Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finding Meaning and Connecting Messages

Today, we continued screening our documentary film, Emmanuel's Gift. The documentary explores the life of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, who first rode 400 miles, across the entire country of Ghana, to change perceptions about people with physical challenges.

As we finish the documentary tomorrow, we will begin to connect the film to our novel, Habibi, and start to practice synthesis for our next writing assignment. How do these two powerful, remarkable stories work together to create a new message?

Along with our synthesis essay, we will be exploring how change actually occurs in the world. How do people, perceptions, and policies authentically change to become better?

There was no word of the day today as we were progressing with the documentary. See you all tomorrow for the finish!


Mr. R

Monday, January 26, 2015

Synthesis Essay! (And Changing the World)

Today, we began a discussion of our next writing project: the SYNTHESIS essay! After our reading of HABIBI, we will screen a remarkable documentary entitled EMMANUEL'S GIFT, which reveals the story of Emannuel Ofosu Yeboah. Born with a deformed leg, Emmanuel's mission is to change the country of Ghana's perceptions and laws about people with physical deformities.

After we screen the film, we will begin our SYNTHESIS ESSAY (click here for the essay assignment in case you need to review it, lost a copy, or would like to use it for wrapping paper, love notes, or wall paper for your bedroom walls). 

In unison with our essay assignment, our word for the day is SYNTHESIS, which simply means the combination of two things in order to produce a new, fresh, whole thing! Yes! Think: A + B = C. An example of our word in a sentence is: my wife and I ran a half-marathon recently; alone, we would have quit, but the synthesis of our energy and hope helped us both to finish!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Of Socrates, Love, and Vocabulary...

This week, I loved hearing each of you share your sights, connections, and opinions about HABIBI and about the themes that emerged from the novel. Our Socratic Seminar yesterday was great fun--and I am very grateful that every single person shared their ideas. Huzzah!

We also explored the poem that I recited to my wife many years ago, and discussed its connections to Liyana and Omer's relationship in HABIBI.

Our word of the day today is ADMONISH, which means to warn or criticize in a gentle way. Here is an example of the word in a sentence: my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Looney, admonished me as a writer, which helped me to feel encouraged and also grow to become a stronger writer.

The only homework for this weekend is to get outside and enjoy some fresh air, the wide sky, and the feel of possibility.

Our quote of the day is from Shakespeare's HAMLET, when a character named Polonious says, "This above all: to thine own self be true."

Class, have a great weekend.


Mr. R

Friday, January 16, 2015

How a Flower Grows...

Today in class, we acted out some scenes from HABIBI, and had the chance to watch Omer and Liyana's relationship grow from introduction to interest to intimacy. Liyana remembers the hairs on the back of Omer's hand! Hairs on hand! And yet, as we learn today, Omer is Jewish. Liyana is Arabic.

Neither of them sees any problem with this, but already we sense the undertone from Liyana's parents. Specifically, Poppy says, "Never, never, never," (171).

For this long weekend, be sure to read up through page 208 in HABIBI. Then, after reading, share your ideas about the following question: If you were the author, Naomi Shihab Nye, what narrative decision would you make from here on out about Omer and Liyana's relationship? Why? And do you think their relationship is full of authentic love or not? Why?

Our word for today is FALLACY, which means a mistake, or mistaken thought, as in this line: Will it be a fallacy that Omer and Liyana think their cultures do not matter?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Complexity...or Simplicity?

Today in class we talked about how our word of the day, LUGUBRIOUS (i.e. mournful, gloomy, dark) connects to Picasso's Guernica painting and to our novel, Habibi.

We then segued (remember that awesome word from a while back!?) into a Quick Write for five minutes, and then a discussion of Poppy's actions with the woman who claimed to be a distant relative. You all shared insightful comments about why Poppy acted with malice or with wisdom--and each class tended to be split on opinions about Poppy's actions.

Which makes us ask: are characters (including ourselves!) simple or complex? Are the characters we read about in any novel clear, easy to understand, and consistent? Or are the characters we read about complex, inconsistent, and unpredictable? If we believe William Shakespeare, then we'd say, with him, "Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

However, can we judge Poppy's actions--or those of any character in our novel or in our lives--without really knowing what it's like to walk in their shoes.

Let's think about this together after you finish your reading tonight (up to page 140 in Habibi). Once you've read, share your ideas about this question below: Liyana responds to the Jewish boy she meets in the marketplace, "I am with myself," (128). What do you think Liyana means by this? And would you say the same about yourself? Do you know yourself, and do you see yourself as simple or complex? How do you see Liyana and Poppy--simple or complex? Why?

Whoa, dude! Loads of questions coming at you from Mr. R tonight. And they are all in bold font!? What is with the bold, Mr. Reynolds!? And what is with the copious amount of questions!?

Have fun exploring them. Share what comes to mind and heart. I can't wait to read.


Mr. R.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Responding to Cruelty...

Today, you all worked perspicaciously on the Vocabulary quiz, and did a great job connecting our words to a section within Habibi. I loved seeing you all flip through the pages of our novel, and figure out how to connects words as diverse as LACONIC and EMPATHY to a section from our book.

It's all about the connections! As we continue to read, explore, think, debate, wonder, and challenge ourselves in Room 340 this year, keep contemplating how all kinds of texts, art, words, ideas, and experiences connect to one another. It's what makes us beautifully human--what helps our hearts grow and our brains form new synapses (remember those 10,000 gooey neuron connections we talked about!? Huzzah for neuron connections!).

Our word for the day, today, is APATHY. It is the exact opposite of EMPATHY. APATHY means the total lack of feeling / concern for someone else or for a situation. Here is an example of the word in a line: Sometimes, we feel apathy because we are being mean; other times, we feel apathy because--like Poppy in The Absolute Value of Mike--we are struggling with out own grief or problems. But we always hope to come out of apathy and into...EMPATHY!

Tonight, be sure to read to page 106 in Habibi. After reading, share your insights about this question below:

In our reading for today, Liyana talks with Bassam at his spice shop. A man enters the shop and is quite mean to Bassam, calling him an animal. After the man leaves, Nye shares how Liyana felt: "Later, Liyana wished she had chased him through the streets and hit him with her little spice bag," (95). 

Why do you think Liyana wishes this? And, if you were Liyana, what would you wish you had done? Do you think it would be your responsibility to respond to the man's mean comments and defend Bassam or not? Why or why not? 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Effects of War...

Today, you all became art explorers and cross-cultural thinkers and even social scientists! IN pairs, you explored Picasso's famous mural, Guernica. Without knowing the artists or the painting asyou discussed it, you made insightful observations and then connected your ideas about the painting to a passage from Habibi.

I enjoyed watching you figure out what the painting might mean, and how to connect that meaning and symbolism to our class novel. Even though the themes of the painting are quite tragic, you explored how those messages can also speak hope about how suffering can be prevented.

Here is the mural of Guernica which we analyzed in class:

Our word for today linked to our discussion of Picasso's painting and also our discussion of your passages from Habibi: EMPATHY, which means the ability to imagine how someone else feels or experiences life--to walk in someone else's shoes, enabling them to not feel so alone. An example of our word in a line would be: When one person has empathy for another, it can be a life-changing difference. 

For tomorrow, we have our vocab quiz on five of the following six words: EMPATHY, CIRCUMNAVIGATE, CREDIBILITY, INTREPID, LACONIC, and MOROSE. Bring your Habibi books with you for the quiz tomorrow, as you'll need them.

Thanks for sharing your insights today; looking forward to tomorrow. 


Mr. R.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Today in class, we explored how Naomi Shihab Nye's biography connects to the life of Liyana in our novel HABIBI. Often, authors use the experiences of their own lives to influence the ways their characters act and what they face. Some of an author's most challenging experiences can actually become powerful prose. A remarkable author named John Gardner once said, "Art begins with a wound." This may mean that sometimes our deepest pain can create a powerful story or other work of art.

This weekend, ad in HABIBI from page 59 through 79. After reading, share your ideas about this query: Nye writes, "Liyana thought she'd try living with blank walls for a month or two. It was just an experiment," (66).  In St. Louis, Liyana's walls were covered with materials, but now in Palestine, Liyana leaves them blank. Why do you think she chooses to leave them blank--and what might this symbolize? Secondly, what do your walls look like, and what might this say about you?

Our word for the day was MOROSE, which means heavy and gloomy, as in this example: No matter how happy we may try to be, because we are all human, we all sometimes feel morose.

Have an amazing weekend!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Across the Atlantic

Today in class, we read aloud in pairs as Liyana and her family make the trek across the Atlantic and land in Tel Aviv. I loved listening to each pair read their sections aloud, and your melodic voices filled room 340 with a whole band of beauty for me!

Tonight, be sure to read up through page 59 in HABIBI. After reading, share your ideas about the following question in our comment section, below: Would you feel more like Liyana or Rafik if your family told you that you would be making a similar move across the Atlantic? Why?

Our word for the day today is INTREPID which means bold, fearless, or brave. An example of the word in a sentence is: My wife is intrepid in that she went skydiving while I would be shivering in fear unwilling to board the plane!

Our word of the day from yesterday was CREDIBILITY which means trustworthiness or the ability to inspire belief. An example of our word in a line would be: Nelson Mandela is a figure who possesses immense credibility in that he struggled for what he believed in for many years, and made good on his promises once elected president of South Africa.

Our quote of the day for today was "Character, not circumstance, makes the person," from Booker T. Washington.

Have a fabulous evening!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Understanding the Human Heart of Conflict

Today, we began to explore the Palestine-Israel conflict together, using what you have been exploring in Social Studies as our foundation. You worked in pairs to create a page-large visual of what you already know about the conflict, and about how and why it started.

We then shared our information with one another on our classroom's whiteboards and smartboard.

This will give us the basis for our upcoming novel, Habibi, by Naomi Shiab Nye. Habibi tells the story of a teenage girl whose family relocates to Palestine from America. Throguh her eyes, we see the painful transition of life, and we watch as she and her family must learn to deal with the pain and tragedy of such deep conflict.

For tonight, be sure to find one newspaper article on the Israel-Palestine conflict and print it out (or cut it out), annotate it, and then bring it to class tomorrow. 

Some great sites to explore for credible news articles are: The New York Times (, The Washington Post (, and the Wall Street Journal (

Our word for the day is CIRCUMNAVIGATE, which means to go all the way around something. An example of the word in a sentence would be: The explorer circumnavigated the Earth and learned remarkable lessons from people everywhere.

See you tomorrow!


Mr. R.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Outside or Inside...Or Neither?

Welcome back! It has been great to see you each today, and to dive back into English class with a Quick Write and a few more Ideal School presentations. Your presentations are engaging, thought-provoking, and insightful. What strikes me most is that in almost every single Ideal School you have created, hands-on, active learning is a theme.

Our word for the day, today, is LACONIC, which is an adjective that means using few words. It is the opposite of one of our previous vocabulary words, LOQUACIOUS, which means highly talkative. Here is an example of the word LACONIC in a sentence: The shy student seemed laconic at first, but once he got to know everyone, he became downright loquacious!

Read the following quote from the novel Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye, and then share your ideas about the question that follows it (in the response section of our blog):

"Let's believe together in a world where no one is either inside or outside, yes?" 

Even though we have not yet read Nye's novel, if you had to make a guess, what do you think this quote is suggesting? Why?

No wrong answers--share your thoughts below! Peace! Mr. R.