Haiku 23 -- April 23, 2014

So much space, waiting
for us to step in, fill up
join, touch, sing, belong


Staking a claim

It is interesting to watch commercials these days. Since we tend to either mute the sound of the commercials or fast forward through them on the DVR, it has become sort of a game to see if we can figure out what is being advertised and what claims are being made for the product.

When it comes to staking claims, education seems to take the lead. Take Accelerated Reader, for example. Touted as a reading "program," its claims are incredible (in the true sense of the word incredible). Here is their newest addition to the site which ensures folks that AR is your #1 stop for CCSS materials: http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R0056070F0FD6A62.pdf. Now, AR can tell you if your students are college and career ready. Well, not really, but it sounds good, right?

And now, look at all the literacy skills we can measure with a 10 items multiple choice quiz over a book: http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R004090617GG9110.pdf. This form suggests that AR can measure engagement as well: http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R004090313GG93AB.pdf.

Now I am seeing hosts of webinars and professional books promising "deeper literacy." I understand what Kelly Gallagher talks about in his groundbreaking book, Deeper Reading. But so many of these webinars and books boil deeper literacy down to close reading and complex (as measured by levels and exiles) texts. I am growing more than a little tired of the claims about complexity and close reading. First, we have done critical reading for years. Critical reading, unlike the CCS-prescribed close reading, does allow for background information, does allow for personal response (does Rosenblatt not count under CCSS, I wonder?), does allow for questions beyond those which are text-dependent. And complexity? If all measures of complexity have to do with numbers (and that is where the CCSS discussion begins), then we are not looking at texts critically (or closely) enough.

I posted out this week, the list of books suggested for reading aloud that I compiled from Facebook and Twitter. Here are some complex texts from that list.

1. The Anansi stories are trickster tales from Africa. How the tables are turned so that the trickster ultimately loses presents some complex ideas for young readers.

2. CREEPY CARROTS can be used to discuss mood and tone and humor. Not too shabby for a picture book, right?

3. EACH KINDNESS, EXTRA YARN, and OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA present stereotypes, archetypes, motifs, and other quite complex elements.

I could go on (and I will when I do a presentation on picture books for all ages in San Angelo this summer), but please be aware of the over-hyped claims being made by folks whose interests are not kids by PROFITS.


Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Don't Call Me Baby! by Gwendolyn Heasley (HarperTeen, 2014). From the promotional copy:

All my life, I've been known as the girl on that blog.

Do you know what it's like for everyone to think they know you because of what they read on some stupid website? My mother has been writing an incredibly popular, and incredibly embarrassing, blog about me since before I was born.

The thing is, I'm fifteen now, and she is still blogging about me. In gruesome detail.

You can read my life as my mom tells it on mommyliciousmeg.com. But this story is my actual life and about what happened when my BFF Sage and I decided to tell the real truth about our lives under a virtual microscope. Thanks for reading . . . Just don't call me Babylicious.

My tweets


Haiku 22 -- April 22, 2014

Everyday's earth day.
Earth tree water sky day. Right?
So. All is not lost.


reading aloud

Yesterday I posted the list of suggested read aloud titles sent by folks via Twitter and Facebook. (and I caught the typos and fixed them, too, in case anyone else noticed). Here are a few observations about said list.

1. Only a handful of books were mentioned more than once. Most titles were only suggested by one individual. This suggests to me that the choices we make for reading aloud are as individual and idiosyncratic as we are.

2. Instead of an individual title, some folks opted for the "any book by" or "all the books in this series." I listed those separately at the end of the individual titles. I think it is interesting that here there seemed to be more "repetition."

3. Titles ranged from picture books to YA novels. That means, I think, that reading aloud is taking place AFTER kids learn to read on their own. This makes me wildly happy. I know too many instances where reading aloud ends in elementary school. How sad to think kids do not get the chance to listen to good books after elementary school.

4. These titles accrued within 24 hours. No one seemed to have a tough time coming up with recommendations. This also makes me happy. It means teachers have "go-to" books. Some even mentioned reading favorites year after year.

5. I knew almost all the titles. The ones I did not know have been marked for reading ASAP. It will serve as a good check for me in terms of knowing some of the books that resonate with kids.

Thanks to everyone who sent titles. I intend to keep adding to this list as well as the list of authors for middle school and high school recommended over the past month. Anyone who wonders about the value of social networking should see these lists. The great brain is alive and well online.

From my Mail

"Where did you get all of those funny sentences from?"

I love that. :)
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love poetry, but not like other people love poetry. No.

I mean, I love poetry.

But it's not that I just love it, I think I actually need it. Just as nourishment, and sunlight, and oxygen sustain me—Poetry sustains me. Just as religion, and family, and nature center me—Poetry centers me. Just as writing, and reading, and teaching fulfill me—Poetry fulfills me.

One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to bring in the poetry.

I love to share great poetry, like "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Patterns" by Amy Lowell, and many, many more greatly beloved gems from literature.

However, I also love to share my own poetry with my students. It makes the lesson more valid when I ask them to write, and they see that I am not asking anything of them that I don't ask of myself.

One of my favorite ways to sneak it in poetry is by tying it in with something that's part of my curriculum. It's actually the only way I get away with it these days...oh, how I long for a creative writing class where I can really cut loose and teach the art of writing, but that's a blog for another day!

I recently wrote a poem called, "With a Machete, My Father," from the point of view of the character of Nwoye in the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). It wasn't anything spectacular or mind blowing. It was quite a simple little poem, really, but with that one little poem, I taught point of view, poetic structure (including the "twist" at the end) and figurative language like imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing, personification, simile, etc.

As a follow up, I asked students to write a response poem to Nwoye from any other character's point of view in the novel. They really got into the assignment, it was like we were having a dialogue on paper—a poem from them in response to a poem from me in another character's point of view.

Complex and challenging, but fun and uniquely their own!

That's what poetry is for me, and that's what I want my students to discover—a unique, fun way to involve themselves and address poetry in a natural way, a way that speaks about their point of view as they explore literature, nature (including human nature), and life.

Here's a look at that little poem for those of who are interested:

"With a Machete, My Father"

Cut him down, severed the tie
That pulls a man away from himself.

So that he might be seen as
Strong, my father ended my brother’s life.

Ikemefuna’s voice called out.
For help he called, confused, bewildered.

Sunlight filtered through the leaves
of our forest, like an ancestral spirit, witnessing.

It glinted off his blade. Metal moved
quick as lightning, loud as thunder, wet as rain.

I did not see Ikemefuna in death, but I
Felt his shadow walking quietly behind my father.

When he entered his obi, my father
Did not speak, but sat down to drink palm wine.

I know why Okonkwo mourns.
It must be hard, to lose two sons in one day.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall, February 2014

Another one of my favorite ways to share, discuss, and explore poetry is to bring in excerpts from a small collection of nature poems I have entitled, "On Prairie Road."

I've been working on this collection for years. It's nowhere near finished, and I suspect I won't ever be finished with it because these poems come to me when I least expect them. They are little moments of truth that just hit me when I sit on my porch or meander around my property to stir and wake the poetic voice.

They are bits of life, mine and the world around me, and thus, I suspect, they will always be a work in progress.

I use these short little nature poems, these visceral snapshots, to teach theme.

I give my students a handout with three or four poems from the collection. I never know which ones I'll use because I always try to tie them in with the literature we are reading at the time.

When I first ask students to read them, it's a cold read, not really tied in to the book or story we're working with.

"Just read," I say. "Try to figure out what it means...what the poet was thinking...why she wrote it."

(I usually don't tell them I wrote the poems unless they ask if they are mine. Then I don't lie, I say, "Yes, it's part of something I'm working on," and we move on to the lesson).

After they do the cold read, I ask them to think about theme: What is the message behind the poems, what is the author trying to tell you about life? We discuss the first one together; we stir the mud using the well known SIFT strategy (Symbols, Imagery, Figurative Language, and Theme) to try to get to the bottom of it. When we all agree on a theme, we write it down beside the poem, quoting textual evidence, of course, to tie it to the novel/story we are reading.

Next, I ask a student to read the second poem to the class. This time, they talk to their elbow partner and try to SIFT through the poem together to find the theme. When everyone has a theme written down, we share and try to come to consensus as to the theme that best relates to the novel/story.

As a third stage of the lesson, the students read the last poem by themselves, SIFT through the poem, find a theme of their own and relate it to the novel/story.

As a follow up, students write their own nature poems to try to relate the theme of the novel/story we are reading to the class.

Once again, we have that dialogue on paper, that back and forth sharing of point of view and ideas between author, teacher, and students—only this time they see that they can find courage and wisdom in nature, and in their own observations of nature and the world around them, to make connections to the text.

This lesson always works because most nature poems are universal enough to fit any novel or story. I can usually find several to match whatever literary piece we are reading at the time.

Before I started writing my own, I used a number of nature poems I loved, anything from well known nature poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay to contemporary poets like Wendy Barker was food for my classroom.

In any event, here are the three poems I used with Things Fall Apart for those of you who might be interested:

"On the Grass"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Two eager grackles walk on stilts.
Raven heads held high. Their golden
Eyes astute, foraging for generous
Seeds to feast upon.

Then, a grub worm, fat and slippery,
Clutched in a black bird’s claw, ripped apart,
Torn open, devoured by one who knows
Its creamy, yellow guts are more substantial.

"Along the Barbed Wire Fence"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

An oak has matured. Its golden heart
Pierced by the barbed wires of the
Barricade it has engulfed. Four lines of
Barbaric fencing, swallowed up, imprisoned

Within one hundred rings of bark. The
Anchoring posts push, pull, tug with
The passing seasons, but the oak is stoic,
Unmoved, its heavy trunk incorrigible.

"Across the Road"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Cows migrate in unison, slowly, quietly,
Plowing against the forceful rains. Heads
Hung low, shoulders determined,
Eyes to the ground, as if in prayer.

They do not wait for the waters to rise,
The lip of the creek to curl up cynically,
Swallow them up, drag them downstream,
They walk steadily, calmly, don’t look back.

Using poetry, our own or anybody else's, to make connections within and across texts is a fun, easy way to expose students to poetry and its value—not only in literature but also in life.

Exposing students to poetry, its depth and beauty, its relationship to the world we inhabit and the way we live and learn, is one of the best things we can do for our students. It goes beyond educating them—hopefully, it leads them to a love of poetry and a true appreciation of it.

Who's to say? It might even someday sustain them.

Cynsational Notes

Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accolades.

Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu, 2012), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (2013), and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (2014), all by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Guadalupe was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems).

She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, two (of three) sons, Steven and Jason, two dogs (Baxter and Blanca), and one cat (Luna).

My tweets

  • Mon, 15:57: How I spent Easter: Recovering from food poisoning and vowing to never eat burritos again. I hope yours was much better! #HappyEaster


Haiku 21 -- April 21, 2014

Walking carefully
the tender psoas throbbing
one step at a time


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