Posts Categorized: Teaching

Exceeding My Expectations: A Great Author Visit at a Hectic Time

Last Friday morning as I was having breakfast before school, I read this blog post entitled “The Paradoxical Extremes of Middle Grade Students: A Holiday Memory,” and I teared up a bit. In the post, Braden Bell, a choir director and author, describes his experience with a talented but silly group of eighth graders and… Read more »

“Why are we allowed to read this…?”

Pretty soon, I’ll post the final installment of my series on engagingly fallible first-person narrators, but in the wake of Banned Books Week last week, I wanted to post something else while it’s fresh in my mind. After A.S. King visited my school last spring and gave three amazing presentations to grades 7-9, several students… Read more »

Excited about E-Books: An Author Visit from Andrea J. Buchanan

Most writers I know are a little bit wary about e-books.  Some duck their heads and smile apologetically when they admit that they kind of like the Kindle they broke down and bought.  Many seem worried about what electronic publishing means for independent bookstores and the future of the book as we know it.  Not… Read more »

Middle School Girl Culture Mini-Course

Now that I’ve made it through the first week back from spring break, I’m finally getting around to writing about something that happened just before vacation: a two-day “Middle School Girl Culture” mini-course that included a successful Skype visit and other fun events. My friend and colleague Maureen and I led a course for fifteen… Read more »

The Value of Failure?

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the value of failure. Sounds counterintuitive, I know.  But last week, I went with the other teachers at my school to the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) conference for a day.  I expected lots of information about how we can set our students up to… Read more »

Going for 1000: Lessons from Rebecca Levenberg

Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” And that has become a mantra for Rebecca Levenberg. A little over two years ago, Rebecca was hit by a garbage truck while riding her bike to work.  In the accident, she sustained severe injuries, and one of her legs had to be… Read more »

Book Binges

I love it when I discover an author a little late in the game, after he or she already has multiple novels out, so that I can finish one and pick up another without having to wait too long.  A couple of years ago, I fell in love with Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury High novels, and… Read more »

Short, Fun Projects to Energize Student (and Adult) Writers

I’m working my way through the first seasons of Dr. Who, and last night I watched an episode called “The Girl in the Fireplace.”  In that episode, the Doctor passes through time windows to 18th century France to protect a young woman being stalked by extremely creepy looking clockwork droids.  For the Doctor, only a… Read more »

How Structured Writing Assignments Can Unleash Creativity

In July of 2011, I was beginning the third semester of my MFA program, and I had some very definite goals.  I was going to start a new teaching job, so I knew the first few months of the school year would be especially busy.   To make the beginning of the year more manageable, I… Read more »

Skyping with a True Pro

Last Thursday afternoon, thirty-nine seventh graders crowded into my classroom.  I handed them index cards with the questions they’d prepared ahead of time, signed on to Skype, and set up the projector.  Soon, Kate Messner’s face appeared on the screen, and we began our virtual author visit. The day before, we’d finished Capture the Flag,… Read more »

Drawing to Learn: Visual Projects in the English Classroom

Recently, I got the chance to visit middle school English classes at another school as a professional development opportunity.  It was really helpful to step outside of my day-to-day routine, see what other teachers are doing, and then reflect on my own practices. One teacher gave me some great ideas about independent reading projects. She… Read more »

8th Grade Dystopian Unit

Teaching middle school English often feels like a juggling act.  It’s hard to make time for everything that falls within the realm of “English” when I only have each group of students for 40-45 minutes most days.  And it’s especially hard to make sure that students are reading independently when we have an ambitious list… Read more »

Tension, and Conflict, and Antagonists–Oh My!

I am starting to revise my novel-in-progress after getting some insightful feedback from two smart and generous first readers.  I’m working on increasing the tension and conflict in the second half of the novel (among other things), so I’m thinking a lot about antagonists. Now if you know me, you probably know that I don’t… Read more »

Reading Levels Don’t Tell You Everything: A Great Book Is a Great Book

This year, the theme for fifth and sixth grade English and social studies at my school is China.  Last winter and spring, I read several China-related novels as I tried to figure out my book list for sixth grade English.  I wanted a range of books that would engage sixth graders, expose them to aspects… Read more »

Celebrating Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week, a time to celebrate the freedom to read!  For the past few years, I’ve talked with my students about book banning at some point in the year, but this is the first time I’ve remembered the official week and commemorated it on time. Yesterday, I introduced Banned Books Week to my… Read more »

CHAINS and FORGE: Historical Novels that Pass the Student-Interest Test

The English and social studies curricula at my school are integrated, so I end up teaching a lot of historical fiction.  It isn’t always easy to find a book that’s firmly grounded in a historical time and place and well-written and engaging for middle school readers.  But Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains and Forge are all… Read more »

CAPTURE THE FLAG: Another Great Read Aloud

I don’t know how Kate Messner does it.  She just keeps coming out with new books of so many different kinds: realistic middle grade, dystopian middle grade, picture books, chapter books, books for teachers, and now the first mystery in a three-book series. I really enjoyed Messner’s new adventure-mystery Capture the Flag.  She sets up… Read more »

LIAR AND SPY: An Excellent Read-Aloud Novel

I love to include read alouds in my middle school English classroom.  That usually means choosing an effective read-aloud novel, reading somewhere between five and fifteen minutes per class, and giving students some time to discuss their reactions and predictions as we go.  I find that read alouds increase students’ enthusiasm about books and lead… Read more »

On Learning New Things

During my third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, my wonderful advisor Mary Quattlebaum gave me prompts to spark short writing exercises she called wordplays.  At one point, she asked me to write a wordplay about a time from my childhood or adolescence when I was learning something that didn’t come easily to me,… Read more »