Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cyber PD

by Hugh MacLeod at

This graphic by Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid, and the single word


constitute my response to chapters 1-3 of Peter Johnston's Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives, in the Cyber PD event sponsored by Cathy, Jill, and Laura.

Check the other posts that Cathy has rounded up at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community for more eloquent responses (and to figure out what this post might mean).

Why Graphic Novels?

Explorer: The Mystery Boxes
edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet Books (Abrams), 2012

Why Graphic Novels?
Because they're not always easy, and they're not always fluff.
The seven stories in this book all answer the question, "What's in the box?" but they all do it VERY differently.
Graphic Novel readers will enjoy finding the art and story telling of favorite authors Kazu Kibuishi (AMULET) and Raina Telgemeier (SMILE), and discovering the new styles of other graphic novelists.

by John Lechner
Candlewick Press, 2007

by John Lechner
Candlewick Press, 2009

Why Graphic Novels?
Because there are text structures like a prologue and an epilogue, a newspaper, a map, a song, journal entries and diagrams in a story that features a SEED as the protagonist!!

written by Jorge Aguirre
art by Rafael Rosado
story by Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre
color by John Novak
additional color by Matthew Schenk
First Second, 2012

Why Graphic Novels?
Because the characters stay with us and make us hope for a sequel. (Franki's review here.)

written by Brandon Terrell
illustrated by Gerardo Sandoval
colored by Benny Fuentes
Stone Arch Books, 2011

Why Graphic Novels? 
So we can talk about stereotyping, and stated vs. implied themes, and how books are marketed.

written and illustrated by Mark Fearing
created by Mark Fearing and Tim Rummel
Chronicle Books, 2012

Why Graphic Novels?
Because they are not always quick reads. Sometimes they are 245 pages and 9 chapters long.
They make us think again about our Earth-centric view of the universe.
They give the terror of missing your bus and being the new kid at school a whole new dimension.

Why Graphic Novels?
Why not? They're FUN!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN by Steve Moline

I have been thinking a lot about 21st Century Literacies over the last several years. I know that the definition of literacy has expanded and I have been trying to work through what this means for our work with kids in school. How do we help kids be successful with reading that is becoming more complex. And, with the Common Core, I have been thinking about how to really include more nonfiction into the classroom in a way that really supports deep reading. A book I read recently that helped me think more about both of these important issues was I SEE WHAT YOU MEAN: VISUAL LITERACY K-8 by Steve Moline. This is a Stenhouse book that was first published a long time ago--before anyone was really talking about Visual Literacy. It was a book I loved long ago and one I love again with Moline's fresh thinking.

This book seems even more important now than it was years ago when I first fell in love with it. I've been working
working with elementary children for years and have really been observing the ways they are approaching information that is both text and visual.  I have seen lots of skimming and scanning and a huge need for teaching around how to putting information together in a way that builds deep understanding.

This book really helped me think through how to better support students in their reading of all things visual.  On page 1, Moline states, "Visual literacy is not a cute new toy for children to play with; it is the means by which we manage in the every day world."

The book is organized into chapters based on the different kinds of visual texts that make the most sense in the classroom. It is by no means comprehensive but the way in which Moline talks about each one of these, helped me see a new way to look at visual texts as a whole. There are chapters on simple diagrams, maps, analytic diagrams, process diagrams, structure diagrams, graphs and graphic design. I learned a lot of important vocabulary that helped me learn about the differences in the way information is shared. Moline takes some time to help us see the difference between analytic diagrams and process diagrams. I'm not thinking that our kids need to understand these words but for us to understand visual texts in a deeper way, we will be better able to teach our students to read with meaning.

I love that there are whole chapters on things like maps and graphs. It was easy for me to dig in and to see where this teaching might fit in across content areas.  But even more than the specifics around the types of visual texts our students should be able to read and understand, Moline made big points that will really help me throughout all of my work in visual literacy.

One point that Moline makes over and over is the importance of creating visual texts.  He says, "There is a big difference between asking students to label a preexisting diagram (on a worksheet, for example) and asking them to draw the diagram themselves as well as to label it. This is because a large part of the understanding that students gain from these texts lies in reconstructing the pictorial elements of the diagram."

Moline also makes the point about purpose--what is the purpose of the visual. When do readers need to read the entire piece and when might they skim and scan for certain information.  Moline talks a lot about this understanding of the reader as a teaching point--if we want our students to be creators of visual texts, we must help them understand how the reader will make sense of it. He says, "Instead, by focusing students on matching form to purpose, we can show them that writing is above all communication with a reader who will expect our text to be accessible, memorable, concise and clear."

As I was reading, I was constantly jotting notes in the margins--ideas I could use in Social Studies, ways I could incorporate things like Google Maps, a good minilesson idea, etc. There are lots of clear examples throughout--published pieces as well as student samples. A website is also included that has color images of the images throughout the book.

One more point--Moline gives us clear guidelines about assessment, helping us to think about what it is we'd be looking for if we asked students to create their own map or diagram.  Each section helps us think through the visual texts, their purpose and possibilities for assessment.

This seems like a must read book and one that will cross lots of professional circles. It seems important for classroom teachers and librarians who are working on visual texts and thinking about 21st Century Learning. It seems important for people digging into the nonfiction components of Common Core. It would be a good read for content specialists and visual texts are so important to science, social studies and math. And I can see technology specialists wanting to read this book as there are huge implications for their work with children and teachers.

I am really excited about this book and plan to return to it over and over throughout the school year. I know that I need to make the visual piece of information more important in my teaching and this book has helped me think about how that will be possible.

Monday, July 09, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this great weekly event at TEACH MENTOR TEXTS!

I haven't done a It's Monday post for a while so I'll catch you up on the last few weeks of my reading. I spent  the end of June reading some series books that Tony Keefer and others recommended. I am trying to mostly catch up on books I will need to know as I go back into a 4th grade classroom this fall.  Fun books that lots of kids might be reading in early 4th grade. Although I had these in the library, I hadn't gotten a chance to read them so I spent some time doing that.

DRAGONBREATH by Ursula Vernon was a fun read. I can see why lots of my 3rd graders were hooked last year. The character is a likable one and the plot was fun.  I can see readers of graphic novels such a Babymouse enjoying this series as well. Mary Lee reviewed the first in this series 3 YEARS AGO. So I am definitely a little late in reading it. Glad I finally did.

I enjoyed SNARF ATTACK (RIOT BROTHERS) far more than I expected to.  I am not big on goofy humor but I liked these two characters and found myself laughing out loud often throughout the book. I will definitely get more of this series for the classroom. The book was definitely goofy, but in a good way. There are big supports for readers and the plot and characters are engaging.

I also enjoyed the book from Jake Maddox's SOCCER SHOOTOUT.  This is a book that is part of a collection of sports books by this same author. The books seem great for readers who are not yet ready for longer books. Maddox also seems like an author that can stretch readers beyond the sports they are reading. This story had a good plat about two boys who play the same position in soccer. The real-life sports issue was a good one and the plot was definitely engaging. Looking forward to getting more of these for the classroom. I discovered the Sports Illustrated Graphic Novels earlier this year and think Maddox's books will support readers who love to read sports stories about kids their age.

I read my first book in the BINDI series called A WHALE OF A TIME. Bindi's Wildlife Adventures is a nice series that focuses on topics different from most series books. Author Bindi Irwin is the daughter of the Crocodile Hunter and has a passion for animals and the environment. In this particular story, Bindi and her friends are out on a boat when they notice an oil spill from a nearby boat. The work together to do what they can to get the spill taken care of and to protect the whales that live in this part of the ocean. These books are short so very accessible to kids. But I haven't seen other series books for this age that focus on kids and the environment. Readers of animal books will love this series.

I also read GUY-WRITE by Ralph Fletcher which I LOVED and reviewed last week.

This week, I spent time reading books on my ever-growing TBR stack. I was thrilled to pick up an ARC Of Sharon Creech's upcoming novel THE GREAT UNEXPECTED. This was a great story about two girls who meet a boy who falls out of a tree. Lots happens from there and the girls get caught up in quite an adventure--one that brings them closer to those people who love them. This is another great story by Creech about belonging and finding out who you really are. This book is due out in early September.

My favorite read of the week was HORTEN's MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS by Lissa Evans. This is the story of Horten who moves to a new city with his parents. While he is there, he discovers that he had a great uncle who was a magician and that his workshop is hidden somewhere in the city. Horten goes on a quest to find the workshop and makes some friends along the way.  This story is just plain fun and it looks to be the first in a series.

I have been meaning to read EMILY'S FORTUNE by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for a while and I finally go to it this week. I can see why Mary Lee raves about it. This is a fun story of a girl who has lost her family and is on a trip to live with her aunt across the county.  But the trip is not an easy one as she escapes many close calls with people who don't have her best interests in mind. A fun fast-paced story. (Mary Lee reviewed this one a while back.)

Finally, I read ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO'S--Barbara O'Connor's upcoming novel. I LOVE LOVED LOVED this book and will write more about it soon. I was so happy to have been lucky enough to read it early and I can't wait to get a copy of the book when it is released on October 2. More to come on this book soon, I promise!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Kindred Souls

Kindred Souls
by Patricia MacLachlan
Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2012

My eyes welled up on page two of this book, and when I put it down I gulped back a sob.

Patricia MacLachlan dedicated this book to the memory of her father. "...born in a sod house on the prairie he loved."

My father would have been 85 this year. He was born in a sod house.

How I wish he were here, watching the birds -- no hummingbirds, but definitely redtailed hawks. How I wish a good dog -- a farm dog -- an angel dog -- named Lucy could find him. How I wish I could build him a sod house.

This book is a poem that you read with your heart. It refuses to be condensed into a plot summary. Go read it. Keep a hankie close by.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Organizing the Classroom Library

I've spent some time in my new classroom over the past few weeks. I love being there and thinking about the space. I know it is early, but I need to start the year off organized and I wanted to get things moved and unpacked. I wanted to spend time thinking about the best way to use the space. (My husband is always a huge help during these first few days in the classroom--moving things over and over until it feels like it will work for student learning:-) One of the biggest jobs is always organizing the classroom library. I want the library to teach students about being a reader. I want the books to be accessible but I also want the organization to help students learn ways of choosing books, finding favorite authors, trying new things, etc. I want the library to meet the needs of every reader in the classroom from the very first day. I feel like I finally have a good start on the library and thought I'd share some of the process.

One wall of the classroom (the one that you see as you walk in the door) is a wall of shelves. The shelves are built in and are pretty much from floor to ceiling. I knew I wanted kids to see books when they walked in and I also knew the students could not reach the top shelf easily. (It was tempting to use that top shelf for my own storage but a good friend taught me the importance of eliminating messes that you can see from the doorway and I always create messes in storage areas.)  So I lowered a few of the shelves, making space on top for oversized books to display. I know these books will be gone most of the time but there seem to be so many books that are a little too big for a regular shelf and I don't want those to get lost --I want them to be visible. So I used this shelf area for mostly fiction--baskets are sorted by series and authors that I am thinking will be popular in the early part of 4th grade. I have a variety of easier and more difficult series/authors. I know these will change but I want everyone to walk in seeing old favorites as well as new possibilities. The last shelf in this area is designated to the fiction novels that don't fit into an author/series category but may as the year goes on. I want 4th graders to begin to know themselves and their tastes. Finding authors and series you love will help them think ahead as readers and begin conversations around who they are as readers.

The Smartboard is front/center in the room and I want it to be accessible during read aloud, minilessons etc. So I created the meeting space around the board but not so that it is the center. I built out the shelves a bit so that the "front" is at the easel but it is a flexible space for using whatever tools available. I plan to put nonfiction on these shelves next to the easel and behind.

Behind the easel/meeting area will be the nonfiction books. I am thinking hard about ways to organize these so that they are more accessible for student reading. I want students to choose these for independent reading, to find topics and authors they love, find series that hook them--just as they do with fiction. I also wanted to create a comfy space for sitting with books and friends. This area of the library is next-up on my list but the space is set.

I have 4 small shelves in the back of the room at the edge of the meeting area. I plan to put picture books on these--those we'll use for independent reading, writing mentors, etc. Many picture books are also in the NF section.  I always hesitate putting picture books in a different area from fiction novels but it seemed to make sense with the space this year. I'll use the two shelves on the right for picture books.  I plan to use the shelf closest to the Smartboard to highlight new books. I am hoping to get some low display shelves for directly in front of the Smartboard to highlight books that are currently being read/discussed in classroom. 

This is my favorite shelf! It is right next to the picture books and it houses graphic novels. I was happy to see that I've really added to my GN collection in the past few years and I had enough to justify an entire shelf. I think this will be a good message for kids--to see that graphic novels are as important as any other kind of book in the classroom. There are a variety of authors and genres represented with Babymouse playing a key role, as she should! This shelf makes me happy!

I have built quite a collection of poetry for the classroom. Years ago, as I realized poetry was not a favorite for me, personally, I decided to deliberately build my poetry collection. As I was sorting books, I was shocked to see just how much that collection has grown. Our district gives each classroom a library of books an many are great poetry. So between my books and the ones in the district collection, I had to find a good space.

This is what you see when you walk straight into the classroom.  I decided to dedicate this whole area to poetry as I needed the space and it seems to fit well.  This space is off to the side a bit so a small rug and low table in front will make the poetry inviting. And I have top shelf space to change out books on display.  I may also add the word play books that I have to the top of this shelf. (You see the Bananagrams are already there.) Seems a fitting place.

These pictures might give the impression that the classroom only has books. But I believe strongly that kids needs lots of tools for learning.  And I want it all to be visible so students know right away that all tools are valued in the classroom.  Years ago, I had books visible with math and science materials in cabinets, out of view. I realized the message was not one I wanted to give so I now work hard to put as many tools as possible out there in the view of students. I want them to have visual reminders of all of the tools available for them and I want them to be able to access the tools readily.  Students' cubbies are on one wall of the classroom with storage underneath. I plan to use the bottom areas for board games (I have lots of math and learning games), building toys, science tools,  math manipulatives, etc.  The drawers near the sink are already filled with magnets, velcro, etc that kids can access. And I have a shelf near the doorway that will house supplies such as pencils, staplers, paper clips, sticky notes, etc.

Lots to do, but happy about the basics of the room so far.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Poetry Friday -- Storm Chasing

by Vincent Wixon

Clouds build all day,
hold west of the section.
Plowing east he feels them
piling darker, deeper.

(read the whole poem at The Writer's Almanac)

TORNADO WEATHER describes the lead-up to the storm -- the sudden change of temperature. The first stinging raindrops. The greenish sky.  Violet Nesdoly's amazing extended haiku LIGHTNING (from Poetry Friday last week) describes what it feels like to be in the middle of the lashing, flashing storm.

Last Friday morning, we had no inkling of the storm that would barrel down on us later that afternoon, ripping mature trees out of the ground and breaking smaller trees off like matchsticks.

Our house was only without power for 72 hours. I got an email from a friend whose service was restored last night at 11:00, after 7 DAYS without power. I'm sure there are still folks without power, or who, like our neighbor who lost his home when a tree fell on it, felt their lives veer suddenly in a new direction last Friday.

Here's the weirdest thing about this Poetry Friday post. I started this post last Thursday, intending to use a picture of an Eastern Colorado storm and the story of chasing it. Then I got distracted by the Wordle revision fun and set this post aside for later use. So was there really no inkling of the storm, or???

Tabatha has today's Poetry Friday roundup at The Opposite of Indifference.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

June Mosaic

So many stories this month. Family quilt stories, carousel memories, All Write inspirations, heat and drought, storm damage, two animal rescues (Coopers Hawk chick and a little dog named Troy).

I have five years of photos in my iPhoto (6,988 shots), and three more years archived from my old computer. There are four years worth of mosaics on Flickr. I realized at All Write, that what started as a modified version of Project 365 on Flickr has become a really powerful digital writer's notebook. Sometimes I sketch before I write, sometimes I web out my ideas, sometimes I pick from a list of brainstormed topics...and sometimes my prewriting is just look at a photo and either tell the story that's there, or imagine a new one.

You can see larger versions the pictures (and bits of stories in the captions) on Flickr.

Monday, July 02, 2012

GUY-WRITE by Ralph Fletcher

As many of you know, I received a copy of Ralph Fletchers book, GUY-WRITE:  WHAT EVERY GUY WRITER NEEDS TO KNOW a little bit early. If you must know, he actually handed it to me at the All Write dinner.  I felt terribly guilty about getting a copy when my good friends did not. (I am sure you can see the guilt and worry on my face in the photo above.) Anyway,  I was thrilled to get a copy before its release date and started reading right away. (The book is available this week-I would not be so mean as to review it before you could actually get your hands on a copy:-)

Ralph Fletcher has a knack for writing books about writing for kids. I have always loved his books and my students have learned so much from his wisdom.  One of my favorites to use with kids has always been A WRITER'S NOTEBOOK: UNLOCKING THE WRITER WITHIN YOU.  But I think after finishing GUY-WRITE, it might now be a tie.

GUY-WRITE is directed at middle grade/middle school boys. It is chapter book length with chapter titles like:  "Riding the Vomit Comet: Writing About Disgusting Stuff", "Sports Writing", and "Draw First and Write Later".  The book will definitely appeal to boy writers, and it has lots of wisdom for teachers as well.

Ralph Fletcher talks directly to boys in this book. He talks with honesty and purpose.  Readers will sense this right away. Not only does he talk with honesty but he includes a lot of humor.  Ralph talks to boys about writing "disgusting stuff",  when and how to include bloody scenes, the importance of drawing for some writers, and how to improve your sports writing. The booked is packed with tips on how to improve your writing--how to get better as a writer--focusing specifically on things like this.

The thing I maybe like best about this book is the balance Ralph finds between understanding the needs of boys as writers and understanding the limitations teachers/schools often put on them.  He knows that many schools don't allow any writing about weapons and he talks honestly to readers about this. He gives them advice on ways to talk to teachers about the importance of some of these things to their stories and he also talks to them about how to know what works for school writing.  In the process, he also teaches kids the when and how of writing "gross" or "battles". He pushes the point that there needs to be a point to including these and shows readers lots of examples of ways in which the writing is done well and in context of a good piece. And he is very honest when talking to readers about stories he's read by boys that are just episodes of grossness or violence without a plot or purpose.  He makes strong points throughout the book about the place of these things.

Another thing I love about this book is the set of Author Interviews sprinkled throughout the book.
 Ralph interviews some great authors who are pros at the kinds of writing Ralph writes about. Jon Scieszka's interview focuses on writing about disgusting stuff.  Greg Trine talks about superhero writing.  Five author interviews are included and each will be interesting to writers.

There are some good lessons here for teachers too. I feel like Ralph is writing to boy writers, but he is also writing to the adults in these writers' lives.  Ralph reminds us how important it is for some boys to draw before they write. He reminds us that there is good writing that includes bloodshed and that sometimes gross stuff does belong in a story. And since most of us (teachers) don't include this kind of thing in our own writing, he gives us ways to support kids who do include it.  His work helped me see that there is a craft to all of this writing and learning to do it well will help writers grow in all areas of their writing. He is an advocate for boy writers and is sometimes working to help adults better understand the ways in which we can support them.

The first book I read written by Ralph Fletchers was WHAT A WRITER NEEDS. It is still one of my favorite books on the teaching of writing. It was this book that defined for me what was meant by mentor text and how to use great text to teach students the craft of good writing within a good Writing Workshop. I thought of this book again when I was reading GUY-WRITE.  Ralph embeds mentor pieces throughout the book--letting young writers and teachers see all that is possible.  He focuses on boy writers and issues that seem to be more common with this gender, but as always, Ralph is speaking to all writers--reminding them about the qualities of good writing and helping them to grow.

My book has about 30 sticky notes stuck throughout. I tabbed so many pages that would make for a good minilesson. This book has huge possibilities. It provides me with a great resource to use not only for minilesson work, but in writing conferences. It will certainly be read cover to cover by many writers this year, I'm sure. And it will be a book I go back to for my own understanding.  I am pretty sure I'll need several copies of this one in the classroom this year and one that is just for me!

(Patrick Allen has another review of this book up on his blog. All-en-A-Day's Work.

Amelia Lost

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming 
Schwartz & Wade, 2011

Last night I finished reading Amelia Lost. This morning I read this on The Writer's Almanac:

It was 75 years ago today, in 1937, that Amelia Earhart was last heard from, somewhere over the Pacific. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, had set off in May from Miami to fly around the world in a Lockheed Electra. She said, "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it." 
They had completed all but about 7,000 miles of the trip when they landed in New Guinea. Maps of this part of the Pacific were inaccurate, and U.S. Coast Guard ships were in place to help guide them to their next stop, the tiny Howland Island. The weather was cloudy and rainy when they left New Guinea. At 7:42 a.m., Earhart communicated to the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca: "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." Her last transmission, about an hour later, was "We are running north and south." 
Franklin Roosevelt sent nine ships and 66 aircraft to search for the downed plane, to no avail. 
This month, 75 years after Earhart's disappearance, a new search team will use robotic submarines to comb the area where they think the Electra went down.

Cosmic, eh?

This is the kind of longer nonfiction I can imagine reading aloud to fourth grade and up. Fleming does an excellent job maintaining tension, even though we pretty much know the story. She does this by alternating between chapters about Earhart's disappearance and the search that was conducted for her, and chapters that tell her life story.

My next #bookaday/#paredownthetbrpile book will be The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie. At first glance, it might seem to be a ironic choice. But I'm interested to see what kind of overlap there is between Amelia, the legendary/mythic/iconic role model for women/girls, and the much-maligned toy role model/monster/psychological destroyer know as Barbie.