Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Still Learning to Read: The Power of Graphic Novels

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 looked around the room the other day and was struck by the number of students reading graphic novels.  It made my heart happy.  I have built our classroom collection of graphic novels over the past few years and have added so many quality titles and it was pretty incredible to see so many in the hands of my 3rd graders. I realized just how important these books have become to my 3rd grade readers.

 Not only are students totally engaged in their reading but they are learning so many things about becoming a reader:  Readers are finding new authors who they love.  Raina Telgemeir, Dav Pilkey, Dan Santat and Jennifer Holm are authors they love and recognize. The books are making their rounds in the classroom without any guidance from me. Kids are being introduced to books with more complexity because they are willing to give new things a try when something is in graphic novel format.

Mary Lee and I have written about graphic novels quite often over the years.  Looking back, I realized that it was in 2008 that I committed to reading graphic novels because I saw the power they have for kids. Over the past 8 years, I have become a more confident reader of graphic novels and have fallen in love with them myself.  I have discovered so many amazing books and authors and am so glad I've been able to add so many to our classroom.

There are great resources out there for teachers and parents on the benefits of Graphic Novels.  One is
Raising Super Readers: The Benefits of Comic Books and Graphic Novels from Scholastic and the other is Raising a Reader! How Comics and Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read with an introduction by Jennifer Holm Holm from CBLDF.

And if you need a great book talk on a graphic novel to share with your students, the amazing Livbits shares the amazingness of El Deafo and Cece Bell in one of her newest videos!

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


Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Join the It's Monday! What Are You Reading party at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers!

I read two great middle grade novels this week. Both were novels in verse.  These seem to get me out of whatever reading rut I am in and these two were definitely fabulous choices. I would highly recommend both of them for upper elementary and middle school students.

Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes

Unbound by Ann E. Burg


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Books I've Handed to Kids Recently

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 is always around this time of year when I find that handing a book to a child can make a difference for the rest of the year.  This is the time of year when I know readers well enough to chit chat books on the way to lunch or at recess. This is the time of year when I start leaving a book in a child's book bin that I think they might like.  There is something about a young reader knowing that you thought about him/her specifically when you saw a book.  There is something about handing a child a specific book that strengthens a relationship.  This week, I noticed myself informally handing books to children in informal ways.  This is one of the most important jobs I do--so I have to know lots of books. Always. It seems that every year my kids have different tastes as readers, so I can't just recommend the books I've always recommended.  It is always a personal act--the act of recommending a book.  These are some of the books I've handed to kids (or ordered for kids) this week.

So many of my kids have become Raina fans. Raina's name comes up like she is a student in our class!  A few of us  were chatting informally as they came in the other day about them.  They especially love Smile and Sisters.  This week, I pulled out the Babysitter's Club Graphix. (I seem to only have #!--my other 2 have disappeared since last year so I had to reorder!)   Kids were thrilled to know about more books that Raina illustrated and there is a list of people waiting to dig into this series. (I love this kind of recommendation because it builds on what they love (Raina) but also introduces them to a new author that they might fall in love with (Ann Martin). 

One of my students had fallen in love with the Zita books  (By Ben Hatke) and was more engaged when reading them than I'd seen her all year. I remembered that I had received a review copy of Mighty Jack by the same author, earlier this month and I mentioned it to her and left it at her table the next day. She loved it and passed it on to another reader in the class who she thought would love it.

The Little Shaq books went around my room early in the year but they seem to be making their rounds again. Last week, I had a conversation with a student who was reading the 2nd book. We checked and were THRILLED to find out that the 3rd book in the Little Shaq series (Star of the Week) was due out THIS WEEK!  It should arrive today and was the talk of the room.  Not only did I get to hand a book to a child but this also built some awareness for those "hot off the press" books. 

The Treehouse Books were popular in my room last year and I realized they were published about a year earlier in Australia than they are here.  Lucky for Amazon, I can get copies of the books that are not quite published in the US yet which I think is the case with The 65 Story Treehouse which should arrive this week so one of my readers can read this last book (so far) in the series.

I bought the first two books in the new Super Happy Party Bears series after Ann DiBella recommended them on Facebook. I love having new books, doing a quick share in the morning before we start our day and handing them off to the first readers! Kids always love to be the first readers of new books so this is a fun way to hand books to kids.  I need to read this one as soon as I can get it back as it seems like a fun read for 3rd graders.

We visited the Columbus Zoo on a field trip a few weeks ago. My kids aren't reading much nonfiction yet so I picked up two of Jack Hanna's Wild But True books and gave them to a few of the first kids to walk in the room the next morning. I always love to hand books to kids in the morning as they start a buzz in the classroom with lots of kids curious about the books.

My students know me well enough now to know that they don't have to love any of the books I recommend to them. They know that they own their reading and that when I recommend a book, they are not obligated to read it. But, they also know that I think about them and their individual tastes and needs as readers and that matters. Knowing my kids as readers and combining that with what I know about books is one of my most important roles.  And one of my favorites:-) 

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


Friday, October 14, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Below the Surface

image via unsplash

For Once, Then, Something

by Robert Frost

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

This is a new-to-me Robert Frost poem. Seems important these days to look beyond the surface, no matter how scary that Something is that we might find there.

Irene has the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Live Your Poem.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Micro Genres

image from Unsplash

Agrarian Fantasy, Amnesia and Memory Loss Fiction, and Hockey Romance are three of the “Trending Micro Genres” Audible recently identified in an email blast to members. The idea of a Micro Genre got me thinking differently about the books that have been popular in my 5th grade classroom in the first month of school.

As a part of #classroombookaday (the amazing ritual of reading aloud a picture book every day), I have stumbled into these Micro Genres:


Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada


It’s All About Me-Ow by Hudson Talbot
The Disgusting Critters series by Elise Gravel


City Dog Country Frog by Mo Willems
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

When I look at the books students have chosen for independent reading, these Micro Genres have appeared:

MYTHOLOGY GRAPHIC NOVELS (really a format and not a genre, but let's go with it)

George O’Connor Olympians series

REALISTIC FICTION/MEMOIR GRAPHIC NOVELS (another format, but students are starting to learn that every genre can be found in this most favorite of all formats!)

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
El Deafo by CeCe Bell

SURPRISING TRUE STORIES (biography and autobiography, but also historical fiction, because of that kernel of truth)

Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares
Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson

When I was in middle school, my favorite Micro Genre was BOOKS THAT MAKE ME CRY. I read Love Story, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grow, and Little Britches over and over and over again. Stretched out on my bed on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I could re-read one of those books between lunch and dinner, and I relish the tears rolling down my cheeks and into my ears as I read the saddest parts.

I’m realizing that when I have conversations with my students about genre, it will be important to help them stretch their definitions from the traditional but limited ways of looking at genre and format, help them to come up with narrower and more specific ways to think about categorizing stories, and help them identify the Micro Genres that will compel them to read and re-read.

What is (or was) YOUR favorite micro genre?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Books About Reading...Sort Of

Lines, Squiggles, Letters, Words
by Ruth Rocha
illustrated by Madalena Matoso
Enchanted Lion Books, November 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

This is  book about how life in a world of random, meaningless squiggles turns into a life of reading a world full of meaningful text.

The book is also perhaps a commentary on school learning vs. real life learning. The pages where the character is learning his letters in school show children seated in rows of desks, while the teacher displays a chart of the letter and writes it on the board. The dialogue between students and teacher consists of teacher saying, "A is for apple," and the students repeating the sentence. It is when the character leaves school and enters his print-rich world that he can connect his learning to what he sees in his everyday life.

The Polar Bear
by Jenni Desmond
Enchanted Lion Books, November 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

Like Jenni Desmond's 2015 book, The Blue Whale (reviewed here), this is an imaginative work of literary nonfiction, featuring a little girl in a red crown who is reading the same book we are. As we watch her reading, we can see how she's processing the information and making connections to the text. The book is filled with lots of polar bear facts, and in the end, when you understand the bears' dependence on ice for survival, your heart will be filled with much sorrow about climate change and the loss of polar ice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Organizing Assessments

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.

"Try the Starbucks App. It's life-changing," my brother told me a few months ago. He was right. I can order my morning tea from my house right before I leave and it is ready for me when I arrive.  No more long lines. No more trying to predict how long my morning drive with tea stop will take. My mornings are calmer and more predictable now.  A small change, but life-changing nonetheless!

A similar thing happened a few years ago as I was trying (still...in my 28th year of teaching) to figure out how to manage all the assessments and things I wanted to save through the school year on each child.  I used to have file folders that worked fine but assessments have become a bit more complex.  And for assessments to be useful, I want to have access to them and full file folders are not always that easy to access! Even though much of what I keep, I can keep online,  I like to keep a lot of paper things. I've always believed that every piece of work can tell you something about a child and I know having lots allows me to see change over time.  When I moved to 3rd grade and tried to make sense of our 3rd Grade Guarantee Law, I had to figure out a plan for all the paperwork that went along with that, This new mandated paperwork, along with the daily classroom assessments I have always kept became a bit overwhelming (well, maybe more than a bit...).  I needed a new plan.  Our Literacy Coach, Gretchen Taylor, shared with me the system she had used the year before as a middle school teacher--she had a mailbox/file type slot for each child in her 5 middle school Language Arts classes. That way, when she wanted to add a new note, assessment, piece of student work, etc. she just dropped it in.  Easy and quick and very accessible at all times.

So, I set up the same thing and have kept it going ever since.  I have cabinets in my room for storage. They are above the student cubbies. I have taken over the front portion of 3 of those and house 8 student files in each one.

So each student has a file that I can toss things in when needed. I can also easily access anything I want. This helps me in a variety of ways:

  • First of all, I don't have to spend a lot of deciding what to keep. I do that a lot--try to decide if something is worth keeping.   With this system, there is plenty of room to drop things in and there is no reason to keep them forever--I can keep them as long as I need to.  So any student samples that may be worth keeping, any quick checks I do, even a sticky note with an observation about a child can go right in these files.
  • This is the perfect system for sharing information with others.  When I get ready for parent conferences, I can pull the pile of information out. I have lots to look at when finishing up comments for report cards. And when the Reading Support teacher or the ELL teacher comes in to look at some of the assessments or wants to add something new, they don't have wait for me or sort through my piles for what they are looking for. They have access to these anytime they need them.
  • I rely a great deal on digital tools for collecting and reflecting on work but there are mandated assessments, test reports, reading plans and work samples that are better saved as paper copies--better for me because I can spread them out and look at them when needed. This system lets me look at individual work more easily. It also invites reflection across time.

Because I am a person who make piles and who likes to look again and again at student work, this is the perfect organization tool for me.  It is a simple idea that really changed my teaching life as it made all of the paperwork more manageable and more useful for me.

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

Friday, October 07, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Quite So Much

Quite So Much

If it weren't for the clouds
I wouldn't love the blue
quite so much.

If it weren't for the cold shock
of the first step into the river
I wouldn't love dry land
quite so much.

If it weren't for the surprise of bright yellow fungus
I wouldn't love dead trees
quite so much.

If it weren't for the constant chatter
and the loud enthusiasm of children
I wouldn't love silence
quite so much.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

Our fifth graders went to Highbanks Metropark last week for a field trip put on by the Ohio River Foundation, a group that works towards "protecting and restoring the Ohio River and its watershed." The Olentangy River, which runs through Highbanks, is a part of the Ohio River watershed. Our students took part in several activities that determined the health of the Olentangy River, and that reinforced the need to conserve our fresh water resources. This poem was inspired by our field trip.

Violet is hosting the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Violet Nesdoly | Poems.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

My Adult Reading Life

September - May is a frustrating time of year for a teacher to be a reader. Because there is no way to do our jobs within the parameters of the contract hours of our days/weeks, work spills over into our personal lives and threatens to rob us of one of the identities at our very core -- that of Reader. Luckily, I eat breakfast every day and I have a twenty minute commute to work.

I manage to keep a middle grade novel going in 20 minute increments as I eat breakfast. I tell myself that I should weave a professional book into that time slot some days, but I'll be honest -- I rarely do.

My drive time is my adult reading time. I read with my ears. If it weren't for Audible and the TED Radio Hour podcast, I would not have an adult reading life. I also wouldn't have very much to talk about in adult conversations since I'm not a sports fan, I fall asleep when I watch TV or movies, and I don't pay close attention to the news (for sanity's sake).

It would be easy enough not to be a reader, but as a teacher of reading (and as a person whose core identity is Reader), that's simply not an option.

There's no such thing as MAKING time to read. We all have the same number of hours in each day. So it's all about being creative in FINDING time and using it to keep my reading life alive in the September - May drought so it can flourish June - August.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Tracking Our Thinking in Read Aloud

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 want my students to have experience with a variety of ways to track their thinking during reading.  There are so many tools and right now, I just want them to see how powerful it is to stop and notice your thinking. I want them to be able to choose tools that work for them and I use the first 6-8 weeks of school to make sure they have experience with several ways to annotate.  Since our focus is on the thinking and process, the tool is really up to the child once they see some  possibilities. So for read aloud this time, I chose the book Lucy by Randy Cecil.  This is a book that I fell in love with this summer.  I chose it for several reasons.

  • The illustrations in this book are key. There is a black and white illustration on each page and I want my 3rd graders to talk around both words and pictures. I find that often, at this age, readers are more apt to talk about what they notice or wonder in a visual than in text so this combination seemed perfect. I also know they will naturally find evidence in the illustrations as they talk and the "What in the book makes you think that?" type of conversation will grow.
  • I was able to get 12 copies of the book from our public library.  This makes it possible for groups of 2-3 to share a book. 
  • I assigned them a Thinking Partner for this read aloud. So they share their book with the same person and will think through this book with one person. Thinking with the same person across a book is different than thinking with different people every day.  There are benefits to both but as we build relationships and conversation skills, having the same partner through the book is important.
  • There are 3 characters in the book whose story lines come together--Eleanor, her father, and the dog, Lucy.  As readers begin to read more complex text, I want them to think about characters and how characters stories and relationships are often key to narrative.
So each pair of students was given a copy of the book and a stack of sticky notes and they have been jotting and talking every day before we come together and share thinking as a group. 

The book and conversation are inviting great talk and we are learning so much about tracking our thinking, backing our thinking with evidence in the text, character development and having good conversations. 

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