Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's On My Wonderopolis iPad

The $500 mini grant from The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) and Better World Books that I was awarded (announcement post here) purchased an iPad intended for using Wonderopolis to teach nonfiction reading skills. So far, the iPad has done a little of that, but SO much more! In the spirit of Wonderopolis' goal to "engage children’s natural curiosity and transform it into a lifelong love of learning" the iPad has become a reading/writing/math/reference tool in our classroom.

This is the first in a series of posts about how I use a couple of iPads, a couple of iPods and a Kindle in my fourth grade classroom. We'll begin with What's On My Wonderopolis iPad.

Here is the first screen. Book Creator and Comic Book are composition apps. Story Builder and iSentence are primarily for my ELLs. Pages, Keynote, Explain Everything, and Whiteboard are also composition apps. I don't know how to use Dropbox, but it was on the school's iPads, so I included it. BrainPop, Discovery News, The Weather Channel, and the Kindle app are all reading/viewing apps. (Poetry Tag Time by Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell, Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking by Alan Katz, and What I Do When I Could Be Sleeping by Greg Pincus are the most popular books in the Kindle.) NineGaps and Long Division are math apps. More on the Reading Folder later. i-nigma is a QR code reader. And Wonderopolis, Storynory, and Animal Facts (wild-facts.com) are bookmarked on the first screen for easy access. They are also reading/viewing apps.

On the second screen, there are reference apps. Merriam-Webster, the bookmark for Merriam-Webster's Word Central website, Google Earth, Google Translate, iMovie, Videos, Motivational Poster, and Comic Life. There are folders for word games, more math apps, science apps, FlipBook, and two new ones I just got for my ELLs and most struggling spellers: Word Wizard and Montessori Crosswords. (As I'm describing these pages, they don't seem very organized, but I set them up to somewhat mirror the school's iPads, and then tucked my extras in where they seemed to make most sense.)

Page three is off limits to the students and so far they've been good about leaving the utilities and my apps alone. They'd rather follow the rules than lose iPad privileges! Along the bottom of each screen for easy access are Maps, Camera, Google, Safari, Photos and Music. What's in Music? All the songs I collected to go with BabyMouse: The Musical, the poems from Hip Hop Speaks to Children and Poetry Speaks to Children, and some Bach, Glenn Miller, LA Guitar Quartet and Playing for Change.

In the Reading folder are iBooks, Charlie Brown Christmas, Peekaboo Forest (I love Charley Harper's art!), The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and Sports Illustrated for Kids (we get the print version for our classroom library). In iBooks we have two books by Scott J. Langteau: Sofa Boy, and The Question; Scaredy Squirrel and Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend; and Yellow Submarine. If you click on "Collections" at the top by the "Store" button and choose PDFs, you'll find two new Stenhouse professional books I ordered recently as eBooks -- I See What You Mean (2nd Edition) by Steve Moline and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston.

The Word Games folder holds WordSquares, WordFu, wurdle, and Chicktionary.

The Math folder has Math Bingo, Rocket Math, Slice It, MathBoard, and SET.

The Science folder has iBird Plus, pUniverse, and Star Walk.

In my next post, I'll tell you about the QR codes my students created. The QR code reader is one of the hottest apps on the iPad and the iPod Touch (the one with the camera) right now, and my students are finding QR codes everywhere!

Monday, January 30, 2012


I read HIS NAME WAS RAOUL WALLENBERG by Louise Borden last week. What a powerful read!  I have listened to Louise's process with this book over the years. Her commitment to authentic research and telling Raoul's story has been apparent for years. I have read drafts, seen photos and listened to her talk about this project that meant so much to her. So, I was excited to get my copy in the mail when it was released.

First of all, it is a beautiful book. The cover photo of Raoul Wallenberg as a boy is perfect.  The design of the book is gorgeous and the variety of artifacts and photos spread throughout the book makes it an incredible read.

Louise begins the book with one of Raoul Wallenberg's class pictures and these words:

Look closely
at this faded school picture from Sweden.

Find the student whose number is 19
and match 19 to his signature.
Read it aloud. See it echo.

19.  Raoul Wallenberg.

It's a name for the world to remember.

Now you,
and others,
can become the storytellers
of this boy's remarkable life....

And the book remains as powerful on every single page.  Louise takes us through Wallenberg's entire life. She introduces him as a young boy and we come to know Raoul, his family and his friends. Through his story we not only come to understand him but we also begin to understand the world at this time.

Raoul Wallenberg made a huge difference in the lives of so many Hungarian Jews when the Nazis occupied Hungary.  His life mission was to help save as many people as possible and he made a huge difference in the world during this war.

Louise's writing makes this book accessible to middle school students.  It is a book about the Holocaust and she tells it with compassion and honesty.  She tells the story of real people during this time. She includes so many photos and artifacts, and documents that I found myself constantly going back and forth between text and visual to better understand the story.

This book is a must-have for any middle school and high school library and it is a great adult read.  This is an amazing book by an amazing author who has dedicated her career to telling the stories of people who have made a difference in history.

If you don't know THE JOURNEY THAT SAVED CURIOUS GEORGE by Louise, you can learn more about it here.  Her commitment to telling the story of people whose stories need to be told is amazing.

The Journey That Saved Curious George from WGBY on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Central Ohio Bloggers

A dozen Central Ohio Bloggers got together on Saturday to eat breakfast at NorthStar and buy books at Cover to Cover.

It was great to catch up on school news from various buildings and districts, to clear out Sally's display of award-winning titles and her stockpile of ARCs, to watch Beth put the right book in the right hands time and time again, and to spend a morning in the company of passionate readers and teachers.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time, cont.

My fourth graders are listening to the audiobook of A Wrinkle in Time, read by Madeline L'Engle.

Yesterday we got the the end of chapter 3, where we encountered Mrs Which for the first time. A shimmering quivering circle of silver says, "I ddo nott thinkk I willl matterrialize commpletely. I ffindd itt verry ttirinngg, andd wee hhave mmuch ttoo ddoo." In the audio, L'Engle's voice sounds like it is an echo chamber when she reads Mrs Which's words. The kids LOVED the way the audio helped them to understand what L'Engle wanted them to get from the way she wrote the words.

As we wrapped up our discussion and prepared to move on to word study, N. pointed out the dedication. "I know why Madeline L'Engle named him Charles Wallace!" she declared excitedly. "Look! The book is dedicated to Charles Wadsworth Camp and Wallace Collin Franklin. Charles and Wallace. Charles Wallace!"

The power of reading together.

(My Wrinkle in Time Blog Tour Post is here. Watch for future posts about reading this classic with fourth graders.)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Poetry Friday -- Rain Songs

April Rain Song
by Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you.
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops.
Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk.
The rain makes running pools in the gutter.
The rain plays a little sleep-song on our roof at night—

And I love the rain.

January Rain Song (Through Gritted Teeth)
by Mary Lee Hahn

A kiss that lasts this long is just downright obscene.
The beating of the rain is making us go collectively insane.
We go to sleep -- it's raining, we wake up -- it's raining. Some lullaby.

The rain makes deep puddles under the swingset. Indoor recess again.
The rain keeps sump pumps running.
Yet, I must not forget that the rain is the reason for our towering trees—

And so I love the rain.

Jim Hill has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Hey, Jim Hill!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time: 50 Years, 50 Days, 50 Blogs Celebration

It's hard to believe that A Wrinkle in Time is turning 50 this year.

This book was a landmark book in my reading life. I chose it from the Scholastic book order in sixth grade. I was a voracious reader, but this was in the first book that really challenged me to THINK and to FEEL.

Although I've read it over and over again, I've never read it aloud to my students. Last year's class (4th grade) embraced the challenge of a long science fiction book (The Search For Wondla), so I decided to try A Wrinkle in Time with this class.

I reserved 24 copies of the book from the public library so that every student could read along, and they've each got a short stack of mini stickie notes to mark juicy (or unknown) vocabulary words and places to go back to and discuss.

Then I made a somewhat radical decision. I am not reading the book to them.

Madeline L'Engle is.

We're listening to the audio book!

We are only a few chapters in so far, but the combination of having a book to follow and a very different voice to listen to as we read has been magical. The students have been studying the cover illustration in minute detail, and as we have been introduced to each new character so far, they go back and look again and talk some more. This is our cover:

Can you see the evil man with the red eyes? He's both in the background and in the sphere that someone (we're not sure who) is holding aloft. I didn't notice him until my students pointed him out to me.

I'm excited to see what else about this old favorite will be made new and fresh as I read along with my fourth graders.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Visit the A Wrinkle In Time Facebook page.

Here are all 50 of the blogs that are participating in the 50 Years, 50 Days, 50 Blogs Celebration Blog Tour:

Week 1: Revisiting A Wrinkle In Time
January 16 -20

Week 2: Sharing A Wrinkle In Time
January 23 - 27

Week 3: Characters in A Wrinkle In Time
January 30 - February 3

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SUMOKU: My New Favorite Game for the Classroom or Library

Teachers at our school have spent a lot of time finding great learning games for our kids.  This week, my friend McKenzie popped in at lunch with Sumoku, a new math game she had purchased for her 3rd graders.  She wanted to learn how to play the game so we figured it out together and I LOVED it.

Sumoku is made by Blue Orange USA--this company has lots of great games that are fun, unique, and reasonably priced. First of all, let me say I loved the whole design of the game. It comes in a cone shaped zipper pouch with lots of colors.  I love the size, color and texture of the tiles.  And I love the font of the numbers on the tile. I have not seen the stand that carries these in bulk in stores, but I saw a photo on the site and I love that too.  Overall, the game has a really fun, happy feel to it.

This is a math game, recommended for ages 9-adult.  It seems perfect for kids in grades 3-6. I made my husband play a game with me when mine arrived from Amazon today and he enjoyed the game too. Definitely a fun challenge. And it is not a game that takes forever to play.

The game is based on multiples and combinations of numbers--lots of addition, multiplication and strategy work when playing this game.  It works a bit like scrabble and a bit like Sudoku.  Your job is to make rows and columns of numbers that add up to a multiple of the Key Number for the round.  Get it--"Sum"oku.  Hah! Love that this game even has a very playful title:-)

The challenge is to build rows and columns of numbers without repeating a color in one row/column.  In the main version of the game, players keep score by adding their totals together for each round. There are other versions of the game (Speed Sumoku being my favorite right now--I am quite good at it:-)

This is really a great game and it is a little bit addicting if you love addition and multiplication. I think we need one at home too.  I am so happy that McKenzie shared her find with me.  My new favorite game:-)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Caldeoctt Voting and Newbery Club Reflections

This morning, as they are announcing the Caldecott and Newbery Awards at ALA Midwinter. As much as I would LOVE to be at the Youth Media Awards announcements, I won't be there.  But we will be having our own fun as our school's Newbery Club will be enjoying donuts while we watch the live webcast.  We are all excited to see which book will win the award and I am sure the follow-up conversations will be amazing.

As a school, we spent this week looking at many of the Caldecott contenders.  All students in grades 1-5 voted and here are our results:

Mock  Caldecott Winner:
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Mock Caldecott Honors:

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Where's Walrus by Stephen Savage

Our  Riverside Mock Newbery Club has been meeting for a year. This week, the kids voted from the short list we had created.  The winner of our vote was:  INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai.

Riverside's Mock Newbery Honors:
HIDDEN by Helen Frost.

My reason for starting the Newbery Club at our school was to build a group of older readers who had stamina to read really great books.  I had noticed that other than THE LIGHTNING THIEF, CITY OF EMBER and a few other titles, many our older kids needed a push to expand their lives as readers. Our kids are readers. The teachers run amazing Reading Workshops and I felt like I could support the work they were doing by supporting great book choice with a group of kids that was interested.

Our club has about 25ish members.  We meet on Mondays and we average about twice a month.  The members are all 5th graders and we started meeting a year ago--in January of 2011. They were 4th graders at the time and we continued the group in the fall as 5th graders (with a few new members:-)  It has been a pretty simple club.  Kids come in, eat lunch in the library and chat about books. Or they chatted about 5th grade stuff and then moved onto books. My plan was to have a more structured club and months where we were all reading the same book, etc.  But it didn't turn out that way.

This group did not like "assigned" reading so a whole group book never took off.  They were clear that they were in charge of their reading lives. So, I handled it differently than I had planned. It was very unstructured and because of that, it ended up surpassing any goals I had set for it.

I started the club with a pile of 2011 arcs and added to the pile with new books and arcs as they were released.  For a while, our meetings were merely about picking books. Members were just trying to read lots of 2011 books. Kids would share informally about the books they read and decide on their next read. As time went on and buzz around books picked up, books started circulating between meetings so book swapping was no longer the focus of our meetings.

As we began this school year, we started to look at some Mock sites and I started to share books that were being talked about as possible Newbery winners. I created this JOG THE WEB highlighting books that were highly reviewed. Members explored this during a few meetings this fall and continued to revisit it as needed.  I began to house the 2011books on a specific shelf near the checkout desk.  Kids came in and out of the library every day to pick a book.

Then in November, we created our own Short List. Kids voted and as we chatted, I was amazed at how many great books the group had read.  The books on the shortlist were INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN, BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX, TUESDAYS AT THE CASTLE, ROMEO AND JULIET CODE, HIDDEN, SMALL AS AN ELEPHANT, THE UNWANTEDS and A DOG'S WAY HOME. They really were talking ONLY about amazing books. Talk is always good when the book is good and the books being discussed, shared and passed around the group were amazing. Even though we had never had a formal conversation, it was clear to me that just sharing the experience, sharing books they loved, having time to read and tools to support great book choice, this group grew as a community. The informal chat was powerful.

When I think back to the year, I am amazed at how these kids grew as readers. They tried new genres, discovered new authors, fell in love with great books and shared those books with others. Many of them experienced ebook reading -- some liked it and some did not.  They grew as readers in so many areas over the year.   I know this growth wasn't solely because of the club, but I think it was a way to put new quality books in their hands. They learned about stamina, quality book choice, talk, community.  And it was a great way for me, as the librarian, to get to know a group of readers at a different level.

My plan was to end the group after the ALA announcement and start a new 4th grade group this month, but I hate to end this group. They are reading and talking about books like crazy. And I can really just sit back and listen.  My thinking now is to keep them together as a group that keeps up with new books.  Or to start them off on their own Newbery Club that they might continue on their own into middle school.   They seem the perfect group to spread the word about great new books.

For me, this is such an exciting day!  I have so many books that I loved from 2011. So many titles that I'd love to see win these award.  So many deserving authors and illustrators. I am crossing my fingers for a few favorites!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poetry Friday: The First

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Paul Lowry

The First

Jackie Robinson
First African American baseball 
player in the modern era
January 31, 1919 – October 24, 1972

I run down 
the line, eight feet, 
nine. . .and feint to feel 
the rush between the third 
baseman’s brush back and home.
Whitey Ford stares through me, a sneak thief 
playing on his disbelief, a phantom blackbird hopping 
on and off 
the dare, flinching,
inching along the ledge
to legend. I time the windup, 
my pistons primed to shovel under
Yogi’s glove. Yankee Stadium is stunned!
But you can hear the cheering all the way from Harlem. 

© J. Patrick Lewis

[This poem will appear in When Thunder Comes: 
Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, Chronicle Books, 2012, 
and is used with the permission of the author.]

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Thank you, Mr. Poetry Ambassador, sir, for sending this poem for us to feature on our blog for Poetry Friday today!

I poked around the Internet a bit to find out some more information about Jackie Robinson, seeing as I'm not any kind of baseball fan.

I found the official Jackie Robinson website.
Here's more about Whitey Ford, pitcher for the Yankees, and Yogi Berra, catcher for the Yankees.
And here's Jackie Robinson stealing home, an amazing and daring move. Yogi Berra's not too happy about it!

Elaine has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Wild Rose Reader. Steal on over and check out the poetry offerings for today!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking
A Toon Book
by Philippe Coudray
Candlewick/Toon Books, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

I love Toon Books. Their catch-phrase is "TOON BOOKS: Bringing new readers to the pleasure of COMICS!"

Benjamin Bear is identified as a Level Two: "easy-to-read comics for beginning readers." However, the sophistication of the humor makes it a fun book for readers of all ages and all levels.

Each page is a story. A short story, but a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end. They are funny stories -- almost sight gags, since there is so little text. One of my favorites is a three-panel story, "The Biggest Fish." Bear says to Rabbit, "A shark takes up as much room as a whale." In the next panel, Rabbit asks, "How?" In the bottom panel (2/3 of the page) Bear and Rabbit stand at the shore looking down into the ocean, where all the fish have retreated to the edges of the panel, leaving a whale-sized empty space around a shark. Another favorite is "The Maze." Bear gets lost in a maze, but luckily, he has an apple with him. If you're wondering, "How could an apple help him?" you have a sense of the quirky humor in these stories. (Sorry. You'll have to read it to find out how the apple gets him out of the maze. Make your prediction. Then go get the book!)

Because they are single-page stories, this book would make a great mentor text for kids working with Comic Life or the Comic Book app to create their own single-page stories. Courdray uses a variety of panel sizes and combinations in each of his comics, and it would benefit young writers to study his panel choices and think hard about why he made his choices.

Also reviewed at No Flying, No Tights: A Graphic Novel Review Website

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred

The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred
by Samantha R. Vamos
illustrated by Rafael López
Charlesbridge, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

This book is The Happy Nappy Bookseller's pick for the Pura Belpré Award.*

I agree.

First of all, the illustrations are gorgeous. They pop with the happy bright colors you can see on the cover.

And the story is fun, fun, fun. It's a cumulative tale with a nod to "The House That Jack Built." In this case, though, arroz con leche is cooked. The story is told primarily in English, but the Spanish is included in a way that makes the reader pay attention and use context and story pattern clues. (There's a glossary in back if you really get stuck.)

The book starts, "This is the pot that the farm maiden stirred." On the next page, "This is the butter that went into the CAZUELA that the farm maiden stirred." So, you see, cazuela is pot.  On the next page, "This is the goat that churned the cream to make the MANTEQUILLA that went into the CAZUELA that the farm maiden stirred." So, mantequilla is butter, and you can see how the story accumulates not only ingredients and animals but Spanish words.

Maybe I won't have read the Newbery this year, but I'm pretty sure I've read the Pura Belpré!

Fuse #8 also liked this book a lot.
An interview with the author here.

*This award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dublin Literacy Conference: February 25, 2012

Dublin Literacy Conference 1995
From Left: Karen Szymusiak, Louise Borden, Franki Sibberson, Georgia Heard, Ralph Fletcher

The Dublin Literacy Conference has been a constant in my life as a teacher.  It is one of my favorite times of year.  The conference is run by a committee of teachers.  Mary Lee and I have somehow been involved in the planning of this for a very long time.  (The photo above is one from the 1995 Dublin Literacy Conference--it looks more like the 80s with my hair, but whatever...). The Dublin Literacy Conference is a highlight for many of us.  I love it every year and each year I look at the list of upcoming speakers and think, "WOW! This is the best conference yet." We are so lucky to get amazing speakers each year, great book sales, and lunch. It is always a great day of literacy and learning. The conference is a deal--a one day Saturday conference for only $100 ($75 for Dublin Teachers).

There are two keynote sessions and 3 other sessions during the day-an A, B, and C session. The A and B sessions offer 20+ choices for participants. Some are given by features speakers and others by classroom teachers, technology specialists, authors, etc.  The C session is an opportunity to hear a Featured Author of your choice.  Everyone leaves the conference with new energy (and usually a few new books).

This year, we have a great slate of Professional Authors:

Donalyn Miller author of The Book Whisperer will present the morning keynote entitled,
One Book, One Child, One Teacher. She will also present a session later in the day called, Bring on the Books!.

Ruth Ayres, author of Day By Day and blog, Two Writing Teachers is presenting 2 sessions for teachers.  Celebrating Writers and Meaningful Minilessons.

Bill Bass author of the upcoming book From Inspiration to Red Carpet: Hosting a Student Film Festival will offer two sessions,  Developing Student Filmmakers and Authentic Learning through a Digital Lens.

Bill Kist author of New Literacies in Action and The Socially Networked Classroom will present sessions on  The Socially Networked Classroom and The World is a Village: Implications for Global Education in a Web 2.0 World

We also have a great group of Children's Authors speaking at this year's conference:

Eric Litwin and James Dean, author/illustrator team of PETE THE CAT will open the conference with a song and present two sessions on Interactive Literacy for teachers.

Our afternoon keynote speaker will be Sharon Draper. Sharon is the author of Out of My Mind, Sassy, Tears of a Tiger and other books for teachers and children. The title of her keynote will be, Literacy, Laughter and Learning. She will also present a a session called Making Books Come Alive for Adolescent Readers.

Bob Shea, author of Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime, New Socks and Big Plans will present sessions entitled,  Super Fun Time with Bob Shea and Super SECRET Fun Time with Bob Shea.

James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones series, Bystander, Justin Fisher Declares War and others will present sessions on Meet James Preller and Meet James Preller: The Long Version.

There are also many great Dublin teachers and Central Ohio bloggers presenting at the conference. Some Central Ohio bloggers you may know include:

Mandy Robek from Enjoy and Embrace Learning who will be presenting Helping Emergent Writers Develop.
Tony Keefer from Atychiphobia will present You Can Build Community with Writing.
Bill Prosser and Karen Terlecky from Literate Lives have a session that is becoming an popular tradition at the conference: So Many Books, So Little Time.
Mary Lee Hahn will be presenting on one of her favorite topics, Make Read Aloud a Must, Not a Maybe.
I will be presenting Comprehension in the Digital Reading Workshop.
Deb Frazier (Primary Perspective) and Nicole Kessler (Nicole's Book Nook) will present VoiceThread: Breaking Down the Walls.
Scott Sibberson (Scott Sibberson) will share Free Web Tools and Applications for Literacy Learning
Maria Caplin (Teaching in the 21st Century) will present with colleague,  Mark Saelzler on Digital Literacy in the Everyday Classroom

It looks to be an amazing day of learning and hanging out with colleagues.  There are lots of other great sessions. You can visit the Dublin Literacy Conference website and access a program and registration form.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

Love It's Monday! What Are You Reading?  Joining in with Teaching Mentor Texts today as well as lots of other bloggers to share my recent reading.
My reading life has been a little crazy.  I have not given myself as much time to read as usual because I am really working hard to get into a good exercise routine (Reading Teachers Running).  It takes a lot of time to exercise and to eat healthy. And I know when I get into a good book, it is hard to make time for anything else. So, I am mostly reading at night.  I am trying NOT to read as much--last January, I read 40 books but I am trying to be a bit more balanced this January.This week, I read:

I missed last week's post so I'll talk about the last week or two of reading.

The Most Important Book I've Read Lately
Yesterday, I finished John Green's new book THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. This book has been hugely anticipated and I was looking forward to it. I am a huge John Green fan and have read all of his other books. PAPER TOWNS is my favorite. I was excited about this one but a bit worried that it couldn't live up to the hype. And it couldn't live up to his other books for me. How wrong I was. This is an amazing book. Brilliant and all-consuming.  It is the story of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters.  I really don't even know what to say about this book except that I will most likely read it again sometime soon.  It is a story that will live with me forever--a story that actually changed who I am, I think.  No matter what is on your To-Be-Read stack, I would highly recommend moving this one to the top. The book is being reviewed and rated everywhere and I have not seen or have not heard of one person who was disappointed.  Be prepared--it is not an easy read. You will be sucked in to the joy, pain, fear and energy of these characters.  As I said, it is all-consuming.  (I actually purchased 2 copies of this book--one for me and one for my 21 year old. I do not want to give mine up and I know we will each want to keep a copy of this one forever.)

If you discovered the blog FED UP WITH LUNCH where Mrs. Q., a public school teacher, decided to eat a school lunch every day for a year. She took photos and blogged about her experiences. From the way the food looked to the way it tasted to the way it made her feel. She had no idea that the blog would attract so much attention but it is and she has become a huge advocate for healthier school lunches. Once she gave away her identity, she published this book. Her book has been recently released and whether you read her blog during her lunch-eating year or not, this is a great read. I was afraid it would be a repeat of the blog, but it wasn't.  There is lots of good information and ways to make a difference in your school community.  A great book and a great attitude about how to make good change.

Young Adult
Donalyn Miller recommended this book to me and I LOVED it. It wasn't a book I would have picked up myself.  I am not a horse love. Don't love adventure or islands really.  But I LOVED this book.  There is a bit of romance, but a huge theme that I loved.  The story is set on an island that provides an amazing backdrop for the characters. And I loved the characters the most, as I do in most books that I love. I loved the main characters and the not-so-main ones.  The island is a small town where everyone knows everyone, and somehow the author made you feel that way too. I can't really explain why I loved this book but I did and I highly recommend it.

Picture Books

Catching up on Caldecott reading as we get ready for Caldecott Voting at school next week. Last week, Miss Loren from the Dublin Library came to visit and talk to the kids about Caldecott contenders. We love when she comes because we discover lots of new books and we love to hear her thinking. This week, kids will have time to look around and vote for a book they think should win. I read the following books to catch up a bit on 2011 picture book reading.

*BLUE CHICKEN by Deborah Freedman
*PLANT A KISS by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
*ZOMBIE IN LOVE by Kelly DiPucchio (This one would make a fun Valentine's Day read aloud.)
**GRANDPA GREEN by Lane Smith
SAY HELLO TO ZORRO by Carter Goodrich
BEFORE YOU CAME by Patricia Maclachlan
NIGHT FLIGHT by Robert Burleigh
***WHERE'S WALRUS by Stephen Savage (One of my favorite new wordless books.)
WHERE'S MY T-R-U-C-K? by Karen Beaumont

Coming up Next
Not sure that I will read any fiction this week. I will probably choose a YA book sometime soon --maybe CINDER. Or I might read THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by Christopher Paul Curtis. (I keep hearing amazing things about this one and I have an ARC from NCTE!) But I need to think about THE FAULT OF OUR STARS for a bit before I commit to new characters.

I will be reading a professional book that I am VERY excited about--OPENING MINDS: USING LANGUAGE TO CHANGE LIVES by Peter Johnston. I am a huge fan of Peter Johnston and his book CHOICE WORDS.  CHOICE WORDS is a small book that has had such a huge impact on my teaching. In it Peter Johnston teaches us about the power of language and the messages our language gives to children. This new book looks to be an extension of that thinking and I can't wait to read it.

I have also been looking forward to reading Louise Borden's upcoming book HIS NAME WAS RAOUL WALLENBERG.  I saw this one in process and can't wait to see the final book.  Such an amazing story.

I would also like to fit in ICEFALL by Matthew Kirby. I have been hearing great things about it and it is all of a sudden getting some Newbery buzz. And it looks like a book that my students would love. So I am wondering if I can fit it in before next Monday...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Poetry Friday: Digital Mentor Texts for Poetry Writing

Last Friday, at The Opposite of Indifference, Tabatha shared several centos that she had found while reading THE GREAT GATSBY. A cento is a poem created with the words of another author. You might have missed that she followed up on Saturday with this digital cento -- a poem created by editing a video of a commencement speech by Steve Jobs.

When I saw this, I realized that Poetry Friday had a way into the Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop conversation that's been going on here all week. I can honestly say:

This is part of a series of blog posts on Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop.  Contributors to this weeklong series are Troy Hicks, Katie DiCesareBill BassTony Keefer and Kevin Hodgson. Posts are also being collected at Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop. Please join our conversation!

Poem Flow is the first place that comes to mind when I think of where I might look online for poetry in a digital form that makes me say, "I could do that!" Not only do they have an online presence on their website and on Poets.org, but Poem Flow also has an iPhone app that delivers poetry line by line, word by word, phrase by phrase on a simple white background. Click here to view Walt Whitman's A Noiseless Patient Spider in Poem Flow. Seems like that would be easy enough to do with PowerPoint or Keynote, but I know better than assgning it until I've tried it myself! (Franki's reflection on the importance of the teacher as digital writer is here.)

I would also love to create a typographic poem.  I've been stuck at the "How do they DO that?" stage, but I really have no excuse -- there are MANY how-to sites and tutorials online. Maybe I'll challenge myself to learn to make one before April! Here's an example that's perfect for Monday's holiday/remembrance. It's a poem that is a combination of typography and cento (and it was created for a school assignment). 

Here's a funny Taylor Mali typographic poem about language.

I used ToonDooSpaces, an online comic-making site, with my students for a couple of years. I could never convice any of my students to make a poem into a comic, but I had fun with Gerard Manley Hopkins' Pied Beauty.

My students love to read poetry on the classroom Kindle and the Kindle app on our iPods and iPad. We have Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong's PoetryTag Time and Gift Tag, Gregory K's Kickstarter poems (on pdf), and Alan Katz's Poems I Wrote When No One Was Looking.

Here's an easy way to make a digital book of classroom poems. Show your students Laura Purdie Salas' 15 Words or Less weekly challenge. Same as Laura, start with a photo for inspiration. Then invite your children to write a very short poem that's as descriptive and original as possible. Drag your photo onto a page of PowerPoint/Keynote (ideally while projecting on your screen/whiteboard for students to see), then have the students bring their poems up for you to type, one on each page. Voila! A digital poetry book!

Tara has today's Poetry Friday roundup at A Teaching Life.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop: Living Your Life as a Digital Writer

This is part of a series of blog posts on Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop.  Contributors to this weeklong series are Troy Hicks, Katie DiCesareBill BassTony Keefer and Kevin Hodgson. Posts are also being collected at Mentor Texts in the Digital Writing Workshop. Please join our conversation!

I realize that my posts have been anchored on the things I believe about the teaching of writing and how I have been thinking about those when it comes to digital writing. Anchoring my work in the powerful things I've learned working alongside writers in writing workshops over the years is key.

Writers' notebooks are hugely powerful tools in the writing workshop.  It is not so much the notebook but the practice of living your life as a writer by keeping one.  A writer's notebook is hard to define as it takes on a bit of a different personality for each writer. Ralph Fletcher says,  "It's a place to collect, to react to ones world, to play with language, to stalk your inner voice, to find your stride as a writer."  And in her book Notebook Know-How, Aimee Buckner says, “A writer’s notebook gives students a place to write everyday...to practice living like a writer.”  

As a writing teacher, inviting kids to keep notebooks has always kept writing workshop authentic.  It was a tool that reminded me that living your life as a writer was key. It was also a place to focus on growing and being a writer, rather than on writing "stuff" and focusing on projects/products. 

So, I have been thinking about what this idea of a notebook means for digital writing.  How do we make time for kids to live their lives as digital writers and what does that even mean?

When I think about the writer's notebook, there are several things that make it powerful. A few things that writers do in the notebook:

They collect great writing--words, phrases, passages
They collect images and moments in their lives
They collect their thinking
They try new techniques
They play with language
They give things a try

A writer's notebook is the place where writers can play with the things they learn from other writers/mentors and make them their own. For me, a writers' notebook is often where the real work of mentor texts happen. It is a place where they can collect writing they like. It is a place where they can try a technique that they saw another writer use, without the stress of a finished product. It is a place to play with things.  Then, it is a place to go back to when publishing to pull out some of the things that will make your writing more powerful.

A Digital Writer's Notebook?
So, what does this mean for writers in this digital age. Obviously, a spiral bound notebook will not help our writers collect digital pieces, try our new techniques in film, or play with sound effects. But these things are clearly things that writers who use digital tools do. So, as the definition of writing has expanded, so has the definition of writer's notebook. 

Teacher as Writer
I try to look at myself as a digital writer first. What habits do I have that feel like a writer's notebook expanded to include my life as a digital writer?  Here's what I know about my life as a writer:
I blog regularly.
I read other bloggers' writing daily and often try things I've seen
I bookmark things I'd like to try in my blog writing
I save videos, presentations and podcasts that inspire me to try something new in my composition
I collect photos that I may use in presentations in the future
I play with new tools and often become obsessed with them as I am learning them
I try to create things with new tools for fun
I try various drafts of things and save the drafts
I revise and edit with online tools
I share writing online and immediately for feedback
I compose collaboratively using things like Google Docs

I am sure there are millions  of other things I do. I did all of these things before there was a digital tool for composing. The difference is that before, my playing with writing, my collecting and my drafting was all housed in a writer's notebook. Although I still sometimes use the notebook, more of these habits happen on my computer, ipod or ipad these days.

As writers, we naturally pay attention to things we want to try.  (Yesterday for example, Tony Keefer used a check mark symbol in a tweet.  I had never seen that so immediately decided I wanted to write a tweet with a check mark. I investigated and thought of a tweet that would need a check mark. Now that is something I can do. The point is, sometimes these things are very small and meaningless but it is the way writers pay attention to what is possible and try out new things that is key.)

Mentor Texts as Invitations
So, I want to make sure to use mentor texts in ways that go beyond creating products. I believe in study and I believe that if we are writing persuasive essays, we need to immerse ourselves in reading persuasive essays to begin the study.  However, I think an equally powerful way to use mentor texts is as invitation.  If we want our students to live their lives as writers, invitations and playing are key. Collecting is key. And going back through your attempts is key.

So, I am trying to add more things like this to my time with kids. Quick minilesson type invitations where we study something a digital composer did and try it out ourselves--not to share, not to publish, just so we have it as a possibility in the future.

A few things we've done that support this idea:
Our students have access to lots of digital books and they spend quite a bit of time on sites like Tumblebooks. They enjoy audio and understand the idea of podcasts.  And they know how to record in Garage Band. If kids are to create audio, I want them to have fun with voice and music. So, I invited them to try a few things.

I created an invitations in the library that we played with in a minilesson and a few kids tried out using the foam board displays. One was a foam board display entitled, "How would the character say that?". Scattered around the board were favorite characters and memorable dialogue. We tried reading it aloud in various ways in the minilesson. Then I invited kids to try recording different ways to read character dialogue on garage band. This was fun for those who merely wanted to play. For others, it helped them when they created audio podcasts of picture books for younger students.

I also try to create invitations by finding pieces that connect to student interest. In the past I have found how-to videos for students who like to build with legos and many give those a try while building--taking photos or video of their process.  Our students love to build and a favorite building toy is Straws and Connectors.  I wanted to give the students options for visual creation. On the Straws and Connectors site, you can access several PDFs of directions for building different structures. Once I showed these to a few builders, they created visual directions that will be turned into PDFs and put on our school website.

5th graders are currently playing with Numbers, learning how to make graphs, charts and tables. Eventually, they'll be invited to include those in some of the research that they do. They will also be able to use it when they conduct experiments, etc.  So this playing time is key. Some may choose to use this tool. Others may not.

And, I love to share the Klutz Tricky Video book with students. These have been amazing invitations for students to see how various film techniques work and to give them a try. Klutz actually has many resources when it comes to giving kids opportunities to try some new and doable techniques.

And kids are finding their own ways to play when it comes to digital writing. When they have play time built into their digital writing workshop, they watch television differently. They look at commercials differently. They examine webpages differently. They listen to sound effects and they notice when a film has a close-up and when the scene is shot at a distance.  Then they give things a try. I have to remind myself of this every time someone wants to create a talk show about nothing ("Mrs. Sibberson, don't you watch TV. Talk shows about nothing are funny!") or when they want to spend hours taking a million photos of themselves and embedding them in nonsense pictures on Pixie.   The products don't always work, but the students are becoming more sophisticated digital writers every time they play.  And they are living their lives as writers.

I have worried about this "play time" and am trying to figure out the balance between playing with tools, strategies, and techniques and creating quality products for an audience. But I have come to realize that this play time is the way digital writers live. It is the way I live as a digital writer.  I like to play with things, give things a try, work with new tools, attempt new techniques and formats. Then these things come back in more published pieces when I see the need.  This play time is critical and most of my playing comes from mentor texts I've discovered-something I've seen someone else do that I want to try.  

My challenge is to help my students find ways to collect and revisit these things as we do in our writers' notebooks--to reflect and reuse in future work.  I am still working on this idea but know that I want my students to live their lives as writers--writers who have access to digital tools and writers who are critical readers of all types of texts. If I want them to live their lives as writers, I want them to be awake to all that is out there, to notice what is possible and to think, "Hey, I can do that." I want them find things they want to try and then to have the freedom to play with an idea or technique without the pressure of a finished product--knowing that this will add to the things that are possible for them in the future.  Just as in pre-digital writing workshop, I want notebook type thinking that helps kids live their lives as writers, and I want time for students to work hard on a published piece for an authentic audience. Both are equally important.