Saturday, December 21, 2013

What are YOU reading?

Here are some of the free choice independent reading books
 from my class of 27 (23 are boys).
We hope that you are enjoying some lit-tra-ture over the holidays too.
Visit the public libraries, but don't forget local thrift stores.
Sometimes you can walk out with a winner for 50 cents!

Friday, December 20, 2013


It's the last 45 minutes of the last class before holiday break!   
May I recommend some colored pencils and mandalas?

That is all.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

You Might Be a Writer

I keep "mission control" at the back of the classroom near a window.   The inside walls of my room are gray, so's the carpet.   Even the sky's been gray this week.   That's what made this writing opportunity just about perfect.

I was at my desk and some kids were nearby turning in papers and chatting.   At the exact moment I turned towards the window, a huge black bird swooped down from the gray sky, showing off a serious wingspan before landing just feet below.   My eyes widened at the sight, and I snapped my head around to see if anyone else had noticed. 

Yes.   I turned to see a male student with eyes as wide as mine.   "A bird!" he exclaimed.   Then he went to his bookbag and pulled out his second quarter two-sentence journal assignment.

At that moment I got another rush on top of the bird sighting.   I just saw one of my students become a writer.   He's been working at it for a while; his writing is improving exponentially.   I hadn't yet seen everything gel in a way that let me know that he could fly on his own.   

Swoop.   There it was!   

For second quarter, I gave my writers a list of 20 people, places and things to observe over the course of the nine weeks.   They were to "write hot" and not rely on memories alone.   (Yes, I know.   Some of my kids are going to fake every last one of those 20 two-sentence entries.   But some of them won't.   And magic will happen.)

Here's the list: 

four legged friend
mode of transportation
something unusual
something electric
child under 5
high school student
adult over 40
parking lot
inside a library or bookstore
grocery store
inside a closet or wardrobe
view through a window
inside a drawer

So what did he write?   
Here's E.S.'s two-sentence observational journal about a bird: 

"The black feathery beast glided from the roof.   
It realized there was no food and continued on its search." 

Here's the encore for tonight. Just because.

Capers, Part 1

You may remember when  I saw how to make a simple superhero cape on Pinterest last year.   All it takes is an old t-shirt and a pair of fabric scissors.   You can fancy it up, but that's optional.

SCA never took me up on a spirit day for cape wearers, so I forgot about it for a while.   This year I floated the idea by one of my classrooms full of dreamers and musicians.   Yes.   They were in agreement that we must create a reason to make and wear these capes.

Before I go any further, this has nothing to do with 
my curriculum or state testing.   Nothing.   
And it's not for a grade.

A finished no-sew cape. Black T & tape by LG.

We finally came up with the idea those who want to participate would make capes at home and bring in a photograph of us doing something awesome IN OUR CAPES!  

Things That Are Awesome:

taking out the trash
reading to someone else
reading to our pets
riding our bicycles
washing the dishes
playing our instruments
marching in an impromptu parade
singing into a hairbrush
brushing our teeth
brushing our pets' teeth
raking the leaves
baking cookies
vacuuming the house
hugging our grandparents
hanging around on the monkey bars

At the start of school, there were two Nerdfighters amongst us.   One of them was me.   Now that the John Green fan club is growing, we try to remind each other to be awesome.   For each AWESOME photograph that a student brings in, he/she will be rewarded with a priceless green DFTBA pencil.

Never fear.   No one is allowed to jump tall buildings....without a helmet!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Tanner's From

If this post's title sounds familiar, it's probably because you remember an entry from a while back, Where Malik's From.   See the original writing assignment here.

I'm just stopping by to remind all of us that writers bloom throughout the year.   I get a whole lot of flowers in September, but I also get some children who are seeds, bulbs and tubers...and planted at different times.   That's pretty normal in 8th grade.

There's a whole lot of research about boys and language arts instruction, so go ahead and read it.   Don't discount what you know to be true from firsthand experiences either.   There's not one magic key that unlocks a joy of writing for boys.   The young men who are most successful in becoming writers with my style of teaching have these commonalities:

They listen to mini-lessons on writing skills.
They practice these skills in small bits of writing.
They then work these skills into larger pieces of writing.
They welcome feedback.
They recognize that writing is a craft.
They get downright metacognitive about their use of language.
They believe that the world around them is to be examined.
They know that a final draft means edits and revisions, not simply neatness.

Before you think that I am a "my way or the highway" kind of writing teacher, I'd like to say that I don't think that I am.   I can't be certain, but I am pretty sure that if I were reviewing student writing with Stephen King, Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg-- we'd at least recognize and agree upon bad writing when we saw it.'s totally okay to see some bad writing from 8th graders.   I mean, they're 8th graders.   Sheesh.

I center September around some of Laura Robb's mini lessons for writers and Nancie Atwell's lesson on narrative leads.   If I can get kids using specific nouns, strong verbs, a variety of sentence starters, PARAGRAPHS, effective narrative leads and a unified topic...I feel pretty ding dang good about that.

(Pardon my shouting.   I'm still teaching perfectly kind children how to paragraph narratives.   It's December.   It hurts.   My eyes are bleeding from the dreaded BIG, FAT PARAGRAPH.   I might write a song about it.   Never mind.)

Back to Tanner.   He came into class on day one with a strong work ethic, unmatched tenacity, a kind spirit and some sharp writing skills.   Even so, his mom is pretty impressed with his current interest in getting all of his words in the right spots.   I sure do wish I could just let you see all of his various writing work from this year because he's a perfect example of a talented, developing writer who fits all of the qualities I listed above.   

Check this out.   Remember the two-sentence journal assignment I borrowed from a class I took at William and Mary?  Here's one of Tanner's entries, "It's the time of year when the smell of corn chaff and diesel fuel fill the air.  Visibility soon becomes low as the farmer takes the combine for another round."   You better believe I asked his permission to write that gem down for other grasshoppers to see.   It was feng shui perfection on the white board.

Here's where Tanner's from:

I’m from sunglasses in the rearview,
From tie straps and duct tape,
I am from eggs in the nesting box,
(Dry and Warm with a surprise inside)
I’m from orchard grass,
The yellow poplar,
Whose leaves fall every year just for me to collect.

I’m from fishbites and pellet guns,
From Pride and Horton,
I’m from the bluecollars and the hardheads,
From “How ya whole family doin’?”
I’m from “American born and Southern by the grace of God.”

I’m from Genesis and Communion,
3 inch slugs and ram rods,
From the man who died for our sins,
And the 10 commandments.

From the gray uniform stained with blood,
Whose owner long gone from Earth,
Waits patiently in the Promised Land for the ones who honor him most.