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That Moment

You know that one of my favorite things about teaching is watching my students change from being non-readers to kids who cannot put their books down.

It’s a metamorphosis, y’all…a process I am honored to witness every single year.

This year, I am teaching two intensive reading blocks.  These kiddos have the pleasure (ahem) of getting read to nearly every day.

This year, we’ve read The Honest Truth (gripping), Stuck in Neutral (nail biter at the end), and most recently Life Happens Next.

The last book is a sequel to the aforementioned one…both written by Terry Trueman.

Stuck in Neutral is about a boy named Shawn.  He has Cerebral Palsy.  Everyone thinks he’s a vegetable.  He’s not.  He has perfect auditory memory and can read, when his eyes will light on text long enough for him to focus on it.  He also thinks that his father is planning to kill him.

Is your interest piqued?  I know that my kids’ were.

So, we read the first book.  I didn’t tell them there was a second book, relishing their anguish at the cliffhanger of the first.

I am evil that way.  It’s one of the fun parts of being a teacher.

Anyhoo, the second book picks up where the first left off, introducing a couple of new characters.

My kids have been mesmerized.  Shawn’s personality comes through loud and clear…sarcastic but oh so relevant as a teenager.

I finished reading the book today, and I decided to share the author’s notes at the end.  I remembered being blown away by the fact that Mr. Trueman based his characters off of people in his own life.

My kids were in awe, and they had great questions about what happened to the “real” people.

So, being the fangirl that I am, I tweeted out to the author.

And he responded.

Don’t you just love being acknowledged by royalty?  In my world, authors rank right on up there with Prince William and Princess Kate.

For real, though.

Here’s what I received late this afternoon…

As I’m typing this, I am literally giddy.  I cannot WAIT to share this tweet with my kids.

It is a moment like this that solidifies their journey as readers…connecting with characters…reaching beyond their own lives in their quest to understand others.

I mean, y’all…you should have seen my kids’ responses when a character in the book passed away, unexpectedly.  The class had begged for “one more chapter.”  I had acquiesced to their request.

And then the character died.

And the room was dead silent.

For longer than a minute.

Until they blamed the gal who had finally convinced me to read that chapter.

Nobody saw it coming.  This would have ranked as a first class blindside on the show Survivor.

The fact that they were flabbergasted was “that moment.”

It was the moment that preceded today’s “moment.”

In the course of the year that I have my kiddos, we string many “moments” together that keep the kids coming back year after year until they graduate.  We often talk about books.  Sometimes, they’ll borrow some from me.  Mostly, our exchanges are about the bonds that we formed while they were students in my class…teacher to student…human to human.

So, I thank authors like Terry Trueman who stick their necks out and write about difficult topics to get us to think outside of the box…to ponder on things that go beyond the surface…to pick at feelings we didn’t know we had.

Popular in the Classroom This Week

I snapped a few photos of the books my students finished this week…

The gal who finished By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead was mightily upset at the ending.

The reader gets no closure, and that frustrated her to no end.

I chuckled in understanding because I’d felt the same way when I read the book a couple of years ago.

As I put a new book into her hands, I assured her that she would get a resolution in the end.  She breathed a sigh of relief as she began reading.

The gal who read P.S. I Still Love You is tearing through my books this year!  She is one of the most voracious readers I’ve ever had.  She’s also got an open mind and is willing to read just about anything!  She already read the Lunar Chronicles series…a girl after my own heart.  One day this week, she got to school and pulled out three of my books.  She’d been holding them hostage at home, unbeknownst to me.

I was super proud of the young man who finished Takedown.  He’s one of my Intensive Reading kiddos…a nice young man…quiet.  It can be difficult to get my guys to read.  He’s already started on his next book.  I can’t remember the title.

The gal who read Burned eagerly began tearing into By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead.  In fact, we found a sticky note stating that this girl wanted to read it next…the result of a book talk I’d done the first week of school.

Everything, Everything was finished by a quiet young lady in my first period class.  I had training on Wednesday.  When I returned to school on Thursday, the gal was absent, but the students sitting at her table were quick to inform me that she’d finished the book.  I might have teased her on Monday about not finishing it for me last weekend.  I was eager to steal it away to read myself.

Needless to say, it came home with me.  I’m about a third of the way through with it and will probably finish it in the next day or two and then give a book talk on it.

Taking pictures of my kids with their finished books is a new thing for me.  I plan on putting the photos in my end-of-the-year class slideshows…the uncropped versions.  I cannot wait to see them sit up straighter as their faces cross the screen.  I hope they will be as proud of themselves as I am every single time a back cover gets closed.

The Art of Finessing

Finesse…it doesn’t always mean what you think it means.

Especially if you teach at the high school level.

If you’re old, like me, when you hear the word finesse, you think of doing something with style.

In a way, this sort of fits the new-fangled slang that the kids have turned it into.

According to the Urban Dictionary, finesse means, “To talk someone out of their things. Not stealing persuading someone out of their belongs, or to do you a favor.

Please do not go to Urban Dictionary and look this up for yourselves.  The sample sentence that uses the word is definitely rated PG-13.

I’m just sayin’.

So anyhow, what in the world am I doing writing about a slang word?

Well you see, I tried really, really hard to finesse something from one of my students.

It all started last night when I posted the following picture on my favorite social media sites:

This book had arrived at my house just two days prior, and although I’m already in the middle of one book, I was curious, read the first two chapters, and was hooked immediately.

Rebecca commented on Facebook and told me how much she had enjoyed reading Everything, Everything by the same author.

I got excited because I already had that book in my class, so that’s what I looked for when I got to school this morning.

I couldn’t find it.

That meant one of two things:  1) A student was reading it, or 2) Someone had made off with the book already.

As my first period students began their silent reading today, I mentioned that I was looking for the book, and one of my girls told me that she had it.

Oh my.

I was so relieved and began hatching a plan.

A plan to finesse that book right out of her hands for the weekend.

When reading time was over, I asked if she was leaving it in her folder.

No such deal.

Dang.

I admitted that I had planned on finessing the book when she wasn’t looking because I really, really want to read it.

The entire class started laughing…because I was using their slang…and because I wanted her book.

She did take it home, which really is fine because I still have the newer book to read.

I’m going to have to work on my skills though.  Apparently my modus operandi is not stealthy enough.

And that’s Latin, not slang.

Celebrating Readers

My students continue to impress me with the rate at which they are finishing books.  It seems like a day doesn’t pass when a student stands in front of me and announces the end to another story.

I love hearing them explain why they liked certain characters over others, or why the stories touched their hearts.

As you can see in the picture below, Kwame Alexander continues to be a favorite for my boys, while Jennifer Brown is reigning supreme for the girls.  The Bluford series is also popular with the kids who aren’t exactly in love with reading or get intimated by larger books.

Oh, and the gal who read Lucy in the Sky?  She read Go Ask Alice a week or two ago.  This gal is on a roll!!!

When Boys Read

I teach a LOT of boys.  In fact, my last block of the day is currently comprised of 15 boys and four girls.  Until Friday of the week before, that number was 17 boys and four girls.  This doesn’t even count the young men in my other three classes.

It can be challenging to find books suited to them; young adult fiction seems to be permeated with “girly” books.

As a result, I’ve been searching really hard for books that will appeal to the young men who grace my classroom each day.  Kids are good at fake reading; many don’t actually finish books but float from one to another because they lose interest quickly.

Thus it is that I’m especially excited when one of my guys announces that he’s finished a book.

This past week, TWO of them did just that, and I had to capture photos.

I’m extra fond of the young man on the left (don’t tell my other students this).  I taught his sister two years ago; she’s a senior this year.  I really like teaching siblings!

He LOVED the book you see pictured.  It’s about a boy who is the only Muslim student in his school.  Tensions run high with the profiling that naturally accompanies such immigrants, and the lead character in the story finds himself in a quandary about how to come to terms when a federal investigation is launched against his father.

My student told me that he felt like it was incredibly relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

Cha-ching!  Connections made.  A teacher’s dream.

The guy on the right, another sweetie with an easy smile, picked up Code Talker after I gave a book talk about it.  He remembered his father mentioning this topic in passing one day.  The book is about the group of Navajos serving in the Navy during World World II who were tapped to send messages to one another in their native language while overseas.  They saved a lot of American lives because of this special task.

I’ve wanted to read this book for awhile.  I’m such a history buff.

Although my student liked the content itself, he said that parts of the story were a little boring.  I was so proud of him for not giving up on the book and seeing it through to the end.  As a result, he’s got background knowledge that might come in handy one day.

Cha-ching! Another teacher’s dream.

My biggest hope for my students is that they will become life-long readers.  With each book that is opened and each story devoured, my kids are certainly one step closer!

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.

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