January 1, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in January

In my classroom in January, students will write an informational essay and participate in literature circles themed around "facing fear."

Happy new year! 2020 was a wild year and I'm interested to see how this one will turn out. More than ever this past year, books were my escape. I didn't meet my reading goal last year, but I've set my goal again at 104 books, which is 2 books a week or about 8.5 books a month. I don't usually set teaching goals, but I put a few measures in place before winter break began to make sure I'm starting off the year by offering even more support to students who are struggling.

Wednesdays are our asynchronous days, and I've set up parent meetings to check in with the parents of students who are still struggling with virtual learning or whose performance has declined. I host office hours two days a week (it's a mandatory part of my teaching schedule) and I sent out Google Calendar invites to those students who are still struggling with virtual learning or whose performance has declined to encourage them to attend my office hours.

Reading in January

Much of my reading is in the form of audiobooks and those I select based on what is available through the Libby app, but I also have stacks of physical TBR piles I'd love to work through. Since my audiobooks are primarily fiction middle grades and young adult titles, these physical books include adult and nonfiction titles to help balance things out a bit. Here's some books I'm hoping to read this month.

1. Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (young adult, available May 2021)
2. Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield (young adult, available May 2021)
3. A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell (nonfiction)
4. How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok (nonfiction)
5. White Rage by Carol Anderson (nonfiction)
6. The Challenging Riddle Book for Kids by Danielle Hall (nonfiction)
7. Writers on Earth by Elizabeth Kolbert and Write the World (nonfiction)
8. Tight by Torrey Maldonado (middle grades)
9. To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer (middle grades)

Teaching in January

I use the Collections curriculum for sixth grade and we'll be finishing up the "Facing Fear" collection (themed unit) when we return from winter break. We worked through some of the fiction and poetry pieces from the collection as well as a nonfiction piece and a video text before the break. The nonfiction piece and video introduce students to the science of fears and phobias and we'll continue that focus with a few more nonfiction pieces the first week back from break. You can read more about how I make the most of the Collections curriculum here.

By week two of January, we'll be ready to synthesize all of those nonfiction readings on fears and phobias in an essay. My students are constantly writing text dependent analysis responses of various lengths, but I try to balance that throughout the year with at least one essay of each of the three types of writing: informational, argument, and narrative. This essay will satisfy the informational type, but also allow students to practice research skills. Students will include information from their readings about fears and phobias and do some additional research about a phobia of choice.

Having my students pull information primarily from texts they've already read produces better quality writing. Students are already familiar with the information and are better able to put it into their own words. This is especially helpful for my special education students. I also provide a list of websites for students to use as a starting point for their research to ensure that my students are able to find quality information about their phobia of choice. Having students write from sources and limiting their research also makes the writing process less drawn out. We can go from selecting a topic to formatting a bibliography in about two weeks.

By the final week of January, we'll be ready to kick off our literature circles connected to the "Facing Fear" collection. Students have a choice of reading one of six novels:

1. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
2. Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
3. Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
4. The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz
5. A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
6. Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

The literature circles will span four weeks with each week focused on a different literary skill: character, conflict, point of view, and plot. Students will engage in skill based writing and activities each week and participate in discussions with their literature circle group twice a week. I'll draw many of the activities from this list of ideas that have worked successfully in the past.

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In my classroom in January, students will write an informational essay and participate in literature circles themed around "facing fear."

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