Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Host: a Stephenie Meyer Adult Book

I usually write this blog on Saturday mornings but I was away at a choir festival this weekend and left my computer home as I knew that I would have no time to even boot it up. One of the things I did have some time for was reading on the long bus trip.

As a result, I just finished reading Stephenie Meyer's most recent book The Host. It is promoted as a book for adult audiences so I was really quite excited to read it. I've read all of her YA books beginning with Twilight and I was hoping that her writing would get a little more explicit for an adult audience ( I am a fan of writers like Diana Galbadon - great storytellers with a flare for ... um ... romantic scenes!).

The book is science fiction, which is a departure from the romantic horror (a combination you think wouldn't work but does) of Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse. The story is about an Earth where alien parasites are inserted into humans to take over the body and brains of their hosts. Here's the teaser from the publisher:

The author of the Twilight series of # 1 bestsellers delivers her brilliant first novel for adults: a gripping story of love and betrayal in a future with the fate of humanity at stake. Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie''s body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.Melanie fills Wanderer''s thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves-Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body''s desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she''s never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.Featuring what may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel that will bring a vast new readership to one of the most compelling writers of our time.

So think of the writer's craft here - Meyer wrote dialogue that had to show internal conversations between Wanderer and Melanie, she had to write external dialogue between Wanderer and the other characters and had to write reactions to the conversations by 'both' main characters without losing the reader! Meyers does an excellent job of this. Amazon has a video of Stephenie Meyer talking about The Host and you can access it here.

This is the reason I think why this book is classified as adult - it will take a fairly fluent reader to keep track of the dialogue. The content of this book is very tame - the romantic scenes are less than one would see on television and no more than what one would read in a YA book. But it's the sophistication of the writing that makes it a book for adult readers, not the content.
I definitely recommend the book for secondary school students. It certainly would be a way of introducing science fiction to students who would probably not read it. Science fiction doesn't appeal to many but here in this book Meyer has taken the genre and softened it to appeal to a wider audience. I really enjoyed the book and recommend it.
P.S. Meyer's fourth book in her Twilight series will be released on August 2nd and is called Breaking Dawn. Chapters is taking orders now.
Image from: www.amazon.com

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Importance of Linking Writing with Science and Social Studies

I came across an excellent podcast from Tony Stead on Miguel Guhlin's wiki. Tony Stead is an Australian educator who has written books about the importance of reading and writing non-fiction with primary/junior students.
I have always thought that we teach far too much fiction and not enough non-fiction in school and that is why we have comprehension difficulties with textbooks in the higher grades. Our schools have leveled books in classrooms and book rooms - how many of those texts are non-fiction?

Stead has found that:

In K-2 classrooms, 95% of writing experiences were with personal narrative and story.
By 6th grade, children will have spent 84% of writer’s workshop composing personal narratives, stories, and writing from prompts

  • 73% of students read nonfiction at least 3 Reading Recovery levels below that of their fiction.
  • 15% of students read nonfiction 3 grade levels below their fiction.
  • By third grade, only 7% of students struggled with decoding nonfiction at their grade level.

  • We teach decoding, how to get through text, but we spend little time helping them understand what the text is actually saying. ESL children can easily learn to decode but because it’s a 2nd language, they don’t have understanding of which words to use for concept. They can read at 28 level of Reading Recovery, but comprehension level of 4.
  • You know which kids who are going to be your strongest readers and writers—it’s about oral comprehension.
  • Students who were competent readers of nonfiction were also competent in reading fiction, but not vice versa (my emphasis).
  • Boys were more competent than girls in comprehending nonfiction but girls read with better phrasing and pace.
  • Boys slow their reading down because they want to make meaning of non-fiction. They do what every child should do—they fight to read.
  • Children can read 3–4 levels above what they’re benchmarked on topics they’re interested in.

You can read through the notes to get the flavour of the presentation. The podcast is quite long (it's the whole presentation he gave at the conference) but I listened to it while I was working on other things.

But the gist is integration of curriculum - combining social studies/science, inquiry-based learning and non-fiction writing.

He also talks about shifting the use of the KWL strategy to the RAN strategy. KWL is only useful if the student has sound background knowledge. If a student has weak or incorrect background knowledge, then the second category of KWL (what I need to know) will also be weak because really the student doesn't know the right questions to ask - his research questions will not be set up correctly.

RAN - Reading and Analyzing Non Fiction Strategy

What We Think We Know Yes we were right New facts Wonderings Misconceptions

  • Whatever the content area is—such as sharks—I am not going to start off with what do we know. As a class, I ask them, what do you THINK you know? Why is this better terminology than what we think we know?

This techniques allows for diagnostic assessment of background knowledge. This gives the teacher a way into kids' heads and allows the teacher to differentiate for the class. He says that kids will read books to confirm what they think they know - they are more engaged. This strategy changes the way kids read and is the basis of thinking and inquiry-based learning. When you use the RAN with social studies, this strategy will bring up bias and prejudices that the students have - a good thing to know so that this can be addressed in the unit.

Lots of really good information on this podcast - perhaps a personal summer professional learning opportunity as you'll need some time to listen to the podcast. Is That a Fact is available through our board's Professional Bookstore (only available to board staff).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Betty on Blades

One of the best things about spring is I can finally get back on my rollerblades. There is nothing like the feel of moving through space faster than a walk or a run. There is nothing like the exhilaration of flying down the path and passing people on bikes when you are on blades. You really get the feel of speed when you're on 'blades.

One of the benefits of living where I live is it is flat - and I mean flat. The only hill around here is the man-made hill that I can see from my bedroom window. It's a great little hill that is lined with walking/biking paths. At its foot is a large man-made pond that has Canada Geese, various species of ducks and the odd heron that drops by. Trees and naturalized vegetation abound as you walk you way up to the summit of the hill. From the top of the hill there is a panoramic view of Lake St. Clair where you can see sailboats and lake freighters. It's an excellent viewing spot for our area's annual fireworks display that celebrates both Canada's Birthday and the Fourth of July for the U.S.

It's really quite lovely until you realize this hill was born from a garbage dump. Before it was decided to build and develop the surrounding fields into a major sub-division, the 'hill' was a major source of summer fires from the spontaneous combustion of methane gas. It doesn't sound very appealing but the planners in their wisdom developed an extensive network of pathways for walkers/runners/bikers/bladers that stretches for kilometres. These paths take you around the hill, through naturalized areas, and along the main riverfront road. And the pathway is flat and free of cars (you just have to worry about the odd bits a debris and stone - a real threat to 'bladers).

Anyway, a flat topography is a boon to rollerbladers. A visitor from British Columbia once remarked that he was envious of our flat pathways for rollerblading. Quite ironic really because usually no one from B.C. is envious about Ontario.

So what's this got to do with the usual subject matter of this blog? Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, another one of my hats is that of teacher consultant for Health and Physical Education. I came across this neat site that allows you to map your run (or 'blade or bike ride) called Map My Run. It works in conjunction with Google Maps.

You can plot your route and it will calculate distance in kms or mi. You can use this when planning events such as fun runs and walkathons, etc and it allows you to mark out water stops and other areas. You can create an account and save various runs. You can find routes in various cities and keep track of your training. It's really a neat tool.

So where ever you are enjoy the spring weather, turn off the computer, map a route and get out and take a walk, run, bike or 'blade.

Image: Devil's Mountain (aka former garbage dump now East Riverside Hill). S. Seslija, 2008.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Short Post

I'm in St. Catharines, Ontario right now and I will be attending a meeting for the health and physical education part of my responsibilities. The Internet connection here is iffy tonight so I'll just post a few new items that I've harvested through the various blogs that I follow.

For those of you who use Animoto, there is a new educator account that will allow you and your students to make videos longer than 30 seconds. Check it out here.

There is a new wiki made by librarians in Florida that has links to various 2.0 tools called
Web Tools 4u 2Use. It puts a number of Read Write web tools in one convenient space and since it's a wiki anyone can add to it as new tools become available.

Here's a link to a wiki called 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Digital Story. It shows how to combine traditional writing with other media. The list of 2.0 tools is extensive. I like it because it emphasizes the planning and preparation that must go into the work before the publishing (something that students have a hard time understanding sometimes).

Wes Fryer has a post on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog. It has ideas for summer professional learning. You can view his suggestions here. Most of this can be done from the comfort of your own home if you have a decent Internet connection (I don't have that great of an Internet plan but can still do most of the stuff I want except view video - takes forever to buffer).

I'm still having problems with the connection so that's all I'll post.