Thursday, 29 January 2015

I Read... Console Wars by Blake J. Harris

Console Wars is not my kind of book, but I have been trying to look for non-fiction that I think boys would be interested in reading.  To that end, I have been trying to take my husband to the book store more often so that he can help me to get out of my comfort zone- his tastes are not that different from a teenage boy!

Console Wars talks about the battle between Sega and Nintendo in the battle for champion of the video game industry.  As someone who never owned a game console, this wasn't exactly up my alley.  However, I remember boys heading straight home after school to play Super Nintendo, and I can see how much my young son loves playing video games on the computer.  My vague memories of Sega only involve Sonic the Hedgehog- I really remember that Nintendo was king- but this book showed me how Sega played a very revolutionary role in the evolution of video games and game consoles.

I think that  lot of boys would be interested in reading this book (and any girls who are interested in the video game culture).  If you want to give your class a taste of what this book has in store, have them read the foreword by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg- it is hilarious.  

While this book is not something that I would teach directly, I might look at pulling pieces to include in a video game/media unit.  I have taught the documentary King of Kong, and I find that kids love it.  I'm sure that there is plenty of rich material that I have not explored (storytelling in video games, anyone?), and I definitely think that it is a world worth looking into.

Food for thought... how can the English Language Arts classroom bring in the "real world" interests of students?  What would you like to see in your English class?

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Strategy for Classroom Management

If you ever struggle with classroom management, this simple strategy is worth a try.

(Image Credit:

I thought that this would be a great class project to do together at the beginning of the school year.  Kids can have input- what are some ways that we can work independently?  In partners?  Having the arrow added is a great idea as it helps kids to understand expectations as soon as they walk into the classroom.  This could also be adapted to other behaviour and classroom management charts- what do we do if we finish early?  How can we show our learning?

Food for thought... how do you set up behaviour expectations in your classroom? 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

I Read... We Were Liars by E Lockhart

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends- the Liars- whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution.  An accident.  A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth

How could I read that descriptor and not want to read this book? 

Everything that I saw about this book said not to give away the ending... and I agree.  It's hard to talk about the plot without giving away too much.  The story follows a group of teens who spend every summer on the family's private island.  One fateful day, an accident changes everything.  

I couldn't put this book down.  It is an easy read, and as you peel back the layers of this interesting family, you will find yourself wanting to learn more.  I really didn't expect the ending- it was a clever twist on what could have been a very cliched story.

I hate to be so vague on a book review, but the nature of this book requires it!  I think that a lot of readers will enjoy this book- anyone who likes a good mystery, anyone who likes character-driven stories, anyone who just likes an interesting and easy read.  The narrator is a female, so it may be harder for a young male reader to relate to her, especially when it comes to her romantic relationship.

Food for Thought... what is the best twist ending that you have ever seen or read?  Novel, short story, movie, TV... let me know!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Visual Literacy

While the inspiration for this entry may not be directly related to Education, but it immediately sparked an idea... visual storytelling!

(Image Credit:

There was a popular pin going around a while back showing a man, Melbourne's Andrew McDonald, holding a series of notes in what he called his "Pictorial Guide to Avoiding Camera Loss."  I originally pinned this here, and the original blog post can be found here.  I, like so many others who saw McDonald's guide, got a good laugh out of his creative approach to proactively asking a stranger to return his camera to him.

Then my teacher senses kicked in and I wondered how I might use this in a classroom.  Visual literacy is such an important skill to teach students- they are bombarded by so many images on a daily basis that it is vital that they know how and why these images are created.  This collection of images shows a strong connection between text and image.  It is also very easy for students to identify purpose (please return my camera).  I think that this would be a great project for kids to use as a model.  They can come up with any potential problem or message that they might want to get across and determine how they can use text and images to best meet their purpose.  Will humour work?  An appeal to emotion?  How will they keep the text concise and easy to read?  What will be included in the accompanying image?  The options are limitless.  I think that I might use this as a part of a media study unit, but I can also see this being a part of a study of a character (taking on his or her point of view), in an advertising unit, in a unit on rhetoric, or as an early essay assignment.

Food for Thought... What do you think about this idea?  If you are a teacher, would you use this guide as a mentor text in your classroom?  If you are not a teacher, what do you think about using images like Andrew McDonald's in the classroom?  How important is it to teach visual literacy in our schools? 

Monday, 12 January 2015

I Read...The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

Similar to Something Real, The Wolf of Wall Street was a book that sat on my night stand, partially read, for quite some time.  While I enjoyed the book, I think that my first mistake was that I only picked it up after watching the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

In case you are unfamiliar with the story, this memoir follows Jordan Belfort as he tells about the crazy life that he led as the CEO of investment firm Stratton Oakmont.  While the firm made instant millionaires of its employees, Jordan blew his money on drugs, sex, and an extravagant lifestyle.  The over-the-top stories are better than fiction, and if Belfort is being truthful when he says that, if anything, he toned down the truth for the book, it is hard to imagine a more hedonistic existence than his.

As an escapist read, this is an interesting book.  If you are interested in reading about an over-the-top life of someone who has never heard the word "no," this is worth picking up.  I think that this will be especially interesting to young males who can, temporarily, put themselves in Jordan's (very expensive) shoes.  That said, Jordan is anything but a likable character.  His cockiness and lack of care for others leaves you waiting for him to get his comeuppance.  I also found that the stories of debauchery began to wear on me.  Belfort's writing is rather limited, so the stories can blend into one another.  This might be the strength of the movie over the book- the visual aspect allows the viewer to clearly differentiate the stories from one another, and I found that this helped the flow of the story as a whole.

Food for Thought... what are your thoughts on film adaptations of novels?  Are there any standouts?  Have you ever come across a film adaptation that you liked better than the novel?

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Using Twitter to Teach Editing

I recently found a fantastic example of how students can practice editing skills by correcting the tweets of famous athletes.  The original post can be found here.

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The idea is fairly straightforward, but I think that this is an effective approach on many levels.  First of all, it gives a real-world context for editing- no worksheets here!  Secondly, by choosing celebrities that kids are interested in (I imagine that Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian would provide some good content for this assignment), you are building in engagement.  Finally, there is an element of digital citizenship to address.  Showing kids that these mistakes are out there for the world to see and judge can be applied to their own use of social media- think before you post!

Food for Thought... What do you think about this approach to editing? If you are a teacher, would you use this idea in your classroom? If you are not a teacher, what do you think about this approach to editing? How important is it to teach digital citizenship in our schools?