Monday, October 30, 2017


One of my students was on a picture book reading binge. She brought me The Pencil, by Allan Ahlberg and suggested it for #classroombookaday. In the story (which another student thought had the feel of a religious creation story) nothing exists but a pencil. Then the pencil draws the world into existence. Things start getting out of hand, so the pencil draws an eraser. Even that doesn't work, so the pencil draws another eraser and they annihilate each other (Noah's Ark, anyone?). The pencil starts over. Carefully.

While we were on the subject of erasers, I had to read my favorite eraser book, The Eraserheads by Kate Banks. These erasers come to life and have adventures. Are the eraserheads alive for real, or just in the imagination of the boy? You decide.

I had just read The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, and it seemed like the perfect next read. In it, the creator, in the course of drawing, makes mistakes and then makes the mistakes into something wanted. Total surprise ending in this one. It will blow your mind.

The fourth book in this set is one I put out for students to pore over and ponder on their own because it's wordless -- Lines by Suzy Lee. In this book, the lines are made by the blades of an ice skater's skates.

Then, surprise of surprises, this weekend I read Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Two children (are they drawing on the walls?!?!) can't agree on what to draw. Then, their drawings pick up on the escalating disagreement and things really start to get out of hand. Literally. The two children draw an escape and start over -- each offering an olive branch to the other.

There's something quite magical about the connections between books!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Mentor Texts

You've heard about it, you've marked it "To Read" in GoodReads, maybe you've even ordered it and have it on your stack. Move it to the top of your stack, make some time, and dig in! Once I started reading, I was hooked. I wanted to keep reading, but more than that, I was anxious to start writing and try some of her ideas with my classroom of writers.

With a short week this week, I decided to ease my writers into informational writing with some of the strategies from Poems are Teachers, and definitely by using the mentor text poems (one from a professional poet and two from students accompany each section). My goal was for them to develop fluency in generating ideas and drafts, and to show them that a minimal amount of "research" is needed in order to jot a draft. I was also hoping that all of our work thus far in the year with "Unpacking Poems" (hat tip to Tara for the idea) would evidence itself in the students' poems...and it DID! Alliteration, similes, thoughtful stanzas, repetition, and more! Finally, a future goal is that my students will transfer both the fluency of ideas and drafting, as well as the use of rich and creative language to their informational writing. Once you dig in and start reading Amy's book, you'll see how your students' work writing poetry will do what the subtitle says and "Strengthen Writing in All Genres."

On the first day, I spread my "Activists and Trail Blazers" shelf of picture book biographies on the meeting area carpet. We browsed the books, jotting notes about what we read, about what we noticed in the illustrations, or about connections we were making. Midway through our time, we looked at the mentor poems in the section "Listen to History" (p. 18 and 21) and I sent students off to try a draft. Here are a couple of the more polished first draft poems and the book that inspired each poem:

"In America, You Can Achieve Anything"

Discrimination is "whites only."
Discrimination is no prom.
Discrimination is closed doors.
Discrimination is skin deep.

Honor is head held high.
Honor is good grades.
Honor is medical school.
Honor is Olympic gold.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

Try Hard

Two trainers one passion
Try hard
Train hard

Stolen bike
Fight for rights
Try hard

Try to fight
Rare in light
Try hard

©M., 2017

MLK's Dream Day

Not everyone is treated the same.
Not everyone had the same things we have now.
Who is to blame?

One man stepped forward.
On August 18, 1963,
he said his famous speech
"I have a dream."

©J., 2017

On the second day, we tried the same thing, but I put out a shelf full of animal books from my nature nonfiction section. The mentor poems in Amy's book were from the "Find Ideas in Science" section (p. 32 and 35). Here are a few more first drafts and the books that inspired them. You can probably tell that writing a mask poem was one of the suggestions!

Creepy Crawlers

I have 8 eyes
I can be small
I can be big

I can crawl
Jump and bite

I love bugs
I have more than
One leg or two or three

What can I be?
What am I?

(jumping spider)

©A., 2017

Hello, my little prey!
I see you came to the luminous light.

But you shouldn't have.

As the people say,
"Don't go to the light."

I can be 1 or 2 or 3, *
but can you guess me?

Who am I?


©M., 2017

*"Smaller males join their bodies to mine, latching on with their teeth until their skin fuses into mine. I eat for all of us, sharing the nutrients from my bloodstream."

Mr. Tree

I, Mr. Tree, have been here
longer than you, I've been here longer
than your mother and father.

I, Mr. Tree, give you oxygen
and in return you give me water and food.
I will help you until I go TIMBER!!

I, Mr. Tree, live in your back yard
with Miss Flower and Sir Grass.

I, Mr. Tree, am still here as a seedling
after I pass on.

©H., 2017

(H's poem shows that your writing might wind up taking you in a very different direction than you expected!)

Brenda has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Friendly Fairy Tales.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Literacy Connection: Words of Wisdom from Pam Allyn

The Literacy Connection events are always two of my favorite days of the year.  Last week, we were lucky to learn with Pam Allyn and it was an amazing day!  So much that I have been thinking about all week.  And such an amazing group of people to learn with!

At the end of the day, all of us full of great energy!
Pam left us with lots of wisdom and the following is a list of things I wrote down that I wanted to think more about. So much positive energy and hope and belief that we can make good things happen for our students.  I thought I'd share these wise words from Pam with you.

You get to know going to sleep at night that you did something.

Busy People get things done.

Open yourself to the potential that’s in you for the work.
All of us can be better.
The thing about literacy is how urgent it is.

All of my work is about a sense of hope.

Literacy is the foundational goal of all goals.

At the end of the day, we have a lot more power than we think.

Much harder to turn a 15 year old than it is to turn a 5 year old.

Let’s think about what we can do to make us.

We can make something happen. We don’t have to wait.

We do have a lot of evidence for what really works. But sometimes we don’t really believe it.

All the research shows us that independent reading where kids get to make choices is a key part of success and will improve test scores.

Deficit language is really hard for kids to get over.

We were so lucky to have Pam with us for a day last week. In April we'll have Ernest join us to close out the year. (You can register to hear Ernest at The Literacy Connection's website.  As part of our yearlong study this year, we are reading the book that Pam wrote with Ernest Morrell, Every Reader a Super Reader. It is an incredible book that I highly recommend. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Poetry Friday -- WonderFALL

by Michael Hall
Greenwillow, 2016

Brightly colored trees? Check.
Clear blue skies and comfortable temperatures? Check.
Arkansas Blacks available from Ochs' Fruit Farm at the Farmers Market? Check.
Fall comic from Incidental Comics? Check.
27/29 parent conferences completed? Check.
First formal observation in the books? Check.
Science test graded and returned? Check.
Ready to welcome 30th student to the class next week? Check.
Even more ready to enjoy a four-day Fall Break? Check, check, CHECK!

And what better way to welcome Fall and a bit of a break than with a few selections from Michael Hall's WonderFALL.

An oak tree is the speaker in these poems:


A gentle
breeze is

I hear



ready to



all around.

And look
(rustle, rustle) --
I'm dressed
for the

I hope your fall is treating you well (or spring, as the case may be in the Southern Hemisphere)! Join Leigh Ann at A Day in the Life for this week's Poetry Friday Roundup!

Monday, October 16, 2017

New Books from Weekend with The Literacy Connection Part 2

Of course Beth from Selections Books had SOOOO many books that were new-to-me. I try to keep up with new books and I count on Beth to share the best new that there is when I see her. She had some great new nonfiction that I know my kids will love.  Here is what I bought:

Trickiest: 19 Sneaky Animals by Steve Jenkins (There is a partner book to this called Deadliest!)

Penguins vs. Puffins, by Julie Beer, a National Geographic Kids title--For kids who love The Who Would Win series, this is a great ladder for them.

Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals by Nicola Davies--The writing in this book is incredible and will be part of many mini lessons I imagine.

50 Cities of the U.S.A. by Gabrielle Balkin and Sol Linero--so much on every page and not all capital cities--a different way to look at US cities I think!

These all seem perfect for 5th graders!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

New Books from Weekend with Literacy Connection Part 1

We had a great weekend with Pam Allyn at our Fall Literacy Connection event. More on that in another blog post. But when you are around so many great book people and when Beth of Selections Books brings a bazillion books to sell, you find new books to read! September and October are never my best reading months. With all that happens in the fall in the classroom, I don't usually find much time to read. But I did pick up several books that I hope to read soon (unless my kids grab them and I can't get them back!). Here are some that I picked up that I am excited to read soon!

Pam Allyn (and several members of the audience) mentioned this adult fiction book--Eleanor Elephant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I don't fit in much adult fiction but I love it and after hearing Pam and others talk, I ordered it right away. Thanks Pam and Stella!

Two middle grade novels that were suggested as strong 2017 titles (I'll share these with Mock Newbery Club members if they aren't already on our list) were Pablo and Birdy by Alison McGhee and Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. Thanks Brian and Mary Lee!

And I always love new fairy tales so I picked up Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin and Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins.

I also picked up a new book by an Ohio author that Beth said my students would love.  It is called Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari and it sounds fabulous! Thanks, Beth!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Walt Whitman

Unsplash photo by Echo Grid

First this:

Poetry Ruined My Life
From the essay: 
I still have the Leaves of Grass that dad gave me for Christmas in ninth grade. “Whitman loved much that you love—beauty, openness, honesty, freedom, nature. Inside here is his “Song of the Open Road.” You are entering your open road years. Demand much of them; give them fully of yourself and you will have come to terms with being.”
Then, this:

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (INCIDENTAL COMICS)

And some more Walt Whitman on Zen Pencils, just for good measure.

Irene has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live Your Poem.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


There's that one thing that you did that one year and it was magical, so you decided you would do that same thing every year in exactly the same way so you could replicate that magic, except you neglected to remember that each year is different and magic does not replicate and so you almost threw the whole thing out.

Yup. That was me and classroom blogging.

Instead of throwing it out, I changed my entire approach. In the magical year, we did a 15-minute free-write, then spent some time reading and commenting. That year (and only that year), it worked not to have rules and boundaries.

This year, we've been talking about our passions -- the things in life we care most about. My students had a week-long homework assignment to write a handwritten page about their passion(s) before they ever knew that that writing would/could be their introductory blog post. This year, the students' blogs have a theme, or topic, the way most blogs do in real life. They will be (mostly) exploring their topic/passion in a new way each time they write a blog post.

The biggest change for this year is in the settings. Every blog post and every comment must be approved by me before they go live. I've realized that in order for students to understand and learn to use good online etiquette, their practice needs to be closely monitored and controlled. Comments will be thoughtfully written complete sentences, and blog posts will be on topic and carefully edited.

So far, so good. It looks like perhaps the magic hadn't gone completely away, it was just hanging around waiting for me to be responsive and flexible about the way it would show its face.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Poetry Friday -- The Three Goals

Photo from Unsplash by Jeremy Thomas

The Three Goals
by David Budbill

The first goal is to see the thing in itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.
In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal in the particular,
Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

Violet has the Poetry Friday roundup at Violet Nesdoly | Poems.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Best Recent Picture Books

Baabwaa & Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship
by David Elliott
illustrated by Melissa Sweet

If the author/illustrator duo didn't make you want to read this book, then the goofy names should do it. (Baabwaa...Barbara...Wooliam...William...groan!!) This book turns a traditional tale on its ear and add some sarcastically funny parts. It made me laugh out loud at the end! Check out the subtitle -- that says it all!

The Only Fish in the Sea
by Philip C. Stead

So much story packed into one picture book! The whole thing starts PAGES before the title page, and there are at least six subplots in the illustrations.

by Sharee Miller

A book to celebrate all kinds of hair textures, shapes, and styles.

by Matt Tavares

Destined to become a new Christmas classic, this book has a twist of nature and environmentalism, plus overtones of immigration. Gorgeous illustrations.