“Trust thyself”

Hey Kids!

Well, we’re off to another school year, and this time, it will be a bit different since many of us are off to new places.

As some of you may already know, the new place where I will be teaching is totally off the grid.

I first heard the expression “off the grid” when I was visiting Hawaii about ten years ago.  My husband and I were in the back of an SUV heading to a rainforest for a walking tour.  Our guide, a native Hawaiian, pointed out a house set all by itself, behind some trees, about half-way up a hill.   He told us that the house was “off the grid”, meaning that it wasn’t connected to any electricity.  The owner was completely self-sufficient in regard to power.  He also provided for most of his own food and water.   I thought it was pretty remarkable that in this day and age, someone decided to live in a such a self-reliant manner.

My new teaching adventure is similar to that self-reliant, independent man in that I am no longer connected to a school.  This year, I will be teaching a small group of homeschooling students.  Cooper and I will be learning all subjects, with the exception of math, together.  Peter will join us for language arts.  Emmalee, Juliana and Ellie will join us for special events like book clubs, field trips, and curriculum days.  And who knows?  We may find some more friends along the way.

I have taught in a lot of settings: public high school, public middle school, Catholic elementary school, and a detention center for juvenile boys.  I have never been totally on my own before, so this is a new adventure.

Although it is different, and I am a bit nervous, I think I am going to LOVE it!

Joseph Conrad

In honor of our new adventure, I have changed the title and theme of our blog.  Not to worry, though; all our old posts are still here, and currently, so are the links to the blogs of all the students who have not yet graduated.  How do you like the new title and theme?

P.S.  Whose famous line is “trust thyself”?  What is the name of his well-known essay?

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A Class Act

Hey Kids!

Who is one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Billboard’s youngest ever Woman-of–the-Year, and the youngest artist to win a Grammy for Album of the Year?

Taylor Swift discusses books, reading, and writing with students.

Taylor Swift discusses books, reading, and writing with students.

Yes, that’s right.  It’s Taylor Swift, or as my 14-year-old son is known to call her, T-Swizzle.

Out of the respect I have for this artist since watching her Scholastic video Reading Opens a World of PossibleI will call her Miss Swift.

At age 24, Miss Swift has already won seven Grammy Awards.  She has written ALL her own songs.  In fact, she considers writing to be the most important part of her job.

Last week we watched a conversation she had with six individual students, ages 11-15, about writing, reading, and books.  In addition to the students she sat with, Miss Smith also invited two classrooms into the discussion via Skype.

Miss Smith and the students addressed such heady topics as dystopian societies and feminism as well as the current and important topic of bullying, especially appropriate as October was Bullying Prevention Month.   While talking about their favorite books and Taylor Swift’s writing process, the group discussed point-of-view and poetry, and used such terms as metaphor, rhythm and rhyme.  At one point Miss Swift described herself dancing by saying “I look like a baby giraffe learning to walk.”  A simile in action.

The songwriter has been keeping a writing journal since she was 13-years-old.  She spoke about writing her ideas down whenever inspiration hits and retold the story of collaborating with Ryan Tedder on the song I Know Places.  Similar to all writers, Taylor creates a rough draft of the song, her voice accompanied by a piano, on an audio file; she then heads to the studio to polish it by creating a track using background bass and drums.  The finished version stays true to the draft, but is enhanced by the additional work.  Compare this to all writing: rough draft, revision, finished product.  Listen to both versions and the entire conversation by clicking on the photo above.

In her Scholastic conversation, Taylor says, “Books train imaginations to think big.”  She and the students discuss books with impact, which range from Percy Jackson to  Stargirl.  Add your favorite to the board!

Scholastic video-interviewed quite a few other students, teachers, and parents to learn about how their favorite books “open a world of possible”.  Watch and listen to their ideas about books.

On Thursday of this week Usher will also talk about books with Scholastic.  What celebrity would you like to sit down with and have a book chat?  What books would you discuss?  What would you say about your favorite book?

Taylor Swift chats with one of her guests during a Scholastic book talk, Open Possible.

Taylor Swift chats with one of her guests during a Scholastic book talk, Open Possible.

Watching Taylor Swift talk books, reading, and writing.

Watching Taylor Swift talk books, reading, and writing.

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Literary Tea Party

One of our language arts traditions is to celebrate the end of our academic year with a Literary Tea Party. Each student chooses a character from a book we have read and comes to class in costume. Some of us share refreshments that were mentioned in the stories. Characters who came to tea this year were from the novels: Under the Blood Red Sun, by Graham Salisbury (currently in the process of being made into a movie for release in April 2014); Elijah of Buxton, by Christopher Paul Curtis; The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood; Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix; and Freak the Mighty, by Rodman Philbrick. Guests also included characters from adaptations of Henry IV and Romeo and Juliet, by, of course, William Shakespeare.  

If you could be any character in a book, whom would you choose and why?

Literary Tea Party on PhotoPeach

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Please come in….

Book Talk Cafe on PhotoPeach

Welcome to our first Book Talk Cafe!

As we become lifelong readers, we realize that we may often be in situations where someone asks us, “Have you read any good books lately?”  This question may arise at a dinner party, a book club, or when out to dinner with friends.  We decided to turn our classroom into a cafe so that we could practice the niceties of conversation and dining in one fell swoop.  Thanks to all our terrific parents who sent us some goodies!  We enjoyed donuts, cookies, fruit, assorted chips, candy, chocolate milk and soda.   Everyone fed their bodies with snacks and brains with conversation as we discussed books we read this month and practiced our etiquette while dining.

Here are some favorite tomes:

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  • Caught (book 5 of The Missing series) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (one of Mrs. Donofrio’s favorite authors)
  • A Long Walk to Water  by Linda Sue Park
  • Through My Eyes: A Quarterback’s Journey by Tim Tebow
  • The Red Pyramid, The Maze of Bones, and The Last Hero all by Rick Riordan
  • The Big Miss (biography of Tiger Woods) by Hank Haney
  • Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald
  • The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, and Safe Haven allby Nicholas Sparks
  • The Magician’s Elephant  by Kate DiCamillo
  • Tomorrow Girls: Behind the Gate by Eva Gray
  • The Last Natural by Bryce Harper
  • Secrets, Lies, and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman
  • The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone
  • Wonder by R.J. Polacio
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The River by Gary Paulsen
  • Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell
  • A Father First by Dwayne Wade
  • Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees
  • Poppy by Avi
  • Rumble Fish by S.E. Hinton
  • The Fire by James Patterson
  • Friday Night LIghts by H.G. Baissinger
  • Forest of Secrets (part of the Warrior Cat series) by Erin Hunter
  • Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
  • Middle School Get Me Out of Here by James Patterson
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit  by Judith Kerr
  • Diary of  a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinny

As you can see, we have a diverse selection of books fueled by the interests of a diverse group of kids!  If you are looking for a summer read, you might find a good choice from our list.   Then you can get together with your friends for your own book talk cafe! 

If one of these titles interests you, leave a comment here, and I can direct you to the blog of the student who read that book.  Happy Reading!



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Book Talk Cafe

Dear Students and Parents,

 Rather than collecting book reports this month, I will host a Book Talk Café.   One of my goals is to develop students who are lifelong readers.  As an adult, after I have read a book, I like to talk about it with others who may find it interesting.  I also like to hear about books that my friends have read.  Book Talk Café will involve learning about the art of conversation.

 Here are some ideas I might share in a conversation about books.    

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc Free Cup of Coffee and Flowers at Daybreak Creative Commons

  •  Title and author
  • Interesting information about the author, including other books he/she wrote
  • Genre
  • Where and when the book is set
  • Why I picked the book up in the first place
  • What I thought about the author’s writing
  • What characters I liked and didn’t like
  • What parts of the plot I thought were exciting
  • What parts of the plot I thought were unrealistic
  • What I learned from the story
  • Whether or not I liked this book and why

 You should think about how you would answer these questions for the book you read this month.

 It’s also nice to have something to eat while you are enjoying conversation with your friends.  Of course, eating with others has its own etiquette.  In addition to practicing the art of conversation, we will also practice good manners.   Dining in a pleasant atmosphere adds to the enjoyment of the food and conversation.   I will provide some decorations for our café, some simple refreshments, and a brief overview of appropriate manners for conversation and dining.  If any parents would be interested in supplementing our menu, we would all be appreciative.  Please let me know via your child, through email, or as a blog comment.

 Our Book Talk Café will take place on Thursday, March 21st

 Thank you so much!


~Mrs. Donofrio

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