Over the summer, I was inspired and awakened after reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools are Killing Readers and What You Can Do About It. Kelly Gallagher is a high school English teacher in Anaheim, CA whose theories I’ve been advocating and utilizing for a few years. Four years ago, I designed our school’s sophomore reading strategies classes based on his philosophies in Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, and Teaching Adolescent Writers afforded me new creative opportunities with my senior expository writing students.
Readicide talks about the “mind-numbing” practices in our schools that turn students off to reading such as the overuse of study guides and paragraph-by-paragraph overanalysis of literature. He illustrates data-based research to show just how drastically reading is dying before offering specific strategies to curb this epidemic. It’s a quick read – it took me all of two hours to sweep through. For those that haven’t read it, GG highly recommends it!
During our department meeting today, we viewed the 20 minute DVD Gallagher produced that depicts his guidance with the Article of the Week (AoW). AoW is one of the practices he advocates to curb ‘readicide.’ He points out that while his 9th grade English students could analyze characters in Lord of the Flies, they didn’t know how to discern Al Quaeda from Al Gore nor could they identify the current Vice President of the United States. This brings up a great point – most students don’t read outside of the classroom; most students are current-event-illiterate. AoW combats that. It involves sharing a current events article (i.e. Business Week, Wall Street Journal, etc) with the class at the beginning of the week and then asking them to turn in a response along with evidence of active reading at the end of the week.
Gallagher graciously shares all articles he used last year for his 9th and 10th grade English classes along with his current collection he is beginning this year. He shares them on his website, kellygallagher.org. He asserts that AoW is now practiced in every single English classroom at his school; consequently, students leave the building at the end of the year having read approximately 140 pertinent articles they would otherwise have not been exposed to.
I am definitely incorporating AoWs into my reading classes as well are many of my colleagues. I am using some of Gallagher’s articles along with my own. Grading Girl gives Readicide an A+ for eye-opening data, researched reasonings, and practical strategies that assist teachers with helping students gain back an interest in reading and, thus, an interest in life.
A friend of mine recently sang at the infamous open mic night at BlueBird Cafe in Nashville, TN. While there, he met many musicians, wanna-bes, producers and agents. One person that struck a chord was 16-year old Casey Lee Smith who came down from Arizona to sing at the BlueBird. While my friend claimed Casey was amazing, I was skeptical being that he is 16.
Always looking for the opportunity to review, I paid a visit to Casey’s web site, www.caseyleesmith.com. The second I clicked on his music, I was touched. In fact, it’s playing in the background as I blog and four of his songs are already on my ITunes (and I’m a discerning downloader). Heartfelt lyrics, friendly vocals, and harmonious instruments leave your toes tapping and heart smiling. Casey’s style is part country, rock, blues all fused into one unique sound. But don’t let his age fool you – he appeals to teens, adults and everyone in between! The younger crowd will appreciate his blue-eyed, curly -haired charm and the more mature audience will connect with his spot-on lyrics.
My favorite song is “Losing You,” a song about a broken relationship. As Casey writes: “When you’ve screwed up your relationship, there’s nothing to do but point to where the blame belongs. Me.” “Losing You” is a ballad for anyone who’s felt that regret after a hard-to-get-over break up. Grading Girl predicts this will be number one on the charts someday soon!! “Chasin’ Tin Cans” is a fun, raucous, rock song written about, of all things, running barrels. Any woman, however, will feel empowered singing along to the lyrics “She’s moving like a rocket ship, blood surging through her vains.” A country “Barracuda” song! “Never Stood Taller” is a celebratory song about his grandfather being baptized as an adult and proclaims “He never stood taller than when he’s on his knees. He never was stronger than when his head is bowed.” Very spiritually powerful . . . and what a beautiful subject to write about. That’s what is amazing about Casey’s songs – the maturity in his lyrics shine through so that we learn something after listening. His songs help us reflect on our own experiences, misgivings, and triumphs.
According to his site, Casey has been singing and playing instruments at a very early age . . . piano, banjo, guitar are among those he brings to life. He attends the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics. It takes dedication, persistence, and discipline to harbor your talent from very young on. Grading Girl gives Casey Lee Smith an A for remarkable early talent and an undoubtedly bright future. Sounding this polished at age 16, I dare imagine what he will sound like in a few years. Casey Lee Smith – memorize that name. You’ll be hearing it again.
October 26th update: Grading Girl just received word that Casey Lee Smith won the Colgate County Showdown. Now it’s on to Regionals and then Grand Ole Opry, here he comes! Like I said, “Watch out, Jonas Bros!”