Sunday, July 31, 2011

November Learning #BLC--Reflection #1

I really have no idea what the best way is to capture and share my learning from #BLC11. I have so many new things to think about, people to learn from and tools to explore that I don't know the best way to organize it. So, I am thinking I'll just reflect and share my thinking about each session I attended. I'll do this in several parts because it is far too much for one post.

One of my favorite things from BLC is that I discovered a few new people to learn from.  I was tempted to go to all sessions offered by a few people I have learned from over the year but decided to stretch myself a bit and see speakers I was familiar with (Shannon Miller, Kathy Cassidy, Angela Maiers) with people I had never had the opportunity to hear.

The conference was kicked off by Dr. Eric Mazur  (@eric_mazur)of Harvard. It was a great kick-off to the conference as he asked us to really think about the meaning of education and that we must move beyond education as "information transfer".  He shared a great classic video clip of Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University to support his thinking about the problem with lecturing in school.  This video provides a humorous reminder of how important it is for us to really think about our goals for education.

Dr. Mazur's led us through some ways that he is expanding his classes by teaching through questions and the ways in which technology is allowing that to happen in lecture halls of 500 students.  His big message for me was that it is not the technology, but the pedagogy that matters in education. He said, "Technology should be at the service of pedagogy." Loved that quote!

You can watch his entire keynote on BLC's website:

Following the first keynote, I attended Angela Maiers' (@angelamaiers) session called "The Search is Social".  This was a powerful talk about how google and other search engines are changing the ways we, as consumers, get information. Angela talked about the importance of the social piece of information gathering and invited us to think about what this means for our students.  Angela graciously shares what she learns with the world and you can access her presentation and some thoughts around it  on her site.  Here are some highlights:

*As teachers who are teaching Internet search skills to our students, we want to focus on teaching dispositions of being a web participant, not the product of a search. She suggests that to do this, we pay attention to behaviors and explore real time content together.  She reminded us that every day the web evolves so when we teach web search, we are never in the role of master. She believes that we have to be learners in the moment in front of the kids using think-aloud.

*Up until recently, the social components of the Web have been separated from the data part.(Facebook separate from research, etc.).  Our behaviors and dispositions with each of those were different. But now, they are no longer separate. We must legitimize the social piece of research for our students. She explained that Web 3.0 means that we, as web users are the web.

*She talked about the importance of strangers in research. How often do we take the advice of strangers on sites like Trip Advisor, Amazon, Zappos, etc. when making a decision? We use this connected voice of strangers to make decisions about lots of things . But she asked us to think about the ways we position strangers to kids on the web.  That doesn't negate Internet safety but since people are not defining the web community, we cannot negate the impact of information from strangers.

*Our responsibility is to teach kids how humans interact with information and what it means to be a contributor of this global community.

*Angela went on to explain how Google and other search engines are now showing us what it is that it thinks we want to see.  The search engines control what we get access to and we each get access to different things based on our circles. She recommended "Beware Online Filter Bubbles" TED TALK by Eli Pariser to better understand these ideas.

*Network literacy is far more important than information literacy.  This is about more than consumption of information but about becoming part of the digital community and managing your digital footprint.

*She ended talking about the company, KLOUT, that analyzes your social influence and gives you a score. This is the part that is changing--our social influence matters in lots of ways and this will become more important as time goes on.  Definitely worth checking out!

MORE #BLC11 Reflections to come later this week and/or next!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

July Mosaic

This month's mosaic comes to you from our 2008 trip to Germany and England.

The actual mosaic for this month will be from Belgium, where we are...right this very minute!

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Poetry Friday -- Solitude

The Prelude
by William Wordsworth

(An excerpt from Book IV, "Summer Vacation," Lines 354-370)

When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude;
How potent a mere image of her sway;
Most potent when impressed upon the mind
With an appropriate human centre—hermit,
Deep in the bosom of the wilderness;
Votary (in vast cathedral, where no foot
Is treading, where no other face is seen)
Kneeling at prayers; or watchman on the top
Of lighthouse, beaten by Atlantic waves;
Or as the soul of that great Power is met
Sometimes embodied on a public road,
When, for the night deserted, it assumes
A character of quiet more profound
Than pathless wastes.

Ahh, Solitude. For me, it is those cool, quiet hours after the cat demands food, but before the rest of the house wakes up, that restore me. When do you snatch a few moments all to yourself?

Today, you could use a bit of your Solitude to peruse the Poetry Friday roundup at Kate's blog, Book Aunt!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers

Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers

Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers
by George Beard and Harold Hutchins (really, it's by Dav Pilkey)
Tree House Comix (really, Blue Sky Press/Scholastic), 2011
review copy purchased for my classroom library and my own amusement

Last summer, I provided a public service announcement about THE ADVENTURES OF OOK AND GLUK.

This summer, I'm here to tell you (teachers, librarians, parents and grandparents) not to fear Super Diaper Baby 2. Yes, it is chock-full of potty humor, but it also comes with a pretty hysterical parody of HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. And the plot does turn on the water cycle. (Or maybe that should be -- is a twisted version of the water cycle...twisted, because it does have to do with pee after all...)

Yup. As low as low brow gets. But my 4th graders will love it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


So What Do They Really Know?: Assessment That Informs Teaching and LearningSO WHAT DO THEY REALLY KNOW? by Cris Tovani is being marketed to teachers in grades 6-12, but if you are familiar of Cris's other books (I READ IT BUT I DON'T GET IT and DO I REALLY HAVE TO TEACH READING?) you know that all of her work is grounded in authentic learning experiences and it is all applicable to grades K-12.

I remember the first time I heard Cris speak. She was talking about her struggling high school readers.  As I was listening to her tell their stories, it felt like she could have been telling the stories of the struggling students in my fourth grade classrooms--students who could read fluently but did not understand what they were reading.  This feeling is similar to the feeling that I got when I read her newest book--although she is talking about high school students and issues specific to secondary, the big issues of assessment, testing, using assessment to inform instruction, student ownership, grading, etc. are all very universal.

Cris uses this book to talk honestly about the kinds of assessment that inform her instruction and those that do not.  She understands that the reality of school today is that high stakes testing is part of things but she also knows that our kids can only do well on those if we give formative assessments that let us know what they know and where their confusions are.  She reminds us that no one assessment tells us everything we need to know about a student and that we need multiple ways to assess and to get the information we need in order to determine where to go next with a child.

Cris weaves in stories about kids who are just playing the game of school and not really working hard or learning, yet they are doing well--getting As.  She asks hard questions about the assessments we give and the messages we give to our students with those assessments.  And we hear from her students--their comments and writing woven through the book.

Cris has a consistent belief and respect for her students and learners and as people. She emphasizes the need to know them well and that the only way to teach well is to know our students.

She also reminds us of the importance of a reading workshop in order to teach to the needs to each student.  A large part of the book is dedicated to annotations as an assessment.  The book is filled with practical ideas and student examples of work done in a workshop setting.  She also shares insights she has about content area reading and writing. Cris shares her lessons, her thinking and her students with us as she reflects on her own beliefs about assessment.

At the end of each chapter, Cris summarizes the main points and then she gives us a challenge. This "Are You Up for a Challenge" section of each chapter invites readers to try some of the main ideas in their own teaching and learning.  Each of these provides a way for readers to step outside of the book and think specifically about work with their own students. It is a great way to end each chapter.

Two of my favorite quotes from the book:

"Teachers don't need any more numerical 'data'.  What they need is validation to use the data that matters student work and student talk---to help figure out next steps for learner in their educational care."

"Students do learn what is emphasized. Unfortunately, what is emphasized is often knowledge that is easy to grade. In many grading and testing cases, what is easy to measure is not necessarily important to know. Understanding is difficult to measure in qualitative terms."

To learn more about this book, you can watch a video with Samantha Bennett (author of THAT WORKSHOP BOOK) interviewing Cris Tovani about the new book.

This is a book that I read from cover to cover and one that I plan to go back to again and again as I struggle with the place of assessment in literacy instruction.  Cris takes us back to the most important reasons classroom teachers assess students--in order to make decisions on where to go use assessments to inform our instruction.  No matter what level you teach, Cris gives us something important to think about when it comes to assessment. It is a book that will reground readers.

If you are interested in previewing the book, Stenhouse has the book available to browse online.  Take a look!

Also, if you live in the Central Ohio area, Cris will be The Literacy Connection's yearlong study group speaker this year.  She will be in Columbus on April 27 and 28 to work with teachers.  Registration will be available soon on the Literacy Connection's website.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Community Garden Booklist

Our school has started a community garden and everyone is excited about it. Our third grade classes worked all year to get the garden designed and created it in the spring. This coming year, it will be up and running and most of the school will be involved in some way.

Knowing that the whole school will be busy working on and thinking about the garden and that the kids will be extra excited this fall, I have been keeping my eyes open for books that might connect in some ways to the garden.  I am envisioning an area of the library dedicated to gardens, etc. similar to the inquiry displays set up at THE ALLEN CENTRE.  I have learned so much about what is possible in an elementary library from visiting their site. If you have not had a chance to look at the site and the invitations they create for kids, they are amazing. Connecting that thinking to the thinking I get from Georgia Heard and her book A PLACE FOR WONDER,  I am hoping to create a space for exploring ideas connected to gardening while also including a variety of books that invite children to think in different directions.  You never know what the work in the garden might spark in terms of an interest for a child so I am trying to be broad in my connections at this point. These are the books on my list so far:

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew PeasGREGOR MENDEL: THE FRIAR WHO GREW PEAS by Cheryl Bardoe is a great picture book biography that fascinates me. This is a great introduction to genetics and the man behind the thinking about heredity in plants.  This is a longer picture book and one that might be interesting to older students. It is also a great story about someone who did what they loved and made a difference in the world.

First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew
FIRST GARDEN: THE WHITE HOUSE GARDEN AND HOW IT GREW by Robbin Gourley is a new book that focuses on Michelle Obama's garden and the purpose behind it.  It tells about Michelle Obama's goals for the garden, how it came to be and the history of gardens at the White House.  I think this is a timely one to include this year. Kids will like the story about something that happened so recently.

Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable ChantRAH, RAH, RADISHES!:  A VEGETABLE CHANT by April Pulley Sayre is one that Mary Lee reviewed here a few weeks ago. After the review, I had to buy it. This is a perfect one for shared reading and the photographs are gorgeous!

How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?: The Story of FoodHOW DID THAT GET IN MY LUNCHBOX by Chris Butterworth is a great book about how the foods we eat came to be in our lunchboxes. Starting at the beginning, each food is examined so children understand where food comes from.  The art adds a great deal to the information.

Seed, Soil, SunSEED, SOIL, SUN by Cris Peterson is one of my favorite nonfiction picture books this year.  It has amazing photographs and is written with language that is amazing and surprising at the same time.

Busy in the GardenBUSY IN THE GARDEN by George Shannon is a poetry book that I'll include. This one is great for all ages, but especially fun for young children and for shared reading. (April's blog review is here.)

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONES WILL GROW? by Susan Shea doesn't connect exactly to the garden but focuses on the difference between living and nonliving things. It was a favorite read aloud with young children this spring so I think they'll love revisiting it this fall.

My GardenMY GARDEN by Kevin Henkes How can I not include this wonderful book?  This one is ALWAYS checked out from our library!  (A book on my list of BOOKS I COULD READ A MILLION TIMES)

Monday, July 25, 2011


Mary Lee and I received an email from author, Michael Scotto last week asking if we would like an ARC of his upcoming book LATASHA AND THE LITTLE RED TORNADO.  Something about the email caught our eye and the books arrived the next day.

LATASHA AND THE LITTLE RED TORNADO is the story of Latasha, an eight year old girl who lives with her mother and her dog.  Latasha is feeling a little bit grown up because now that she is 8, she is trying to be more mature.  Latasha's dog (Ella, named after Ella Fitzgerald) is past the puppy stage--she is two years old and still gets into trouble.  Latasha is worried about this and works hard to help Ella learn to behave.

In the meantime, Latasha's mother finally gets a new job as a nurse's assistant but her hours are long and Latasha has to be "young lady sat" by their elderly landlady, Mrs. Okocho. Latasha is not overly happy about this.

I loved Latasha. She is a great new character for middle grade readers. She is a girl with spunk and personality.  Her struggles and stresses are very believable and she handles most of them with grace and humor.  Latasha's relationship with her dog is great.  You can't help but fall in love with Ella--the trouble making not-so-little puppy. Latasha also deals with some issues of friendship and school struggles throughout the story.

I read this book in one sitting.  I am always thrilled to find a new middle grade or series book character for transitional readers.  I know how important series and short chapter books are at this stage and I liked Latasha almost immediately. I loved the community around Latasha. I loved the relationships Latasha had with her mother and her landlady.  Latasha's teacher is also part of her community and I loved her relationship with him. The classroom seemed a little traditional (book reports, book contests, etc.) but the relationship between Latasha and her teacher was a good one.

Latasha is African American. I am not sure that is mentioned in the book but it is depicted in the illustrations.  I am always shocked at the fact at how atypical this is for series and early chapter books. So I am glad to see that this is changing.

The book is short--132 pages. The print is a bit small so it isn't as short as it sounds but it is one that I see 3rd/4th graders reading pretty easily.  The author/illustrator also uses paw prints between scenes in the book. I love that support for readers that do not have that much experience with chapter books.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. For me, it is almost always about the characters and I really liked these characters. It seems to me that this would make a perfect series--I know when I finished the last page, I wanted to read more about Latasha.  The book is due out in November by Midlandia Press. So glad we had a chance to read it early. I am excited to share it with students in the fall:-)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why I Love Elephant and Piggie

Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

Should I Share My Ice Cream?

Should I? Shouldn't I?
Should I? Shouldn't I?
Elephant struggles so hard with this moral dilemma. He ponders so long that his ice cream melts, and his eyes well with tears as he whispers, "I blew it."

I can be such an elephant sometimes. I wish I could be more like Piggie, who doesn't have to think twice about what to do.

I Broke My Trunk! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)

I Broke My Trunk!

"There is more to my story."

Amen. Isn't EVERY story a "long, crazy story" when you tease out all the details? (or tease your reader/listener with all the details...look at Elephant's eyes on page 43. Is that a knowing look to the reader, or what?!?!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Poetry Friday -- Daisies

The daisy follows soft the sun
By Emily Dickinson

The daisy follows soft the sun,
And when his golden walk is done,
Sits shyly at his feet.
He, waking, finds the flower near.
"Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?"
"Because, sir, love is sweet!"

We are the flower, Thou the sun!
Forgive us, if as days decline,
We nearer steal to Thee, —
Enamoured of the parting west,
The peace, the flight, the amethyst,
Night's possibility!

Light and dark, day and night, love and rejection, summer and winter. And, ahh...Emily Dickinson...

Tabatha has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at The Opposite of Indifference.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


It's just incredible to me, the way my professional learning has changed in the past 25 years. I've always gone to conferences and read professional books, but this blog and Twitter have changed the playing field dramatically.

I was in a booktalk this week that was born on Twitter -- a tweet went out from the All Write conference (during Jeff Anderson's keynote, as best I remember) about this book:

Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education

Making Learning Whole by David Perkins
Jossey-Bass, 2001

Maria (@mariacaplin and Teaching in the 21st Century) was "attending" All Write long-distance by following the tweets, and she suggested that we get together and discuss this book. I dropped it into my Amazon cart using the Amazon app I downloaded (I think this was also during Jeff's keynote -- Jeff, I PROMISE I was listening!!), we read the book, invited others, and wound up spending a delightful morning with Cathy (@CathyMere and Reflect & Refine) chatting about the book, teaching, workshop model, and technology tools.

Here are a few of my take-aways:

1.  Perkins frames his thinking around the game of baseball and these seven principles:
• Play the whole game.
• Make the game worth playing.
• Work on the hard parts.
• Play out of town.
• Uncover the hidden game,
• Learn from the team...and the other team.
• Learn the game of learning.

2.  Our booktalk fit his principles exactly:
• We played the whole game, from the conference, to the tweets, to the reading, to the meeting, to the discussing, and now, to the blogging.
• We made the game worth playing by playing together. It's worth playing because we will use our new thinking and learning in our classrooms in the coming year.
We played out of town. We met at Maria's house (and if you know where Maria lives, you are laughing out loud right now -- she takes out of town to a new level), hoping to sit on the dock of her pond to chat. It was too hot and humid, so we enjoyed the comfort of her kitchen table.
• As I write this post, I'm uncovering bits and pieces of the hidden game of our booktalk. Part of the hidden game was that we were doing what the book suggests without having to think hard about it. Our own learning is whole. We just need to make sure we figure out lots of ways to do this for our 1st, 4th, and 5th graders. I'll share more of what I saw as the hidden game in a minute. On to the next principle.
Learn from the team. We did that by meeting -- three people from two districts and three different buildings and levels. We'll learn from other teams as we take our learning back to our grade levels, and from the comments here and on Twitter.
• The last point -- learn the game of learning -- wraps back around, for me, to the one about the hidden game. Read on...

3.  Here's what I learned about the game of learning:

• We didn't get started right away talking about the book. We needed time to socialize (and enjoy the fabulous cranberry coffee cake). THE SOCIAL PIECE IS HUGE.
• Our conversation was not sequential and organized.  AN EXACT AGENDA IS NOT NECESSARY.
• Almost as important as our conversation about the book was our talk and play with Evernote, and our sharing about how we keep track of anecdotal information about our students (conference notes, reading status, artifacts, etc). UNEXPECTED LEARNING IS AS VALUABLE AS WHAT'S IN THE LESSON PLAN.

It's a great book and I highly recommend it, but as you can see, the journey of the booktalk is a large part of what made the book so valuable for me...and it will likely stay anchored in my thinking more than other books that I've read on my own and that have no bigger story attached. (Yet another example of the hidden game/the learning about learning!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Big Brothers Don't Take NapsLouise Borden has a great new picture book for young children. BIG BROTHERS DON'T TAKE NAPS is quite a fun read and the fact that Louise Borden and Emma Dodd have teamed up for this one make it one of my new favorites.  Louise's words capture the wonderful relationship between brothers and Emma Dodd's colorful illustrations bring the joy of the relationship to life.

This story is told from the "little" brother's point of view.  He tells about all of the things his "big" brother can do such as writing his own name and riding the school bus.  And he shares one very big thing that big brothers don't have to do--take naps!

The book follows these brothers through fun activities like creating Halloween costumes, making phone calls, passing down clothes that get too small, and more.  The relationship between the brothers depicted in both the words and the illustrations is a wonderful one--they truly have fun together.

The book is perfect for young children as it shares lots of things they will recognize about their own sibling relationships. And the repeated phrase "Big brothers don't take naps." will be one that young children will want to join in to read.

The book ends with a little surprise....I will give you a big hint.....the "little brother" will soon become a big brother too:-)  This book will make a great read for young children, especially those with older siblings or a younger sibling on the way. A great gift for a young child in a family expecting a new baby:-)