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Posts tagged ‘book reviews’

Book Review: Being the Change by Sara Ahmed

Written by Danielle Agan and Karen Friel

Sara K. Ahmed offers an equitable approach to fostering social comprehension in the classroom through her book, Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Ahmed offers a personal approach to teaching social comprehension through the lens of a Muslim American identity. The introduction of this text is not one to be skimmed over. Ahmed gets the reader ready to face their own social comprehension and the work ahead by providing essential questions and guiding principles to reflect upon. As she states, “we have an obligation to make kids feel visible” (2). Now, more than ever, we have an obligation to create a space that feels safe and accepting for all of our students, which is the focal point of this text. The text guides a teacher and class through an entire school year, offering the progression of teaching social comprehension, while providing detailed lesson plans and mentor texts as resources in chapters one through five. In chapter six, the text is concluded with thoughtful reflection and reminders with how to proceed into the future and the importance of celebrating identity. 

Ahmed’s personal voice is strong and passionate about the topic in this easy to read book. She offers several mentor texts and resources to get a teacher started with incorporating lessons on identity into the classroom. This is a great tool for a beginning teacher, or a veteran teacher who is looking to incorporate social comprehension into their curriculum. Ahmed does not fall short in offering a plethora of resources including: picture books, poetry, short stories, short story anthologies, novels, nonfiction, and videos. All of these resources are equipped with appropriate lessons that are detailed and spelled out for the educator. The text is embedded with scripted dialog, or “teacher talk,” so if you are someone who would like this as an support, or are not yet comfortable with social comprehension, it is available to you. However, it is easy to skim over due to the different font and color, so if you prefer just to focus on the lesson itself, this can be easily done. 

The versatility of the lessons and mentor texts makes this an appealing read for teachers K-12. As mentioned before, Ahmed leaves no stone unturned, and packs the book with mentor texts for all levels. In chapter one, Ahmed informs the reader how to “affirm our identities” through identity webs. This lesson begins with a mentor text in order to give the students a model of what an identity web is and how to create it. Then, the students are in charge of creating a definition of identity. Together they brainstorm and jot down words that come to mind on a giant piece of chart paper. From there, the work of social comprehension can begin. The goal of an identity web is to get to know your students while also starting to bridge connections between the kids and yourself. It is a way to initiate the process of learning about each other in a safe space. Ahmed thinks of just about everything with her lessons, including a “follow-up” section and an “addressing tensions” section to coach you, the teacher, through difficult situations that may arise in the classroom. 

Overall, Being the Change would be a strong book to add to your collection of professional development books. Ahmed’s passion about social comprehension resonantes through each page and guides any reader through activities that are ready for the classroom. As reviewers, Karen and Danielle are in very different stages in their careers. Danielle is a first year teacher. She teaches 7th grade English Language Arts, and was able to try these activities in her own classroom. She started at chapter one and is now on chapter three, and plans to continue progressing through the lessons until the end of the school year. Her biggest takeaway is that even if you do not follow each lesson exactly, it is about making a safe space for identity and differences. Karen has been teaching for seven years, as a reading specialist. While she teaches small groups and does not have a classroom of her own, she realizes the importance of having ongoing conversations around social comprehension. Karen highly recommends Chapter 2 – Listening with Love. She agrees with Ahmed’s beliefs that by teaching active, empathic listening real communities are built which strengthen real learning.

Books on the Blog: Maybe a Fox

Another installment of Books on the Blog with middle school librarian and media specialist Gabija Fischer!

maybe a foxMaybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt tells of sisters and best friends, Jules and Sylvie, in her Maybe a Fox. Sylvie spends her days reminiscing about their mother who died long before Jules would even be able to remember her. Not only does Jules long to know their mother like Sylvie does, but she also longs to understand Sylvie’s own cryptic burning wish: to run faster. To Jules, Sylvie seems to run fast everywhere, even to places she is not supposed to like the Slip. Their father recites to them often, “Do not, under any circumstances, go near the Slip.”  Read more

Monday in the Middle: Wish Girl and Firegirl

Looking for a few more good reads to squeeze into these last few weeks of summer? Here’s another installment of Monday in the Middle with librarian and media specialist Gabija Fischer!

wish girlWish Girl by Nikki Loftin


Peter Stone, of Nikki Loftin’s Wish Girl, wants nothing more than calmness, but his home is filled with noise.  His parents shouting and his baby sister crying drive him to search for solace, and that is exactly what he finds in the valley near his new home. His solitude, however, is short-lived, for someone else has happened upon this magical valley as well. Annie, self-named “wish girl,” searching for a similar peace, finds more than that. She finds Peter. And in each other they find a listening ear, a life-changing friend, and a glimmer of hope in their seemingly hopeless lives.

Read more

Monday in the Middle: Wonder,

Another installment of Monday in the Middle with librarian and media specialist Gabija Fischer!

Wonder by RJ Palacio

wonderRJ Palacio’s Wonder is the story of Auggie’s transition from homeschool to attending a traditional school. This in itself would be a challenge for anyone, but Auggie, born with severe facial deformities, must also combat the stares, fear, and avoidance of his peers. But the struggles aren’t Auggie’s alone. His parents wonder if they’ve made the right decision: how can they protect him from the cruelties of the world while give him the freedom to mature too? And his sister, Via, a constant source of love and support suddenly becomes self-conscious of her image as Auggie’s sister. Read more

The Writing Conference in Nancie Atwell’s Room (Part 3)

By Donald LaBranche

This post is the third in a series of reviews of In The Middle, by Nanci Atwell, Third Edition, 2015. Click here to see the previous reviews.

inthemiddleHere’s the first verse from Robert Bly’s poem “Things to Think”

Think in ways you’ve never thought before
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you’ve ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

When the best teacher in the world is a middle school English teacher, folks who do the same thing for a living might want to sit up and pay attention. When she has written book after book for decades telling us how to avoid becoming mere “technicians” and hold true to what is best in the teaching profession we might ask, “Have I heard what Nanci Atwell has to say?” and if the answer is no, then ask, “Why not?” Read more

Monday in the Middle: Roller Girl,

Another installment of Monday in the Middle with librarian and media specialist Gabija Fischer!

RollerGirlCVRRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

In Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Astrid Vasquez and Nicole are best friends. They do everything together, like suffer through Mrs. Vasquez’s Evenings of Cultural Enlightenment. Waiting for one of these “boring” events to begin, Astrid and Nicole goof off, like usual. When the lights dim and the Rose City Rollers skate into the arena, Astrid is mesmerized. At that moment, she knows she wants to participate in a roller derby, but first she and Nicole will have to attend the Rosebuds (the junior Roller League) summer camp to learn the sport. This is all a dream-come-true…except Nicole doesn’t want to go to roller derby camp; she dreams of ballet. Differing interests highlights not only the fading of Astrid and Nicole’s friendship, but also the start of many other changes that accompany the turbulence of middle school. Astrid must develop her identity–as independent, as confident, as athletic. Bumps and bruises along her journey of self-discovery give her an excuse to give up, but she doesn’t. Instead she fights for her dreams learning invaluable lessons along the way, and ultimately she becomes tougher in many respects.  Read more