Road Trip IV, Days 38-40: Durham, NC to Indianapolis
First, a word about the weather: WEIRD.
Depending on where you live, this word means different things to you, but you can relate nonetheless. Since I’ve been driving around the country for the last 5 1/2 weeks, I’ve seen all types of weird. California drought suddenly doused by mega-rainstorms. North Carolina suffering wave after wave of ice storm. (Can you say “firewood”?) And now here we are zipping through America’s heartland under sunny skies while states at lower latitudes to our east and south are running out for more de-icer. How can any American doubt climate change? We’re like the poster child!
And now, a completely different topic: lesson plans.
I’m a writer, but I’m also a teacher, remember? True, I’ve been out of the classroom for nearly four years, but teaching is a permanent condition, like having stubby toes. I can’t NOT look for learning opportunities in, for example, road signs. (Ohio’s US highway 35 is the Welsh Way? Why? Did the Welsh come here to mine coal?) I can’t NOT listen to The Mate’s ESPN College Sports Radio without vowing to find out why no one’s giving out NIT scores. (Is ESPN under contract to discuss the NCAA only?) And I can’t NOT correct commentators’ grammar when they say things like “can’t not.”
So you can imagine how my pulse quickened when I heard about Quest Teaching. This is a site started by tween author Sharon Skretting to provide teachers with lesson plans based on brand-new fiction–lesson plans written by the authors themselves!
Author? Teacher? Hey, they’re playing my song!
At first I was doubtful when Sharon invited me to write a lesson plan using my middle grades novel, The Flying Burgowski. It’s fantasy, after all–not wizards-or-vampires fantasy, but still: it’s about a girl who can fly! Sure, it’s a great read, but…a lesson? About what?
Then I thought about it. My heroine, 14 year-old Jocelyn Burgowski, may have a superpower, but she lives very much in the real world. And her real world includes a mom who is a mess. Joss’s mom functions with apparent normality until stress catches up to her and she devolves back into dependency on alcohol and prescription drugs.
Dark topic for middle grades readers? Yeah. Also nothing terribly out of the norm from what I observed in my 20 years of teaching. And I think kids deserve to see their real world reflected, and successfully negotiated, in books written for them.
So I took Sharon’s offer. I chose Chapter 12 of The Flying Burgowski, a chapter in which Mom melts down and Joss and her brother have to figure out what to do, and I wrote a lesson plan about finding positive strategies to deal with negative behaviors.
I hope a teacher somewhere finds this lesson and uses it. (If you’re that teacher: the book is free, with copying privileges.) If not my lesson, I hope a teacher goes to Quest and tries one of the many and varied lessons there.
For example: Michelle Isenhoff’s lesson about using primary sources with her Civil War-era novel,The Candle Star. Or Lars Hedbor’s lesson using his Revolutionary War novels. Or Sharon’s own Jewel of Peru. Makes me want to teach again! Or be a student.
I know that many (most?) teachers have little wiggle room when it comes to choosing their own materials. I know that there is no shortage of safely tested literature out there, used year after year to good effect. But I also know how many students are budding writers themselves and how thrilled I would have been, as a student, to know I was reading a chapter by a writer I could email with questions. A writer who was interested in MY learning. A writer who might encourage ME.
That’s why I’m psyched to be part of Quest Teaching, and that’s why I have no problem asking you to send this link to any middle grades teacher, student, administrator or librarian you know. Let’s see where this takes us, shall we? Life is, after all, a Quest.
Also, if you know any other middle grades authors who might be interested in participating, please put them in touch with me!