PUSH, again

May 7, 2008

The other day, my roommate walked into my room and noticed that I was reading PUSH, by Sapphire. She instantly asked what I thought about it, and told me that she read it a few years ago. My roommate is 18, black, and from Brooklyn. I was not just happy, I was thrilled, to be able to discuss this book with a young girl who is the same race and from a city just like Precious (PUSH’s main character). My roommate said that she read PUSH in 11th grade, after the recommendation of many male and female friends of hers. The novel was not available at her school, so she bought it at Barnes and Noble, and loved it. She surprised me when she said that the graphic and sexual nature of the book did not phase her. Evidently she has read several YA texts that are equally as bawdy AND sexually violent.

My roommate did say that her race and city upbringing did not aide in her pick of the novel or pleasure in reading it. She agreed that being able to relate to characters and the setting of a story are helpful, but not a pre-requisite for success. As a matter of fact, she was glad and grateful that she could not relate to or think of a friend who can relate to Precious – an illiterate, abused, HIV Positive 12-year old who is pregnant for the second time  after being raped by her father.

As depressing and frightening as the novel begins, it ends with a feeling of hope, empowerment, and pride. Precious eventually leaves the hell-hole known as her mother’s home, and embarks on a journey of literacy, companionship, trust, and self-worth.

I stand by my opinion that this novel is too risque for the classroom, but everyone should read it eventually. You would be shocked at what sort of lives some kids endure.



ANNIE’S BABY by Beatrice Sparks, Ph.D.

May 1, 2008

This week, I read ANNIE’S BABY by Beatrice Sparks, Ph.D. A quick read and written in the form of diary entries, most teenage girls would love this novel. Annie, short of “anonymous” is a fourteen-year old girl who ends up dating the new boy: athletic, good-looking, popular, desirable, definition of “masculine” and “sex appeal.” The relationship begins like a dream for Annie, but rapidly turns violent and frightening. Danny, Annie’s boyfriend, rapes Annie – she was a virgin before the rape – beats her, guilts her into drinking alcohol at parties, and compels her to lie to her mother of her whereabouts so that she have many-a-secret rendezvous with Danny.

A book recommended by Erica in her seminar on teen pregnancy and parenting, Annie subsequently gets pregnant. I do not want to ruin the ending, because this is a book all teachers of teenage girls should be knowledgeable of, so I will end here. Annie struggles with the concept of single parenthood, confronting her mother, the wrath of Danny, and the choices of how to handle the pregnancy. Birth control, “the first time,” physical and sexual abuse are major topics discussed in this short novel.

Most importantly, Annie feels guilty and responsible for Danny’s abuse. She thinks that she brought it on herself, and at other times, it’s the “alcohol” or “stress of working too many hours.” Warped justifications like these resonate so well with young, amateur relationships. I think Lesesne would agree that this is appropriate for the developmental stage of teenagers that are 14-18 years old.


“13 Reasons Why” Hits Home

April 9, 2008

While waiting to watch the hilarious and brilliant Taylor Mali, I got to talking with Professor Stearns and Mandy about “13 Reasons…” I told them how I found a way to relate closely to the story, despite never having been suicidal and never needing to deal with suicide first-hand. After sharing my story, they encouraged and convinced me to share it on the blog with the rest of you. Perhaps this will lend a hand in proving that even the most obscure topics and books can resonate with you, as long as you just give it a chance

In “13 Reasons…” Hannah explains that the root of her problems, which brought her to suicide, came from a “list.” This “list” was her school’s version of Class Superlatives, a.k.a. Who’s Hot, Who’s Not. Hannah made it on the list under “Hottest Ass.” She goes on to tell the story of how this title came about and how it ruined her reputation, and gave unwarranted permission to guys to grab her “ass” and view her as an object. One would think that she should have taken such a label as a compliment, but she found no integrity, self-respect or pride in having the “hottest ass” while she knew it was a result of rumors of her being a slut (untrue, but how can you “disprove a rumor?,” she asks).

At first, I read through the novel without connecting to it on a personal level. And then, I had time to reflect. I realized that this hits home closer than I had fathomed! In 8th grade, I received the “title” of “Class Flirt” on the list of 8th Grade Superlatives (highest grade in the middle school, so this was a big deal). I originally found it funny; it was somewhat humorous and exciting to be awarded a title, and to be recognized as someone specific rather than an average teenager.

My sentiments quickly changed once I got home. My dad was infuriated by my new position in middle school society. He told me that “Class Flirt” is basically another way of calling me “Class Slut,” and asked me if I wanted to be perceived that way… IN 8th GRADE, NONETHELESS!?! My dad demanded that I change my e-mail address from my newly created MissFlirt@hotmail.com to something more generic, or at least have it be a better representation of who I am. My parents explained that “Class Flirt” is in no way indicative of the kindness, thoughtfulness, friendliness and compassion that I show others. I pondered this and realized that “Class Flirt” merely says, “You’re popular enough to be noticed, but not cool enough to be noticed for something substantial (like best looking, smartest, nicest or funniest).”

My rank in the school caste system did not change. The soccer girls (i.e. popular girls) did not invite me to their lunch table, and I was only invited to the “cool kids’” houses for parties, never private gatherings. Instead, my reputation was predetermined by the Class Superlatives. From the first day of high school, until I finally had a serious boyfriend, I dealt with girls calling me “slut,” “bitch,” and “whore.” Girls whose boyfriends spoke to me, or god-forbid were my friends, hated me and accused me of trying to “steal their boyfriends.” These girls were rounding third base when I had just gotten my first kiss a few months earlier, yet I was being ridiculed! Since I had a strong foundation of supportive, involved parents and loyal, understanding friends, I never was consumed by these names; however, it did bring on some tears and confusion as to why so many girls didn’t like me when I had done NOTHING.

So, I digress, and want you to know that deep within every story is a story that someone can connect to. And deep within every rumor are a lie and a truth, both aching to be heard.


Calling for Clear, Specific Content

March 30, 2008
Check out this article in the AMERICAN EDUCATOR, a catalogue that my parents are subscribed to. My mom sent me this article and I have found it online for all of you to read. It highlights the fallacies in NCLB, the lack of support and information given to new teachers regarding expectations and curriculum, and the need to look beyond the “pedagogical fads.” If we as educators, including veteran educators, are aware of the problems, then why are they so difficult to rectify?Enjoy! -Jessica

A conversation with YA readers.

March 25, 2008

Hello All,

Being a non-Christian, I did not go home for Easter weekend. Instead, I went to my friend’s house for a somewhat educational – and disappointing – Easter dinner. Overall, it was your typical family dinner; however, two particular conversations stand out in my mind from the rest…

My friend has two younger cousins. Both are girls, one is 13 (8th grade), the other 16 years-old (10th grade). The girls go to school north of Syracuse (the name has slipped my mind) and are in virtually all honors/AP classes. I was pleased to discover that they are assigned summer reading. The older cousin told me that last summer she was assigned to one book and the second one was her pick (she chose A SEPARATE PEACE). Perhaps two books is unimpressive, but it’s better than not being assigned any, right? To my dismay, the same girl who was assigned summer reading was given by her AP English teacher a list of books at the beginning of the year with the expectation of all students reading 12 books by June. How many books have they read so far? 2. Okay, I’ll be nice and say 3, since they’ve begun a third. This brings me to ask: Are teachers setting the bar too high for themselves? Was his/her goal genuine, but not properly planned in order to execute such an agenda? My friend’s cousin also told me that the way this teacher assess that the reading(s) has/have been done is through a series of questions, on the occasion. Anyone can lie about the work they have done if that’s how it’s being assessed. The only perk to this class is that the students get to choose what they are reading. Besides that, I don’t see how these students are “advancing” any further than non-advanced placement students are.

Secondly, the 13 year-old told me of a book about a young girl during the Holocaust that her class had just completed. After describing the book to me, she said, with all sincerity and honesty, “I know this is the Holocaust, but all they do is complain!” This young lady had no idea of the gravity of the subject. This brings me to ask if there were preliminary exercises, activities or lessons for the students’ understanding of WWII. Did the teacher prompt his/her students at all for this serious topic? I discussed this with a fellow classmate of mine today, and she suggested that the teacher should have shown a connection between then and now by giving examples of present cases of genocide (e.g. Darfur). Between my in-classroom observations and conversations with middle and high school students, kids/teens need prompting, examples, visual aides and relevance to grasp the meaning of a topic.

BOY TOY, by Barry Lyga

March 22, 2008
Today’s lit circle discussion about Barry Lyga’s BOY TOY raised many good points and brought several relevant issues to the table. The novel begins with Josh as a 12 year-old 7th grader who is the “whole package”: good-looking, highly intelligent, athletic (i.e. has reached great achievements in baseball) and lives with both parents (until the very end when they divorce, but that is in the last few pages of the novel). We follow Josh through his teenage life, ending 5 years later. In this duration, we learn about his Mrs. Evelyn Sherman, his 7th grade history teacher and lover. With the use of vivid imagery and titillating language, Lyga takes a daring approach at portraying the lives of a child molester and child-victim. Focusing mostly on the affair and the emotional and psychological impact it had on Josh, BOY TOY is similar to a (fictional) memoir.

However close this topic relates to young adult readers, teachers must consider the graphic nature of this text. I insist on parental consent and would not recommend it for any grades below 11th, even 11th grade is risky. LOVE THE BOOK, and I hope everyone reads it at some point in their lives!


instructional book review (great book of strategies!)

December 4, 2007

Jessica Exter

Author:  David W. Moore & Kathleen A. Hinchman

Title:  Teaching Adolescents Who Struggle with Reading: Practical Strategies (2006, Pearson Education, Inc., Boston, MA)

            Reputable and well-respected amongst educators, authors David W. Moore and Kathleen A. Hinchman offer novice and veteran teachers of secondary schools an accessible, easy-to-read guide to reading strategies and exercises. Teaching Adolescents Who Struggle with Reading: Practical Strategies describes adolescents who struggle with reading as a challenge, but not impossible. Founders of The Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association, Moore and Hinchman use plausible classroom scenarios so that educators who read their instructional book can relate. Moore and Hinchman convey in their text that teachers who have a passion for reading and meticulously plan out strategies, goals and exercises of relevance can produce fervent readers.

Recently my Methods class was assigned to come up with strategies for teaching a few texts from a 5-week unit plan students made. Moore and Hinchman’s guide to practical reading strategies is an excellent resource for my Method’s assignment. Each chapter opens with a question that gives the reader an area of concentration for the upcoming chapter and engages him/her. The authors respond in the form of vignettes and short categorized paragraphs as to avoid chapters that drone on for pages. At the close of the chapter, the reader revisits the question as a means for reviewing the strategy and assessing what has been learned. Difficult terminology is explained as to avoid confusion, and outside resources are included that the reader may refer to in case he/she needs further clarification.

For my Methods class, I chose Moore and Hinchman’s strategy called Story Frames. Story Frames help students that find it difficult to retell a story into their own words with sentence starters and endings. A series of aspects may be touched upon in a Story Frame: Story Summary with One Character, Important Idea or Plot, and Character Analysis. An example for Story Summary with One Character would be, “This story is about __________. ___________ is an important character in (the) story. ___________ tried to ____________. The story ends when ______________” (Moore, 69). For simplicity, I will use the classic children’s story Cinderella. The students complete the Story Frame as follows: This story is about a young woman who is abused by her step-mother and step-sisters and forced to be a servant to them. Cinderella is an important character in (the) story. The story ends when Cinderella marries the Prince and escapes the cruelty of her step-family. Students use this approach for assistance, but will not depend on it. A strategy like Story Frames intends to guide the students into independent writers. As time progresses, Story Frames should be less frequent while the students advance towards restructuring stories on their own.

The importance of being able to read and read well is evident in the emphasis Moore and Hinchman put on instruction that promotes self-efficacy and stimulates students to achieve literacy goals inside and outside the classroom. Moore and Hinchman’s text comforts and motivates not only the struggling reader(s), but the struggling teacher(s). Professor Richard T. Vacca, of Emeritus Kent State University, writes in Teaching Adolescents . . .’s Forward, Moore and Hinchman, “. . . present down-to-earth direction that is meant to be in touch with the real world of teaching . . . providing quality instruction . . . and adaptable for educators who need information now” (Moore, x). The authors introduce the reader to the text with the “4 P’s” of teaching and learning: passion, partnership, purpose and plans. Moore and Hinchman explain that a teacher who expresses his/her passion for reading humanizes the act of reading, thus making reading an acceptable and enjoyable activity. Prompting and modeling the act of reading, that is reading along with the students and discussing one’s own favorite pieces of literature, “. . . rubs off on students” (Moore, 3). A passion for reading and writing combined with a passion for the development of the students’ reading and writing skills create an encouraging reading and writing-centered environment. Purpose is described as the point when “you’ve got to think about big things while doing small things so that all the small things go in the right direction” (Moore, 3). A purpose for every exercise, strategy and lesson keeps order, provides a goal to work towards and helps the class move forward. Moore and Hinchman add that creating community between the students and teacher allows students to become brave and daring readers. The strategies offered in the text ask for students to participate and voice their opinions. Diversity is welcomed and encouraged. In order to achieve openness and participation, the students and teacher need to have a comfortable, accepting relationship.

With each strategy they present, planning is the most crucial step, Moore and Hinchman reiterate throughout the text. Plans can be coupled with purpose. A classroom’s arrangement and the distribution of work (i.e. type of assignments, due dates and grading scale) need to be premeditated, but also open for change, the book explains. Moore and Hinchman stress the importance of planning ahead and having alternative plans for the possibility of an exercise not working out or having time left over.

Moore and Hinchman make multiple connections between their lessons and strategies with the lives of adolescents. They show how reading strategies connect with the school structure, school culture and popular culture of the students. Moore and Hinchman find that strategies succeed when all aspects of school are involved. From bell schedules, to counseling, to reading materials that are readily available, Moore and Hinchman teach their readers a multitude of ways that will mold adolescents into strong readers. 

David W. Moore and Kathleen A. Hinchman use Teaching Adolescents Who Struggle with Reading to simplify the complexity of lesson planning, strategies and reaching goals through visual aids, such as graphic organizers, lists, charts and illustrations. This text calls for readers to ponder what type of classroom environment and culture they wish to construct. Acknowledgement of classroom and personal goals, and framing strategies based on their appeal and abilities of the students become more realistic after reading Teaching Adolescents Who Struggle with Reading.


A different kind of education. Just a thought…

November 25, 2007

How important do you think travel is to a child’s (both elementary and secondary levels) education? I have always said that the broadest of my knowledge comes from all the traveling I did over the years with my parents. By traveling, I specifically mean trips to historical, artistic and natural sites: Pearl Harbor, Van Gogh Museum, national parks, etc. Any thoughts?


Sold, by Patricia McCormick

November 4, 2007

Author: Patricia McCormick

Title:                 Sold     (2006, Hyperion, New York)


            Lakshmi, a thirteen-year-old girl from Nepal, tells a heart-wrenching story of life as a sex slave. Born into poverty on an isolated mountain where everyone knows each other’s names and business, Lakshmi is ordered by her step-father to become the source of income for her family. Lakshmi is ultimately removed from her hometown and displaced in the hustle and bustle of Calcutta, India. Unbeknownst to Lakshmi, she had been sold into prostitution to support her family. Author, Patricia McCormick, the best-selling author of Cut, writes Sold in blank verse, creating vignettes that focus on particular moments of Lakshmi’s journey from innocence, to emptiness and torment, to survival. McCormick intensely uses the feminist critique to construct her characters and set the mood. Through deconstruction of the text, McCormick brings readers into consciousness of the cruelty and abuse against young adolescent girls as sex slaves, America’s efforts to stop such practices, and a respect for the innocence and liveliness of young adolescents.

            McCormick arranges her vignettes in fictional, yet realistic pieces. At the close of the book, McCormick explains that she researched and prepared for writing Sold by following Nepalese girls in their tracks from quiet homes in Nepal to the chaos and crime of sexual slavery in Calcutta, India. McCormick also interviewed aid workers that rescue girls of sexual slavery, tend to their medical needs, provide them with job training and assimilate them back into society. Interviews with survivors of prostitution in Calcutta served as the most influential and emotional part of writing Sold (McCormick 265).

            Sold is an appropriate text for young adolescents, particular in 9th grade. An excellent text to for attributing many types of literary critiques, 7th and 8th graders do not have the maturity level and emotional depth needed for to read and analyze Sold. Students will notice the constant use of characterization, symbolism, imagery and foreshadowing. McCormick writes about a young prostitute that Lakshmi comes into contact with under the vignette titled “Understanding Anita,” “She could not smile, even if she had a reason to” (McCormick 156). The emotional and psychological tolls of sexual slavery reveal themselves in descriptions of characters in the text. Graphic verses compel the reader to become emotionally involved with the text. With a tone mixed with sadness and anger, McCormick writes of Lakshmi’s first job or rape:

“With a sudden thrust I am torn in two . . . I hear, coming from a distance, a steady thud . . . another sound interrupts . . . I know this noise from somewhere. I work very hard to make it out. Finally, I identify it. It is the muffled sound of sobbing . . . Then I understand: I was the person crying.” (McCormick 120-121)

McCormick writes with honesty and conviction. In the character of Lakshmi, McCormick places the reader into the mind and heart of a scorned girl. Young adolescents will look at the sanctity of their bodies differently, boys will view girls and women with a new-found respect and girls will find instantaneous pain and hope for young Lakshmi.

            Patricia McCormick’s text Sold, a National Book Award finalist, should be part of the required reading for all secondary English classrooms. Students may research the cultures and politics of foreign countries, conduct a current events project on recent findings in sexual slavery throughout the world, or simply research the changes of young adolescent girls and boys. With a plethora of meanings, the incorporation of several literary techniques and the ability to apply such critiques as feminist and deconstruction, Sold is an ideal young adolescent text.

book review

October 15, 2007

Fellow Classmates & Professor,

Here is the abridged version of my book review for this week:

Writer and veteran educator of America’s youth, Theodore R. Sizer, conducted a personal observation/study over the years in the education system, producing The Red Pencil: convictions from experience in education. As opposed to the standard instructional texts that guide soon-to-be teachers through their first day of teaching, Sizer criticizes and advises the past, present and predictable future of the educational system. Through Sizer’s writings, one comes to understand how socio-economic class has affected the classroom and teacher for years.

            A topic that has been focused on in AED 541 is incorporating young adolescent interests and relevant experiences into their reading and writing. Additionally, we have established that building a relationship with one’s students allows for better teaching and most likely higher achievement amongst students, since the teacher can gear his/her lessons to appeal to the students. Sizer first touches upon this on page 5 by stating, “… if we want a powerfully educated population we must attend to all aspects of each child’s situation…” Sizer adds that too many schools shortchange their students due the socio-economic state the school is in. “A successful school might be best described as one that produced “upper-class” – future-oriented – graduates,” writes Sizer in his portrayal of schools over time (Sizer 14). As one reads on, it becomes evident that Sizer supports and encourages “free minds” and “creativity” amongst both students and educators. Through historical examples and argumentative writing, Sizer proves his thesis a strong and useful one.

            Sizer discusses in greater depth the difference between teaching and learning, how to create a congruency between the two, the (negative and positive) significance of authority in the school and at home, and the structure and arrangement of the education system. Sizer’s study proves that the education system has failed its students, especially those of diverse and/or underprivileged backgrounds. Furthermore, Sizer demands for schools to honor and respect students’ differences, and provide attention to each student individually.

            Divided into chapters titled “Building,” “Authority,” “Order,” “Horace Compromised” (a reflection on his previous book on education), and the Epilogue, “Dodging Our Duty,” Sizer publishes his own case study on the education system. With suggestions and guidelines for reform, Sizer tells new and elder educators the education system is in desperate need of a facelift. This short, slender book intends to influence the decisions and practices of policy-makers, parents/guardians and educators. The Red Pencil motivated me to want to teach differently from my past teachers, become more involved with students, and embrace my future students’ differences.