What I'm Reading & Teaching in May

May 03, 2021

In between school benchmarks and state testing, we're reading parallel novels from the Life As We Knew It series and writing a disaster narrative.

After another month of virtual teaching, I thought I would feel more comfortable and settled into a routine, but instead I find myself feeling more bored and frustrated. There's only so much shaking things up I can do while still feeling connected with my in person and online students. There's also so many aspects of teaching that are just more complicated with some students at home and some in the classroom. 

The good news is that there's only a little over a month of the school year left. The bad news is that next year may not look much different, but I can't process that right now, so I'm trying to actively ignore it. At this point though, I've taught in person, virtually, and hybrid, so whatever next year brings can't be more challenging. I've also got a repertoire of activities and lesson materials for all three scenarios, so next year will not be me recreating the wheel, maybe just fine tuning the spokes. 

Reading in May
In April, I read 9 books, six of those were young adult and the other three were middle grades (and all of those were audiobooks). This is the fewest number of books I've read in a month so far this year and I can't pinpoint why. I still averaged about 2 books a week, keeping me on track to reach my goal of 104 books by the end of the year, and worked through most of the titles on my April TBR list. However,  this month I want to be more conscious of what I am spending my time doing when I could be reading. I may be able to sneak in some reading time in class during independent reading time. Here's what I am hoping to read:
May has just barely started and I know it is going to be a whirlwind. So many teaching days are lost to testing: first our school's benchmark (MAP)  testing and then state standardized testing (the PSSAs). As we continued with our dealing with disaster narrative, I debated moving into a historical fiction narrative piece (students 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), and decided to do both at the same time. My periods are currently 80 minutes long, so we spend the first half hour dedicated to activities connected to our parallel novels, the second half hour on developing our narratives, and then the final twenty minutes of class reading.

Our narratives are still in the development stages. Students picked a natural or manmade disaster to be the focus of their narrative and then researched the disaster as well as its setting. I provided students with two lists of disasters as a starting point, but they could choose other topics with my approval. Incorporating a real disaster allows students to practice their research skills at the start of the writing process and practice MLA formatting for a bibliography at the end of the writing process. Once students have a grasp of what happened during the disaster and where it occurred, they create the main character for their narrative. Students have a choice of basing the character off of a real person involved in the disaster or starting from scratch. Finally students will map out the plot of their narrative, making the connection between the disaster they researched and the character they created. Before we start drafting, we'll work on writing dialogues and hooks. After drafting, we'll work through revisions focused on adding figurative language and imagery.

We just started our parallel novels last week. Both center around the disaster of an asteroid hitting the moon, knocking it closer to Earth, but have two different settings and protagonists. Miranda is a white high school sophomore living in fairly rural Southeastern Pennsylvania and Alex is a Puerto Rican high school junior living in New York City. As students started reading the first few chapters of their books, they explored nonfiction texts and media about asteroids, the relationship between the Earth and the moon, and the likelihood of a disaster like the one depicted in the novels actually occurring. Now that students are a few chapters in, they are tracking changes that have happened in the character's personal lives as a result of the disaster as well as changes that have happened in the larger world around them. Assignments like these allow students to discuss in groups of other students reading the same text, but we can also share out as a whole class and make connections between the two books. I am keeping the assignments are generic as possible so I can utilize them for both novels. Over the next two weeks, I will work in some grammar review using examples from the books. I haven't decided yet on a final project, but will try to work in something fun and creative after testing ends.

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In between school benchmarks and state testing, we're reading parallel novels from the Life As We Knew It series and writing a disaster narrative.


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