Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poetry on the Edge

Inspired by this, we have the beginnings of a Poetry Month display for April. Similar to found art, these book spine poems are assembled, rather than written, from found words and phrases.

Here's an amazing "edge poem," from artist Nina Katchadourian. She calls them "sorted books."

And here's a not-so-amazing one, but it's a start. The title of my first effort is "Success Story."

During National Poetry Month, edge poems by students and teachers will be on display in the library. Come on over and create yours from the library collection. Let the poetry begin!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Paideia Junior High Classes
& the New York Times!

Check out Jennifer Swift and her eighth grade students, featured last Friday on the New York Times Learning Network in a post ("Open Note to Student Comment and Your Teachers: Thank You!") that highlights the students' thoughtful and well-written comments in the blog's Student Opinion section.

It's been several weeks now that I've been following the New York Times Learning Network blog in my beloved Google Reader, and it's already been a fabulous teacher resource. In the first few days, right after I'd worked with Martha Caldwell's climate change class, the Learning Network posted a climate change lesson plan that I forwarded on. It was perfect timing -- Martha took the plan, made it their own, and the class is implementing it now. They'll culminate in a "mock" talk show interview with a well-known climate change personality.

Last week the Network posted an article on using the Student Opinion feature as an "authentic audience" for student writing. Paideia is all about writing, so again I forwarded that information to the Junior High Faculty e-mail conference. Jennifer picked it up and ran with it, teaching her students a short lesson on blog writing, pointing them to the Student Opinion blog and giving them a class period to read and comment on any of the topics that caught their interest.

"Wow, these GREAT comments are coming in from a school in Atlanta . . I think these are the best student comments we've gotten since the blog launched," wrote one of the blog editors to Jennifer the next day. Even though we know we have great teachers and students at Paideia, there's an extra thrill in being noticed and appreciated by smart people in such a public forum. Way to go Jennifer & Co.!

Sometimes collaboration means co-teaching, but sometimes it's more effective to pass the ball to a colleague in a better position to shoot and score. An assist counts for the record books too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Has Princess Alyss Hit the Big Screen in Disguise?

I'm wondering why no one (not even writers at the venerable children's literature journal Horn Book) seems to have noticed the similarities between Tim Burton's new Alice in Wonderland movie, and Frank Beddor's Alice-inspired fantasy trilogy The Looking Glass Wars.

The Looking Glass Wars (Book 1): When she is cast out of Wonderland by her evil aunt Redd, young Alyss Heart finds herself living in Victorian Oxford as Alice Liddell and struggles to keep memories of her kingdom intact until she can return and claim her rightful throne.
Seeing Redd
(Book 2): When Alyss Heart returns to her rightful place on the throne of Wonderland, she is put to the test as enemies, both inside and outside the borders of her queendom, push their own agendas and wield horrific weapons, while she strives to unify them all.

I haven't seen the entire movie, but every thing I saw in the trailer reminded me of the saga of Princess Alyss Heart of Wonderland. Alice's return to a war torn homeland after years of exile in stuffy English society, the formidable Mad Hatter with his flying hat (Beddor's Hatter Madigan), the fabulous card armies, the warrior Alice and the murderous Red Queen look as I imagined them from Beddor's books.

Maybe seeing the entire movie will disprove my suspicions. Read or listen to The Looking Glass Wars to find out for yourself before you go to the movie. And then let me know what you think.

Geese and Cookies:
How Students Demonstrate Learning

During the recent January Short Term, English teacher Marianne Hines and I co-taught a class we call "Picture Book Lit." Using Marianne's expertise in teaching literature, and my knowledge of picture books, publishing and recent trends, we guide students through the creation, interpretation and meaning of classic picture books, old and new.

Using excerpts from Inside Picture Books by Ellen Handler Spitz, and articles from the children's literature journal The Horn Book, students explore the basic question, "What makes a picture book an enduring classic?" Why do some picture books remain popular from generation to generation (Make Way for Ducklings, Madeline, Where the Wild Things Are)? How do authors and illustrators work together to create a whole that is greater than words and pictures alone? How does the work of an author/illustrator differ from that of a team? What are elemental themes that speak to children? How does a classic appeal both to children and the adults who will read them out loud? How does a quality picture book differ from an "illustrated story book?"

One of my favorite activities from the class is to hand out the text from a picture book -- just the words on a piece of paper -- and ask students to imagine the characters, the setting, the action and the number of pages the published book contains. Texts range from a mere 81 words (Eric Rohmann's Caldecott winner My Friend Rabbit) to nearly 900 words (Bill and Pete by Tomi de Paola). Comparing the students' guesses to the actual book is a powerful example of how in a successful picture book, neither words nor pictures alone tell the whole story. What do you think a talking toothbrush would look like?

At the end of the four-week class, students may choose from among several options for a final project. Some students create an annotated bibliography of picture books on a specific theme ("Friendship," for example, or "Death of a Pet"), while others research a picture book author or illustrator and teach the class about the work of this artist. Several students choose to create their own picture books, either as a single author/illustrator, or pairing up as an author & illustrator team. The finished book shows how well they understood the ideas presented in class.

This year a 9th grade author & illustrator team created a book inspired by the loss of The Mother Goose building, destroyed by arson back in the fall. The Goose was more than a classroom building to the 9th graders, it was their hangout -- the porch, commons and front yard were the places for freshmen to congregate during free time, and they've been "homeless" without it. Sarah and Anna Grace's book Geese and Cookies includes the theme of tragic loss of a home, the security and safety of a parent and the community of friends, and that everything will be ok in the end. The pictures add character details, action, story pacing and much of the dialogue. And check out those cute firemen!

Geese and Cookies
Words by Anna Grace Whitehead
Illustrations by Sarah Alice Davison

Friday, March 5, 2010

Another Author Visit!

On Wednesday, debut YA author Rachel Hawkins came to Decatur bookstore extraordinaire Little Shop of Stories, to celebrate the Tuesday release of her very first novel, Hex Hall. Thanks to the great folks at Little Shop, Rachel also came to Paideia to speak to two classes: Jennifer's 8th graders and Martha & Greg's 7th & 8th graders.

Both groups really enjoyed Rachel's visit. She first talked about her path to authordom (starting with really elaborate preschool plotlines starring her Barbies), writer's block, how she creates characters, and other writerly stuff, and then she answered our questions. The students were prepared and asked good ones, and Rachel had good stories as answers. Her tales of how the cover and the title came about showed the balance publishing has to maintain between good stories and good sales.

Hex Hall is Rachel's story of "what if you got that letter from the owl, and went off to Hogwart's School, and it was really, really BAD?" Another description of the book is that it's about "teenage witches and warlocks making out." (definitely not a book for the elementary set :-) Shenanigans ensue.

Our students are a great bunch, and include a number of aspiring writers. One of my favorite questions, from a voracious reader, was "What did you add to your book to make it stand out from all the other magical boarding school books?"

I also liked Rachel's description of most YA authors as "overgrown teenagers." I think she's got a great point there -- I can't think of any successful authors for teenagers who aren't a little bit crazy or sardonic or overflowing with restless energy -- the old, tired, jaded thing just doesn't fly for this age. How else can you capture the teenage mind except from the inside?

The library's copy of Hex Hall arrived yesterday, and I've got first dibs. I'm looking forward to settling into my favorite reading chair this weekend and enjoying the antics of Sophie Mercer at Hex Hall.

Monday Update: I breezed through Hex Hall over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. The obviously-a-sequel ending tied up enough ends to satisfy, and there were plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting. I can see why Disney/Hyperion picked it up so eagerly -- Sophie fits right in with their lineup of sassy/spunky teen characters. Imagine if a much smarter and less self-absorbed Alex from The Wizards of Waverly Place got sent to reform school. It's bound to be a hit!