Author Archives: sofiapenna

About sofiapenna

I am from Binghamton, NY, and currently hold a BA in English and a Masters in Public Administration. I got caught up in a whole "other" field before deciding to return to my love of literature and dream of teaching. So here I am!

More thoughts on Atwell’s Afterward

I think Suzanne has raised some great points about the student – teacher relationship in her post on Atwell’s afterward.  I took away so much from this conclusion to the Beers text, including:

  • We must embrace technology in our classrooms, and we must NOT be nervous about our “lack” of understanding.  Our kids will know how to use the computer software and internet applications, and they will teach other as they go.  We simply need to create the opportunity for them to build multimodal projects into their syllabus. 
  • Atwell writes on pedagogy, “These are methods that ask and allow teens to read a lot and feel pleasure, to write a lot and feel satisfied, and to talk a lot and feel significant.”  I understand that personal preference in the classroom is a MUST when teaching kids how to feel pleasure, feel satisfied, and feel significant.  They need to help decide what they want to read and write.  This is their literacy journey, not mine!
  • Atwell writes, “Teachers of adolescents must read, must write, and must teach from our literate experiences and literary passions.”  As teachers, we must share the “personal” side of ourselves with our students.  This is the side that shows what we are reading outside of school for pleasure.  Atwell also reminds me that I can never stop reading for pleasure, stop studying the new developments in my field, or stop writing about the things I read.  I am very much a student on a literary journey, too, just like my students.
  • We must continually rethink our answer to the question about writing, “Why would anyone want to do it?”  This is the question we answer for our students, and this is our teachable moment.  We cannot expect our students to write about the things that we love to write about, or to write in the same style that we write, but we must challenge ourselves to share as many different kinds of writing as possible with our students.  As students learn to write and write well, we must show them all forms of text, including pictures, graphic novels, icons, nonfiction essays and articles, short stories, poetry, novels…the list goes on.  This is how students find their talent and their voice in writing.  We are resonsible for giving them the exposure they need.

 Most importantly, Atwell concludes her afterward with, “Teachers need to figure out how to structure our teaching so that it’s possible to know, and reach, individual kids.”  At the end of this semester in 541, I have learned through Atwell and many others that I have a duty to know my students’ interests and talents.  These interests and talents will fuel their learning experiences, and they are my springboard for our year together in the ELA classroom. Learning is individualized, and I will not assume that the great old texts that I love are the same texts that my students love and want to study, too.  I will try very hard to set a path for each of my students to set out on, which is filled with texts they care about and want to read, and which is also filled with experiences that make our projects feel important and meaningful. 



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Snow Day and House Keeping


Hi Dr. Stearns and class,

I see from our Binghamton news cast that Cortland classes are off today due to snow.  Dr. Stearns, I will be emailing you attachments of my seminar strategies, my YA paper revision, and my 3rd book review by the end of the day.

Just wanted to check and see if there was any other requirement due to the snow day?



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Beers Ch. 15

Donna and I are scheduled to fascilitate the Beers Ch. 15 discussion in class, and I know Donna has a lot to say about the topic of flow during this discussion.  Just in case we do not have time to touch upon this chapter in our last class on Tuesday, I want to call out some pieces of the chapter that I found most resonating:

  • This chapter by Wilhelm and Smith addresses the study done on adolescent male readers entitled “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys.”  Catchy title, isn’t it? 
  • The meat of this article comes from a quote by a boy in this Chevy study named Buda.  Buda says, “School teaches you how you are dumb, not how you are smart.”  After reading this, I was struck by how well this chapter discusses expanded notions of text, competence, and the celebration of knowledge.  More importantly, I was struck by how well this article combats the idea that kids should feel “dumb” and dwell on what they don’t know. 
  • Next, I realized how this idea of expanding our whole notion of what to teach and how to teach it is a recap of the Understanding by Design template, isn’t it?  In fact, the entire chapter here in Beers is a confirmation of all that we have learned about the UbD model.  Start with a question and work that question instead of fitting a question to pre-selected texts. 
  • Another example of the UbD model at work in this chapter comes around page 239, where Wilhem discusses his daughter’s lack of interest in history after receiving a mere B in Social Studies Class.  Wilhem writes, “What might happen instead if Fiona’s teacher recast his job as helping develop skills a historian needs rather than as providing her with historical information?”  I find that the best way to meet this challenge is through the overarching understandings of the UbD model.  This way, kids walk away with the big picture instead of little sentences of information on a narrow topic, don’t they? 

I was so happy to read in this chapter that kids should select some of their own texts, that pictures count as real texts, too, and that great learning comes from reading things NOT taught in school.  All of these points have been stressed throughout our semester in 541, and here they come full circle in Beers.  I think this was an excellent choice for an end-of-semester reading assignment, especially because it captures the last three months into one neatly presented essay. 



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Mini Lesson Details for 11/27

Goodmorning 541.

Tonight I will be using Macon, Bewell & Vogt’s “Somebody Wanted – But-So” technique to look at the poetry assigned in my unit on teens at home.  I find this technique to be an excellent strategy for dissecting difficult pieces of poetry, short stories, or novels with struggling readers, and I will definitely be using it with my own future students. 

Here is the background on this technique:

Students learn to summarize the action, problem, or event presented by a story or poem by identifying key elements. 

Step One:  Identify the “Somebody” (the protagonist) 

Step Two:  Identify the “But” (what the somebody tried to do and what prevented him/her from doing it) 

Step Three:  Identify the “So” (how the somebody solved the problem)  

For example:Using the “Somebody Wanted – But-So” technique with Cinderella: 

Somebody:  Cinderella 

But:  Wanted to go to the ball but didn’t have a dress to wear 

So:  Fairy godmother appears with clothes

The beauty of this technique is that it gives a solid base to the text, which students can then embelish upon as their understanding of the main action or problem grows.  Point of view is also explored as students share their Somebody-But-So interpretations with each other after completing the activity.   -Sofia

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Read-Write-Think Lesson on Video Gaming

A while back, Dr. Stearns introduced us to the sample lesson plans on the NCTE Read-Write-Think website.  I have been keeping my eye out for new lesson plans that introduce technology into the classroom in ground-breaking ways.  Tonight I came across a lesson plan entitled Flight of the Imagination, which uses the popular game “World of the Warcraft” to inspire student-driven plans for new fantasy video games.  The lesson plan overview says:

In this lesson, students learn about the “World of Warcraft,” a successful online video game with over six million paying subscribers worldwide. They then develop storylines, settings, characters, and technical features to create their own fantasy video games that would appeal to the public.”

As we have talked about new forms of text in 541 discussions, I really want to add video gaming to the list of literacies.  Please check out this lesson plan at the read-write-think site for more information.  Sofia

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The Digital Bookshelf


How many of us have ever considered replacing our rich bookshelves of paperbacks with one small digital device?  How many of us have ever considered tossing our thin pages of bound paper for a small computer screen with adjustable font sizes? 


I could not help but analyze the cover of my November 26th Newsweek magazine, which displays the face of’s CEO Jeff Bezos.  Bezos holds a digital book in his hand and wears a mischievous smile as he looks into the camera.  Printed across his digital book are the words, “Books aren’t dead.  They’re just going digital.” 


This cover page story announces the creation of the Kindle, which is a digital book that weighs only 10.3 ounces.  Bezos is the mastermind behind the device, which will change the “face” of reading as we know it.  The Kindle is a digital reading device that will hold up to 200 “books” on its hard drive, and additional memory cards will hold hundreds more of your favorite novels.  Most impressive is the Kindle’s ability to work independent of your laptop or desktop computer.  The Kindle has an Ethernet card installed in it that allows you to search and browse the web, purchase and download e-books into your digital bookshelf, and feed into your favorite blogs. 


So what do we make of all of this?  Hasn’t it always been a somewhat intimate experience for us book lovers to mark up our favorite paperbacks and hard covers with notes, highlights, scribbled references, and so on?  Isn’t also a very comforting, familiar part of our reading routine to physically turn each page of the book we are reading?  Will the digital bookshelf depersonalize the reading experience for us?  


Most importantly, what will our classrooms look like when all of our students own their own Kindle or loan out their Kindle from our school library?  Will this make much of a difference?  -Sofia 


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Christenbury & Shortening the High School Experience

“Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has called high school obsolete” (Alliance, December 12, 2005, p.1).


In Christenbury’s Retracing the Journey, chapter twelve poses some ideas for reforming the high school experience, and one of them has stood out to me as a great topic for class discussion.  Christenbury writes, “Some high school reformers have embraced a call to eliminate the last, possibly redundant year of high school, supposedly solving part of the ‘problem’ by reducing the number of years in the secondary school setting” (2007, p.110).   While Christenbury examines the cons of shortening high school from four years to three years, I also find myself examining this option in great detail.


Whether we eliminate the senior year of high school or keep this year and fill it with dual enrollment college courses, Christenbury finds fault with this kind of answer.  She tells us that shortening the number of years it would take to finish high school only puts younger kids into college and the workforce.  Similarly, if we decide to keep the senior year of high school in tact and fill it with college level coursework, we still have not addressed the major issues of secondary school curriculum.  In short, wiping out the senior year or filling it up with college level work only produces quick fixes.   Underneath, problems still exist.


At the moment, I am entertaining the idea of shortening the high school experience into three years.  This is my initial reaction, which is definitely an opinion in-progress.  Reading about this initiative seemed to have some appeal to me, and I would love to hear more from all of you about this.  What do we think?  Is it ok to shorten high school and send our 17 year-old seniors off to a college campus?  Or should we keep a senior year filled with dual enrollment college courses?   -Sofia


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