This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gem of a Book: Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The best way to read Kwame Alexander's Crossover is in one sitting from start to finish.  You don't want to take your eyes off of this performance for too long .  The novel in verse tells the story of Josh and his twin brother and that of their relationship with each other, with their father and with the game.  At times the entries made me, a complete ignorant when it comes to basketball, feel as if I was dribbling the ball across the court, performing a crossover and dunking:


At the top of the key, I'm

               MOVING & GROOVING,

POPing and ROCKING -

Why you BUMPING?

             Why you LOCKING?

Man, take this THUMPING.

Be careful though,

'cause now I'm CRUNKing




 and my dipping will leave you

                 G   on the floor, while I


to the finish with a fierce finger roll...

Straight to the hole:


At other times, I felt as if I was watching spoken word poetry, performed with passion on a stage:

In fact, I would read the book several times.  Once, for the music created by the language, once for the vocabulary instruction:        
ca.lam.i.ty noun 
As in: The HUGE bald patch
on the side
of my head is a dreadful

and once for the life lessons disguised as rules of basketball:

Basketball Rule #3
Never let anyone
lower your goals.
Other's expectations
of you are determined
by their limitations
of life.
The sky is your limit, sons.
Always shoot
for the sun
and you will shine.
If ever in search of a book to demonstrate the power of voice in writing, look no further that this.  Not only does the reader hear the voice of the characters, but there is so much richness and so many layers to the way language is used, that you cannot help but feel as if you are hearing a symphony played on the pages of this book.

This book can help those who love the game of basketball learn to fall in love with the way language can be used to describe their beautiful game.  Or, as was the case with me, help a lover of language cross over to appreciate the rhythm and energy of the game.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Gem of a Book: The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

I know a book is good when:

1.  I find out it is all about baseball and I continue reading
2.  I do not skim over the sport jargon and play by plays
3.  I cry like a baby in front of whomever is sitting in a room when the surprise pinch hitter saves the game and all the pieces of the story come together.

Last year I found a gem of a book in Love, Ruby Lavender.  I loved the language and the rhythm of the story.  The vivid characters and the rich dialogue put the book on my list of all-time favorites.  As a bonus I found out that it is actually part of a trilogy of books by Deborah Wiles about a small Southern community.  I had read Each Little Bird That Sings aloud with my daughter when she was in fourth grade and still had time for read-alouds with me before bed.  I just finished reading The All-Stars and can't recommend it highly enough.  Besides all the qualities that made Ruby Lavender a great read, this book also carries a strong theme of community.  Life in Mabel, Mississippi gets complicated when the annual little league baseball game, a 4th of July pageant and the death of the town's mysterious recluse Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd, age eighty-eight, happen to coincide.  As the story unravels, friendships are tested, past wrongs are visited and the strengths of characters are measured in more than one way.  At the end, folks in Aurora County realize that they are "each other's family".  When one person in that family hurts, they all hurt and when one part wins, they all win.  At the climax of the book past and present unite and the words of the mystery man begin to make sense:  "It is hard to see inside someone's heart unless you have an invitation, and, even then, you must agree to come inside."

Of course, baseball lovers will love this book.  But I think, as was the case with me, so will tender-hearted readers of all ages that love mystery, suspense and  mistaken identities.

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Gem of a Book: Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Einstein
My first year as a teacher, I had a student, Jonathan, who struggled with reading and writing.  It was surprising to me as a novice teacher who knew very little about learning differences, because I saw so many other strengths in him.  He was great at math and making astute observations in science.  He just hated to write and struggled with reading fluently.  Often he would call himself dumb and other degrading names.  I forbade him from talking negatively about himself.  His frustrations with learning manifested themselves in behavior that landed him in the office often.  He used inappropriate language and was at times aggressive.  I did my best to show Jonathan that he was smart in many ways.  Almost at the end of that school year, I heard a presentation on dyslexia and immediately saw all the symptoms in Jonathan and all of sudden everything made sense.

I wish Jonathan could have read Fish in a Tree back then.  I wish all of my students would read this book.  Jonathan would have seen himself in Ally.  He would have identified with her struggles to read and write, her efforts to cover it up.  He would have understood why Ally's teachers and principals misunderstood her and he would have appreciated Mr. Daniels's efforts to show her her strengths.  The rest of my students would have also learned about the diversity of talents and interests that each and everyone of them brought to our classroom.  Hopefully, they would have learned to look at each other as unique individuals worth knowing, beyond the grades on the report card and beyond the right or wrong answers in the classroom.

I would recommend this book to students that are finding it hard to see strengths in themselves, who are used to measuring their worth by what others think of them.  I would also recommend it to those who don't struggle with the way we do school right now.  It can help build empathy and understanding for all their current and future classmates.  And finally, I would recommend it to teachers.  Mr. Daniels is a great mentor for all new and veteran teachers.

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