Darth Paper Strikes Back

I found myself engrossed in book #2 of the Origami Yoda series.  Not a personal genre favorite of mine, but highly recommended (and I needed a break from the civil war book!) I only wish I had the opportunity to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda first so I would know the characters and the back story.

Thinking about my take-aways from The Book Whisperer, I know exactly the students who I would love to hand this book to.  Star Wars fans?  Absolutely.  Creative/artistic kids?  Absolutely.  Students who are overwhelmed with too much text on a page?  Absolutely. Students who love comics or graphic novels?  Absolutely.  I could go on, and on, but more about the book …

The first book in this series was about a 6th grader named Dwight and his advice-giving, origami, finger puppet of Yoda.  This book continues the story, but now it’s Dwight and Origami Yoda who are in need of assistance, and the students of McQuarrie have taken up the charge – all except Harvey and his origami Darth Vader, a/k/a Darth Paper.  Darth Paper is insulting, possibly evil, and the root cause of Dwight and Origami Yoda’s troubles!

Darth Paper Strikes Back is written as a case file, with more than ten different students offering his or her perspective on Dwight and Origami Yoda.  There are numerous entries from Tommy, and a few with Kellen, but it’s in the offerings of the other students where the readers truly see the story of Dwight and Origami Yoda.  Two case examples:  Lance writes, “Origami Yoda and Exploding Pizza Bagels of Love” while Cassie’s entry is entitled, “Origami Yoda and the Body Odor in Wonderland.”

For readers to successfully navigate this book, they must not only read the text, but also follow the drawings, diagrams, and comments written in the margins, all the while tracking which narrator is telling the story at any given point.  Also, if a reader isn’t familiar with Star Wars, it might be difficult to understand many of the references and innuendo – but for those Star Wars enthusiasts, and those up to the challenge of navigating the textual features, then this is the book for you!

Here is the Amazon link to Darth Paper Strikes Back, written by Tom Angleberger. (He also narrates this how-to on making your own Darth Paper.)

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The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller has been on my to-be-read list for quite a long time, but only recently came into my hands. Mrs. Miller teaches 6th grade and is highly respected by all educators as a guru who remains in the classroom fostering a love of reading for her students!

I read this book in one night, but know I will return to it again and again. While valuable for teachers and other educators, I believe many parents would find it helpful in understanding upper elementary and middle grade readers. I actually found my copy on the shelves of my local library, so it should be fairly easy for you to get a copy of as well.

Mrs. Miller discusses many of her ideas about students as readers, including her worries about:

  • Developing readers (a/k/a struggling readers) and says, “…these students have the ability to become strong readers. They may lag behind their peers on the reading-development continuum, but they are still on the same path. What they need is support for where they are in their development and the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure.” (p.25)*
  • Dormant readers (a/k/a reluctant-readers) feel that “Reading is work, not pleasure. Without support for their reading interests and role models who inspire them to read, these students never discover that reading is enjoyable.” (p.28)
  • Underground readers are “… gifted readers, but they see the reading they are asked to do in school as completely disconnected from the reading they prefer to do on their own.” (p.30)

Donalyn Miller’s premise is simple … children will become readers if we give them ample time to read, help put interesting books in their hands, and model for them what a reading life looks like! She highlights how to recapture lost instructional time during the day** and how to repurpose a few “traditional” classroom activities with independent reading. Her book is practical, straightforward, and has challenged me to reflect on what literacy looks like across a school building.


(*)In thinking about developing readers, I keep coming back to this quote from Kylene Beers which I’ve happened on repeatedly over the past few weeks. “Do I think reading books is the only way to help struggling readers? Of course not! Sometimes I suggest reading more books.”

(**) In thinking about repurposing time I was reminded of this post by Howe Elementary School Principal, Matt Renwick. Matt is a true literary principal and has many ideas worth stealing!

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller at Amazon

Wonder

The term mandibulofacial dysostosis doesn’t often come up in children’s novels, but it is the heart of a fabulous book entitled Wonder.   This is the story of Auggie, a soon-to-be 5th grader who will be attending school for the first time at Beecher Prep.  Auggie has been home-schooled, due to years of surgeries and medical fragility, but that is about to change!   Check out this awesome video book trailer.

While this book is about Auggie’s 5th grade year, it’s certainly also a book about disability, human nature, and friendship!  Written from the viewpoint of multiple narrators, the story lives and re-lives various events through the eyes of those involved.  Wonder  is a book many parents should read alongside their children, as the perspectives are varied and the lessons are many.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway comes early in the book, but is repeated throughout …. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”  Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.

Wonder is written by R.J. Palacio.  The Amazon link is here.

I read after I posted this morning that the July Twitter Bookclub will be based on the book Wonder, and there’s a free book giveaway today and tomorrow!

With Many Thanks

It has been quite an experience for me since I transitioned to Winthrop Elementary School last summer, and I still can’t believe the school year has come to an end.  There have been days and events that stand out as absolutely stellar and memory making for our students, but it’s the day-to-day dedication of the adults in our community that I think about most often.

Specifically …

  • The commitment and concern of the dozen or so staff members and parents who came in last summer to meet with me and talk about Winthrop, both in terms of strengths and challenges.
  • The involvement of the parents – from day one to day 180 there were family members in our school, volunteering in the classrooms, the lunchroom, with projects, with parties, with field trips, with performances and special events, etc.
  • There were also plenty of volunteers who worked from home and helped with project prep, phone calls, emails, and our weekly e-Notices!
  • The experience of our teaching staff – Winthrop has very few teachers with under five years of service and that is a rarity in education these days!  There is a wealth of “institutional knowledge” and best practices within the school walls, and a variety of styles and approaches to teaching and learning.

So, many will say, “Why go?” and others will talk about the “mass exodus” of administrators in Melrose, and that’s the reasoning behind this post.  There’s a cliché … timing is everything, and the timing in my situation has been less than ideal.  I understand that my sudden departure may cause people to speculate on why I’m leaving.  Throughout the year, I have striven to be transparent and truthful, and in continuation of that I assure you I was not out looking for a new job, and had dully intended to help work Melrose through this transitional phase.  I think it is exciting to see new district leadership in Central Office positions, and am impressed with both Cyndy Taymore, and what I’ve recently learned about Dr. Adams.  I have been working diligently with Lincoln principal, Brent Conway, on how best to transition in three new principals for Hoover, Horace Mann, and Roosevelt, and continue to do so.

This late breaking opportunity to return to Tyngsborough was truly a family decision, and heavily debated and agonized over in the Herrera household.  Time is the number one detractor in our lives, with my husband’s hectic police schedule, having a soon-to-be 18-year-old college commuting son, two rambunctious dogs, and my busy principal life!  The ability for me to be home between the school day and evening events is the biggest time-gaining factor for us and weighed heavily in this decision.  Returning to the district where I grew in my teaching methods, and in my administrative style and practice was also a strong motivating factor.

I think Winthrop Elementary School is a fabulous place for students to be, and believe that the dedication of the adults who are part of this community makes Winthrop truly stand out.  I am thankful for a wonderful year, and will miss being part of helping Winthrop and Melrose grow and move forward.

Step-Up Activities

All students in grades K-4 “stepped-up” today to meet the team of teachers that will be at their grade level next fall.   At Winthrop this involves some staff moving into new roles and positions, so it was important for students to be able to match names and faces before receiving welcome letters in August!

  • Rising 5th graders met Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Lewis, and Mr. Yeaton
  • Rising 4th graders met Ms. Bruce, Ms. O’Brien, and Mrs. Ogiba
  • Rising 3rd graders met Ms. Bates, Ms. Hatch, and Mrs. Herook
  • Rising 2nd graders met Ms. Gorevitz, Ms. McElligott, and Mrs. Orlofski

and

  • Rising 1st graders met Ms. Hurwitz, Mrs. Twist, and Ms. Wilcox

All students were given information* to bring home about grade level supplies, and our almost 2nd-5th graders also received packets of information* regarding summer practice for literacy and math.  Having sat through each session, the resounding plea was for students to become more automatic with basic facts (addition and subtraction in the lower grades, and multiplication in the older grades!)  One teacher reminded students of their younger days when learning the alphabet.  The teacher asked the students to think about how hard they worked to recognize their letters, and how easily the alphabet comes to them now.   She then related that to practicing and becoming automatic with math facts!

Yesterday, children’s librarian Marianne Stanton presented to students and sent home information regarding summer reading, summer programming, and a suggested book list for Dream Big – Read!   The Melrose Public Library will not charge children this summer to replace any lost library card, and all were encouraged to visit Monday-Thursday from 10-8, or on Fridays from 10-5.  Books from the library are a great way to keep busy this summer, and an inexpensive way to reinforce learning and academics from the school year.

*All supply lists and summer packets will be posted on the Winthrop website within the next week.