Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Still Learning to Read: Getting Ready for Our Next Read Aloud-Rump

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 school year.

We have been doing lots of reading across several texts--thinking about similarities and differences, adding onto what we understand and more. Last week I shared some work we did with books about Wangari Maathai.  This week, we read several versions of the classic tale Rumpelstiltskin. I want kids to understand connections between books in a much deeper way than they have in the past so I am varying the ways kids might connect one book to another in order to build understanding.

For this read aloud, I wanted kids to have access to all of the preview pages and I wanted to be able to look at all of their annotations for the book so we all created read aloud notebooks out of construction paper and blank pages for this book. As we previewed kids added cover, back cover, table of contents and the first page of text into their booklets.

I had stapled the books together beforehand and had included the photo of the Rumpelstiltskin books we'd read on the first page. After looking at the cover and the title (Rump, The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin), I asked kids to think about what they knew from the 4 books we read and what they would EXPECT in this book. They were very thoughtful and very thorough. 

This is similar to what I shared in the new edition of Still Learning to Read but every year is different and the goals for this read aloud are a bit different this year as it is a different set of kids, different time of year, etc.  This is a perfect example of why I can't plan to hit the same things that I did last year. For example, last year when we talked about traits after reading 4 versions of Rumpelstiltskin, 3rd graders had very different (and not such kind) things to say about the character. But this year, my readers seem to have seen some good deep down in Rumpelstiltskin. When we talked about all that we knew, someone mentioned that he was helpful as he came in to help the queen. One said he was lonely because he sang by himself and wanted that baby to keep him company. They thought he was kind because even though the queen promised her baby, he gave her a second change.  Last year, we were able to talk about how our thinking about Rumpelstiltskin changes as we heard his perspective and the traits we saw in him were different. We'll still have that conversation but we are at a different starting point so that will be different learning.

This is a challenging book for this time in 3rd grade but it pulls together so many skills we've been working on. The talk and thinking we are doing around this read aloud builds on all that we've done all year.  Reading across text, using what we know, previewing, thinking about the character, and point of view will all be part of our conversation. This group has picked upon the importance of the word "destiny" already so that may be more of our conversation than it has been other years.

I am looking forward to our conversations around this book!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Poetry Friday: Despair...and Humor

photo via unsplash

by Billy Collins

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry—
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrator of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,

Sorry. I should probably have given you a *snort alert.* Thank you, Billy Collins for a good dose of humor along with our gloom and despair.

Karen at Karen Edmisten (The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title) has the roundup this week. Grab a cup of coffee and head on over!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

When ELL Teachers Give Their Students a Voice

One Good Thing About America
by Ruth Freeman
illustrated by Kathrin Honesta
Holiday House, March 2017
review ARC received at ALA Midwinter

Ruth Freeman works in the ELL department of an elementary school in South Portland, Maine. She acknowledges in the author's notes that hers is an outsider's perspective of what it's like to be a refugee or asylum seeker. Until this generation of refugee children grows up to write their own stories, the best we've got are stories from some of the people who know them best -- their teachers.

Anaïs is a refuge of Congo. Her grandmother, father and brother are still there. Her father and brother are on the run from the government. It is her grandmother to whom she writes, and her grandmother who encourages her to tell "one good thing about America" in every letter. Sometimes that's hard for Anaïs because, though she was top in her class in English when she left Africa, there is so much about American English and American culture that baffles and frustrates her. Her voice is very authentic, starting with broken English and readable misspellings mixed liberally with French words, and smoothing out throughout the course of the book and her ten months of learning. In the back of the book, there is a list of words and phrases that are Anaïs is hearing (such as a silum and playd) paired with "the spelling she will learn" (asylum and played). Such wonderful respect for our English Language Learners!

Messages from Maryam
by Lauren Pichon
illustrated by Kendra Yoder
lulu.com, January 2017
review copy provided by the author

Like Freeman, Lauren Pichon is an ELL teacher. Her self-published picture book is also a story told in letters.

Aila and Maryam are Iraqi girls from Mosul. When Maryam and her family immigrate to the United States, she and Aila exchange letters throughout the long process of waiting in a refugee camp, flying to New York, driving to Virginia, starting school with no English, and adjusting to life in a new country. Eventually Aila's family makes it to Virginia as well and the girls are reunited.

In the author's notes, Pichon acknowledges that the exchange of letters from a refugee camp is fiction -- people in refugee camps cannot send or receive mail. As with One Good Thing About America, the letter format is, nonetheless, an effective way to let the reader experience the loneliness, isolation, and frustration of the refugee experience. The contrast between Maryam's new life in America and the description of her life in Mosel and her and Aila's time in refugee camps will give American readers a better sense of what their new classmates have gone through.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Still Learning to Read: Some Favorite Resources for Nonfiction Reading

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 school year.

It seems like this time of year, my kids are ready for longer, more in-depth nonfiction than they were early in the school year. They are moving beyond books with isolated facts to picture book biographies, etc. I think 3rd and 4th grades are a little tricky for nonfiction as we want them to grow as nonfiction readers but much nonfiction is a little too easy or too hard for this age. As my students are building stamina as nonfiction readers, I want them to have access with text that are a little longer and go more in-depth. I love the Scientists in the Field series but those are a bit much for most 3rd and 4th graders. So I've been looking for something in between what they have been reading and books like Scientists in the Field.

I just discovered a great new series that seems perfect for this age. I have loved Suzi Eszterhas's books for years and her Eye on the Wild Series is perfect for 3rd graders. I recently discovered a new series she has called "Wildlife Rescue Series". I read Koala Hospital recently and can't wait to hand it off to some kids who are interested in animal rescue. These books seem perfect for kids ready to move to more in-depth nonfiction. They are organized in a way that each 2-page spread gives information on one part of the topic. The language is perfect for this age. There are of course amazing photos that draw readers in. And the books are packed with information around the topic. I am anxious to get the other 2 in this series and I certainly hope she is writing more!

I also discovered that Suzi Eszterhas's website has grown and has many great resources for kids and teachers. Her blog is filled with great posts about animal rescue and more. I also discovered that you can also read samples of the work Suzi Eszterhas does for magazines such as Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids and more. This is a great resource of informational text.

I also discovered a great video about Suzi Eszterhas on Ranger Rick's website.

I continue to be on the lookout for great nonfiction for kids--books, magazines, videos are all important to our readers. Some other great resources for great nonfiction for kids who are ready for more sophisticated nonfiction are listed below:

Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10

If you do not know the fabulous annual Picture Book 10 for 10 event created by Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek, visit their Google Plus site now. Each February, Cathy and Mandy ask readers to share 10 nonfiction books they love. Many are organized into categories. This is a great resource for finding great new nonfiction for your students. (And as Cathy reminds us, turn off your One-Click Amazon button before you visit!)

Highlights Magazine

Mary Lee Hahn shared with me the amazing resource that Highlights Magazine is. Each issue has a few nonfiction articles that are the perfect length for intermediate readers.


Wonderopolis continues to be one of my favorite sites for nonfiction reading for intermediate readers.


Zooborns is a favorite site in our classroom. I am noticing that about mid-year, kids are spending as much time with the text as they are with the adorable photographs. This site is engaging and has such interesting information on baby animals. I also love that it can be searched in various ways (by zoo or by animal).

Melissa Stewart's Website

Melissa Stewart's website is always one of my go-to sites for nonfiction. The number of nonfiction books Melissa Stewart has written is amazing and her blog is a great additional resource. Information into her writing process as well as videos make this one of my faves. Spend some time on her blog --it is a great resource for teachers and has great posts for students.


If you don't know Livbits, her videos. Olivia is a 9 year old who packs a lot of information into a short video.

Friends With Fins

Friends with Fins is another video site that has great informational videos about ocean conservation. I love the variety of formats Jaclyn uses to share information with viewers.

Jess Keating

Jess Keating is another favorite author for this age. Her book Pink is a Blobfish and upcoming book What Makes a Monster are both highly engaging nonfiction titles for readers in grade 3-6! Jess also has a video series Animals for Smart People which are short videos packed with information.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Celebrating World Read Aloud Day 2017

On Thursday, February 16, we celebrated World Read Aloud Day! Although read aloud is part of every day, we love to take this opportunity that LitWorld has created and celebrate together.

This year, we celebrated with Katie DiCesare's first graders.  To prepare for the celebration, each third grader chose a book that they wanted to read aloud. We talked about choosing a book that a first grader would like, one they could enjoy with you in one sitting and one that you could get "really good" at reading aloud.  Kids chose books on Monday and read them over and over throughout the week.  The joyful buzz in the room when 24 third graders were reading aloud books they loved was FABULOUS!

These are the books that were read aloud:

We got together several times as we prepared for World Read Aloud day.  Early in the week, we shared the reasons we chose the books that we did.  The reasons were varied but so thoughtful.
When I asked students why they chose the book they did, they said things like:

"I think a first grader will like it because it has good pictures to go with the words."
"This is a funny book and when I was in first grade, I loved funny books."
"I picked Piggie and Elephant because most kids love Gerald and Piggie."
"I thought first graders might like books with dogs in it."
"You can read it over and over again without getting bored."

Students get together to read and share their choices for World Read Aloud Day
We got together later in the week to talk about the fun we were having reading aloud the book. I asked students to find a page that they LOVED to read aloud.  We shared those pages--which was GREAT FUN!--and then discussed the things that made the pages extra fun to read aloud. Kids said they loved reading aloud pages with dialogue. They especially liked it when there was a picture of the character so that you could tell the character's emotion when he said the words. They loved pages where lines repeated over and over. And they loved when authors did something interesting with the font or punctuation.

We had a great time celebrating World Read Aloud Day by reading aloud to 1st graders, listening to them read books from their book bins and talking about the fun of reading aloud.  It was a great day!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Baking Bread

photo via unsplash

Baking Bread (or Life in The Modern World)

Why can't it be easy for once?
Instead, it starts off sticky
and keeps getting stickier
until necessary intervention.

Slow down.
less speed,
deep breaths.

Suddenly, stickier becomes smoother
and by now you should know better --
difficult hides behind a screen of pliable
and soft is a precursor to crunchy.

Next comes growth.
A time of pure yeasty optimism
until the smashing and scraping
brings everything back into perspective

and before you know it
the boundaries are set
the heat is applied
the outcome revealed.

There is no such thing as easy,
only repetition after repetition.
Savor the warmth, the freshness.
Then start again.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

This is a poem for Laura Shovan's Annual February Writing Project. The words/phrases for this poem


originated here.

Jone has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Check it Out.

Thanks for your patience to all who depend on Kidlitosphere Central for the list of Poetry Friday host blogs. Life blew up and I kept putting other things above "update the link list" on my TO DOs. A teacher work day tomorrow and Monday off for Presidents' Day has given me enough breathing space to get 'er done. (And, as usual, it wasn't such a big deal...I just needed to BEGIN.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Still Learning to Read: Reading Across Texts

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 school year.

Somehow, even by 3rd grade, students think that writing informational pieces somehow begins with copying facts out of books they read.  One of the goals for 3rd graders is to take notes on research topics and when my kids noticed this on the feedback form our district has, they mentioned quickly how hard they thought note-taking was.  Even after all that we have done with sketch-noting this year, they had little confidence when we started to talk about "research" and "note taking".

So I decided we'd meet a few books in a weeklong unit of study on notetaking/informational reading/research. I ordered 4 picture books about Wangari Maathai as I figured this was a person very few of them knew much about. I also knew that it tied a bit into our Science curriculum. We read Wangari's Trees of Peace, Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees, Seeds of Change and Mama Miti over 4 days.

These books worked well to read over days.  Each told the story of Wangari and I would consider each a picture book biography but each told different details and focused on different pieces of the stories.  So we confirmed much of our thinking when we heard it over and over and we added to what we knew as the different authors included different things.    Of course we continued to ask questions, chat informally and connect this with so many other things we've read.  But our new learning was in reading across texts to think about the most important things across -synthesizing information from a variety of sources.

This was a very simple study.  On the first day, I read the first book--Wangari's Trees of Peace, giving kids 3 sticky notes. After we finished reading the book, each child wrote 3 important things that they thought they'd want to remember from the book.  We then sorted the sticky notes realizing that many of us had similar things written. This started a good conversation about important vs interesting. Kids were amazed that after reading the whole book, they could "take notes" in their own words.

The next day we read Wangari Maathai which was a bit longer and more detailed. We did a similar activity with stickies and talked about the information we already knew as well as the information that was new to us from this book.

For Seeds of Change, I had kids jot important ideas in their readers' notebooks--just as they had with the sticky notes.

After reading the 4th book, we went back to all our notes and created a list of the most important things we would include if we were writing about Wangari Maathai.

These were great books to discuss as there was much new information and different lots to talk about after each book.  The students gained confidence in their ability to discover important information, write that down in their own words, and add to their learning with each new text.  They see the power in reading more than one book about a topic and they have a few strategies for determining importance.  Connecting what we learned to the sketch noting they love will be a next step.

Monday, February 13, 2017

This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration

Mary Lee and I attended the American Library Association Mid-Winter conference last month. It was a great experience and of course, I came home with so many books to add to my to-be-read stack. Following the awards announcements on Monday morning, there is an annual session for the YALSA Morris and Nonfiction award winners. Someone suggested that we attend the session and was it a treat!  We were able to hear all of the Morris and Nonfiction winners speak for a few minutes about their work. Then we received some of the books for autographing.

One of the books that had been on my radar was This Land is Our Land by Linda Barrett Osborne.  I have spend the last few weeks reading this, a little bit at a time, and am so glad that I did.

This book is a comprehensive history of immigration in the United States.  The Table of Contents shows all that is explored in the book.


It was an interesting and important read during this time in our country.  I am so glad that I read it and I have a better understanding of the issues surrounding immigration. It seems like an important read for everyone.  I don't often purchase books that I can't use in my classroom but I am so glad I bought this one. It is a boo that belongs in every middle school and high school libraries (many reviews say grades 6-10).

When I talked to the author during the autograph line she mentioned how interesting it was to be working on this book at this time (she started long before many of the current issues.)  She hoped that both teens and adults would read this book as there was so much that she had researched and wanted to share. I agree completely.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Girl Power

photo via unsplash

They Can't Shut Us All Up

They can shut me up
but they can't change the truth--
I'm Rosa and Hillary, Malala and Ruth.

They can silence my voice
but I'll lead and you'll follow--
I'm Keller and Earhart, Cleopatra and Kahlo.

We rivet and code,
we teach and we heal,
orbit Earth, win Nobels,
go to prison for ideals.

They can't shut us all up
and they can't change what's true--
we're here to write history in PINK, not in blue.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

This is a poem for Laura Shovan's Annual February Writing Project. The words/phrases for this poem


originated here.

Katie has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at The Logonauts.

Thursday, February 09, 2017


A Bus Called Heaven
by Bob Graham
Candlewick Press, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

A community comes together, makes something from nothing, loses it, then wins it back in a game of table soccer.

The Tree: An Environmental Fable
by Neal Layton
Candlewick Press, 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

A timely fable to remind us that it is the humans' responsibility to take care of the environment, not destroy it for our own gain.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Still Learning to Read: Books We Love!

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 school year.

I love watching the tastes in the classroom change.  I love watching a student read a book and then that student recommends it to another and another and another. I love watching how books are informally passed around the classroom as readers know each other's tastes as readers.

This week, we worked on creating book reviews--we chose books we thought other 3rd graders would love to read. And we collected the book reviews on a Padlet.  So this Padlet is a glimpse into our classroom--the books that are currently popular.  Take some time to visit the Padlet, share it with your students and let us know if you read anything we recommend.  We hope you enjoy some of the books we love!

You can visit our Padlet here.


Monday, February 06, 2017

Exploring Identity

Thunder Boy Jr.
by Sherman Alexie
illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
review copy from the public library

Thunder Boy just wants a normal name. He knows his name is special. "I am the only Thunder Boy who has ever lived." Except for the fact that he shares his name with his dad. He wants his OWN name. He thinks of the things he's done in his life (wonderful disconnects between the words and pictures for savvy readers/viewers) and comes up with all kinds of possible names, from the fierce Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth to the silly Mud in His Ears. In the end, his dad gives him a new name that is all kinds of perfect.

by Ross Burach
HarperCollins, February 14, 2017
review copy provided by the publisher

Giraffe keeps being treated like he's a chair, and he just can't get the words out when he has the chance to explain that he's a giraffe, not a chair. He tries building a chair so that others can clearly see he's not a chair, but that doesn't work. And when giraffe decides that he will stand up to the NEXT animal he sees...and that turns out to be a lion...it doesn't turn out quite like he'd planned, but he is able to tell everyone the next day. You can use the last page to teach irony. Now that Giraffe has let everyone know what he isn't, he needs to be more aware of those around him!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Poetry Friday -- Education is Not a Business

photo via unsplash
Education is Not a Business

The child lines up his teddy bears
to teach them ABCs.
He guides them gently in the task,
"The way Miss Smith taught me."

"We learn to share, hold hands in line,
protect and help and hug.
At story time in the media center
we find our place on the rug."

The profits from our nation's schools
aren't measured with nickels and dimes.
Our future's there within those walls --
let's polish them 'til they shine.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2017

This is a poem for Laura Shovan's Annual February Writing Project. The words/phrases for this poem


originated here.

Penny has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Penny and Her Jots.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
by Walter Dean Myers
illustrated by Floyd Cooper
HarperCollins, 2017
review copy provided by the publisher

Frederick Douglass helped to write history, and his story is one that can inspire young people follow in his footsteps, becoming strong readers and effective speakers in order to change the wrongs they see in their world.

When Frederick Douglass realized that his owner wanted to prevent him from learning to read in order to keep him in his place, and when he listened to the owner's children speaking clearly and directly, using all the right words, "He knew that reading could make a difference in how a person lived."

Douglass' eloquent speaking ability was utilized by the abolitionists. "Here was a man who could actually tell people what it was like to be a slave." Douglass also became a writer, a leader in urging Lincoln to enlist black soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War, and the consul-general for the U.S. in Haiti.