers and interns were at a loss as to where to go and what to do once they got there. Of course, none of the teachers knew the names of their students to call roll and most of the kids didn't know what their teachers looked to find them once everyone assembled in the right place anyway.

I didn't have a class first period, and I've been here long enough to know there likely wasn't a fire anyway. Instead, anytime the water pressure drops either at the school building or in Payson's south end, the fire alarm goes off in our building. But no announcements had been made so I began to wonder. At last, one of the counselors--and Payson's former Fire Chief--told a few teachers to stay in the building and ignore the alarm. Someone figured out how to silence the obnoxious sound that accompanies the flashing strobe light signal.

The volunteer fire department was already of their way, but they knew enough to bring a small crew just in case it was yet another false alarm. Maintenance people from the district office drove in from Spanish Fork and lots of adults stood around, staring at the gages and saying, "Yep, I think it's the water pressure."

Eventually someone realized half the school was standing around outside, waiting for the all-clear to come back and start school. Several announcements later, and teachers from inside the building going to open doors for interns and new teachers who didn't think to take their keys who were locked outside, and soon everyone was back inside with five minutes left to take role before it was time to move to second period classes.

Of course, by then, the bells had topped ringing loud enough for anyone to hear them. That's okay though. They had been set to the wrong times anyway, and no one had informed the new teachers that second lunch gets out at the third bell instead of the second one. Another round of announcements finally got kids back into class in enough time to get let out for the real start of second lunch.

We made it through to the end of an early day. Wednesdays are early-out because of teacher collaboration in Nebo school district.

Day two brought excitement all its own. Today was PICTURE DAY!

Our principal likes to do pictures right away so the kids get student ID cards and so the administration has current photos of all the little darlings in case they need to locate a person who breaks a rule. ( I threatened to take a phone away from a cute little 7th grade girl already.)

So, through most of the morning, classes were interrupted with more announcements--"Would all students with last names beginning with the letters A through B, please come to the cafeteria to have your picture taken?" Why is it that these announcements go on forever, yet in the end, we still have students--and teachers--who suddenly realize while the photographer is packing up that they forgot to go down and get their picture taken for the yearbook?

But the over-riding question is, after two days of chaos like this, will we be able to make it through the next 178, or will they be more of the same.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to the Torture Chamber

Like most kids, I couldn't wait to graduate from high school, finish college, and get on with my life. Although high school wasn't too bad,and elementary school had been tolerable, junior high was the worst torture I could ever imagine for someone. I wouldn't have wished my junior high school experience on my own worst enemy (I had a few whom I've since forgiven for making my life so miserable.)

So here I am, an adult, spending year 31 in (where else?) a junior high school classroom! What am I thinking?

In all honestly, I'm thinking, "Okay, another year. So what?" My lessons are planned for the week. Handouts for are copied and ready. I've made two slide presentations to accompany my lessons. I've even cleaned out my desk drawers.

Today was 7th grade orientation. My classroom was filled with students and parents for most of the morning. They seem like a pretty good group of kids. Tomorrow I'll really find out. I'll be teaching two 7th Honors English pods and two 9th grade English classes. I'm excited to have the 9th graders again. I've taught 9th grade for 29 years, so not having them last year felt really strange.

I know--some of you are thinking I'm strange. Despite the fact my own junior high experience was crummy, I still sort of like these guys and this age group. The idea of being in an elementary school and coming home with little hand-prints all over me is creepy (not to mention the number of germs those little kids spread around!) I taught Seniors once and they might as well have been AWOL from school since their brains were already of graduation the first day of school.

Junior high kids are great. Still trusting enough to be interested in what you're saying, independent enough that I don't have to wipe their noses, and becoming savvy enough about the world in general that you can talk with them like they might possibly understand what you're saying.

Torture chamber or not, I'm back. Now if I could only find where I put that switch to the electric chair . . .

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Turning the Page Interview for Confetti Antiques

Here's a link to the entire interview I did with Confetti Antiques owner Donnie Morris. The program ran on Spanish Fork cable a couple of weeks ago. It's 17 1/2 minutes long.