Teen Book Recommendations Needed

There is an increasing appetite among STJ bloggers for fresh books to read. At the STJ Library blog the list of books read and reviewed keeps increasing, however, I fear the lack of choice in our current library stacks may soon inhibit this momentum.

So, I’d like to try something to abate/assuage my fears.

In my vision, I’d like to have a solid list of “teen recommended books” in my hand that I’d like to have the library acquire … some day.

So here’s what I’d like you to do:

  1. Create a single “Top 10” post identifying and justifying in a sentence or two a top 10 list of books you would like to read.
  2. For each text you list, be sure the link has the book’s ISBN-10 number (ie. link to the book at amazon.ca).
  3. identify at least one Canadian author
  4. identify at least one “non-fiction” title
  5. justify your choice of text after considering course focus questions
  6. Bonus: Add a “Showcase Widget” to your sidebar that does the same.
  7. Optional Extra Bonus: Create a “Listmania” or “Wishlist” list at Amazon.ca
  8. pingback or leave comment with a link to your post here

I’ve added a few widgets to the Library blog with links to libraries, resources, and reviews to help get you started. However, I personally find Amazon’s “listmania” feature quite useful.

Precious Gifts: The Consequences of Reading in Grade 10

A student asked me today, “When are we going to start that Poetry unit?”

I have more than once looked at the cardboard box of Grade 10 poetry textbooks and asked the same question. The box sits neglected in an my otherwise abandoned classroom as I have spent the entire semester teaching in the library or computer labs.

“But we would have to stop what we are doing,” I replied, “and I like what we are doing.”

These are the times I have to remind myself that it is not so much about what text we are reading, it is about about what we are doing with the text we are reading. The “what” we read is secondary to the “how” or “why”. In Language Arts the “ends” is the “means.”

Students need to read some every day, and write some every day, be accountable to someone every day. The formula seems intuitive enough to me.

“Schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” — Jean Piaget

I really see the “new” gains made by this simple formula with this semester’s Grade 10 class.

For this class, as any other, success emphasized the following: individual work habits, homework, home reading, school reading, keeping track of missing or late assignments, attendance, accounting for reading/homework witnessed by parents, and keeping extracurricular coaches “in the loop.” By Christmas break, 14 students will have read over 80 books.

Students have overwhelmingly been proud of the books they have read, proud of the writing they have done. They wrote about themselves, other texts, and the world. They picked their own texts, they selected their own focus questions, they developed their own voices.

This class was special, we were in a library every day. We surfed the net and wrote to a blog, every day. I enjoyed reading responses to dozens of different books by emerging and maturing voices. With the iblogs, I checked that progress every day.

We put our feet up if they were clean, we traded in a lousy book for a better one. We read and wrote as much or as little as we were able. We took time to read, time we tracked in detail every day.

This is the first class I have ever required students to have a Public Library card. Radical stuff.

This is the first class where every student kept a “Reading Log” and I insisted that parents and teachers sign as witness every time the student read. I even invented an arbitrary calculation: “Home Reading Ratio”. Students divided the number of pages read by the number of pages read at home.

I am embarrassed to postulate that I may have students, in older grades, that have NEVER read a book that the class has not read together. I will never say that about these readers.

Each student received a tonne of time to read, a tonne of time to connect. Precious gifts.

Better directions for In The News assignments for L.A. 9

Pick a question(s) from “The Human Condition” course focus questions.

Read a news story(or 3-5 related stories) that in some way explore “The Human Condition.” (adding RSS widgets from cbc.ca/rss/ is a great way to do this.)

Write about the news while at the same time responding to the focus question(s).

Make sure your writing is in your own voice at all times, and that after reading your writing the reader learns something about the news story, something about “The Human Condition”, and something about your personal identity.

Who am I? We often speak of one’s “personal identity” as what makes one the person one is. Your identity in this sense consists roughly of those properties that make you unique as an individual and different from others. Or it is the way you see or define yourself. Or it may be the network of values and convictions that structure your life.

An example from me illustrates the question, Why do we do what we do?.

From my example, what is learned about the news? What is learned about how I see “The Human Condition”(hint: which question(s) have I attempted to answer)? What is learned about my personal identity?

Please pingback a new sample of your writing about the news to this post, and/or leave a comment.

Focus Questions for LA 9, English 10, and English 20

After mulling over the possibilities of focus in my own mind, discussion in the STJ forums amongst students, and reflecting on literature choices from the first two weeks of class I’ve decide the following:

Language Arts 9 will focus on “The Human Condition – In Search of Self.” Early course discussions emphasized relationships (family and friends) and feelings that confuse or hinder the development of new relationships. We’ve seen doubts and fears in our approach to self and others and we’ll continue to grow in our maturing voices and sincerity.

English 10 will focus on “Decisions – Action or Apathy.” Students have been focusing on adolescent decision making: pressures to fit, or not; conflicts between work, family, and school; dealing with consequences to decisions and exploring the role of emotions in “life’s lessons.”

English 20 will focus on “World Perspectives – The Social Experience.” The discussions of our first text, Brave New World, have really determined our focus for us. The discussions go well beyond a defense of personal happiness(or lack thereof) and explore individual, group, and social responsibility. We’ll need to emphasize further the role of literature as a means of Social Criticism. We need to bring into the classroom real analysis of systems that exemplify shortcomings in Canadian Society.

These focus questions will heavily influence all major assignments and the mid-term exams in LA 9, English 10, and English 20.

Canadian Poetry Unit Plan

I’ve selected three mini-units for our study of Canadian Poetry:

Throughout your study, think carefully and creatively about responses to your course focus questions. Maintain a connection to characters you’ve already studied. Extend your discussion of image, symbol, and archetype. Consider: Principal Images of Heaven and Hell and Principal Images of Innocence and Experience.

Short Story Unit Plan

I have a variety of online etexts of classic short stories.
Each story is linked to a discussion forum of the author.
I have a Short Story Study Guide template. I figure this template will suffice for a multi-threaded response from a blog. Design a clear “map” for me to follow for assessment.
I have a list of Critical Questions(each topic linked to a discussion forum as well). Pick and choose whatever question you like to fill out your guide.
I have a page of Focus Questions for the entire course. Choose your overall thematic focus from this list.
I have a bank of exams for each of the short stories (view a sample quiz, oh, you’ll need the hint for the password).

Your Task:
First, work alone on any one story, all your work on one story should be in your own blog(dedicate one post as a “map”). 3 days. Quiz #1: November 14.
Second, work in pairs on another story, all your work must link collaboratively between your two blogs. 3 days. Quiz #2: November 19.
Finally, work alone or in pairs (or larger groups) on a third story, your response can be in an acceptable collaborative format. 3 days. Quiz#3: November 23.


Quiz 20%, Study Guide 80%.(x3)

A novel study and a variety of poems remain as requirements in the course. Diploma Part A: January 15, 2008. The Novel should be done before Christmas break to allow for poetry study in January. Consider extra readings from the reading list.

Trackback your 3 responses here.

Prepare for English Language Arts Finals

For those in the midst, or looking ahead at finals in my LA classes(9, 10-1, 20-1, 20-2, 30-1, 30-2).

Consider the outcomes we’ve tried to achieve.

Enhancing the artistry of communication has been a strong technical focus. Skills mastered include using online blogging tools, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, even graphical enhancements using Photoshop or audio/video podcasting tools have been included where time permitted and initiative taken. Participation on an online forum has generated a myriad of useful tips/reminders, questions/answers. There will be no speadsheets on the final, the use of Word will be necessary for English 30.

Each course has been structured around Focus Questions and related questions: English 10, English 9.

Emphasis on social networking, peer review/support/criticism has been critical for developing critical thought and reflection for writers defending an idea.

Each course has a reading list: English 10, English 30. Not every title has been studied intensively(or at all), but the proportion of attention paid to those pieces that were studied in class deserve the same level of attention on the final. Of course, those who choose additional literature from the list to focus on in the final deserve to have that initiative rewarded as well. If you choose to focus on Shakespeare, your audience gets tougher, I’ve noticed.

An English 30 paper looking at how the images/symbols/archetypes of Sophocles and Kingsolver relate to personal freedom to would be intriguing. Why not an English 10 paper discussing the threat of fanaticism by comparing the speeches of Mark Antony, Joseph Strorm, and Eamon De valera? What does Søren Kierkegaard have to do with every page you’ve ever read or written?

Extras, everyone should be able to link to Wikipedia for literary terms, difficult vocabulary, or just the odd or eccentric idea; can anyone incorporate the Hayflick Limit into their paper? Everyone has seen video and heard an mp3, but are any daring enough to Podcast their final essay? A carefully edited U2 mp3 snip, an embedded flash video of Ophelia Simpson, a slideshow?

rubric.pngThe only limit is to abide the first line of every rubric you’ve ever attached to any assignment:

I _________________ honestly declare that the work is what I have done. In circumstances when I have quoted a certain authority, I have clearly indicated what is a quote and the author. 

A Blogger’s Code of Ethics contains truths far older than the phenomenon of blogging.

English 30s will have no access to internet, filesharing, etc etc. English 10s can have it all.