January 1, 2022

What I'm Reading & Teaching in January

Our "Facing Fear" unit continues with nonfiction texts, a synthesis essay, and literature circles. Read on for this month's reading and teaching plan.

Happy New Year! I’ve spent as much of my time as possible over the break not thinking about school, avoiding social media, and limiting my news intake so that I could actually try to relax during my time off. 

My school will return from break in person, continue to require masks, and hope for the best. Our students will continue to be seated 3 feet apart and while we have been instructed to put a pause on group work, we aren't yet reverting back to a standardized seating chart across class.

I don't like to think the worst, but with the tremendous surge in Covid cases I'm just not sure how schools will be able to be fully staffed (we were already struggling with that) and how teachers will meet the needs of absent students (we were already struggling with that too). I'm bracing myself for a shift to virtual learning and dreading the back and forth I fear we might go through in the coming weeks and months. 

Reading in January
At the start of 2020, I set a reading goal of 104 books for the year (two books a week), but the start of the pandemic really set me back. I still made it to 80 books, but in 2021 I was even more determined to reach that goal of 104 books. I exceeded my goal by the fall, upped my goal a few times, and ended up reading a total of 135 books! Tracking my reading and setting a goal helps me stayed focused on reading (and off of social media). It also pushed me to read lots of middle grade titles in my classroom library so I can make better recommendations to my students.

To wrap up the year, I read 11 books in December. Seven of those were physical books (though parts of some of those were also read on my Kindle; I keep the physical book at school, but often check out a copy on my Kindle to read at home) and 4 audiobooks. All of them were middle grades titles. It took me a while to shift my tastes from YA to MG, but I think it was all about finding the right authors and books.

Our "Facing Fear" unit continues with nonfiction texts, a synthesis essay, and literature circles. Read on for this month's reading and teaching plan.

Here's what I read in December:
1. Supergifted by Gordon Korman (middle grade fiction)
2. Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (middle grade verse novel)
3. Bearwalker by Joseph Bruchac (middle grade fiction)
4. The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy (middle grade fiction)
5. Efren Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (middle grade fiction)
6. King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (middle grade fiction)
7. Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (middle grade thriller)
8. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia (middle grade fantasy)
9. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (middle grade fiction)
10. The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen (middle grade fantasy)
11. The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney (middle grade verse novel)

This year, I’ll be setting my goal at 104 books again. Part of my success with that goal this past year was listening to audiobooks and reading along side my students during their independent reading time. I will also continue to try to read a mix of books I already have in my classroom library so I can recommend them to students and books I might want to add. I ordered a few new books over the break to add to my classroom library. With no school library for students to access, adding new titles to my own classroom library is key for keeping reading excitement high.

Here's what I'm hoping to read in January:
1. Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden (middle grade fiction)
2. Ancestor Approved by Cynthia Leitich Smith (middle grade anthology)
3. Rebound by Kwame Alexander (middle grade verse novel)
4. Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly (middle grade fantasy)
5. Almost Home by Joan Bauer (middle grade fiction)
6. Eggs by Jerry Spinelli (middle grade fiction)
7. Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac (middle grade historical fiction)
8. Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds (middle grade fantasy)

Our "Facing Fear" unit continues with nonfiction texts, a synthesis essay, and literature circles. Read on for this month's reading and teaching plan.

Teaching in January
The irony is not lost on me that when I return to school full of fear and uncertainty, we'll be returning to our unit on "Facing Fear." In December, we read some short stories and poetry connected to the theme and just started to learn about the science behind fears and phobias. I teach at a science focused school so each of my three units has science connections. 

During our first week back we'll read two additional readings about fears and phobias, one about glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) and the other about treating phobias through exposure therapy. Then we'll get started on one of our major writing assignments for the year, an essay that is part informational and part research. Students synthesize the nonfiction readings we've read together and then research a phobia of choice. Part of their essay is about fears and phobias in general and part focuses on the specific phobia students researched. You can read more about this essay in last January's blog post.

By the end of the month we'll be ready to kick off the literature circles that connect to the unit theme of "Facing Fear." I spent a good amount of time over the summer reconsidering my choices for last year and reading new possibilities. While almost all of my students enjoyed their book selections last year, I wanted to make sure my selections were diverse without centering trauma or reinforcing stereotypes.

The titles I offered last year were: 
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

I hoped to change out four of the six titles, but was only allowed to change two (don't want to waste books!). I swapped out On My Honor for Freak The Mighty Rodman Philbrick (I used it as a read aloud last year and students loved it) and Black Brother, Black Brother for Tight by Torrey Maldonado. If you are interested in reading more about how I run literature circles, I put together a series of blog posts this summer that covers everything:

My writing and grammar instruction is making slow and steady progress. After starting the year with a review of grammar basics: nouns, verbs, and adjectives, we've learned about different sentence types: simple sentences, compound sentences, and most recently complex sentences. We also worked on sentences with serial commas in between compound and complex sentences, so students would not mistake a sentence with a list as compound or complex. 

Right before break we finished up our "What I Love" writing pieces. The requirements for the pieces included using compound sentences, serial commas, and a sentence with an "interrupter" (a type of complex sentence). Upon our return from break, I have a review planned for everything we've learned so far and some small, hands-on activities to work on types of complex sentences, but haven't yet decided on a topic or structure for our next choice writing piece. 

I feel very positive about the progress we've made so far this year with writing. I haven't changed much in the way of the academic writing students do, but increasing the amount of choice writing and practicing skills there has been enjoyable for students. I am hopeful that at the end of the year I'll pass on students who love to read and write. 

Our "Facing Fear" unit continues with nonfiction texts, a synthesis essay, and literature circles. Read on for this month's reading and teaching plan.

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