Sunday, July 17, 2011

YA Book: Starcrossed by Bunce

     For the most part, fantasy is not my genre, but with so many of our students seeking it, I make sure I read it -- at least, some. Reading StarCrossed by Elizabeth Bunce, however, was an unexpected, quite enjoyable read for me. Bunce, from the onset, introduces a cast of characters that propels the plot and suspense forward. Digger, a thief, flees to a far-flung castle to escape the king's soldiers by way of new friends she accidentally acquires. Her life becomes embroiled with that of the owners of the castle who have just returned from exile. Magic, memories of her past love, hidden chambers, seven moons, missing royalty, locks (that come unlocked in Digger's hands), threats for future war, and, of course, an evil lord who must be overcome, all weave nicely into this quickly-paced drama.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"These Things Hidden" by Gudenkauf

     I just finished Heather Gudenkauf's "These Things Hidden." Though it's not marketed as a YA book, it easily could be. Allison, bright, beautiful, falls in love with Christopher and becomes pregnant (What else?). The story moves seamlessly among the three families who are impacted, and then between the past (so critical in this tale) and present.
     Best of all for teens, "These Things Hidden" shows the huge complexity of teen pregnancies. I found the present tense used a bit unnatural at times, but it was the only tense that could be used (given the plot). But Gudenkauf's intimate portrayal of Allison and her sister, Brynn, are well worth the reading.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Say It's Not So -- Jane Austin for Infants and Toddlers?

     I almost missed the article in Publishers Weekly. As they write, "The first two titles in the new Baby Lit board book series from Gibbs Smith will introduce classic writers to the youngest readers -- newborns to three-year olds -- with the publication of Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice and Master Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet.
     Think that's bad enough? I just read that advanced orders reached 12,000 copies. 12,000 copies. That's more than most children's books reach once they are in print. They are already planning their second printing.
     I don't understand. There are such fascinating books geared for these babies of ours -- books with plot lines the children can actually follow!
     Gibbs Smith and Suzanne Taylor hint at the reason why these books may be selling so well: "...great introduction for very small children and...parents who may not have read the classics before." Okay. I guess if you are going to spend so much time reading to your children, perhaps you should get something out of it, too.
     After all, how long will stories about baby duck and kitties hold most adults' attention?

Monday, July 4, 2011

New Testing for Pre-K

     As if it hasn't gotten silly enough, Education Week (July 9) posts that a good portion of Race To the Top funds for education will be spent on early childhood education -- hey, that part is good -- but, very importantly, pre-K testing. Now just how will they test pre-K? Pre-K students are usually placed in such classrooms because they do not seem ready for the academic life.
     To test a teacher's success with such children, we will test these kids on a child's ability to work independently at her desk. To not punch Mickey. To not cry when Mom leaves every day, to share toys, to find his own bookbag, to focus on the lesson at hand. These children are exposed to the alphabet letters and counting and math concepts and days of the week, but none of these concepts are expected to be mastered -- that's the domain of the kindergarten classroom -- and beyond.
    Sometimes this testing frenzy gets a bit, well, frenzied. It appears that this pre-K testing is one of the ways. There is a whole world of skills children learn in school that cannot be tested. Can't we see the difference?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Differentiated Learning

      At last.
     We all know the push in education is to "differentiate" teaching. That's a no brainer. With a classroom that includes gifted students, mainstream students, special education students (each with his/her own unique difficulties), hungry children, children who just recently arrived in the States, children coming from stressed homes, eager students, disinterested students -- how can the teacher NOT differentiate? But with one adult responsible for it all and 25 bodies out there, exactly how is this done?
     Lisa Nielson's article explains that it all can really work if we look at a different, yet connected, concept -- that of "differentiated learning."This flips the responsibility for learning the task onto the learner, where it already rests, anyway. How many of us adults become far more engaged in an activity when we added our our thoughts and direction into it? And how often do we passively go along when a task is handed to us and we are forced to take it in? (Think: inservice days.)
    Of course there are basics that any student needs to learn in a lesson. Where is the country? What are the multiples of 5? What sounds do /ch/ and /sh/ and /th/ make? But what if the students had input on how they wanted to learn the content? What if they then decide what else they wanted to learn on the topic? After all, the editors of a textbook decide that for the learner. What if they had a hand in the direction of their learning, too?
     John Dewey, an early pioneer educator whose work thrilled me when I first entered education classes, would be proud.
Note: A hearty thank you to