Thursday, June 26, 2008

Aidan Chambers and Shaun Tan

This summer, if you need a bit of stimulation come hear Aidan Chambers, world authority on reading when he gives a free lecture July 26 at UBC's conference: Book Talk: Researching Children's and Young Adults' Literature. You do need to register.
Exciting news, Shaun Tan, author of The Arrival,(which Adrienne shared at a Later Literacy Coordinators' meeting) as well as many other books, is coming to Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable in October.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Faye's books that she mentioned...

As promised, here are three of the books that Faye mentioned as being great for Lit Circles. The first was A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Child Soldier by Ishmael Beah. This is the true story of a boy soldier which Faye's daughter couldn't stop reading. The second is Fish by L.S. Matthew. This is a book that is easier but hard to put down. The third the first of a series of Roman mysteries written by Caroline Lawrence, The Thieves of Ostia. I haven't read any of these yet but I have A Long Way Gone sitting here for summer reading, I think I will have to buy Fish, and I am going to start on the Roman mysteries series partly because I actually went to Ostia long ago so that it will be neat to imagine what it was like beyond the archaeological site. If you missed Faye's session, you can read about it on Moira Ekdahl's Teacher Librarian blog. Also Denise North, Killarney's teacher librarian has great directions and suggested books for lit circles grades 8-12 on the Teacher-Librarians' wiki.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Junuary, and yes there will be summer!

Casting into summer... difficult to believe in Junuary. No fears Learning Services staff braved the elements to play bocci on the Education Centre grounds Thursday! The year hasn't ended but we are busily planning next year! Trying to find space for workshops and meetings in the Education Centre can be a real challenge so that it pays to book early! Barb, Carol, and Shelagh are heading off to Oregon next week to go to workshops with the folks at Choice Literacy. Expect a report from me when I go to Washington, D.C. in July to go to a Literacy Institute at National Geographic Headquarters. I have to admit the cocktail party in The Explorers' Hall of Fame intrigues me!
Just finishing this short blog off before I go to the workshop on Oral Language and Lit Circles with Faye Brownlie at Thompson this morning. I am including here a link to the book, Student Diversity: Classroom Strategies for All Learners, which she wrote with Catherine Feniak and Layton Schnellert. You can download an excellent chapter on Literature Circles there.
A bit of an advertisement, there will be a Later Literacy Summer Institute August 26 and 27 at the VSB in order to gear up for another year. Scary, I know! For details just go to VSB pro d site, link is just on the right!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Champlain's Freedom Writers

What does a group of students at Champlain Heights Elementary School have to do with tough inner city high school students from the worse areas of Long Beach, California? You might not think much but teachers Dagmar Kafka and Angela Angel-Lara saw a connection.

The students in their pull out ESL and LAC program in grade six watched the movie, Freedom Writers. There was an immediate connection for these students who had not found school or sometimes life an easy place to be. The teachers followed up with reading excerpts of the Freedom Writers Diary edited by Erin Gruwell, the amazing teacher who changed her students’ lives-or rather helped them change their lives. Next the students wrote poetry from ideas from the Freedom Writers’ Teachers Guide.

Somewhere along the way, they thought that they would love to meet the real Erin Gruwell. By chance, Dagmar noticed that Erin was coming to town to speak at an event at the River Rock Casino Theatre sponsored by King David High School (a small private school) with a curriculum emphasizing social responsibility. The cost was $36 a ticket and what with the cost and getting the students to the event in Richmond, the group wasn’t sure this was a real possibility.

Inspired by how the real Freedom Writers invited wrote letters and raised money to invite Miep Gies (the woman who helped hide Anne Frank and her family during WWII) and Zlata, who wrote about her life in war torn Croatia, to visit their school, the ten students at Champlain decided to invite Erin to visit their school. They sent their poems and letters.

She wrote back that she was fully booked by King David so it wasn’t possible for her to visit Champlain. She told them she would be happy to meet them for half an hour prior to the cocktail reception planned for those who paid $300 a ticket before she spoke.

At this point they decided they needed to start serious fundraising. They had to go to the event! They sold 100 freedom writer kits-a journal and pencils and erasers, but that was only just over $100 profit! MLA Wally Oppal came to the school to talk to the students about Racism. They told him about the project and he made a donation of $10 per student. Other donations were received from the Champlain Parents’ Advisory Council, the Sisters of Charity, Ms. Kafka’s mother, a former teacher at Champlain Annex etc. One student’s dad donated his limousine service, providing free gas, parking, and his time. Each student only had to pay $10 to cover the price of the ticket and dinner.

The big day came. The kids were excited. One student was ill but there was no way she wasn’t going. Imagine how excited they were when they finally met Erin Gruwell. She had read their letters and poems closely, guessing who each student was, and greeting them warmly and giving each his or her own personal Freedom Writers’ diary and a picture of herself, Hilary Swank (who starred in and produced the movie) and the original Freedom Writers. She didn’t just spend a half hour with them but an hour. She promised them she wasn’t saying good-bye then but would say good-bye after she spoke.

While Erin had to meet those $300 patrons of King David, the Champlain Heights went off to a nearby Pizza Hut. The students told me how surprised the other customers were surprised to see a group of dressed up kids arrive in a limousine!

They thoroughly enjoyed the event itself, sitting in the plush theatre, listening to their heroine and new friend, and getting to watch a clip of the original Freedom Riders as well as the movie version. As promised, before she went to sign books, she met the Champlain group at the theatre exit and gave each a hug and a good-bye. They went on to take advantage of the fantastic dessert buffet provided by King David for all the attendees.

When I had spotted the group at the event, I knew I had to know the story of how they got there. Dagmar shared pictures and we arranged for me to visit. I can’t tell you how moving an event it was for me to see the passion of these young students, their involvement in their writing, and their commitment to change and being the best people they can possibly be.

This is Ms. Kafka’s last month of teaching before she retires. She is a teacher who has certainly made a difference and taught her students that dreams are achievable.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

My latest reading...Late Nights and Reading Photographs...

I am currently reading two books, one professional and one novel. I find myself going back and forth between the two. The trade book, Late Nights on Radio by Elizabeth Hay, won the Giller Prize in 2007. I had read a couple of her other books which I had enjoyed so when I spotted it on the fast reads at the nearby library, I decided to give it a read. I somehow thought it was set in Hay River (guess I heard northern and then there is her name) but it is actually about Yellowknife in the early 70's about a group of people who work in the local CBC radio station which Hay herself did.
Just as I began to read, I thought of a friend in university in 1970 who had told me about going there to visit her sister. It sounded quite interesting to someone living in southern Quebec.
Soon after I began reading, one character tells that the reason she wanted to go north was due to a CBC radio documentary drama about a group led by John Hornby of who died from overwintering in the Barrens, "Death in the Barrens." Harry, the acting station manager goes on to say, "George Whalley wrote the script" Then later he says, "Whalley's daughter lives here you know. Just down the road from me on Latham Island." Well, this shows the interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction in this book. Emily Whalley was my friend who visited her sister in Yellowknife.
I am thoroughly enjoying the book for its picture of life in Yellowknife and in a small radio station in the 70's. I find the characters interesting , and I love the well written prose. I am transported to a place I haven't been back to a time I remember in a different place.

It strikes me that blogging is a bit like working late night radio, "No one was watching, few were listening, the light was entirely different."

The other book I am reading, is one of the latest book club selections from the International Reading Association, Reading Photographs to Write With Meaning and Purpose, Grades 4-12. I am also really enjoying this. As part of the multiliteracies research project, I saw students working effectively with photographs to write and describe their worlds at Begbie and Seymour Elementary Schools. I also saw students using family pictures and archival documents enthusiastically at Moberly in seventh grade presentations telling their family histories. This book by Leigh Van Horne is great in giving me lots of ideas that I would love to try. She gives excellent suggestions for resources. Living in Texas she uses some materials from Texas history but I have been thinking of how we can use BC history and First Nations literature effectively to get powerful writing and thinking from our students. It also inspires me to want to share wonderful work I see in our schools. By the way if you don't know about Historica, you should.

Enough blogging, off to Granville Market. Will the sun ever shine?