Armani Curtis can think about only one thing: her tenth birthday. All her friends are coming to her party, her mama is making a big cake with big icing, and she has a good feeling about a certain wrapped box. Ten years old is a big deal to Armani. It means she’s older, wiser, more responsible. But when Hurricane Katrina hits the Lower Nines of Orleans and tears her world apart, Armani realizes that being ten means being brave, watching loved ones die, and mustering all her strength to help her family survive this storm.
This book blurb for Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie Lamana intrigued me. The title fascinated me. The cover made me wonder — what’s with the boots? Armani’s story tugged at my heart. I was able to make connections and felt that my students would also because of their experience with Hurricane Sandy. Although we were not affected by our storm as much as the characters in the book suffered under Katrina, my students would still be able to identify with Armani. Another reason why I connected with Armani is her birthday was during Katrina and my son Ryan's birthday fell during Hurricane Sandy's immediate aftermath. He calls it "the birthday that wasn’t."
I became acutely aware of my reading habits while I was reading this book. I borrowed one of my childhood habits, which was to read the ending first. Some of you are probably thinking, "Why continue since you know how it ends?” or “That ruins the journey of the book!" For me, it does not. If a book is starting to give me a struggle, by reading the ending first, I find that when I go back to the beginning, I start to connect the dots, draw conclusions, and make inferences as to the journey the characters make. With that in mind, before my class begins this unit, we will revisit out reading goals and habits, and what our reading looks like at home. Based on that information, we will set goals for reading this particular book. I am going to check in with my students to make sure that they are on track or help them readjust their goals so that they can be successful.
Modeling how I read helps my students become better readers. I often tell them that lifelong readers share reading strategies that work for them with others. Sharing those strategies may help someone improve and move forward with their reading levels. My students know that they are my partners during my mini-lessons as I demonstrate my thinking. I have them imagine that they are inside my brain. Yes, I hear, “Mrs. Stewart, ugh that’s gross!” or from the comedian in the classroom, “Can we all fit inside your brain?” After the initial chuckles, we are ready to complete the partner work. Reading Response charts give the students support as they track their thinking as they read.
Each student will have a copy of the paper on which I have tracked my thinking using a reading comprehension strategy. I used two strategies: questioning and making inferences. Students will be given time to preview the text before I read aloud. As I am reading, the students will be able to understand what I am thinking about the text and why. During these sessions, I emphasize that the text I selected gives the reader insight into the character and their motives. I am experimenting with the process of tracking. For Upside Down, I will use the iPad (a step into the 21st century for this dinosaur), Post-its, and the computer.
As the year progresses, I am hoping that my students will be on autopilot when it comes to tracking their thinking process while they are reading. I look forward to them using their tracking to spark engaging conversations with their peers about the books that are reading.
Pearls of Wisdom — This text, although a level "T," deals with some very sensitive issues. You will need to prepare your class for the social issues addressed in the text in order to make sure no one is offended. As always, please share any reading strategy tips that you model for your students that work.
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