Friday, November 21, 2008

Mr. Blount is a National Board Certified Teacher!

Last school year I applied for certification in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It was an intensive process requiring that I build four portfolios to document my ability to analyze student growth in reading and writing, facilitate small and whole group discussions, and document my educational and instructional accomplishments. Upon completion of the portfolios, I took a timed computerized essay test addressing the areas of literary analysis, universal themes, teaching reading, language study, analysis of writing, and teaching writing. The results were announced online today, and the above screen shot shows what I saw when I logged into my account. The congratulatory letter below provides additional details about this accomplishment.

I wish to thank all of my 2007-2008 Tomlin Middle School students and colleagues for supporting me in this endeavor and my parents Roland & Evelyn Blount for hosting my writing marathons on their living room floor. My eternal love and gratitude, however, goes to my two NBCTS mentors, Vickie Gunn and Tracy Stanley, without whose support and assistance I would not have been able to earn this honorable designation. Thanks, girls! You KNOW you pulled me through!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Focus Titles: Love That Dog & Hate That Cat

Wooo Hooo! The sequel to Love That Dog, entitled Hate That Cat, was published last month. Nick, one of my students, found it online and shared the exciting news with our class. Of course I put the book on hold at the public library, read it aloud to my reading classes, lent it to a teacher friend, and went to Barnes & Noble to buy my own first edition.

Thanks, Nick!

In case you're wondering what all the hoopla is about, I'll tell you. Every year we read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech as an introduction to poetry. A couple of years ago I bought a class set of books from Scholastic Book Clubs so all of my students could share in the experience. Love That Dog is a short novel written in the form of a communication journal between Jack, a fourth-grader, and his teacher Miss Stretchberry. Jacks journal entries are written in free verse form and chronicle his awakening to reading and writing poetry. You can read the book straight through in less than an hour, including discussion time. I always begin by reading the poems used by Miss Stretchberry in the appendix at the back of the book. This way my students are familiar with the poems Jack mentions in his journal entries. My class especially enjoys the Robert Frost poems "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Pasture." Another popular poem is an excerpted stanza from the poem "Love That Boy" by Walter Dean Myers. The full poem is published in his book Brown Angels. Prolific young adult writer and poet Walter Dean Myers even makes a guest appearance in the story.

After reading Love That Dog, my students choose a poem from the appendix to memorize and perform for our class audience. Then we start writing poems of our own beginning with couplets, then quatrains, and free verse. Sharon Creech's web site is a great resource for readers and teachers alike. Interested teachers may want to download a free special teaching guide for Love That Dog and Hate That Cat.

Sharon Creech

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Best Kind of Gift

Last Friday I celebrated my 50th birthday. The people I love and the people who love me back made it a wonderful day from beginning to end. During the preceding week I received some nice gifts from family members and friends, but on Friday I received several of my favorite gifts . . . gifts of writing.

The first written gift of the day was from my 7-year old nephew Nathan who lives in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and is a 2nd-grader at Montego Bay Christian Academy. He is the center of my world and I miss him so much. Several days before my birthday I received an envelope in the mail from Jamaica, and written on the seal were the words: Do not open until October 3rd. So I obeyed, and the envelope waited on my kitchen counter until I opened it Friday morning. Inside was a handmade card from Nathan. His words and the care he took with his beautiful cursive handwriting brought tears to my eyes.

Friday morning is breakfast day at Fred's Market Restaurant for Tomlin teachers. When I arrived several of my colleagues were already there, and they started singing "Happy Birthday" to me. Soon more teachers came in and joined in the celebration. When Dianne Stevens, Tomlin's technology teacher, arrived she walked right up to me and handed me a gift bag. Inside was one of those dragonfly ornaments that balance perfectly by the nose. As I took it out of the bag, Mrs. Stevens began to read aloud a poem she had written for me that morning while driving (not recommended, by the way) to breakfast .


aerial trick flyer
yet sits perfectly still

like us—

work play
song silence
joy sorrow

Happy Dragonfly Birthday, Howard

—Dianne Stevens

I had no idea my friend and colleague was a wordsmith who could generate something so lovely and poetic and meaningful on the spur of the moment. Thanks, Dianne!

Later at school, Cindy Petersen, my teacher friend from down the hall along with some of her students filled my room with balloons and other decorations. It made for a festive feeling that lasted all day. Thanks Cindy!

A festive desk.

At Tomlin, our school day begins every morning with a closed-circuit television show. I was working at my desk when suddenly, I heard Mrs. Susan Williamson talking about me. When I looked at the TV screen, I saw she was sitting beside Krislyn, one of my precious language arts students. Krislyn began to read aloud a poem she had written for my birthday. As I listened to her sweet words, the tears began to flow again . . . .



Although he's 50, it's plain to see
His heart's as young as you and me

I've only known him a short 9 weeks

But he has your attention from the moment he speaks

Just like us you were once sitting in a class

Now the big 50 has caught you at last

It's oh so real, you're over the hill

But in your heart, you're as young as you feel

A teacher like no other, this is true

He brings out the very best in you.

Here's wishing you 50 more
To make the minds of more kids soar.

Happy birthday, Mr. Blount!


For lunch, my unparalled colleague Mrs. Gunn prepared one of my favorite meals of Cuban mojo pork and for dessert a homemade carrot cake. Throughout the day my former students, both seventh and eighth-graders, found creative ways to stop by my classroom and wish me happy birthday. Several students gave me birthday cards, most of them homemade, my favorite kind! One of the cards contained a free-verse poem written by my student Eliza.


A Poem to Mr. Blount

I've known you
Only for a short while,
But I still love you so.

You showed me that
Poetry is fun.
I love to write poems.
They make me happy.

And to you, my dear teacher,
have a happy, happy

Love, Eliza

I don't think it was a coincidence that we started reading our newest focus title, Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher, this week. In the introduction to the book he tells a moving story about how as a young man he started giving gifts of writing, and how they touched the lives of the recipients. I am hoping that my students will learn that they don't need money to buy expensive gifts for special occasions. All they need to do to give the gift of writing is pick up a pencil and pour out their hearts on their papers.

As I look back over the past fifty years of my life, there are many times people have given me gifts of writing. One of those gifts was a poem my father wrote for my tenth birthday when he gave me my first watch. There are hundreds of cards in storage at my house where friends and family members have written personal, meaningful notes to me at special times. These gifts of writing are irreplaceable treasures to me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Plate Tectonics with Mrs. Gunn

Mrs. Gunn, my next-door colleague, is an amazing teacher. While my strength in teaching is lecture and discussion, Mrs. Gunn teaches primarily with collaborative groups and hands-on activities. Several times per week we co-teach geography with our homeroom students. One day last week I hosted Mrs. Gunn's class while they illustrated the water cycle in their interactive notebooks, and my students went to her classroom so she could teach them a hands-on lesson about plate tectonics using cake frosting and graham crackers. The best part of the lesson was that at the end they would get to eat their activities. Now that's a way to keep students attentive!

Mrs. Gunn teaches near Sean's table.

An edible activity. Yum!

Aaliyah and Anisha get in the mix.

Mrs. Gunn gave the students the following four definitions for their interactive notebooks:

plate tectonics - the theory that pieces of the earth move and change shapes

convergent boundary - when two plates collide

divergent boundary - when plates move away from each other

transform boundary - when plates slide past one another

Mrs. Gunn demonstrates a transform boundary at Shayla's table.

Michael enjoys eating his project.

Aaliyah and Shayla think it was a sweet lesson!

Thank you, Mrs. Gunn!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Focus Titles: Prairie Songs and My Daniel

We have almost finished the first two focus titles of the year, both historical novels set on the Nebraska prairie, by children's author Pam Conrad.

The AM class has been reading Prairie Songs, a coming-of-age story about a young girl whose life is changed by the tragic life of a young doctor's wife from New York.

The PM class has been reading My Daniel, a heart-rending story told in flashbacks by a grandmother taking her two grandchildren through the Museum of Natural History in New York.

A third Pam Conrad book, Prairie Visions: The Life and Times of Solomon Butcher, is a related nonfiction title about a man who photographed the people who lived on the Nebraska prairie in the late 1800s. The book is a great visual for Pam Conrad's readers, giving us a peek back in time to see what prairie soddies and the pioneers who lived in them were like.

In addition to reading these great books, we have been studying Pam Conrad's writing craft, particularly the way she writes original similes and metaphors to create visuals in the reader's mind. We are learning how to recognize these figurative literary devices in writing and also how to use them in our own writing.

In Prairie Songs, Louisa, the main character, memorizes a poem by Tennyson to recite at the Fourth of July festivities. We are memorizing the poem, too.

The Eagle: A Fragment

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

—Alfred, Lord Tennyson

There are a few surprises yet to come in our Pam Conrad prairie unit, but if I revealed them now it would spoil all the fun. So stay tuned and perhaps there will be a follow-up post.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back to School 2008-2009

On this, the first day of the 2008-09 school year, I want to extend a huge welcome to all of my incoming sixth-graders! Welcome to Tomlin Middle School, the Lion Team, and most of all Mr. Blount's classroom. It was great to meet many of you and your parents at orientation last Friday. I hope you are as excited about the new school year as I am. We will be doing lots of new things together this year, such as interactive notebooks and SpringBoard, but we will continue to immerse ourselves in the strong traditions of reading and writing literature as well. Get ready to write poetry, and essays, and read more books than you have ever read in your life!

Those of you who attended orientation already have a list of school supplies, and of course I will be sending a list home with all of you who need it in class. But in order to make it convenient for parents, I am posting our school supply list here as well.

Parents, in addition to basic school supplies, your child will need the following materials for this class:

• 1 spiral notebook: 5-subject, college-ruled, super-strong coil
(for reading/language arts)
• 1 spiral notebook: 1-subject, college-ruled, super-strong coil
(for Mr. Blount’s geography class only)
• wide-ruled notebook paper
• folder or small binder for storing notebook paper
• hand-held pencil sharpener with cover
• package or box of #2 pencils (mechanical pencils okay)
• package of red pencils or pens
• pen-size fluorescent highlighter
• set of colored pencils
• set of broad-line markers
• set of fine-line markers
• large solid glue stick
• 2” Post-It notes
• box of tissues (homeroom only)
• roll of paper towels (homeroom only)
• bag of hard candy such as Jolly Ranchers for rewards

You will need to purchase a rhyming dictionary through Scholastic Book Clubs in the near future as they become available (required).

Please do not purchase Trapper Keepers® or correction fluid for school use. These supplies do not lend themselves to our approach.

From time to time you may be asked to send additional materials from home for classroom activities. Your assistance and support of your child’s education is greatly appreciated. If you have any questions or concerns, please call 757-9400, ex. 306, or send me a note. You may also e-mail me at (

Welcome to the Lion Pride!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summer Reading: Elephant Run


Chance AKA Fidelis, one of my wonderful former students, bought me Roland Smith's newest book, Elephant Run, at the Scholastic Book Fair last spring. I was completely taken by surprise with his gift because typically book purchases work the other way around. When I asked him why he would spend so much on a pricey hardcover, he told me he knew I liked Roland Smith, and he knew I would like this book. That made the gift of this book especially meaningful to me because I knew Fidelis had put some thought into it, and it showed how well he knew my literary tastes.

I wasn't able to start reading the book until this summer, but I am nearing the halfway point of Elephant Run, and Fidelis, you made a good investment with your gift. Not only is this book another great adventure novel, it is also historical and set in Southeast Asia during World War II. And I love historical fiction!

Thanks again, Fidelis!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Focus Titles: Peak and Stepping On the Cracks

We had to have a major read-a-thon the last couple of days of school in order to finish our final two focus novels of the year, but we knocked them out. The AM class read Peak by Roland Smith, and the PM class read Stepping On the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn.

Roland Smith is one of the most popular current writers in the adventure fiction genre, and this story about a young man who makes an attempt on Everest is one of his best. I'm glad we were able to fit this novel in before the end of the school year, although we definitely cut it close. Two of the commonalities among the characters that populate Smith's books are a young person in some kind of trouble and an older wise person who fills the role of mentor. Another feature of Smith's books, in addition to the action-filled plots, is that they usually include international or domestic air travel. As a teacher, I can appreciate this element because it creates an inclusive worldview in the minds of young readers and by default teaches them not to limit their potential.

Stepping On the Cracks is a perennial favorite of mine. Set in a suburb of Washington, DC, during the Second Great War, this novel was the perfect follow-up to our World War II and Holocaust unit. Complete with bullies, a mysterious stranger, and engaging dialogue, this novel shows the internal and external conflicts of both soldiers and civilians on the homefront while the war raged overseas.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Written Book Responses: Narrative Poems

The final written book response of the year is always the greatest writing challenge for my students. Their assignment is to write a rhyming or free verse narrative poem based on the books they read. This requires that they draw on the poetry-writing skills they have learned throughout the year in order to tell their stories.

I got this idea from a colleague of mine, Mrs. Vicki Callicut (Swinger), several years ago. It is a perfect way to integrate the disciplines of reading and writing.

My students worked very hard on their poems, writing several drafts and participating in conferences with me. The poems published below are some of the best written this year. I selected these poems with input from students in both AM and PM classes. The poems are positioned in no particular order.

“Alias, ‘Uncle Ricardo’”
Ten True Stories of World War II
By Paul Dowswell
(a free verse narrative poem by Ian)

Adolf Eichmann...
Such a cruel, cruel man
He thought the right path
Was to kill...
Kill Jews.
That’s all he wanted to do.

Simon Wiesenthal...
The opposite of Eichmann, matter
Of fact, he hunted Eichmann

A deceiver...
Simon sends a deceiver named Heymeck Diamont.
Diamont finds a picture of the culprit.
He visits Maria Messenbacher.
She is as cruel as Eichmann
All of her words are lies.
So cruel in fact, she reports her own husband dead.
But wait...
What’s this...?
His name is still on the wanted list
Mixed emotions run through Simon’s head
Isn’t Eichmann supposed to be dead?
Oh, no!
Eichmann is far from dead
In fact he lives in South America
Argentina to be exact
On the corner of Garibaldi St.
Under the name of Uncle Ricardo
8 years...
8 years have passed until Eichmann is
Tested in court...
What do you think the outcome will be?
Condemned to death by hanging
I think such a man deserves a sentence as such
Don’t you...?
Or do you...?

Stuck in Neutral
by Terry Trueman
(a free verse narrative poem by Aramis)

I am paralyzed. I can’t move any part of my body
People think I’m a retard, but I remember everything I hear
Even though my Dad can’t stand my seizures . . .
I love them . . . it’s then when my soul leaves my body
I hear my dad is planning to kill me
And I can’t tell him if I’m ready or not
He says he wants to kill me because . . .
He loves me

My Dad believes you can’t teach retards
I too agree, but can’t he give them a chance?
Even though we are unteachable . . .
Crackle-crackle-crackle . . . red light, blue light
My Dad hears about Earl Detraux
He killed his two-year old retarded baby
He said it was because he loved him . . .
Yes, because he loved him
I always thought there was no reason for me to live
So I really didn’t know if I wanted to die or not
But now I know there is a reason . . .
And I want to live

My sister Cindy has a new friend spending the night
Her name is Ally Williamson
She is perfect; she has blondish-brown hair and all I do . . .
Is dream about her

I remember when my brother Paul saved my life
Bullies were going to set me on fire
But then Paul came to the rescue . . .
And he saved me
My mom is leaving for Spokane with Cindy and her friends
They will watch Spartans take on the Fighting Knights
But before they leave they yell.
Go Spartans!
Since I can’t take care of myself
Whenever I’m home alone
A girl comes to babysit me . . .
Her name is Vonda

Suddenly there is a knock on the door
It is Dad
Since Dad is here, Vonda leaves
It is the first time my Dad and I are alone . . .
I’m afraid he’s going to kill me

My dad comes into my room
He came to talk to me
He talks to me about when I was born . . .
And how he prayed

Words are starting to fade from my Dad
Red light, blue light . . .

Deep Down Popular
by Phoebe Stone
(a free verse narrative poem by Hannah)

Jessie Lou, not your average girl
Gets to walk Conrad home from school
He hurt his knee, so he wears a brace
He needs help to and from school
He keeps talking about this dumb doctor
“Oh, he’s going to fix my knee!”
I want to be able to walk with him.

So, snip, snip, snip, my hair is to my shoulders.

My sister Melinda is in a beauty pageant
So of course she gets all the attention
Everything she wants, everything she needs
Melinda this, Melinda that.
I’m glad she didn’t win, real glad
But she was so sad we didn’t go to the carnival.
It’s so not fair. I hate her.

So, snip, snip, snip, my hair is to my chin.

My on and off friend Tiny Bailey
Is making a plane for the parade
He’s been sneaking into the old barn
I think I’ll use him for the discovery project
His plane idea wasn’t a huge hit for the parade
I thought it was good, though no one else did

So, snip, snip, snip, my hair is at my eyes.

Its raining outside, its such a
Slow and gloomy day
Until Conrad’s a-knockin’
On my door, asking to be my date
I run upstairs, jumping into clothes
So he won’t have to wait
We go to the dance, laughing and playing
At the end he kisses me

And I feel Deep Down Popular.

War of the Rats
by Paul Dowswell
(a rhyming narrative poem by Jeff )

In Stalingrad war rages on
Can the Germans be withdrawn?

Both forces will fight through and through
Who do you think withdrew?

The German Sixth Army arrives alive
Can the battered Russians survive?

The battlefield, like a vision of Hell
For the Nazis it's not going well

The most lethal soldier of all, the sniper
The best one of all, Zaitsev, a deadly viper

Zaitsev got forty kills
Due to his amazing skills

Zaitsev takes on another sniper
Which one will need a body diaper

At the end of the battle
The Nazis are rattled

For the F├╝hrer, their boss
Has suffered his first major loss

Waiting for Anya
by Michael Morpurgo
(a free verse narrative poem by Cristina)

German soldiers invaded my town
They destroyed Jewish families
Then I met Benjamin
He trusted me
Told me he was Jewish
Had a daughter named Anya
Waiting for her to come
Benjamin took children to Spain for freedom
I knew I had to help
They gave me money to buy supplies
German soldiers multiplied
Like cockroaches
Checking every house
We had to hide the children
Dad came home from war
And helped Benjamin
They took the children to Spain
To be free
Like a bird
They made it safely
Every child
Then something went wrong
German soldiers found Benjamin
My dad and I could do nothing
That hurt my heart
Like a big empty hole
They took him to a camp
A concentration camp
Soon the German soldiers left
Left the town
They can't hurt Jews
And make more rules
German soldiers who hurt Jews
Made Jews' lives like hell
Then the day came
She was here
She is here
But her dad gone
All this time he waited for her
But now he is gone, probably dead

A Friend Called Anne
by Jacqueline Van Maarsen
(a rhyming narrative poem by Calista)

When war started in Amsterdam
That's when Jacqueline met Anne

She walked with Anne to her house
All dressed up in a nice blouse

On the day of Anne's party
A few people arrived tardy

Jacqueline called Anne to play
This is what Anne had to say

I am busy, I can't talk right now
But I'll call you later somehow

Jacqueline wondered where Anne went
Because she left without a hint

Jews started to leave the town
Then the population went down

On the day of liberation
The biggest problem was starvation

Anne's father came home with news
That would make them both blue

He said Anne and Margot died
Then later Jacqueline cried and cried

Jacqueline got to read Anne's diary
That made her very merry

Mr. Frank decided to publish it
Then it became a big hit

Mr. Frank was a good guy
But then cancer made him die

by Louis Sachar
(a rhyming narrative poem by Tyler)

Stanley Yelnats has a horrible curse
It takes him to the worst place in the universe

The place is called Camp Green Lake
Digging all day just makes him ache

Only the warden know why they dig
Maybe she is looking for something big

He meets a kid named Zero
Can he help Zero read and be a hero?

One day Zero runs away
People thought he was going to decay

In the desert, Stanley found him
Their chances in the sandy oasis were dim

They decide to climb God's Thumb
While the pair are climbing, they become glum

After resting on God's Thumb for a while
The pair walk back over a mile

A couple of hours before daybreak
They are digging around Camp Green Lake.

While the pair are digging for treasure
Stanley falls into a hole with displeasure

There are toxic lizards in the hole
At least they aren't out of control

While lying in the hole with the blues
Stanley's lawyer comes with good news

"You're leaving Camp Green Lake,
and it looks like you have a suitcase to take."

Right before Stanley's very eyes
There is a suitcase with his name on it nearby

Stanley and Zero open the suitcase
They meet a lot of money face to face

Zero goes with Stanley to his abode
Off in a nice car they rode

Most students and I agreed that the best poem of the year was written by Ismael. His poem was written in quatrains and was based on the book
A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. Because of the mature nature of the book and poem, I elected not to publish it on our class blog. Congratulations to all my young readers and writers for a job well done!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Anne Frank at Plant City High School

The Plant City High School Players' presentation of The Diary of Anne Frank was scheduled at the right time for Mr. Blount's Class, right in the middle of our Holocaust unit of study and the day after our visit with Holocaust survivor Mr. Salomon Wainberg. So we decided to take an after school field trip to the Thursday night performance. There were twenty students, parents, and friends in our group, and we met at the PCHS auditorium for a powerful performance.

Kristin at the box office.

Brad and Robby at the door.

PCHS made us feel welcome.

A part of our group before showtime.

Alix and Allie

Victoria, Michael & Ashley

The Plant City High School auditorium held many memories for me. For one, it was the very stage where I performed many times as a junior at PCHS during the 1974-75 school year. Secondly, it was great to see many of my former students such as Kristin, who greeted me and sold me my ticket at the box office. Kristin has a beautiful voice and sings with the vocal ensemble Montage at PCHS. It is the same group, formerly named Opus I, that I sang with when I was in high school. I didn't teach Brad and Robby, but I taught Brad's brother Chris and I knew Robby from the Tomlin hallways. I have great memories of the year I taught Alix and Allie. No one enjoys a laugh quite like Alix; I can still picture her with her head thrown back cheering our knight during the Medieval Times field trip that year. And how could I forget Allie? I remember thinking the first day she sat at her desk in my classroom that she had the biggest smile I had ever seen. (Her brother Jeff is in my class this year.) Victoria, Michael, and Ashley are three of the five Watkins siblings I taught. Ashley is a former Strawberry Queen and currently attends Southeastern University, my alma mater. Allie, a senior at PCHS, was not at the play because she was on her way to the Miss Florida USA pageant. Joie Cleckler, first cousin, played Margot Frank in the play. Victoria and Michael are the youngest members of the Watkins clan, all of whom were great students when they were in my class.

Mr. Frost, director, introduces the play.

An amazing, authentic set.

Anne writes in her diary by lamplight.

The Frank and Van Daan families celebrate Hanukkah in hiding.

Thomas, Saulo, and Benji enjoy intermission.

The Plant City Players gave an amazing performance. Hats off to PCHS, Mr. Frost, and the entire cast of The Diary of Anne Frank!

I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.
—Anne Frank