Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What is Young Adult/Teen Literature?

A teacher once asked me, " What is your definition of YA (Young Adult) lit. I have yet to find one all agree on." Such a good question that I wasn't sure how to answer, and since he asked the question close to my retirement date, I didn't reply because I didn't have time to research the question before saying my "fare-thee-wells". 

This dedicated teacher wanted to use Snow Falling on Cedars in a Young Adult Literature class. I told him I had read the novel and enjoyed it very much, and while it featured young protagonists [in flashbacks], I didn't know if it was considered a YA novel - which brought us to the whole topic of defining YA/Teen Lit.

I decided today is a good day to do a little research as I have read a few books that were written for the adult market, but are titles I would like to use in an English Language Arts class.

Two online articles about this topic agree that a clear definition of what is and what is not YA literature isn't really out there. But 2014 post from the The Guardian, a British publication, and a 2013 entertainment story from The Atlantic offer some poignant ideas. 

While there are some British terms I am unfamiliar with and some vocab words I had to look up, Imogen Russel Williams of The Guardian states
the sine qua non (indispensable ingredient) of YA is an adolescent protagonist, who will probably face significant difficulties and crises, and grow and develop to some degree Patrick Ness described it as 'finding boundaries and crossing them and figuring out when you end, who you are and what shape you are.' 
Williams also talks of a genre I had not encountered - "New Adult". This target audience "features college- rather than school-aged characters and plotlines; ostensibly the next age-category up from YA". She throws such titles as Fifty Shades of Gray into this category - YIKES - "because of its student protagonist.

Nolan Feeney, The Atlantic journalist, claims the following: 
At their core, YA books are for and about teenagers and pre-teens, usually between 12 and 18 years old, but sometimes as young as 10. ... Some authors believe the intent to write for young readers is a prerequisite of YA fiction; others don’t even realize their books will be labeled as YA until after they finish writing.
Maybe readers, writers, and literary analysts cannot agree on a definition for "Young Adult" literature, but I do agree with Williams observation that "YA means challenge – encountering diverse protagonists and situations I'll never experience myself (including being a teenager again) but which stretch me to empathise with and contemplate." And I like what Feeney says about YA authors: "Many successful authors say there’s no secret to writing for teenagers. Good writing is good writing; believable characters and compelling plots are crucial regardless of who’s picking up the book." 

With that said, I recommend that good writing, strong plots, and interesting characters be the hallmarks of books used in the classroom - not to mention a reflection of community values. Because the topics, language, and situations run the gamut in YA, Teen, Adolescent, and Adult books, teachers need to consider "village standards" when choosing titles to talk about in class. 

Three books that are not necessarily targeted to teens that I would use are The Life of Pi by Yann Partel for its "magic realism" and commentary on faith; Wishing You Well by David Baldacci for its treatment of family history even though this book is a novel; Unbroken by Laura Hilldebrand for its World War II history and treatise on heroism; The Rent Collector by local author Camron Wright for a story of poverty, literacy, and hope; and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for its beautiful writing, intriguing point of view, and unique story line that takes place in Vichy France during the second world war

What books would you like to see on an approved literature list? Share your comments here or on the JCIRA Facebook page. 

Yet ANOTHER Picture Book I'd Use in the Classroom - GOING PLACES

The Reynolds brothers - Peter and Paul - collaborated on a picture book about thinking outside the box (literally) and collaboration (ironically)! Going Places stars Raphael and Maya who are excited about their school's "Going Places" contest where every student receives a box-car kit with specific instructions. At first Raphael builds his car by following those directions very carefully, but when he notices Maya is researching nature and brainstorming ideas before she even opens the box, he becomes curious. Together, the two friends work to create something wonderful.

Based upon Fablevision Learning's animated short film Above and Beyond, Peter and Paul (I wonder if they have a sister named Mary) wrote and illustrated Going Places that tells the delightful story about creativity and teamwork. My delightful friend Camille Osborn introduced me to this fun picture book as a retirement present, and I have to say I am inspired by its message. I am "re-purposing" my golden years by doing things I love to do that may or may not be what many senior citizens plan for their 60s, 70s, 80s .... (But I digress, and that's another story.)

There are so many fun activities that teachers can do with their students when using this book as an anchor. As I researched ideas, I found some resources that you and your students may be interested in. Click on the following links to explore a few.

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts about what you might use in your classroom. Please comment on this post or on the JCIRA Facebook page. Have a great, Great, GREAT day!!!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

ANOTHER Picture Book I Would Use in the Classroom

"chalk + sitting = school"

"chalk + jumping = hopscotch"

clever words + lively illustrations = This Plus That: Life's Little Equations



Amy Krouse Rosenthal is the author of this delightful book that adds, subtracts, multiplies, and divides experiences, feelings, challenges, and celebrations. And Jen Corace's fun artwork is the perfect complement!

My dear friend Rebecca Smith gave me this great picture book as a retirement gift, and on the back two pages, she placed white sticky labels so that I could add original equations after reading the book with my grandchildren. Mia, age 8, wrote "Mia + Daddy = Happy". 

To my amusement, I often see similar equations on Facebook and Twitter, and I wish I had written them down so I could share them with you, but I didn't!! The point is that after reading the book with students, they can create equations about their world along with original artwork to illustrate them! 

grumbles + rumbles = hungry for lunch time

12 hours light + 12 hours dark = autumn equinox

This can also be a fun starter or "ender" for older students. Let's say 8th graders have been reading Anne Frank - the play or her diary, and you want students to track and reflect upon the moods, experiences, and writing quality of Miss Frank. To enlist the attention of this "hard-to-engage" age group, assign partners to create life equations for Anne. Some examples might be as follows:

comfort source + confidant = Kitty 

Jews - rights + yellow stars = persecution 

Franks + Van Daans + Dussel + Mouschi = 2 many x 2 years


I hope you'll try this idea on for size, and then share some of your equations and those of your students. In the meantime, take care! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Picture Books I Would Use in the Classroom, part 1

I LOVE all books, but I have a special fondness for picture books. And even though I finally broke down and gave away about 150 tomes, I could not part with but a handful of my picture books. To my delight, when I said auf Wiedersehen to my colleagues at Jordan School District, I left with 3 new picture books - two were retirement gifts from friends, and one was a recommendation that I gave to myself: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Oliver Jeffers; Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds; and This Plus That, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace. All were published fairly recently.

If I were in the classroom - elementary or secondary - I would find a way to work these books into my curriculum because they are humorous and because they represent what I would like to see in a classroom.

The Day the Crayons Quit

In a bevy of protest letters to their owner Duncan, the crayons "wax" poetic to convince the young artist to "think outside the box" when working on his artwork. Red feels overworked; Purple, a bit of a perfectionist, grows irritated when Duncan doesn't color in the lines; and Black thinks he has more uses than merely outlining things. And so it goes. In the end, Duncan wants to make his crayon friends happy, and so he experiments with a yellow sky, a pink dinosaur, and an orange whale. Oh, and the black rainbow rules! He earns an A for coloring - but an A+ for creativity!

In this test-crazy culture we're currently experiencing, I would want my students to know there is room for creativity in my classroom. And I would also hope, students could see another message in this sweet book: Avoid jumping to conclusions and look for possibilities beyond quick assumptions. And I'm not just talking about crayons. 

I want my postings to be short, and so I'll stop here for today! In the meantime, have a great weekend! Renae

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Response to Utah Governor's Invitation for Public Comment on the State's ELA and Math Standards


A month ago, Governor Herbert - in an attempt to quell the controversy sustained by the very vocal opponents of Utah's adoption of the Utah State Standards for Language Arts and Math - invited citizens to weigh in on this topic. Today, I did that. While the original deadline was July 31, 2014, I understand citizens can still complete the survey and leave
 comments.

If you want your voice heard, here is where you go: http://www.utah.gov/governor/priorities/education.html

Once you arrive at the site, you will find links to the actual standards for ELA and Math, along with the following statement:  
The Governor has requested a special review of the Mathematics and English Language Arts Standards by a group of higher education professionals and other stakeholders, to assure they are meeting the needs of Utah students. As part of this review, we are inviting parents, teachers, education professionals and other community members to provide feedback on the content of these standards. This feedback can be positive or negative, and can address a specific standard or a subset of standards.
Next, you are invited to take the survey which asks a few basic questions: your level of support, or lack thereof, of the ELA and Math standards. I replied that I generally support these standards with continuing improvement. The survey then asks for suggestions.

This is my response for the ELA standards:
One possible suggestion is to revise Appendix B that lists excerpts from various texts representing "exemplars of reading text complexity, quality, and range & sample performance tasks related to core standards". These sample texts range from classic literature, famous speeches and documents, as well as critically acclaimed contemporary literature, but they are NOT mandated curriculum, a point many citizens miss. Nevertheless, a few exemplars do not represent some communities' standards, and so I suggest that the State Board of Education and the Utah State Office of Education include educators and parents in revising this appendix so that the exemplars are more representative of our state's standards. This process should not disregard the the purpose of the exemplars in providing samples of complex texts that challenge our students' thinking.
The following are my suggestions for math:
Math is not my expertise, but I have read over the objectives and understand that while this is NOT the "way we learned math", the standards represent stronger problem-solving procedures and make math more relevant to real-world application. Because teachers can't limit their practices to teaching "just" algebra, but must understand many mathematical concepts and then teach and guide students through them, teachers should receive more professional development. Parents are often at a loss in helping students with their homework, and so I suggest that tutoring moms and dads would be helpful and might build confidence in the standards. 
The final comment asks participants to address the pros and/or cons of the standards, requiring that statements refer to specifics of the core. Here is what I shared:
The best feature of the Utah Standards, as they presently exist, is that they represent learning objectives that build from kindergarten through grade 12. Reed Spencer, former USOE Language Arts Specialist, proposed creating aligned K-12 standards nearly a year before the Common Core State Standards became public. He and other state leaders recognized the advantages and strengths of an action that deepens learning through a spiraling effect building on what students know and are able to do from one grade to the next. Let us please NOT step backwards after so much thought, study, time, and money has been spent in bringing about improved standards that can only benefit our students.
Update: A recent Deseret News story reported that a poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates revealed 41% of Utahns oppose the "Common Core", and yet only "1 in 5 [could] accurately identify what they are". Informed or not, these opposing voices are loud and strong. Additionally, 29% of those interviewed had no opinion or admitted to not having enough information to decide.

One or two of my neighbors have asked me how I feel about the core, but they have not read the standards. Instead, they talked to me about what they had "heard about the standards" from talk show hosts and others. I offered to walk them through the actual standards, but as yet, no one has taken me up on that offer.

Through this long process, I have learned something very valuable: When people make up their minds about something, they do not want to change their viewpoints, regardless of the validity of the information. (And this doesn't just apply to educational issues!) I have investigated the opposing view points and learned that conspiracy fears drive their arguments. Quotations from radical elements have convinced many that these standards are the beginning of a secularized, liberal push to control our students' educations via the federal government.

My only response is to dothe homework by studying the information AND the distributors of that information. I really believe that a thorough study of the standards themselves will build understanding. Remember, too, that the state and local school boards that include community members have the ultimate say over what constitutes the curriculum used to teach the standards. - The government does NOT mandate what text books, trade books, speeches or novels can be used in Utah's schools. We do. But Governor Herbert hopes this survey and study will quiet the controversy. Let's cross our fingers!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Revival of Sorts

After a two-year hiatus, I am reviving Link2Literacy. I recently retired from my position as a district secondary literacy specialist, but my passion for spreading the good word of reading, writing, listening, speaking and thinking prompts me to keep at it via this blog.

My plans to continue my membership in the International Reading Association's state and local councils includes maintaining the Facebook page for Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA). The main objective is to build membership for JCIRA and UCIRA (Utah Council of the International Reading Association). In so doing I hope to provide helpful information and support for members who are either educators, lovers of literacy, or both!

As a heads-up, the opinions of Link2Literacy will represent my own, and as such, I hope members' comments will either straighten me out or pat me on the back or something in between! While I have strong opinions about many topics, I do NOT bask in controversy. That takes just too darn much energy and brings forth irritability. Consequently, cantankerous criticism should be held to a minimum.

The reason I share this heads-up is because my next post will be about my 4-year journey with the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards Utah Core State Standards. Stay tuned!


CCSS: Tempest in a Teapot?



Friday, February 10, 2012

"Warrants" vs. "Reasons" vs. "Rules:" Understanding CCSS Terms

Utah has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as the state's math and language arts core standards. Jordan School District trained all middle school language arts teachers last spring and this year those teachers are working through the ups and downs of implementation. The learning curve is definitely a bit of a challenge, and the feedback is helpful in providing continuous support and professional development.

One consistent concern deals with College and Career Writing Anchor Standard 1: "Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence."


The Question: Recently Tami E., a teacher in our district, posed this question: 
We've looked through the core for 9th grade, and we are not sure where the term warrant comes from. All the papers we have been given use warrant, so I have been using that term, but Sadie [a colleague] said all the conferences she's been to do not use the term and use the term reasons; so she is using that. We are trying to write common assessments and want to make sure we use terms we are supposed to use. 
The Reply: Carolyn Gough, the district's Secondary Language Arts Consultant, responded with the following explanation. I think teachers will find it very helpful in distinguishing between or among the various terms.
You and Sadie are correct. The word 'warrant' never appears in the core. For that reason I have often taken issue with the many trainings where I hear it being used. The word comes from the Toulmin model for argument which nearly everyone follows. To me it is a confusing word that I haven't been able to get my mind around.

A much simpler way to describe a warrant is that it explains how the evidence supports the claim. Picking out the evidence is pretty doable, but identifying a phrase or comment that explains how the evidence supports the claim is less obvious.

Another word you could use to explain warrant or reasoning is 'rule'. I'm looking in the Hillocks book about teaching argument writing on page 18 (which readers can see by clicking on the above link):

The students are trying to provide evidence that the lady in the scenario is lying about her husband's cause of death.

At one point students list a piece of evidence in the case: Arthur still has a glass in his hand. (Yet Arthur has apparently fallen down stairs.)

So, the teacher is trying to find out from the students why the glass in his hand is an indication that the victim didn't really fall. The kids go on to state that usually when people fall they let go of things. But the students add that sometimes if the items are important people don't drop them; so they re-think their assumptions. Finally, the kids conclude that in a surprising situation a person who's falling is going to drop things that are in their hands. 

The teacher asks them to write it as a rule.
  • Here's one student's response: 'When you fall down the stairs, you drop what you're carrying unless it's really important.'
  • The teacher helps them clean it up to read: 'As a rule, when people fall down stairs, they drop what they are carrying to save themselves.'
Doesn't this seem super obvious? Yet the teacher just spent a long time helping students think out their assumptions about the evidence they listed. Students might have just said, "His wife is lying about his death being an accidental fall down the stairs because the dude was still holding a glass in his hand!" Claim and evidence, but no "warrant" or "rule" or "reason" for why the evidence supports the claim. It requires one more question: Why does having a glass still in his hand suggest that his wife's story is a lie? Now we have the missing link - the "duh" if you will - "Because generally people who fall down stairs drop the things they were holding!"

I don't know of any key word that will help students located the "reason" or "warrant" or "link" or whatever you call it, but it might help them to recognize it by turning the evidence that supports the claim into a question: 
ex. 'So, this author states that students' grades improved when they wore school uniforms. Why would grades be better as a result of wearing some type of clothing? What is the assumption being made about behavior when that particular clothing is worn?'
Hopefully, students can see the assumption is that uniforms influence behavior in a way that helps kids focus so they get better grades. Yet, how often in their writing would they give the claim that uniforms help in overall achievement at school (claim) and then list that grades are better (evidence) without ever connecting the two together. (That is a simplistic example, but I think it makes the point.)

While I hope that helps, I believe it will be an on-going point of clarification.

Bottom line: if you don't want to use the word 'warrant' you certainly do not have to.