All hail.extol.…laud the mighty Roget’s Thesaurus!

Any one struggling with trying to find the right word can attest to the support that he or she may have found in the pages of Roget’s Thesaurus, a reference book that celebrates its birthday every April 29th. Writers pour through its pages in the hunt to find an alternate to “said” (articulated, phonated, viva voce) or establish the kind of “sleep” (catnap, doze, trance) or select the state of being “happy” (elated, joyous, upbeat).

Paul Mark Roget, Creator of the thesaurus

Paul Mark Roget, Creator of the thesaurus

Like its cousin the dictionary, the synonyms and antonyms of Roget’s Thesaurus are arranged alphabetically. That decision was made by its originator, Peter Mark Roget who published the first thesaurus in 1852, some 100 years after Samuel Johnson published the successful Dictionary of the English Language.

Roget’s objective with the thesaurus was to help the writer or speaker “to find the word, or words, by which [an] idea may be most fitly and aptly expressed.”

In the forward to the first edition, Roget wrote:

“It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system of verbal classification similar to that on which the present work is founded. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published.”

The word “thesaurus” is derived from the Greek θησαυρός (thēsauros), “treasure, treasury, storehouse”, and the thesaurus is indeed a treasure of language. A word of caution, however, to those who use this treasure trove improperly; fancy words do not guarantee academic writing.

For example, there is a danger of overuse, as demonstrated in this dialogue from a episode of Friends when the character Joey wanted to appear “smart”. He had replaced every ordinary word in an application letter with its synonym from the thesaurus:

Joey: I wrote, “They’re warm nice people with big hearts.”

Chandler: “And that became, ‘They’re humid pre-processing Homo sapiens with full-sized aortic pumps’?”

Students often make these same kinds of novice errors. In their attempts to sound “smart”, they include words they do not understand, adding “verdant” to  “green” grasses. They create contradictory combinations such as “nimbly lethargic” or “exigent tolerance.” Then, there is the tale of the student whose creative writing assignment featured a woman eating a delicious chignon, a bun one puts in one’s hair.

Click on any word to create new word blossoms or "daisies"

Click on any word to create new word blossoms or “daisies”

Now, with software available on multiple platforms, students can choose to hunt through pages of a text or try one of several online thesaurus tools that help them find the perfect word.

There is the subscription based VisualThesaurus which is an “interactive dictionary and thesaurus which creates word maps that blossom with meanings and branch to related words.” Clicking on any word allows students to see an abundance of alternatives. A free version of this form of interactive thesaurus is found at Visuwords.

Merriam-Webster also offers a student friendly thesaurus at WordCentral which offers many other interactive features such as word-of-the-day or student-created disctionaries.

Interactive activities for students

Interactive activities for students

Simpler versions can be found at  BigHugeLabs or at Thesaurusland offer stripped down versions  that require only that a student enters a word in the search box to get synonyms or antonyms.

Screenshot 2015-04-27 21.40.53

Simple version of an online thesaurus

 

 Students can jubilate or rejoice or revel or solemnize in marking the 163rd anniversary of the thesaurus.  They can acknowledge or appreciate or enjoy or welcome how the thesaurus has helped their writing.
However, as intently or as meticulously or as scrupulously as they search in texts or search online, students will not be able to answer the question, what’s another word for thesaurus?

 

This April 1865 photo provided by the Library of Congress shows President Abraham Lincoln\'s box at Ford\'s Theater, the site of his assassination. Under the headline "Great National Calamity!" the AP reported Lincoln’s assassination, on April 15, 1865. (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

This April 1865 photo provided by the Library of Congress shows President Abraham Lincoln\’s box at Ford\’s Theater, the site of his assassination. Under the headline “Great National Calamity!” the AP reported Lincoln’s assassination, on April 15, 1865. (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

News stories are generally written in what is commonly known as the inverted pyramid style, in which the opening paragraph features the “5 Ws” of journalism: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. The reason for this style is so that the reader gets the most important information up front. Given the amount of time readers have today to read the amount of news generated in a 24 hour news cycle, the inverted pyramid makes sense.

In contrast, 150 years ago a dispatch by the Associated Press took a storytelling approach  when President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth was relayed by AP correspondent Lawrence Gobright. Under the headline”Great National Calamity!” he chose to deliver gently the monumental news of Lincoln’s death in paragraph 9:

The surgeons exhausted every effort of medical skill, but all hope was gone.

The Common Core State Standards in Literacy promotes primary source documents, such as this news release, in English Language Arts and Social Studies. Documents like this provide students an opportunity to consider the voice or point-of-view of a writer within a historical context.

In this 19th Century AP news release, an editor’s note attached described in vivid detail Gobright’s efforts to gain first-hand information in compiling the story of Lincoln’s assassination. In the tumult that followed the assassination, Gobright became more than a witness as he:

scrambled to report from the White House, the streets of the stricken capital, and even from the blood-stained box at Ford’s Theatre, where, in his memoir he reports he was handed the assassin’s gun and turned it over to authorities.

This circa 1865-1880 photograph provided by the Library of Congress' Brady-Handy Collection shows Lawrence A. Gobright, the Associated Press' first Washington correspondent. A native of Hanover, Pa., Gobright covered both inaugurations of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and Lincoln's assassination during a career spanning more than a third of a century in Washington. Under the headline "Great National Calamity!" the AP reported President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, on April 15, 1865. (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

This circa 1865-1880 photograph provided by the Library of Congress’ Brady-Handy Collection shows Lawrence A. Gobright, the Associated Press’ first Washington correspondent.. Under the headline “Great National Calamity!” the AP reported President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, on April 15, 1865. (AP Photo/Library of Congress)

Gobright’s opening line for the news story identified the setting as Ford’s Theatre; he then added information of considerable interest to the Union Army, that:

It was announced in the papers that Gen. Grant would also be present, but that gentleman took the late train of cars for New Jersey.

After setting up who was or was not in attendance,  Gobright detailed the sequence of events in paragraph 3:

During the third act and while there was a temporary pause for one of the actors to enter, a sharp report of a pistol was heard, which merely attracted attention, but suggested nothing serious until a man rushed to the front of the President’s box, waving a long dagger in his right hand, exclaiming, ‘Sic semper tyrannis,’

Describing the assailant’s escape on horseback, Gobright concluded the reaction of the crowd in the audience in paragraph 4 in an understatement, “The excitement was of the wildest possible description…”

His AP’s edited version online states that the report does not contain details on the second assassination report on Secretary of State William Seward. There is his reference to the other members of Lincoln’s cabinet who, after hearing about the attack on Lincoln, travelled to the deathbed:

They then proceeded to the house where the President was lying, exhibiting, of course, intense anxiety and solicitude.

As part of a 150 year memorial tribute, the AP offers two websites with Gobright’s report, the first with an edited version of the report and the second, an interactive site with graphics. The readabilty score on Gobright’s release is a grade 10.3, but with some frontloading of vocabulary (solicitude, syncope) this story can be read by students in middle school. There are passages that place the student in the moment such as:

  • There was a rush towards the President’s box, when cries were heard — ‘Stand back and give him air!’ ‘Has anyone stimulants?’
  • On an examination of the private box, blood was discovered on the back of the cushioned rocking chair on which the President had been sitting; also on the partition and on the floor.

The NYTimes reporting of the assassination, having the advantage of several hours start, did not bury the lede, or begin with details of secondary importance, offering the critical information through a series of headlines beginning with the kicker “An Awful Event”:

An Awful Event
The Deed Done at Ford’s Theatre Last Night.
THE ACT OF A DESPERATE REBEL
The President Still Alive at Last Accounts.
No Hopes Entertained of His Recovery.
Attempted Assassination of Secretary Seward.
DETAILS OF THE DREADFUL TRAGEDY.

Their six column spread allowed space for the six drop heads, or smaller secondary headlines, above that were stacked to provide an outline of the events. The article that follows begins with then Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s message to Major General Dix, April 15, 1865 at 1:30 AM:

This evening about 9:30 PM, at Ford’s Theatre, the President while sitting in his private box, with Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Harris, and Major Rathburn, was shot by an assassin who suddenly entered the box and approached behind the President.

Stanton’s 324 word report has a readability grade 7.2, and includes also details about the other assassination attempt on Seward’s life:

About the same hour an assassin, whether the same or not, entered Mr. SEWARD’s apartments, and under the pretence of having a prescription, was shown to the Secretary’s sick chamber. The assassin immediately rushed to the bed, and inflicted two or three stabs on the throat and two on the face.

A second dispatch features Gobright’s reporting and appears below Stanton’s message in the second column. Following these accounts, a third dispatch  by an unnamed reporter is dated Friday, April 14, 11:15 P.M. and like Gobright’s account begins with a storybook-type lead:

A stroke from Heaven laying the whole of the city in instant ruins could not have startled us as did the word that broke from Ford’s Theatre a half hour ago that the President had been shot. It flew everywhere in five minutes, and set five thousand people in swift and excited motion on the instant.

These first-person accounts of Gobright, Stanton, and others covering Lincoln’s assassination will allow students to contrast what they recognize as the reporting styles of today with an example of the storytelling reporting style 150 years ago. Students can analyze both styles for conveying information, and then comment on impact each style may have on an audience.

More important is the opportunity to ditch the dry facts from a textbook, as these newspaper releases allow students to discover that at the heart of stories about Lincoln’s assassination, the reporters were really storytellers, and their hearts were breaking.

National Poetry Month was first suggested in 1995 by the Academy of American Poets as “a way to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States.”

20 years later, this celebration of poetry has taken root and flourished.

This year, in 2015, the celebrations will be promoted with a poster designed by National Book Award finalist and The New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. The poster‘s nine panels contain the words from the opening stanza of the poet Mark Strand’s poem Eating Poetry:

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.

There is no happiness like mine.

I have been eating poetry.

Screenshot 2015-03-29 17.56.35

Teachers can order the poster from the Poets.org website or download a smaller page sized copy to use in their classes.

In addition to the poster, the Academy of American Poets has developed a program titled “Dear Poet”, a set of four lesson plans that teachers can use with students in grades 5-12. The lesson plans connect to the literacy standards of the Common Core in a “multimedia education project that invites young people in grades five through twelve to write letters in response to poems written and read by some of the award-winning poets who serve on the Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors.”

Examples of some of the activities in the lesson plans connected to English Language Arts standards include:

Speaking (and gesturing):

  • Students make a sound, using their own voice, without words, to express how they are feeling at the moment.
  • Right now I feel… (using only a hand gesture)
  • Right now I feel… (using only their voice with no words)
  • Right now I feel… (using their gesture, voice, and descriptive words)

Listening:

Students listen and describe the sound by writing in their journals.

Reading:

Students read six poems and complete a T-chart with one side with what “jumps out at them” in the poem and on the other side, why they think this is important to the poet’s voice/poem.

Writing:

Students draft a letter addressed to a chosen poet, telling him/her what in the poem spoke to them, and asking questions relating to how the poet wrote this poem.

The lesson plans include links for students to upload their letters as an authentic task.

During the month of April, teachers can follow updates on Twitter using the hashtag #npm15 and follow the Academy of American Poets @POETSorg.

The end of National Poetry Month will conclude with “Poem in Your Pocket Day” (April 30) and teachers and students alike can celebrate by selecting a poem, carrying it, and sharing it with others throughout the day. Copies of suggested poems (in the public domain) are available by download.

For those who would want to continue the celebration of poetry all year, there is also a link to a poem a day a previously unpublished poems is delivered by e-mail daily during the week and classic poems delivered on the weekends.

There is a behavioral theory that practicing a specific skill for 66 days will make that practice a life-long habit. While the planned 30 days of poetry practice in the month of April will fall short, the American Academy of Poets should attempt a co-op the “National Fitness Month” of May using the ploy, “Poems are a work-out for the mind!”

  Continue Reading…

During the 88th Saturday Reunion Weekend at Teacher’s College in NYC (3/28/15), author and educator Kylene Beers delivered three professional development sessions based on Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, a book she co-authored with Bob Probst. Each session was overflowing with standing room only crowds.Screenshot 2015-03-28 22.29.02

During the afternoon keynote in the Nave of Riverside Church, she delivered her beliefs, and every one of the 2,100 seats was filled.

Screenshot 2015-03-28 20.51.18She opened her address with a historical connection between literacy and power by referring first to the notion that years ago a signature was all that was necessary to prove a person literate. Exploiting this belief were those in power who prepared and wrote contracts, becoming wealthy at the expense of those who could only sign their names with an “X”.

“Literacy in this country has always been tied to wealth.” Beers explained adding, “With literacy comes power, and with power comes great privilege.”

This was the theme of her keynote, that in this age of communication and messaging, literacy equals power and privilege.

Moving to the present and the communication and messaging skills necessary for the 21st Century, Beers justified improving  literacy skills to operate on digital platforms as one way to empower students, but she called into question the practice of prevention by some school districts.

“When schools say they do not want to have students develop a digital footprint,” she cautioned, “they limit their students access to that kind of power.”

Continuing to argue for the empowered students, Beers directed the audience’s attention to making learning relevant for students remarking,  “There is a problem if everything is assigned by me!” By letting students choose what they want to read, she suggested that teachers can make learning relevant for the student. Employing choice to encourage more reading, however, contrasts to the recommendations of the Common Core State Standards that students read fewer texts in order to read “closer.”

“Why fewer?” she asked the crowd of educators, “when the single best predictor is of success is volume of reading. One book for six weeks will never be as helpful as six books in six weeks.”

Teachers must let the students choose what they want to read, Beers argued, raising her voice:

“Damn the Lexiles ! The best book is the one the kid chooses to read… [a student’s] ‘want-ability’ is more important than readability.”

And what should students read? Beers asked the crowd.

“Literature.”

“In the 21st Century, the most important role that literature plays is in developing student values such as compassion and empathy,” she contended. “Brain research shows we get to that compassion best through the teaching of literature.”

Beers called attention to recent disturbing headline events that had students marginalize others: racist chants made by a fraternity, and a teenager’s suicide due to bullying.

It is the role of literature, she explained, to give the reader the experience being the outsider, the marginalized. Reading and learning from literature gives students an understanding of others and an opportunity to lead “literate lives measured by decency, civility, respect, compassion, and, at the very least, ethical behavior.”

Coming to the end of the keynote, Beers saved her scorn for the answer-driven test preparation and testing that dominates schools today:

“A curriculum built on test prep might raise scores, but it will fail to raise curiosity, creativity, and compassion.”

Beers castigated the limits of “bubbled” answers by pointing out that deep thinking never begins with an answer. In connecting back to the role of literature in education she added, “Ethics and compassion are not so easily bubbled.”

As a final invocation Beers reiterated her belief in teachers, those who have met the challenges in order to encourage all students and who never needed a mandate to leave no child behind:

“Success is not found in a test; great teachers are our best hope for a better tomorrow!”

The crowd erupted into applause paying tribute to Kylene Beers, an leader in education whose strong voice reverberated in the cathedral and whose equally strong beliefs reverberated with their own.

One Word Text Complexity

March 23, 2015 — 1 Comment

I recently attended the 2nd Annual Conference for The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Doing double duty as keynote speaker and presenter, author and blogger Vicki Vinton conducted two workshops on text complexity and how students read complex texts.

Vicki Vinton's previous book

Vicki Vinton’s earlier book on reading; Good news, she is writing another!

As an opening exercise, she asked those in attendance in the afternoon session to sum up their attitudes or feelings at that moment using only one word. She explained that while she is in the process of writing a book on the topic of text complexity, she sometimes feels overwhelmed in trying to meet deadlines and keep up with work responsibilities. She said she had chosen a word to sum up her feelings.

On a slide was her word: “Breathe.”

Some of the participants’ words?

Uncertainty
Joy
Time
Try
Action
Happy
Quality
Discover

My word? I combined the words try and action; my word was traction.

This opening activity mimicked how readers approach a complex text. In asking each member of her audience to select a word, Vicki explained that she was using the exercise as an ice breaker. She had established a purpose. Her request to have each person choose only one word to sum up an attitude required that each participant had to tap into his or her background knowledge (schema). As Vicki wrote each single word on the chart paper, the words formed a contextual coherence. Individually, these words were in the abstract, but listed collectively on the page, they provided an emotional portrait of the attendees in the session.

When readers read complex texts, they must perform many of the same steps we performed. Readers must establish a purpose for reading. Readers must tap into their own background knowledge, just as we did when Vicki requested that we select a single word. Our choices illustrated how readers must rely heavily on knowledge of word meanings when reading complex texts.  Finally, a reader needs to recognize a coherence; how words in a text connect to each other. The attendees in Vicki’s session had a chance to recognize the connection of their words to the education profession.

Had we been given the time, we might have explained in more detail why we had chosen our particular words. I would have had the opportunity to explain why I had selected the traction. The dictionary defines traction as:

1: the act of drawing : the state of being drawn
2: the adhesive friction of a body on a surface on which it moves (as of a wheel on a rail)
3: a pulling force applied to a skeletal structure (as a broken bone) by using a special device <a traction splint>; also: a state of tension created by such a pulling force

Of the three possible meanings, my reason for choosing traction is most closely associated with the second definition. One of my educational objectives this year is to help students in my district to make gains in reading and writing. While that means I may encounter some “friction” in meeting this goal, I must be careful about the degree of “tension” that I create as I work to be a “pulling force” in improving literacy.

The complex thinking that began Vicki’s presentation came from her request to choose only one word proving that text complexity has nothing to do with length; text complexity can be found in brevity.

Vicki’s opening exercise was an excellent way to highlight the stages all readers can experience in reading complex texts. Her presentation developed many of these ideas that she promised would be outlined in the book she is currently writing. While the working title Embracing Complexity is, according to her, “subject to change,” the book will offer problem-based approach to the teaching of reading.

I look forward to reading her book when it is published.

In the meantime, I have a new word: anticipation.

When I look for inspiration in writing, I occasionally turn to “On this Day in History” websites. There is always some famous person’s birthdate or some memorable event that can spark the imagination to create a lesson about literature or an author.
So when my best friend, Catherine Flynn from Reading to the Core, offered to host #Poetry Friday on March 20th, I wanted to contribute a special post to mark the occasion. Catherine, a district reading consultant and former teacher, is a fan of historical events.
In doing my research, I discovered that March 20th marks the anniversary (3/20/1942) of General Douglas MacArthur’s statement, “I shall return.”Screenshot 2015-03-19 21.36.41
General MacArthur made this announcement arriving in Australia, after being forced to evacuate the Philippines during the height of a Japanese attack. He fulfilled the promise to return made in his iconic statement two years later on October 20, 1944, striding out onto the beach on the island of Leyte.

A sense of determination “to return” is something I witness everyday in teachers. Teachers must demonstrate endurance in meeting the everyday challenges in education today, challenges large (responsible for educating children for our collective future) and challenges small (bulletin boards, lunch duty, formative assessments, summative assessments, group work, Parent/Teacher Conference Night, and more).

The attitude of teachers to return every day to the doors of their classrooms determined to meet the challenges of each day is what I hope to have captured in the following poem:

“I Shall Return”: The Teacher’s Version

 

I Shall Return

…to the school parking lot

to snag the last available space

that is farthest from the building

(and it’s pouring)

I Shall Return

…to the back door of the school

balancing the bag of stickers and markers and card stock,

with the bulletin board corrugated cardboard,

and a box of energy bars (sans nuts),

in my paper stuffed satchel-

(“Is that my phone is ringing???”)

-with my keys at the bottom.

I Shall Return

….to the classroom

just in time to set up the desks for ???

(select the one that best applies:)

A. Socratic seminar

B. morning meeting

C. Daily 5

D. computers on carts

I Shall Return

….to the copier,

it’s jammed,

it’s hot,

and out of ink.

I Shall Return

…to the dimly lit book room

and dig through the pile

of dusty boxes filled with dog-earred copies

and abandoned textbooks

desperately seeking 27 paperbacks OF

Ramona the Pest OR

A Wrinkle in Time OR

Of Mice and Men

No matter the grade level…still 3 books short.

I Shall Return

….to the (hard copy/online) grade book

and mark the tardies

and mark the absences

and mark the group work

(and note, “No quiz grade for Mark?”)

I Shall Return

…to the parking lot

lugging the satchel of papers

that have travelled,

ungraded,

from school,

to home,

back to school where

I do what I love.

And so,

I Shall Return

©Colette Marie Bennett, 2015

Submitted with great respect for both General MacArthur and educators everywhere on the March 20th anniversary.

Hope this was ok, Catherine!

To see the other #PoetryFriday posts check out her blog: Poetry Friday is Here!

Screenshot 2015-03-18 07.04.18Saturday, March 14th, Cornelius Minor, a Staff Developer at The Reading & Writing Project gave the luncheon keynote address to over 300 educators at the 2nd Annual Conference for  The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island.

While he began his address with humor and participation, Minor quickly got to the serious matter of his topic:

“In a world of inequity, how are we giving tools to students to let them become heroes to rescue themselves?”

For those not in attendance, there could be some confusion on Minor’s use of the term “hero”; the word is commonly associated with superhero characters from the Marvel or DC Comics. Minor himself even referenced the superhero Batman in his speech in order to make his claim that teachers are the voice-overs in their students’ lives. He suggested that teachers could emulate the voice of Batman’s mentor, Lucius Fox who is played in the films by the actor Morgan Freeman.

The role of the mentor as the “voice-over” is an integral part of the hero’s journey archetype. In the classic hero’s journey, in film and in literature, there are twelve (12) steps.  Step 1 begins in the Ordinary World, when the hero hears a Call to Adventure (step 2), which He or She initially Refuses (step 3). By step 4, the hero encounters someone who can give him advice in order to prepare for the journey ahead. That someone in step 4 is The Mentor, a character that students are already familiar with some examples from films.

Students at every grade level can name film mentors such as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz, mentor to Dorothy; Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, mentor to Luke Skywalker; and Gandalf, mentor to both Hobbits, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, in the the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Minor, however, asked his audience to turn from cinema’s world of fantasy in order to suggest the role the ordinary teacher plays everyday is as powerful as these other mentors.

“Think about that Morgan Freeman voiceover in the movie…. to ‘Be the Batman,'”intoned Minor enthusiastically in order to illustrate that every student needs to hear that voice-over in their heads to “Be the hero” of their life.

While teachers may lack the gravely voice of Morgan Freeman, teachers can help their students when they decide to Cross the First Threshold into adventure (step 5) and meet Tests, Allies, Enemies (step 6) before taking a New Approach (step 7) when setbacks occur day by day, grade by grade.

Just as the characters in epic literature or in film Confront Ordeals (step 8), teachers in real life can contribute by helping students Achieve Success and Rewards (step 9) as they prepare to Return to the Ordinary World with new knowledge (step 10). Helping students achieve success is critical to prepare students for future tests, both literal and figurative (step 11), and the final step 12 is when students finally complete the journey with knowledge, literally the “elixir”, which will be used to help others.

“What’s the last ‘best’ book you read on your own?” I would ask students when I taught middle and high school.

When I asked them this question, the boys almost always answered “Hatchet“.

“That’s the last book I read, too,” many would admit.

The number of Hatchet fans was 100% among the vocational agriculture students I taught for seven years in a rural school in Northwest Connecticut. Their love of this novel resonated with their desire for independence, adventure, and the outdoors.

The author Gary Paulsen shares many of these interests according to his biography:

Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dog sled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his powerful stories.

In Hatchet, Paulsen’s protagonist, Brian Robeson, is a thirteen-year-old boy from New York City. From the onset, Brian is ill-prepared to meet the hardships of the wilderness when the single engine plane he is riding in from New York to Canada crashes because the pilot had a heart attack. Thus begins a compelling survival story, and my students loved survival stories; many of them were experienced hunters or fishermen.

The opening chapters of Hatchet also cover Brian’s personal background, his knowledge of his mother’s affair and his parent’s subsequent divorce, and the events leading up to the plane crash. Since the pilot had offered Brian a few minutes of flight lessons, he is able to control the descent of the plane until it crashes into a lake. He swims to safety with his only asset, a small hatchet he has taken from the crash.

Brian’s wilderness education alternates between emotions of loneliness and his physical needs. He learns to respect the natural world through a series of unexpected encounters with a bear, a porcupine, and a wolf. A turtle’s eggs give him a food source until he learns how to fish.  He learns how to build a fire and how to store food properly after a serious spraying by a skunk. Initially devastated about his inability to signal a passing plane for help, Brian works to improve his skills by constructing a studier lean-to.  These incidents mark a change in the “new” Brian, one who is far more self-reliant than the “city boy” who left on the plane to Canada. My students enjoyed the notion that “city boy” values must change to include skills they valued as well.

In recounting Brian’s emotional turmoil caused by his parent’s recent divorce, Paulsen uses simple and effective word choice and syntax; Brian is monosyllabic with memories, “The words. Always the words. Divorce. The Secret. Fights. Split. The big split.” Many of my male students spoke monosyllabically as well. These simple statements capture Brian’s stream of consciousness effectively without sentimentality.

There is just the right amount of the “yuck” factor in the novel to satisfy a young male reader. When the plane resurfaces, Brian decides to retrieve the plane’s flight location transmitter. While diving in the plane, he comes upon the decomposing body of the pilot:

“The fish. He’d never really thought of it, but the fish—the fish he had been eating all this time had to eat, too. They had been at the pilot all this time, almost two months, nibbling and chewing and all that remained was the not quite cleaned skull and when he looked up it wobbled loosely.”

Paulsen illustrates Brian’s growth as he learns how to adapt to increasingly dangerous situations; he survives a tornado and a terrifying moose attack. The reader is increasing aware of the self-confidence that Brian develops towards the end of the novel:

“Come on, he thought, baring his teeth in the darkness—come on. Is that the best you can do—is that all you can hit me with—a moose and a tornado? Well, he thought, holding his ribs and smiling, then spitting mosquitoes out of his mouth. Well, that won’t get the job done. That was the difference now. He had changed, and he was tough. I’m tough where it counts—tough in the head.”

54 days after the plane accident, Brian is rescued. Like all characters in a coming-of-age novel, he is not the same; he is more introspective and thoughtful. Paulsen’s narrative convinces students that Brian’s transformation is real, and that maybe such transformations are possible for themselves.

The novel’s grade level equivalent is 6.3; the Lexile® measure is 1020, but labeling the interest level as grades 6-8 is a mistake. My students’ interest in Hatchet was the standard for all other reading choices as in, “This book is not like Hatchet” (*sigh*) or “This book is almost as good as Hatchet.”

Hatchet was the 1988 Newbery Honor book and, fortunately for teachers wishing to offer books like Hatchet, it is the first in a trilogy + one. After Hatchet came The River,(1991); Brian’s Winter, (1996); and then Brian’s Return, (1999).

Paulsen also has two non-fiction offerings: the book Guts, a set of true short stories of survival, and Winterdance, a story of running the Iditarod. Both titles were also popular with my students.

Paulsen’s wilderness experiences set a high standard for adventure stories for my students, and the experience of reading this book was often so powerful that I had to (figuratively) drag them “out of the woods” in the book to notice other compelling stories on our classroom’s bookshelves.

Hatchet was my “go to” for the reluctant reader, and I always had several copies on hand to lend out. There were copies for the first time reader and for the re-reader, but I did have to draw the line on occasion. While Hatchet can still be the best book some of my students have ever read, it cannot be their last.

When Erik Larson was interviewed by the NY Times for his latest book Dead Wake about the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania, he Screenshot 2015-03-11 23.14.19expressed his purpose for choosing to write in the narrative non-fiction genre:

“It is not necessarily my goal to inform. It is my goal to create a historical experience with my books. My dream, my ideal, is that someone picks up a book of mine, starts reading it, and just lets themselves sink into the past and then read the thing straight through, and emerge at the end feeling as though they’ve lived in another world entirely.”

There is nothing of analysis in his stated purpose for writing, but there is a desire to have a reader engulfed by a narrative that ends in the reader “feeling.”

In contrast, in the first three anchor standards for reading (grades k-12), the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts spell out the expanse between their objectives and Larson’s expression to use narrative non-fiction to connect viscerally with the readers:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2
Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3
Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

The anchor and grade level standards were written purposely to be devoid of any reference to reader’s feeling or connection. These standards were carefully articulated not to be confused with the popular  Reader Response Theory supported by Louise Rosenblatt that focused “on the reader rather than the author or the content and form of the work.”

“Reading closely” in the CCSS has been spun as “close reading”, defined by the The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) as:

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (2011, p. 7)

Analyzing the definition of close reading (above) through analysis in a WORD SIFT highlights the CCSS emphasis on ideas and meaning for the student:Screenshot 2015-03-11 22.02.36

Missing from this definition? The word “author.”

This word sift analysis illustrates how the “close reading” advocated by the CCSS requires students to read for meaning, with no consideration to the intent of an author.

The NYTimes interview with Larson provided him the opportunity to state that he does not write to a standard; he says nothing about “meaning” and “ideas”. Instead, Larson poetically defined his goal for writing. He writes for the reader to have an experience, and that experience is ” his “dream” or “ideal.”

While the language of the Common Core contrives to eliminate the author’s role in creating texts, those same texts students will be expected to “close read”, Erik Larson reminds us that authors do not write to meet a standard.

Authors write to create feelings in their readers, whether those readers are reading closely or not.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 8.46.23 AM

Order for questions for #satchat 3/7/15

Rather than sleep in, hundreds of educators spend Saturday mornings (7:30 EST) tweeting away on Twitter in discussions with other educators worldwide about current issues in education. The hashtag #satchat takes educators to the discussion selected for that morning. The topics are usually posted (see left) by one of the coordinators so that educators can prepare in advance for the flurry of responses they want to make for the hour of tweeting. The topic on 3/7/15 was tweeted out by as Tomorrow’s Classrooms Today. 

At 7:30 AM this Saturday, the tweet tsunami began and soon Twitter’s#satchat was trending (by the numbers: 3654 Tweets; 603 Participants; 49.2 Tweets Per Minute according to Billy Krakower ‏@wkrakower ).

Call those engaged in this particular form of edu-communication the Coalition of the Willing. They are spread out nationwide, perhaps clustered in some geographic areas, but connected in this digital parking lot every week for the sharing of ideas with like-minded educators. At every session, and during the week, there are participants cheering #satchat as their Professional Learning Network (PLN).

These members of the Coalition of the Willing tweets out positive, occasionally fanatical, statements about the difference these virtual meetings make for them in their practice. These three samples prove such enthusiasm:

rWith Twitter the knowledge of one becomes the knowledge of all.
aStarting my morning w/ , expanding my PLN and continued growth through collaboration.
Today’s : the best proof that teachers are most certainly part of solutions in education.

Reading tweets from the Coalition of the Willing on any Saturday, there those messages that bemoan educators are not taking advantage of social interaction and information shared on links through Twitter or any other social media. Let us call those educators the Coalition of the Unwilling. Many in this coalition are unwilling because they do not see the value of a Twitter form of professional discussion; many do not have the time to participate; many are not proficient with technology and are frustrated with their attempts to engage; many do not care. For whatever reason, and regardless of platform, there will always be a group of educators currently employed who are not independently engaged.

What can be done to change this paradigm? What about looking at the next generation of teachers?

Question #5 on this round of #satchat asked about the tools can educators can utilize to involve stakeholders in the future of education. Knowing that the Coalition of the Unwilling is already not interested (not available, not proficient, etc…), I offered the following sentiment on a tweet for Q5:

For our future, engage teacher ed programs.

A response came from 

And energetic new teachers often get sucked into the status quo when they enter the “real world” of schools. 

My response?

That’s why we hook potential and new teachers into Twitter; It’s an inoculation against the status quo.

If educators today want collaboration and communication with the educators of tomorrow, then the Coalition of the Willing needs to collectively use social media to engage with the teacher education programs. Most new recruits in teacher ed programs are already familiar with social media, and understand how to make connections. They must be brought into the dialogues on social media platforms like Twitter in order to be inoculated against the isolation of those first years of teaching or serving as an administrator.

Every #satchat discussion is the perfect complement to teacher education and teacher preparation programs. Week to week, #satchat offers what could be considered the most authentic syllabus for a “Contemporary Issues in Education” course. And there are Twitter chats with hashtags for any other education course as well: #Engchat for English teachers, #kinderchat for Kindergarten and elementary teachers, #BYOD for schools using bring your own digital device approaches, etc.

The Twitter handle @Cybraryman1 (Jerry Blumengarten) updates a webpage with links to hundreds of hashtag links and the National Education Association offers an article “Can Tweeting Help Your Teaching?”  with links to support beginners such as the Twitter Handbook for Teachers.

Targeting colleges and universities with teacher ed programs to engage with professionals on social media platforms could bring collaboration in teacher preparation in the short term which might improve teacher retention in the long run.  At a minimum, professors and instructors should consider how easily participation in education chats could be used as assignments: follow students, review posted links, assessing a tweet’s 140 characters. This is more authentic, and less burdensome, than grading long papers.

At a time when professional development can be costly, there are educators with experience on education chats who are ready to lend support and guidance for free. There are educators who want to learn from each other and share what they know. They are the Coalition of the Willing, and many are already on Twitter on Saturday mornings, tweeting #satchat and trending.

Teacher educators? Please, have your students join them…or maybe have them respond at a more reasonable hour, say, after noon?