Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Round Up is Here!

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats
by Walt Whitman

Ah poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats,
Ah you foes that in conflict have overcome me,
(For what is my life or any man's life but a conflict with foes,
the old, the incessant war?)
You degredations, you tussle with passions and appetites,
You smarts from dissatisfied friendships, (ah wounds the
sharpest of all!)
You toil of painful and choked articulations, you meannesses,
You shallow tongue-talks at tables, (my tongue the shallowest of
You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother'd
Ah think not you finally triumph, my real self has yet to come
It shall yet march forth o'ermastering, till all lies beneath me,
It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory.

Mr. Whitman seems to have our number on this last day of a wrinkled, dog-eared, tea-stained old year. (Speaking of numbers, what will we call this year: twenty-ten or two thousand ten?)

On the last day of the year, we teeter-totter between looking back at the disappointments and failures of 2009 and looking forward to the shiny possibilities of 2010. (Come on "real self," I'm cheering for some "ultimate victory" this year!!)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Happy New Year and welcome, all, to the first Poetry Friday of the year! Leave your link in the comments; I'll update throughout the day, with a couple of hours off at some point to eat pork roast and sauerkraut.

Christine at The Simple and the Ordinary is first in! Her daughter wrote an original poem for the New Year, in which she ponders the perpetual end of the world.

Jama at jama rattigan's alphabet soup has a beautiful and haunting version of Auld Lange Syne.

Charles Ghigna at Father Goose is celebrating a new grandson at the end of an old year.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect starts the year with a poem about the push and pull of life. The poetry stretch results for this week are all poems about beginnings and endings.

Julie at The Drift Record greets us with Auld Lange Syne on glassharp, and then shares a sweet tribute to winter reading by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Diane at Random Noodling has a New Year haiku for the Year of the Tiger.

Greg at GottaBook shares an original about resolutions.

Tanita at Tanita S. Davis chose two quiet, thoughtful poems by Rainer Maria Rilke to start our new year. (Here's the "faux cousin" reference in case you're curious. The story can be found in the comments. Still makes me smile!)

Sarah at Reading, Writing, Musing... has some Rumi for us today.

Linda at Write Time has an original "beginnings" poem from Tricia's poetry stretch.

Sally at The Write Sisters shares inspiration for making it through the dark days of late winter.

Andromeda at a wrung sponge wrote an endings and beginnings poem for Tricia's poetry stretch. As always, the images in her poem are as evocative as her photograph.

Irene at Live. Love. Explore! has a special treat for us -- a video of her father reading Shel Silverstein and a promise/goal of a video a week in 2010!

Liz at Liz in Ink wrote a poem for the new year this morning while her family was still asleep.

Lisa at Lisa in Little Rock starts off with haiku by Issa and ends with "To Mother" by Louisa May Alcott.

Carol at Carol's Corner found a January poem that seems to have been written just for her...and for the rest of us for whom images of house cleaning, new office supplies and a dissatisfaction with grading resonate!


Becky at Becky's Book Reviews reminds us that there's lots to celebrate in the new year: Be Glad Your Nose is On Your Face (which is actually a collection of poetry by Jack Prelutsky)!!

Lori at On Point has a tail-wagging haiku for the new year.

April at Teaching Authors has six word resolutions and goals! a book give-away! and a poem for the new year!

Erin at Miss Erin shares an original -- a strong statement with which to begin the new year.

What I Learned While Weeding Books at Home

When we got married, my husband told me he would never complain about me buying books. He believed (as I did) that you could never have too many books. He has been very good about it for 22+ years. He still doesn't say much but we both really had no idea how many books a person could accumulate in a lifetime. So, it was time to weed. I knew this but avoided it until I found this article via Twitter. It helped me get some motivation. I do not enjoy weeding books at all, but they seem to be taking over our house. Where will I put the new purchases of 2010 if there is no room?
One of the biggest issues for me is that all of the books from my classroom now live at home. In my current job as K-5 librarian, I had to bring my classroom library home. After teaching a variety of grades from K-5 over the last 20+ years, I could pretty much run a school in my basement. So many great books and they all serve some different purpose. Some are great for beginning readers. Some are perfect as mentor texts for writing. Others work when trying to explain complex math concepts to kids. It is hard to find even one book that I feel okay about weeding but I went book by book and am ready to take several huge boxes to the resale shop.

-Weeding at home is much more difficult than weeding in the school library. I can see the books more objectively in the library at school. There are not as many stories and histories tied to those. Home weeding is a little more difficult since each book has a little story or memory to go with it.
-Children's books will be given to school--we have a book swap at our school run by a parent in the building. Every few weeks, there is a table set up in the cafeteria where kids can swap book. Many times, we have so many donations that each child in the school can take a book. It is fun for the kids and a great way to pass children's books along. It is great fun to watch them choosing books at the table too. So thoughtful about their choices!
-much of the nonfiction is obsolete--easier to get rid of
-I went through phases of book purchasing and it shows on my bookshelves. When art in the classroom was a big push in elementaries, I purchased several biographies about artists. When kids in a class got hooked on an author, I picked up several books by that author.
-I have a great poetry collection and I LOVE IT!
-I need to organize the books so I can find them.....
-I tried to get rid of duplicates but for some books, I couldn't bear to part with one--you can never have too many copies of Silly Sally, can you?
-Some of the books that could easily be weeded were books that were "the book" for some student--the book that turned them into a reader. It is funny how a book can sit on a shelf in a classroom for years and then one child finds it and it changes them. So many of the books on my shelves have stories like that. That seems to be the problem with weeding as a teacher--you never know which book will hook a child in the future or which book will help a child through a hard time. Every book has potential for some child in the future.
-There are books I hope my own children will love as much as I did. I have shelves of books that are too much part of who I am to get rid of. They are my favorite shelves. Just looking at the spines makes me happy! (Walk Two Moons, Crossing to Safety, Living Out Loud...)
-My next-read stack has turned into a next-read room. I was feeling pretty confident that if there was a flu epidemic and we were stuck in the house for days, I would have enough reading. But there are just too many books I'll never get to. I figure someone else should enjoy them so I hesitantly weeded out several books that have made it too far down the next-read pile.
-I got rid of several self-help books. I seem to have quite the collection (I came across 3 copies of THIN THIGHS in 30 DAYS from the early 90s. I haven't used the book since the early 90s but I cannot bring myself to weed any of the 3 copies...) The potential is always there with a copy of the book in every room, right?
-Professional books were harder to weed than I thought. So much thinking comes from the learning I've done from professional reading. Every book has changed my thinking in some way. And I go back to them, even the older ones, often. So I didn't get rid of much there.
-Nonfiction for children has gotten so much better in the last decade. So many of the books that I kept from my classrooms just aren't the quality of the books that are being published now. So much more like an encyclopedia and far less engaging/reader friendly.
-I can't part with any books by Charlotte Zolotow, Anna Quindlen, Lois Lowy and others who are on my list of favorites.

We all weeded some books--piled them up and held a family contest. How many books were we weeding? Everyone got one guess and the winner won $5. My youngest daughter won. Her guess was 213. In reality, we weeded close to 300 books. About 200 are going to the resale store and the 100 children's books are going to the Book Swap.

It was a hard process but you should see all the shelf space we have! So, the good news is that we have lots of space to put the new books we'll buy in 2010!

WAITING FOR WINTER by Sebastian Meschenmoser

I knew that I was going to buy this book the minute I saw that Sebastian Meschenmoser was the author. LEARNING TO FLY is one of my all-time-favorites and I have shared it in many, many workshops over the last few years. I knew from the picture of the squirrel on the front that I would love this one too.

WAITING FOR WINTER is the story of a squirrel who is waiting for winter...and snow. But squirrel has never seen snow. He usually stays inside for the winter. But this year, Squirrel is determined to see snow! So he waits. And waits. And waits. (The waiting page is definitely in the running for my favorite page.) He gets pretty bored waiting so he thinks of things to do to keep him busy--exercising and singing to name a few. But he and his friend Hedgehog are so loud that they wake up bear. If Bear wants to sleep, he has to help them find snow. So, they look...for something white and wet and cold.

As in LEARNING TO FLY much of the story is told through the pictures. The expressions and actions of the animals make me laugh on almost every page. You can't help but love them. And the illustrations are done in mostly pencil drawings with a little color here and there.

A GREAT story and one that I'll read aloud in the library. This one is a MUST BUY if you loved LEARNING TO FLY (and really, who doesn't love that book?)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2 Upcoming Picture Books

I picked up two ARCs at NCTE --picture books that will be out in early 2010. Both are quite fun and I think kids will love them.

TOO PURPLEY by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Genevieve Leloup has a cover that will really appeal to fans of Pinkalicious. The cover is almost completely purple--different shades of purple--a little girl dressed completely in purple. The story is quite fun. It begins with the "sweet" little girl screaming, "NOT THESE CLOTHES" to the huge pile of clothes that she has. Each of the following pages shows her in an outfit that is just not right for one reason or another--too purpley, too itchy, too stripey, etc. The illustrations are colorful and fun and there is a happy ending--she finally finds an outfit that is just right. I have two daughters and both have had fits about clothes I've picked out for them. So, I am pretty sure there will be lots of kids (an mothers) who can relate to this book!

BEDTIME FOR MOMMY is by Amy Krose Rosenthal. LeUyen Pham did the illustrations--I love her work and was immediately drawn to the book because I recognized the cover illustration as one of hers. This is the story of a little girl who is putting her mother to bed. Mommy asks for five more minutes, needs to be reminded to brush her teeth, and asks for two bedtime stories instead of one. The story is told completely in talking bubbles and illustrations which make it a unique bedtime story. Kids will love that the mother is the one procrastinating at bedtime!

My 10-Year Old's First Stop-Motion

My youngest daughter got a camera for Christmas. She also has a Christmas elf. So, she played around this week to create her first Stop-Motion video. With a total of 18 pictures, she created this video. A lot of work for a 3 1/2 second video but she is now seeing possibilities all over the house for more of this. She is being quite creative in her thinking now that she understands how it works. I am anxious to see what she creates next.

A New Rhyming Book

WOW! IT'S A COW by Trudy and Jay Harris is a fun new rhyming book. I don't think a library can ever have enough good rhyming books so I was thrilled to find this one. The fun of this one is that is is also a Lift-the-Flap book as well as a guessing book! What more could you want in a rhyming book for young children? This will make a fun read aloud for PreK-1st grade.

Each page gives you a short piece of text about something as you go on a search around the farm for a cow:

If it goes, "Neigh, neigh,"
And it's pulling a plow,
It's not a cow!

Of course.
It's a ...

(and then you lift the flap! Under the flap, we find a picture of a horse and large letters that say horse.) Kid will be able to join in and read this part and will love doing so.


It is that time of year for me again. The time I usually buy a new Self-Help book. My oldest daughter, now 19 dreads bookstore visits at this time of year. I remember a few years ago when I bought the diet book of the season. She was in her mid teens and said, "Do you not realize you do this every year?" Of course I realized it. Well, sort of. Last year, I knew that it was time to reflect on my self-help book issue. When I went to the New Year's self-help book table at Borders, I realized that I owned and had read 90 percent of the books on the table. I am not sure what that says about me or whether I should be admitting it here, but it is what it is.

As I was weeding out my bookshelves this week--working toward the goal of decluttering--I found a few of my favorite self-help books. Books that I don't use any more but they are a bit of my history. One of the first self-help book that I purchased as an adult was THE BEARDSTOWN LADIES COMMON SENSE INVESTMENT GUIDE. It did not make me a millionaire, but I picked up lots of little money tips that I've used ever since.

Since I have been buying self-help books rather regularly for 20ish years, I do notice some patterns--diet, exercise, money and organizing. It is interesting--when I read these books, I seem to find a few things that live with me and life gets a little better.

This year, I decided not to spend money on a new book. Instead, I decided to revisit some of my old favorites--the few I decided not to get rid of. So, this week, I've spent a bit of time with LIVING ORGANIZED by Sandra Felton and THE COURAGE TO START by John Bingham. I figured that these two books helped a bit the first time I read them and there might be some new nuggets to learn if I reread them.

If you are someone who is weeding books, cleaning the office, reorganizing closets, etc. this week, you probably know Sandra Felton. I am an organized person but one who has to see everything I am working on at once. So I don't appear to be organized. I make piles and then I clean piles. Over and over and over again. Sandra Felton's book caught my eye one year when I was stuck delayed at an airport. She really gets into the minds of people who she calls "messies" and helps with strategies to help us stay organized so we never have to spend a whole weekend cleaning our offices. Just flipping through the book has already helped me remember some of the strategies I'd forgotten. (I must confess that I did buy a $3.99 audiobook by Felton for our trip to visit relatives so I had something to listen to in the car.)

And, since my exercise routine has been pathetic for the last two years, I am going back to THE COURAGE TO START by John "The Penguin" Bingham. His story about how he began his life as a runner in his 40s is a great one and he has great tips that make it doable.

So, I have weeded out many, many of my self help books this week while trying to make space for any new books that I may buy this year. And even though I will probably rely on the authors' blogs to keep me focused on my goals this year, these two will stay on my shelves for easy reference over the next few months.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stuff You Need to Know

Pick Me Up: Stuff you need to know...
Dorling Kindersley, 2006; this paperback edition, 2009
Ages 8-->
review copy provided by the publisher

This book is a dare: PICK ME UP.

You will, and you'll open it, too, and find photos, diagrams, timelines, big questions ("How might the history of World Wars I and II have been different?), opposites, explanations ("Why do we smile?"), maps, challenges ("Spot the odd one out"), instructions, commands ("Are you a girl? turn to page 224), and everywhere color and font and design that make you keep browsing and reading and (gasp!) learning.

If you're left-brained, at some point you will try to figure out the logic of the book. You'll read the "How to Use Me" pages at the beginning of the book and find out that if you're looking for an encyclopedia, you'll have to make do with the traditional index at the back of the book to find the stuff you want to know. OR you can read by category (all the "Arts, Entertainment and Media" entries are coded with a purple box at the top of their pages). OR BETTER YET you can just start browsing. Inside the color coded topic box there are three words that let you know what's on that page...or should I say, suck you into the page to find out how those three words can all be contained in the information on that page!

I'll turn to a random 2-page spread and show you how this works. Pages 176-177. Topic code: orange (I look back to find out this means "You and your body.") The key words inside the orange topic code box are Nutrition to Bugs to Nursery Rhymes. "An Apple a Day" lists common chants and rhymes that encourage us to eat apples. This is followed by a text box explaining why eating apples (but not apple pie) every day might be healthy. Titles of short articles on the next page: "What should you be eating every day?", "Why the potato is an apple," What nursery rhymes are really about," and "You're not going to eat that!" (insects in Northern Thailand, edible frogs in Ghana, a fruit that smells like dirty socks...) In the article about nursery rhymes, there is a mention of the Bubonic plague. The word plague is bold and underlined with a page number after it. You guessed it...a "hyperlink" to more information! If I follow the link, I find "Viruses to Rats to HIV." Links from that spread could take me to information about computers, Europe, or the immune system.

Why do you need this book?
  1. It's like a model of the Internet. It would be fascinating to compare searching for information in the encyclopedia to searching for information in this book. I think there could be lots of lessons about using a search engine that start with this book.
  2. It showcases what student research could look like. There is nothing boring about the presentation of information in this book. Cure for the dreaded "Country Report"? Check out the pages about China, India, South Africa, etc. Want your students to really THINK about their topic instead of barfing back facts? Study the ways (WAYS, plural) information is presented in this book.
  3. The two-page spread that explains how this book was written. (Get out your magnifying glass--this is literally the fine print--but it is also a fascinating glimpse into the writing process on a professional level.)
  4. It's colorful, fun, and inviting. Anyone of any age who opens this book is guaranteed to learn. Do you need any other reasons?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Join Us in Celebrating Jon Scieszka, Our First Ambassador of Children's Literature!

On January 5, a new ambassador of Children's Literature will be announced.

So, on January 4, we thought it would be great for the Kidlitosphere to thank Jon Scieszka for his work over the past two years as the first Ambassador by hosting a virtual party for him. If lots of us in the Kidlitosphere put up a post celebrating some aspect of Scieszka's work, it would make for a nice tribute to him from the bloggers.

The "Thank You Jon Scieszka" post can be a review of one of his books, your reflections on his work as ambassador, a personal story around one of his books or author visits, something connected to Guys Read...anything Jon Scieszka.

We'll do a round up here at A Year of Reading so if you decide to join us in this celebration, send us a link to your post in the comments here.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Merry Christmas!

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas,

We wish you a merry Christmas,

And a Happy New Year!

Good tidings we bring for you and your kin;

We wish you a merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year!

Here's hoping your day is full to the brim with candles and cookies, friends and family, smiles and surprises! May you give more than you get, and may your joy last the whole year through.

The Poetry Friday round up this week is at Book Aunt. Next week it will be right here!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Teaching and Learning

I've been taking a tai chi class at my health club for about 9 months. I am a slow learner, and most of the time, I'm at peace with that. I've been told repeatedly that it can take a lifetime to truly master tai chi.

I am not accustomed to being a slow learner, so I have tried, as much as possible, to study what it feels like from the inside, and "interview" myself to capture those feelings. Here is some of my "research" to date.

Q: You can't seem to learn even the first 20 moves of the form. Why do you keep coming back?

A: For one thing, it is very relaxing to simply concentrate on moving my body rather than on the million of things that demand my attention and concentration every day in the classroom. Also, I suppose I imagine someday being the kind of person who does tai chi in the park in the early morning. The main reason I keep coming back, though, is that I am getting to know the people in the class and the instructors and I like spending a little time every week with them!

ANALYSIS: The main hook for the struggling learners in my classroom is likely the social piece as well. I need to remember to capitalize on that. It's also good to keep the end vision in sight -- to remember that the work we do in school is aimed well beyond standards and testing and AYP. Our goal is competently (independently) functioning members of our society.

Q: Which of the four instructors' styles works best for you?

A: Well, I can tell you for sure which one works the WORST -- that would be the guy who points out to the whole class that I'm the newest and least capable and I'm the one for whom he has the lowest expectations. (Not in so many words, but just about.) He also spends much of the class talking about tai chi rather than teaching us/leading us in practice of the moves in the form. I usually leave his classes cranky rather than relaxed. If he were the teacher every week, I wouldn't go back.

In third place is the instructor who is not such a great teacher, but he takes a personal interest in every member of the class. He knows my name and a little about me. He spends a little bit too much time talking during class, but I've been able to tell him that I'd rather spend more time practicing the moves and less time listening. And he was grateful (or at least polite) about the feedback.

The top two instructors are the ones who spend the whole class leading us through parts of the form. They pick a series of moves and we do them over and over again. They give the experienced members of the class tips about subtle ways to move their hands and bodies that go right over my head, but they never make the less experienced members of the class feel stupid.

ANALYSIS: Never make learners feel stupid. Totally counterproductive. Enough said.

Repetitive practice of essential skills is not necessarily a bad thing. Hard work on the pieces and parts can make the whole feel stronger. Success on a piece of a big skill fuels the desire to master the entire big skill. Drill of the parts should NEVER constitute ALL of the instruction, or the vision of the big picture will be lost.

Q: Do you practice lots outside of class?

A: For the longest time, I was only invested enough in the class to show up twice a week. Gradually, I built the desire to make more progress than I was able to in class (mostly because I wanted to please the instructor and the class members -- there's that social piece again). The thing that keeps me from practicing lots at home is that I don't know enough yet to practice independently!

ANALYSIS: Assigning homework is tricky. Yes, we want our students to practice what we work on in the classroom, but unless they are independent or close to being independent, that practice might not be attempted or might be a clumsy approximation (not a bad thing, just something to keep in mind). It's more important to make every minute of classroom instruction count than it is to create elaborate homework assignments that come loaded with unrealistic expectations for some of the learners in our classrooms.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NCTE Discussion on Support of LEARN Act

If you are a part of the NCTE Ning, you've probably been following the conversation around NCTE's support of the LEARN Act. It is quite the lively discussion and if you haven't followed the discussions, there is lots of important information being shared. Here is an intro from the NCTE site:

Senator Patty Murray (WA) has introduced the LEARN Act along with cosponsors Sherrod Brown (OH) and Al Franken (MN). This legislation--S. 2740, Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation--is a comprehensive, pre- K--grade 12 bill that features writing and reading and offers alignment from early childhood across all grade levels with support for state literacy plans and money to districts for their self-defined needs.

The Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act, which was recently introduced into the House and Senate, is a comprehensive literacy bill promoting reading and writing across the K-12 levels and in all disciplines. NCTE participated in a coalition of six literacy organizations to write The LEARN Act. The coalition includes the Alliance for Excellent Education, the International Reading Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Middle School Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English.

If you haven't kept up, here are some key posts to catch you up a bit:
-Kent Williamson's Post: The LEARN Act and NCTE from November 17

As I said, the discussion on the NCTE NING is definitely a lively one. Some people believe we shouldn't even be at the table--that the LEARN Act goes against too much of what we believe and that it is just an extended NCLB. Language like "systematic, direct and explicit" has come to mean things that many believe that NCTE, as a professional organization, shouldn't be supporting. Others seem to believe that it is time for NCTE to have a voice nationally and that when groups come together, we have influence and agreement but we will also have compromise.

Here is part of Kylene Beers' response about NCTE's role in the LEARN Act--the part of her response that really helped me make sense of this issue:

Listen long enough—and be willing to listen to those with divergent opinions—and you’ll see that NCTE, as I’ve written before, offers each a place and a space in which to come together and share thoughts.

That range of opinions, though, must cohere when NCTE policy is formed. There are two democratic processes that guide Council policy making. Either a majority of the elected Executive Committee members can establish policy, or a resolution that is passed by a majority of members attending the annual business meeting establishes policy. To guide the Council in establishing priorities for changing governmental policy affecting literacy education, the NCTE governmental relations subcommittee creates a legislative platform that is voted on by the Executive Committee. That platform guides the advocacy work of the Council. Some of that advocacy work takes place when members from across the nation gather in Washington DC to visit Congress and discuss issues important to NCTE. And some of that advocacy work takes place when we are asked to contribute to national issues regarding literacy.

Would the LEARN Act as it is today be the legislation that NCTE, working in isolation, would have crafted? No. But an equally important question to ask is if the LEARN Act as you see it today would be the legislation that it is if NCTE had walked away or chosen never to have offered its input. Again, the answer is a resounding no.

This LEARN Act discussion reminds me of the importance of getting involved. What I learned is that it is important, as an educator, to begin to build relationships with the people in Ohio who represent me. In my role as Elementary Section chair a few years ago, I was also part of the Executive Committee. What an amazing group of brilliant people that group is. I was lucky to work with them for a few years. One of the experiences that really stayed with me from my work on the EC was the first time I participated in Advocacy Day. NCTE Advocacy Day is an annual event in D.C. where NCTE members hear about new legislation, learn about NCTE positions, and spend time talking to Congressmen and Senators about issues that are important to NCTE.
After visiting D.C. and being part of the day, I tend to agree with Carol Jago's NING comment, "Maybe I'm a cock-eyed optimist, but I do believe legislators care about what teachers think. They may not always make ultimate decisions based on our views and experience, but I need to continue to trust in the integrity of the democratic process - as witnessed by this free and frank exchange of views among professionals".

I realized through Advocacy Day that it is not about visiting Washington D.C. once when an important bill is out there. Instead, it is about building long-term relationships with the people who represent us--having conversations with them about issues around literacy and education. It is a long process, building relationships, but at this time in education, we can't afford not to have a voice.

One of the most important things that I think NCTE has done in the last few years is to bring voices together. Because of NCTE's Annual Conventions over the past two years, I have been able to learn from people who are experts in the area of 21st Century Learning and Technology. My personal learning network has expanded beyond the members of NCTE. There are many examples over the past several years in which NCTE has brought voices together in a way that help us all learn and understand. NCTE's involvement in the LEARN Act seems to be doing the same thing.

Some have questioned the role of a professional organization. It seems that supporting teachers in doing the right thing is key--helping us grow as professionals. But, I think it is also important that NCTE be involved politically for many reasons. Being involved and having a voice in what happens is key to supporting members. First of all, I trust NCTE and the leaders we've voted in to make the right decisions about how and when to be involved. And I trust that they have stayed more current on the issues than I have. So, when I read the things happening in education, I pay attention to what NCTE has to say as I form my own thinking. Do I agree with all that NCTE says? Of course not. But I know that we are all working for the same things so I am looking for the big picture implications. I want my professional organization to have a voice and to help me understand the things happening that will impact education. I want my professional organization to be part of these discussions.

But, equally important, this conversation reminds me that I cannot count on NCTE to do all of the advocacy work for me. I need to continue to build relationships and have conversations with those in government who represent me. One of the posts on the NCTE Ning that struck me as hugely important was the one by Stephen Krashen "Discussion of LEARN Act with Senator Murray's Staff Member".

In this post, Krashen shares his conversation with the Senator's staff, sharing his concerns about the LEARN Act. To me, this is what it is all about. We all want the same big picture things for our students and for our schools. The key is to pay attention and to be involved. Krashen scheduled an appointment to discuss the concerns he had. ALA's response to the LEARN Act was also an important piece to my own thinking. ALA wrote a letter in support of the Act but also used the opportunity to advocate for things that were important to the organization. Even though the Act was not one that ALA would have written, it is one they can support for several reasons. Although Krashen adamantly disagrees with the LEARN Act and ALA supports it, both took the time to advocate for the things they felt were important connected to the Act.

When NCTE asks for our support, that doesn't mean that we give it blindly. It means that those we've elected to NCTE have put in time to work toward the things we believe as an organization. Being part of a professional organization doesn't mean that we agree with everything that the leaders say. Instead, for me, it means that we are working toward the same vision. We may disagree about the ways to get there but it is the ideals and visions of NCTE that are important to me.

For me, this discussion has helped me realize that I need to give more time to advocacy work--to keeping up with what is going on legislatively with things like the LEARN Act. I need to make time to meet with the people who represent me and to begin to build stronger relationships with them. Because NCTE keeps me informed, I think it is my responsibility to take what I learn from NCTE, to process, listen, discuss and act.

I have always believed that we all have different roles to play in the conversations around teaching and learning. I think that is why I have followed this conversation on the NCTE Ning so closely. There are those of us who are in schools every day who understand first-hand, what is being asked of students and teachers. There are those of us who do the research and share their findings so that we can better meet the needs of students. There are those of us who fight for an ideal vision and those who work to move things step-by-step. The thing I have learned in the last 20+ years in public education is that all of the roles are important. I have learned from every single comment that I have read about this issue. And I have rethought my own beliefs over and over again. None of us can be successful without the voices of each other. It is both our collective voice and our individual voices that will make the difference.

Kylene Beers' Presidential Address: NCTE 2009

If you were at NCTE's Annual Convention, hopefully you heard Kylene Beers give her Presidential Address on Sunday morning. The title of her talk was "Sailing Over the Edge: Navigating the Uncharted Waters of a World Gone Flat". There was standing room only and Kylene received a standing ovation for her talk. It was one of the best messages I have heard in a very long time. It was truthful and honest and hopeful. And brilliant, of course. NCTE just posted the Presidential Address to their website. I would highly recommend reading it and sharing it with everyone you know. So happy that it has been published so that it can be shared beyond the people who were in the room that morning at the convention.

Monday, December 21, 2009


It is so nice to have extra time on a long winter break to catch up on some professional learning. I had received a copy of INQUIRY CIRCLES IN ELEMENTARY CLASSROOMS. This is a DVD companion to the book INQUIRY CIRCLES IN ACTION by Steph Harvey and Smokey Daniels. I am so glad that I made time to watch this DVD today!

I read the book, INQUIRY CIRCLES, when it first came out but I read it rather quickly. I revisited it recently because so many librarians are talking about the implications of this book for libraries. I am still hoping to take part in the Teacher Librarian Ning booktalk on the book. This book is definitely one that has implications for classroom teachers, librarians, related arts teachers, resources specialists, coaches, etc. I think anyone who works in schools can benefit from the work of Harvey and Daniels. I have been reading so much about 21st Century Literacy and Learning but I think sometimes, we forget that the key to all of the good thinking people are doing about learning is anchored in students' curiosities. And without inquiry, creativity and student ownership of learning students really can't have the learning experiences we hope for them. This book and DVD series reminds us of that and brings us into classrooms where inquiry around curriculum is happening.

For me, I love professional reading. I learn so much from this. But I also like to see and hear the way kids and teachers talk when involved in the kinds of things I read about. So, this was great for me. The DVD is about an hour in length. The first half of the DVD takes us into a first grade classroom where students are learning about African Animals. The independence and brilliance of these 6 and 7 year olds is interesting to watch--they are learning not only about African Animals but about research, information, and collaboration. In the intermediate section of the DVD, a 4th graders are exploring Ancient Egypt. Again, it is inspiring to see such independent thinkers who are so committed to their learning. It also helped me to see the teacher talking to students about her own research notebook and to see her work in small groups. The key for me was the decision-making on the part of the student. It was clear in every part of the study.

To me, Inquiry Circles, as shared by Harvey and Daniels makes sense for classrooms and libraries. It seems the perfect vehicle to help kids truly become information literate and to support their learning of 21st Century skills. This book and DVD helped me rethink some ways to expand the options for kids in the library.

And what about technology? It was interesting to me that in both the book and the DVD, tools of technology were mentioned but they were mentioned along with many other tools for learning. Technology was definitely a part of student learning throughout research and as they shared their learning but Inquiry Circles certainly don't rely on technology. For example, when students were asked to share their new learning publicly, they brainstormed ideas for doing this. Some built models, others performed, used art, etc. Such a great reminder that giving kids lots of options to research and share learning is key to 21st Century Learning.

(There is a second DVD to this set--It is called INQUIRY CIRCLES IN MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOMS. I didn't have a chance to watch it but hope to do so soon. It looks to be just as good as the elementary DVD. From the Table of Contents, it looks like the next DVD focuses on a 6th grade inquiry on Civil Rights and high school Literature Circles. Even though they are geared toward older kid, it looks like I will learn lots that I can apply to elementary.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME (a music connection)

Sometimes a picture (and some music) are worth a thousand words about what is meant by THEME and variations.

(sorry about the annoying can get rid of it with the tool on the far right of the play-time-volume bar at the bottom of the video)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME -- Poetry Friday Edition

Subtitle: In Which the never-ending struggle to balance direction and instruction from me with enough big chunks of time when I just let go and give my students the freedom to explore and find new paths through the uncharted territory of this project (previous posts are here) results in not very much poetry for this poetry Friday Edition.

Sub-Subtitle: A 3000 Word Essay About What Else We Did Yesterday:

But I digress. Poetry and the Theme Project.

Earlier in the week, it occurred to me that I need to pick a theme to explore in the same way my students are. I need to be able to model for them using real examples from my real work. On the way to school, I was listening to that Miley Cyrus song that I used for Poetry Friday back in September, "The Climb," and decided that my theme would be "Overcoming Challenges."

Since I was going to ask my students to search for poems that fit with their theme, I did the same. I showed them that I didn't find any poems entitled "Overcoming Challenges." I had to read the poem and think about what it said so that I could decide if it fit my theme.

Some of the students had an easy go of this. With a theme of "Friendship," you can hardly turn around in a poetry book without finding a poem. For at least one group, the guys who are exploring "Power," this activity changed the way they are thinking about their theme. With some guidance from me, they found poems about Mt. St. Helens, Old Faithful, and dragons.

Now back to the subtitle for this post. I showed my students the posts in this series and invited them to write a little bit about how one of their poems fits with their theme so I could use their thinking for this post today. They worked hard for the whole period...on podcasting their interviews, polishing their Pixie images, adding to their Keynotes, typing up and illustrating their poems...

One student came through for me. A student whose theme is Power.


As the sun came up a ball of red
I followed my friend wherever he led.
He thought his fast horses would leave me
but I rode a dragon as swift as the wind!

--Chinese Mother Goose Rhyme

He dictated his thoughts to me:
"My theme is Power. I chose this poem because dragons are strong and they breathe fire out of their mouths. Have you ever seen "Heroes" (the TV show) and how they fly and have powers and everything? And they try to save the world every day? Dragons are a different kind of power. Some try to save the world, some try to destroy the world, some try to just be dragons. The thing I really like about dragons is that there is so much history about them. There are old stories and cool pictures about them."
So I don't have too much to share today from this poetry facet of the project, but with this student's writing as a model, I have a way to lift the level of the writing the other students do about their poem(s), and make this student feel really good about himself! (for those who are worried about grading, this little piece of the project will be for a grade--choosing a poem and writing a paragraph about how it fits the theme)

Coming up tomorrow: integrating this project with the music teacher's curriculum.

Now, go get your Poetry Friday fix: Susan Taylor Brown has the round up today at Susan Writes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME (middle, part 2)

Subtitle: In Which I Integrate Reading and Composing Workshops

Tuesday I wrote about how I laid some of the groundwork for studying theme with 4th graders. Yesterday, I described the Theme Project we're working on in Composing Workshop.

This exploration of the idea of Theme is in preparation to write Literary Essays, a genre that depends equally on work in Reading and Writing (or Composing) Workshops, so at the same time that I started spinning the Theme plate in Composing Workshop, I began my first round of Literature Circles in Reading Workshop. I chose titles on a wide range of reading abilities, and all short enough for students to complete in the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. All four books have pretty obvious themes. The choices were:
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan
Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher
Each child has a little folded paper booklet in which they keep track of the characters and character traits, most important events, possible themes, questions, predictions, sketches and such. These booklets have helped guide their first foray into literature circle discussions. I'll be interested to see if they want to continue with something like them in future literature circles.

In read aloud, I decided to do a shared reading of Baby by Patricia MacLachlan. I collected enough copies from the public library so that every child can follow along as I read. This book is complicated enough to make it a perfect pick for shared reading in fourth grade. I can help the students navigate the flashback/memories, notice all the clues in the beginning of the book about something unspoken in the family, and think about the ways MacLachlan uses poetry and songs to reinforce the themes in her story.

Coming up tomorrow: what happens when poetry and music are added to the mix.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME (middle, part 1)

Subtitle: In Which Writing Workshop Becomes Composing Workshop

Yesterday's post told about how I laid some of the groundwork for studying theme with 4th graders.

Other groundwork had been laid long before I ever imagined this project: although my writing workshop looked fairly traditional (paper on pencil) in the first trimester as we studied Narrative Structures, I had spent some time introducing my students to applications like ComicLife, Pixie, Pages, and GarageBand. I'd been itching for them to have some way to USE these applications -- some authentic content -- so that I could shift our WRITING Workshop into a COMPOSING workshop, where we would use the design process to make things (workshop style) with our words and ideas.

The trimester-long multi-media multi-genre project that I imagined was this: every child would pick a theme, then they would explore that theme by making things that illustrate or describe or embody their theme.

To prepare to explain the Theme Project, I made a chart listing all the themes we'd identified in the video clip and THE LION AND THE MOUSE, and specific themes that are mentioned in our state's 4th Grade Language Arts Standards. The last section of this list has themes we've added since the project began -- we've talked about theme as "the moral of the story" and read both traditional Aesop's Fables as well as Scieszka's SQUIDS WILL BE SQUIDS, and some of those final themes were brainstormed when students couldn't find a theme they wanted to work with on the big list, while others came from our read aloud (more about that tomorrow).

Posible themes:
perseverance (don't give up)
overcoming challenges
"Don't judge a book by its cover."
"Do unto others..."
service to others
healing power of language
arts make our lives better

I also made a list of possible things to make. Notice that not all are digital:

poems (original, collected)
skit (video? iMovie?)
images (original photos, Pixie)
music (GarageBand)

We talked through these charts and then I sent them back to their writer's notebook to make a web with the theme they'd chosen in the center, and around that theme, a few of the things they wanted to try to make.

And we all lived happily ever after? No, but this is what I love best about teaching: launching a big project that is untested and not completely planned to the minute...and then teaching off of and around all that happens when the students take hold of it and make it theirs.

Some of the challenges we've had so far have been understanding that this is a project around a theme (big idea, moral of the story kind of stuff) and not a topic. But they're 10. We'll get there. I'll tell you about this journey in more detail in a future post. Maybe on would fit with Poetry Friday...

Then there was the child who was making a list rather than a web. For every theme, she was picking a something off the Possible Things To Make list. A little one to one correspondence going on that needed to be shifted into "web one theme" mode. This project will really stretch my literal thinkers. For some of them, it might have to be more of a project on a topic rather than a theme. (I think that's called differentiation...)

And then there's the ongoing struggle with the student who's unwilling to let go of a successful character he created (original comic superhero) during the narrative structures project. I can't seem to get him to understand that his character can be a part of this project, but this will not be a project about his character. (This isn't differentiation, this is where the teacher puts her foot down...)

Tomorrow: How I have integrated reading and writing workshop (because the ultimate point of all of this is to get them ready to write a literary essay).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME (beginnings)

This week, I am going to do a series on the unit of study on THEME that I've just started in my 4th grade classroom. I knew as soon as I mentioned it last week that I would need to write more about it.

Our district focus for 4th grade writing workshop this trimester is "Literary Essay." I couldn't imagine my 10 year-old writers maintaining any interest in a workshop dedicated to nonstop literary essays. I knew I needed to get my students wrangling with the big ideas they would need to address in a literary essay. Big ideas like theme.

First, I showed my students this video that Doug Noon shared on his blog Borderland, and we started our conversation about the difference between plot (the story; what happens) and theme (the deeper meaning; the author's possible message; the possible message we infer whether the author intended it or not).

My students were completely captivated by this video. We watched it over and over again. Some were so amazed by the tricks that they declared it to be "fake." We talked about the "plot" (a movie about bike tricks) and the "themes" (practice, perseverance, follow your dreams, have confidence, believe in yourself).

(And how did I get this video off YouTube and into my classroom? Zamzar made it into a QuickTime file.)

The next day I shared THE LION AND THE MOUSE by Jerry Pinkney (I reviewed it here). The students picked right up on the themes of family and power and helpfulness.

This video and book laid the foundation for me to introduce the multi-media multi-genre project I had in mind for my students. Tomorrow I'll continue this series with more details about the project and how my writing workshop has been transformed into a composing workshop.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Giving Back, part 2

Last week, Franki wrote about Giving Back at this time of year:
It is the time of year where lots of people give back to families and organizations. We all have causes that are important to us and we support those causes in many ways.
She wrote about two of the organizations she'll be supporting this year and asked blog readers (and me) to share some of the organizations we'll be supporting.

One organization I'll support this year is Kiva. Last year, Franki gave me a gift certificate to Kiva and I used this gift to help a farmer in Cambodia buy two oxen for use in his rice field so that he would not have to hire laborers with oxen to plow his field. All year I have received email notifications of the repayment of this small loan and I've thought about the big ways I was helping someone across the world with what was, to me, such a small amount of money. This year I'll reinvest the money Franki gave me last year, I'll add some more of my own, and I'll be giving at least one gift certificate so that another person has the chance to change a life across the world.

Another organization I'll support is the Kit Carson County (Colorado) Cattlewomen's Pink Chaps fund. When I was back home in November helping my mom after her surgery, we were sitting at the kitchen table one afternoon as she was opening get well cards that had come in the mail that day. She opened one envelope and gasped. Inside was a check for an incredibly generous amount of money; an amount that will be a significant help with medical bills and other costs in the coming months. It was from the KCCW Pink Chaps. A little research into the group and how they disperse these funds revealed that they do fundraising all year and then divide the money they raise by the number of people who have been nominated to receive help. I'll contribute to their fund so that another cancer survivor in a rural area where the network of support seems as sparse as the trees will be able to gasp with surprise when they open an envelope and sigh with relief when they realize that there are lots of people who directly and indirectly care about them.

In the comments of Franki's post, Jenny told us about Students Helping Honduras, and Andi reminded us about Greg Mortenson's (Three Cups of Tea) Central Asia Institute that helps build schools for girls in remote Pakistan and Afghanistan.

How about you? How are you planning to give back (locally or globally) this holiday season or in the New Year?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Happiness

by Jane Kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

(the rest of the poem is at Poetry Foundation)

I was looking for a poem about staying late at work until my desk was completely. cleaned. off. Or one about what it feels like to (finally) look up and see different stuff on the big bulletin board in the classroom, or one about that feeling when I remembered that my students have a guidance lesson, (which means I have the gift of time). I needed a poem about turning a corner and feeling like maybe, just maybe, the worst was behind us for a little while.

You can see what I found. It's a poem about happiness. That scoundrel happiness who decided to mosey on back, and who we (as always) welcome with open arms.

The round up this week is at Random Noodling.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Didn't realize we'd been nominated for an Edublog Award in the Best Group Blog category...THANKS for the nomination!!

If you feel so moved, THANKS for the vote, too!

And, once again, Wow! THANKS!

(All the categories are here.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Giving Back

It is the time of year where lots of people give back to families and organizations. We all have causes that are important to us and we support those causes in many ways. I wanted to share two of my favorite organizations.

The Reading Village is an organization that brings books to children in Guatemala. There are many organizations that bring books to kids but this one is a little different. If you visit the website, make sure to watch the video about the founder. Instead of just bringing books to kids, Reading Village is committed to creating a culture of reading in Guatemala. They do this by training teen volunteers and making them leaders in their communities. The things that are happening are amazing as lives are being changed by books.

An organization I just recently learned about is Hannah's Socks. Again, I am in awe of an amazing child making a difference in the world. Hannah began collecting socks for people when she realized that many people in the homeless shelter where she was serving food, had no socks. She is now 9 years old and hopes to donate 60,000 pairs of socks this year.

Hannah's Story - In Images, Words, and Music | Hannah's Socks

These are two of the organizations I will be supporting this season. I would love to hear about the organizations you are supporting this year. I have learned of so many great organizations from blog posts I've read.

live, laugh, celebrate

live, laugh, celebrate
by Ferdinand Protzman
National Geographic, 2009
304 pages, 3.51 lbs.
review copy provided by the publisher

This is a book about life, and joy, and celebration around the world.
"Humankind just cannot resist a celebration -- whoever we are and wherever on Earth we may be, someone has a reason to cheer..."
Picture after picture, page after page, we see that people around the world are not so very different from us in the urge to celebrate births, weddings, new homes, new leaders, religious events, graduations, parades. Picture after picture, page after page, we see that even though the urge or event is similar, the way it is celebrated is as diverse as the people who celebrate.

Here is a sample:

This would be a great book to give as a gift, and a great book to put on your coffee table.

I'm thinking it will also be a great book to have out for my 4th grade classroom right now.

My students are beginning work on multimedia multi-genre projects that are based on a literary theme each of them has chosen from a big list we've created from reading fables and other theme-rich stories (friendship, family, perseverance, use of power, etc.) and this book provides a way for me to show them how this author gathered images on the theme of celebration.
  • We can study the way he organized his images, and study the essays he includes at the beginning of each section of the book (Cycles of Life, Around the World, Life of the Party).
  • We can look at the way each photograph is attributed to the photographer with information about the city, country, photographer and year, along with a short descriptive caption.
  • And we can study the photographs themselves, identifying the ones that speak most strongly to us and figuring out what the photographer did with light and composition (and sometimes luck) to capture the moment in a way that makes us want to look, and look again.
This will be a great mentor text for our theme project, and a fabulous look at celebrations around the world!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

TOFU QUILT and a couple more cool teachers

Tofu Quilt
by Ching Yeung Russell
Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2009
Review copy provided by the publisher

This is the story of a girl growing up in a culture that values boys. Luckily, her mother scrapes together the money to send her daughter to school, where Yeung Ying falls in loves with books and stories and writing.

This is the story of a writer being born -- it is about her false starts and first steps and her perseverance and her dream.

This is the story of the impact a few good writing teachers can make on a writer's early life. The poem, "mr. hon," (did I mention, this is an autobiographical novel in verse?) tells about Yeung Ying's 4th grade teacher:

He reads us
a Chinese translation of a story
about three American boys from
a long time ago,
who rode a raft on the Mississippi River.
And Mr. Hon is the first teacher
who displays my stories
marked, "Great work!"
on the classroom bulletin board
even though

Not until her seventh grade teacher does Yeung Ying get encouragement again, when she hears, "Your story really comes to life" and "You write very well./ Keep trying./ You can be a writer someday."

I nominate Mr. Hon and Mr. Lee for inclusion on our list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature. (We are up to 128 Cool Teachers. Has there been a Cool Teacher in a book you read recently?)

For a fabulous review of Tofu Quilt, complete with mouth-watering photos, head on over to Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000

Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000
by Eric Wight
Simon and Schuster, February 2010
ARC received at NCTE

The dedication of this newest Frankie Pickle adventure reads, "To my dad, who is always there to help -- even when I don't know how to ask." I'm thinking there is perhaps a fair amount of autobiography woven into this story, and as a child whose earliest mantra was, "Do it SELF," this book rings true for me as well.

Frankie gets too tied up in his own imagination to receive his Possum Scout merit badge for knot-tying. This means he won't move up in rank from Pygmy to Shrew with the other boys in his troop unless he wins the Pine Run 3000. Which is this weekend.

I won't reveal the rest of the plot, which involves messes, mistakes, revelations, disqualifications, and unlikely displays of good sportsmanship.

This book is another winner by Eric Wight, and luckily, we will only have to wait until June for book three!

My review of the first book, Franki Pickle and the Closet of Doom.
Eric Wight's website at Simon and Schuster.
Eric Wight on Twitter: @Eric_Wight
News of the next book:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Another Winter Book!

SLEEP, BIG BEAR, SLEEP! by Maureen Wright and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand will make a fun winter read aloud. As everyone knows, bears sleep through the winter and it's time for Big Bear to do just that. Old Man Winter keeps telling him to "Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep", but Big Bear doesn't hear very well and he thinks he is hearing different directions--such as, "Drive a jeep." and "Dive Deep." Bear does as he thinks he is being told, but he is very, very tired!

This is a fun book and the repeated phrase, "But Bear didn't hear very well; he couldn't sleep in his den in the dell..." is one that will invite kids to join in on the reading. As always, Hillenbrand's illustrations are wonderful and the feeling of winter is clear. I will add these to my other great new winter books! Kids seem to love to hear stories about the seasons. These will be great to read when we get our first snow. (I do remember that last year, in early March, when we were all sick of snow and cold, one little first grader came in demanding a book about SUMMER! So, I'll read these winter books in the early part of winter when we enjoy winter and snow!)

*This book is a review copy provided by the publisher, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books.