It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/13/17

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Today has been the most Monday-est Monday ever.

That might seem a tad dramatic, but today has been insane. We had some security issues involving the house I live in, so it’s been a stressful, draining day trying to sort everything out and take care of what needed to be done to get ready for the busy week ahead of me. I’m so excited to head out to the 2017 NCTE Conference for the first time! On a day like today, keeping my eye on the positives is important.

And the books… all the books!

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First up this week was Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry. I have to say, this was one of the cutest graphic novels involving the undead and an evil plan to take the lives of teens. This graphic novel follows two sisters, Katia and Victoria, on scholarship at a private boarding school. One desperate to fit in and the other happy to be herself, the sisters get into an argument and head out to cool off. The girls find themselves stuck in the underworld of a graveyard nearby, one foot in the real world while the other is conversing with some not-so-friendly ghosts who serve a master in need of a child’s soul. Can Victoria find Katia before its too late? Can Nikola be stopped by an unlikely team? Full of beautiful graphics, this is a lighthearted story that will be a hit with anyone.

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Marqui loaned me Trickster a few weeks ago, and I am finally getting to it (sorry, Marqui!). Trickster is a compilation of Native American tales revolving around the trickster, a creature who uses his cunning wit to disrupt the order of things. This anthology holds over 20 tales that have been adapted into a graphic novel form. Many storytellers from all over the nation came together to reproduce the stories and were then joined by artists to morph them into comic form. I loved the different tales and the completely different colors/graphics that came with each story. It was so clear that different artists had worked on every story, personalizing it to the tale itself. At the end of the novel, Dembicki, the editor, provides background on each writer, which culture they come from, and also credits the illustrators.

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I’m not sure what I expected this book to be, but it wasn’t that; it was more. Blue Is the Warmest Color took me on a rollercoaster ride I didn’t see coming. At the beginning of the novel, Clementine is a 16 year old student just trying to make it. She fits in, has a group of friends, and gets along with her family as well as any teen can. She meets Thomas who then becomes her boyfriend, but after catching a glimpse of the girl with blue hair, Clementine feels distracted and distant, unsure of whether or not she is with Thomas because she wants to be or because she has to be. Her life is flipped upside down when her best friend takes her to a gay bar where Emma, the girl with the blue hair, steps back into her life. It’s this event that leads Clem to question past notions she had about herself and leads her into a love that is both passionate and heartbreaking. Blue Is the Warmest Color is gorgeous with the pops of blue throughout the book. The story is gorgeous and bittersweet, a tale of love found and lost.

Happy reading and traveling this week!

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Mini-Lessons: The Backbone

The backbone. When most people think about the backbone, they think about their own body. Our backbone, or vertebral column, holds us together and protects the spinal cord which, if injured, can cause lifelong difficulties. I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to understand that the backbone is integral; it’s an essential part of our makeup. Despite all this, the vertebral column is not the first thing I think of when I hear the word “backbone” – I think of the 2012 movie The Campaign

Before you decide to completely disregard this post, let me make one thing clear: I absolutely hated The Campaign. I know that it was supposed to be funny, but I loathed it. Even as a sophomore in high school, I knew that this movie would be etched in my brain, a movie I would never forget. The Campaign is focuses on the re-election of a congressman and centers around the campaign trail. It is one part in particular that makes me think of the word “backbone” when I remember the movie. At the very beginning, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is shown campaigning in numerous locations with groups of people who hold very diverse jobs. It is here Brady proclaims that each group he is with is “the backbone of this nation!” The crowd (for the most part) goes wild with applause in each location, cheering at the thought that they protect and keep the nation upright.

When we begin to consider our lifestyle as educators, I think we can see the backbone of what we do fairly clearly: we read, we write, we discuss. These three things should be at the base of what we do daily because, well, we’re English- Language Arts people. But the more we dive into lesson planning and the way our classroom with function, I think it’s worth noting that there are many facets to what we do, and one backbone might not be enough. Yes, we read, write, and talk, but what about the nitty gritty details? That’s our overall backbone, but I think we need something else to structure our class time with and do this “teaching” thing.

This is where the mini-lesson steps into the light. Mini-lessons are rapidly becoming my most favorite part of the classroom. The mini-lesson is a down and dirty lesson on a micro subject that our learners need to move forward within the unit of study. The lessons are short (hence the word “mini”) and get directly to the point, no need for fluff.  These lessons are authentic and narrowly focused on a  single skill. Since the lessons are micro and to the point, it conserves our energy as teachers and also allows students the time to work in a reading/writing workshop.

One thing I love about mini-lesson is how diverse they can be. For example, you could have a mini-lesson dedicated to introductory adverbial phrases and how to spot them one day and then switch to a mini-lesson on the art of selecting an independent reading book the next. They are versatile and anything but rigid, which keeps the classroom moving and the students learning. I also love that they are planned but can also be reactive and spur of the moment. Educators can create a list of mini-lessons to correlate with their unit, but if something is noticed that needs to be discussed that isn’t initially in the plan, it can be addressed in a mini-lesson and the original plan can be shifted to the next day easily. It’s really about what works in your classroom and for your students on that day; shouldn’t that be what all of our lessons revolve around?

The mini-lesson is, arguably, the backbone of the classroom. It is where the traditional notion of “teaching” takes place in an untraditional way. It allows us to present useful, necessary material in an authentic way without eating up an entire class period where the only things students do is hear our voice. If we’re serious about facilitating a workshop environment, condensing our lessons down to be mini is important. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the gasps and naysayers.

We protect and cherish our own backbones because they are integral to maintaining our health and function. In the same way, we need to utilize the mini-lesson and realize the benefits it provides us. After all, just as the human spinal column uses its 33 bones to protection as well as structure and support, mini-lessons work to provide the same services in a classroom. They are, as Cam Brady would say, the backbone of the classroom.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 11/6/17

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Welcome back, fellow book lovers!

Monday.. Week 11.. Yikes! I am feeling the downward slope of the semester a lot lately, which is both exciting and terrifying. Despite this, we will continue to plow through!

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With the return of fall, Sunny heads home to begin middle school. This obstacle is huge, but it doesn’t even begin to compare to the turmoil of Sunny’s home life. Dale is gone, Grandpa is still in Florida, and even when they return it doesn’t feel right. Instead, it feels like the world as Sunny knows it has been flipped upside down. Luckily, Sunny has good friends and a new neighbor willing to let Sunny in on the fun of her activity. Can she remain Sunny-side up? Or will life drag her down? I came into this story expecting a lot, and, to be honest, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. This graphic novel by Jennifer and Matthew Holm was good, but I loved the first installment so much that its sequel didn’t match the hype I created. Nevertheless, it was a great story with beautiful pictures. I can’t wait to read more about Sunny’s adventures in the future!

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This graphic novel was loaned to me by my wonderful friend, Carlie. It depicts the silent agreement between the Kurbs and the humans that gives the humans power and a place to live. Each year in June, the Kurbs hide their power inside of a token. The people then have until December 21st to place the power back in its safe space before the Kurbs retake control and freeze out the human race. For years the ritual has remained a secret, buried within a family of women and passed down as a daughter’s duty. However, all that changes when a power hungry man discovers the secret and wants to harness the power for himself. Suddenly, a young girl questions everything her father has told her; is her mother truly dead? What is her destiny? And why is it that she can see things that aren’t before her? Soon she and her friend, Carlos, find themselves on a journey to save loved ones and rescue the city that they both call home. The only question left is will they make it in time.

Okay. I LOVED this graphic novel! I had my doubts at the beginning, but the story is so wonderful and the pictures depict the events beautifully. I found myself being sucked into the story of good vs. evil. By the end of the novel, I was hanging on every last word.

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As a person who knows nothing about ice skating except for the bits and pieces of knowledge gleaned from obsessively viewing Ice Princess, this novel was completely new to me. Tillie Walden’s graphic novel memoir, Spinning, chronicles her life as a competitive figure skater. For over 10 years, Tillie’s entire life was dedicated to the sport. She woke at 4 a.m. to head to private practice at the rink, go to school, and go back to the ice rink to skate more. But what happens when you outgrow the identity you created for yourself? What do you do when you no longer fit with the person other people perceive to be you? This graphic novel explores what it means to find that place while also passing difficult milestones of a teenage girl. From near death experiences to coming out to her parents and friends, Tillie Walden spills her life out for readers to see. The pictures were beautiful with an ice-like tint, but I also felt that the story was a bit unresolved at the end. This long graphic novel (almost 400 pages!) held a beautiful message, but I still have so many questions (like what her deal was with her mom.. angry face).

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Here is a weird thing I do: when I get into a reading frenzy, I really get into a reading frenzy. I got this overwhelming feeling last week that I just have not been reading enough. So, naturally, I picked up more books and have been devouring them. I’m currently working my way through When I Was the Greatest, The Hate U Give, and Readicide. So far all are amazing, but wow – The Hate U Give is truly stunning and powerful. I can’t wait to book talk it once I’m finished!

Stay tuned for next week’s update when I have (hopefully!) finished these. Until then, happy reading!

You are your pedagogy.

When we first began our journey through Special Methods, we were told to craft a list of principles. These principles were supposed to be the backbone of our future classroom, the values we would live on and ingrate into our teaching. This list of principles allows us to envision a classroom of readers and learners while also calling into play one important factor: our pedagogy.

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Pedagogy, by definition, is the method of teaching or the aim of education. It is how we approach our teaching style and what we hope to instill in learners. Pedagogy is the methods we use to create the classroom we want. It encompasses a lot – the integration of technology, our teaching methods, the way we approach feedback and grading are just a few examples of this massive field. Pedagogy helps inform the choices we make within the classroom and the teaching practices we use. But what happens for people like me – the new, young teacher who wants to move past the traditional? Where do we start with pedagogical concerns and questions?

The answer to this question is, in my opinion, much simpler than it seems at first glance. We spend years sitting in classrooms while professors drone on and on about assessment and the way our classroom should work instead of asking the one person who will be in it the entire time – us. Our pedagogy should be a reflection of who we are and what we believe. Pedagogy is unique to the individual, and I think it’s about time we believe in that.

You see, I’ve spent a lot of this semester stressed and anxious. With student teaching arriving soon and classes only telling me the things I have to do to not get fired, my lifestyle choice has turned into an abyss of doom that I feel myself having to crawl out of daily. When did a decision that once caused me joy suddenly become a source of exhaustion and worry? It became this way when I thought I needed to be different than who I was. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that the principles I created and contemplated were no longer good enough because they didn’t fit into the box devised for me; this, however, is simply not the case.

Luckily, I was reminded of this as I worked through my midterm assignment. While “grading” a sample essay from a student, I ran across a phrase in Christenson’s article “My Dirty Little Secret: I Don’t Grade Student Papers.” In it, Christenson makes a bold statement regarding pedagogy:

Our grading should match our pedagogy. In my classroom I attempt to create aspects of the kind of society I want my students to live in: a society where the work is meaningful and intrinsically rewarding, where people grapple with big ideas they care about, in an environment where they can talk, read, write, and think without worry of failure or ridicule. Students need to feel that their work is important, relevant, and meaningful. If not, why should they spend time on it?

Here, Christenson demonstrates just how integrated our pedagogy is within us. Every single thing we do should match our pedagogy because it is us. Our classrooms should be ran by our visions and values because they reflect our passions and desired outcomes. Grading is an important part of pedagogy (as evidenced by the quote), but it isn’t the only part. I argue that every thing we do in the classroom – from relationships and the way we speak to people to mini lessons and importance placed on various things – is a part of our pedagogical selves. Separating ourselves from the teaching to make it “more correct” in the eyes of others only makes it sterile and bleak, a machine in the world of education. In doing this, we may please others, but we hurt ourselves and our students.

Holding on to your visions and values creates an atmosphere of positivity and love because you stay true to yourself. I don’t personally believe in the traditional system of grading, so while completing my midterm, I made a pedagogical choice that suited me instead of falling in to the notion of grading we are accustomed to (which is undoubtedly more comfortable). I can’t tell you how freeing this was for me. By keeping my visions and values at the forefront of my mind, I was able to fully think about what the student needed from me – not what others needed or wanted.

My pedagogy is mine. It may still be evolving and changing as I build up my arsenal of research and thoughts, but it is mine. Do you claim yours?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 10/30/17

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Another Monday in the books… How do the weeks continue to zip by? It is crazy that we’re already on week 11 of the semester. Before I know it, I’ll be packing up and heading home to branch out into the world of teaching.

Yikes. That’s a scary thought, and it’s one that is recurring. My one solace against these anxiety-ridden nightmares (literally, I’m having nightmares) has been reading. Can I again just say how lucky I am to be majoring in something that brings me such peace and happiness. Ahh…

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I began my week with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl. After hearing so much talk about it from my classmates and fellow English majors, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I had for it. Could a book possibly be so good that every single person loved it?

Short answer: YES. Oh my word – you guys, Roller Girl is a must read. Between the graphics and the story line, this novel is one that will leave you sprinting to the nearest person to recommend it. Astrid is practically attached at the hip with her friend, Nicole. They do everything together; from nights of “cultural enlightenment” to sleepovers, Nicole and Astrid have never been apart. After a trip to watch the local roller derby, Astrid is psyched to participate in the summer camp dedicated to the sport. Nicole, however, has different plans and decides to enlist in dance camp with Astrid’s nemesis. Can their friendship survive a summer apart? Can Astrid find the strength to get up every time she is knocked down? Or will she give up on her dream to be a jammer? Roller Girl is a funny, heartwarming graphic novel about friendship, perseverance, and, you guessed it, roller derby.  If you haven’t read it yet, go find a copy right now.

Real-Friends-Cover.jpgIn her new graphic novel memoir, Shannon Hale gives readers an eye into her life. As a middle child, Hale often felt ignored and invisible. Starting school was difficult until she met Adrienne, who became her best friend. Shannon’s mother always said that all you needed was one best friend, so when more girls start to show interest in Adrienne, Shannon immediately feels threatened. How can she fit in with The Group, the friend circle that everyone desperately wants to be a part of? When her friendships start to become based on a rating scale, can Shannon stand up for herself? And, if she does, what happens to the friendships she so desperately needs?

Real Friends doesn’t try to sugarcoat the life of a preteen, and for that, I am grateful. Friendships are never easy; as humans, I think that would be impossible. It’s a messy road to finding friendships that are worth the struggles and occasional squabbles, but it is also so rewarding to have friends that love you.

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Deemed unworthy of a name, Four-Girl’s life began under unfortunate circumstances. Nothing she does is ever good enough for Grandfather who dismisses her as family and calls her a devil. This is nothing new for her, though, with the talk of devils spreading throughout the land. After a trip to the acupuncturist, Four-Girl’s interest is piqued; on his wall hangs the very symbol of the devil that those in the village are talking about. As she returns and listens to the stories, Four-Girl finds a home, belief, and a name – Vibiana – within Christianity. But China is not a safe place for Christians, especially at this point in time. Can she find her true calling, or will she ever hear the Lord’s calling for her? And, if she answers, can she handle the consequences?

Saints was unlike any graphic novel I’ve ever read. It’s roots wound tightly around the Boxer Rebellion in China, this novel explores what it means to believe in something. The visions of Joan of Arc (and the ending) added so much to this novel. I’m looking forward to reading the companion, Boxers, this upcoming week!

Happy reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 10/23/17

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Hello, fellow book lovers!

Can you believe we are half way through this semester? It seems like the first 8 weeks flew by, and I can feel reality setting in that I will be teaching in just a few short weeks. Craziness. I returned back from Midterm Break feeling not quite as refreshed as I had hoped, but still excited and ready to read. Going home was great; between family time and catching up on my DVR recordings, my 5 days away from school was just what I needed.

Through-the-Woods-Emily-Carroll.jpgOne of my favorite parts of break happened while I visited my old high school. My mom is a teacher at our local high school, so while I was home, I dropped by to see her and Kellan at school. She had chatted with me over the weekend about one of her student’s reading habits, asking what books I would recommend. I got to meet her student while at MV, and we got to talking about books (particularly graphic novels), which then led to me voracious recommending numerous titles that were must reads to both him and my mom. I told them that next up on my TBR list for graphic novels was Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. This graphic novels takes place in and around – you guessed it – the woods. With creepy images, beautiful colors, and spine-tingling stories, it’s a sure hit with any reader. I devoured this book containing 5 separate stories in one day. My mom’s student (who just so happens to love creepy stories, too) read it last week after a quick Amazon Prime order, and we are FaceTiming tomorrow to discuss our thoughts and book club together. Guys, I love my future job already. 🙂

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I snatched this graphic novel the second Dr. E set it down after her book talk, and I am so happy I did. All’s Faire in Middle School is a fantastic peek into what it is like to walk the halls of a middle school today and feel the pressures they experience daily. This story follows Imogene (Impy) as she bravely embarks on a new quest – middle school. After being homeschooled her entire life, Impy tries to figure out how to navigate her way through school, friendships, home life, and so much more. Can she be the valiant, honorable knight she has always wanted to be? Or will she end up unleashing her innermost dragon? Filled with beautiful graphics and amazing renaissance fair scenes, this story is a must-read for anyone who loves seeing good conquer evil. Huzzah!

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When magic is no longer believed to be real, Grunhilda finds herself out of a job. She isn’t scary enough to be a fake witch and there are no job titles open for a hag or battle-axe, so she takes the next best opportunity – a position as a lunch lady at the local school. The position puts her in contact with Madison, a girl who desperately wants to be smarter, and a principal who takes every opportunity possible to foil plans. When Madison uncovers Grunhilda’s secret, chaos unfolds and the ancestors are not happy. How will Grunhilda fix the mess she has gotten herself into?

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When life gets tough, Taylor Edwards loves to run. It’s easier to escape than it is to face any issue head on, and with a family that doesn’t like to talk about feelings, leaving has always been the answer. But when Taylor’s dad is given life-altering news that rattles the entire family, Taylor has no choice but to stay and spend the summer at her family’s lake house in the Poconos. Suddenly, Taylor’s history comes rushing back to haunt her; can those she left behind 5 years ago forgive her for what happened? Can she survive the summer without leaving and causing more heartache?

As always, happy reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 10/16/17

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Man, I am loving fall break. Being home for the first time in months is refreshing and relaxing for me. I’ve spent break eating food I didn’t have to buy/make, catching up with family, agreeing to be my sister’s maid of honor, watching the shows I recorded on my DVR, seeing friends, and (of course) reading. What more could I ask for?

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Lighter Than My Shadow is the type of graphic novel memoir that will take your breath away and make your heart ache. This story follows the life of Katie Green as she struggles with eating disorders, fitting in, negative thoughts, and sexual abuse. Green takes traditionally taboo topics and brings them to life on the page, bravely telling her story of struggle and recovery. She is not afraid to take readers into the depths of pain and her innermost thoughts. From her train of thought during a binge to opening up old wounds caused by those she trusted, Katie Green bears it all and shows readers that strength is within even when it seems the bleakest. Lighter Than My Shadow was an emotionally tough read, but it was eye-opening to say the least.

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What does it mean to be a girl in society today? Does it mean pink dresses and dollhouses, or is there something more? Liz Prince explores the topic of gender conformity and norms in her graphic novel memoir Tomboy. In it, readers follow Prince as she grows up. From refusing to wear a dress to being mistaken for a boy at all ages, this read is both entertaining (Prince is hilarious) and important. People tend to see what is on the outside, but Prince challenges us to look deeper as she tells her story about finding out who she truly is. Tomboy takes readers through friend drama, bullies, cooties, gender, and the all-important ball cap. Does she hate girls, or does she hate the societal expectations placed on them? Join Prince as she wrestles with these questions and, as one review puts it, “tells gender norms to eat dirt.”

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American Born Chinese has to be one of the most thought provoking graphic novels I’ve read so far this semester. The novel focuses on three distinct stories: Jin Wang, a boy desperate to fit in when it seems like all he can do is stand out; the monkey king, master of kung fu who is never satisfied with what he has; and Chin-Kee, the stereotypical Chinese character in any 80’s sitcom (Sixteen Candles, anyone?) who is the comic relief while visiting his cousin, Danny. As the novel progresses, the stories weave together in an unexpected but brilliant twist that shocked me. As the characters struggle to find their footing and be treated fairly, readers are exposed to racial stereotypes that are present in society. Pieces of this story reminded me of Kip Fulbeck’s Paper Bullets, which discusses what it’s like to live in a place that ignores multiracial (in his case, Hapa) identity.

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Last, but certainly not least, comes John Green’s new novel Turtles All the Way Down, the novel I have been waiting months for. The story centers around Aza’s life and mental health along with the adventures she pursues with her friend, Daisy. When the pair hears about a $100,000 reward for finding Aza’s old friend, Davis’s, dad, they begin chasing answers to a mystery that might not want to be solved. Filled with Star Wars references and veiled One Direction mentions, TATWD is a must read. One of my favorite pieces of John Green’s writing is his refusal to water down characters. I always feel like he treats each character with the complexity deserved, refusing to use YA as an excuse to not give a full, adequate portrayal. In this novel, Green sticks to this trend more than ever. TATWD dives deep, placing readers directly into Aza’s mind to read her anxieties, inner turmoil, and to follow her spirals. I can’t stress enough how necessary this novel is. Be watching for a follow up post coming soon!

For now, I’ll be enjoying my final hours of break and family time. 🙂

-RG

Five Cheers for Feedback

I don’t think it’s any secret I am a relational person.

I tell people they’re precious, sweet, kind, and awesome nearly every day (because they are, duh). I thrive on long talks and connections made with friends, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to open the door and have my brother bulldoze me over with a hug when I get home tonight. I try to go out of my way to reach out to my friends near and far every week because I value them and our relationship. We, as humans, thrive on feeling appreciated and loved; so why do we not grade this way in our schools?

If you asked me to remember a time in school when someone truly cared about my writing – and I mean really cared, not just checked it for a grade – I’m not sure I could pinpoint a single one. I came to college prepared to churn out papers and essays for a grade and that only. I thought I knew what good writing was, but I really only knew the best way to write to please others – not myself. I was more worried about getting on the good side of the red pen than I was about my own thoughts and opinions. But how can we encourage students to look past the typical notion of grading and really get them to care about their work as their own? I have two words: feedback and relationships.

To me, feedback and relationships are intertwined. Reading and responding to someone’s writing is both a privilege and a responsibility. The writer is handing over their heart on a piece of paper for you to read and respond to – how can you be sure you handle that with care while also reaching back out? Going over all of the ways to give feedback last week was helpful. Between feedback letters, fishbowls, individual conferencing, and small groups, every single student can share their writing in a beneficial way for them. Understanding your students will also be really beneficial in knowing what stage of their writing process they are in. Developing  a rapport with students is incredibly important to the feedback process because students won’t trust us with their writing until they feel that we care about them as people.

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What does traditional feedback give students?

Teaching is relational. I firmly believe this. When I came to college, I was a broken writer. I was afraid to share my work, my words, with others because I had been told for so long that words and writing were meant to be put in a specific order and that was it. My writing was only good if it was quantifiable or got me an A; in other words, it was only good if someone else said it was. I didn’t write creatively, but I did write from an anxious space, constantly wondering if I was good enough. But then I came to college, and my writing was considered an extension of me. It was enough because I was enough. Simple as that. I started receiving positive feedback on my writing instead of red dashes and question marks littering it. I felt a blossoming confidence. I started sharing my blogs to Facebook and allowing others to read my thoughts instead of labeling them as dumb. I started writing from a place deep within me that could heal pain from the past. I opened up and began to produce work that I cared about, but why did it take so long to reach that point?

As a teacher, I want to implement a solid feedback process for my students. I never want a student to label their writing as worthless or dumb because it is anything but that. The turning point for me was getting feedback from other English majors that said I was good enough. They gave positive comments and genuinely cared about me. We built a relationship with each other that was based on trust and care. I want students to walk away from a feedback process feeling empowered and desiring to work further on their piece of writing. I want them to write from a place of knowing they are loved. I want them to understand that their writing matters – to me, to others, and to them. I want them to write for themselves.

Feedback can do this.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 10/9/17

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Monday Mantra: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…

Midterm Break right around the corner has me humming this tune allllll week long. I don’t know about you, but I am SO ready for a much-needed break. I can almost feel the Kellan-hug waiting for me Friday night, and I can’t tell you guys how much I need that; it’s been too long since I went home.

But first, books!

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When I first saw this book at Walmart, I was so excited. I recently read Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel Smile, which I absolutely loved. This novel follows Catrina (Cat) and her family as they move to Northern California due to her sister, Maya’s, medical concerns. Once there, Maya and Cat are clued in on the town secret: Bahia de la Luna is filled with ghosts. Maya is determined to go ghost hunting and meet them, but Cat is hesitant; why would she want to talk with the dead? Can Cat overcome her fear in time to celebrate Day of the Dead – a tradition in her new home? Can she experience this for herself and for Maya?

There were many things I enjoyed about this graphic novel, but there were also some problematic parts. I thought Telgemeier tried hard to include a variety of different topics in a book probably made for a middle school audience. Due to this, some items were glossed over. Attempting to cover mortality, life after death, illness, and a completely different culture is difficult, and I felt like maybe all of these weren’t addressed in a full enough way. Many resources outlined this book as dealing in cultural appropriation; when thinking through the subject, I found the blog post titled Ghosts: Swing and a Hard Miss as well as the post titled Not recommended: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier to be helpful in understanding the term and what it means.

One of the pieces I loved in the novel was the inclusion of the G-tube within the narrative. Maya, Cat’s sister, has cystic fibrosis and struggles to get enough nourishment. This is the first novel I have ever seen a G-tube mentioned and pictured. My younger brother, Kellan, has Down syndrome and was born without his esophogus. He had one constructed but has had numerous difficulties with it over the years; because of this, he has had a feeding tube for his entire life. He struggles with understanding why he has one and no one else does (I often have to show him my stomach to prove I don’t have a “button” :)) and has also been teased about having one, so seeing this incorporated into the novel was refreshing.

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When Anya falls down a well, the last thing she expects to find is a friend. Growing up, Anya hasn’t always had the best luck at fitting in. From her accent to her clothing, most pieces of her life made her stand out. Finding Emily Reilly, the nearly century old ghost at the bottom of the well, could be Anya’s ticket to a “normal” high school life. Emily helps Anya with school, clothing choices, and boys – but what’s beneath the her facade? Is she as good of a friend as Anya once thought? As the story unravels, Anya must face the truth about her friend’s secret past as well as face the truth about her attitude. Anya’s Ghost is one of my favorite graphic novels from this semester. I love the setting and the real-life implications it asks readers to contemplate. Being a high schooler isn’t easy, and this book questions the need to fit in and conform. (5/5)

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When Sunny heads to Florida to visit her grandfather, she expects a summer full of beaches and Disney World. Instead, she finds herself living in a retirement home with a grandpa who thinks going to the grocery store is an exciting day trip. Her luck changes when she meets Buzz, the son of a maintenance worker who introduces Sunny to the world of comics. Their adventures keep the friends busy; from finding residents’ cats to running from Big Al, the pair never seem to have much of a dull moment. But why was Sunny sent to Florida in the first place? And why does she only name Teddy, her youngest brother, and not Dale when people ask? As the summer moves forward, dark family secrets come to light that Sunny must accept and learn from. Set in the 1970s, this book is full of beautiful images and color. I’m already looking forward to reading the next book. (4/5)

Perfectionism: My worst friend

On Friday, I caught myself doing it again.

It’s just a 1-2 page paper, Regan. Why are you freaking out?

An assignment that should’ve taken me an hour and a half tops stole my entire night, eating up 5 hours of time while simultaneously chiseling away at my self-worth. Something that should have been so simple, easy even, for an English major had once again become my biggest headache of the day. I froze; I couldn’t write without repeatedly telling myself that everything I was writing was futile and complete trash. I felt down, anxious, and like a failure as I tentatively hit submit.

That’s when I heard it: the subtle knock, knock of perfectionism, waltzing its way back into my life.

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Perfectionism. What an ugly word. When I was younger, I proudly categorized myself as a perfectionist. I was very particular with assignments and tasks, leaving nothing undone or to chance. Everything I did had to be perfect, and I needed to be in complete control of the outcome. Perfectionism was encouraged – praised, even – to the point that it was the single most identifiable part of me.

But what happens when we don’t reach the unattainable level of perfection? What do we do when we are forced to remove the rosy colored glasses and face the truth? Perfection is not plausible. As a student, realizing this has been one of the hardest things for me to do. Relinquishing control and accepting my writing as my own imperfect, wonderful thing has been more of a challenge than I can ever articulate. I’ve had to go through long growing periods of understanding that just because my writing doesn’t sound as amazing as her’s and doesn’t have the perfect ending line like his doesn’t mean it’s bad; it means it is mine, which is the only comparison I should need.

So what does this mean for me as a teacher? Clearly, it means I still have work to do. You guys – a classroom is anything but perfect. It is a conglomeration of unique individuals striving to learn and grow together. Each classroom is its own just as each student is different. Will my lesson plans always go just so? No. Will students always react to my thoughts and plans positively? No. Will I always say and do the right thing? No.

But will I constantly try my best to reach and love each student? Yes.

My students deserve a teacher who isn’t focused on perfection. They need someone who understands that not everything can be sculpted into perfection. Most of all, perhaps, they need someone who understands them and their fears. When I take a step back and see what my perfectionism gave me, I realize that many students are walking down the same path. I can’t tell you the number of hours I have spent staring at a blank screen, filled with dread just thinking about the grade I will get on the unwritten paper before me. I have cried, stress eaten, and stared blankly into the abyss more times than I can count. I never want my students to be so focused on perfection that they forget to love themselves and their creations. Perfectionism is a really bad friend, and I want my students to know this fact.

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is the pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try harder. – Julia Cameron

Focusing on perfection doesn’t make us any more awesome. It only robs us of our humanness, which is a shame. It’s in the stumbles and falls along with the laughs that we find out who we are. Life is beautiful – why not celebrate all facets of it?