This lovely ad from The Teaching Professor informed me that I should plan my curriculum by placing grading at the center of my planning. It used the terms testing and grading and assessment interchangeably, but it did want to sell me on a seminar on using tests to improve student learning.
You see, I do not use tests. Not. At. All. I could if I elected to do so. But I think I can see what students are learning by asking them to apply what they are learning in textbooks and other sources directly to REAL books for children, tween, and teens. I would rather my students perform real world tasks than take tests.
And that brings me to the tweet today from a friend whose child received the summer reading list for AP English along with the directions to analyze the various texts (all canonical) in multiple ways (I think the suggestion was to use 13 different "techniques."). When did summer, a time when kids should be able to read for pleasure, become a time for analysis of classic texts? When did we come to believe that AP kids did not need to read difficult (dare I say rigorous) texts without some sort of scaffolding for the analytical component? Who would prefer to kill a love of reading by assigning dissection over the summer rather than asking kids to read and offering suggestions? Or maybe teaming with the public library?
Please, as summer approaches, think more about how we can foster a continuing love of reading. Consider how we can ensure kids have access to books more readily. Deliberate on the element of CHOICE. after ALL, I plan to participate again in #bookaday. I will select the books to read freely. I will have access to a community online that can make recommendations for me as well. No dioramas or book reports, maybe a tweet or a blog post. Maybe not. I will have books to take along with me, audiobooks, eBooks, GNs, the whole spectrum. I am psyched for this challenge. If I do not read a book a day, there will be no sledge hammer blow to my skull. Instead, there will be encouragement and understanding.
So, by all means ask kids to spend time reading this summer. But do so bearing in mind that we can either support readers or murder them. The choice is ours.
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood:concerned
I owe you an apology, dear readers. Due to the blog hiatus I've taken for most of the year thus far, it's entirely possible that you have gone an entire five months without hearing about Kay Honeyman's The Fire Horse Girl -- and if that is so, then you have been MISSING OUT. Because while this book isn't fantasy, it features many of the things I love best from the girl-power-fantasy novels that are dear to my and so many readers' hearts (think Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Bunce, Kristen Cashore):
- A heroine who's stubborn, willful, kind, outspoken, out of step with her society -- and utterly wonderful
- A plot that offers her the chance to make a better life for herself, if she has the courage to take it
- A love interest who's equally well-developed, and has an agenda of his own
- Terrific characters all around
- Tense action scenes
- Swoony romance scenes
Kay Honeyman is just as much fun in person as she is on the page, and I'm glad to have her here for a Q&A.
How did you come to write The Fire Horse Girl? I always have trouble backing up to the beginning of writing The Fire Horse Girl. My first instinct is to say that the story began to form when I heard about Angel Island. It was a slice of American history and specifically America’s immigration history I only discovered as an adult.
But, I wouldn’t have attached so strongly to that setting if my husband and I weren’t in the midst of adopting a child from China. I was not just drawn to the place, but its stories because my son would have his own immigration story. At first, I imagined all the wonderful things that the child would gain by coming to America. When I looked at the story from my perspective, my son Jack was gaining a home and a family. He would live in land of opportunity and possibilities. But when I considered his point-of-view, he was coming to a strange house in a strange country to live with strange people. It opened my eyes to the price that people pay to immigrate.
If you take the inspiration back one step further, it started with a deep love of stories in general. I used to lay the big books on my parents’ shelves in my lap and read every two and three-letter-word that I knew.
The Fire Horse Girl probably came from all of those layers of inspiration plus a lot of work and a little serendipity.
What sort of research did you do? The kind that piles up in boxes and notebooks all around the house. The kind that involves Friday night trips to the library because I really need to find out the names of ships that travelled between China and San Francisco in 1923. The kind that you have to shake yourself out of because you have a story to write.
I read novels set in China like Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. I spent hours on the Angel Island Immigration Foundation website. I read Chinese poetry and took Chinese language classes because the rhythm of structure of the Chinese language is very different from English, and I wanted to have a feel for it. I also researched the poems on the walls in the barracks at Angel Island. I filled notebooks and files with picture of the dorms at Angel Island, kitchens in 1900 China, and alleys in Chinatown. I wrote lists of details in the margins of scenes. I poured through Arnold Genthe’s pictures of Chinatown before the fire that destroyed Old Chinatown in 1906 (same year that Jade Moon was born) because I wanted to dig through the rubble that formed the foundation of the Chinatown Jade Moon would have to navigate.
I think the most important part of my research was my trip to China to pick up Jack. It isn’t that I picked up specific details that I put in the book, but it gave me a richer understanding of China and the Chinese. It gave me a peek at the rhythms of life, community, and family.
What was the most difficult part of writing or revising the novel for you? What flowed the easiest? The first draft is the hardest for me. Writing that initial version is frustrating because it never lives up to the image of the story I have in my head. It doesn’t even come close. Neither does the second or third or twenty-third draft, but in later drafts you have progress you can measure. For me, a first draft is just bad, it isn’t better than the last, or moving closer to the story I want to tell. It is just messy and so very, very wrong.
On the other hand, I love revision. It is exciting to find the right fix for glitch in the story or develop a moment into its full potential. I love watching the rough edges of a story smooth into this glassy surface that the reader can skate across.
I especially love the moment in the revision process when you aren’t guessing anymore, when you aren’t experimenting, when the story is more right than wrong. It feels like turning into your neighborhood after a long journey. It doesn’t mean the work is over, but there’s the sense that you are heading to a place you’ve been trying to get to for a long time.
How much of the book did you have planned out before you wrote it? Are you a plotter or a pantser generally? Uhhg, you had to ask. And I tried so hard to hide it. I am a pantser who tries desperately to be a plotter. I am a very organized person. I love lists and papers stacked across the top of my desk. I make multiple outlines, but the story strays so far from the outline that I’m not sure I get to claim the title of plotter. Maybe I am just a horrible plotter. Is there a category for that?
I do like one element of being a pantser/horrible plotter. I tend to have a very fluid vision of the story. I’m more likely to see why something could happen then why it couldn’t. And I have a high tolerance for revisions. I don’t have any illusions that something must happen.
Admit it: You’re a Fire Horse girl too, right? (I am an Earth Horse myself!) Even if you aren’t: What qualities do you most and least admire in Jade Moon? Are they qualities you yourself share? You are an Earth Horse! Did you know we are both hard-working signs? However, your sense of humor is far superior to mine.
I am a Water Ox – patient, dependable, determined. I would make a disastrous character in a novel because in a crisis I make a to-do list and label color-coded file folders. So, I am pretty much the opposite of Jade Moon, but I admire her strength and spirit of determination. I also admire her big dreams and the way she ignores the impossibility of them.
I come from a family of strong women. My sister is a Fire Dragon and my son Jack and my mother are both Fire Pigs. I love people with a fire inside them. They bring fresh perspective and passion to life. They aren’t afraid to burn through the old to see if there is something better behind it.
The trait I most share with Jade Moon is probably the one that gets her in the most trouble – her stubbornness. However, a little stubbornness can help you hold your own, teach eighth-grade, and write a book.
What books have been the most influential in your reading and writing lives? I open every book expecting to be delighted, and I take in some element from most books that I read. I would probably make a terrible editor, but I make a great reader.
I love Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice. I love any book that looks at a society – F. Scott Fitgerald, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Mitchell.
There are also so many talented contemporary authors in YA. Elizabeth Eulberg (Lonely Hearts Club, Take a Bow, Prom and Prejudice, and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality) creates characters with flaws that just make them more relatable and more charming. Paul Volponi (The Final Four, Rikers High, Rucker Park Setup, Black and White) packs sweeping stories into tight settings and timelines. Whole stories get threaded through the overtime of a Final Four basketball game. It is like a gritty Hemingway if Hemingway wrote about basketball instead of bullfighting. I could go on and on. The more I write, the more I find to admire in other writers.
I also keep a few books on writing at my elbow. My two favorites are Second Sight (I am unabashedly slipping it into this interview because I tell everyone how amazing it is). Since I can’t email you every time I have a minor dilemma or a major nervous breakdown, I keep it close. I also love my Synonym Finder (love, adore, cherish, esteem, prize, etc.).
What are you reading now? And writing? I just finished 52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody. It is always fun to watch teenagers realize that their potential soars far above people’s expectations. My first summer read is going to be Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.
I am working on a book set in West Texas. It is about Friday night football, small towns, and politics. It is full of women with sweet smiles and sharp tongues, high-stakes competition on and off the field, and a love that takes a few detours. I want to tell the story of a girl who discovers the beauty in life’s imperfections.
And what the heck, we'll do another giveaway here too, for a proper hardcover edition this time. Calculate your Chinese Zodiac sign and tell me both what you are and whether that (or any other form of astrological sign) matches your personality. (I don't think I'm a particularly notable Horse, for instance, but I am totally Queen of the Virgos -- a similarity between sign and personality that fascinates me, even as I think most daily horoscopes are bunk.)
Forms, colors, densities, odors — what is it in me that corresponds with them?
- Walt Whitman
View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.
View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.
Learn more about Poetry Friday.
- Current Mood: hopeful
- Current Music:Without a Trace score music
10 Plants That Shook The World
by Gillian Richardson (Author) and Kim Rosen (Illustrator)
Booktalk: Plants might start out as leafy things growing in the earth, but they can come into our lives in unexpected ways. And believe it or not, some have even played an exciting role in our world’s history.
Snippet: The latex that tappers collect from rubber trees does not look or feel rubbery. Latex is a liquid that flows from shallow cuts in the bark of mature trees. It becomes rubber after it is pressed, to remove water, and then heated and molded into various shapes.
It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
Copyright © 2013 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.
I think it is good every once in a while to remind ourselves of the rules of logic (see great list above, for instance). I know that as I am reading some of the posts about CCSS, I wonder if somehow we have missed including LOGIC and reasoning as a skill. Kids need to know how to read something with faulty logic, to spot the truncated syllogisms (one of the favorite things I taught 8th graders all those years ago). Review the rules above and then read this post about CCSS: http://www.navigationnorth.com/the-w
See how the pencil is almost unrecognizable (and if you have not read this book, correct this oversight immediately)? And so it is with this posting. It waffles back and forth about methods for teaching. Most insidiously, it suggests that these standards were a collaborative effort that included all sorts of folks. I am not sure I can even call that twisted logic; I know that requests to participate, to have a seat at the table, were rebuffed (in much the same way they were here in Texas when the ELAR curriculum was written without any input from literacy organizations at all). This author asserts that teachers are not being told how mastery of skills is to be assessed. Apparently, the TEST part has escaped this person's attention. And apparently, this person has not seen the mountainous volumes of PD handouts and books and materials that ARE mandating instructional methods.
There are more flaws, of course, but I wonder if perhaps we could use posts such as these to demonstrate to our students how NOT to construct a logical argument, how NOT to be persuasive? Hmmm, I might just have come up with a HOW that can address the WHAT and show that the WHY is not as strong a foundation as we are led to believe.
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: contemplative
Registration is now open at the Dakotas SCBWI website for a full Novel Writing Workshop with me, October 4-6 in Custer, South Dakota. This workshop will involve my Plot Master Class on Saturday and my intensive talks on Character and Voice on Sunday, and it's the only conference appearance I'm making the rest of this year, due to my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Other than this, I do not plan to offer said Master Class again (online or in person) until next spring, so here's your chance if you want to catch it in 2013.
I will also be at LeakyCon in Portland June 27-30, participating in general shenanigans.
Finally, I will admit to using my blog as commonplace book and diary as much as means of transmitting information, and as such, I've made a habit of recording my running times here to track my progress through the years. Now I have a nice new personal best to note: The Brooklyn Half-Marathon, May 18, 2013, 1:59:28 -- with a personal best 10K in there too, at 56:39. Woo! I never get over the pleasurable strangeness of me, a longtime Enemy of All Things Exercise and In Particular Running, being able to do multiple miles in a single bound. (Or many bounds, really. You get the idea.)
by Judy Young (Author) and Andrea Wesson (Illustrator)
Booktalk: Miss Wright is a writer. She enjoys her work. Each day she sits at her desk and writes stories with marvelous characters who live exciting lives. But, except for the click-click-click of the keyboard, it is quiet in Miss Wright’s office. Too quiet. And too lonely. So Miss Wright decides she needs a pet to keep her company.
Snippet: The monkey certainly kept Miss Wright entertained, but now her stories made no sense. When Miss Wright typed, the monkey put his hands on the keyboard, too. A scramble of mixed-up letters filled the computer screen.
Copyright © 2013 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.
Gallup has a silver bullet for solving many of the world’s problems. Here it is: Every student in the world, from pre-K to higher ed, needs:
•Someone who cares about their development
•To do what they like to do each day
•To do what they are best at every day
That’s it. It should be the new bill of rights for all students -- and frankly, all people -- worldwide.
I am leery of silver bullets. But I am a huge fan of the rights of students. This list comes from a post I read this week here: http://thegallupblog.gallup.com/201
The right to access all a child needs to be successful is something I have been considering lately. I glance around the room that functions as my office (and the TV room and the room where Scout naps during the day and the room that serves as a catch all from time to time). I have an iPad, a mini iPad, a smart phone, and two laptops (one that is new and the old one that I still need to pull files from before it moves on to recycling). I have access. But I know that my students do not have the access I do. I can get online most days with little effort. I know there are others who have to head to a library or coffee shop for access. If I want a book to read, I simply have to access one of the double stacked shelves I have. I have access. But I know there are many houses where that access is not simple, where books are not at hand. So, ACCESS to me is one right I would love to be able for all kids to have.
And I include access at school as well. How many computers are in the classroom? How much access do kids have to books, to computers, to materials they can use to create something? I know there are schools with 1:1 tablet systems. And I know there are schools where a classroom might have one computer, an older one, that does not provide much access for the 20 or 30 or more kids in that room. I know there are classrooms where there are hundreds and thousands of books in the class library. And I know there are school libraries that have fewer books. The schools with inadequate access are generally, of course, in schools where you can expect inadequate access in homes, too.
There are other rights, of course. Many years ago, the International Reading Association generated a powerful piece in 1999. You can download a PDF of the statement here: www.reading.org/downloads/positions/ps10
- Current Location:home
- Current Mood: hopeful
And a bit of dueling titles, dueling type, dueling genres.