Sara Primerano’s Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

blog reflection April 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 10:23 am

I can’t believe I’ve finally arrived at my final blog post.  I admit I hadn’t had any experience with blogging – I’d read a few maybe, and heard that they could be used in the classroom etc., but I’d never really tried it out.  I was hesitant to fully join the digital age for fear that my students could too easily track me down.  I finally just relented and joined facebook (and am consequently obsessed) once I learned there was a way to keep privacy safeguards in check.  Privacy is certainly one of the issues to be considered when blogging, both for personal use and certainly in the classroom – protective measures need to be considered.  I actually have a meeting set up for next week with a librarian in my district to teach me how to set up a classroom blog for each of my classes.  I may not have time to work it in this year, but I certainly will next year – I’m looking forward to the challenge.

When I originally began this blog, I basically used it as a recording space for my notes on the readings for the course.  I wrote my blog postings as a I read each piece, using the blog essentially as a dialogue with myself – thoughts, comments, questions on each reading.  I didn’t even really consider my audience (sorry!) until I started receiving comments from outside readers.  Though I do think privacy is often a concern, I wasn’t too worried about people (including students) reading my blog about the composing process.  Though I figured it very unlikely that I would gather much of a following, I don’t have any qualms about sharing the thoughts with anyone interested in reading them.

As class progressed, the assignment morphed from just starting a blog to maintaining an interactive space – not just discussing each reading but adding photos, video – adding some “life” to our blogs.  I did attempt this, but I struggled almost immediately with voice.  I changed up what I was writing, posted a different sort of discussion, but I was uncomfortable with this.  I had already created a persona, a voice, with this blog, and changing that felt very false.  So I did continue to add video clips etc., but I needed to remain true to the voice I began with.  In compromise, I did start two other blogs – one for just random thoughts on life (http://ablogofbinaries.blogspot.com/) and another to focus on my interest in Young Adult Literature (http://teachyalit.blogspot.com/).  While I think I might let the first blog lapse, I really enjoy the YA Lit blog and have developed some “relationships” with other YA Lit bloggers.  I’ve already used it to gain information and tips for selecting titles for school and to elicit feedback on titles.

So, I’ll admit it – I’m a blogger.  I blog.  I read other blogs.  It’s interesting and has turned out to be a more fulfilling experience than I had originally imagined.  I think I may continue the trend as I begin my doctoral studies.  It seems as though using a blog to work through ideas I’m tackling in my coursework in a somewhat public forum – maybe to receive comments from others, maybe not – but either way keeping a dialogue with myself will be a useful and hopefully productive tool.

 

Teen Book Festival. Awesome! April 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 7:20 pm

I went to the Teen Book Festival today in Rochester.  It was awesome!  I was able to attend author presentations by Linda Sue Park (When My Name Was Keoko), Matt de la Pena (Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican Whiteboy), and Sharon Flake (The Skin I’m In, Money Hungry).  They were all great!  It was nice to get to see the authors up close and personal, and I’ll definitely be going back to school to brag to my students.  I really wanted to see Ellen Hopkins and David Levithan, but I knew their sessions would be overloaded, and since it was a book festival for teens it was only fair to let the teens have the seats.  I was so glad to see how many avid readers were there!  I was able to get David Levithan to sign my copy of The Realm of Possibility.  I seriously felt like a devoted groupie to a rock band – I absolutely adore that book, so it was really cool to meet the author and have him sign the book for me.

I was also able to have Sara Zarr sign my copy of The Story of a Girl. They’ll join my two other autographed books (from Laurie Halse Anderson) on top of my whiteboards at school, where I can proudly display them but students can reach them… I’m now determined to get the same kind of festival started in Syracuse.  If Rochester can do it, so can we!

 

Teen Book Festival March 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 8:43 am

I just found out about a Teen Book Festival (thanks Book Girl!) that will be in Rochester, NY next weekend.  Check out the information at http://www.teenbookfestival.org/.  A great list of authors will be presenting, including Ellen Hopkins, Sharon Flake, David Levithan, Chris Van Etten and lots more.  All I need to do is arrange a baby-sitter (my daughter is a little too young for this just yet…) and I’m there!  Anyone else interested?

 

special needs require special education (for teachers, too) March 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 2:01 pm

“Lost in a sea of ink: How I survived the storm,” Andrew Sheehan and Cynthia Sheehan

“Students with Special Needs,” Richard Kent  chp. 22, Newkirk & Kent

While I’m disgusted with the treatment that Andrew and his parents received from his elementary and middle school, I can’t say I’m surprised.  I think his parents were quite wise in moving him to a different school, because I can only imagine that things would get worse if he moved into high school in the same district.  The even more disturbing thought – what if Andrew’s parents were not a psychologist and a guidance counselor?  What if they didn’t know how to advocate for their child?  If Andrew’s parents were unaware of how the educational system worked or what accommodations they could rightfully demand, imagine the situation Andrew would’ve been in then.  I’m saddened by the blatantly rude and dismissive comments from Andrew’s teachers, and while I’m sure some it can be attributed to the teachers being alternately uninformed and overwhelmed, it is still inexcusable.  I wish all teachers were as patient and had the foresight of Richard Kent. While certainly, we aren’t all like that, I do think that the vast majority of teachers aspire to be.  I find it hard to believe that anyone who is really dedicated to teaching wants to think students are lazy or unmotivated and not want to make accommodations to help them.  Such individuals exist, for sure, but I’m confident they’re in the small, tiny minority of teachers. Most of us want to help – we just need to know how.

The only reasonable solution I can see (aside from more educated, informed leadership in the form of administrators overseeing the process) is a more intricately involved relationship between the special education teachers assigned to special needs students and the classroom teachers.  Students like Andrew absolutely need advocates in the school beyond parents or classroom teachers.  Classroom teachers are responsible for twenty-five (or more) students at once, so they could certainly use assistance in modifying assignments and providing services to special needs students.  A team of people (overseeing administrator, special education teacher, classroom teacher and guidance counselor, at least) to help would be much more effective, and would greatly reduce the stress on each of the people involved, especially the student, hopefully yielding much better results.

 

Students aren’t the only ones who struggle…

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 11:37 am

“Four Ways to Work Against Yourself when Conferencing with Struggling Writers,” Kathryn Glasswell, Judy Parr, Stuart McNaughton

– The article highlights four core activities:

– direct writing instruction including modeling and minilessons

– teacher-student conferences

– independent writing/work time for students

– opportunities for students to publish their work for real audiences to read

With regards to effective writing conference, the importance of offering children  opportunities to develop independence in writing, including taking responsibility for completing the tasks they are assigned. Also, good conferences should allow students enough time to consider the full range of writing issues, not just the given focus of a particular conference.

Making a writing conference truly effective can be difficult for even the most experienced teacher, as this article points out.  Here are the four most often-repeated mistakes:

1. Confuse Quantity for Quality.  This study found that struggling writers often receive more total teacher conference time than proficient writers but less sustained interaction time – which ultimately evens out.  Basic point – it’s what you accomplish, not how long you spend working during writing conferences.

2. Let Yourself Be Interrupted (More Often and for Longer) while You Work. Though conference times for struggling writers and proficient writers is basically the same, in this study, the struggling writer conferences were interrupted significantly more frequently.  The authors posit that perhaps because it is much more challenging to conference with an unmotivated or inattentive student, teachers allowed themselves to be interrupted more frequently – to the detriment of the struggling writer.

3. Place Your Major Instructional Emphasis Consistently on Low Levels of Text. Because struggling writers often have issues with basic or low-level grammar and mechanics, it is tempting to spend time working on those errors so that the students can progress to the next level.  However, if those mistakes are continually repeated and the teacher continues to focus on those errors, it takes away from time that could be spent on discussing higher level thought processes (goals, intentions, rhetorical concerns), as in conferences with more proficient writers.

4. Promote Their Dependence on You by Taking Responsibility for Their Actions.  Related to the previous mistake, spending too much time in teacher-directed conferences correcting grammar takes the responsibility for finding and correcting such errors off the student’s shoulders and puts it onto the teacher’s.  This unintentionally sabotages the teaching goals of having the student recognize her errors – why would she if the teacher constantly does it for her?

Turning the Unintentional to Intentional: four ways to turn mistakes into positives:

1. & 2. Ensure Focused, Sustained, Uninterrupted Quality Time. It is important for teachers to establish ground rules for conferences so that students, especially those who have trouble focusing in the first place, receive their due amount of uninterrupted attention.

3. Vary the Route but Do Not Shift the Goal Posts.  “If we want struggling writers to develop higher-level competencies with texts and to adopt reflective decision-making processes as writers, then the nature of our talk and actions must reflect this” (p.297).

4. Work Toward Withdrawing Support.  Just as it is the goal of a parent to teach a child what he needs to know and to develop independence, teachers must provide students with the tools they need and then take a step back, allowing the students to find their own footing.  Too much dependency will stifle growth.

 

Fresh start. Suggestions? March 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 8:04 pm

We’re attempting a rather rare feat at the moment at my school – we’re recreating the curriculum for English 10.  Several teachers are retiring and we have several new teachers, and our current curriculum has been historically inconcise and lacking a solid focus.  So, I want to take advantage of this opportunity.  What I’m asking is for suggestions – or even a wish list.

If given the opportunity to start from scratch, what would you set for goals for tenth grade students (reading and writing)?  What kinds of literature and writing pieces would you include?

If you have ideas, research, places I should check out, I am beyond open to suggestions – so please share!  I promise to share the fruits of our labor (if we ever finish – we also like to talk things to death, so don’t hold your breath… seriously.)  Thanks!

 

HELP! Need YA Lit title suggestions February 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saraprimerano @ 9:59 am

I’m working on the professional development workshop that I’m giving to middle and high school teachers later this month on using Young Adult Literature across the curriculum. I’m looking for title suggestions – anything that might fit the following categories:
– content area related books (science, math, social studies, foreign language, art, phys. ed. etc)
– important topic/current issue books – ex. the economy, government, war, genocide etc.
– books that would compliment classic texts that are often taught in school (something to compliment Catcher in the Rye or The Crucible etc.)
– any books that you think are “must reads” for either teenagers or teachers

Please send me any titles you’ve read and enjoyed or even just heard of that you think might fit the bill for this workshop. If you know of good places to research titles, I’d love that information as well.
Thanks! I’ll be happy to share my workshop materials with anyone interested – just let me know.