Saturday, November 6, 2010

Writing a novel

How many of you ever sat down to pen a few words and found that you had much more than a few things to say about...whatever?  That's what a few of my students have undertaken for the month of November.  Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month and my personal goal is 50K words.  (That's about 1700 words per day.)  My students meet in the library computer lab a few days per week and we write...and write and write and write.  Their goals are supposed to be reasonable, yet challenging.  Most have goals between 5k and 20k, but two of my students have set 40k as reasonable and challenging.  Rock on!

What I've noticed about this process is that it's hard.  I've started and stopped more times than I can count and some of my ideas are nothing more than a few lines that are thoughts that I needed to write down for no other reason than to see them written.  Beyond that--nothing.

Now, I have a number of students--a majority, actually--that are engaged in learning.  Many participate in various extracurricular activities like chess club, drama, and art club.  My writing club certainly isn't the most exciting and the students have to show up early.  Not kinda, but very early----We open the doors to the computer lab in the library at 7:30 and school begins at 8:45.  So, they're committed.  Each has an idea for a story that brings them to the keyboard and causes fingers to move across keys and little clicking sounds to issue forth throughout the lab.  If you were to walk in, you'd hear only this frenetic clicking and wonder what they were doing that was so serious and exciting.  They're writing.  They're writers.  They don't have to be perfect or spell everything correctly (sorry, Jen).  Editing comes in December.  They're committed to this project and each student is owning their little part in it.

Go Hecksters!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Arrival...or The impact of art on the soul.

The video above if from a production of Shaun Tan's The Arrival by a Red Leap Theatre in New Zealand.   When I saw this video of scenes from the play, I sat transfixed.  I've been wanting to devise scenes from The Arrival since reading it.  Now I'm doubly inspired!

I discovered The Arrival by Shaun Tan a couple of years ago while teaching.  It was added to the 7th grade approved list.  Copies were ordered and I introduced it to my first 7th grade classroom in the fall of 2009.  I fell in love with this book.  It's an immigrants journey and describes the joys and sorrows of leaving one's family to seek a better life for them in a strange new place unlike anything he'd experienced.  Although there are many possible directions this post could go--immigration rights, English as a Second Language, the fence being built along our southern border---I choose to focus on the artistic.

This book is a graphic novel.  The only words contained within are the title and certain foreign characters created by Shaun Tan that you, the reader, learn to decipher.  As a novel, The Arrival is beautifully illustrated and although the story contains no words, the stories told within are profound.  From returning from war to fleeing an unnamed genocide, each character Tan introduces to us is one we've met or at least heard about--and maybe even been at one time in our lives.

Tan's artwork captures the essence of why I believe art can impact one's soul.

I was discussing art with one of my classes recently.  I'd asked them to journal about a trip they'd taken and how the adventure had changed them.  I reflected on my own journey to Europe a few years ago and how art became more tangible to me.

I'd always had a fondness in my heart for Michelangelo's Pieta', but until seeing the seething masses of humanity pressing to get closer to the masterwork, I didn't fully understand the impact that art could have.  Although many were angling for a good photo--as I was initially--most were transfixed by the sculpture of the Virgin cradling Christ in her arms.  This was at the heart of their faith.  Art had provided something tangible for them to see and experience with others sharing their faith. 

I saw many such masterpieces while traveling.  Michelangelo remains forever dear to my soul.  How can a man take a block of stone and chisel it into something so radiant?  Even his unfinished pieces, The Prisoners, though lacking the finished smoothness of the Pieta', have a life the makes us weep wanting to help free humanity from its bonds.

In a time when arts budgets are cut in favor of more testable subjects, I think about the impact art has had on my soul and wonder why we spend so much money on a single standardized test that won't matter to an employer in five years.  I know we must measure---there's no getting around it, but to sacrifice art is to sacrifice that which makes us more human.  

My thoughts...Brien

PS---Happily, my school district saw fit to retain not only our award-winning art teacher, but also our brilliant drama teacher when other districts were slashing left and right!  Thank you for recognizing the necessity of art.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I just finished reading a blog post by Aprilynne Pike.  She's a YA author from right here in Phoenix, AZ.  In it, she poses an interesting plan to thwart censorship in at least one forum--book festivals.  I've included the link for those interested.  The author Ellen Hopkins is uninvited from the festival due to the nature of her literature--which, by the way, kids eat up!

I met Aprilynne  and a couple of other YA authors at a dinner hosted by a local bookseller about a year ago and had the pleasure of chatting one-on-one with her about YA lit and life in general.  I have a few students who've read or are reading her best selling novel, Wings, and I recommend her when I can. 

Give her a read. 

This past school year, I served on our middle school lit committee.  Other teachers, librarians, and myself get the pleasure of reading books and submitting them for inclusion on our approved novel lists for 6-8th grade.  In many cases we read a fantastic work, but due to certain content, we choose not to submit.  It may be that one panel of a graphic novel is too edgy or suggestive or that a novel contains one scene that is just too mature for a 13 or 14 year old. 

Working as we do for a school district, we attempt to adhere to a stricter level of acceptability than what we would deem as such for ourselves.  We are making decisions for students that are not our children and we're careful and responsible.  Does this mean that we won't offend a parent or two with our selection?  Nope.  Someone's always offended no matter how diligent you are. 

A couple of personal experiences...

I didn't read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee until I was an adult.  Where I grew up, it was banned.  Lee's novel wasn't approved for high school consumption until 2001.  (I graduated in 1988.)  Of Mice and Men is another favorite of mine that I taught to my 8th graders four years in a row.  Some of the language is harsh and there are allusions to adultery, but when it's finished, my students understand personal responsibility and human dignity.  They treat others with respect and compassion that didn't exist for many of them before reading the novel.

This is the power of good literature.

What's your favorite banned book?



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day #12: Early morning

Well...not too early.  Just wanted to check in with a quick blog.  Today, we're testing.  In our district we give benchmark assessments three times during the school year.  Today, my students will be completing math.  Depending on your view of standardized testing, this is either good or not so much.  I don't mind it.  If it's used as strictly a benchmark to assess current knowledge, then it's okay.  Our scores will be used to determine part of our evaluation for career ladder, though.  It's only one component, but we're closer and closer to retaining teachers based on testing.  Our district has always seemed fair to me--maybe more so than they needed to be.  I'm a reflector by nature--especially when it concerns my teaching--so when the end of the year is here, I tend to be fairly tough on my teaching year.  To this point, I've done okay in the district.  I've set the bar high for myself this year and confirmed the high bar with colleagues over drinks.  In the end, student success is the goal, but I'd really like to set the standard for achievement just once in my career!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Day #11: Heat Advisory

Have you experienced summers in Arizona?  For many of my friends who live here, 3-digit temps are common place through September and sometimes well into October.  The app on my computer says it's currently 107° in Phoenix proper.  This is fairly hot in my opinion.  While most of my teaching time is spent indoors enjoying a well air conditioned room, the few minutes between classes when I'm awaiting my students is downright nasty!  In addition to the 107° heat right now, we are the proud recipients of humidity.  Fellow Okies, we feel your constant pain.  At least it cools off when the sun goes down in Oklahoma.  Not so here in Phoenix.  I have experienced a temperature of 113° at 11:00 PM.  That was the 1st full week I lived in Arizona.  It took almost three months for me to acclimate.  I'm not sure how anyone lives here in the summer.  Sure, it costs money to live elsewhere, but isn't it worth it for nicer weather?  Maybe we could have a reverse school year that mimics my lovely reverse commute to work.  Our winter break could be for 2.5 months between December and February.  Maybe then we could afford to do something.  It's so much cheaper to live here in the winter.  Our utility bills are less than half what they are in the summer.  Imagine that!  A teacher who can survive an extended break, pay all the bills ahead of schedule, and travel!  Maybe I should propose this to someone...Hmmmm...

Anyway--We have suffered a heat advisory all but a couple of days this school year.  Our kids are required to stay inside for lunch.  I have to practice soccer in the gym tomorrow in order to practice at all.  They might just go a little crazy in the next few days. 

Bring on the cool weather!!!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Teaching Tip #2: Make nice with parents! seems simple enough, but many teachers struggle with this.  We are here to do a service for the community.  Some don't get it, but many do.  We may complain about money or the size of our classes, but ultimately, we are in charge of little minds that must grow.  I know many teachers that have made education a career.  I have heard the complaints from these same teachers.  I've also heard that if you don't like it---do something else.  Wouldn't that be great if it were that easy?  Just up and change careers?!  Maybe it's just a job.  I know it is for some.  Sometimes it even feels like it to me--and I really like what I do.  Sure, there are paperwork headaches and the occasional disrespectful child, but all-in-all, it's a pretty good gig.

Of course, many of us have families of our own and live in some of the same communities that we work.  We want something for ourselves that is meaningful and enriching.  Why wouldn't we?  This is a good thing.  Meaningful?  Enriching?  Yeppers...This is reasonable.  I'm very much into reasonableness.

One of the toughest things about our jobs is working with parents.  Not that this is a bad thing at all.  It's just that oftentimes, our plates are loaded with one dinner roll too many and that full ear of buttery corn on the cob is gonna put our plate in a bit of a bind.  We get that email and think:  "What now?"  Our tone sounds dreary.  Our eyes look to the heavens for some divine intervention to take our parent emails and make them magically disappear. doesn't happen.  We put down our plates, hit reply, and begin hammering out a polite electronic letter to the parent.  You wanna know why?  Deep down, we know that parents are our allies.  Parents want many of the same things we do and the majority of them love their children deeply.  It is this love for their sometimes nutty offspring that can lead them down a path to the psycho ward.  We're teachers...we understand...this wing looks familiar.  Is that institutional green on the walls?  Parents sometimes get angry with us.  They yell.  They can be unreasonable.  What's a poor, underpaid teacher to do?  Complain that we don't get paid enough to put up with this $%&#?  Nope.  Make nice.  Say it with me---Make nice.  Again:  Make nice.  Mantra this to yourself when you're feeling overwhelmed by parents.  Make nice.  You may not want to or even feel like it, but so what.  Make nice.  You've chosen a career that isn't about ego.  If you think it is, you're in the wrong field.  Make nice.  Welcome parents with open arms.  Make nice.  Celebrate their child's successes.  Give honest feedback about negative behavior.  Make nice.  Parents will walk through fire if you let them.  We don't have to agree with how they raise their children (There's always CPS), but it's our responsibility to give them our best while their children are entrusted to our care.  Make nice.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Comic Books saved my life!

In prepping the last post, my Heinlein comments prompted my to think about books in the genre that I've really liked over the years, but I couldn't tell the story of science fiction craziness that is my life without giving props to comic books and the impact they had on my love of reading. The following is a brief depiction of how it happened:

Walking into Johnson's Grocery, I immediately went to the comic rack.  I'd never purchased a comic before, but my friends read them and I wanted to know what it was all about.  I can still remember the smells in the store---mostly clean waxy floor (dirt along the edge seams of the wall), newsprint from the comics, and yeasty bread from the bakery.  Mom had gone on to her shopping and I stared at comic-after-comic with their bent spines where others had pulled the tops down to see what lay behind.  I was immediately impressed with the many colorful choices of .60 comics published by Marvel and DC.  I knew Batman and Superman from Saturday morning cartoons and television, but most of the titles were unknowns.  I didn't even know enough to pick anything good, necessarily, but I figured a 1st issue was a good place to start.  So, I reached for Red Sonja #1---a bit of scantily-clad red-headed barbarian warrior woman goodness.

Yeppers!  This is the one that started it off.  I had seen Conan the Barbarian in 1982.  This comic debuted in 1983.  So, of course I wanted something like Conan. Why not someone like Red Sonja?  I didn't find out until later, that Red Sonja actually made her comic debut in Conan the Barbarian #23 in 1974 and was created by Roy Thomas. (I have issue #24.  The 2nd appearance.  I'm a geek!)  Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, actually created a character named Red Sonya (with a Y), but she's not connected to his Conan stories. 
Anyway---that was the beginning.  A little later, I began reading the Uncanny X-men and the rest is history---well...that and about a dozen long boxes to drive my wife nutty!

From comics, I moved into chapter books (as many of my students call novels).  Dune was probably the first real scifi I attempted to read.  I'd seen the film in 1984--didn't really get it, but was willing to try it 'cause a friend of mine had read it and said it was good.  I was unsuccessful.  It was hard for me to read even though I liked the genre of scifi---I stood in line in '77 for Star Wars and thought his name was Dark Vader after all!  Dad and I were always watching science fiction---Star Trek was a staple in my home growing up.  I've even read a great many Star Trek novels--my favorites being those written by Peter David, a comic book writer!  (Q-Squared is one off the top of my head)  Dune was just the first of many that required me to step up my reading game.  To date, I've probably read it at least once a year since 1990.  My cello teacher was a Frank Herbert fan as well and I thought that was pretty cool as a young musician trying to figure it all out one day while practicing Bach in his studio and noticing a well-worn copy of Dune sitting on his shelf.  That's when he told me that he'd made a habit of rereading it once yearly as well.  It must be good stuff if John's rereading it every year.  So, I gave it another try---more than the old college try--and have never looked back. 

Since this will probably be an ongoing conversation in my blog, I'll end it for now with a few of my favorites in no particular order.


SciFi recommendations from me:

Stranger in a Strange Land--Robert Heinlein
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress--Robert Heinlein
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls--ummm...Heinlein
Snowcrash---Neal Stephenson (Brilliant!)
Cryptonomicon--Neal Stephenson (Historical Fiction?)
Metaplanetary--Tony Daniel (Oooh!  A recent favorite!)
Dune--Frank Herbert (How many times have I read this?)
Feed--M.T. Anderson (YA Title---interesting take on where we are headed.)
Legacy of Heorot--Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Stephen Barnes
Beowolf's Children--Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Stephen Barnes

Is Karma Real?

When I entered my last academic yesterday, a student asked me if Karma was real.  I smiled simply.  I asked him what he believed.  He said he didn't know, but he felt like there were more bad things happening in his life these days.

Flash forward to today.  Upon entering the class, I met the same child at the door and asked how Karma was working out for him and whether or not he was okay.  He said his brother had fallen out of a dining room chair and that he'd laughed.  Understandable, I thought. Maybe not the best reaction, but I've certainly had similar reactions myself.  In Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, Valentine Michael Smith comments on humanity when he notices the way we laugh when we witness someone's pain.  Not the pain of suffering or death per se, but more 'injury at slipping on a banana' pain.  Now, it's been awhile since I read Stranger, and it's one of my favs of Heinlein's, so I can't remember the commentary in its entirety, but what I do notice is that humans tend to laugh when we suffer as this student laughed.  It becomes a teachable moment.  Maybe I should lighten up a little, but it's in my best interest to teach students appropriate ways to interact with others---brothers, sisters, mom, dads, teachers, neighbors, etc...  Oh yeah...and Karma.  Evidently, he fell off his stool in science class--thus Karma biting him on the butt. 



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bonus: Teaching Tip #1

Several years ago I began compiling a list of helpful hints for teachers.  Now, presumptuous as it might be of me to think that teachers could possibly benefit from anything I might have to say about teaching, I boldly began my list.  (At the very least, I could refer to it from time-to-time as a reminder of the teacher I was hoping to be!)

Recently, my laptop containing this list was stolen.  Yeppers!  Someone thought my poor Macbook would be better served in their possession.  Contained in the documents folder of said Macbook was my list.  (Hopefully, it was backed up along with everything else, but I didn't think of it until just this moment.  I'll check it when I get home.)

This list contains things, stuff, and random goodness for assisting teachers promote not only student success, but also research-based and data-driven proof of how to be a better educator!  (presses tongue into side of cheek)

Tip #1:  Take the 2-3 seconds required and greet every single individual in each class you teach every day!  (That's 130 students x 5(rounded up)=650 seconds/60 seconds=10.8 minutes---Heck!  Call it no more than 11 minutes out  of your entire day.)  The time spent greeting students while on duty counts as well!  You can subtract these students from the required 2-3 second greeting, but why not just greet them again?  Make it fun.  "Didn't I just see you?"  Come on...You know you like when fellow adults make these connections, right?  Remember:  You are cultivating relationships with students in order for them to grow as human beings while in your care.  You are a steward of these children.  A shepherd watching over a flock.  Call it what you will.  As teachers, we have a profound and lasting impact on our students.  Your kindness may be the only kindness these students receive all day.  Make it count!


Days 6 and 7---Do the Herky-Jerky!

I apologize for missing Day 6 of the school year.  It took a while to decompress the day.  So much so that it's rolled into Day 7.

I used an excerpt from Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air in class today.  The section details the author's experiences on Everest while crossing the Khumbu Icefall.  Specifically, he writes of his discomfort crossing the ladders that are used to bridge the spaces between crevasses in the ice field.  My students struggled with the vocabulary in the excerpt--specifically, herky-jerky.  Of course, they were amused by the phrase, but they really didn't understand its meaning. of my students did--a shy young man whose questions are almost always good.  I asked for volunteers to attempt to demonstrate the meaning of herky-jerky.  He was the only volunteer--which takes a lot of courage.  This wasn't just a raise you hand and answer a question.  This was a full-blown-get-up-and-act-it-out volunteer effort.  It was perfect!  His steps were full of adrenaline shake and wobbliness as well as perfectly timed angular jerks of the arms.  It's moments like this that I love to teach.  ...the shy kid stands up and shows the class what it's all about!  The class applauded!  He smiled and returned to his seat.

I prepped my students in the first week of school with the fact that I'm a huge proponent of arts integration--specifically, theatre and movement activities to aid comprehension.  For me, practicing integration strategies with arts techniques brings more authenticity to the activity--especially vocabulary, where most can got to the online resource and simply copy and paste the definition into any document and submit it.  Students have to live it!  We certainly can't trek to Nepal and the Himalaya to practice our herky-jerky dance (there's oxygen to consider-and I don't think it's in the school budget even if we can get sponsors), but we can act it out and get it into our muscles and bones!  Activities in class where the teacher encourages students to get up and act out...Hmmm...scary!  Actually, acting is part of the fun for me!  It's great to see what the kids bring with them to the class in terms of background experiences.  With our reading not-a-program-program, we encourage the influence of schema.  It's one of the biggest contributors to a student's understanding of text.  As educators, we can either embrace our students' schema, or ignore it.  Ignoring a child's background is a mistake!  Own it!  Embrace it!  Encourage it's use.  (Appropriate use...hehehe)

Cheers and brilliant week to you---Brien

Jon Krakauer Bio (Just in case you're interested)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day #5--Friday!!!

Yeppers!  One week down and 25 (Oops!  Not quite enough!--Let's try a heap more than that!) to go. 

Today was a very good day.  I began rolling out a new reading practice with my classes today.  I had some wonderful help from my friend, the instructional coach, this morning.  I think it was a good start at implementation.  I was able to modify a few things for the next class and it went even more smoothly.  (Poor Academic 1 guinea pigs)  My honors class picked it up and ran with it!  Essentially, the approach/instructional method I'm implementing help students go deeper with their thinking/  The hope is to help foster lifelong learners who can read with a higher degree of proficiency. 

Had a few chuckles with the admin team in our team meeting today.  It's good to interact with admin.  They have much to offer and it's nice to know we're all in this together.'s late and I'm tired.  Maybe a little more tomorrow.

Take care and enjoy the weekend---Brien

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day #4--The brilliance of children

Each day this week, I've been on duty in the library.  For one such as myself, it's a great place to start the day---surrounded by books and good-natured children.  Yep!  A good way to begin.  I love that I get to meet and greet students.  Some teachers aren't fans of morning or afternoon duties (and I have my moments), but there are a couple of places on campus where I love to be.  The library is one such place.  Kids come in and look for friends to chat with, books to read and check out, and a table to finish homework.  I approached a student this morning when I noticed he was working on math.  I commented with some surprise and he asked, "Why are teachers so surprised that we're working on our math homework?"  I stated that it wasn't something I was used to seeing so early in the school, but truthfully, it's rare to see a student doing homework unless they didn't finish it the night before.  Not that I'm complaining or anything.  I like it!  Really!  Others are milling around chatting and I'm even approached by some of my new students for a recommendation.  Excellent!

Anyway---On to the brilliance of children...

I have a new student in class this year.  Normally, she wouldn't be in the regular education classroom due to the severity of her disability.  She has cerebral palsy.  Not kinda, but really, really severe.  Her communication is almost wholly non-verbal.  She is able to communicate with the use of a communication device and a pointer that is positioned on her forehead.  She's able to direct a mouse using this pointer.  She's been in class the past couple of days and she's wonderful.  The other students in class are noticeably better behaved and helpful.  She has an aide, but also a few students who offer to carry her supplies or open doors or whatever they believe she may need. That being said, what makes her brilliant is her ability to smile a truly warm and tender smile that ignites the hearts of everyone she comes into contact with.  Given her circumstances, I'm not sure many of us would be able to smile as brightly. 

You know...I believe our diversity makes us stronger.  By providing a safe environment where students of all backgrounds can interact meaningfully, we grow as human beings.  (Yep!  Me and the whole what does it mean to be human-thing...)

This blog's not too brilliant, but my interactions with brilliance in and out of my classroom make me a better teacher.

Thanks to all my brilliant students to helping me grow.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day #3---Beep Beep Beep goes the copy machine!

Enters code.  Load originals. 



Staple--Check!  Beep Beep Beep!  Wait.  Load staples?  Hmmm...okay.  Let's see...where are the staples?  Oh! 

Open door A.  Next.  Kneel down to staple compartment P.  Press green button-thingy.  Pull. 

(Examines plastic staple holder with great interest--see below.  Presses label that says Press.  Looks for staples.  Looks for someone who knows where there are staples.  Asks for help finding the staples.  Ummmm....)

Changes copiers...(Now he's thinking!)

Enter code.  Load Originals.



Staple--Check!  Beep Beep Beep!  What do you mean there aren't any staples in this machine either?!

Forgets staples.  Reload. 

Back-to-back...this is getting old...Go!

Runs copies without stapling. 
-Clear/Stop!---------Yes!  I want to stop this job!---Yes---Really---

SORT!  Doh!

This first copy machine actually beeped about a dozen times before I switched to the 2nd copier.  You'd think I'd learn after it beeped at me for the same thing twice.  Nope.  Not me! 

Other than my copy debacle in the afternoon, I had a relatively nice day.  My students completed their reading surveys and I have a nice load of data about their reading habits to sort through.  Fortunately, the online form I used does a rather brilliant job organizing the data for me. So, I get to sit back and read it tonight. 

Incidentally, Will Rogers once said, "We have a lot of monkey in us. Throw anything into our cage and we'll give it serious consideration."  He was a fellow Okie and distant relative of mine on my mother's side of the family.  When I was a youth, a friend of mine and I joined 4-H.  Our club competed in a state competition and Will Rogers' quotes were part of our presentation.  My quote was the one above.  What do you suppose I had to wear while quoting the illustrious Mr. Rogers?  Yep!  I was dressed as a monkey--Head-to-toe---tail, ears, fake fur...the whole thing, 

Oh!  We won, by the way. 

Have a great evening!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day #2---Mr. Thompson's strict! (Or What makes us human?)

After school this afternoon, I bumped into one of the 6th grade teachers.  She mentioned that her former 6th graders had termed me strict.  This is probably the first time in my teaching career that I've been labeled as such.  At first, I was slightly dismayed, but then realized that my ploy is working!  Hammer'em hard at first so they get it and later, you can ease back a little.  WoooWhoooo!

Actually, I find it interesting that having expectations for respect and kindness being means being dubbed strict.  Now, I won't go into the way it used to be when I was in school--which seems further and further away each time I think it, but when did expecting students to be nice to one another become strict?

Example:  When calling roll, one of the names got several snickers and a few outright guffaws.  I immediately stopped and brought to the class just how inappropriate their laughter was.  Thankfully, this student wasn't in class.  Thankfully, the child didn't show up to be laughed out of the class by disrespectful children who aren't mature enough to understand how hurtful this could be to someone.

When did this become okay?  I've heard it argued that when corporal punishment went away, behavior went as well.  I'm not sure.  I don't relish the thought of spanking any of my students.  For many, I'm not sure it would even work----at least not at my level.  Regardless, there are standards of behavior that must still be taught to pre-adolescents and adolescents that we, as teachers, can't assume they should know just because they made it to middle school.  As much as I'd like to say it's not my responsibility to teach these expectations, I know that if I don't, it may not get done.  I also know that if I don't supply the right amount of scaffolding for my students they won't be successful.  Behavioral expectations are part of this necessary framework and I'm happy to provide it--even if I'm labeled as strict.

I chuckled at that.  Me?  Strict?  Nope--I just demand that we treat each other as human---with courtesy and respect.  I don't think this makes me strict, but I'll accept the label if it helps my students understand the value of another human being.

Speaking of humanity...A favorite novel of mine is Metaplanetary by Tony Daniel.  It's hard science fiction set in the far future.  It's a novel of interplanetary war (per the book cover), but speaks to the notion of what defines us as human.  It's got lots about nanotech and whatnot like that, but it's the relationships between the characters that I really like.  Particularly, I'm interested in the relationship between Danis and Kelly Graytor.  He's human--biological, and she's a free convert--a complex program.  They have two children.  The antagonist in the story is determined to coop every free convert in the inner system, the Met, while the outer system has no trouble accepting free converts into every aspect of daily life. I first read Metaplanetary while teaching World War II to my students several years ago.  I was reminded of man's inhumanity to man seen not only during the Holocaust, but the "little" things leading up to Hitler's Final Solution.  Remember the Pyramid of Hate?  Hate begins with something most would consider insignificant.  Acts of subtle bias I believe it's called.  Below is a link to the pyramid from the Anti-defamation League.  Have a look and see if it changes your view of certain things kids and many adults say without a second thought.  (Soapbox...)

Anyway---It's a good book.  I liked it and so should you!

I also just finished Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick.  It's the novel that the movie Blade Runner was based on.  Definitions of humanity are considered here as well.  A good read.  If you've only seen the movie, I recommend the novel.  It's different to be sure, but much of the gist remains. 

Anywho...I like novels where questions of humanity are considered.  Call me a geek or a nerd.  Doesn't matter.  Good stories are good stories. 


Monday, August 9, 2010

Success! One day on the books...

and many more to go!

What a great day!  A few snags here and there related to computer glitches that I can't control, but the students were superb.  Two of my classes are exceptionally large--about 36 in each---large for me---but both were mostly well-behaved and interested in knowing what we were going to do this school year.  Advisory class (homeroom with intent!) was extra long and we doled out the procedures and expectations to the kiddos.  We modeled at every opportunity and the students did well.  I'm interested in seeing what they each remember in the morning.

This is really a nice group of students.  Many of them are familiar to me from the past year and seemed excited to be here.  Many were also nervous.  (One 7th grader was so much so, he barely made it to the trashcan before he vomited.)  Poor kid.

Reflections:  Potential challenges should be met at the door when they walk in late and showered with kindness and attention.  (This way they'll know we're keeping an eye out.)

Certain students are unusually quiet on the first day---Observe this fact and be wary of calling on them until you know them better.

Celebrate even the smallest success!  This may be the only celebration they get all day long.

Remember---you don't know what baggage students carry with them when they get here in the morning.  Treat them all with an extra heap of kindness.  We never know if they were hugged or slugged as they were leaving their home on their way to school.  Unfortunately, there aren't enough hugs.

Clean my desk!  It's already a mess.

Hope you have a lovely day---Brien

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Young Adult Literature

I just finished reading an article form the NY Times about young adult literature and the adults who read it that I really liked.  Thanks to Katie and Kerrlita for passing it on. 

Here's the link if you're interested in reading it:

Having taught reading to middle school students these past several years, I've really gotten exposed to some really wonderful works that I wouldn't have otherwise read.  Here's a short list of novels that I like that are worth a read or two or twenty (as happens when you have 5 classes that read the same novel).

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (My favorite author!)
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (Cloning, defining humanity)
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (A classic from my youth!)
Feed by M.T. Anderson (What are we devolving into?)
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher (also, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes)
The Maze Runner by James Dashner (met him this past year---great author to chat with)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (believe the hype!)
The Absolute Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (The trials and tribulations of growing up)

These are just a few of my favs.  One of my jobs is to convince 12 and 13 year olds that reading is worth their time.  In order to do this, I have to make good use of my network of librarian friends who know a great deal more about literature than I.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Student Performance

New eval instrument.  This one is much more involved than in previous years, but I think this one is going to work really well.  For those who believe teachers should be more accountable and under scrutiny for student success, Arizona passed a law that goes into effect in 2012.  (Ominous 2012 stuff again!)  Our district is on the ball and getting it down early so that we're set to go live when it's time. 

More to follow after I've digested it.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Open House

I love meeting new students for the first time.  With these kiddos I recognized quite a few from the previous year and coaching.  It looks to be a good group.  I always seem to think that and normally get it about 90% right. 

What amazes me is the heartfelt concern parents have for their children.  I haven't met a single parent tonight that hasn't expressed an interest to have their child succeed.  They're interested.  They care.  Now, whether it's an act or not is anybody's guess.  I choose to believe with all sincerity.  Call it a goal of mine, but I believe in the good in humanity.  We don't always get it right, but there are times when we have moments.  Those moments must be nurtured if we are to improve ourselves and the rest of humankind. 

I've seen a few students from my previous class who were here to get their schedules.  Such good kids.  Each has their own particular story.  One former student, a brilliant young lady, was terribly nervous about the coming school year---she was almost shaking.  Another told me about a pet that had recently died.  He teared up in front of me and apologized for his tears.  No's okay.  Yet another, a challenging student came in and coolly asked how things were.  We chatted quite a few minutes.  He remained aloof, but on the verge of something more.  Others were excited---some indifferent.  All former students struggling to figure out who they are and where they're going.  All very much human.

Do you remember when you weren't quite human, but rather something alien--appearing human on the outside, but feeling weird and strange on the inside?  I remember.  I used to hide in my coat.  I kept it zipped to the top.  "'s cold."  Not sure how many times I heard that in junior high school.  It wasn't nice.  I lived through it...maybe I'm scarred.  Oh well...must go on living. 


Open house

Open house at a school is interesting.  Tonight, I'll get to meet parents who want the best for their kids and kids who can't wait to get their lockers.  The differences between parent and child priorities can be diverse.  Lockers vs. Class curriculum.  Best friends vs. Keep my child away from ____________.  I like it.  It's good to see the parent-student dynamic in action.  Oft times, parents are the ones most interested in the new teachers.  We meet and greet and answer questions about our class while students are running around with their friends.  Monday is the real meeting of the students.

Today is about getting the room ready.  Cleaning and organizing.  What to put on the walls and what to leave for later.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

This blog--Purpose

Hmmm...Maybe I needed to get these things out there for all to read.  No...actually, I decided that I'd give blogging a real try--something more than the basic creative name, add a picture, post something quippy, and never look at it again. 

I was trained a couple of weeks ago on a new approach to teaching reading and writing.  The collective approach pulls together several different reading strategies that are meant to engage students at levels of metacognition beyond what they're currently experiencing.  My district's state scores came back and we were very successful.  With this new approach, we hope to push our students beyond.  More than meeting the standard, we want our students to exceed.  I believe this is possible.  This approach allows for various instructional styles and teacher diversity--actually, I believe it encourages outside of the box thinking.  I also believe that it will move our students to levels beyond those measured by state testing. 

I'm excited by the possibilities!  It poses a few questions that I've yet to figure out, but it's these challenges that push me forward--seeking answers.

With a lot of work and a little luck, this program will prove greatly beneficial to my students--encouraging their own curiosity to seek answers to their own questions.

Here's an article I found recently that discusses the importance of kindergarten to potential success in adulthood.  It's very decent.  There are links throughout the text that add slides of data collected and presentation notes.  It needs to be peer-reviewed, but is a good read regardless.