So What Is This #throwdown Thing Anyway?

Many of you who happen across this blog post will probably know that my students have engaged in 2 different #throwdown challenges with my Sister Classroom, Mrs. Heise’s class in Wisconsin. Jillian (the aforementioned Mrs. Heise) and I have heard and fielded many questions about this, so we decided it would be a good idea to put some blog posts together. For her amazing post, check out this link right here.

Our story begins on a warm February night (okay, probably a cold night), as Jillian and I were discussing ideas for March is Reading Month (if it helps [and I think it does], imagine me tracing my hand against the canvas of the sky, painting the picture of this narrative). We had talked about a few things, and decided to do March Book Madness with Lea Kelley (more on that later).

But I knew that wouldn’t be enough:

Of course, Jillian, with utmost confidence in her students, was not going to back down from such a challenge. And thus #throwdown was born.

The rules are simple:

  1. Any book completed by a student in the month of March counts
  2. Graphic novels count as 1/2 books (later revised for #throwdown2)
  3. The winning classroom will be based on average books read per student, not total number of books
This was a fantastic contest, and our combined 46 students read 208.5 books for over 4 and a half per student! Unfortunately, my students came up a bit on the short end, and we went down 4.19 books/student to 4.9 for Jillian’s students. I’m told they enjoyed their Mackinac Island Fudge prize.
We had so much fun, we decided to do it again. We decided, on April 24th, to begin #throwdown2 on April 25th. So from April 25th until May 24th, our students competed in #throwdown2. This one had slightly different rules for counting books:
  1. Novels in verse count as 1/2 books
  2. Graphic novels count as 1/4 books
  3. Chapter books below grade level count as 1/2 books (henceforth known as the “Geronimo Stilton Rule”)
This one was ridiculous. I figured the March numbers were high because of some long weekends and elevated time reading in class. We flat-out destroyed those numbers — and this with more restrictions! Our students read a total of 262 books, for 5.7 books/student. My classroom ended up on top this time (WOO!) by an average of 6 books/student to 5.36 for Mrs. Heise’s students. The students had a blast, being sure to remind me to do a count when they had finished a book, and really getting excited about their reading.

Now, in March, our classrooms competed in March Book Madness (MBM), as mentioned above. This was a wildly popular (my classroom, my assessment of popularity — don’t you counter me on this one!) tournament of fictional characters voted on by our students. Innocently enough, Jillian tweeted this:

And thus was born a competition between the teachers. We filled out brackets NCAA-prediction style, and this became a #throwdown of sorts for the teachers — a #teacherthrowdown. It was fun to watch as the winner we BOTH chose (Katniss) went down in the first round, and we could see our brackets fall to pieces before our eyes.

For #throwdown2, though, Jillian (I think it was her) suggested we also compete in a head-to-head reading challenge. Same rules as the students. A true #teacherthrowdown.

Something magical happened here. May is an insanely busy time for most teachers, and I know neither of us are the exception to this. Jillian had field trips going on and all kinds of grading and planning. I had poetry units to grade, a debate unit to figure out (my little brother has been wanting to come in and debate my students about the value of reading all year — but that’s another post for another time [maybe]), and the biggest thing: 8th grade graduation to plan. There’s usually not much time to breathe. But then there’s the magic of #teacherthrowdown. I started to chisel away time to read. 10 minutes of planning left — not enough time to begin grading another assignment? Time to read. Need to relax at the end of the day? TV’s going off — it’s time to read. Heading up north with the parents to see the little brother graduate college? I brought more books than shirts.

So what is this #throwdown thing? It’s a fun, loosely competitive way to get students excited about reading. The school year’s wrapping up, but if you’re a teacher reading this post, you need to try this next year. Find a classroom to do it with — or do it within your own classes (but I think having different teachers adds to it). But whatever you do, give it a whirl. It’s a blast.

And one last thing I couldn’t find a way to work in above: the students (for the most part) did not just read “easy” books or anything. They read what they wanted to read. They just read a lot. They still comprehended what they read and talked about their reading. They just had fun with it. Jillian and I did, too. Your turn.

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Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

I was fortunate to receive an early ARC of this October debut, and I just about devoured it. I was on a trip with my family to my little brother’s graduation (he goes to college about 9 hours away), and I was very happy to read this along the way, but I was pretty upset when I was slated to drive around town all weekend! Not because I didn’t want to drive (as I somewhat knew the town), but because it meant I had to put this book down! So, let’s get into it.

The book opens with the middle of the plot. It’s fascinating, because we know the major turning point of the story at the outset (unlike John Green’s Looking for Alaska). Yet, nothing feels like it’s spoiled or revealed because of this. I like the choice of making the hook not just a hook, but a nice piece of meat to chew on for a while.

Our story revolves around Roz (short for Roswell, not Rose) and her life being relegated to a special-ed “Life Skills” class. She is adamant about not needing this. You see, Roz has macular degeneration, which causes her to see large spots in her vision, the most notable being one right where her focus would be. She must look to the side and use her peripheral vision to see things properly. The irony here, of course, being that if she does look someone in the eyes, that’s when she actually cannot see them at all. Anyway, she has an IEP, but this clearly states that she really only has one accommodation: she must be allowed to sit up front in class. Nowhere does it say she has to take a Life Skills class.

Except Mr. Dellian is in charge of her IEP now, and he happens to teach this Life Skills class (not to mention AP History). It is mandatory for anyone receiving special needs services. So everyone from the severely autistic kid, to the legally blind Roz, to the possibly psychotic Tricia are in this class.

This class has a feel of Mr. Kotter’s class in a way. Everyone is tight-knit and watches out for one another. One student even brings in baked goods every morning. Jonathon, a hockey player is an aide in the class (Mr. Dellian is also the hockey coach, which is believable, as there is a small-town small-school feel to this book). He has got an eye for Roz, and she has weak knees for him.

But don’t let yourself get fooled into thinking this book is about the romance between them (don’t worry; there is some). No, it’s much more than that. You see, Tricia has gone missing, not long after Roz and Jonathon help her get some weed to help her cope with her heroin addiction. Things went sour at the homecoming dance, and Roz is trying to piece it all together. The thing is, her vision isn’t the only thing that has a blind spot. There’s a lot of that night she can’t remember. She’s losing her friends as she dives further after the truth. The cops are breathing down her neck — can she see through her blind spots and figure out what really happened in time?

There are so many things going on in this book, most of them fantastic. First off, the cover. Whoa. I can’t believe how good the cover is. Secondly, the characters are phenomenal. Mr. Dellian, Tricia, Roz, Greg, Fritz (I love Fritz), Jonathon. . .it’s just a great cast. Every character is so real. Some of them may be a bit one-dimensional, but it’s also first-person narration. And who didn’t view some of their friends as “the ________ girl” or something like that in high school? Most of them are full, deep characters, and it’s neat to watch them all interact. I imagine it was fun to write with so many characters who have some pretty strong personas.

Also great here is the mystery. I’ve seen this categorized as a thriller, and I’d disagree with that a bit, but it certainly is a mystery. I mean, someone’s gone missing, and it seems like Roz should know what happened. . .but she doesn’t. So neither does the reader, though there’s just the right amount of foreshadowing going on in there.

The best thing, though — the BEST THING — about this book is that it is not an issue book. Does the narrator have macular degeneration? Yes. Does that impact the plot in a meaningful and not insignificant way? Yes. Is that what the book is about? ABSOLUTELY NOT. And this, I think, is exactly the way it should be.

Honestly, I could keep going, but I’ve rambled enough already. Okay, just a little more: there were a lot of parts in the beginning that I thought “the Printz committee should read this.” Not because I think it would win, but because it’s good, and it’s a debut. I think Laura Ellen has something going on here, and I’d like to see her write more.

Ultimately, though, I can’t give this 5 fish. It’s a solid book, I really enjoy it, etc., etc. But I think it tried to do a little too much at times. Also, the ending, while I liked it, was a little too rushed (in my opinion). But really, the nail in the 5-fish coffin: comparing Tesla to Buckcherry. Come on. I guess I just can’t be as open-minded about that as Greg. Now, excuse me while I go rock out to some “Modern Day Cowboy.”

I recommend this to high schoolers and up. I think the language and some topics (explicit drug use as well as references to drugs like GHB as well as sex — consensual and otherwise) may be a bit much for middle schoolers.

Rating: 4 out of 5 fish. 

In My Mailbox (3)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. It’s a way for people to share what books they have received that week (or recently). I went to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and. . .well, I got pretty excited. I did keep in mind some budgetary type concerns. . .which means I actually put about 8 books back on the shelves. Here are the 22 I ended up with, plus some more.

Let’s start with these three:

A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

Gone by Michael Grant

A couple to continue series I already have:

Maximum Ride: Volume 2 by James Patterson

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (really, I didn’t own it!)

I think I call this pile my 7A books group (that’s my all-female class that loves romantic drama):

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

 Some #nerdprintz books I’m excited to have:

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

A nice dystopian stack:

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (I think this is the 3rd or 4th copy I’ve bought; it won’t stay put!)

The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner: The Maze RunnerThe Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure

 Finally, some fantasy/sci-fi:

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

First two of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare: City of BonesCity of Ashes

First two of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan: The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune

Finally, an ARC received from Mrs. Andersen:

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Not pictured, but purchased a copy and received an ARC from Jessica earlier in the week: Insurgent by Veronica Roth (both copies have been checked out all week long)

All the new books together, most of them soon to be friends on the bookshelves (not to mention some bookshelves in the background):

Insurgent by Veronica Roth — Student Review

If you’ve been reading this blog or following me on Goodreads or Twitter, you know my thoughts on Insurgent (hint: I love it!). But it’s a young adult book, so why not have a young adult review it? Well here, on release day, we have that opportunity! One of my 8th graders, Nicole, posted the following review after reading the ARC last week. Enjoy!

Well, I guess book reviews start somewhere, but I can NOT come up with anything good. I can’t express how amazing this book was in any words. EVER. When I first finished it, my first thought was: WOW. (I then proceeded to run around spazzing out). My second thought was: NO, I HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE YEAR FOR THE NEXT ONE TO COME OUT! HOW IS THIS FAIR? I AM DYING INSIDE!!! I still proceeded to spazz out. So anyways, this book was amazing for many reasons. First, all the emotions. One minute you wanted to laugh out loud, the next you wanted to pee your pants, the next you were freaking out (hoping no one would die), the next moment you were feeling the pain, anger, happiness, and every emotion Tris felt. You felt like you were in the story. You felt like you were in the battles & lived in the factions. I can not express how much I loved this book, so this is as close as I may get. This is definitely not a formal book review. But I just NEEDED to somehow express my feelings for this book.

So there’s my book review. All in all, Insurgent was amazing, astounding, bewildering, breathtaking, extraordinary, impressive, marvelous, miraculous, spectacular, staggering, startling, striking, stunning, stupefying, stupendous, wonderful, and wondrous.
THE END.

Needless to say, she’s pretty excited. Now get out there and read Insurgent!