Friday, June 15, 2018

San Jose teacher writes a novel to improve grade-school literacy

Chris Knoblaugh--a Castillero Middle School teacher--recently published a thriller/horror novel called Tribute to fight falling literary levels in California. The book is set in San Jose and was written at a 3rd grade level with a subject matter designed to hook 6th graders and up. This was done to captivate students that might not have the same literary skills as their grade-level peers, but the book can be enjoyed by anyone.

Check out the full press release below or head over to Amazon for a preview of Tribute Part 1: The Cleaners Series.

Can Demons and Doppelgangers Help Turn Around California’s Low Literacy Rating? One San Jose Middle School Teacher is Determined to Find Out

SAN JOSE, CA (June 18, 2018) - In December 2017, a group of lawyers sued the state of California for the literary crisis in schools, claiming the state was not satisfying its constitutional responsibility to educate all children. According to the California Department of Education, a whopping 51.4% of students tested did not meet or exceed state English standards. Come November, voters will be faced with electing a Superintendent of Public Schools to turn around California's low literacy rating. Many are asking: what are schools doing about the problem?

“That’s not the right question,” said Castillero Middle School teacher Chris Knoblaugh, author of Tribute: The Cleaners Series: Book 1. “The right question is, how are schools going to fund the one-on-one attention required to teach kids to read?”

Knoblaugh knows first-hand the challenges teachers are facing, having taught English in elementary and middle schools in San Jose for 16 years.

“If an educator is teaching a full class of 32 kids, the chances to work one-on-one with a student are slim to none,” she said. “When I was working on my Master of Arts in Teaching, I gave up my break periods to tutor a student to bring him from pre-kindergarten to a fourth-grade reading level. It took one year of intensive work, starting with letter sound association, then word recognition, building reading visualization connections, and understanding the meaning of words.”

Knoblaugh became a teacher through the back door. The first in the family, along with her sister, to graduate from college, she earned a B.A. in English Literature and B.S. in Biological Sciences, graduating cum laude. She began working for a chemical company conducting research, and eventually became a product manager for Sun Microsystems, where she was laid off.  With all the downsizing in the high-tech industry, she knew it was time to change gears.

Through a program offered by NOVA to recruit teachers for Science, Special Education, and Math, Knoblaugh applied to be a Science teacher at Hoover Middle School in downtown San Jose. The school convinced her to use her writing skills to teach English instead, and put her in charge of a class where 70% of the students spoke something other than English as a primary language.

Knoblaugh quickly discovered what she was up against. “With a lack of resources at home like reading books, it’s not uncommon for a student to enter the seventh grade with a second- or third-grade reading level,” she said. “You learn vocabulary by reading. So, to teach in such an environment, you have to read aloud, stopping to discuss each section with the students. They can’t parse the information themselves; they often lack the tools to do so.”

From Hoover, she moved to Almaden, where again many students also spoke English as a second language. The difference, however, was that these students’ parents tended to be high tech workers learning to speak English themselves. The combination of a rich text and vocabulary environment, and the fact that the parents bought books for their kids and took their kids to the library, enabled these fifth-graders to often read at a college level. “They might not grasp the innuendo, but they understand the words,” she said.

For the past two years, she’s taught English at Castillero, a performing arts middle school, where 30% of the students lack the financial resources to invest in home libraries. Frustrated by what she saw as an ongoing problem—a lack of resources, and the kind of one-on-one tutoring she champions—Knoblaugh knew something needed to be done.

Her solution was to provide gripping stories that are accessible to kids, so a teacher can work on sentence structure and vocabulary development without the students knowing it. ”There aren’t a lot of high-interest/low-readability books for tweens out there,” she said. Which is the reason she wrote her debut novel, Tribute.

“I needed something to grab the attention of 12- and 13-year-old kids who don’t have an expanded vocabulary,” she said. “The reading level is third grade, but the interest level is sixth and above. I’ve written enough short stories, and read them in class, to know what grabs the attention of a child. It needs to be something on the edge of believability.”

Tribute, based in San Jose, California, is the story of twelve-year-old Miguel, whose family loses a soul every time his gang member Papa makes promises to Santa Muerte. Miguel’s brother, Juan, is the next target. The resulting paranormal possession attracts demons, doppelgangers, and an ancient soul slayer from the depths of Hell—all of whom must be vanquished if Miguel is to save his family and himself. Her Amazon reviews show many adults are also enjoying Tribute.

“Miguel is based on a combination of student characteristics I've seen in my classroom over the years,” Knoblaugh says. “He’s a realistic tween character operating in a harsh urban environment, struggling with the astounding level of poverty facing blue-collar families in San Jose. The addition of cryptids and demons to the story adds to the psychological stress of loss and poverty.”

Knoblaugh usually spends summers tutoring students for her Dancing with Words Tutoring business, but this summer she plans to write the second book in her anthology series. “It’s not a Harry Potter series,” she said. “More like Goosebumps, an anthology series where each book stands on its own with common themes and motifs.”

Released in April on Friday the 13th—for luck, she said—Tribute is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon. Readers can find the author online at these locations:

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1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to Chris Knoblaugh on her new novel. This book fills a need for high interest literature written for middle school students who are not at grade level in their reading ability. The characters and the writing are fascinating! Currently, I am enjoying reading Tribute. I highly recommend it to you as an interesting summer read. Best of luck to Chris on her new book that she will work on over the summer. I am sure Tribute is the first of many novels she will write.