Thursday, March 26, 2015

Notes from Narrative Biographies

Grade 7 students are preparing for their Biography Pageant! They'll read about an inspirational person and then act as that person to share what they learned.

Guiding Question: What's "Narrative Nonfiction"?
Last week, students selected biographies from the library. These will be independent reading books for the next couple of weeks, so we wanted to provide "page turners" instead of the typical fact-laden, reference-type bios. 

Some favorite narrative-style biographies
We talked about what makes a nonfiction book a "narrative." 

Structurally how is it different? 
(Reads like a story: sense of beginning, middle, end; character development, engaging style, chapters often have a central idea)

Visually how is it different? 
(paragraphs versus headings and sub-headings, may or may not have pictures)

See titles in our catalog here

Guiding Question: What's effective note-taking?
Next, we talk about how to take research notes as we read, explaining the differences among quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing. See last year's full lesson here.

Notes template in Google docs
This year, we added two elements to the notes template: "Comment" and "Category"


In my work with high school students, I've noticed that students need lots of practice with adding their own voice to a research paper. Providing a steady stream of commentary and avoiding a list of facts makes an essay more dynamic and shows what the writer really thinks.

To help students internalize this skill, we ask them to add a personal comment for each of their notes. Comments can be anything that shows their thinking, questioning, or planning about their topic.

Another addition: We ask students to write a category on each note. Asking them for some "meta" data about their fact helps them synthesize what it's about and it will help them organize their facts into an outline later.

Now it's time to read and get inspired by some interesting people! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ski Week Reads

I was sick for half of our February ski week. It's ok! I read some of the new books that came in just before we left.

Glory O'Brian's History of the Future, by A.S. King

Glory and her best friend (because she lives close) find a dead bat and mix its decomposed ashy remains with a beer, drink up, and begin seeing visions of the future. This happens at a natural turning point for Glory: high school graduation. She's made it though high school with her mother's suicide haunting her for 13 years. It's time to get some answers and see if there's anything worth sticking around for. 

She confronts her father, stagnating on the couch, best-friend Ellie's "all about me" personality, and her own curiosity about her mother's past, and she finds there's much more good ahead than not. Alongside, she writes a history of the future, as best as she can patch it together from the "transmissions" she gets from anyone she makes eye contact with. The future is a kind of political nightmare in which it's illegal for women to work. 

This whole parallel story felt forced, but I guess it was necessary for Glory because that's how she finds her excitement for the future, in what she could be if she gets involved and chooses to live fully.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Lesley Walton

It's not often I find myself reading just to enjoy the pace and language of a story as it unfolds - not to find out what will happen, but just to be with the characters. This is that kind of story. 

It's the story of Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings. She tells us in the prologue that she's researched her ancestors to find out how she came to be. Turns out how she came to be is a magical tale stretching back to her great-great grandparents and the loves and losses felt in each generation. 

An astonishing and beautiful novel.

Tomboy, by Liz Prince

Liz dresses like a boy, and has since age 4. She's comfortable that way. What this means to the people around her, however, is where a lifetime of tension begins. What does her appearance say about her? What does it mean about her identity? Why does it make others uncomfortable and make her a target? She explores these and other questions as she charts her path through elementary, middle, and high school. Fresh and honest, she takes on the question "who am I?" in a way that boys, girls, men, and woman can probably all relate to.

One of the more relate-able aspects of this memoir for me is the ever-shifting landscape of her friendships. How her friends change, or don't, how they support her, or don't - this constant process of finding people who click with her, during whatever stage she's in, feels super real.

Note about the artwork: It's sketchy. The text is sloppy enough to be tricky to read in places. It's part of the charm and it forced me to slow down my reading - something I need to do with graphics to fully appreciate them.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before, by Jenny Han

This is a light read, so light that it's tempting to put it down a star because it feels like the teen girl is too normal, so lacking is she in her desire to make "a statement." Our narrator is Lara Jean, a Korean-American high schooler who writes love notes to boys she likes but never sends them. Somehow, the notes get sent and this starts a swirl of romantic activity unlike anything she's ever experienced. 

It's all sweetness and light flirting, family dynamics, and boy-next-door innocence. A great read for that patron looking for a "fluff" read that's well-written and real.

I Remember Beirut, by Zeina Abirached

This is a personal account of what the author remembers about her childhood during Lebanon's Civil War in the 1980's-90's. She family lived in East Beirut, cut off from the rest of the city. They lived "normal" lives, getting their car windshield replaced often when bombings occurred, waiting for hours in traffic to get out of the city for a reprieve, and adjusting the logistics of daily life when supplies, electricity, and transportation was interrupted. This is not as chronological as its predecessor, Game of Swallows. It feels more personal and sometimes it's like a private joke since some of the references aren't known to the average reader (even me, who lived in Beirut in the early 2000s.)

Still, it's worth a read because it captures that breezy Lebanese air of "War? What war? We're living our lives!"

Get an Eye for Design: Use Canva

"Create a magazine about..."

Anyone else have an assignment like this at your school?

Renaissance Magazine
Our ninth graders write and publish magazines about Renaissance times. They create various articles to practice different text types and follow the research process.

It's a massive project, and in years past we've marveled at students' hard work but felt "meh" about the visual presentation of their information.

This year, we're tackling visual presentation skills directly in our High School Foundations course for ninth graders.

Here's the plan:

Examine various magazines and analyze the effectiveness of design and layout. 

For discussion, start with Magazine Layout slideshow

For practice, use Layout "Notice and Note" sheet

Learn some publishing lingo (see articles here and here)

Take the design school tutorials at Canva to learn about elements such as mixing fonts, effective layouts, and use of color

A few of Canva's tutorials

Use Canva to create a suitable cover (create a free account)

Next step: Work with publishing software to create columns, text and image boxes, pull-quotes, captions, headings and subheadings.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pushing in: A tip for integrators
Feel like you're out of the loop?

Struggling to make connections and get into classrooms? 

Feel like you're shouting into the wind?

That was me last year. 

This year is much better.

One thing that helped: At the beginning of the year, I asked teachers to put me on their class email lists. I also "subscribe" to their class blogs. 

Now I get notifications about their upcoming assignments/units/projects and can sweetly knock on their doors and offer targeted ways to support them.

For example: 

"I noticed that you are beginning a unit on To Kill a Mockingbird. Would you like some books for your classroom about the time period of the novel?"

"I see that your students are learning about the weather. Would you like me to collect some websites where they can learn about weather disasters?"

"Looks like the kiddos are starting to research about absolute monarchs. I'm happy to teach a mini-lesson about how to paraphrase their facts, if you'd like."

Getting these emails is a simple thing but it's been SO helpful this year for staying in the loop. 

Yes, I get lots of emails, but I just scan and delete those that don't pertain to me. I'd much rather know MORE than less! 

In the comments: What are your tips for successful collaboration?

Integrationists, what do you find effective for getting into classrooms? 

Teachers, what do your library and tech integrators do that makes them easy to collaborate with?