According to Goodreads, where I have been faithfully documenting just about every book I read this year, I have consumed more than 50 books (and counting). I had set a goal for myself of reading 40 books over the course of the year of 2011, and exceeded that by just more than 10 books. I started using Goodreads a few years ago but this last year, I was sort of obsessive with it. It’s one of those spaces that is both a source of book ideas and also a place to add what you know to the general cloud of data.
So, what does the year say about my reading habits?
I did a lot of read-alouds with my youngest son. We’re now in that prime age of 7 years old when he is getting to love more complex stories, so Harry Potter, the Throne of Fire series, and more were a hit with him. Another year or so, and the read-aloud moments might be more difficult to sustain. For now, I am enjoying the time together, with a book between us.
I read less graphic novels this year than any other year in recent times. I can’t quite say why, but I did.
The longest book I read was Reamde by Neil Stephenson, and I still think he could have cut about 300 pages and still had a good book.
I had 14 books with the top rating and just one book with the lowest rating. I think I am a generous reviewer.
I can’t help but notice a few books on my “current reading” have been there for some time. These are mostly collections but still … get ’em read!
I created my own category of “abandoned” books this year. I am at the point where I don’t want to waste my precious reading time with a bad book. I feel guilt when I abandoned a story, but I can live it with (as long as the next book is good)
There is a solid mix of fiction and non-fiction in my book pile. I like to mix it up.
I have 24 books on my “to read” list, and a pile of books by my bedside table.
So, what is my goal for 2012? Bump it up to 45 books! I think I can do it.
One of my student’s science-based video games is in the prime “Spotlight” position in the Gamestar Mechanic community, which means lots of players are now playing his game. It is one of the better games that my students have created. He will be happy to see that all of his effort is getting not only recognition, but also playing time by many players. There are still things he can do to make it better and we will be talking about the revision process after vacation.
I often go into movie adaptations of my favorite books with a feeling of dread: what have they done now? The Lightning Thief, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and too many others to list have all failed to live up to my expectations as the filmmakers have taken a bit too much license with the stories and characters and mangled them to the point of frustration. I don’t expect a movie to be perfectly in tune with a book, but I do expect it to be true to the heart of the book.
Hugo does that. Thankfully.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret remains one of my favorite young adult books of recent years. It was one of those discoveries that makes your eyes open wide and think, this is what a book can be! The illustrations were not just partners to the story; they were the story. The use of image and metaphor and history … it call came together with precision that also tugged at your heartstrings. Author/illustrator Brian Selznick hit a high note with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and send me searching for old movies on YouTube from the beginning of movies, and the book had me wondering about the crafty ways Selznick put the gears of the story in motion, and brought it to a nice conclusion. (His newest book, Wonderstruck, is just as wonderful but in a different way).
Yesterday, I finally got to see the movie adaption by Martin Scorcese — simply titled Hugo — and I was so relieved that the movie really does capture so much of the spirit and essence of the book. Scorcese’s filmmaking abilities are on full display here (particularly the use of the railroad station as the setting and the giant clocks that form the theme of the story), and he is faithful to the story. In doing so, Scorcese gives us a wonderful lesson about the early age of film, and the pioneers who paved the way for movies to become a part of our lives.
So Scorcese got it right.
Now I wonder if The Lorax will be any good …. one of my all-time favorite picture books and if the previews are any indication, the storyline is quite different from the book. I’ll keep an open mind, but I’ll be ready for disappointment, too. Sigh.
I’d love to be able to say that I hear no echoes of my own classroom experiences in John Pearson’s Learn Me Gooder stories, which follows a fictional teacher throughout the year in a series of email correspondences with his friends and relates all of the odd things that go on inside of a high-energy third grade elementary classroom. But I do, darn it. I hear those echoes and I can clearly see the students as if they were standing right in front of me, with off-kilter insights, emotional baggage and wide smiles at the fun of being part of a classroom where anything goes. (Note of disclosure: Pearson provided me with a free ebook version of Learn Me Gooder in hopes that I would do a review, but we had not arrangement regarding positive or negative review).
Luckily, my own experience in the classroom is not quite as odd as that of the teacher in Learn Me Gooder. Educator Jack Woodson, whose teaching tales formed the narrative of the first Learn Me Good novel by Pearson, survives the turmoil of teaching in a Texas school beset by standardized testing, immigrant families arriving and departing with little notice, language barriers and more by using humor to lighten the load. Pearson entertains, but also educates, as he explores the daily life of a teacher through the wide-eyed lens of humor.
So, yes, I laughed at much of what goes on with Jack Woodson. I laughed hard and loud.(Plus, Woodson finally gets a girlfriend in this second book. See? Even teachers have lives!)
The use of the email correspondence with friends from Woodson’s past job is a smart narrative touch by Pearson, as we see the back-and-forth emerge with playfulness, and some wistfulness of Woodson sometimes regretting leaving there for teaching but never enough to leave his kids behind. And in the end, it is Woodson’s nurturing nature and understanding of his wacky students that anchors this book firmly into the ground, and those very qualities of Woodson the teacher make Learn Me Gooder a recommended read for any teacher or any parent or anyone who has ever been in a classroom that made you just want to shake your head and smile.
Two of my three sons loved the Charlie Bone series. One read all of the books; the other listened to most of them on audio. Me? I found the writing too slow-paced and too much like Harry Potter to really get into the Charlie Bone narrative (the story tells of a boy who goes to a school to develop his magical abilities to enter into photographs, and he comes to realize he is one of a line of descendents of the powerful Red King.)
Now writer Jenny Nimmo returns with The Chronicles of the Red King, which tells the historical tale of the original ancestor. I’m happy to say that I found the writing more lively than Charlie Bone, and the characters of Timiken (the king in search of a kingdom that he can call home) and his sister, Zebaydah, and their camel, Gabar, (yep, a camel with attitude) are nicely done. I did enjoy most of all the story of where the magic comes from — in the guise of the last web spun by the last Moon Spider, woven with tears and rain and more, and given to Timoken by a small magical creature who gets destroyed by an army of evil creatures who want the moon cloak.
I read this novel as a read-aloud with my youngest son who loved the story. It was a quick read, just right for the holiday season.Clearly, Nimmo has further plans for the series (this is book one) and while I don’t think it is the best book I read this year, it was decent, and I can see my son and I following the series in between larger books (we’re reading Summerland right now by Michael Chabon … it’s wonderful).
In early January, I am going to be joining some blogging compadres with a series of posts that will center around using mentor texts for digital composition. The idea is to consider how we are using mentor texts for students as they make a shift toward writing with digital tools, and what that might look like. I am still mulling over what I want to write about, but Bill Bass is starting to pull together a site that will aggregate our posts together, so consider this the first shot across the bow!
If you have been following my posts the past two weeks, you must be curious about the video games my students have built in Gamestar Mechanic. I’ve been playing them in order to assess them, and captured a few on screenshot, and then loaded them into Animoto as a fun way to share out a quick view of some of the games.
I had the honor of having some writing posted at the Nerdy Book Club this morning. I wrote about those students who read furtively under the table as the teacher tries to teach. If you get a moment, give it a read, or you can listen to the podcast version, too. In either case, make sure you pop the Nerdy Book Club blog into your RSS and capture some interesting insights into why we love reading so much.
My science teacher colleague and I have been struggling with the assessment part of our Geological Game Design Unit. We ended up with a checklist that focuses in on these areas:
As we begin to play through their games, we will be determining if the projects met the expectations we set out for students or not. But it feels a bit wishy-washy, and the assessment tool will clearly have to be refined and worked on more if we are to do this project again next year. I know assessment of digital work remains a tricky area, but we need to have rich tools at our disposal to make sure the learning is transparent and assessable as much as possible. It’s not enough to say “it’s cool” or “they’re engaged.”
My students handed in an assignment to write a review of a favorite video game, as a form of persuasive writing and as another writing connection to our Video Game Design Unit. There are plenty of great ones, and we were using our iPod touches to podcast their reviews as well. A few of the students turned their attention to Gamestar Mechanic, to review the site itself or a game on the site. I had not quite expected that to happen, but it was fine.
Here, then, are a few student voices about Gamestar Mechanic, which we have been immersed in for the past few weeks.