Monday, August 08, 2016

(Almost) In Time for the Olympics

One of the sections of my classroom library that is perpetually lacking is the sports books -- both nonfiction and fiction. I struggle with nonfiction because there are so many sports students are interested in and the famous players change with every season, it seems. I struggle with fiction because for every 10 readers who are sporty, 5 like to do sports AND read stories about sports, but 5 like to do sports AND NOT read stories about sports.

So, when students are interested in sports I either send them to the school library or bring them a stack of books from the public library. Another great option is found in the Epic app. Epic is free for educators.

Since the Olympics are on, there's bound to be an upswing in requests for sports books. In addition to the offerings on the Epic app, these two newer National Geographic titles are sure to be popular:

Kids love to browse the National Geographic Weird but True! books. Where else can you learn tidbits of information about the Pig Olympics, Skijoring, and Bo-Taoshi?

This thin volume is packed with sports information and nonfiction minilessons (table of contents, diagram, pictures and captions, compare/contrast, main ideas and details, headings, and an interactive glossary (multiple choice quiz with the answers at the bottom of the page).

Friday, August 05, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Gratitude List

Gratitude List

Praise be this morning for waking early,
tree crickets buzzing, the humid air,
the puffy clouds lined with pink first light.
Praise be my morning tea, steaming hot,
the cat underneath my feet,
the caterpillar on the sprig of dill
in a juice glass on the kitchen table.
Praise be these blueberries from Michigan,
this yogurt, thick and creamy,
from a local farm co-op. Praise be the basil,
sturdy and fragrant in the morning light,
and for the tall purple ironweed and the
goldenrod, both on the verge of blooming.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

When the poem Gratitude List by Laura Foley showed up in my inbox via The Writer's Almanac, I knew I wanted to use it as a mentor text and paint a picture of a midwestern morning to mirror her ocean beach morning. It was a fun exercise and a good reminder that borrowing from another writer sometimes makes my own writing not just better, but possible on a day when I'm not sure I have anything to write about! Yes, this will for sure be a writing workshop minilesson in my 5th grade classroom!

Gratitude List

Praise be this morning for sleeping late,
the sandy sheets, the ocean air,
the midnight storm that blew its waters in.
Praise be the morning swim, mid-tide,
the clear sands underneath our feet,
the dogs who leap into the waves,
their fur, sticky with salt,
the ball we throw again and again.
Praise be the green tea with honey,
the bread we dip in finest olive oil,
the eggs we fry. Praise be the reeds,
gold and pink in the summer light,
the sand between our toes,
our swimsuits, flapping in the breeze.

by Laura Foley (used with permission of the author)

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

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Be Careful What You Scorn


I’ve learned to be careful what I scorn.

I may or may not have written these text messages:
“…(Pokémon Go) is so against all I believe about interacting with the real world.”
“…why use augmented reality to capture a fake thingie when you could learn to ID birds and trees or spot a REAL preying mantis?”

And then I may or may not have downloaded the Pokémon Go app as a matter of “professional curiosity” and walked out into a side street in the dark of night (accompanied by a sensible husband with a flashlight who insisted I wear shoes) to capture my first “fake thingie.”

Perhaps I did do a little research one morning before my bike ride to find out what exactly those blue towers are for (you swipe the picture of the place and charge up on Poké Balls) and perhaps I did stop a couple of times on my ride to capture Pokémon and gather ammo.

Okay, I admit it. I did all those things. And I will also admit that I am having fun fumbling around with a app...a facet of popular culture that I previously either ignored or outright scorned.

I’ve made it to a whopping level 3, and I’m not going to do any (more) research online to figure out what exactly the point of all of this really is, or what else there is to do in this game besides open the app every time I’m in a new place to see what invisible towers and creatures might be lurking. I don’t even want to think about the battles that apparently happen at the Pokémon gyms after I’ve gotten to level 5.

The research I can’t wait to do will come from conversations with my students about this phenomenon. I’m as sure that they’ll be eager to teach me as I am that they will have been playing this game since it’s release.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had an authentic “in” when it comes to popular culture. I know the books, but not the movies, music, celebrities, TV shows, or (usually) video games that make up the world of my students (or my young colleagues, for that matter). I’m looking forward to being able to being a bit of an insider, and it’s definitely worth remembering that scorn slams door shut, while dipping one’s toes in the strange waters of a differently augmented reality can open doors.

(UPDATE: Since writing this post a week ago, I am now on Level 5 (how do I join a team??), I know where to find my Pokédex, and I have hatched an egg by walking for 2km.)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Thinking About Books and the Classroom Library

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.

It is August 1st so  many of us are busy getting our classrooms ready for our new students!  We start school in 2 weeks and there is lots to think about.  I have been in twice and thought I'd share a piece of the process I've been through so far. 

My room after being cleaned this summer--my view from the door!

Reorganizing books always takes the most time for  me. I love the room design thinking --especially after reading The Third Teacher and the Language of Room Design a few years ago. I love thinking about spaces in the room and the ways they might support student learning and I will post about those spaces in the next week or two.  Today I'll focus on some of the thinking that I've done as I've thought about revising the classroom library from how we left it in the spring to how it will support students early in the year. I know students will love different books as beginning-of-the-year third graders than my end-of-the-year third graders enjoyed by springtime last year.  So taking a look at the series baskets and the organization is important. I always begin by asking myself lots of questions:

  • Which books were popular last year?
  • Which books did kids not read--are there any books or series that are maybe outdated?
  • What kinds of books support readers early in the year?
  • Which books should I highlight during the first few weeks of school to support independent reading?
  • Which books did not get enough use because they weren't accessible to kids?
  • Which new books/series might I add to the classroom library?
  • Are there any authors that I want to highlight early in the school year?

Our meeting area is an area that I have used recently to highlight books we have read or learned from recently.  A few years ago I added this bench from IKEA that would house those books, knowing they would rotate so kids would have easy access to books that we had read recently.  Last year, I started #classroombookaday, a classroom practice that Jillian Heise and Donalyn Miller created. It is a daily that is one of our favorite times of the day. We end each day with a picture book and log these on a wall above our cubbies. Kids loved this time and revisited the books often throughout the year.  I had a basket for these books thinking I'd rotate them in and out as they became less popular but kids used all the books all year.  So this year, I wanted to have a space dedicated to #classroombookaday--a space that I knew would be big enough to hold all of the books we read and one that will grow as the year goes on. I found this to be extremely important to 3rd grade because this routine valued picture books and most kids read a few picture books every day because of it. So I bought several large white baskets to house these books during the year.  There is also space for other baskets that will rotate based on our current units of study, readings, etc.

Another area that I changed was my poetry area.  Last year, I had two full three-shelf units of poetry books. The kids almost never read them. They were spine out on the shelf and weren't engaging enough for kids.  I weeded my poetry collection down by about half and decided to display them differently. I purchased more of the baskets that I used in the meeting area because they hold lots of books that kids can browse by puling the basket to the floor next to them.  At first I used the white baskets but then realized I had 5 gray baskets -the perfect number for the poetry collection I had.  I know that visual clues are important to young children so having all of the poetry in gray baskets will be another way for them to think of them as one area of the classroom library.  I housed them on the bottom shelf of another 8 cubby shelf from IKEA. On the top shelf, some students will house their individual book bins. (Still to do: Label the baskets as poetry.)

My next job was to go through the chapter books in the classroom that were no longer front and center. Our classroom library changes throughout the year as we discover new series, change as readers, grow out of some books and into others.  Because of that I have to go through the books and pull those books that I know will be important to have out early in the year.  I am thinking about what kids might read but also about how to make sure to value books at various levels so that students do not get the message that long difficult books are what is valued in the classroom. I want to introduce them to books that they fall in love with--books that help them develop behaviors as readers early in the year.  This is the stack I pulled today, knowing I have to create new baskets to replace baskets most readers won't get to until the end of the year. All books will still be part of the classroom library because readers need access to lots of books but the books I highlight in baskets and in displays will focus on lots of books like those I pulled today.

Finally, I take a look at books we've discovered recently. I feel lucky as a third grade teacher that so many authors and publishers see the need for quality transitional chapter books. It seems there are new ones coming out more regularly lately.  When a new series begins, it is usually only a book or two but as time goes on, series grow and they are in need of their own basket/space in the classroom library. These are some of the new series we discovered last year and that will be great supports to readers early this year.  Just when you think you have more baskets than you need, you find that you need just a few more. So a new order of baskets is on its way to me from amazon and they will house these new series as well as a few others.

I think I have about 4-5 more hours of work thinking about and revising the classroom library for the fall.  I plan to go in one more day to just focus on that job--pulling the books that I want to highlight to independent reading, weeding through picture books and nonfiction to reflect on what changes are needed there, and creating new author baskets in both fiction and nonfiction areas of the library. Lots to do but some of the most important work to get ready for a new group of readers!

How are you rethinking your classroom library to be ready for the first weeks of the school year?

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook starting September 1 by joining our group here.)
Our new edition of Still Learning to Read will be released on August 15 but you can preview the entire book online at Stenhouse!

Monday, August 01, 2016

HUE Animation for Maker Space or Genius Hour

Hue Animation Studio
by Hue Animation
Kit comes with HUE HD camera with mic; the HUE Book of Animation, a 60-page full color book; a mini stage with background and 'green screen' and stop motion software with sound effects, printable activities and backdrops.
Review kit provided by Hue

Stop motion animation couldn't be easier than it is with the Hue studio. Once you've got the software installed, you plug the camera into your USB port and...get creative!

The first time I fiddled with the camera, I experienced firsthand one of the basics of stop motion animation -- the more pictures you take with smaller movements of your character, the better your movie turns out! The Hue software makes this easy by providing the image of the picture you just took on the left and a ghost image of that picture on the right. I took the pink box completely out of the screenshot below to show this ghost image, but when you're shooting your movie, you use the ghost to determine how far/what direction to move the object for the next shot. The on-screen tools are very intuitive, and the project autosaves on your computer. It's easy to create a QuickTime of the final movie so you can share your work. This is a tool with lots of "stretch." You can get good results in a short amount of time, or you can go crazy with creativity (including backdrops, sound effects, and an actual storyline) and get fabulous results.

I predict that stop motion animation will be a hit in Genius Hour this year. In less than 15 minutes, I will demonstrate the basics to my students and then I will be able to step back and watch what they create using objects from around the classroom (or that they bring from home), making scenery, writing/acting out stories, or just fiddling around the way I did for this test movie. My process:

  1. I grabbed the button box where I gathered all the loose buttons I found in the laundry room/sewing area of mom's house. 
  2. I chose a place to film that had decent light without a glare. 
  3. I set the buttons free. 

I didn't know when I started what those buttons would do once they were free, so just like when I start writing with only the very smallest of a seed idea, I had the experience of surprise that comes with following my creativity wherever it chooses to lead!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

PSA -- For Teachers Who Are Writers

Creative Nonfiction is working on a project to recognize the work that teachers do. They are hosting an essay contest -- "We're looking for stories from the widest possible variety of perspectives and experiences with the theme 'How We Teach.' "

The winning essay will receive $1,000, and the runner up receives $500; all essays will be considered for publication in a special "How We Teach" issue of the magazine in spring 2017. The deadline for submissions is August 29, 2016

Details of what they're looking for are below. You can find the complete guidelines on their website, here.

How We Teach
For the spring 2017 issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine, we’re looking for original essays about teaching—whether in a traditional classroom or online; in summer camp or college; in preschool or in a prison; in the woods or in a workshop.  
We welcome personal stories as well as profiles, and we’re open to a very wide range of experiences and circumstances. Above all, we are looking for narratives—true stories, rich with scene, character, detail, and a distinctive voice—that give insight into what it means to teach.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Today's Lesson

today's lesson 
persistence, by chicory 
(if mown, bloom low)

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

Margaret has today's Poetry Friday roundup at Reflections on the Teche.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Continuing to Study Issues of Race and Diversity

A few weeks ago, I committed to studying to learn about the race issues in our country.  I know that many of us have this same goal--to better understand what is happening so that we can work to create change.  Over the last few weeks I have read several articles that have helped me in different ways. Some are articles that helped me understand the issues from different perspectives. Others are pieces that help me think about my role in schools and as a teacher. I so appreciate everyone who has written and/or shared pieces thoughtfully and intentionally on social media. I think one thing we can do is to share pieces that we think will help others move forward in their understanding. It is sometimes a bit scary, as we know everyone in our feed may not agree with our stance. But I've decided that I am too committed to working toward change to worry about that anymore. Here are the things that I thought were worth sharing, not necessarily because I agree with them wholeheartedly but because they made me think beyond my current level of understanding.

I, Racist by John Metta at Those People

 What Writers of Color Say We Should All Read Now by Laurel Hertz at Star Tribune

How Marginalized Families are Pushed Out of PTAs by Casey Quinlan at The Atlantic

On Race, Our Behavior Proves Us Liars by Leonard Pitts, Jr. at the Miami Herald

Why I'm a Racist by Jeff Cook at The Huffington Post

Let's Step Up by Anne Lee at Nerdy Book Club

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A BLOG SERIES: Still Learning to Read: Continuing the Conversation

In 2003, Karen Szymusiak and I wrote the book Still Learning to Read (Stenhouse). We believed strongly that children do not stop learning to read after their first few years of school. We have learned, over the course of our teaching, that grades 3-6 are critical years in our students' reading lives--that they have so much more to learn as readers once they've started to make sense of text.

Next month, the 2nd Edition of Still Learning to Read will be released by Stenhouse.  So much has changed in the 13 years since we wrote. Although our beliefs about learners remain the same, there are things we have learned and changes we have made to our teaching.  We feel that this edition of the book captures our new learning as well as the current issues teachers are dealing.

One thing we know is that we'll never stop learning about readers in grades 3-6.  We are fascinated by them and feel grateful to have the opportunity to learn with and from them.  This year, I will be teaching 3rd grade again and I know that I will learn new things about transitional readers every day. So in order to continue the conversation around literacy learning in grades 3-6, I will be starting a blog series called "Still Learning to Read: Continuing the Conversation".   This series will run every Tuesday beginning August 2.  Each week, I'll capture some moment in the classroom--it may be a conversation with a student, a book that we shared, some student work, a chart we created.  It will just be a moment that I learned from. This series will help me chronicle my year of learning and to invite you into the conversation.

To celebrate the release of the new book, Karen and I will be hosting a Stenhouse Twitter chat focusing on the First Six Weeks of School.  The Twitter chat will be on Monday, August 1 at 8:30. Follow the hashtag #SLTRead for this chat an our yearlong conversation around readers in 
grades 3-6.

We are also planning to run a Facebook group so if you are interested in talking about the book with others online, we invite you to join.

Learning about readers in grades 3-6 has been my passion for most of my teaching life.  I am excited to be able to expand the conversation and learn more about this incredible stage in a reader's life!

Look for the first post in the series next Tuesday, August 2 . I'll be sharing my process for
 thinking about changes to room set-up this year.

Monday, July 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I've been reading a lot this summer and have not shared much of my reading on the blog yet. So, for today's It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (Thanks to Jen and Kelly for hosting the roundup!) I thought I'd share some books that I thought were must-reads for different reasons. 

Picture Books

I have quite a collection of books about reading and I am happy to be adding this new picture book!

This book made me laugh out loud.  A funny book about a barnacle with nothing much to do.

A great story about a girl who has a fabulous dollhouse that she has created from a cardboard box.  I love the whole idea of creation behind this story.

The Cookie Fiasco and We Are Growing! (September 20)
These are the first two books coming out in the new "Elephant and Piggie Like Reading" series. They are both fabulously fun and perfect for young readers!

Middle Grade Novels

The Poet's Dog (September 13)
A new book by Patricia MacLachlan. I loved this book--the characters, their stories, the relationships. It appealed to me as an adult reader and think it would be a good read for upper elementary students.

In this story of September 10 , we get to know several characters will be impacted personally by the events of September 11.  This is very well done for middle grade students.

A book told in two voices--one character just moved to a new school from India.  Joe, has been at the school his whole life but still feels like he does not belong.  A powerful story with lots to talk about.

I love Jason Reynold's YA books and was thrilled to see his new middle grade novel.  I loved this book--it is a quieter story but his characters make this book what it is. They will stay with me for a very long time.

Wish (August 30)
Barbara O'Connor does it again. She writes the perfect middle grade novel every time.  This is the story of Charlie, a stray dog and a wish.

I have been looking forward to this book for months, ever since Donalyn Miller recommended it. It is one of the best middle grade/middle school fantasies I've read in a long time. I loved everything about it--the characters, the issues and themes, the plot, the writing.