Tuesday, May 22, 2018

We Are Up to 73 Books!

The books for my new classroom library project keep coming in: I'm up to 73 books now!

I've been so overwhelmed and grateful at the response.  I knew my readers would step up and help because you have before when I've needed something for my classroom, but this response has just been so heartwarming.  My library is now not just a dream; we've gone from zero books to 73 in about two weeks!  And they're still coming!

I want to clarify that as books are ordered off the Wish List, they automatically come off the list. So, if you look at the list and wonder why To Kill a Mockingbird isn't on there or why a certain author isn't on there, it may be that someone has already sent that book.  But always, always feel free to shop off the list if you like, or you can email me and ask if I have the book you want to put in.

As far as processing goes, I'm covering each hardcover and softcover book with laminate covers for protection and to extend the life of each book.  I'm entering each title into a database and I'm putting a book pocket and sign out card in each book.

Each book also gets a Donated By.... sticker in the front cover.  This way my students are getting a real sense of support behind them, and it makes them feel good.

It makes YOU part of our classroom!

This statement from the National Council of Teachers of English:

Reading in all its dimensions—informational, purposeful, and recreational—promotes students’ overall academic success and well-being. Furthermore, when students possess the skills necessary to access, select, use, and effectively evaluate their reading materials, their ability to become engaged members of their communities and productive citizens is enhanced. A large body of research demonstrates that equitable access to books promotes reading achievement and motivation (Allington, 2002, 2009; Krashen, 2011; Nystrand, 2006; Wu & Samuels, 2004).  
Classroom libraries—physical or virtual—play a key role in providing access to books and promoting literacy; they have the potential to increase student motivation, engagement, and achievement and help students become critical thinkers, analytical readers, and informed citizens As English language arts educators, we know that no book is right for every student, and classroom libraries offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to work with students as individuals to find books that will ignite their love for learning, calm their fears, answer their questions, and improve their lives in any of the multiple ways that only literature can.

I'm continuously updating the Wish List, and I'll be collecting books in earnest all summer.  Part of my summer vacation will be spent in my classroom setting up shelves and getting the M205 Library ready to roll in August.

Please keep sharing this project: the more people who see it, the more potential books we can add to the shelves.  My goal is 500 books to start.

I'm applying for some grant money to help, and I've started a Donor's Choose project which I hope gets funded.  Both will help add books and shelving for the library.

I can't wait to share with you in the fall how much my students are reading!

Here is the Wish List.
Here is the Donors Choose project.

Further Reading:
Statement on Classroom Libraries NCTE
Building a Classroom Library: Help! (SIGIS 5/7/18)
There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205 (SIGIS 5/11/18)
M205 Library Update: You Guys ROCK! (SIGIS 5/14/18)
The Importance of a Classroom Library (Edutopia)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

100 Things to Do this Summer


What to do?  Here's my plan:

1. Sit in the swing under the magnolia tree with my morning coffee and listen to the quiet.
2. Turn off all alarm clocks.
3. Attend the Sunflower festival in Gilliam. Note: bring a camera.
4. Memorial Day observance at Northwest Louisiana Veteran's cemetery on May 28 and then at       Greenwood Cemetery on May 30th.
5. Spend the day floating on Cross Lake and the 2018 Floatilla (June 16).
6. Clean out closets.  Mercilessly.
7. Continuous yard work and flower bed maintenance.
8.  Spend an entire day in the hammock with a good book.
9. Walk down to the Round Bar and have a craft beer on the deck.
10. Road trip to New Iberia to see Jefferson Island and eat at Clementine.
11. Go to Lester Farms in Coushatta and stock up on fresh veggies!
12. Sit outside and shell peas.
13. Sit inside and shell peas.
14.  Watch a lot of baseball.
15. Hit the estate sales, garage sales, and thrift shops for used books for my classroom library.
16. Walk down to Querbess Grill for breakfast and stay for lunch.
17. Take the top off the Jeep and drive.  Anywhere.
18. Catch a meteor shower.
19. Road trip to Iowa to see family and America's heartland.
20. Unplug.
21. Start work on new book project.
22. Day trip to Natchitoches to sit by the Cane River.
23. Volunteer at the animal shelter.
24. Visit the Little Free Library on the corner at least once a week.
25. Listen to Dave Matthews Band concerts on Periscope (Summer 2018 Tour).
26. Visit the local craft breweries.
27.  Tour the Spring Street Museum.
28.  See the Art Goes to War exhibit at Norton Art Gallery.
29. Clean out the garage.
30. Make a new Smash Book. (It's like a scrap book but smaller).
31. Sleep past 6:30 a.m.
32. Antique shopping.
33. Experiment with my camera and learn how to use it.
34. Paint the kitchen.
35. Flag Day at the American Legion: June 14
36. Catch up on reading my magazines and journals
37. Spend an afternoon at the Shreveport Water Works Museum.
38. Another trip to New Iberia to visit Vermillion Bay
39. See St. Francisville.
40. See A Raisin in the Sun at Eastbank Theater (May 31)
41.  Red River Balloon Rally: July 13
42. Tour Oakland Cemetery and learn about Shreveport's history.
43. Clean my Jeep, inside and out.
44. Replank the back deck.
45. Visit with neighbors.
46. Make a pitcher of sun tea with fresh mint.
47. Eat a tomato sandwich
48.  Visit the Louisiana State Exhibt Museum and those cool dioramas!
49. Lose ten pounds.
50. Hang out at the Elks swimming pool.
51.  Buy sunscreen.
52. Wear flip flops.
53. Don't put on makeup.
54. Eat street tacos from a food truck.
55. Plant sunflowers.
56. Plant moon flowers.
57. Turn on the sprinkler in the front yard.
58. Watch the cats sleep in the shade under the cars.
59. Sit on the deck in the twilight and listen to the cicadas.
60. Go to a movie - one with recliners.
61. Shop the sales in the scrapbook section at Hobby Lobby.
62. Cross stitch.
63. Hand write letters.
64. Buy some sidewalk chalk and draw fish on the driveway.
65. Try yoga.
66. Listen to podcasts. (S-Town was great!)
67. Annual summer re-reading of To Kill a Mockingbird.
68. Clean out the freezer.  There's some scary stuff in there.
69. Walk to the Cub for Hamburger Wednesday.
70. Sit at a table by the window at LSUS Library and read in the quiet.
71. Walk the LSUS campus and catch Pokemon.
72. Paint the back patio slab and get some new patio furniture.  Maybe a plant.
73. Watch crepe myrtle flowers fall like watermelon colored rain onto the grass.
74. Open the windows during a summer thunderstorm.
75. Eat a banana fudgesicle from the ice cream truck.
76. Strawberry-lemonade Happy Belly's!
77. Take walks around the neighborhood (see No. 49).
78. Keep my blog updated and active.
79. Clean windows, inside and out.
80. Keep sharing my Amazon Classroom Library Wish List.
81. Eat an ice cold watermelon.
82. Drink fewer sodas and more infused water.
84. Bathe the dogs.
85. Repaper my kitchen shelves.
86. Clean out the pantry.
87. Grill outside.
88. Make a scrapbook.
89. Hang twinkly lights on the deck.
90. Light a citronella candle.
91. Burn sparklers on July 4. Put out the flag.
92. Bake a pineapple upside down cake.
93. Drive Route 66 through Oklahoma; stop at every cool spot and take a picture.
94. Watch cows.
95. Read Eudora Welty stories.
96.  Make shrimp salad with fresh Gulf shrimp. Put in a fresh tomato.
97. Walk the dogs.
98. Try a Mint Julep Daiquiri from Tony's.
99. Mop the floors.
100. Take a nap.

Monday, May 14, 2018

M205 Library Update: You Guys ROCK!

An armful of packages
At 2:20 today my classroom phone rang.  It was the secretary in the office.

"Uh, Mrs. Becker?  You have a whole lot of packages down here ...from Prime."

I bolted down the stairs and almost ran to her office to find an armful of wonderful, glorious packages!

I gathered them all up and went back to my room and just stared at them for a few moments, saying a silent prayer of thanks for all of you fabulous, beautiful, generous people who have reached out to me with books suggestions, questions, and gifts!

Then I started opening them.

You guys rock!

Almost every package had two or more books inside, and the notes!  The notes are great!  I loved this one:

Your notes are terrific!

I am seriously moved to tears by what people are doing to help me build this classroom library.  And these notes are encouraging me to stick with this and reaffirm that I'm doing the right thing with this library project.

Is it rebellion against Common Core which has stripped novels from my curriculum?  Absolutely.  But mostly the project originated in the belief that my students will fall in love with reading again with the right encouragement and with an engaging selection of books that are right in the classroom with them every single day.

This is what I ended up with today after ripping open all those packages:

Today's arrivals

I am simply overwhelmed.

And then when I got home there was one more that had come to my house!  (It had no note - I don't know who to say thank you to):

Who sent this?  Thank you!

I'm so glad I ordered these cards!  I'm going to have my readers check out their books so I can keep up with them.

Check it out!

And it looks like I'm going to have to get more shelving now which is beyond fabulous!

I could not be more excited about sharing these books with my students in August.  I'm going to use the summer to organize our library, set up the cards, stock the shelves, and will continue to gather books.  I'm going to change the shipping address to my home for the summer so that books don't get backlogged in the school mail over the summer.

I'm still open to suggestions if you know of something that needs to be added to my Wish List.  I'm updating that list daily.  You can either email me or leave a note in the comments.  And of course you can keep sending books! 

One way to really help is to share this project on your social media!

My first post on my project and its rationale is here, if you haven't seen it, and the second is here.

The Wish List is here.  And feel free, if you have a personal recommendation, to shop off the wish list.  I've gotten some great books from people who really enjoyed a book that I haven't thought of.  My students read anywhere from a grade 5 to a grade 12+ reading level.  I'm really targeting my lower readers but of course I want everyone reading.

Again, thank you from one very grateful teacher!

Friday, May 11, 2018

There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205

(This is a repost of the exact same post from a day or two ago; for some reason all the links disappeared and could not be fixed, so I just copied and pasted the entire post and for now anyway, the wish list links work, but I lost the comments.  Very strange).

This is the bookshelf in my classroom that is to be my classroom library.  I've culled most of the books from it that had pages falling out or missing covers.

Most of what is left is pretty dated, with a few exceptions.

wrote yesterday about my desire to create a classroom library with the hope of increasing literacy and my students' vocabulary.  I did an informal survey of all of my students and was shocked at how few of them read outside of school or can even remember or discuss the last book they read outside of school for the simple enjoyment of reading.

Under the Common Core curriculum, students no longer read entire novels in class; we only read selected chapters or non-fiction articles.  Along the way, students have fallen out of love with reading.  Most of them tell me that they used to read in elementary school but just stopped.

I want my students to be life long readers, not just test takers, so it's important to me that I can offer them a book to read just for fun that is engaging and that might grow their enthusiasm about reading.

We do have a terrific school library, but I think that a classroom library sends a message to a student that literacy and reading is important.  Some students will never take the time to go browse the school library but they might pick up a book in a classroom library, particularly if the teacher highlights some of those books and encourages students to read.

I need to fill these shelves with some new books so that when school starts in August I'll have a terrific classroom library to offer my students.

To fill these shelves I've created an Amazon wish list.  I'm still adding to it, but I want to share it with you in the hope that we can stock these shelves and fill them with engaging, interesting books for my students by August.  
In fact, I hope I have to bring in more shelves!
I'm including links for some of the books below in case you'd rather not go to the wish list.
And if you can't send us a book today, please share this post or the list.  If enough people see this then I know people will help!
The students of M205 thank you, and I thank you!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Building a Classroom Library: Help!

"What was the last book you read outside of school -- something you read just for fun?  And if you don't like to read, why not?"

That was my First Five for my grade 10 ELA students today.

I've been doing a lot of reading and research this past year on literacy, curriculum, and how reading affects test scores.  It's no secret that Louisiana has consistently placed near the very bottom of the list when it comes to reading scores as compared on a national level.

There are a lot of factors that go into those national scores, such as NAEP scores, and it's not really accurate to say that all students in Louisiana are poor readers.  That is far from the case. But for clarity, in this post, I'm looking at those poor readers. Many of them come from low income families who don't have books in the home, or are products of families where nobody has had time to read aloud to the children very often.

As a parent of two avid readers, I was reading to both of my kids before they were even born.  As infants they were read to every single day.  They've never seen me not reading at least one book and our house has always been filled with books and magazines.  It's just who I am.

But that's not the case for many of my students.

Compounding the problem for these struggling readers is the Common Core curriculum in which students no longer read entire novels.  I've written about that rather extensively here, here, and here.  As teachers, we have been told that if a student wants to read the entirety of a novel from which we are only teaching certain chapters, "they can read it on their own."

Well, that's okay for a strong reader, but I know a lot of struggling readers who will not be able to take on the elements in The Scarlet Letter without some help, nor would it be a book they would willingly pull off the library shelf.

Additionally, there is a difference between academic reading for class and simply reading for the pure fun of it.

What I want to be able to do is to create life long readers; I want my students to leave my class having read several books of their own choosing, about topics that they are interested in, and that they are excited about reading.

And since my mandate is that they "can read on their own," I'm going to start a classroom library.  Oh yes, we have a school library and it's wonderful.  We have a librarian who orders books kids like to read and she listens to their requests and suggestions.  But I also think that a classroom library can supplement that. And a student that might not make an effort to go to the school library might just access a classroom library.

Having a library in the classroom sends a message of literacy and encourages reading to students.  If that library is filled with nice, interesting books, just waiting to be read, even better. I want my classroom library to be filled with books that my kids want to read and that are geared toward their interests and their lives.

In response to my First Five question above, about the last book you read, I got answers like this:

"I can't remember the last book I read.  I hate staring at thousands of words and sitting still that long.  I hate reading!"

and this:

"I don't know. I think it was a Goosebump book.  I don't have time to read."

and this:

"I love to read books and I used to read all the time.  I don't really know why I don't read any more.  You can learn so much when you read."

That student is right.  Reading can drastically increase a child's vocabulary.  That in itself will increase test scores, but this isn't about test scores for me.

A lot of the responses indicated that they liked reading in lower grades but somehow just quit doing it.

I don't want one more child to leave my room not having read a book.

So, I have a plan.  I've assembled an Amazon Wish List to start a classroom library and as this school year draws to a close, I am planning new things for next year.  If I can't teach books in class, I'll do it out of class.  I have plans to encourage students to read from my classroom library and to share what they've read with others.  If I need to use incentives to get this started, I will.  (A kid will read almost anything for a honey bun!)  I have shelving and I have a corner space ready to go.  It will be attractive and inviting.

I want this to be a fun experience; not like the old Accelerated Reader program where you had to read a book "on your level" with the proper color sticker on it and then take a ridiculous test on it to step your way up to a quota.  Research shows that this program is useless.  Kids that like to read will read anyway and kids that have to read to get an AR grade just learn to hate reading more.

With your help, I can establish a wonderful, enticing classroom library.  Every student that enters my room will have access to good books.

I've started an Amazon Wish List and if you would like to help, you can go here, and order whatever you like and have it shipped straight to my classroom.  I've already started assembling books on my own through thrift stores and through the library book sales and the college book fair.  What I need now are nice, new books that pull my kids into a love of reading!

The list is here.  It's long and I'm constantly adding to it.  I hope that you will pick something to send to us that perhaps you enjoyed reading yourself. Additionally, any cash donations to the PayPal link in the sidebar will be used for this library.

And if you can't donate anything right now, please share this, or the list, to your social media and with your friends.  I know people will help; I've seen it happen.  When something is this important, people will help.

Further Reading:
The Importance of a Classroom Library
NCTE Statement on Classroom Libraries
Building a Diverse Classroom Library
The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader
Mission Accomplished!  (Accelerated Reader)
How to Stop Killing the Love of Reading
Education Report Card Shows Common Core Still Fails US Students
Does Common Core Hurt Minority Students the Most?
Louisiana Drops in Latest NAEP Report Card

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Caddo Parish Set to Name New Animal Services Director

Caddo Parish Animal Services
In early 2015 I attended the trial of Gabriel Lee at the Caddo Parish Courthouse; Lee was eventually convicted of animal cruelty for his abandonment of the dog Braveheart in a storage locker.  One of the witnesses in that trial was a Caddo Parish Animal Services investigator named Travis Clark.  Mr. Clark was instrumental in getting Mr. Lee to jail and in getting him to surrender ownership of Braveheart so he could be saved.

Mr. Clark worked at Caddo Parish Animal Services from 2008 - 2015, and then moved away to work as Supervisor at the animal shelter in Stockton, California.  Clark left his family and friends here in Shreveport because he wanted to advance his training, complete his degree, and expand his skill set, probably with an eye to eventually becoming Director of Caddo Parish Animal Services.  His work in Stockton has given him valuable experience. 

It appears that this might be about to come to fruition.  Rumor has it that Mr. Clark will be the new CPAS director.  Not everyone in the rescue community here is happy about this but most that I have talked to are thrilled.

Caddo Parish Animal Services has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in the past few years for various reasons, and while there are still many problems, it does appear that some changes have been made.

Because of the demands of outraged citizens who truly want a better shelter, there have been outside audits made, and now auditors are auditing the auditors to ensure that when Parish Administrator Woody Wilson says that the shelter is using PetPoint, for example, they really are.  Another huge step in the right direction is the new partnership with Erica Falbaum, founder of PEP!, a very active and important outreach program about responsible pet ownership.  Mr. Wilson also reported in February 2018 that the parish is working with Best Friends Animal Society who will review shelter operation.  Wilson's report can be found in the February 5 minutes of the Commission work session; he goes into more detail about positive steps toward shelter operation.  For the most part, a lot of it is just words, but some of it is really happening.

Caddo Parish Animal Services is an open-intake municipal shelter which means that it is part of local government and we all know that government moves slowly.  Any steps toward the positive are welcome. We are not where we need to be, but there is progress.

One of the items that Mr. Wilson addressed at that February work session was to begin the search for a new director for the shelter; Kelvin Samuel has been serving as interim director since Chuck Wilson resigned in November 2017.  Since Wilson's resignation, many in the animal rescue community have had fingers crossed and lifted silent prayers for the return of Travis Clark.

Going away card for Travis Clark by Shreveport animal community, 2015

Mr. Clark has been a popular figure with many in the local animal community.  While his appointment has not been officially announced, the signs are there that he may be tapped as the new director.  He has resigned his job in Stockton and is in the process of moving home to Shreveport.  In interviews with local media, Mr. Wilson has said that his pick for director would be announced very soon and that the person is currently returning to the area.  It isn't hard to add this up.

It is my belief that Mr. Clark will be a welcome appointment by most in the animal community here and it is widely believed that he will do a good job.  As evidenced by his decision to leave CPAS in 2015, some believe that part of his motivation was to get away from untenable circumstances at the shelter that he was powerless to change.  That distancing, coupled with the fact that he could position himself to become an attractive candidate to lead CPAS by working and training in Stockton, could have been a very smart move.

The rescue and adoption statistics for the Stockton shelter under Mr. Clark's tenure look very good.  The euthanasia rate is steady at about 16% and the adoption and the rescue rates are in the 30 to 35% range.  As an open-intake municipal shelter of course there will be some euthanasia rates: it's not a no kill shelter, but with Caddo's euthanasia rate well north of 60%, the numbers in Stockton look pretty good.

Stockton Animal Services 2017

It is important to remember that a shelter can't lower those euthanasia rates without help from the community; when so many people refuse to spay and neuter their pets there will naturally be too many unwanted animals.  Any incoming director would need to continue the working relationship with PEP! and also develop other community programs like adoption events, PetPoint implementation, a well-trained and compassionate staff, a modern, updated website, funding for medical needs, and a strong volunteer and rescue program.

Perhaps Mr. Clark is the man for the job.

There is no question in my mind that he cares about animals.

Bo Spataro (owned by Braveheart) says Mr. Clark is "an intelligent, respectful, and driven person" who will likely work to turn around public perception of the shelter and who will work closely with the rescue community.  "I think he will do very well and plan on actively supporting him," Spataro said.

Travis Clark
There are those who will not be happy with the choice of Mr. Clark if for no other reason than that he has the approval of Woody Wilson, but in truth, I don't think Wilson cares one iota about the shelter; I think he cares about Woody Wilson and doesn't want the pressure of an outraged public on his doorstep.

It has been the citizens of Caddo Parish who have fought for change at Caddo Animal Shelter through countless appearances at meetings, letters to commissioners, interviews with news media, public protests, and meetings with local politicians.  We have been the voice for change.  We have insisted upon it.  We have not backed down.  And now change is here.

If Travis Clark is tapped for the job, as I believe he will be, then we need to support him.  We need to line up at the door to volunteer at the shelter.  We need to marshal donations for whatever he needs from blankets to money.  We need to organize transports for rescue animals, volunteer at adoption events, wash kennels, and maybe even help set up an inviting adoption room at the shelter.  Whatever he needs we need to step up and lend a hand.

We have screamed for change and now change is coming.  Let's be part of the solution and not perpetuate the negativity. 

Let's give him a chance, but most of all, let's give him some help.

Further Reading:
Problems at Caddo Animal Control Continue (SIGIS, Oct. '17)
Stockton Animal Shelter Statistics
Caddo Parish Commission Minutes access
PEP! Education Outreach
Caddo to begin searching for new director (KSLA, Feb. '18)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Raising Reading Scores and NAEP: We Can Only Go Up

I've been thinking about my students a lot lately; more so than usual, after looking at the latest NAEP scores which I wrote briefly about here.

To recap, Louisiana is once again at the bottom, or near bottom, of the list.  In reading, only 25% of our students are "proficient." We are tied at 48 with Mississippi; New Mexico is ranked 50 at 24%.

This really bothers me.

So, what does that score mean?  What, exactly, is "proficient?"

Proficient is defined this way:
When it comes to reading, eighth-grade “students performing at the Proficient level should be able to provide relevant information and summarize main ideas and themes,” says NCES. “They should be able to make and support inferences about a text, connect parts of a text, and analyze text features. Students performing at this level should also be able to fully substantiate judgments about content and presentation of content.”
About the same time I started fretting about the NAEP results, I came across this article on the Cult of Pedagogy blog urging teachers to "stop killing reading."

And in that article, the author referenced a book called Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, which I immediately ordered and have now read.

Gallagher's book was so on point I kept highlighting passages and sharing them with colleagues.

In my twenty-three year career I've seen more than a few kids who don't like to read, have never voluntarily read a book, and have no idea where the school library is.  I may not ever turn those kids into bookworms who read three books a week, but at least I have always been able to get them to admire the artistry and message of To Kill a Mockingbird or to relate themes in The Great Gatsby to the real world around them.

Sometimes that admiration is grudging, but it always comes.  It has been one of the highlights of my teaching career to see that light bulb go off over a kid's head when he grasps the symbolism of Mrs. Dubose's camellias or Atticus's shooting of Tim Johnson, the rabid dog.  If you've never seen that happen, that light bulb thing, it's amazing and it warms you all over to know that something great has just rattled the brain cells in that kid and a new understanding of the world around him has occurred.

Maybe I'm overstating it, but I don't think so.

I think Kelly Gallagher advocates for student readers and for teaching the classics quite admirably in his book when he writes:
"When every student in the country reads Romeo and Juliet, it means we all acquire a shared cultural literacy, a sharing that is foundational if we, as a culture are going to be able to communicate with one another."
And earlier in the book, he points out that "Reading Animal Farm is not simply an unusual trip to an English farm; Orwell's classic presents our students with the opportunity to discuss what happens when a citizenry fails to pay attention to its leadership."  It makes students think about the world around them.

The ironies with Fahrenheit 451 are obvious, right?  (But how will kids today know that?  They only read parts of this novel, if at all).

Gallagher's point is that the classic novels we teach in school provide opportunities for students to "rehearse" real world situations and ideas, an opportunity to become wiser under the leadership of a teacher.

It's a valid point.  But beyond the classics, he argues, we also need to provide opportunities for students to read for fun.  Many, many students do not read for the pure enjoyment of getting lost in a book and this is especially true with our underprivileged kids or children that come from impoverished homes.  They come to us with what Gallagher refers to as "word poverty" and spend their entire educational experience trying to catch up.

Why wouldn't we give them every opportunity to do so?

Because we are teaching the test. That's why.

There.  I said it.

Go back to those NAEP results.  We spend all of our time now putting articles and passages in front of students like those that they will see on a test.  We inundate them with multiple choice questions.  We highlight and close read and analyze and use sticky notes and we fill out graphic organizers, we analyze some more, we pick and pick and prod and well, it's no wonder that kids begin to hate to read.

We don't give them "books" any longer, we give them "chunks of text."

We don't give them the freedom to read as long as they wish ("If they want to read the entire novel they can do that on their own, outside of school!").  Instead, we give them chopped up passages to endlessly analyze. Where's the fun?  Where's the engagement?  Where's the love in that?

Gallagher talks about this practice a great deal in his book and its worth your time to read it if you're concerned at all about what Common Core and endless test prep is doing to kids.

The bottom line is that we really should be more interested in creating lifelong readers in our students.  They will carry a love of books and reading forever, long after that test score is gone.

Do we really want a generation of kids who have read nothing but passages and articles?

Imagine a world where cultural references such as "Beware the Ides of March!" are meaningless!  Or "Stay gold, Ponyboy...stay gold."  It breaks my heart to turn my sophomores out into the world never having encountered Mayella Ewell or Atticus Finch.  To Kill a Mockingbird is now "summer reading" in our district for freshmen and The Grapes of Wrath is "summer reading" for sophomores.  Imagine the loss at tackling either of those on your own as a young teenager!

Some districts know that they will likely never return to reading full novels in class again.

Instead, under Common Core, (which in Louisiana is called Louisiana Believes), students read selected chapters of books, or articles about books.  In tenth grade, for example, you read only the Prologue of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and then lots of articles about ethics.

You get the idea.

It's my belief, and I believe there is science and data (that ever present golden key - data) - to back me up, that kids who read a lot are better writers and have a much more developed vocabulary.  They are more rounded.  They are better equipped to deal with the unknown.  So, teach a kid to read for fun, and you've created something truly wonderful and given that kid a lifelong gift.

Is that enough to raise NAEP scores?  Probably not.  There are a lot of other factors that go into those scores: poverty, parental involvement, technology access, life-trauma, environment, etc.  Those scores reflect a whole plethora of factors beyond reading comprehension.

But hey, we've got no place to go but up.  Let's bring reading back into the curriculum.  And I mean reading fiction (we currently read about 75% non-fiction in grade 10 ELA), long books, novels, not just "chunks of text" or Xeroxed passages.  We need to give kids time to read IN SCHOOL and not just on their own.  What tenth grader can truly grapple with  The Grapes of Wrath without some help?!

My bottom line:  Kids need time to read, time without having to organize, annotate, highlight, determine this or that - just time to read to get lost in the pages.

Do that, and I guarantee we will have smarter kids; now, whether the test scores reflect that or not is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, as they say.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Another Great Season at Shehee Stadium

Another Centenary baseball season is in the books for us (we don't usually travel to the SCAC tournament which this year is somewhere in Texas.)

This year Centenary finished atop the SCAC standings with a 15-3 record, just ahead of Trinity at 14-4.  A lot of the games were away games this year, it seemed, and the ones early in the season that were at home were often cold and rainy, so we didn't make as many games this year as we usually do.  But when we are there, well, it's just good baseball.

It's been about four years since I did a post about the program; we've seen these boys start as freshmen, grow and develop their game, and move on.  It's our own little version of the Durham Bulls!  The atmosphere is like family and over the years we've developed friendships with faculty, coaches, parents, and other locals that just come out in support.

Each team in the conference has a sort of reputation too: some are better sports than others, some are hostile to referees, some are as nice as they can be and invite you to visit their city.

But always it is just good fun.  We've had some really memorable times!  And we've seen some really standout players.

One of the standouts this year was senior Chris Zapata who is an outstanding catcher and a real power hitter.  As pitcher, and first-baseman, Cole Lavergne was really exciting to watch; he threw some truly wicked pitches in the game today.

It is universally true in baseball that each pitcher and each batter has his own stance and his own quirks.  There's the batter that always crosses the plate with his bat, or the one that stands just outside the box, then charges into it and takes his stance when he's ready; there's the pitcher that prowls around the mound like a caged tiger, scratching the dirt with his cleats, and the one that deeply arches his back and stares over his glove before he throws.  They are all unique and entirely wonderful to watch.

But of course, it takes an entire team to produce a winning record like the Gents have done.

The parents are always great team boosters and at every home game can be seen boiling crawfish, frying fish, or grilling burgers, ready to feed the hungry players after the last pitch.  Then there is Coach in the concession stand fixing up delicious Nathan's hot dogs or serving roasted peanuts; it just wouldn't be a game without that!

One of the joys of these games to me is seeing the children who come out: sweaty little boys with their baseball gloves thundering down the stands, running at breakneck speed to retrieve foul balls.  The boys look with such admiration at the grown players and you can just see the dreams in their eyes.

Of course, the players can act like kids too - because really they still are; they're just about to launch into adulthood and are hanging on to this boys game for all it's worth.  I watch the dugout as much as I watch the game because the players are always cheering each other on, yelling, singing, waving their arms, jumping around to the music playing over the PA, doing all kinds of crazy things.  They are having a blast, which is the pure joy of baseball.

Cheering on teammates returning from the outfield

And the dogs: oh my are there dogs.  At any game you can count on seeing four or five dogs from tiny Yorkies to full grown Labs.

The best part?  It's free.  So when someone comes and sits down in front of you in the fifth inning, and pops their umbrella...

There goes my view of home plate.

...you can just move.

Yes, this season is done at Shehee Stadium but next year will come soon enough.  Until then, there's this video of the final out today and the celebration after.  You can see Cole Lavergne on the mound and the fans stand up, applauding, to cheer him on...

God I love this game!  And I love you, Centenary Gents!  Thanks for another great season, and good luck in the tournament!

Giving Back to our Community

40 & 8 Voiture 137 on Cross Lake
Today is one of those glorious days in the South when you're just glad to be alive: clear blue skies, sunshine, low humidity, nothing but promise in the day!

Actually, there's a baseball game scheduled in my day, and what's better than sitting outside watching a college baseball game?

Yesterday we attended the annual Confederate History month memorial service in Keachi hosted by the local SCV chapter and it could not have been a more beautiful day.  The cemetery is in the piney woods around Keachi and, after several years of hard restoration work and true dedication by the Lt. General Richard Taylor Camp #1308, the cemetery is now immaculate and well tended.  The work they have done to care for this resting spot of over 100 Confederate dead is remarkable. Preservation of history is important.

Keachi Confederate Cemetery

The ceremony yesterday was well attended and it was a nice afternoon of fellowship with friends and taking time to remember people who sacrificed so much.

We also attended the 40 & 8 Voiture 137 Nursing Scholarship Banquet fundraiser last night on Cross Lake.  Again, a beautifully attended event with really great people, much love, much fellowship.  Their site is located on a beautiful cove on Cross Lake studded with cypress trees and it was really nice to just sit outside and watch the breeze ruffling the trees or hear a fish rolling over in the water. We dined on grilled steaks and listened to some nice music, talked to friends, laughed, and felt very grateful for the dedication the 40 & 8 shows to helping nursing students complete their education through these scholarships.  Such a great cause!

The Shoemakes won dinner at Ernest's as a door prize.

On the way home we decided to pull into Shehee stadium and catch the last inning of the Centenary baseball game...except the game went on through thirteen innings!  Even though Centenary lost the game, it was nice sitting in the cool evening air taking part in the All American rite of passage that is baseball.  There's no more beautiful game in my mind.  I love it.

Centenary College v. Trinity, 2018

We truly live in a wonderful community here and while I realize Shreveport has plenty of problems that we need to take care of, we also have a lot of good. I think sometimes we spend a lot of time focusing on the negative - I've certainly been guilty of that - but I also think it's very important for us both mentally and emotionally, to focus on the positive as well.

As we get ready for Give for Good 2018 this week (Tuesday, May 1), I'd like to offer a couple of suggestions if you're looking to make our community a little better through a donation to a non-profit.

One of my favorite charities is Nova's Heart.  This group is fully funded by donations.  They do community outreach to help the animals of our most vulnerable citizens: the homeless.  Through their outreach program, Nova's Heart provides food, basic medications, leashes, collars, blankets, toys, and medical services for these animals. A homeless person may only have his pet left and being able to care for this pet, and to keep him with you, is of such importance.  What Nova's Heart does in our community is so often overlooked and underestimated.  Please consider them when you make a donation this year.

There are so many great non-profits in our area that I could list for days: all the animal rescue groups are there, many of our local museums like the Shreveport Water Works Museum and the Spring Street Museum, all can use donations.  The Shreveport Little Theater is also a non-profit that is a good steward of your donations.  You can just go to the Give for Good page and search for your non-profit, or just type in Shreveport, and see who comes up!

Whether you're able to donate back to our community or not, take a moment to get outside, take advantage of this great weather, talk to your neighbors, visit one of our local museums, the riverfront, a small business, or just take a walk.  We really do have a great community if we take the time to appreciate it.  Sometimes it's the little things.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Louisiana Drops in Latest NAEP Report Card

It is disturbing to note the drop in Louisiana's achievement in the recently result NAEP scores: Louisiana finished 50th in eighth grade math and 48th in reading.  We dropped from previous years, if that's even possible.

Will Sentell at The Advocate sums it up:
In the latest snapshot of education achievement, scores for Louisiana public school fourth-graders plunged to or near the bottom of the nation in reading and math. In addition, eighth-graders finished 50th among the states and the District of Columbia in math and 48th in reading.  
The exams, which sparked controversy this time, are called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. Math, reading and other results make up what organizers call the nation's report card.  
In 2015, fourth-graders finished 43rd in the U. S. in reading and 45th in math.  But both scores dropped five points – to 212 and 229 out of 500 respectively – during tests administered to 2,700 students last year. That means fourth-grade math scores finished 51st while fourth-grade reading scores are 49th. The group that oversees the exams, the National Center for Education Statistics, said both drops are statistically significant. The results were also at odds with other states, where most scores were unchanged from 2015 in both subjects and both grades.
State Superintendent John White blames this drop on the fact that the exams were done online for the first time (which begs the question, why are we doing ACT testing online, then?).

What's the problem?  What are we doing wrong in this state with regard to education?

Actually, it's not just this state.  Pretty much the only state that made gains was Florida.

The Common Core State Standards are alive and well nationwide despite what Betsy DeVoss or anyone else might tell you.

Most states are still using CCSS, they're just calling it something less toxic than "Common Core."

Whatever they are called, it doesn't work.

At the simplest level, Common Core is basically scripted lessons and sterile, canned PowerPoint slides that are geared to teaching the test.  With a scripted lesson there is little or no room for teacher creativity, spontaneity or individualized instruction. It is relentless standardized testing.

Given that Common Core is still with us, despite what your state is calling it, this article at The Hill goes a step further to point out that the CCSS are not only failing our kids but are especially failing at risk kids; if one of the goals of Common Core was to "close the achievement gap" it looks as if we can call that one a bust:

But in fact, the NAEP results show the achievement gap is actually growing. According to John Engler, chairman of NAEP’s governing board, “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students.” It’s logical to attribute this decline directly in part to Common Core. The standards embrace student-centered “discovery” learning, where the teacher acts as more facilitator than instructor. 
Especially for disadvantaged students, that pedagogy doesn’t work. Project Follow Through, the largest and most extensive government education study in history, proved this by following tens of thousands participant children for years to determine the best means of educating them. The answer was direct instruction — an approach disfavored in Common Core.

For the 2017-18 school year, Louisiana implemented its own version of Common Core and these Guidebooks are hosted on the LearnZillion website.  The results are mixed; it's a work in progress.

It will be interesting to see if this helps our students in the next NAEP examination.

It's clear that Louisiana needs to do something better than what we are doing for our kids; scoring at the bottom of the list, and continuing to fall, is not acceptable.

Further reading:
Education report card shows Common Core still fails US students
Does Common Core hurt minority students the most?
NAEP shows little to no gains...
Teacher made lessons make inroads
Prepared remarks by Betsy DeVoss - January 2018
Nation's Report Card: Something very good is happening in Florida
NAEP and John White's computer testing hypocrisy
How has school reform worked in Louisiana?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Take a Trip to Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, Part 2

Taking selfies at Books Along the Teche
The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival was such an amazing event.  When I first read about it several weeks prior, I knew that I had to go.  Every single event sounded engaging and fun.  I'm forever grateful to the festival organizers and the good people at Iberia Travel who made it possible for us to attend, but more than that, for the chance to meet so many wonderful people.

That sounds cliche, doesn't it? "Oh, I met so many wonderful people...".  Let me try to rephrase, then, and as you continue through the festival with me through this post, I hope that you get a sense of how inspiring my new friends in New Iberia are.  If you haven't read about the first 24 hours, go back to the last post, then come here.

After our bus tour through Dave Robicheaux's territory in Iberia parish, the next event was the Jazz it Up Opening Reception at The Shadows on the Teche.  (I've written about the fabulous house and its history here and here.)  We toured the inside of the house the previous day and I really wanted to take a photo of the famous autographed door that Weeks Hall had, especially Lyle Saxon's signature, but photos were not allowed inside the home, so I regretfully complied.

The gardens are simply beautiful and as we arrived the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band was playing some swinging New Orleans jazz on the upper front gallery to greet guests.

The Bunk Johnson Brazz Band plays on the upper gallery at The Shadows.

I paused to take a couple of photos and waved at them before we moved to the back of the house where tables with white tablecloths were set up in preparation for the cochon de lait and the fried seafood dinner.

Jazz it Up Opening Reception

There was a beer and wine bar set up by the bayou in the "summer house" as Weeks Hall called it.  Steve called it a gazebo.  I grabbed a beer and walked around the gardens to take photos and to visit.  There's a low white picket fence between the grounds and the bayou but there's a side yard area where you can walk right down to the water if you want to.  From that angle the house and the live oaks are simply stunning.  It was just barely dusk and the Spanish moss shimmered in the setting sun.  I probably took 200 photos of live oaks and Spanish moss throughout the weekend!

Spanish moss is even pretty on the ground...

The band soon moved to the back upper gallery and played for us as we feasted on our meal and visited. We did a Second Line through the gardens with the band leading the way complete with umbrellas and flags. I ran up to the upper gallery to catch it on video:

As the sun began to set and the sky started to turn purple with the fading light, I looked over my shoulder and caught this photo which seemed to catch the atmosphere of the entire night for me.  It's yet another picture of Spanish moss in the trees, but there seems to be a little magic there, too.

In the gardens: The Shadows on the Teche

This picture is looking back toward the summer house which you can see in the lower right corner,and later, when I compared it to a photo Cammie had taken in 1929, that morning she and Lyle had breakfast with Weeks Hall, it looks as if I'm sitting in just about the exact same spot.  It seemed like a message, sort of, that I was in the right place.

Photo by Cammie Henry, 1929.  

The best part of the dinner was the friends we made; we met people who offered to open their homes to us whenever we visit again; we met people from all over the country, literally.  This festival drew people from other countries, and from at least 11 or 12 states.  I think the farthest was Rhode Island but I think there was someone from Colorado, too.

We met one couple who lingered outside the gates at evening's end talking to us; after we told them how much fun we were having and how nice everyone was, she said, "You know, we could have retired anywhere we wanted to...anywhere in the country.  Anywhere in the world, really, and we chose to come here.  We love it here; we love how truly genuine the people are.  They talk to you, but more, they actually engage with you.  They're listening to you, and they care about you."  Her husband nodded in agreement.

It's true.  It's absolutely true.

As we talked at the gates the musicians were leaving and we gave them a round of applause. I love this shot:

After the gig.

At another event later in the weekend, another New Iberian told us much the same thing.  She went on to say that she had no family of her own per se, and that the new friends she'd made in New Iberia are her family.

We heard comments like that all weekend; it's quite a testament.

Saturday morning we headed to the Iberia Parish Main Library for the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, Academic Symposium with keynote speaker Dr. Mary Ann Wilson who spoke on James Lee Burke's Tin Roof Blowdown.  She was joined by ULL faculty member Sally Donlon and local writer and photographer James Edmunds.  We gathered in a lovely room at the library, had coffee and refreshments, and watched the Spanish moss swaying in the breeze through the arched windows as the wind picked up outside ahead of an approaching cold front.

ULL Academic Symposium

Dr. Wilson's presentation was fascinating and I enjoyed every minute of it. She's a natural reader for Burke's passages with her lovely southern drawl and her study of his work is clear.  She pointed us to his collection of short stories, Jesus Out to Sea, which I'd never heard of, and she read passages from several stories and tied them into Burke's Katrina novel.  As soon as the presentation was over I ran to Books Along the Teche book shop and bought a copy.

The stories are beautiful and heartbreaking. Most of the stories are set in New Orleans and some in New Iberia.  Burke can put you inside the head of a woman trying to stay clean and sober against challenging odds, or on the banks of Bayou Teche right before a rainstorm blows in; you can smell the fish spawning, the ozone in the air, and the coming rain as the bruised sky changes colors.  He can put you on top of a roof of a wrecked house in post-Katrina New Orleans after the levees broke and and all you can see is a painting on an old piece of cypress of Jesus floating slowly out to sea.

Dr. Wilson's presentation was truly enlightening in that it made me think of Burke's work as much more than compelling mystery novels.  I truly enjoyed what she had to say and I would love to take one of her classes if I was a student at ULL.

Mrs. Donlon's presentation was fascinating as well and she talked a great deal about coastal erosion and environmental issues that appear in not just Burke's novels but are a fact of life to anyone in southern Louisiana.  Mr. Edmunds was charming and talked about food, cooking, and New Iberia spots in the novels.  Of course Victor's was mentioned!

After the symposium it was time to browse the artists and author's fair along Main Street.  There were many, many tables and tents along Main with authors signing books and artisans showing their work.  We bought an artists print of a blue crab which I love and will treasure as a souvenir of this great weekend. There was a food truck with delicious seafood and bread bowls of chowder near the plaza.

The cold front was moving and and the drizzle was picking up so the artists and authors packed up probably a little earlier than planned and we headed over to the Sliman Theater for the sold out Great Southern Writer Symposium featuring Ernest Gaines.

Capacity crowd for Ernest Gaines

I wrote about discovering Gaines after all these many years here.  I'm truly not sure why, as a teacher of high-school English for nearly 25 years, that I have never read Ernest Gaines before now.  This is another thing I'm grateful to the festival for: I'm now an Ernest Gaines total fangirl.  The man's prose brings me to tears and breaks my heart yet fills me with love for my state and its people at the same time.  He shows us the good, the bad, and the ugly; characters are not gratuitously redeemed at the end of the books, you don't always get neat endings, and what he writes is real.  It's just real, and that's what I love about it.

The theater was filled and burst into applause when Gaines made his way across stage to his table where he took a seat and read to us from the first chapter of his latest book, The Tragedy of Brady Sims.  The audience listened respectfully and appreciatively as Gaines, his voice warming up as he went, read.  It was kind of surreal and a truly special thing to witness.

Ernest Gaines

After the reading, Gaines took questions from the audience for a long while and he said some things I thought were noteworthy.  When asked if he types or writes in longhand, he declares that he always writes in longhand first and always on unlined paper, "because sometimes your hands get cold and you write real small" and sometimes you need more room and you write big.

When asked what makes a good writer, he said, "Easy.  Four words, no, eight words:  Read, read, read, read, write, write, write, write."  I nodded when he said this because I truly believe this and I've heard other writers say the same thing.  The follow up question was to inquire who Gaines likes to read.  He deferred when pressed for contemporary authors but said he likes to read a lot of Shakespeare from whom he learns a great deal about character and writing characters.  He likes Faulkner, too, and said that Faulkner taught him how to write dialogue.  Faulkner "has an ear" for "how people really talk" and he believes that's really important.  This is evident in Gaines's books, without a doubt.

Near the end of the Q&A, a woman asked Gaines "How do you feel about the use of the N-word?" and explained that her own book had been rejected by some for its use of the word.  Gaines responded quickly, "I use it."  Elaborating, he explained that it is not a word he uses gratuitously, but as a tool, "like building a house" he said.  "If you need a nail, you use a nail.  If you need a brick, you use a brick.  If you need a hammer..., " it's just a tool.  And of course he is correct.

As the presentation ended Gaines broke out his pen and signed books for everyone who wanted his autograph and he was just the most gracious and pleasant person.  It was truly an honor to hear his speak, I felt.  What an opportunity!  I'm still rather in awe of the entire experience.

As if the day had not been eventful enough we still had the Boogie on Down Evening Party to prepare for, so we went back to the hotel to freshen up after stopping at the book store yet again to buy a couple more things to bring home.

And by the way, The Shadows is not the only super cool house in New Iberia!  Look at the Steamboat House:

Steamboat House

And dig this tree:

Frederick Larned Gates house
And this one just screams New Orleans to me:

The evening party and dinner event was planned to be at the Steamboat Pavilion & Bouligny Plaza but because of the cold drizzle that was now falling with conviction it was moved to the Sliman Theater (props to organizers for having a backup plan and pulling it off beautifully!).

The bar was set up in the theater lobby and inside Cajun dance lessons were in progress with the folks from Dance Cajun, or Danser Avec Nous.  On stage was the fabulous Terry Huval and the Jambalaya Cajun Band.  Color me a new fan of Terry Huval!  Wow!

Cajun Dance Lessons
By this time I'm feeling quite at home in New Iberia and getting a little sad about leaving the next day so the evening was really special to me.

We feasted on delicious seafood by New Iberia restaurant Bon Creole followed by the second best bread pudding I've ever had (my first place bread pudding award still lies with Summer Bailey from The Anvil in Shreveport).  Mr. Huval and his band played lively Cajun songs and he gave us bits of musical history and trivia between songs.

Terry Huval

We sat at a gingham colored table decorated with white hydrangea centerpieces and talked to our new friends Bobi and Joe.

Dinner with friends
Mr. Huval walked among the crowd, in and out of the tables, as he played and sometimes would just sit right down with you for a serenade, a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Terry Huval

The dance floor stayed full and there was a smile on even the tiredest volunteers face that night. The caterers were dancing behind the food line and even I was coaxed out to the floor by my new friend Wendy's husband Mike. Steve and Wendy followed us out to the dance floor and soon we were all in a Conga line running through the room.  I've never had so much fun!

Dancing the night away
After the last note drifted away into the night we stood visiting for a long time before reluctantly leaving and saying goodnight.

The look of pure joy on Steve's face at the end of this video is testament to how fun the evening was.

I don't think I can effectively convey how totally cool the entire event was, from beginning to end, but if I remember nothing else about it as time goes, I will always remember the generosity and the warmth I found in New Iberia. I will move heaven and earth to return to this festival next year, and in the meantime I'm looking to see what other events are going on in New Iberia that I can put on my calendar!

Pam, Wendy, Vicky, Bobi, Mike, Joe, Lorriaine, Howard, and others - we will be back!

Remember, if you missed the first installment of this review, go here.

Bayou Teche

The SIGIS Take a Trip Series:
Take a Trip to the 2012 Defenders of Liberty Air Show at BAFB
Take a Springtime Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden, LA
Take a Trip to Logansport, Louisiana
Take a Trip to the Lock and Dam on Red River
Take a Trip to the 2012 Barkus and Meoux Parade
Take a Christmas Shopping Trip to Second Hand Rose in Minden
Take a Trip to the Fourth Annual Barksdale AFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Grand Cane's Fifth Annual Pioneer Trade Day
Take a Trip to the 2011 Highland Jazz & Blues Festival
Take an Autumn Trip to Jefferson, Texas
Take a Fall Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to the 8th Air Force Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base
Take a Summertime Trip to Grand Cane
Take a Trip to Desoto Parish
Take a Summer Trip to Second Hand Rose Antiques in Minden
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Melrose Plantation 
Take a Trip to Ed Lester Farms and a Random Antique Stop
Take a Trip to the Norton Art Gallery and the Masters of Cuban Art Exhibit
Take a Trip to Natchitoches to See the Christmas Lights
Take a Trip to the Third Annual BAFB Oktoberfest 
Take a Trip to Natchitoches and Oakland Plantation