Barbara Dee has a gift for taking tough topics and writing about them on a middle grade level. She doesn't "water them down." She relates. And her new book, Maybe He Just Likes You, is no different.
Mila is a 7th grader who becomes a victim of sexual harassment. It begins with an awkward hug from a boy and moves to other boys grabbing her butt, brushing against her arm or her leg, and making comments about the way her clothes fit her developing body and laughing. The boys even make a game of out. Her friends blow it off, saying it is just flirting and that she is overreacting. Mila feels that no one takes her seriously, and she has nowhere to turn.
I became frustrated with the teachers in the beginning of the book. I couldn't understand why the adults in Mila's life didn't see what was going on and when Mila tried to talk about it, they appeared to ignore it as well.
Middle school kids are dealing with so much. Hormones, puberty, and rapid growth and how these affect their social, emotional, and psychological health. Their relationships with their friends become more important than the relationships with their parents. One day they want to talk about their problems, and the next day, I can't get them to talk. Social media adds another complicated layer.
The behavior of the adults in the book hit me hard. When I mentioned this on Twitter, Barbara tweeted back, "The adults are well-meaning--they just don't see."
By the end of the book, I realized this was indeed true. Understanding middle school kids is tricky, but I don't recall a student ever coming to me about incidents such as those that Mila experienced.
Or have I just not noticed? Have I missed the signs? Has there been a time when a student has been afraid to talk to me when they have been a victim of sexual harassment? Do they even know what sexual harassment means?
Or have I unintentionally been a well-meaning adult?
This is such an important book for middle school students AND middle school teachers. For many, this will be a book about consent and crossing the line. For me, this book was about making sure I am NOT just a well-meaning adult.
This is a book you will want on your shelves when it comes out in October.
This past week, Donalyn Miller wrote a post about her annual #bookaday on the Nerdy Book Club Blog. She explains how the #bookaday came about and the guidelines to participate. But toward the end of the post, she writes this: "Ultimately, the measure of a reading life isn't how many books we read. We measure our reading lives in the experiences, knowledge gained, the conversations and relationships we have with other readers, or the further reading inquiry, or action our reading experiences spark." Like many things Donalyn says, this got me thinking and has left me with many questions. As hard as I try to be a literacy advocate in and out of my classroom, I believe I can always do more and be better.
I have been thinking about how can I make reading experiences stronger in my classroom? How can I create different ways for my students to show their knowledge through reading? How can I improve conversations about books and our reading lives, which will build reading relationships? How can I engage students, which will spark that desire to read and learn more?
I brainstormed and made a list of things to think about this summer, which I share with you.
I can be more consistent with my book talks and give more opportunities for students to talk about books among themselves. Summer is a great time to revisit books I have read and to think about the books I will share in the fall.
I can be more consistent with making reading time in class a priority. Some times I let other important-things-at-the-moment take up the time set aside for reading. I believe Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher have said if they aren't reading at school, then they aren't reading at home. It is difficult to have reading experiences when students aren't reading.
I can strengthen my reading conferences. Making time to confer with every student regularly allows me to create reading relationships.
I can continue to read myself. When I sit down with my students to confer, they know we are talking reader to reader, not teacher to student. Being familiar with the books in my library helps me to recommend books to students, solidifying that reader to reader relationship.
I can create different ways for students to share what they have learned through reading. Reading response is a part of my standards and is expected. But the response does not always have to be a written paragraph or essay.
I can find texts that will spark their thinking and lead them to other reading. Thanks to the connections on social media, finding texts that are timely and relevant for my students is much easier. Summer is the perfect time to search for these.
As Donalyn said, it is these experiences that ultimately measure a reading life. This fall, students from four elementary schools will converge in my classroom, each coming with their own set of reading experiences. These experiences have made or have broken a reader and contribute to students' attitudes about reading.
My students come from AR reading experiences. Points are how they measure their reading lives. I have many students who come in saying they don't like to read; some even say they hate reading.
It becomes my job early in the year to find out about their experiences. But most importantly, to create better ones.
Ones that will become a new measure of their reading lives, hopefully, for years to come.
Back in January many people were making reading goals for 2019. I wondered where were the writing goals? Finding none, I created my hashtag, shared it on social media and small group of us made writing plans.
This is the first of four check in posts. How's it going? Are you checking things off of your list? It is time to share your progress and celebrate - remember everything counts as a celebration!
Here is my progress on my list of writing goals for 2019:
Write at least 100 blog posts. I currently have 43 posts written in three months, so I am on track to reach 100.
Rethink the purpose of my blog and write more about literacy for literacy teachers. I have decided to not rethink the purpose of my blog, but creating a new blog/website instead. I hope to roll that our by the end of my school year.
Explore more professional opportunities. I have an idea for a professional article, but have not committed to anything yet.
Open my eyes to the small things around me and write more poetry. April (Poetry Month) is here, so we will see how this goes!
Keep a writer's notebook. I bought a new Moleskin notebook last week (still waiting to write in it!)
Complete the Slice of Life March Challenge. Completed the challenge!
And now for the biggie - I have wanted to write a professional book, even if no one ever reads it! My goal is to write an outline and look into the publishing process. This goal got squashed a couple of weeks ago. I am trying to figure it all out, once again.
Now it's your turn. If you have an update post, please link it in the comments and share it on social media using #letswrite2019. Please try to visit those participating and leave a comment of support.
Did you miss out on the original post and want to know more about #letswrite2019? Check it out here. It's not too late to still join us!
Our next update will be June 30th, but until then...Happy Writing!
The challenge has ended, and another month of writing, commenting, wishing to comment more, building community, meeting new friends and reacquainting with old friends, is complete. Thank you for those of you who read my words and graciously commented on them or connected with them in some way this month.
I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Sometimes we just need a little help from our friends.
Today, I was teaching parenthetical elements using commas, dashes, and parentheses. One class was just not getting it. I showed different examples from books they were reading, and I explained it more than one way. But it just wasn't clicking.
I called my assistant principal who used to be an English teacher.
"Are you in middle of something right now?"
"I'm giving an assessment, but what do you need?"
"I'm teaching parenthetical elements, and they aren't getting it."
"I'll be right down."
I knew she would jump at the chance to get back into the classroom. When she peaked her head in the door, I said, "You want to teach this?"
"I'm just going to sit right over here and watch." I sat down on my conference stool and watched as she seamlessly transitioned from the role of administrator to teacher. She asked a few questions, wrote a few examples, and gave more explanation. There was an collective "Ohh..."
At lunch I sent her an email.
I loved it! I knew you would! Yes, sometimes we just need a little help from our friends.
I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge. The end of the month is approaching, and slice ideas are dwindling, and time today is running out. I am returning to an old stand-by.
i am without a slice
i keep thinking inspiration is going to hit
i wish I had a story tonight and not a list
i love my new notebook (but have not written a single word in it yet!)
i dance - never
i sing only when no one is around
i think my reading life is reaching a flow once again
i really want to go to bed (but I'm watching March Madness!)
i should be working on a slide for tomorrow's lesson
i can use today's minilesson in my own writing -- parentheses and dashes!
i like having a weekend coming up with my sister from Tennessee
i make my fingers dance on the keyboard
i always appreciate the writing that comes from not having anything to write about
I have been reading Betty Before X, a story written by the daughter of Malcolm X. The book "illuminates four important years in her mother's childhood."
Betty lived with a family who encouraged her to not look at the negatives in life but, to "look for the good and praise it." Betty, who is trying to come to terms with her "unwantedness" from her mother, begins to count her blessings.
Today, I tell the story of my day in blessings:
A warm, sunny day
A few quiet moments before students arrive
A lesson on colons
Shared laughs with colleagues
A principal who respects our time and keeps meetings short
Short lines in Walmart
A new Moleskin notebook
A writing group who (hopefully) forgives me for forgetting a writing session