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
there.
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
arrival.
Even if we knew
we would not admit.
Even if we lived
we would think
we were just
germinating.

To live is to be
uncertain.
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!



SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

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 mind 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!