Archive for the ‘Laurie Halse Anderson’ Category

Review – “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Melinda is raped the summer before her freshman year at a party, she calls the cops but never reports it. This makes her stop speaking and all her friend hate her. Her parents manage to not notice the monumental change that their daughter has under gone. The art teacher is the only person/class in which Melinda tries/participates/cares. Her year long project, ‘tree’, becomes an outlet. The trees she creates become symbolic of her own feelings.

I taught this as a student teacher to 7th graders. Though the subject of rape is a pretty adult topic, Anderson presents it in a way that is very appropriate for YA readers. My students, even the boys, enjoyed the book and I think that the first person POV of Melinda and access to her thoughts, she wants to tell but simply can’t, really makes this novel accessible.

This is a powerful book. The internal narrative of Melinda as she goes through the aftermath of her rape takes a turn in the the end of her freshman year and ends with her as such a different, hopeful person I can’t help but to be moved by it.

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A new model

I convinced my 8th grade colleagues, and the administration, that King Middle School‘s model of Expeditionary Learning (EL) is worth looking into and emulating. We visited the school yesterday and everyone is really fired up about it. I think that we’ll do our first expedition next year!

I am familiar with King because I interned there for 13 weeks while completing the Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine. (While at King, I taught the Laurie Halse Anderson‘s novel, Speak. You can learn more about that work here.)

If you aren’t familiar with Expeditionary Learning, it follows Outward Bound principles. An Expedition can be many things but at its center is careful planning, an authentic task, an authentic product, and an authentic audience. Notice the focus on authenticity; this drives both student and teacher to excellence. When you know that the public is going to see your work you are more likely to do what needs to be done and a bit more to make sure it is quality.  King’s website has examples of past and current Expeditions and products.

The culture of the school is amazing. We had two 8th grade students give us a tour of the school. Everybody, staff and students, was polite and helpful and excited for us to be there. Teachers waved us into their classrooms and were happy to talk to us. Even more impressive was that while there were 5 new adults in the room who were taking the teacher’s attention away, the students continued working quietly and without issue. We stopped a couple different students in the halls to ask questions and they were thoughtful, well spoken, and happy to help.

Everyone knows that integrating academic disciplines leads to higher student involvement, buy-in, and achievement. Everyone wants each student to be challenged appropriately to do their best, to learn and improve. Expeditionary learning combines all the things that we know about what is best for students and fits them all together. Instead of individual pieces, we have a cohesive whole. Differentiation within an Expedition becomes much easier. I think that it lessens the stigma that still surrounds ‘difference’, especially at the middle school. There is a great deal of structured independence embedded within this model, people work at different paces and perhaps in a different order. This means that it is no longer obvious that one student is doing something different than the rest of the kids. Traditional schools have kids move from class to class, subject to subject with no connections between. But think about it, if each class is working on a piece of a larger puzzle school starts to make more sense, the disconnect between classes is healed and, paired with the authenticity of the learning, students begin to discover the joys of learning and exploration and want to share what they know with others. It makes our job as a teacher more enjoyable and easier – the principal of King, Mike McCarthy, said during our meeting “Engagement trumps discipline.”  This is absolutely true, if kids are interested then they are not going to be a behavior problem.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this. I hope that the Administration continues to be fired up about it, that the school board will go see King’s “Celebration of Learning” and that Kittery can follow the shining example of King Middle.

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The rest of the week

The ten lies handout wasn’t as popular as in the second class on Tuesday, but nor was it as quickly dismissed as in the first one – it has served well as a hook. As HW I’ve been asking the kids to bring to class questions that they have about what they’ve read so far. I’ve got them from two classes so far, I collect them and read them to the class without saying whose it is, I told them this is how I was going to do it so that they would ask their questions and know that they would be anonymous. Many very good questions, I didn’t try to answer any of them, it would have ruined the story if I had but the point was to show them that they weren’t alone in having questions and to give them a reason for reading – try and find the answer.

This was the perfect segue into reading strategies. I polled the class for what they do when they don’t understand, reviewed ‘metacognition’ with them [they had a mini lesson with my mentor about 2wk ago] and told them what I do when I’m reading. They had great strategies – asking a question and reading on to see if it is answered, reading slowly and enunciating in their head as the read – I was impressed.

One problem I’ve run into is that kids are reading faster than I thought they would – quite a few are finished with the book already. This makes for tricky class discussions. I’m adamant about not spoiling the story for those who are not there yet. As we pass my reading deadlines conversations will be less restricted.

I taught my textual evidence lesson to two classes on Friday. I thought it went really well. My hook was to ask about shows like CSI and Law and Order and other crime dramas. I elicited the term evidence from each class pretty easily when i asked about what the police spent most of their time looking for. Then i made the connection to making a claim about a book and backing it up, proving it. That was my question of the class – can you prove it? and, how does that quote/scene prove it? I had a handout that i projected on the wall that we completed as a class. The final project is going to be an essay, the will need to provide support for claims they made, I pointed out that what we were doing will translate directly to the writing of the essay.

Unfortunately (?) the essay wasn’t part of my initial plans for the novel so I’ve had to rework my schedule and content to make time to scaffold and give writing time. As well as create a product descriptor and rubric. I created a calendar that I am going to give to the kids that has each assignment listed on its due date. That way they have multiple representations – the grid, and the list that is posted on the blog.

I’m been the blog site [I created a new one just for Speak] to post reading/blogging/essay draft due dates, you can check it out at I also posted the product descriptor for the essay – I haven’t officially gone over the assignment, I’ve just let them know that they have to write and essay. I did create bookmarks that I passed out to all the kids during a house meeting with the essay topic choices on it. This way they could take note of page numbers on the back once they’ve decided what they will write about.

I also have to begin to introduce them to the web-quest I designed you can see that at It is going to be quite the trick fitting everything in in the next 3wks.

Day one of Lead Teaching – BTCS & Speak

Yikes it’s been awhile since I posted last. I’ve been busy with planning for lead teaching, designing a course, and creating a webquest.
Today was the first day of my lead teaching. I did not see two of the classes because of BTCS [Bettering yourself Through Community Service,Ii think], the students leave the building and walk to a location that is related to a social service and help out in whatever way they are needed. I had my own group today [for the first time] and we went to Garry’s House. This is a place for family to stay when a loved one is in the hospital. Each time the kids come here [where they go rotates] they make some kine of baked good. Today they made cookies, brownies, and cake. The nine students split into groups of three and went to work. The young men who were making the cookies had a very good time. The dough was very thick. Another student tried to help mix with a wooden spoon that snapped – half in her hand and half in the dough. It was entertainment for all!

Back at school. . .
The first class I had went exactly as I planned. I told them the plan for the class and began. I had them write the reading assignment in their agenda as I passed out the handout. I explained the hand out and how it related to the book we are starting. As they fill out the handout I pass out books, taking note of book number and student. We discuss the handout and make predictions based on the cover of the book, which I have projected on the wall. We go to lunch and come back for the rest of the class [a weird scheduling occurrence I know] during which I play the audio book as they read along. My supervisor arrives for my formal observation early and sees 18 kids reading along intently to the audio.

Class two, and the subject of my supervisors observation, does not go as planned.
That is not to say it went bad. I began the same way, however, I was only able to pass out about 6-8 books before everyone was done. I thought, and said to the class, I’ll finish
while you’re listening to the audio version. We then spent until five minutes before the end of class talking about half of the handout. The conversation was great, and during the post conference with my supervisor I realized I had heard from every student. They were totally fired up about the discussion and when I moved to the next item on the handout with 5-6 hands still up a collective “awww’ was heard. I explained [again] that we would see all of these topics in the book. The faces on the kids faces at that moment was priceless, and I knew they were hooked! I didn’t get all the books handed out in time, a student stayed and helped get books out to the rest of the class.

Last block today was a study hall. I had 7 kids come in from classes that hadn’t met today and ask if they could get the book. Word had spread!

It will be interesting how the other two classes go.

High Road or Middle Road

At the beginning of the ETEP program, I was certain of my desire to teach at the High School level. During the first semester, we spent a week visiting different schools, after which I said that if I were to teach Middle School it would have to be at KMS or another Expeditionary School. Now that I’m in, and slowly becoming a part of, the school, I am not so sure what level I prefer. It is early in this placement and I’ve not yet seen too many classes. I will begin teaching in the coming weeks and that should provide the necessary experience to determine which I like better.

My thoughts right now about the different levels are:
In High School we can really dive into a text and get our hands dirty – words and language all over them. The conversations are good and the kids have the cognitive ability to make inferences and critically examine and interpret a text.

The Middle School kids, on the other hand, enjoy reading!. Big tip of the scales there. The kids haven’t been stripped of or had their curiosity and enthusiasm for school squashed. It will be interesting to see what kinds of discussions we have surrounding the book Speak. I’ll be teaching literary terms as we read in addition to the heavy topics of Rape, Friendship, High School social structures, and anything else that comes up for the students.

With that said I think I’ll continue my re-reading of the book and making notes for myself. I’ll soon have to start creating lesson plans, ugh. I dislike planning in that way. I much rather have an organic classroom experience, though I see the benefits of having a plan. I’ve just had too many of my plans get thrown out because of how the class was going or how (un)prepared the students were.

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