AR Report: What Kids are Reading

Renaissance Learning’s report on What Kids are Reading has garnered national media attention, much of it focusing on perceived inadequacies among today’s readers.  A National Board Certified Teacher offers a different perspective.

Renaissance Place’s Accelerated Reader program gathers a lot of data when students take AR tests.  Kids rate books and the program counts how often tests are taken.  The results can be interesting…and misleading.  For example, kids almost always pick the top rating, so you can’t place much stock in the stars books receive on the ARBookFind site. Additionally standalone titles of perennial popularity (Charlotte’s Web) do better than really, really popular series.  Kids love Magic Tree House books, but there are so many that they split the vote.

Sometimes the reason for a book’s popularity isn’t what you think.  For example, three of the top books read by third graders (Boom Town, Officer Buckle & Gloria, and Lon Po Po) are in the Harcourt Trophies third grade reader.  Would these books be so popular among AR test takers if they weren’t in the reading textbook?

Reading level can be a misleading thing.  Just because a student is in third grade doesn’t mean she reads only books rated three point something.  A quick glance at the top books for any grade level shows you that reading level is just an average.  For example, third graders love Diary of a Wimpy Kid (5.5), but they also enjoy Green Eggs and Ham (1.5)  Books hovering around grade level are prominent, but so are outliers.

Reading levels run the gamut in every grade, both among the readers and the titles they favor.  That’s why I’m not nuts about assigning kids to a narrow reading level (2.5-3.1 would be a common reading zone for third grade.)  Kids miss out on so much and the reading level is not always an indicator of whether the child can read the book.  It’s an indicator of sentence length, word length, sentences in a paragraph, that sort of thing.

Much has been made in the media about the low average grade level of high school students’ favorite books.  Don’t wig out, America!  There are several forces at work here.  First of all, mostly younger high school kids take AR tests, and mostly kids who are in regular English, not honors are required to earn points.  Honors students read literature and write papers; AR tests rarely figure into the curriculum.   If it does, it’s just an assignment to rack up points for independent reading.  Why not get credit for Twilight under such a system?

A look at AR tests high school kids are taking reads like the bestseller list.  Some of the reading levels may surprise you. For example, The Hunger Games clocks in at 5.3, but anyone who has read it knows the issues, characterization, and depth of the novel go far beyond that.  Besides, how can you knock The Hunger Games for a low reading level when Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is lower, only 4.5?  The low reading levels are indicators of today’s writing style—clear and concise.  Short sentences and paragraphs mean low reading levels.

What differentiates the high school books is topic, not word length and sentence length.  Glass by Ellen Hopkins is considered 3.7 grade level, but would I share that novel-in-verse with my third graders?  It’s way above their comprehension level!

Use the list of What Kids are Reading as it was intended: a way to report usage of AR tests, indicating popularity of certain books.  Don’t think it indicates the end of literacy or a terrible decline in the reading ability of today’s kids.

The report also has interesting essays by some of today’s most famous authors.  Ellen Hopkin’s article about frequently challenged books and what kids should be reading is insightful.

Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR) by Corey Green @ Apr 26, 2012

 

April is Poetry Month: Kermit the Frog Poem and Worksheet

Original poem, FREE poetry worksheet!

In honor of Poetry Month, here is a FREE poetry reading comprehension worksheet written by a National Board Certified Teacher’s…little sister.  The worksheet and poem are very good!

My sister wrote “Ode to Kermit” to help my students with their poetry reading comprehension.  It is a fun poem in the voice of Miss Piggy, who is quite exuberant in her love for Kermit.  It’s a real problem for him, actually.

I hope you and your students enjoy the imagery in the poem.  You might want to explain to them about moi and vous— and why Miss Piggy says “Kermie” for “Kermit.”  Miss Piggy loves the French language because it is très chic!

 Click here for the worksheet and read on for the poem!

Ode to Kermit (in the voice of Miss Piggy)

Kermit, oh, Kermie,
Your name sends me floating through pools of algae.

Just the sight of you sends my heart into thralls
Like the pitter and patter of two ping-pong balls.

Kermit, with your mouth of red felt
And hemispherical eyes that cause me to melt,

Every time I think of wonderful vous
I wish that I could grow old with you.

My precious Kermit, my affection is no mistake,
Yet you still cause moi’s heart to break.

As you can see, the Green family loves the Muppets!  Here are some of the greatest hits from Class Antics Muppets posts:

Muppets in the Classroom Part One: How to integrate the Muppets into your curriculum
Muppets in the Classroom Part Two: More on how to integrate the Muppets into your curriculum
School Garden: John Denver sings “The Garden Song (Inch by Inch)” with the Muppets
Winnie the Pooh Day (A.A. Milne’s birthday): Kermit’s nephew Robin sings “Halfway Down”

Posted in FREE Worksheets,Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Apr 24, 2012

 

April is Poetry Month: Math Poem and Worksheet

Original poem, FREE poetry worksheet!

In honor of Poetry Month, here is a FREE poetry reading comprehension worksheet written by a National Board Certified Teacher’s…little sister.  The worksheet and poem are very good!

My sister wrote “Math” to help my students with their poetry reading comprehension.  It is an adorable poem about a romance that blossoms in math class.  Really, it’s a shame that she wrote it just for the worksheet.  I hope you and your students enjoy the math puns and the genuine emotion in the poem.

Click here for the worksheet and read on for the poem!

Math

Your obtuse manner isn’t helped
By your acute smile,
And you’re a total square
From your toes to your hair roots.

I’m sorry, but you + me
Just doesn’t equate.

A simple problem, to which there are
Not one, not two, but
No solutions.

Still, you made point after point
While I kept feeding you the same lines.

Then, when
I couldn’t make ends                            meet
And my life was

                                    Decaying

                                                             Exponentially

            And there wasn’t a ray of sunshine to be had,

You were the only real number
I could call.

It all started to add up:
As I dialed your number,
All sines pointed toward you.

Posted in Academics,FREE Worksheets,Fun With Literacy,Math by Corey Green @ Apr 19, 2012

 

Sunday is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball

Take some time this weekend to teach your kids about Jackie Robinson, the brave man who broke the color barrier in baseball.

Every team in baseball has retired Jackie’s number, 42, and on Sunday every team will celebrate Jackie’s legacy. You might enjoy the special Jackie Robinson Day section on MLB.com. It has a biography of Jackie, interesting pictures, and videos about Jackie and his legacy.

Read some interesting books about Jackie. My favorite is Teammates by Peter Golenblock. It focuses on Jackie’s relationship with white teammate Pee Wee Reese. The moment when Pee-Wee put his arm around Jackie Robinson is one of the most memorable in baseball, up there with Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech.

You will also enjoy Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By. This book will help your students apply the lessons from Jackie’s courage and wisdom to their own lives. It is written and compiled by Jackie’s daughter, Sharon Robinson.

I paid tribute to Jackie Robinson by making him the hero to Connor, the baseball-loving protagonist in my newest children’s novel, Double Switched.  Every time Connor faces a difficult decision, he thinks about how Jackie would have handled it.  Connor knows he does not always live up to the example of his role model, but ultimately he finds his personal strength and makes things right.  I hope you enjoy reading about Connor’s (hilarious) misadventures as he learns to follow Jackie’s example. (Available at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions. Read Chapter 1 here.)

Happy Jackie Robinson Day and Play Ball!

Posted in Academics,Book Lists,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Apr 13, 2012

 

Relationships Make Compelling Stories: The Hunger Games

Writing tips from Corey Green, National Board Certified Teacher;
use them in class or for fun! 

When creating characters for your story, remember that the relationships between characters will drive your plot.  Here are tips to help you create those relationships.

Writers will tell you that it’s important to know your characters well, especially your main character.  You should develop your characters’ strengths and weaknesses, habits, likes and dislikes, fears, hopes for the future, and favorites.  When I first began to write the Buckley School Books, I developed profiles like that for every kid in Mr. Hoker’s class.

However, my stories really gelled when I realized that the relationships between characters are as important, if not more important, than knowing every tiny detail about each individual character.  The relationships between characters should create conflict in the story.

Here are some common threads between characters.  Weave these phrases between your characters’ names for some great plot ideas!

Ideas for relationships between characters:
> Loves
> Hates
> Envies (Is jealous of)
> Admires (looks up to)
> Rivals (competition between characters)
> Fears
> Protects
> Defies (goes up against, challenges)
> Owes
> Upsets

The Hunger Games is an excellent example of how complex relationships between characters can create a compelling story that captivates millions of people all over the world.  Suzanne Collins created a complex web of characters as she wove her plot.

> Katniss Loves Gale, Peeta, Primrose (in different ways and at different times in the story)

> Katniss Hates the Career Tributes because they are cruel, the Capitol

> Katniss Envies (Is jealous of) Peeta’s ability to deal with the Hunger Games—he does better in front of the cameras, he seems more confident

> Katniss Admires (looks up to) Foxface’s cunning and cleverness

> Peeta Rivals Gale because they both love Katniss

> Katniss Fears the Capitol, the Hunger Games, President Snow, her competitors

> Katniss Protects Primrose, Rue, and Peeta

> Katniss Defies (goes up against, challenges) President Snow, the Gamemaker, and the Capitol

> Katniss Owes Peeta because he loves her, saves her, looks out for her

> Katniss Upsets lots of people!  Gale and Peeta, President Snow, the Gamemaker, Effie, Haymitch…she can be one prickly girl and she is a magnet for trouble.

Now, use this information to create your own story!  Create three or more characters for your story and develop the relationships between them.  You can also practice by figuring out the relationships between characters in stories you love.  Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson—these are few bestsellers with complex relationships between characters.  Can you list them all?

Posted in Fun With Literacy,Writing by Corey Green @ Apr 12, 2012

 

The Hunger Games in the Classroom: How to Write a Dystopia

Use the popularity of The Hunger Games to interest your class in dystopias.  Teach your students how to write a dystopia using tips from Corey Green, writer and National Board Certified Teacher.

People are eternally interested in dystopias.  A new one comes along for each generation.  Fahrenheit 451, 1984, The Hunger Games—these books address issues in our society and imagine a world where the solution takes the problem to its opposite extreme.

A dystopia seems like a difficult and complex genre, but it’s really just another genre in the field of fiction.  That sounds manageable, doesn’t it?  Your students can learn a lot about literature, society, and their own personal beliefs as they create their own dystopias.

Use my printable dystopia planning guide to help your students create their own dystopian story.  Help your students focus on the issue they want to address, create a dystopian “solution” that takes the problem to its opposite extreme, and decide how they want to address oppression.

> What is the problem or issue?
> How does the solution take the problem to its opposite extreme?
> How will the system of oppression work?
> Will the main character overcome oppression?
> Will it be on a large or small scale?
> Or will the character fall prey to the oppression, becoming another victim or even a perpetrator?

Big questions, but your students can handle it if they use my story planning sheet.  After all, a dystopia is really just a story with a beginning, middle and end—students simply need to address the conventions of the genre as they craft a satisfying story.

Good luck to you and your students as you create your dystopias.  May the odds be ever in your favor.

Posted in Academics,FREE Worksheets,Fun With Literacy,Writing by Corey Green @ Apr 9, 2012

 

The Hunger Games: Analyzing “Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift

The Hunger Games provides many opportunities for classroom discussion and analysis. Taylor Swift’s haunting “Safe & Sound” gives students yet another opportunity to study her clever use of figurative language, symbolism and rhyme.

 “Safe & Sound” is a perfect theme song for The Hunger Games. Message boards are full of posts by fans arguing over which story situation the song fits best. I believe the answer is that Taylor Swift penned the song to apply to many, many characters and situations in The Hunger Games. To avoid spoilers, I have listed the characters but not situations. Fans will know!

> Primrose & Katniss
> Katniss & Rue
> Gale & Katniss
> Katniss & Peeta
> Mrs. Everdeen & Katniss

The song is heavy on symbolism and imagery, but actually lighter on rhyme than most of Taylor Swift’s songs.  (No constant internal rhyme like in “Hey, Stephen“.)  Taylor uses a subtle rhyme scheme to create a song that is haunting, not sing-song and catchy.  You might say that she “tailors” her message to her intended audience and purpose.

I hope you enjoy the pdf download of my literary analysis of the song “Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift from the soundtrack to The Hunger Games.  Click here for two Behind the Scenes videos from TaylorSwift.com. 

This is Part 7 of my series about Fun with Literacy: Taylor Swift.

  1. You Belong with Me
  2. Love Story
  3. Hey Stephen
  4. Mean
  5. Speak Now
  6. Our Song
Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Apr 5, 2012