Thursday, September 29, 2016

Poetry Friday -- You Are There

photo via unsplash

You Are There
by Erica Jong

You are there.
You have always been
Even when you thought
you were climbing
you had already arrived.
Even when you were
breathing hard,
you were at rest.
Even then it was clear
you were there.

Not in our nature
to know what
is journey and what
Even if we knew
we would not admit.
Even if we lived
we would think
we were just

To live is to be
Certainty comes
at the end.

I have lived the last two weeks at full tilt. Life has come at me non-stop. It has felt like perpetual motion, but perhaps Jong is right. Perhaps it was just two week's worth of intense arrival. I was definitely there, even though I wasn't here to comment on your posts. 

I'm looking forward to a slower period of arrival. I'm looking forward to visiting the roundup this week and seeing what everyone's up to.

Thanks for your patience with my silence.

The roundup the week is at Karen Edmisten's blog. The one with the "Shockingly Clever Title."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Deepening Our Conversations Around Books

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the 2016-2017 school year.

I received a review copy of A Bike Like Sergio's from Candlewick. I immediately fell in love with the book and was anxious to share it with my students. The picture book is perfect for inviting talk around important issues and decisions.  The book trailer is a good sneak peek into what kids might talk about.

When I shared the book with our literacy coach, Lynsey Burkins she reminded me that this author, Maribeth Boeltz also write Those Shoes , a favorite of mine from last school year. I looked up the author and then remembered that she also wrote Happy Like Soccer   I had never thought about the 3 books together but I pulled them out as Lynsey suggested and planned the week's worth of mini lessons around these three book.

My big goals for the week were to deepen our conversations around books and to begin to understand the ways books can change our hearts a bit. I also wanted my students to look across an author's work to deepen their understanding around individual books and issues across books. I knew we'd do rereading of one or two of the titles and I wanted to introduce the idea that rereading helps us deepen understanding. I knew those were my big goals and I also knew that I would have to listen to student thinking to move the conversation forward from where they were in their thinking.

On Monday I read aloud A Bike for Sergio. The big question throughout the book was whether or not Ruben would get the bike or not.  At the end of the book (SPOILER ALERT) when Ruben does not get the bike, my students were livid--I heard comments like "There must be a sequel!" and "That's the worst ending ever." and "He'll get the bike in the next book."  I left the conversation there and told kids that this was a book I'd been thinking about since I 'd read it last week and maybe they'd find themselves thinking about the book and the characters later too.  

The next day, I told my kids that I had been thinking about the book again and that there were some questions I had as a reader that I just didn't have answered yet. My biggest question was, "Was this a book with a happy ending?"  I put that on a chart and asked them if there were things they were wondering now that we had had time to think about the book. Our chart looked like this.
    • Was it a happy ending?
    • Did Ruben do the right thing?
    • Was Sergio happy or sad that Ruben didn't get the bike?
    • Is Ruben's family poor?
    • Will he ever get the bike?
    • Will the lady in the blue coat ever give him something as a thank you?
Each of these questions gave us a great deal to talk about and because there was no "right answer, we could agree, disagree, and change our thinking as the conversation moved on.

We moved onto the next two books by Maribeth Boelts.  We read Happy Like Soccer next and the children felt better about the ending. One child said, "When we read A Bike Like Sergio's, I didn't feel right at the end. When you read a book, you start to really like the character and I didn't feel good about how that one ended but I this ending seemed like a happy ending."

We read Those Shoes on Wednesday.  Our conversations before reading the book focused on what we might expect now that we knew Maribeth Boelts better as a writer. The kids predicted that family would be important in this book. They predicted that by looking at the cover, the child wanted something everyone else had like Sergio. They thought maybe the character would have to decide something important.  

After reading all 3 books, my students shared the following insights about Maribeth Boelts:
  • She has a way of writing about characters who figure out how to solve their own problems.
  • She writes about kids who want things that other people have.
  • Her books are realistic.
  • Family is important in her books.
And they still can't decide whether the families were poor or not.  This was a topic of conversation each day and they never came to an answer they were sure of--or what they actually meant by "poor".  

We reread A Bike for Sergio on Friday.  By Friday, the class had pretty much come to a consensus that the book did have a happy ending.  They still hope that Ruben gets the bike someday but they have a better understanding of the decision he was faced with. In this last read, kids stopped me on almost every page, asking me to reread a line that gave them a clue into something they were thinking about--lines they didn't quite get during the first read.  

Reading these 3 books together was a great idea (Thanks Lynsey!). We didn't do much writing or recording during these lessons as I really only wanted to deepen the ways in which we talked about books. Reflecting on the week, I think we certainly deepened our conversations and the ways we talk about books. We also changed our expectations of books and how they impact us. We learned to use what we know about an author to understand important ideas in  new ways.  And we know that there are some books and some things that we'll think about long after we are finished reading. This week, we came to love Ruben and Sierra and Jeremy, characters who I think will come into our conversations throughout the year.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)

Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  

You can order it online at Stenhouse!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Which One Doesn't Belong?

Which One Doesn't Belong? is a brilliant new math book from Stenhouse. A MUST-HAVE if you teach math at any age I think.  The book is a picture book to use with kids along with a Teacher's Guide that is really a professional book by Christopher Danielson (whose website is also brilliantly amazing and one you'll want to visit often if you are a math teacher.)

Which One Doesn't Belong? is a book of conversation starters around geometry.  Each page of the picture book gives readers 4 shapes and asks the questions, "Which One Doesn't Belong?"  I know this opener and love it and have used lots of the resources on the website Which One Doesn't Belong? and other resources and I've always found the routine to be a good one for math learning and supporting conversations around math.

But there was so much I didn't know!  This teacher guide--which is not so long but long enough to have depth and lots of new learning--helped me to understand how much more powerful this routine could be if I were more intentional as a teacher. The focus on geometry is interesting to me because it is an area of math teaching that I need to learn more about.  The book has an entire chapter called "How Children Become Geometers". This chapter helped me see the big jump kids do from elementary school to high school geometry and how much better we can do to help them build understanding by understanding the levels of understanding kids have and build around geometry.

The book is not a teacher's manual. Instead it is a way for teachers to use this routine in ways that empower students. Christopher Danielson shares language he uses when he introduces Which One Doesn't Belong. He shares examples from classrooms and he helps us better understand how children make sense of geometry through inquiry. He also puts the teacher in the decision-making chair as he invites us to make our own decisions about which pages to introduce to children when.  He also has tips for creating your own WODB set.

I love the answer key in this book.  The thing about this WODB sets is that they are designed so every answer could be the correct answer. So the answer key shares insights kids may notice about each shape and how they might respond.  It is a great resource and a great place to understand how to create your own sets (and help kids create their own.)

I love so much about this set of books. We had a conversation around the first page of the picture book last week and it was incredible. I introduced it as Danielson suggests in the book and we could have gone on for a very long time with ideas and thinking around these 4 shapes. I am excited to see where the conversation goes over the next several months.  This was a great way for me to take a routine I know and really deepen my understanding of it which will help my students.  Not only that but it helped me understand geometry in general and I now see the connection between this and several of Danielson's blog posts. I can't recommend this book enough.  If you are interested in inquiry based thinking and routines that empower kids AND if you want to learn more about quality talk in the math classroom, you need this book immediately!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Truth

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by tubb

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

It's data analysis season in our schools. We've been looking hard at the various "truths" that different pieces of data tell us about students. Each one has its own slant, and to get at the core truth of each child as a learner -- the TRUE true, as it were -- there are so many things to consider that we're all feeling a bit dazzled.

But the more we know, the better we teach: "Success in Circuit lies."

Catherine has the Poetry Friday roundup at Reading to the Core.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Much You Love a Book

Did you ever love a book so much that you deliberately slowed down your reading for the last third so you wouldn't have to come to the final page?

That's why I'm blogging instead of reading -- I'm desperate to find out what happens, desperate to see how Kelly Barnhill completes her masterful weaving of story strands, hopeful that the small stories will be strong enough to heal the big story.

I'm in love with the characters -- the lumpy, multi-armed monster-poet; the adorable little dragon whose sense of self is starting to match his reality; the "mad woman" in the tower ("hope is the thing with feathers..."); the witch who hides in plain sight for the first half of the book, while the one called "witch" clearly isn't. And of course, the girl who drank the moon.

I thought about her on my early morning walk today. There were puddles of moonlight on the street and sidewalks. The moonlight pouring down on me felt substantial enough to catch on my fingers and drink...almost.

While I walked, I thought of the dark cloud that's looming over our country. I'll try to remember this story's insistence on the power of hope. No matter how much darkness there is, hope has the power of light to overcome it.

Thank you, Kelly Barnhill, for this beautiful story. Thank you, Franki, for insisting I read it. I'm not sure when I'll finish the last 30 pages, but I know they'll be magical.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Sticky Notes!

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the 2016-2017 school year.

This was my favorite weeks so far because routines are set and I am just beginning to confer with kids beyond the initial assessments and reading interviews. We are also starting to build routines around reading behaviors that are part of reading communities. I love this time of the year when I can slowly begin to teach based on some of the information I've gathered and think together about ways to move forward as readers. And it seems that we've already gone through our year's supply of sticky notes!

I had a conference with a student who was reading "fat chapter books". She told me that she knew they were just right because if she missed one word on the first page, the book was too easy, if she missed two words, the book was just right and if she missed three, it was too hard.  This is so typical in the upper elementary grades--readers thinking reading is about "getting the words right".  When I met with her about the book, even though she was halfway through, it was obvious to me that she struggled with comprehension since the beginning. I never "fix" things like this for a child because I am interested in helping the reader grow--I am not worried about whether they understand a specific book. I believe strongly in building agency and I know that if I swoop in in September and tell her the things she is misunderstanding, she will not build the skills she needs to build understanding herself. Instead I file the  information and know where my instruction needs to go. I kept my eyes open during independent reading time and a few days later she was ready to start a new book.  We conferred for the first two days of her reading the new book--one to preview and think about what we knew and wondered from the blurb, etc. Then she started reading with sticky notes placed every few pages to help her keep track of her thinking while she read. We talked about the need for readers to take their time during the beginning of a new book because there is so much to take in and understand in those first few chapters. We've met briefly a few times and this strategy is working well. It is slowing her down and also giving her a tool to hold onto a longer story over time (by rereading the stickies before she starts reading the next day). It is evident that she is comprehending better and she is in LOVE with the book and reading.  

Readers love to share books and some readers LOVE books that are "hot off the press". I am one of those readers. I love to get books the day they are released and I love to read them before anyone else. So when I saw Dog Man from Dav Pilkey was due out,  I preordered it so it arrived on August 30. I knew they would be excited about this book--even if they weren't familiar with Dav Pilkey, this cover and idea would draw them in. They'd know the excitement of getting a book the day it is released! I shared the book and the blurb with students during our mini lesson and everyone wanted to read it.  I typically have bookmarks  that kids can sign when they want to be on a list to read a particular book, but at this time in the school year, I am not that organized. So I grabbed a sticky note and introduced the idea of being on the wait list for a book and that it would make its way around our room. Currently we have 5 books with sticky notes just like this being read by someone.  This idea is one that caught on quickly and is building lots of conversations as kids pass books along.   (I may transition to what Stacey Riedmiller does --raffles off books to first reader of new books--you can read about that here.)

Finally, I discovered this strategy last year.  I met with a reader who was struggling with finding a book he loved and with sticking with a book once he found one.  Sometimes kids are overwhelmed by the choices they have and they have trouble sticking with a book because (in the midst of reading) they see another one that they might like better.  I've found that it's sometimes helpful to plan with the child and to use sticky notes as visual reminders. Many of our kids don't have "next read stacks" as we do and they aren't thinking that maybe they can read a book that looks good in the near future. A simple sticky note on the front of the book with a number, helps students like this prioritize reading and begin to finish books. By deciding which book to read 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, the child can commit to finishing one book, while taking comfort in the fact that the others can be read soon afterward.

Really, what did we do before sticky notes!  Even with all the digital tools my students will use for thinking and annotating, sticky notes are still the most important tool in our classroom.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)

Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  

You can order it online at Stenhouse!


Monday, September 19, 2016

This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter

I read This is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter as one of our #classroombookaday books a week or so ago. It was quite a hit and it is now making its rounds around the classroom. Everyone was mesmerized by the story.

I must say that the book is a real surprise. By the cover, I assumed this was a sweet story about a little girl and her dollhouse. It is a story about a little girl and her dollhouse but not what I expected.  The book starts with these lines, "This is my dollhouse.  It used to be just a cardboard box."  The first half of the book goes on with the girl describing all the things she did to create the dollhouse by painting the bricks, using various things to create a TV, a stove, etc. It becomes clear that the fun of the play is in the creation and each day she uses things in creative ways to make her dollhouse better.

But her friend has a "real" dollhouse. So she is embarrassed to show her dollhouse to her friend. But it turns out that her friend's dollhouse turns out to be not as much fun and her dollhouse provides endless hours of play and imagination.

There is another fun surprise to this book. On the cover, there is a tiny badge that says, "Look inside the jacket for tips on how to make your own dollhouse!" The back of the jacket cover has step-by-step ideas that invite readers to create their own cardboard box dollhouse.

When I read this book aloud, the kids were fascinated. They loved the ways that she created different things for her dollhouse.  Every kid loves to make new things with cardboard boxes so this inspired so many great ideas. It is a great book to tie into kicking off a  Makerspace too.

I loved the messages this story gave about creativity, imagination and play. I have been spending a bit of time with the professional book Purposeful Play by Kristi Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler and this was a great way for me to bring some ideas about play and making and  learning to my students.

This year's Global Cardboard Challenge is on October 1. This would be a great book to use as you get ready for this global event.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Everyday Miracle: A Septercet

Everyday Miracle

Watching caterpillars morph
from worm into chrysalis
never grows old. Starting small

(teeny-tiny, truth be told)
they adopt a growth mindset --
after egg, it's grow, grow, grow.

They change caterpillar clothes
as they thicken and lengthen.
Then comes the ultimate change --

undigested food is purged,
silk belt is spun, anchoring
caterpillar, who lets go

and leans into the process.
Unseen to observing eyes,
parts that were caterpillar

shuffle, shift, reorganize.
What once began as all crawl
will become fluttering flight.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

The Ditty of the Month challenge at Today's Little Ditty, issued by Madam Jane Yolen, was to write a septercet, a form she invented in which each verse (as many verses as you want) needs to have three lines, each with seven syllables. It can be rhymed or not. The challenge was also (I just realized) to make your septercet feature reading and/or writing. Oops. Maybe mine is about reading the natural world.

Michelle hosts the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Today's Little Ditty.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Power of Story

I Am a Story
by Dan Yaccarino
HarperCollins, 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

We've been looking closely at picture book dust jackets (inside and out), covers, and endpapers, thanks to #classroombookaday. I'm hoping the endpapers of this book will inspire thoughtful inferences about what we'll find between the covers. Will there be text that we can quote explicitly to support our thinking?

What will my fifth graders make of a book that chronicles the history of human story telling, from ancient oral story tellers around a fire under the stars to modern story tellers around a campfire under the very same stars?

Will they be in awe of their place in the course of human history as writers and tellers of stories?

What will they make of the little red bird who flies through all the places and times?

This book is making me think again about the TED Radio Hour episode I listened to recently, "The Act of Listening." Especially the parts about the power of Story Corps, and the man who invented it. Because what good is a story without a listener or reader?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Still Learning to Read: So Much More than a Single Test Score

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016.

I love getting to know my students early in the school year.  There is so much to learn and so many things to get to know about each child. The first six weeks of school is definitely not easy, but taking the time to get to know each student as a person and as a learner is so important.

In Ohio, we have a 3rd Grade Guarantee Law. No matter where you live, you are most likely living with some mandates that require an emphasis on standardized tests. When you are dealing with mandates and laws like these, it is easy to forget all of the things we know and understand about literacy and learning and to go through the motions of the paperwork required and to rely on standardized test scores alone.  The test scores tell us something about a child, but they do not tell us everything we need to know to plan good instruction.  I decided a few years ago that I had a choice as a classroom teacher. I try to do the best I can to meet the requirements of the law while working in ways that make sense for young children. It takes a bit of extra time and intentional planning but I know that meeting a child's needs requires more than a single test score.

In Ohio we give a state reading test in the fall and the spring.  Districts also have the option to give alternate tests for kids to show what they know. Our district provides each teacher with the Developmental Reading Assessment and I always sit down with every child to chat about their reading in an informal Reading Interview. I also spend the first weeks of school taking anecdotal notes about things I notice during independent reading time, mini lesson time, and read aloud time.

Each time I assess a child (with a standardized or more informal assessment), I try to pull out the most important things from the assessment-the things that seems to be the most important thing to know about that child right now. Then I look across all of the assessments to notice patterns and ask myself questions like:

  • Are there any outliers in the assessments? Something that doesn't fit the rest of the information?
  • Does the child do better with long text or shorter text? Can he/she hold onto a story/idea of time?
  • Are there patterns across strengths and weaknesses across assessments?
  • How does this child define reading?
  • Is this child an engaged reader?
  • What strengths does this child have that can be built on?
  • What is the one thing that seems to be most critical for this child to move forward as a reader?

To do this I use what I call an Assessment Web.  I want to look across several pieces of information about my students in order to plan for instruction that matters for them. I can't look at a level or a test score or an area of weakness and know what to do or how best to support a young reader. Instead I need to look hard at all types of data and information to determine what is the most important next step for a child. In our book Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop, I shared the way that I create an Assessment Web for each child.  The Assessment Web lets me think about all the pieces of information I gather about a child as a learner during the first few weeks of school and for me, the web allows me to see how they all work together, without one being more important than the other. I often use this web to share with parents at conference time. My categories change a bit based on the assessments we are required to give or the patterns I see but overall my web usually looks something like this:

Some years, instead of an assessment web, I compile the data on a form that is on page 83 in the second edition of Still Learning to Read.  This one is a bit easier and allows me to more easily look across grouping of students and patterns across the class.  But it doesn't give me a single page on each student that I can use as the year progresses and add changes, updates, etc.

Of course, the form doesn't matter--it just helps me make it easier for me to look across multiple pieces of information on a child.  In order 'to move forward with targeted instructional planning after these first few weeks of school, this step has always been critical for me. Since I started using a form like this over a decade ago, we've had new standards, new tests and new mandates. But the idea of the form continues to work for me as I try to look at all the data and information I have on a child in order to make the best instructional decisions possible for a child.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)

Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  

You can order it online at Stenhouse!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Early-in-the-Year Messages About Learning

There is no rushing the first few weeks of the school year. No matter how much I'd love to be in Week 8 right now with routines set and thoughtful conversations happening every day, I know that you can't rush community building. As hard as it is to establish routines, there is nothing like these first few weeks of school--getting to know students, watching them get to know each other,  and listening in on these beginning conversations.

I can never quite pinpoint exactly how things evolve in the classroom--how kids get from where they are at the beginning of the year to where they are at the end of the year.  I don't really have a set of lesson plans that helps to build talk early in the year.  I don't really believe in those "First 20 Day" planning guides. But I am very intentional about my planning and try to be responsive to each new group of students.  Each group comes in with different expectations as learners and I usually take my cue from them on where to do.  By May, I am always so amazed by my students' thinking and growth but they are not as comfortable talking and sharing early in the year so I spend a lot of time planning things that give them important messages and experiences about learning.

The thing is, lots of these things don't happen in Reading Workshop. In Read Aloud and in minilessons, we are learning to have conversations around books. But it seems to be that it is the conversations that we are having during other times in the day that also help build the conversations we have as readers.  In a self-contained classroom, nothing stands alone.  Somehow, conversations in reading are possible because we spend time throughout each day thinking about learning and thinking and talking.  The conversations overlap and talk starts to get better each day in the classroom in all areas.

Learning Happens Everywhere and in Many Different Ways
For the last few years, we've watched Caine's Arcade on the first day of school to talk about Caine as a learner.  I want my kids to know that learning happens in lots of ways and that lots of learning will happen in and out of school. I want them to know that the kind of learning Caine shares in his story will be valued in our classroom. Some years we've created a chart or had a conversation discussing the ways Caine is a learner or how we know Caine is a learner.

We Learn When We Think Together
We mention in our book the idea of Thinking Partners.  A board in the front of our classroom has a heading "Who Are You Thinking With Today?". Below are 2 sets of individual photos of the students in our class.  I use this to quickly assign partners for various things when needed. Early in the year we talk about how you learn different things when you think with different people.  We've done partner talk in all areas learning how to turn and talk, sit "knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye", keep a conversation going for a short amount of time, etc.

Thinking and Talking about Our Own Learning (and others' learning) Helps Us Grow
I invite adults in the school to come in and share their lives as readers with us during the first several weeks of school.  This helps students learn about others which in turn helps them reflect on their own reading.  As they learn about different readers and see connections and differences, they begin to ask questions and learn to talk about reading habits and behaviors in new ways.

Mrs. Phifer, our reading teacher, sharing things about her life as a reader last week in our classroom.

A Learning Community Gives Feedback to Help Other's Grow
Austin's Butterfly is one of my favorite clips to show early in the year.  I think the idea of specific feedback and supporting each other as we all learn and grow is fascinating to students as they watch this clip.

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work from EL Education on Vimeo.

Our Brain Grows
This year, I shared one of Jo Boaler's videos on Youcubed. "Four Boosting Math Messages from Jo and Her Students" invited powerful conversations about the brain, making mistakes, and other myths about learning (math and beyond).

We Learn When We Are in the Role of Teacher AND When We Are in the Role of Learner
In our classroom, we have Wonder Workshop daily. This is the way I make sense of Genius Hour and Makerspace ideas and bring them together to give kids a time each day to take total charge of their learning.To kick off Wonder Workshop, each child shares something they love or are good at with classmates.  This is an informal presentation done at tables with small groups.  This joyful time helps us get to know each others' interests and also helps everyone discover things they may want to learn or try during Wonder Workshop. By the end of the week, we'll have 23 new things are possibilities for Wonder Workshop. And we'll have experienced the power of learning from each other over and over again.

We talk about being an active participant in a session and this is easy for them to do and understand when they are in both roles. We don't do a typical presentation--instead kids teach at a table to an audience of 3-5 kids several times until all kids rotate through. This keeps kids engaged and gives kids lots of experiences as both a teacher and and audience. We reflect on our roles each day and we also discover what we appreciated about the ways different people taught and learned. This conversation will carry on throughout the year.

We Can Learn from Others Through Technology
I made it a point to share resources from online sources so kids know quickly that we learn from lots of people and technology allows that. (They know this of course, but I want them to know that this will happen lots in our classroom.)  I also want them to know that there are people out there who create things to share to TEACH others. (This will be good when they learn to research and it also serves as an invitation to create resources for others online.)

We've learned from Ruth Ayres (A Peek Inside My Writer's Notebook), Jess Keating (Write With Jess Keating), Amy Vanderwater (Sharing Our Notebooks) and Mr. Stadel at Estimation 180. The variety of videos, blog posts, activities created for learning all show that there are so many ways to learn from others.

None of these things can stand alone but together they work magic when it comes to evolving messages about what it means to be a learning community.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Poetry Friday -- The Fifties

The Fifties

Trees feel the fifties
in their tip-top leaves --
ever so slightly not as green.

Bees feel the fifties
in their crystal wings --
buzz-uzz-uzzing sluggishly.

Runners feel the fifties
in groups of twos and threes --
comfortable in shirt-sleeves, breathing easily.

I feel the fifties
slightly differently --
cycling along...they're in my knees!

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

This is a poem I "jotted" in my digital writer's notebook (aka my phone) last Saturday morning. As I cycled along, enjoying the crisp (temporary) 55 degree weather, bits of a poem began coming to mind. I stopped a couple of times to capture key phrases in voice memos. When I got home, I wrote out a draft in my paper-pencil writer's notebook and worked on it throughout the weekend. The verse about the crickets chirping with greater urgency didn't make the cut.

The poem is true and untrue in a couple of ways -- I felt the fifties in my knees because they got cold in the first few blocks, but (thankfully) I don't feel the fifties (years) in my knees (knock wood and I'm not even going to say yet) while I'm cycling!

Happy Poetry Friday! Amy has the roundup this week at The Poem Farm.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Listening to Podcasts

If you don't listen to podcasts yet, it's time to get started. Since you already love children's books, you should start with The Yarn, by Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker.

The Yarn "unravels" a book through an interview with the author or illustrator. Each episode is between 8 and 28 minutes long -- perfect for listening on a short commute or as a break in your work.

Franki wrote about The Yarn when it was brand new, just over a year ago. Colby and Travis have really come into their own over the course of a year, and they have some incredible episodes that will be worth going back to.

Take the episodes #26 and #27, for example, in which Travis and Colby talk to Kate DiCamillo at ALA. She talks about why she writes for children. I love her words so much, I'm going to use them to describe why I teach.

I teach because of the "necessity of hope." You can't show up every day and work with 10 year-olds if you don't possess more than the normal amount of hope. Teachers traffic in hope. It keeps us going; it keeps our students going; it keeps our schools afloat when the rest of the world would sink us without a second thought. And then there's the "peripheral magic." Like Kate's stories, we don't utilize literal magic, but you can't deny that there's some kind of magic going on when you see a child's eyes light up with understanding. 

In Kate's books, and in classrooms around the country, "Things are still possible." 

That's why you write, Kate? That's why I teach.


Wednesday, September 07, 2016

My New Favorite Nonfiction Series

Welcome to my new favorite nonfiction series, the Disgusting Critters series, or, as originally published in French, Les petits dégoûtants.

You can see that I tagged these books "nonfiction should be fun." Along with information about the critters' bodies, eating habits, and all the nasty things they do, each book also contains off-the-wall comments by the narrator and the critter, and delightfully goofy illustrations.

Franki texted me, "Your nonfiction post that I sneaked a peek at just cost me $37.00." These books are perfect for third grade. I checked out the whole series from the library and will read one to my fifth graders for #classroombookaday (the one they vote as the most disgusting critter), and then I will keep them in the room for a couple of weeks.

That's what I'm thinking right now, but based on my students' response, this post might cost ME $37.00, too!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Book Preview

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016.

Read Aloud is one of my most important teaching times. It is comfortable and joyful with great stories and great talk. My role is to find books that invite conversations that I know will help my students grow as readers.  My plan before school started was to begin our read aloud with 4-5 short chapter books and then to move to something longer. But after reading Lulu and the Brontosaurus and Mercy Watson to the Rescue, I decided this group needed a bit more to talk about in order for them to learn to talk deeply around books. So I changed my plans a bit and moved to a longer, more complex series book.  Last week we started Dog Days (a book in The Carver Chronicles Series) by Karen English.

Why I Chose This Book:
I chose this as our next read aloud for several reasons. I thought the kids were ready for a book with more to talk about. Many are in the transitional stage of reading and they struggle a bit with keeping track of a story, keeping track of characters and sticking with books. This book is probably beyond what many of my kids could read on their own but the teaching focus I have for this book will support readers at a variety of levels. The book will invite conversations about characters and characters who change across the book. I also liked that this book had lots of good features like a Table of Contents, a back blurb that sets up the story, etc. that will help us begin conversations about previewing books before you read.

Setting Up the Preview:
I am a strong believer that transitional readers must learn to "introduce themselves" to a book.  I think to be able to chose the right books, a preview is critical. As a reader, I need to know lots about a book before I decide it's the book I want to read next.  But previewing is about more than choosing books. Previewing a book sets the reader up for more engagement.  Kids are always amazed at how much you can learn BEFORE you even start the book if you take the time to preview a bit.  So, on the day we were to begin Dog Days, I had this chart ready in our read aloud area. I set it out before the school day began knowing a few curious kids would give it a look and start thinking about and wondering what it was.

Then during our read aloud time last Thursday, we previewed the book.  We have a 25 minute read aloud time each day and the whole class preview took the entire read aloud time on Thursday.  Tougher we looked at the cover, read the back cover, read the table of contents and read the first page of the first chapter.  After each feature, we stopped to talk about the things we knew, the things we predicted and most importantly the questions we had.  The kids were amazed (as they usually are the first time we do this) that they had so much thinking before we even started the book!   I have learned that kids won't instantly begin previewing the books they read independently after a few read aloud previews but my goal is for them to eventually see the power of a preview in their reading.

We actually began reading the book on Friday and before we started a student mentioned that he'd been thinking about the book. Several kids agreed.  Such a great way to start a read aloud with kids thinking about the book between readings. Throughout the first day's reading, we referred back to things we had read in the preview--thinking that was confirmed, thinking that we changed with new information and questions that were answered. Every time we went back to a feature we had previewed, we found the exact line that we were thinking about which always raises the level of talk. I can tell this is going to be a great read aloud! I am anxious to see where the talk goes.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)
Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  You can order it online at Stenhouse!

Sunday, September 04, 2016

#DigLitSunday -- My Digital Writer's Notebook

Because my phone is with me most all the time, it is my most reliable writer's notebook. I use the notes and voice memo to capture fleeting ideas, and my photos constitute hundreds of seed ideas.

Just this morning, I took advantage of the cool, crisp (temporary) fall-like weather to take a quick bike ride before we hit the farmers' markets for tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, apples, and French pastries. The very tip-top leaves in the trees look like they are feeling the shift of the seasons. I started getting lines of a poem, and pulled over to record a few words before I lost them. I continued to compose in my head as I rode, and I pulled over one more time before I headed up the long hill towards home and recorded the key words I'd come up with. As soon as I got home, I sat down to my paper/pencil writer's notebook, and captured the first draft of my poem. I've tinkered with it several more times throughout the day, and I think it will be ready for Poetry Friday next week!

Thank goodness for my digital writer's notebook!

Margaret gathers the #DigLitSunday posts at Reflections on the Teche.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Three Things to Remember

image via Unsplash

Three Things to Remember
by Mary Oliver

As long as you're dancing, you can
     break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
     extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

Penny has the roundup this week at Penny and Her Jots.