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Something Magical

Something magical is happening.

I don’t know why this surprises me because it’s a recurring event every year.

My students are reading.

And enjoying it.

They are selecting books they never thought they would read, and they are finishing them.

These aren’t little books either.

They are two, three, and four hundred pages.

They aren’t middle school books but every bit high school level.

Oh sure, my students started out reading the smaller ones, but it didn’t take long for the allure of the pretty covers, enticing plot descriptions on the back covers, and my book talks to lure them in.

I started a new thing this year.  I’ve begun taking pictures of my kids with the books they finish.

A few have been shy, yet they always comply.

Here are a few from this past week…

These aren’t my Honors babies, y’all.

These are my struggling readers.

They are reading books about very mature topics…drug addiction, brain injuries, and school shootings.

They are reading books that feed their imaginations and challenge their thinking about society.

The young man who read Crank wanted to give up a few times.  I encouraged him to push on.  By the time he started getting tired, he was nearly finished, and I wanted him to experience the joy of finishing something.

On Friday, when he finished, he told me, “I didn’t like the way the book ended.”  We then had a discussion about what he’d said.

Progress, y’all.  He’d invested himself in the book and made connections…enough to form a judgment about the plot.

There are so many tough things about teaching…so many things that cause me angst.

The scale tips, though, when I get to walk alongside my precious charges as they explore new worlds…choose books they never thought they would enjoy…express feelings of shock and joy as characters make choices they agree or disagree with.

One young lady, not pictured above…I’ll grab her picture on Monday…finally moved on from Bluford series books to a new book, Scars.

This girl is one tough cookie…probably among the most challenging that I’m teaching this year…but I recognized early on how much she loves to read, and I often have to ask her to put away her book so she can focus on the whole group lesson I’m facilitating that day.

There’s some real magic happening in my room these days, and I am honored that God is allowing me to be a small part of it.

The Power of a Read Aloud

Twenty-two days.

That’s how long it’s been since I’ve last posted.

Clearly, this is getting ridiculous.

Forget the excuses.  I will just say that when I get home, I like to unplug from the world…except for Mondays, when I lesson plan, and during the evenings, when I’m watching various television shows.

So, let’s just get to today’s post, shall we?

Today was a good day at school…for a number of reasons.

The main reason had to do with the read aloud I did during my 4th/5th period block.

After I finished reading The Honest Truth to my classes earlier this year, I allowed my students to select the book they wanted next.  Each class chose something different.

My 4th/5th period class chose Bitter End, by Jennifer Brown.

You guys know that I am one of this author’s biggest fans.  She writes teen fiction that is extremely relevant.  It’s as if she hasn’t gotten so old that she doesn’t remember what a teenager actually thinks.

I read Bitter End a couple of summers ago, and I had to put it down at one point because the material was so realistic…so heartbreaking.

The book tells the story about Alex, a high school senior, who falls for Cole, the new boy in school.  He dotes on her until things change, and he begins to abuse her.

My class and I are about halfway through the book (remember that I’ve read it all the way through already…on my own…so I know what’s coming).

Today, I think we were on about Chapter 16 or so, and man, was the scene HEAVY.  I’d read ahead just to make sure I prepared myself for any possible discussion questions that might come up.  I tend to teach more organically when it comes to my read alouds and allow conversations and comments to flow naturally.

In this chapter, Cole really begins to abuse her for the first real time in the story.

My kids were sitting on the edge of their seats, let me tell you.  One girl had started to read the book earlier in the year but had put it down.  A few days ago, she told me how much more she enjoys it now that I’m reading it aloud because of the expression I put into it.

Quite a few times, as I read, they exploded with comments, and I had to stop to quiet them down.

When we finished the chapter, everyone had something to say, and we had a lively discussion.

I was in awe of my students.  Most of this class is comprised of young ladies…strong young ladies who are completely aghast at the doormat that Alex, the protagonist, is allowing herself to be.

Even my male students were indignant!

Yet, among the loud voices in my classroom came softer ones…the gals who suggested that we don’t know what we would really do if we were placed in similar situations.

One girl shared how a former boyfriend had pushed her down and spit on her (she wound up punching him…she’s a fighter, you see).

Then, I heard a gentle question:  “Mrs. Auburnchick, what would you have done?”

Oh boy.

While I try to get my kids to answer their own questions and think for themselves, I knew I had to answer this.

I told her that my broken, insecure, high school self probably would have taken the abuse.  My older, wiser, mama/teacher self would fight back.  It’s amazing what a few years of life experience will do for you.

My job as an intensive reading teacher is to help my students hone their reading skills.  Part of my job involves getting students to read…to explore their feelings about their reading…to connect their reading to their lives, other text, and the world.

Books such as Jennifer Brown’s make my job so much easier.  While we may not be completing graphic organizers, the rich discussions we are having as we read do just as much good and fill in the gap that overworked, uninterested parents create because they don’t know how to have these conversations with their children.

Dear Jennifer Brown

Dear Jennifer Brown,

I just finished reading Perfect Escape, the third of a set of your books I brought home from my classroom.  I had already read Hate List over a year ago.

I want to thank you for writing books that take on challenging topics.

Do you write dystopian novels filled with plagues and zombies?

Nope.

Do you write stories filled with government conspiracies?

Nope.

You create characters with honest-to-goodness believable problems that each and every reader can relate to.

Your characters could be our friends, family members, or people on the news.

You’re not afraid to embroil your characters in real-world issues such as bullying, sexting, dating violence, cheating, and mental illness.

Your characters come to life in their raw musings, sometimes aloud but often in their heads.

They think what we think, and they aren’t afraid to think them.

They finally lose their cool and explode, saying out loud what we often don’t have the courage to say.

In doing so, this frees us up from the guilt of shame…shame for feeling the way we do…because someone else feels the same way.

Thank you for writing books that my high school students relate to.

I’ve seen them cry over your books and have, personally, cried over the books as well.

I’ve been told, by a student, that she got in trouble at home…for READING TOO MUCH.

I thank you for this, for she was reading one of the books pictured above.

Now, I’m not going to fault those who write about zombies and the apocalypse.  There’s an audience for those books.  I’m part of that audience, because I enjoy reading a variety of books so I can knowledgeably pair them up with my students’ interests.

But…

Your books hit home with my students…especially the female ones…in a way that other books do not.

Many do not have mamas at home they can confide in or, in true teenage fashion, do not feel comfortable talking to.

Your voice, through your characters, tells my students that it’s okay to feel angst and shame over what some might downplay as typical teenage stuff.

Thank you for not trivializing the issues.

You’ve played a large role in helping me create engage readers…hopefully life-long readers.

Your friend and fangirl,

Nathalie

The Beauty of Imperfection

I’m currently about two-thirds of the way through Perfect Escape by one of my favorite young adult writers, Jennifer Brown.

This book tells the story of Kendra, a high school senior, who whisks her brother, Grayson, away on a road trip.

It’s no ordinary road trip, though, because Kendra is running away from trouble at school.

She tries to justify the trip in her mind by claiming that she’s on a mission to help her brother, who is mentally ill because of his OCD.

One of the things Grayson does when he’s under stress is to line up rocks and count them.

Rocks are his fascination, and I was struck by a comment he made to Rena, a young mom who joins in on their road trip.

She asks Grayson why a particular piece of quartz is colorless while other pieces have various colors.

He explains that pure quartz is colorless, and that is is chemical imperfections that leads to quartz becoming colored.

Then he says, “Quartz is at its most beautiful when it’s been changed by impurities.”

Go ahead and re-read it.  I bolded it because it’s a very poignant statement.

I had to pause in my reading, so I’m not sure how the author is going to use this statement of his.

I sure can see deep meaning in this sentence.

The first thing I thought about was my students.

They are certainly not perfect (none of us are).

Their lives are dirtied up by terribly dysfunctional home lives, terrible personal choices, and temptations to make more poor decisions.

These are the students who walk into my classroom.

These are the things that make them beautiful in my eyes.

These are my favorites precisely because of their imperfections.

I find even deeper meaning in Grayson’s words, though, by thinking about our lives as sinners.

Boy are we imperfect, aren’t we?

In God’s eyes, though, we are beautiful and worthy of His love.

He sent Jesus, His Son, to die for imperfect beings.

How humbling is that?!

I think back to when the Mr. proposed to me and gave me my engagement ring.

I was in college and enrolled in a science class that had a lab.  One lab day, we had to work with the microscopes, and I put my ring beneath the viewer.  We marveled because the diamond was nearly flawless.

I wonder how many people purposely select diamonds with flaws?

Not many.  There’s an entire rating scale devoted to a diamond’s qualities, and big sales are made over the best gems.

When you look at Grayson’s statement again, you notice that he says that quartz is beautiful because it’s been changed by imperfections.

If you think about it, our imperfections make us who we are.  They add color to our lives.

What an interesting concept and such a neat way of looking at and accepting my own imperfections…something that’s very tough for a perfectionist like myself.

I am beautiful…

Because of my imperfections.

In Their Words – Part 1

Over the course of the next few posts, I will be sharing the book advertisements that my students created.

The final project I assigned them required that they create book advertisements for favorite books they had read during the year.

They had to list the main characters, draw pictures of them and a setting (I did not take points away based on artistic ability), and write summaries, without giving away the ending.

I explained that I would be displaying these around the classroom so other students could use them to make decisions about what to read.

It’s one thing for me to put a book in front of a student who is having a difficult time settling on something to read.  Students quickly caught on to the fact that I love just about every book I read.  Seeing a book being recommended from a peer’s perspective was more up their alley, as I had witnessed first-hand when I saw students in class talking up books that their classmates later read.

The final exam was comprised of presentations of these book advertisements to the class.  We displayed the posters under the document camera, and students talked in front of the Smartboard.  We grilled them afterward.  They were graded according to a presentation rubric.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  They really do speak of my students’ love for reading, and I feel like a proud Mama showing them off to you!  Please click on each picture to enlarge it.

This student got to attend a book signing with John Green!!! I was completely jealous when I found out!!!

I read this series because of this young lady! We had a debate about the yucky movie of the same title (she liked it, and I did not).

This young lady fell in love with Jennifer Brown’s books after reading Hate List. She had a difficult time deciding which book to do her project on but finally decided on A Thousand Words. She got a few other girls in the class to read it too!

The young lady who read this could not put it down! She had fought silent reading time all year…until she began reading this book. I frequently had to ask her to stop reading it while I was providing instruction to the class. It moved her beyond words, and I ordered the second book for her after she asked. For a non-reader, this was a huge milestone!

Another Jennifer Brown book. The student who read it talked about how she had gotten out of an abusive relationship. This led to a class discussion about teenage dating violence. It was eye-opening for me.

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