Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Celebrating Sylvia Vardell!

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Will Clayton

Even though our blog birthday was on January 1, we are celebrating it all year! On our 8th Birthday, we decided to celebrate 2014 by celebrating others who inspire us every day. Each month, on the 1st (or so) of the month, we will celebrate a fellow blogger whose work has inspired us. We feel so lucky to be part of the blog world that we want to celebrate all that everyone gives us each day.

This month, we are celebrating teacher and blogger, Sylvia Vardell. Sylvia blogs at Poetry for Children, which is one of the most amazing poetry resources for classroom teachers you can imagine! Sylvia works tirelessly to promote poetry for children at every professional conference she attends, through the journal articles and professional books she writes, and, of course, through the Poetry Friday Anthologies she edits with Janet Wong.

On her blog, Sylvia has thoughtful posts like the recent one on Poetry and Social Justice.

She also has a series called Poet to Poet, in which she features one poet interviewing another about his/her new book. 

Plus, she shares readers' guides she's written, like the one for the fabulous novel in verse, Crossover.

To honor Sylvia, we made a donation to the American Academy of Poets (, an organization that supports educators with tips for teaching poetry, a monthly educator newsletter, and events such as Poem in Your Pocket Day and National Poetry Month.

Please help us celebrate Sylvia for all she does for poetry and for teachers!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

I have had the release date for The Farmer and the Clown on my calendar for months. This was a book I was excited about and one that I wanted to make sure to get right away. Well, I received a review copy of the book last week and loved it even more than I thought I would!

The book (by the amazing Marla Frazee) tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a farmer and a clown.  And can I say that the clown is so adorable!  Happy and fun on every page.  I fell in love with this book on the first read and everyone I had it too squeals or "aw"s while reading.  This week, we read it twice in the classroom. I purchased the kindle edition so that we could read it on the screen. I am so glad I did this because the details in the illustrations, some that I missed during my first few reads, are critical and would have been so hard for kids to see without the projection.  This book is simple, but it leaves the reader with so much to think and talk about. And it leaves the reader with a feeling of joy.

I have said many times on this blog that I LOVE wordless books.  This is pretty new for me as I've learned to love them in the last 5-6 years.  This is by far, one of my favorites.  I love the characters and I am amazed at how well they are each developed in this wordless book. I like the story and the characters and the art.  I love Marla Frazee and have yet to read one of her books that I didn't fall in love with.  This one is definitely one of my Caldecott hopefuls.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Science, Literacy and Technology at the Columbus Zoo!

Last May, we took our 3rd graders to the Columbus Zoo on a field trip. We have a great zoo in Columbus so it s always a great trip. But last year, the educators at the zoo created a new program. Our kids would have the opportunity to observe animals and collect data using iPads.  We were excited about the program and knew that it tied in with our science curriculum.  When we got back to school last spring, we realized that this would be a great fall trip. That the program would be a great kick off for learning around scientific observation, using technology to collect data, life science and more.  So we booked this year's trip in September and our classes went to the zoo on Friday. Not only was it a great day but we learned a lot that I know will carry into our learning thoughout the year.

The trip was great. The educators at the zoo kicked off our day with a half-hour session for the whole group. We learned about animal observation. We learned about the 4 elephants at the Columbus Zoo. We learned their names, how to tell them apart, a bit about their personalities, etc. Then we learned the codes for each thing an elephant might be doing--moving, socializing, eating, etc.  We learned a bit about why it is important to tell where the elephant is for each observation-which area of the habitat.

Then, each class had the opportunity to use iPads to track one elephant's behavior for 30 minutes.  The app is set up specifically for these observations and kids got a chance to see what this type of animal observation at the zoo was like.  (The iPads were not working for our class's session so we asked questions and learned lots about the animals, as Kelly answered our questions about the elephants.

September was a great time for this trip.  It impacted the ways that our students think about science and observation. They understand that scientific observation happens all the time at the zoo right in our city. They know that the observations we take tell a story of the animal.  And they learned that technology is one way to keep track of observations.

I read 2 books this week that set the stage for our day at the Zoo. One was Elephant by Suzi Eszterhas.  This book tells the story of a baby elephant and how he grows.  Her Eye on the Wild series is a great series for middle grades and this made for a good read aloud.  The other book that we read was Tiger Math:  Learning Graphing From a Baby Tiger and they begged me to read this one each day. This is the story of a baby tiger who refuses to eat.  The book chronicles the first months of the tiger's life and the work the zookeepers did to keep him alive, help him grow and monitor his progress. There are graphs throughout the book that the scientists share to help tell the story of Tiger. I love that the authors of this book talk about the story that graphs tell. Kids loved this and they learned math and scientific observation.  There are several books in this series so I am going to try to get them all for the classroom as kids were fascinated by the ways math and science worked together for animal observations.  I think they'll enjoy them even more now that we've been to the zoo.

We are lucky to have the Columbus Zoo right here in our city!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Poetry Friday

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)
by Wendell Berry

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

My One Little Word for this year is BREATHE. It's been a perfect word to remind myself to slow down, to notice all the good in people and in the world around me, to make space in my busy days and weeks just for me.

On a somewhat related note, if you haven't seen FALL LEAVES by Loretta Holland, get your hands on it asap. It is a poetry/nonfiction hybrid with gorgeous-GORGEOUS illustrations. (my review here)

And head over to Laura's place, Writing the World for Kids, for a peek at one of her new books and the Poetry Friday Roundup!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fall Leaves

Fall Leaves
by Loretta Holland
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September, 2014
Review copy from the public library, via my amazing literacy coach, Brooke!

The best compliment I can give this book is that I have read it at least 5 times and I am still finding new things to love!

When Amazing Literacy Coach Brooke handed it to me with a, "Have you seen this? I think it would make a fabulous mentor text." I read through it quickly, seeing the short phrases in large font with informational text in smaller font below.

On the next read, I really thought about the word choice for the words in large font. The book begins with, "FALL ARRIVES" and on the next page, "BIRDS LEAVE," then "LEAVES TWIST" and "RAIN FALLS."

I started to form a theory about the pattern of the words on my second read, but I had to read the whole book again from start to finish to confirm it: (spoiler alert) every page has either FALL or LEAVES in the text! Fall can be used as the noun (the season) or the verb (to fall). Same with leaves. So cool! And the text is satisfyingly circular.

On the fourth read, I studied the illustrations and marveled at the use of color, light, and movement that Loretta Holland used to perfectly capture the mood and feel of fall. On Goodreads, I tagged this book "Potential Caldecott."

Finally, on the fifth go-round, I read the nonfiction text under the large words on each page. The science behind each phrase is clearly explained and includes the large words (in italics).

Brooke was right. This would make a fabulous mentor text. Not since Nothing Like a Puffin have I read a picture book that calls to me to use its pattern to write my own version. The hardest thing will be to find two words that can both be used as nouns and verbs. I'm off to my notebook to brainstorm...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Building Read Aloud Routine in 3rd Grade

The first eight weeks of school is critical.  Building routines and setting the stage for learning across the year happens in those first few weeks. Read Aloud is one of the most important routines in our classroom.  It is the time when we come together around a book and enjoy it together. But it is far more than enjoying a book. Our conversations help us build and grow our thinking and give us strategies for understanding longer, more complex books.  I know if the conversation is to grow over the course of the year, I need to choose books carefully for read aloud.

During the first three weeks of school, I thought it was important to read short read alouds that matched the kinds of books kids would be reading at this age. I think it was Joanne Hindley who taught me the importance of not always reading books above a child's independent reading level because what we read aloud is often what kids think we value. So if I want kids to read books that are right for them independently, I want to share those books often and throughout the year.  The books I read early were books that set up the routine of daily read aloud from a book we had to carry in our heads over days. It also introduced kids to various authors and series as a starting point to our talk about series and authors.  And, we so loved seeing Mercy Watson appear in Leroy Ninker! These were the books we shared during the first few weeks of school:

Lulu and the Brontosaurus
The  Meanest Birthday Girl
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up
Bink and Gollie
Chicken Squad

Currently we are reading aloud The Quirks. My students last year love the Quirks and I blogged about it  here and here  because I loved it so much.  It is a little bit of a stretch for some kids as they are many characters to keep track of and some little things that readers miss unless we stop to talk. So we are stopping to talk often and learning how to hold onto a story over several days.  Getting your head back into a book every day is critical and an important skill for this age.  During this read, we've also changed read aloud a bit. We moved to sitting in a circle facing each other on the floor. We've worked at building on a conversation rather than just sharing what you are thinking and moving on to the next person. And we've added a reader's notebook component where kids can stop and jot their thinking. At the beginning of third grade, I find students want to say everything they are thinking and learning to capture thinking in writing helps them learn to analyze and prioritize their thinking--figuring out the thinking that helps them dig deeper into their reading.

Next week, I plan to begin Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George. Jessica Day George will be visiting our school in October and we are very excited!  The kids are very familiar with fairy tales but this will most likely be the first novel-length fairy tale they've read.  For this read aloud, I am going to share the audiobook. I decided on this for a few reasons.  I want to talk about audiobooks as a way to read. So many kids build fluency with audiobooks and the text in front of them. I also think audiobooks are important for all readers-I am a reader who gets carsick so the only way I can read in the car is with audiobooks. I figure some of my students may want to add audiobooks to their reading lives. The audiobook will also give me a chance to keep a readers's notebook as we read.  I will use an iPad app such as Notability and track my own thinking as I listen to the audiobook. I have found that this is a great way to model a variety of ways to track thinking without interfering much with kids' own thinking/process.

Following Tuesdays at the Castle, we'll jump into Global Read Aloud a few days late. We'll be reading Edward Tulane with classrooms around the world. I am anxious for my students to see the power of this event and the way our thinking can be impacted by others.  

By the time we get to the end of October, we'll have a great deal in place when it comes to the read aloud routine.  And these strategies and behaviors will begin to show up in students' independent reading.  Whether these are the perfect choices or not, I know that each book will change us as a community of readers in a different way.

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Join Jen at Teach Mentor Texts for this week's link up!

I am trying to read everything I can by Mac Barnett and I somehow missed President Taft is Stuck in the Bath earlier this year when it was released.    It was a really fun book and I loved the endnotes about the real story of President Taft.  And if you are not a huge Mac Barnett fan yet, you MUST watch this Ted Talk that he did about the power of story. Thanks to @PaulWHankins for sharing this talk!

I discovered Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston during my last Cover to Cover visit.  This will be a great book to use during Writing Workshop-I love all of the amazing language and the idea of capturing things in a notebook.  Looking forward to sharing this one later this fall.

I've been hearing lots about The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc and was not disappointed when I picked up my copy.  This is a great story of friendship that will invite lots of conversation. It reminded me a bit of two of my favorite picture books, South and How to Heal a Broken Wing.  Definitely one I'll use to talk about universal themes. 

I reread Sisters by Raina Telgemeir this week.  I planned our first 3 Books and Breakfast events (book clubs before school around one book each month) and I chose Sisters as the 2nd book.  I wanted to include a graphic novel early on and this one seemed to give us lots to talk about.  I showed this book trailer to my students on Friday and there was a lot of interest in this book.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poetry Friday -- Autumn

by Linda Pastan

I want to mention
summer ending
without meaning the death
of somebody loved

or even the death
of the trees.
Today in the market
I heard a mother say

Look at the pumpkins,
it's finally autumn!
And the child didn't think
of the death of her mother

which is due before her own
but tasted the sound
of the words on her clumsy tongue:
pumpkin; autumn.

Let the eye enlarge
with all it beholds.
I want to celebrate
color, how one red leaf

flickers like a match
held to a dry branch,
and the whole world goes up
in orange and gold.

Amy has the Poetry Friday Roundup at The Poem Farm. I'll be at the Ohio Casting for Recovery retreat all weekend, so I'll catch up with your posts (hopefully) at some point next week.

If you would like to make a donation to Casting for Recovery, Orvis is matching all donations until September 23. Secure donations can be made here. You can designate the Ohio retreat (or your state's retreat).

Happy Fall! Happy Friday! Happy Poetry!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Mix It Up!

Mix it Up!
by Hervé Tullet
Chronicle Books, September 16, 2014
review copy purchased for my class library

Even fifth graders LOVE Hervé Tullet's Press Here, a book that seems magically interactive.

In Mix it Up, readers will explore color mixing without ever getting their fingers dirty. By following the directions in the book, colors are made to appear, disappear, smear, drip, blend, lighten and darken.

Fun stuff!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Circle, Square, Moose

Circle, Square, Moose
by Kelly Bingham
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Greenwillow Books, September 23, 2014
review copy provided by the publisher

Did you love Z is for Moose? Moose disrupted Zebra's presentation of the alphabet in that book. He's back, this time causing problems in a shape book.

Zebra comes to the rescue to extract Moose from the shape book, but that doesn't go so well.

Leave it to Moose to patch up his friendship with Zebra AND end the book with a rhyme.

Want to hear Paul O. Zelinsky speak? Come to the Dublin Literacy Conference on February 21, 2015! Consider presenting about your literacy best practices!