Monday, December 31, 2007

Book Lists

Take a look at other people's book lists at Semicolon.

Poetry Round-Up

Yes, I know it's late, but here's the Poetry Friday round-up from last week.

What I Read in 2007

Here's what I read this year. Not much, compared with some years. I didn't count most of the readings and re-readings to my children, and I didn't count everything I read to my students, either. Totally failed on the War and Peace goal. But I also read some great stuff in 2007.

1. The Trumpet Major, by Thomas Hardy
2. The Art of Keeping Cool, by Janet Taylor Lisle
3. Anacaona: Golden Flower, by Edwige Danticat
4. Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers
5. A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews
6. A Breath of Fresh Air, by Amulya Malladi
7. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James and Chris Collier
8. Uglies, by Scott Westerfield
9. Pretties, by Scott Westerfield
10. Waiting, by Ha Jin
11. The Virgin's Lover, by Philippa Gregory
12. Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech
13. The Seville Communion, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
14. The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
15. Specials by Scott Westerfield (I see I never did post about these books, in spite of saying several times that I was going to.)
16. Heh. I called this one #17 but it looks like it was really #16, meaning I read one fewer than I've been claiming. The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory
17. The Third Secret, by Steve Berry (possibly the worst book I finished this year)
18. The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
19. Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
20. The Arraignment, by Steve Martini
21. Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen
22. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
23. The Boleyn Inheritance, by Philippa Gregory
24. Devices and Desires, by P.D. James
25. The Mission Song, by John Le Carre
26. The Landscape of Love, by Sally Beauman
27. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri
28. The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, by Barbara Vine
29. Monday Mourning, by Kathy Reichs
30. The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (this was one of my favorites of the year)
31. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
32. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
33. Hitler's Daughter, by Jackie French
34. Troy: Shield of Thunder, by David Gemmell
35. A Certain Justice, by P.D. James
36. Playing for the Ashes, by Elizabeth George
37. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood, by Ann Brashares
38. The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth
39. The Town on Beaver Creek: The Story of a Lost Kentucky Community, by Michelle Slatalla
40. a book in French by the father of one of my students
41. Retrovirus, by T.L. Higley
42. The Teacher's Guide to Big Blocks Grades 4-8
43. Gossip Girl, by Cecily Von Ziegesar (yuk, I hated this book)
44. Day One and Beyond, by Rick Wormeli
45. Living and Teaching the Writing Workshop, by Kristen Painter
46. Words, Words, Words:Teaching Vocabulary in Grades 4-12, by Janet Allen
47. Managing Your Classroom with Heart: A Guide for Nurturing Adolescent Learners, by Katy Ridnouer
48. The Reading Zone, by Nancie Atwell (I love, love, love Nancie Atwell)
49. Second Honeymoon, by Joanna Trollope
50. The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian
51. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
52. Portrait of an Unknown Woman, by Vanora Bennett
53. Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine
54. Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen
55. This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen
56. Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer
57. Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, by Ralph Fletcher
58. The 9 Rights of Every Writer, by Vicki Spandel
59. My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
60. All American Girl, by Meg Cabot
61. In the Presence of the Enemy, by Elizabeth George
62. For the Sake of Elena, by Elizabeth George
63. Keeping the Moon, by Sarah Dessen
64. Foreign to Familiar, by Sarah Lanier
65. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver
66. Guests, by Michael Dorris
67. The Writing Workshop: Working Through the Hard Parts (And They're All Hard Parts), by Katie Wood Ray
68. The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley
69. The Mottled Lizard, by Elspeth Huxley
70. Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan
71. Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer
72. Double Identity, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
73. The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick
74. Code Orange, by Caroline Cooney
75. Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo
76. All the Little Live Things, by Wallace Stegner
77. And today I'll finish Voices of the Faithful, ed. by Beth Moore

Whew. I can't believe I just typed all that in. I'm such a nerd. It was fun to revisit all the titles briefly, though. The links are all to my reviews or, in many cases, brief mentions, on my blog. Almost all the original posts have Amazon links if you want more information about the book.

Beach Reads

So here's what I read at the beach...

I finished off Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo. This became book #76 of the year. I enjoyed it very much. It's set in upstate New York, familiar Russo territory, but also Italy. The Kayla plotline felt a bit tacked on to me, but maybe that's because I was trying to finish it in the car on the way to the beach and got a bit carsick...

I read the first part of The Doctor's Wife. I think I've read this before, or at least started it, but I quit reading it when I realized I was spending all my energy thinking, "Have I read this or not? And if I have, why is only some of it sounding familiar? And where would I have found it?" and none of my energy actually paying attention to the story. (I don't want to mischaracterize the book, not being sure I even finished it the first time, but how boring that anyone who is against abortion is shown to be stupid, clueless, and perhaps deranged as well.)

I read several past issues of the New Yorker. This was an amazing article, about a Muslim sheltering a Jew during the Second World War. I also enjoyed a little article on diaries, which you can read here. A quote: "In a diary, the trivial and inconsequential - the 'woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head' pieces - are not trivial and inconsequential at all; they are defining features of the genre. If it doesn't contain a lot of dross, it's not a diary. It's something else - a journal, or a writer's notebook, or a blog (blather is not the same as dross)." This article on the digitization of knowledge was wonderful, and included this quote which I believe fully: "Sixty million Britons have a hundred and sixteen million public-library books at their disposal, while more than 1.1 billion Indians have only thirty-six million. Poverty, in other words, is embodied in lack of print as well as lack of food." Also read lots of articles about the environment that convinced me that wherever our planet is going, we must certainly be in a handbasket.

I also read, as book #77 (and it's starting to look like it will be the last) of the year, Wallace Stegner's wonderful All the Little Live Things. I had read one Stegner book in college and I will definitely look for more.

Here's something I just read this morning to finish up this end-of-the-year reading post: children's book characters make New Year's resolutions.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back from Vacation

We just got back this evening from the beach, where we had a wonderful time. I didn't even look at the internet except once while we were checking out of the hotel and I needed some information from my email. And you know what? The world went on, even though I wasn't keeping track of it.

I think I need to do an internet fast more often. Good for the stress levels. It's really hard for me not to know what's going on around the world, though - I'm an international busybody.

Among other things, I'm sorry to find out about the post-election rioting in Kenya and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I've been enjoying these few days off. I've been doing all the traditional Christmas things: wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree, reading cards and letters (the ones written on paper are fewer every year, but I enjoy the digital ones too), and thinking about Christ's birth. My husband and kids baked Christmas cookies. Baking Christmas cookies is one of those activities which is much better in memory than when you're actually doing it. I really don't enjoy it, so this year I just watched and ate the results.

We'll celebrate Christmas Eve in a service at the home of some friends as we do every year. We sing carols, share a Christmas meditation together, and take communion. Then we eat. We'll have Christmas morning at home and then dinner with friends.

Then we'll go to the beach for a few days. Ahhh. Now that's my idea of a Christmas tradition.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007


Nancie Atwell wrote somewhere (I think in In the Middle) that parody is an adolescent's natural genre, so I introduce some parodies to my middle schoolers and occasionally a student writes one. When you write a parody of something, it often makes you appreciate the original even more.

This week I posted my parody of Stopping by Woods and Dr. Bacchus' as well.

I didn't copy the original rhyme scheme in my parody, but Dr. Bacchus did, and as I was reading his poem I thought about how amazing the original is, how much he says in just sixteen lines, and how unforced and natural the form is. I remember discussing the different interpretations in college, so when I read it there are all those layers. The poem still survives as a simple, beautiful, and powerful picture.

Here's the first stanza:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Check out the results of the Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect, too, as well as Tricia's poem (and she even includes a link to Frost reading Stopping by Woods).

Brr, all this talk of snow has me shivering, so I'm going to get back to my day in the tropics. Stay warm, everyone.

Poetry Friday

The Poetry Friday roundup is at AmoXcalli today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More Frost Mockery

Dr Bacchus is parodying Frost too.

Carnival of Education

Here it is, the Carnival of the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cheating on the Poetry Stretch

Since I don't have grading to do, I wanted to participate in one of Miss Rumphius' poetry stretches. So here's what she posted this week. She gave a list of words: snow, frozen, wind, evening, woods, lake, village, farmhouse. The challenge is to take those words and put them in a poem.

When I read that list, all I could think of was Robert Frost, who used all those words already in a most wonderful poem. And then I remembered, hey yeah, I already wrote a parody of that poem. I could post that!

It's not really stretching, as Miss Rumphius intended. And it doesn't even use all the words. In short, it is not following the assignment, and probably my grade will be docked. Ah, well.

I wasn't really grading essay tests on Robert Frost when I wrote this about a year ago. I've never, in fact, given an essay test on Robert Frost. But I just couldn't resist the last line. And since I've just emerged from a period of much grading, and many other teachers are still in it, I think it's appropriate.

On Grading Essay Tests on Robert Frost

Whose work this is I think I know
No name is on the paper, though.
The only clue I have - a scrawl
That I can barely read at all.
And this one seems to think it's great
Never once to punctuate.
And this kid turned aside his head
And didn't hear a word I said.
Oh yes, folks say, you ought to teach -
Just think of all the kids you'll reach!
But I say, friend, just picture you
The night before the grades are due
When you've a mound of essay tests
And a red pen which never rests
And no, your students didn't get it,
And the assignment? No one read it.
Your lesson plans were all in vain
Your life is going down the drain
The only sound's a quiet tear
That splashes into your root beer
The saddest evening of the year.
Oh, how I wish that I were lost
In snowy woods with Robert Frost!
Or better yet, he'd think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near,
But at my classroom I could drop him.
Yes, he could have my job - I'd swap him.
I'd ride off on his little horse
And leave Bob Frost to teach my course;
Let him teach poems to my class -
Then maybe more of them would pass.
I'd say to him, "You're just the guy
To take the road less traveled by!
Come, be a teacher, sir," I'd say,
And hope he wouldn't run away.
But no, for sadly, Frost is dead
And all this work is mine instead.
The tests are piled, test on test,
And I must grade them 'ere I rest.
My bed is lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And piles to grade before I sleep
And piles to grade before I sleep.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Reading Update

Book #70 for 2007 was The Mottled Lizard, the second volume of Elspeth Huxley's memoirs.

Book #71 was Listening for Lions, by Gloria Whelan. I read it to my seventh graders. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but the climax of the book comes three-quarters of the way through, and the kids weren't on the edge of their seats for the last quarter of the book. They still liked it, though.

Book #72 was Artemis Fowl, which I read at the urging of many of my middle school boys. It is wildly popular right now with my kids - not just boys, but mostly. I dunno. It didn't do much for me. I can see what they see in it, but it's just not so much my kind of book. I have most of the series in my classroom, though, and I'll keep buying Colfer because he's obviously doing something right.

Book #73 was Double Identity, which I think I'll read to my seventh graders next. (We've been doing A Christmas Carol this week, since there's a highly abridged version in our readers.) Margaret Peterson Haddix is another sure-fire author with my kids.

Book #74 was The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick. I read this to the eighth grade. It went over well, with even the kids who didn't like it participating in a lively discussion about the issues it raised. It sent at least one of my reluctant readers to the school library looking for more by Philbrick, too.

Book #75 was Code Orange, by Caroline Cooney. I think I'll read this one to the eighth graders. I think they'll appreciate the protagonist, who's always trying to avoid doing any work but ends up being a bit of a hero. The book is suspenseful and about smallpox. What more could you want?


All papers are graded. I have some comments to finish up for the report cards and some conduct grades to do, plus I'll get two sets of Reading Logs in on Monday that I'll need to tally, and then my high school students have a final on Wednesday that will need to be graded and posted. But I'm almost done!


Grading. I'm down to 43 papers.

And here's the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, December 14, 2007

And More Progress

Fifty-four more papers to go. And now I'm going to a party.

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday chez Miss Rumphius.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Progress

Sixty-eight more papers to go.


Eighty more papers to go.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Education Carnival

Here it is.

What I Did This Evening

Wrote a final for my high school class.
Made a list of discussion questions and quotes for a book discussion tomorrow with my 8th graders.
Graded nine papers. Ninety to go.
And now I'm going to bed.

The Time Has Come

I didn't grade last weekend. Saturday was a big event at school and I was there most of the day, and Sunday I didn't feel well and stayed home from church. I don't do schoolwork on Sundays anyway. Other than that brief break, I've been grading papers madly every evening for a while now, with occasional bursts of whining about it here on my blog. Every day I give back papers, usually with only a day or two of turnaround time if it's a draft that needs feedback, though the final pieces I've been putting at the bottom of the pile. Every day I hear, "FINALLY!" when I give work back. This is not putting me in a good mood, particularly when I have NO OTHER LIFE besides grading these days.

So today was the due date. Nothing after today, this is IT, this is the end.

This afternoon I came home with a HUGE mound of papers. I just counted them, and there are 99. Yes. NINETY-NINE.

(Did I mention I only have 44 students in 7th and 8th grade?)

Many of these papers are the culmination of several drafts, and will not take long to grade. Then there are the others, the ones I'm seeing for the first time, the ones that were written yesterday in a twenty-minute frenzy at the computer. The ones like the paper I conferenced about today, which I would have a hard time summarizing - let's just say it has all the elements of classic 8th grade work, including insults to classmates, space travel, flatulence, and a shootout. (We don't live in the US, so we don't have to escort kids from school in handcuffs if they mention weapons in their writing. And they were aliens that got shot, of course, not the aforementioned classmates.)

Yes, I am postponing the inevitable by blogging. My grades are due on Monday. I have work to do.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

You Have to Read This

It's Doris Lessing's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. I cried all the way through reading it. I haven't actually read any of her books, but now I'll have to.

Thanks to TadMack for letting me know about this.

(And here's something you could consider doing to help.)

Saturday Review of Books

Here it is once again.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Poetry in Everyday Life

I was thinking this morning about how poetry is a big part of our family's life. As we are a family of book geeks, we're always reading something or other, and quite often that's a poem.

The reason I was thinking this was that I was saying to my children as we walked to school, "'Will you walk a little faster?' said a whiting to a snail, 'There's a porpoise close behind us, and it's treading on my tail.'" I've said this since I was a small child and Miss Hindley used to say it to us when we were on walks and dawdling too much.

When I went to look for this poem to post for Poetry Friday, I found it in a most appropriate spot. Turns out this was part of Poems on the Underground, a program in which poems are posted in trains on the London Underground. What could be a better example of poems in everyday life?

So here's the The Lobster Quadrille, by Lewis Carroll.

Poetry Friday

Here's this week's roundup at Becky's Book Reviews.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Grading Again

I have a due date coming up - or a publication date, I guess, would be a better Writer's Workshop term. Whatever you call it, my seventh and eighth graders have to have their completed pieces turned in by December 12th. I do require a certain number of finished pieces - it varies according to grade and according to what kind of genre study we've done. One of the completed pieces needs to be in the genre we've studied (though topic within that genre is open) and the others can be whatever the student writer would like to do.

I allow students to turn in as many drafts of each piece as they'd like. I mark them up and make comments, I conference with the students, I make suggestions, I teach minilessons to help with the kind of problems I'm seeing. Then I give them a grade on the final draft (using rubrics based on the 6+1 traits), when they decide it's ready, or when the end of the quarter comes - whichever is first.

At the beginning of the quarter, my grading load is fairly manageable. I have a pile every evening, but as long as I keep up with the work, it doesn't get out of control. But the end of the quarter is crazy. I'm coming home with thirty or forty drafts every night, needing immediate feedback because the end is nigh.

How do other Writer's Workshop teachers manage this? I keep reading that you don't have to read everything they write, but how can that be? I don't grade everything in their notebooks (though I do read it all), just give them credit for doing it, but for their drafts, I really do feel I need to read them and respond.

The advantage to reading multiple drafts of each piece is that I have a very good idea of what my kids are working on and what they need help with. It's fun to watch things develop and, in many cases, improve hugely between first and final drafts. And it's not as difficult to assign a grade to a final piece when you are pretty familiar with it. At the end of the quarter I routinely get pieces turned in marked Final even though it's the first time I'm seeing them. Inevitably these pieces are not of the same quality as those that have gone through a whole process of drafting. They get much lower grades, and they frustrate me.

I think I've just pep-talked myself into continuing to do things the way I do them. But if you have a better idea, talk to me. How do you manage to give your students helpful feedback and have a life?

'Tis the Season for Another Carnival

This one is the Carnival of Anglican Advent Traditions. I'm not an Anglican, but I attended an Anglican boarding school and so this branch of Christianity is one of the many influences on my faith, and perhaps one of the strongest. I enjoyed reading these posts.

Saturday Review of Books

Can you believe it's Saturday again already?