What I'm Reading & Teaching in April

April 02, 2021

Our "dealing with disaster" unit started with a mini research project and poetry, and in April will move on to other texts and narrative writing.

This week is my Spring Break and after a full month of hybrid teaching, I just barely made it. While I am overjoyed to no longer be spending my days alone in my classroom, it is a serious struggle to balance the needs of students in person and online. I never feel like either group is getting enough of my time and attention. Strategies I used for collaboration when my students were 100% virtual now have to be tweaked to accommodate social distancing in the classroom and avoid feedback issues from students being on Zoom in the classroom.

The stress and exhaustion of teaching this past month meant that I spent most evenings lying on the couch with a book. I read all but one title on my March TBR list and a total of 12 titles, bringing my total reads for the year up to 32. A tough month for teaching turned into a great month for reading.

Reading in April
In March, I read 12 books: 2 adult titles (one was a memoir), 6 young adult titles, 3 middle grade titles (all of those were audiobooks), and 1 poetry collection. The rest of this week will hopefully be filled with more reading. Here's what I'm hoping to read:

1. Where It All Lands by Jennie Wexler (young adult, available July 2021)
2. Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (young adult, available November 2021)
3. Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler (young adult, available May 2021)
6. You've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (young adult, available November 2021)
7. Enduring Freedom by by Trent Reedy and Jawad Arash (young adult, available May 2021)

Teaching in April
Leading up to spring break, I kicked off our final unit focused on the theme of dealing with disaster. After an introduction to man made and natural disasters as well as disaster preparedness, students chose a disaster to research and analyze its impact on humans. This is the first project of the year where I chose students groups; they did get to rank their topics and indicate if they wanted to work alone or in a group of two or three. Coordinating group work was tricky since some students were at home and some were in the classroom and that changed halfway through the week. Presenting was also tricky since my students at home often have difficult hearing my students in the classroom. My solution was to have the in person students sit right next to our classroom microphone and speak directly into it.

The week that followed I had originally planned to focus on Ray Bradbury's short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," but instead decided to continue our focus on poetry (you can read all about our March Madness Poetry Tournament here) and spend the week before break focused on poetry centered around Hurricane Katrina. The poems “After the Hurricane” by Rita Williams-Garcia and "Watcher: After Katrina, 2005" by Natasha D. Trethewey both focus on events after the hurricane as their titles suggest. Since my students were born several years after the hurricane hit, I use a mini documentary featuring spoken word poet Shelton Alexander and his experience at the Superdome to help build background knowledge before digging into the poems. We discussed tone, point of view (speaker), repetition, and structure (traditional versus free verse), most of which was a review from earlier studies of poetry. Students were very engaged with the topic and next year I'll add in opportunities to learn more about the disaster.

When we return from break, we'll continue our focus on real disasters with an informational ready about the Boxing Day Tsunami titled "Mammoth Shakes and Monster Waves, Destruction in 12 Countries" by Brenda Z. Guiberson. I tried out having students create visual summaries (sketchnotes) with this reading last year and will likely do that gain this year as well as practice identifying cause and effect text structure. I'll also use a jigsaw activity to help students write a text dependent analysis since this is a longer reading. You can read more about how I use jigsaws here and more about my process for practicing text dependent analysis here.

Then I'll move on to imagined disasters with "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury, focusing on personification and how setting impacts plot. I haven't explicitly taught students the part of the plot diagram so I'm hoping to work that in here this year. I also have to think about how I'll revise some of the activities I used last year with this short story. I used skits to help students understand the relationship between setting and plot and also allowed students to create a skit to summarize the story after we finished reading. I'm not quite sure how that type of movement and student interaction would work while social distancing.

Following reading that short story, I'm debating moving into a historical fiction narrative piece (students will research a disaster to be at the center of their narrative) or our final novels of the year (parallel novels Life As We Knew It and The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer) or maybe both. I'd like to have students try out the format of the books (dated journal entries) for their own narratives, but might also want to to work through just the narrative writing first since it involves research as not to have to many different pieces within my lessons. I also need time to plan out this final novel unit since I only taught one of the two novels last year and need to decide how I'll handle the student choice this year.

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Our "dealing with disaster" unit started with a mini research project and poetry, and in April will move on to other texts and narrative writing.


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