Book Recommendations (Vol. 07)

Well, September ended! My life has been a whirlwind this school year, with a grad school class that involves a TON of reading academic articles and writing a bunch (not my favorite, I’m ready for another math class) and me literally not staying in town for an entire weekend yet this school year. So, I have not had as much time to read as I would like. Or to write this post. Or to clean my house, but that’s another story.

You can read previous posts from this series here:

Vol. 01 | Vol. 02 | Vol. 03 | Vol. 04 | Vol. 05 | Vol. 06


I just said I haven’t had time to read, but that was only in the last month of the quarter. The other two months were SUMMER, so I’ve still logged a fair number of books: 14, to be exact, bringing my total for the year up to 46.

Here’s the best 5 of those 14.

For Every One – Jason Reynolds

This book was originally a speech that Jason Reynolds gave at the Kennedy Center for the unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. For every person who has a dream.

The artistic presentation of this speech/poem was just stunning. This is a message for everyone who has a dream, but especially for everyone who has ever felt like they can’t accomplish their dream, or that their dream isn’t good enough. It will make you feel good and driven and ready to GO GET THAT DREAM. Or at least keep trying.

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake

This story comes with a huge trigger warning for sexual violence and rape. Mara’s best friend Hannah accuses her twin brother of rape. Mara just broke up with her girlfriend Charlie who has also been her best friend forever. Mara has no one to turn to – she can’t talk to her brother or Hannah, she can’t talk to Charlie anymore, and her parents are pretending nothing happened. Does she side with her family, or with what she knows is right? Are those different things right now? How does she move on from this?

I got a text from my friend Tedi saying “this has to be the next book you read”, and I trust her, so I immediately put it on hold at the library. It is DEVASTATING. It confronts head on all the worst parts of rape culture. Mara is such a real and beautiful character and the reader is tormented along with her about what to do and how to just fix everything, which she can’t. It has LGBT representation with Charlie trying to find their identity as a nonbinary person, it has people messing up with getting identities right. It is so incredibly raw and powerful and vivid.

The Beauty That Remains – Ashley Woodfolk

Shay, Autumn, and Logan are all hit by grief. Grief for different people, from different circumstances, but all tragic. The story follows their grief, and the way that one band connects them all and helps them to cope.

First, on the very first page of this book, someone dies in a car crash. I had gotten in a pretty bad accident about two days before starting this book, so that set me off completely sobbing through most of this book. Maybe not the best book to read at that point in my life. I would put a lot of trigger warnings on this for trauma, death, suicide, drugs. It is, however, gripping and beautiful. It deals with all the raw emotions of grief and how other people around you move on when you don’t. The music element of the book is perfection: the shows, the album reviews, the underlying element of Unraveling Lovely (the band). I cared so much about all of these characters and desperately wanted to see them process their grief in healthy ways and find their new normal lives. The little multimedia bits provide a nice transition through the three character perspectives and I think the subtle tie-ins between the three are masterful.

Ship It – Britta Lundin

Claire loves the show Demon Heart. She even writes fanfiction for it. When she gets to ask the main actor a question at a Comic Con panel, though, he laughs off the possibility that his character could be gay, crushing  her dreams. In a PR stunt to try to fix the bad optics of the actor’s answer, Claire ends up going on a tour of Comic Cons with the cast and crew of Demon Heart, meets Tess, and many shenanigans ensue.

This book was just so sweet. I am a sucker for stories that treat fandom as a legitimate thing and not a silly-teen girl hobby (see Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, for example). I loved the looks into Claire’s fanfics and the show itself. I loved the overdramatic plotline of them bringing her with them on tour and her interacting with the stubborn actors and awesome actors and show writers. Tess’ character is an interesting juxtaposition to Claire as a fan. This one is not super deep, but it is fun and cute, and does have some good representation going on.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl – Stacy McAnulty

Lucy was struck by lightning when she was little. And it gave her extraordinary math abilities. Now, her grandma is insisting that she go to a regular, public middle school for one year before she does college – to get the regular preteen social experience. Make a friend. Join a club. Lucy has no idea how to do any of this, and does not want to. She’s going to make it through the year in one piece, somehow, and move on. Or at least that’s what her plan is.

This book seemed so cheesy at first blink, and then I fell in love with it. It’s a pure celebration of friendship, which you don’t often see and is so beautiful. Lucy’s little math nerd tendencies made my heart happy – even though a lot of them were very surface level things, the use of math to frame her understanding of fitting in was lovely. I loved the teacher character, and the animal shelter inclusion. It’s a middle school read, so it’s quick, but it will leave you in a good mood and I think it would be a perfect read for a middle schooler looking for their place.


2018-2019 Goals Check In: September

Before the school year started, I wrote this post detailing three goals for myself for the year. I promised to check in on this every month, and it seems that it is already the end of September, so here we go….

Goal 1: Grade Less Papers

Maybe I have done too well on this goal? I have not taken things home to grade a single time this year, and I have left school within 45 minutes of contract time ending every day. I feel pretty great about that part of it, but I don’t know that I am hitting the bullseye on providing the most useful feedback to students.

I don’t think that my feedback is WORSE than it was when I was grading physical papers and handing them back every day, I just don’t think it’s BETTER either. I’m really focusing on the students self-assessing, as I mentioned in my original goal post that’s my focus for my action research paper for the completion of my master’s, and I think I’m improving on that front. I’ve spent more time making clear answer keys this year than grading, so that students can check their own work.

The things I still want to work on here are the accountability for truly checking your own work and giving a real, honest self assessment, and I want to add in a component of them reporting on the types of problems they had to try more than once on. I want them to work on recognizing the specific skills they need to improve on. Then I would love to experiment with giving a problem set and individualizing which problem numbers different students work on based on this reporting, to make my feedback really connect with their practice. I also do want to find a way to still give them written feedback of some sort even if they aren’t handing in physical papers all the time.

Goal 2: Experiment with non-traditional assessments

The goal here was at least one “alternative” form of assessment every half term, and we are at our first midterm and I….almost did this?

In Algebra 2, many students needed a full two days to complete our first traditional assessment (these are common for the district and aren’t currently required for every teacher to use but I know they will be in coming years so I’m trying to get in the habit of using them). Students who finished in the first day, I gave an additional assessment opportunity. The standard we were working on was F.IF.7b: Graph square root, cube root, and piecewise-defined functions, including step functions and absolute value functions. 

I had students roll a die to determine if they would create their own piecewise, step, or absolute value function. Once they created one, they wrote a paragraph explaining how one would graph it – step by step instructions. This gave them a chance to show that they knew how to process the components of the function even if they maybe made mistakes when actually graphing it. I said they could talk it through with a partner to revise their steps. I really did like this assessment option but only a few students actually completed it, so I would like to have the whole class complete this and also nail down my instructions more because some of the descriptions I got were not as fleshed out and detailed as I would like.

An attempt was made, but I don’t think I would say I quite hit this one for this half-term.

Goal 3: Class time to discuss completed work

I said specifically that I wanted to bring misconceptions from practice work to the whole class for discussion, and that I wanted to provide time after assessments to discuss and ask questions.

I think I’ve been doing okay at the misconceptions thing, except for the most part I’ve been doing it at the start of the next class period instead of the end of the one they’re doing the practice in, because that’s just worked out well for me and I think it kicks off the next lesson nicely. I really wish I had a document camera because at the moment I’m mostly just reproducing student work I saw and I would like to actually SHOW the students’ work itself, but that isn’t technology I currently possess. Would like to develop a workaround for this.

The time after assessments I have done super well on for Algebra 1 – we spent an entire class period comparing their tests to the rubric and having them analyze their mistakes on each problem, and they could ask their classmates or me to help them put their mistakes into words.


I thought this was so beneficial for them and I’d like to do it more often. My current issue is that my Algebra 2 students have struggled with absences this year…so it’s often almost a week later that enough of them have actually completed an assessment for us to be able to talk about it as a whole class. And then I forget. So I’m thinking about what to do there. My main goal here is to really work with my Algebra 1 students on how to learn from mistakes and work to improve their understanding. I’d like to do this more with mid unit quizzes also.