“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” — Oscar Wilde



I like collecting quotations.  In my spare time, I go online and search for quotations about education, literacy, or just life in general.  I then cut and paste them into a word processing document.  I remember when my band teacher posted one music quotation per week around our band room.  We would arrive in the band room every Monday and look around to see what new idea had been placed on the wall.  Years later, during my first year of teaching, I volunteered to decorate the school library.  One of the first jobs I completed was to place a reading quotation above all the computers.  I enjoyed seeing the students walk around to read the quotations as they were perusing the bookshelves.

I realize that collecting quotations might be considered cheating, because why would I want to use the words of someone else when I can create my own?  I would counter that argument by stating that quotations allow me to perfect my own reading analysis.  I can determine what wisdom the speaker is trying to impart, and I can use his or her statement to help my students understand the themes we are exploring in a larger piece of text.  I can use a particular quotation in a lesson plan to add impact to my points.  Finally, I can use my collection to gain some insights into my own life, and learn how I can use these written statements to improve my own thinking and actions.  The quotations might have been said by someone else, but the critical thinking they can provide belongs to the reader.

Why It’s OK for Kids to Hate Books


Last week I was at Chapters, slowly perusing the different selections of books, when a particular sign caught my eye.  A table was advertising a sale with a colourful sign drawing attention to “Books You Loved From School”.  One of the books sitting on the table was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brönte.  Now, I know that opinions are different, and that this book is a classic because so many people enjoyed it.  However, all I could think about was how much I hated the book when I had to read it in school.  I remember being annoyed by all the cruelty Heathcliff and Catherine committed in the name of their all-consuming, caring-to-the-point-of-insanity love.  After pointing out the display to my husband, we started talking about all the books that were assigned to us in school that we really disliked.  On my list was The Lord of the Flies (the teacher could never answer my question about what an island full of girls would do differently), while my husband appeared to be fairly irritated by the death of Leslie Burke in Katherine Patterson’s Bridge to Terabitha.  I started thinking that there are quite a few books that are commonly presented in schools that may not appeal to students.  How can we prevent these students from equating these particular books to a general dislike for reading?

I believe that one way to overcome this issue is to teach children that it is OK to hate a book they have read.  Let kids know that if they take a book out of the library they do not have to finish it if it is unappealing to them.  Introduce them to the Reading Bill of Rights.  Don’t be upset if a student dislikes a book you have chosen for the class to read.  Teach them that Newberry Award winners are not enjoyed by everybody.  Create lessons where students are taught how to give reasons why they hate a book (this will give you more enjoyable reasons than “It was boring.”).  Give assignments where students review and rate the books they have read, and post these reviews for other students to read.  Share your own experiences of reading books that you have hated.  Finally, let students know that by understanding what books they dislike, they are on their way to discovering what they do like to read and becoming a more discriminating and sophisticated reader.

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians



Three years ago I was teaching mythology as part of my literature genre curriculum.  A student walked up to me at lunch and handed me the first book in the Percy Jackson series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief).  He stated that he thought this might be a good book to read for the class.  I started reading it myself during our Silent Reading time that day, and couldn’t put it down until I had finished it that evening.  The novel was so good, I decided to use it as a read-aloud a few months later when we would be studying fantasy novels.  As the class progressed through the book, I noticed something remarkable.  Students began to take the book out of the library to read ahead.  At this point the second and third books were published, and students began to bring in those books from both their school and public libraries.  When books were finished, students shared them with their classmates.  Soon the fourth book was printed, and although it wasn’t in paperback students were convincing their parents to buy it.  I heard Greek words like “Ergo!” and “Di Immortalis!” become part of their everyday conversations. One student told me that this was the first book he had ever finished that a teacher didn’t make him read.

I attribute the appeal of this series and the fervour my students experienced to Rick Riordan, the author of Percy Jackson.  A former middle school teacher, Riordan created a series that appeals to the imagination and sarcastic wit of young adolescents.  The main character, Percy Jackson, is a struggling student with dyslexia and ADHD who has been kicked out of every school he has attended.  We eventually learn that Percy is a demigod, and the son of Poseidon, as the Greek gods are real and are still affecting the lives of humans in modern society.  In The Lightning Thief, the first book of the series, Percy has to retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt, and he goes with his new friends Grover and Annabeth on a cross-country quest.  Along with great references to Greek mythology updated for modern times (example: the protagonists get trapped in the Lotus Casino, an update of the Lotus-Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey), Riordan also provides Percy with a humour that his middle school audience would appreciate.  For example, as Percy comes face to face with Hades, and sees his robes decorated with the flickering faces of doomed spirits, he wonders “…whether the rest of his clothes were made the same way.  What horrible things would you have to do in your life to get woven into Hades’s underwear?”

The subsequent four books in the Percy Jackson series proceed in much the same way, where we are taken with Percy as he moves through his various quests.  We also see him evolve as a character, as he struggles with decisions regarding his destiny and the protection of his friends.  These themes provide another layer of thinking for students, as they form opinions regarding Percy’s and the gods’ decisions.  Rick Riordan’s website is a very useful resource for educators, even including downloads of teacher guides and discussion questions for the first three Percy Jackson books.

I have to mention that the Percy Jackson movie is nothing like the books, and those who have read the series will be quite disappointed by the movie.  After using The Lightning Thief as a read-aloud again this year, a few teachers and myself took our students on a field trip to see the movie.  The bus ride back to the school and the time before the dismissal bell was one long discussion of what should have been in the movie and why certain events from the book were left out completely.  One student at the back of the bus, who was already on the fourth book, kept calling out, “But keep reading the books!  Don’t stop!  The Percy Jackson books are great!”  When students show this much enthusiasm for a series, it is certainly worth a try to introduce it into the classroom.

A Love of Literacy


When I was in school my favourite subject was Language Arts.  Reading was my passion.  Writing was my emotional release.  The ideas, the comprehension, the inferences, and the arguments were just there in my mind, waiting to be articulated.  Conversely, Mathematics was my worst subject, and I struggled to understand the concepts that were shown to me.  As I progressed through my teacher training, however, I noticed something that at first struck me as unusual: teaching Math came more easily to me than teaching Reading and Writing.  After some reflection, I concluded that because I had struggled with Math throughout my educational career, I was better able to understand my students’ difficulties and help them to overcome their mental barriers.  I could teach a Math concept three different ways because it had often taken me three tries to understand the same concept myself.  But because I had inherently understood stories, plays, and poems, how was I supposed to teach reading to struggling readers?  Because I had always been full of ideas on what to write in my own creative stories, poems, and essays, how was I supposed to teach writing to those with low writing output?  How was I going to establish that literacy is crucial to understanding our world, and instill that same interest in my students that I experienced growing up?

Seven years of teaching later, and to be honest, I’m not close to mastering the teaching of literacy.  But I am also working to discover the tools, strategies, novels, and techniques that will assist me in this journey.  These are the ideas I want to share with others who have the same goal of encouraging literacy.  Some posts will be a discussion of curriculum theories and pedagogy.  Others will be reviews of novels for the intermediate grades, and still others will be literacy lesson plans that can be directly pulled from the site during one of those “Whatever will I teach the kids tomorrow?” moments.  To quote W.B. Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  If I have a passion for literacy, I want others to share in this passion, and together we can learn how to light these fires for our students.