Tag Archives: My Path Leads to Tibet

Week 35 – Our Path Leads to Tiblet


Yes. I meant to write “Tiblet”. Actually, I didn’t mean to originally, but it’s the way it came out as I was trying to research some questions that my students were asking about this amazing book. The real title is My Path Leads to Tibet by Sabriye Tenberken.

Every day during our writing class, students read a chapter of her book and then write a Reading Journal about it. I think I’ve talked about this before. We moved swiftly through the book reading a chapter or two every day.

6th grade students wrote a five-sentence summary of the chapter, they gave evidence of the writing trait we are working on, and then they wrote a ten sentence reflection. They practiced using academic English, and the things they are learning in Grammar class. The 5th grade did variations on this theme. These students needed a little more help with vocabulary which slowed them down a little.

I’ve been blown away with the students’ response to this book. After reading The Alchemist with them, I’m no longer surprised at the depth of their thinking, but this book is tapping into their innate sense of justice. They want to stop and talk about what Sabriye is going through as they feel it. It’s sometimes difficult to keep them on task because they get so angry at what she’s put through. It’s the right moment to say to a student, “Good, I’m glad that you are reacting, but what you are saying belongs in your reflections. Make a note about it, or hold on to it until you are ready to write.” Of course this is not satisfactory, but generally, I find that students do write those reactions in their journals.

Today, students wanted to know if there is another book by her. They wanted to know what her organization was called, and they wanted to keep reading. What I love is hearing their voices in their reflections. I learn so much more about them by what they write.

As we just finished the book, students are pooling their reflections to write letters to Sabriye and her school in Tibet. I compiled all the reading journals for each student and handed them back to them in packets. The students want to make little origami gifts to put in the box along with the letters. If they give me permission, and thankfully, they generally do, I’ll post some of them before we send them.

Again, I’m just so proud of them.


Week 28 – A Good Day for Peeps!


My students don’t need me anymore!

And that’s just how I like it.  Except for history lectures, at this point, students are working almost completely independently, keeping pace with each other, and helping each other out.  Occasionally, I answer a question, or I help them find where to get the information, or I intervene when two students are at loggerheads about how to move forward, but mostly, I let them lead.  In small groups, I hear questions like, “What do you think we should do?” directed at the quietest member of the group.  Or I hear, “I don’t mean to be rude, but can we move on?” in response to someone getting off track.  I’ve heard, “Go get the dictionary,” this week.  And I watch over it all, keeping an ear on each group and listening for the place where they might need me to step in.  I feel a little like a mother hen looking over my industrious little peeps.

Once, many, many years ago, a vice-principal asked me how my day was going.  I remember telling her how each class seemed to be on its game.  The time was flying, and I was really enjoying teaching.  She looked at me and said, “Mark this day in your memory because not all days are going to be like this one.  You may need it to help pull you through the days that aren’t like this one.”  I didn’t quite know how to take the comment.  I was only in my second year of teaching in the US, so I knew how precious these days were.  But I was also a little annoyed that the assumption was that most days would be crappy.  I began to wonder how to make each day more like that one.  It became clear to me that the more students were independent learners within the classroom, the more likely it was that we would all have a good day.

Right now the class is all abuzz because they are writing questions for their History game.  The game happens tomorrow, and if they do well, they don’t have to take the test.  It’s worth it to them to write good questions and to study them.  It is worth it to them to work together to find questions that are test worthy.

Just before, they were in PE.  It is a rare, beautiful day here in the Puget Sound.  It didn’t make sense for them to be in the gym, so they went out in the forest and played capture the flag.  They used the blue and the red Nintendo Toad stuffed critters of course, but it is the same concept.  Other than helping them vote on the game they wanted and splitting them into teams, I did little but walk out with them, and stand around in case anyone tripped on a tree root.  They defined the rules of play.

In writing class, we are reading My Path Leads to Tibet and writing out Reading Journals for each chapter.  Students work together to read through the chapter, brainstorm the synopsis, and find transitional words and phrases.  (We’re working on Organization.)  I sit here listening to them, putting all their game questions into a single document, and making sure that they are engaged.  But there is little worry about that.  They don’t want homework and they know that this activity can take only 20 minutes.  They also like turning their thoughts into coherent paragraphs which say what they want the world to know.

This might sound like I have achieved the impossible here, but, darn it, we’ve worked for it.  First of all, students had to learn how to be independent.  To be independent, they have to be clear on the tools they need.  They need to have the confidence to use a dictionary if they need one and to admit that they don’t know what a word means.  They need to have clear boundaries.  This allows them to stand up for the sacred space of learning and to be able to admit that they want it, no matter how dorky it might make them look to the others.

And all the work is paying off.  They know the how-t0-do-it-ive-ness of being a scholar.  They are independent learners and thinkers as proved by the risks they are willing to take in the reflections they write.  They make me proud and oddly nostalgic for the days when I was the center of their attention.

On the other hand, I have time to reflect on the progress they’ve made.  And to realize that today is a good day.

Week 27 – What Goes In…


As I prepare to pass the reigns to another teacher, I’m reflecting upon the literature my students and I have read over the past two years. It is interesting to look back at the readings and think about what was successful, what was just fun, and what I would like to do differently.  Some of these books we have as class sets, and so future teachers can read them, if they so desire.

Last Year:

  • selections from Aesop’s Fables +  We read this as a way to look at the structure of a fable.  Then, we wrote fables.  I use a lesson from Beat Not the Poor Desk by Marie Ponsot and Rosemary Deen to help us write them.  It is also a great way to learn how to write quotations.  Single copy.
  • selection from All Things Bright and Beautiful: “The Cow That Wouldn’t Get Up No More”, James Herriot  +  We used this as an opportunity to look at Word Choice.  Students picked words they liked and made a word wall.  Single copy.
  • Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff  +  We used this in conjunction with studying Greek History.  This is an accessible version of the Iliad and the Odyssey for young people.  It does not “dumb down” the story at all.  We pair this with learning about the gods and goddesses.  It’s good for many writing assignments.  Mine. Get your own. 🙂
  • Farmer Giles of Ham, JRR Tolkien  +  We read this as our first piece of literature.  I wanted all students to have a common story from which to work.  I photocopied the piece (it’s not short 😦 ) and asked student to do notation in the margins.  We also defined words as we read using context and dictionaries.  Then I taught the writing process by guiding students through an expository essay on the story.  Mine.
  • selections from The Greek and Roman World, W.G. Hardy  +  I guess this is really History, but I wanted students to do some non-fiction reading as we were delving deep into fantasy. We paired it with Greek History. Mine.
  • From Grimm’s Grimmest, Aschenputtel, Brothers Grimm  +  Idea and Content.  We looked at three different Cinderella stories to see how they were different and how they changed over time.  Mine.
  • Motel of the Mysteries, David Macauley  +  This was a read-aloud that happened at the beginning, more for History than anything else.  It’s a funny story.  We were about to embark upon early man and Ancient Civilizations, and I used it as a cautionary tale about making inferences about ancient civilizations.  This is a great story about a man who gets it really, really wrong.  He resembles Howard Carter in a big, big way.  Student did some creative writing to wrap up.  Mine.
  • The Signal Man, Charles Dickens  +  It was close to Halloween.  What more do you need?  We tied it to Organization.  Greatest scary story — ever.  Get it from Project GutenbergThree Ghost Stories.
  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson  +  Read-aloud.  These are just meant to be good stories.  This book is very difficult as an independent.  Single copy.
  • The Romance of Tristan and Isolde, retold by J. Bedier  +  Read-aloud.  The students had read an expository essay on the story and decided they wanted to read it for themselves.  Mine.
  • Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare  +  A major part of our program.  Students learned poetry scansion, then wrote poetry, then read the story in class, learned about Elizabethan England, and then performed the play.  Class set.
  • Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett  +  Pratchett is a huge part of our reading list.  Many, many students love his work, everything from Diggers, Truckers, and Wings to Feet of Clay.  Do not be afraid.  Students are in good hands if they can manage it.  The adult stuff flies right over their heads and the humor is real.  His children’s books are just as entertaining as his adult books.  Since we had been studying fairy tales, Witches Abroad was a good choice because it is a send-up of Germanic fairy tales like the ones written down by the Grimm Brothers.  Mine.
  • Where’s My Cow?  Terry Pratchett  +  Read aloud.  This book shows up in another Pratchett book that the students had been reading.  Since it was a real book, and it is really short, we gave it a read.  It is very, very funny!
  • Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak  +  This was a grammar lesson.  I asked students to take pages of the text and tell what the parts of speech were for each sentence.  Mine.
  • From The World’s Best Fairy Tales: “Cinderella”  +  Another look at the Cinderella story. Mine.
  • From Very Good, Jeeves: “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit,” “Jeeves and the Song of Songs,” and “The Ordeal of Young Tuppy”  + Voice!  These are great stories to read for highlighting voice.  Wooster has such a clear voice that you can see him a mile away.  Once I put up a number of quotes and asked student to tell who the speaker was.  They saw Wooster right away. Mine.

This Year:

  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas  +  I like to read this to students because I love it, but also because it is poetry, and has such wonderful imagery.  So, it works really well for Idea and Content. Mine (but you can get it from Project Gutenberg Australia).
  • selections from A History of Rome: “Greeks and Etruscans in Early Italy”, M. Cary and H.H. Scullard  +  This is heavy-duty scholarly work.  I like for students to play with non-fiction of this caliber.  It is very, very difficult, requiring the most erudite of middle school students to go to the dictionary.  When I have students tell me they know it all already, I pull text from something like this and let them go.  To scaffold it, I put them in groups, hand them a dictionary, and ask them to annotate thesis statements and topic sentences. Mine. Seriously, mine.
  • The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo  +  This was a real risk.  I read this book to a group of 7th graders many years ago, and I was pleased by what the students got out of it.  Since we would be looking at the Muslim world later in the year, I thought I would try it again.  This book is a fable and can be understood on many different levels.  It was the first novel we read this year.  Students were each given a book to keep in which they were expected to make annotations.  Once they were done, we used the story to write our first expository paper.  The returning students from last year lead the writing of the paper, moving us on more quickly than I would have thought.  The students all loved the story.  They thought deeply about its meaning and felt a real connection to the boy.  Mine.
  • The Aeneid for Boys and Girls, Alfred J. Church  +  Do not be fooled by the archaic title.  This is a solid translation of the classic by Virgil.  (Dido is respectfully drawn.)  It is useful to pair this study with the history of Carthage.   My students really enjoyed it.  We made a map of his travels on 11 by 17 inch paper.  We also had a good time comparing it to the  youth literature books by Rick Riordan who relies heavily on the myths for his story telling.  At 110 pages, its got a lot of bang for the buck.  A class set is on the shelf.
  • “Cat on the Go!” James Herriot  +  This is a wonderful little short story.  We read it as an introduction to narrative essays.  Once we read this and one other, students wrote some lovely essays of their own.  To see four of them, flip back in the blog.  In the Literature book.
  • “Click Clack the Rattlebag”, Neil Gaiman  +  We read this through our ears.  It is a short story.  Students then wrote a suspense story of their own; examples are also on this blog.  It’s almost as good as “The Signal Man.”  Download for free (for now, at least) from Audible.com (via the official Neil Gaiman Tumblr page).
  • Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Lady Gregory  +  This is another class read-aloud.  I try to do very little with these books other than just read them.  If a student makes a connection between them and the curricula, all the better, but I find that if I do anything with them, it kind of takes the joy out of it.  In this case, I’m reading this because we have looked at other epic stories, and this is one I feel gets short shrift.  It is a wonderful story even if the writing is somewhat archaic.  Through reading it to my students, I’m seeing the places where it doesn’t relate to modern, mostly American kids.  Mostly though, it does.  Mine.
  • selections from The Greek and Roman World, W.G. Hardy  + See above, except for this year we were reading the Roman section as that was what we were working on in History.  Mine.  Very hard to find.
  • From High Tide in Tucson: “The Not-So-Deadly Sin”, by Barbara Kingsolver  +  I talk a lot to my students about the fact that it is okay to lie.  Fiction means “made up.”  I love how Kingsolver explains that you need a healthy imagination in order to write fiction.  She also helps us understand that sometimes we don’t write from our experience, but rather make the lie a mental exercise.  If you can get other people to believe you, you might want to be a writer.  Don’t try this with non-fiction.  Mine.
  • The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien  +  Class read-aloud.  I put up a map from the book on the wall and students followed it.  We finished it just in time to see the first movie.  Mine.
  • selection from Metamorphoses: “Pyramus and Thisbe”, Ovid  +  So this has its fingers in English and History.  We were studying Rome while we were moving toward our school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I wanted the students to have a sense of what Shakespeare was doing when he made the story comic.  Mine.  Project Gutenburg.
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare  +  See Twelfth Night and Ovid above.  Class set.
  • “Mighty Macedonian: Alexander the Great” from Smithsonian magazine  +  Students had already studied most of Alexander’s history when we read this article.  They compared it to the writings of other writers and found it to be full of propaganda and half-baked ideas.  They looked for topic sentences and found them lacking.  They found just what I was hoping they would find.  Mine.
  • My Path Leads to Tibet, Sabriye Tenberken  +  We are currently reading this autobiography in class.  We read each chapter and write a Reading Journal.  The students are working in small groups reading out loud to each other, looking up words, and keeping each other on task.  The reading journal requires them to give a five-sentence synopsis, show examples of the writing traits we are focusing on, and write a ten-sentence reflection.  The sentence count is only important because I want students to be concise for a summary and dig deeper for a reflection.  It’s going well.  Class set.
  • selection from Yarn Harlot: “The Beast”, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee  +  I paired this with “Cat on the Go!” as an example of the narrative essay.  You can argue that this is really a humorous essay, but honestly, it fits the format for narrative essay; it just happens to be funny.  It’s one of my favorite essays – ever.  Mine.

So, if I think if anything I missed, I’ll add it.