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

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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?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 10/2/17

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Happy Monday, all!

October has rolled in, and it seems like the weird half fall/half winter season has finally hit us here in Chadron. This past week brought some dreary, gray days and I LOVED IT. Seriously. I’m much more of a “lay in bed and read” type of person than a “go outside and hike” type. Rainy days mean I get to burrow under a blanket and lose myself in a book. Fall also means the best scented candles are back. Victories everywhere.

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I know I stated this last week, but Lucy Knisley is fantastic and I love her. I was beyond excited (and protective) of the new books Dr. Ellington brought me last week; I just love finding new, amazing authors. An Age of License: A Travelogue details Knisley’s experience on her trip abroad. Between the delicious food and attempts to mend her heart while experiencing anxiety about the future, Lucy (I like to think we’re on a first name basis these days) questions her right to an age of license. Is this the time in her life where she can experience and mess up before settling down? The honesty is, once again, unparalleled. Many of Lucy’s fears are ones I have felt bubbling up in my life lately, so this graphic novel really struck a chord. (5/5 – Did you expect anything else?)

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One Knisley book is never enough, so naturally I read Displacement: A Travelogue as well. This novel outlines Lucy’s travel experience as she accompanies her 90+ year old “Grands” on their cruise. As she comes to grip with the fears of aging and watching those she loves slip away, Lucy is still able to bond and grow close with her family while caring and sharing a milestone experience with her grandparents. Lucy walks away from the cruise 10 days later with a full, melancholy heart, which I felt myself agreeing with. Losing my grandparents is common fear among those my age, and I am not immune to this. Lucy took a front row seat to her grandmother’s dementia and her grandfather’s aging issues, but still bonded and found pieces of herself along the way. (5/5)

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If you asked my friends to describe me, I might be labeled as a fixer. One of my greatest joys in life is to see those around me happy, healthy, and loved. With that being said, this book ruined me. This memoir by David Small left me in a puddle of tears, unable to fully express my sympathy for this small boy who was never properly loved. Stitches tells the harrowing tale of David as he grew up with stoic, Midwestern parents. The harm he endures is woven into beautifully crafted graphics that depict the world from his eyes as it unfolds. Loss, health issues, and abuse take center stage in this aptly categorized tragi-comic, but all the hurt gives way to rebirth and love thanks to an individual who cares. Harrowing and dark, this novel is one I will remember for years to come. (5/5 – If you enjoyed [if you truly can enjoy] A Child Called It, you need to read this.)

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Thornhill was just as eerie to read as the cover looks. My fellow graphic novel lover, Marqui, bought this book recently and let me borrow it to read. The story of Thornhill, an orphanage, is told in two very different ways. Mary’s story is told in the form of letters to her diary while Ella’s story of discovery and exploration is told through graphics only. Though they span 35 years apart, the story of Mary and Ella becomes entangled and ultimately deadly. What is the light Ella sees in the abandoned Thornhill house? And who keeps leaving little clues and dolls for her to find? As the mystery of Thornhill unravels, readers will find themselves getting goosebumps and becoming paranoid of a “thump… thump… thump” on the door. Spooky and haunting, this was a novel I couldn’t put down. The 500+ pages seemed like nothing as I continued to unravel the mystery and put the puzzle pieces together. They say misery loves company, but how far can the dead reach? (5/5 – I highly recommend you don’t read this while alone like I did; yikes!)

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I rounded out the week with two YA novels. I finally finished The Great American Whatever, and I have to say that it was as amazing as originally promised. After tragedy hits, Quinn becomes a shell of his former self. No more cell phone, no more time for Geoff, and especially no more time for screenplays, an activity solely done with Annabeth. As Quinn begins to emerge from his shell, he must face a different world. Through the healing, old wounds are cracked open, first love blossoms, and Quinn finally finds a way to be truly himself.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a continuation of the YA trilogy by Jenny Han. Belly is more confused than ever. Cousins used to be her safe haven, but now it holds memories of hurt and loss. Can she ever truly pick what – or who – she wants without breaking anyone’s heart, including her own? Susannah may be gone, but the Fisher boys are still around. Susannah always told Belly she knew that one of her boys would marry Belly someday; but is it true?

Happy October, and happy reading!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 9/25/17

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Happy Monday, friends!

This week has been yet another crazy one (I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever have  week that I don’t categorize as “crazy”). Between the “lasts” of college and the insane workload, I often find myself feeling as though I’m slipping further into the abyss that is academia and stress. In the words of my middle school kids, “pls send help.”

BUT, one of the most refreshing pieces of my semester has been the emphasis placed on fun, choice reading. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been able to turn back the pages of my most recent novel and just dive straight into a different world for awhile. It was a cold, rainy weekend in Chadron, which, to me, means that it’s the perfect weather to curl up with my favorite blanket and read. Since the weather was dreary and wonderful, you can imagine what my entire weekend looked like.

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I just want to shout it from the rooftops: I LOVE LUCY KNISLEY. Seriously. This woman is a genius. Her writing is witty, honest, heartwarming, and revolves around food; what more could a reader ask for? In her graphic novel Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride, Knisley takes readers on one of the biggest adventures of her life thus far: her wedding. From engagement to physically building the venue, this novel gives readers eyes into the entire process. I love that Knisley is so honest in her writing; it’s something that has struck me with both Relish and Something New. She never holds back, which allows readers to get the full experience of the stories she is telling us. I smiled when she and John, her husband, became engaged, and I screamed “YES” when she discussed her love of dresses with pockets and the fact that her wedding dress had them (sign me up). The genuine writing and personal touches, such as the photographs, made this novel absolutely fabulous.  Lucy Knisley doesn’t sugarcoat love or weddings, but I still found myself gushing over it all. (5/5 – just read it; you know you want to)

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After talking with my professor about how much I loved Pedro & Me, I was sent home with Hilo: the Boy Who Crashed To Earth. This graphic novel was written by Judd Winick, the same person who wrote and illustrated Pedro’s story from last week (check out the post containing that review here). This story follows D.J., Hilo, and Gina and their friendship, even in trying times. Hilo has no idea who he is, where he came from, or why D.J., his new friend, won’t let him just wear his super cool silver underwear. As the newly united trio try to solve the mystery of Hilo and his past, new problems begin to surface on Earth. Is Hilo’s past coming back to haunt him? How far will friends go to help one another? As they fight for the good of the Earth, these three will learn their own worth and find out what true friendship looks like. This novel is, to quote Hilo himself, “outstanding.” As I was reading, I continually thought about how appealing this could be to several different audiences. It’s a must read if you enjoy action, comedy, and friendship. (4.5/5)

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I think a common misconception people have about graphic novels is that they are all “little kiddish” and lack “literary qualities” (whatever that means). However, with novels like March, I’m not sure how anyone can still believe this. The March trilogy follows the life of Congressman John Lewis as he fought for desegregation and equality in the 1960’s. Split between the day of President Obama’s inauguration and his own childhood in rural Alabama, Lewis tells the story of the Civil Right’s Movement and the impact it had on him as an African American male in the deep South. From meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to getting arrested at a sit-in, this novel faces the issues of discrimination and racism head on. The graphics are beautiful and the story is one we can’t let be unheard. (5/5)

On Friday, I came home from Block (the finale of the teacher ed program here at CSC) feeling exhausted and, to be quite honest, a little down in the dumps. When this happens, there are three things that get me out of the funk: 1.) copious amounts of sweets or junk food, 2.) phone calls with friends and/or family, or 3.) holing up in my room and devouring books. Friday, I opted to go with option #3, and I was not disappointed.

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The Summer I Turned Pretty is one of my absolute favorite YA books. Jenny Han’s writing is something I have loved since I first read this trilogy years ago, and it greeted me like a warm, comforting blanket on Friday. I holed up in my room and re-read the story of Belly and her summer adventures at Cousins Beach with the Fisher boys and her family. As Belly grapples with the difference between first love and true love, she must make her choice: does she choose the always fun and loving Jeremiah, or does she choose Conrad, the brooding, seemingly unreachable brother. Belly has grown up, but does that mean Cousins has to change too?

Here’s to more reading and less stress!

Pleated Skirts, Weird Words, & Motivation

Last week, I hit the peak of my young 21 years on this earth when a student decided to let me in on what they truly thought of me:

“Ms. Regan? You kind of remind me of a grandma. I mean, you dress like a grandma and use big words… but, like, it works.”

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My “grandma” outfit

You guys. I have done it. My dreams have been realized. Finally, the pinnacle has been reached. You see, that statement to me wasn’t an insult or a way to point out the ever-sprouting gray hairs on my head (they’ve done that too though, don’t worry); instead, it was a reminder that I am on the right track to becoming the teacher I’ve always wanted to be, cardigans and all.

Though this student in particular was referencing my wardrobe and overuse of the word “precious,” his statement warmed my heart for another reason. I believe wholeheartedly in using the grandma style “teaching” method. Sugata Mitra referenced this style in his TED Talk titled “The Child-Driven Education” and argues for its integration into education everywhere. The basis of the grandma method is this: be present, but let the children guide themselves. Your job is not to tell students what they need to learn, but to instead question and pry to see what they are truly interested in learning. In this model, teachers are called to stand behind children and the material while asking lots of questions and praising the efforts being made. If students are encouraged to think for themselves and lead their own education, they will be more engaged and truly learning.

I can hear the cries of outrage already; how can teachers possibly buy into this? How can we expect students of all people to want to learn and feel the internal drive to do so? What about rewards and punishment? We feel the need to control pulling so hard that sometimes it’s easy to give in; even as I write what I know is true, I can still feel my past traditional education whispering that there is no way this will work. However, it’s nice to have some science behind me. Mitra’s TED Talk focused on the grandma method, but Daniel Pink’s “The Puzzle of Motivation” hit home when discussing extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation. Do rewards even work? No, he argues, stating that there is a massive mismatch between what science knows and what businesses (and, I would argue, schools) do. The system of reward and punishment doesn’t work and can instead lead to harm. What we function in now, according to Pink, is trying to convince students to work in a system of compliance and expect them to be excited about it:

Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self direction works better.

Isn’t that true for you? For me, I know it is. I am more excited and willing to go the extra mile for things that I love instead of things I am told to do. Pink states many studies in which higher incentives led to worse performances, so why do we continue to believe the false notion that kids must be extrinsically motivated when we all have drive and ambition within us?

Mitra says “if children have interest, then education happens.” Why, then, do we continue to shut the door on their interests and push our own agenda? If we want students to be thinkers and learners, we must open our eyes to the truth and allow them to explore their own intrinsic motivation. Step aside and let the information find its way into the minds of your students.

Embrace your inner grandma. Wear those cardigans and pleated skirts with pride. After all, “like, it works.”

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 9/18/17

 

imwayr-2015-logo.pngHappy Monday, all!

This post is coming to you later than usual this Monday because, well, life. This past week has been an absolute whirlwind. Between the loads of homework and a surprise visit from friends this weekend, I feel like I came into today crawling. I’m exhausted, still have homework to go tonight, and a lot of presentations/papers to come this week. Do I hear May calling yet?

Despite the pity party seen above, I cannot wait to share with you the books I devoured this week. My reading was all over the board, which led to some really interesting takeaways. I’m just going to begin by saying that all of these books will be found in my classroom library. In fact, I’m ordering on Amazon Prime right now; they are that great, people.

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This week, my book choices were nearly all recommendations from my fabulous classmates. Awkward was recommended to me by my friend, Nicky Banzhaf. She told me it was one of her favorite graphic novels, and I must say, it ranks right up there for me too. Awkward follows Penelope – Peppi – as she begins at a new school. After a bad first impression with a kind boy in the hall, Peppi tries to find her place in the new school by throwing herself into her favorite hobby – art. But, when the principal decides to take the club fair booth away from the art club and give it to the science kids, an all-out war takes place. Peppi finds herself caught in the middle of the crossfire while trying to find a way to make up for her awkward encounter with Jaime, the quiet science lover she hasn’t been able to apologize to yet. As Peppi searches for a way to say sorry and bring the clubs back together, she finds that maybe some rules must be broken in order to make middle school worthwhile (including collaborating with the science club). (4.5/5)

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Pedro & Me was an unexpected find for me as I dug through the shelves at our campus library. This story follows Pedro and Judd’s friendship, which began on the set of MTV’s The Real World: San Francisco. Judd beautifully outlines the friendship he and Pedro shared and discusses the legacy Pedro left behind as an HIV-positive AIDS educator. Through his time on the show, Pedro was able to teach millions of viewers from all over the world about what it means to be HIV-positive and how your life changes in the wake of that shattering news. This novel details Judd’s journey and Pedro’s impact he left with the world. Heartbreaking and full of love, this novel left me in tears. Pedro & Me is important; this will be a graphic novel I will be book talking for years to come. (5/5 – I would 1,000% recommend everyone read this; if nothing else, you will learn and grow throughout the reading)

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Dental problems weren’t something I had to deal with growing up, but the same can’t be said for sweet Raina in Smile. Being a teenager is confusing as it is, but add in the external pressures of looking a certain way and drama and suddenly you have a very full plate. This is what Raina experiences as she goes through both middle and high school. Told from the author’s own personal experiences, Smile is a story that explores the difficult years of adolescence with the added difficulty of dental work – and I mean a lot of dental work. From fake teeth and headgear to friends who aren’t all that friendly, Raina navigates her way through school and finally finds a way to smile. Guys, this book is another must (I feel like I say that for nearly all these books, but oh well – I am a book pusher). Raina’s story gets to the heart of everyone’s awkward years and reminds us that the most important thing we can be is ourselves through it all. (4.5/5)

I did a lot of reflecting after reading these novels because there truly is a lot of value and worth in them. I cannot stress this enough: find these and read them. They are so worth it.

Here’s to a great week of reading and (hopefully) catching up on sleep!

 

Peeling Back The Layers — Week 3

Growing up, I was fascinated by my grandma’s wooden Matryoshka doll set.

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Image: Bing CC

Not only was the exterior of these dolls gorgeous, but they also held a surprise within. Inside each doll was another doll, a size smaller, waiting to be discovered. I still remember the first time I uncovered the secret of the doll. I was delighted; a secret I was finally let in on! What looked like simply one doll was actually many, and my new favorite hobby became taking them all apart and putting them back together as one.

Though I haven’t seen my grandma’s Matryoshka doll set in a long time, I was reminded of it last week as we discussed unit creation. Unpacking the structure of the unit felt like pulling apart the doll set. Units, like a Matryoshka doll set, begin with a big picture or topic you want the class to explore. Under the umbrella of topic, you move on to the weekly plan and then the more specialized day-to-day lesson plan, uncovering narrowly defined goals of what you want your students to learn with each layer you peel back. As the teacher, you also have the responsibility of selecting the right Matryoshka set; do you prefer to move by genre or by time period? Do you prefer to look at the big question during inquiry units or go thematically? Once that is decided, you move on to the activities you want students to engage in and complete. The unit is yours to mold – how cool is that?

Prior to last week, I hadn’t really considered unit plans at all. I know this sounds crazy since I’ll be in the classroom in a few months, but to be fair, I never thought I would make it to this point. Last week really cleared up a lot of questions I had lingering about how to organize and implement a plan. Knowing how to go from the massive, scary unit plan all the way down to the bare building blocks for a class period makes it all seem more manageable. Using mentor texts and mini lessons also, in my opinion, creates a space for students to learn and grow without becoming overwhelmed or moving too quickly.

One of the most eye-opening pieces to last week’s discussion was the fact that the unit is ours. Not the administration’s, not the math teacher’s down the hall, but ours and the students’ alone. Though we may be required to teach certain things, we have the opportunity (or, I would argue, the responsibility) to frame them in a way that works within our classroom. We can design and pick our own Matryoshka doll set to implement and unpack that will set the tone for our class and benefit our students. How empowering is that?

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Image: Bing CC

I want to be the teacher with the most engaging set of lessons and units. I hope that, soon, when my students are filing into the classroom, they feel as excited about uncovering the layers of the unit as I was at grandma’s house. Education should be an experience that both answers and gives questions while uncovering beauty; I want to make it that way.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 9/11/17

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Greetings, fellow bookies!

It seems strange to me that the fourth week of my senior year has already begun; after this week, I will be a a quarter of the way through my final semester in Chadron. I’m not sure how I feel about this yet, but I can tell you that I will spend this year feeling 10 steps behind and sprinting to catch up. Thank goodness for my fun reads to keep me sane!

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First up this week was Phoebe and Her Unicorn, a laugh-out-loud story full of sarcasm and sweetness. My friend, Carlie, dropped this on my table recently, and because of this, I knew this one was a must read. Let me tell you what, Carlie did not disappoint. I literally lol’ed multiple times throughout this novel. Phoebe is searching for a best friend when she finds Marigold Heavenly Nostrils staring at herself in the pond. This narcissistic unicorn and quick witted 4th grader pair up to take on the world (or at least the dark and piano lessons) together. This sassy, heartwarming graphic novel is a must read for those of us who appreciate true friendship and the ability to love those who are not like us. (4/5)

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When I first began Relish, I was hooked. Lucy Knisely takes readers through her past with the help of food and the senses. From attempting (and failing) to make the perfect croissant to sneaking out for the greasy deliciousness that is McDonalds before her father woke up, Knisely’s graphic memoir is everything I didn’t know I needed. Her ability to tie senses and food to so many growing experiences is quite frankly amazing, I had to pause many times throughout the narrative to compare experiences I didn’t remember; suddenly the bowls of soup my cousin, Jaden, and I burnt the roofs of our mouth eating on Christmas Eve rushed to my mind, bringing out a wave of nostalgia and a frantic “remember that time” text. Food is something we can all relate to, and I love the numerous ways Knisley engages those memories and senses throughout this text. From the graphics to the life experiences shared, Relish knocked it out of the park and made me hungry every step of the way. (5/5 – Must read!)

pagepaige.jpgLaura Lee Gulledge’s Page by Paige was a graphic novel I literally devoured. Out of everything I have read so far this semester, the storyline of this novel aligns most with my reading tastes. Being a teenager is hard enough, but after Paige moves to New York City, she finds herself completely alone in an unfamiliar place. With the help of her secret sketchbook, Paige begins to gain confidence in herself and her art. As Paige begins to feel more “Paige-ish,” her parents begin to question where the old Paige went and why she left. Feeling as though she can’t make everyone happy, Paige finds herself opening up and revealing herself – her true self – for possibly the first time ever. Love, art, and new adventures abound in this book. (4.5/5)

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Though not a graphic novel, I spent my free time at home this past weekend reading Tim Federle’s The Great American Whatever after receiving a recommendation from a friend. I’m not finished yet, but I can already tell you it’s classroom library worthy.

 

Happy reading!