It appears, I'm slightly addicted to Smore as an information sharing tool. It's easy, clean, and can be shared on a multitude of platforms. Let's not forget that it's free too! Think about using it for parent newsletters or any information you wish to share!
This year we've been experimenting with Makerspace Mondays on a low budget with success. We've run a Cardboard Challenge & up-cycled books to create trees and jewelry, but nothing has been more successful than coding with Scratch! Mondays were a busy lunch recess, but now it's been expanded to a Grade 3-5 Monday Makerspace and a Grade 6-8 Friday Makerspace to accommodate everyone. The library is jumping. It can be overwhelming, but If you have the skills to run a Workshop program, you have the skills to run a Coding Club. With the excitement and enthusiasm, a Coding Club brings, you'll need those skills too! Here are five reasons why!
Nonfiction November has opened my eyes. I carry biases against nonfiction. Do I read it myself? In volumes! Do I love the pictures and facts in the nonfiction books I purchase for my library? Absolutely! Does my stomach turn when one of my students in my Readers’ Workshop is curled up with certain foms of nonfiction books. Sadly, yes…
It seems, in my mind, it doesn’t hold the same validity as novels for readers' workshop. I don’t believe certain forms have those large chunks of text that my students need to develop stamina in their reading. I don’t trust that my students are reading every page. I don’t see it as an easily measurable genre in my workshop format. I need fight this reaction and begin to see all that nonfiction can bring.
It's that time of year again! What will the library theme be this year? Well, I'd love everyone in our school to just Get Lost! It's actually much more positive than it sounds...
I was out walking in the forest with Lily & she was very concerned with where we were and did I know how to get back. I know one of her greatest fears is getting lost, but as a kid I got lost all the time. I swear sometimes we'd even pretend we were lost because it added an exciting element to whatever game we were playing in the back field. Road trips in high school & university often had a large getting lost aspect to them. I remember yelling at a Do Not Enter sign, "I'm not entering; I'm exiting!" because somehow we had gotten turned around in a place we weren't even supposed to be in.
But isn't that the point of growing and learning? Thinking you are going one way and finding it's not the right way. Trying to figure out where you'll go next or following an exciting path that you like and finding you are somewhere new, maybe even somewhere better. It involves failure. It involves our students taking risks & exploring areas of interest. It involves the engagement that comes with choice. I believe our students should be experiencing that!
I'm making my library board up in a couple weeks & want to know how you Get Lost! I have good guesses for some of you & I'm sure you know I get lost in words & the ideas they share. Unfortunately I don't get lost in the forest or on road trips as much any more.
We are all on our own growth continuum. It's the only place we can be. We are where we are and we grow from there. The joy of that is there are so many places to go.
Apparently the area I love to grow in is in the understanding of, appreciation of and the teaching of reading and writing. My library and language position is an extension of that and sometimes when I look at the bigger picture of my life, I think I should play more, but a lot of what constitutes "play" for me is exploring reading, writing and the teaching of it.
To me, teachers who write about teaching language in engaging and meaningful ways are the rock stars of my world. I love their books & find them as fun to read as any novel. Some of my guiding stars are Nancie Atwell, Donalyn Miller & Penny Kittle.
I was excited to find a new rock star this year! Through Twitter I kept reading mentions of Whole Novels, by Ariel Sacks. I bought it. I read it. I loved it. I implemented it and I tweeted about it, so others could find it too.
Due to my enthusiasm, Ariel retweeted a couple of my tweets and then asked me to do a guest blog on her site. I'm happy and honoured to write about a program that is genuinely helping my students get a better understanding and appreciation of language and I feel like such a geeky
If you want to explore the changes Whole Novels has brought to my teaching pop over to Ariel Sacks site and blog and check it out. It seems she even wants me to do a follow up on how I've implemented Whole Novels into my Literature Circles, which has made this month busy and interesting. The literature circle conversations have rocked. The mini-projects were quick, effective and a lot of fun. I'll be doing it again.
To any of my teachers, if something looks like it could work in your program, I'd love to partner with you, even if we just make plans for next year.
I’ve always believed in the power of a read-aloud. Kindergarten kids settle down when you read a story to them and Intermediate students are miraculously quiet. In university, I couldn’t believe my luck when one of my profs would start off each lecture with a read-aloud. I discovered Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum then and cherish his books to this day. Who doesn’t love Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse? Every year I've taught, I've waited for a day that doesn’t go right so I can read Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dayto my students. I know there is something slightly off about that. Yet somehow I always felt guilty about just reading a story to kids for the sake of a story.
A librarian colleague of mine told me she doesn’t just read to the students. She uses the books to teach inferring, making connections, determining importance and all those very important skills that children need and I felt guilty because, yes I do teach these, but I also feel the need to just read a good story. I don't make my primary students fill out sheets, mostly because of the negativity I found came from that practice. I know it is a necessity in the classroom, but often I find a book that relates to the day, the emotion in the room, a moment, an idea, a book with great words, a hilarious character and we just read. We talk about parts we like, characters that stand out, favourite pictures, they share their stories and that’s it. We explore authors & illustrators packed with charm and action so the students come to love them and seek them out on their own and I felt a bit guilty. Not guilty enough to change it, but guilty in that you should be doing more way.
World Read-Aloud Day was March 5th and in the spirit of that I started reading Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook, although next year we should celebrate this day with lots of read alouds, I can’t believe how empowering this extraordinarily well-researched book is for my guilty soul and I appreciate, but didn't read, the 22 pages dedicated to the references and studies to back up my new found guiltlessness.
Here are some interesting and motivating facts I took from the book that reinforce my just read-aloud tendencies:
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children p. 4, Trelease quoting Becoming a Nation of Readers
The prime predictor of success and failure(at school) is the child’s vocabulary upon entering school. Yes, the child goes to school to learn new words, but words he already knows determine how much of what the teacher says will be understood. And since most instruction for the first four years of school is oral, the child who has the largest vocabulary will understand the most, while the child with the smallest vocabulary will grasp the least. P.15
The eventual strength of our vocabulary is determined not by the ten thousand common words, but by how many rare words we understand….printed text contains the most rare words.p.17
Why are students failing and dropping out of school? Because they cannot read well enough to do the assigned work p. xxvi
So reading aloud builds our student’s vocabulary, better preparing them for school, exposing them to the social joys of reading and, hopefully, reinforcing that reading is a pleasurable thing. This will then provide them with the vocabulary and understanding to pick up reading on their own, barring other difficulties, so they can build their reading skills and stamina providing them with the skills to finish the post-secondary course of their choice. Whew! That’s a lot to come from simply reading aloud.
Jim Trelease reinforces that we must keep reading aloud to our students at all ages and above their reading level, so they see the pleasure from books they can’t read yet. We need to keep reinforcing those pleasure centres so that we can compete against the television, iPads, texts, tweets, and the sports teams that demand a lot of their time.
Here are some great books and authors that would provide great read-alouds for different levels and, hopefully, reinforce the joys of reading with your students.
Whimsy's Heavy Things by Julie Kraulis
In this beautifully illustrated book, with every page being a contrast of light and dark, Whimsy recognizes that you can't ignore or hide the issues that weigh you down. She also discovers that breaking down your problems can help. This is an interesting analogy that could spark discussions and raise awareness of the heavy things in all of us.
Bad Kitty Books by Nick Bruel
Bad Kitty is one of our family favourites! Hilarious, quirky characters & the best alphabet lists ever...it is a mix of novel, graphic novel & picture book so it's great for those students who are on the edge of reading independently, but aren't quite ready for the full novel format. Also there are many in the series!
The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman
Be Brave! Be Accepting of Others!
These could be the mottos of the friendship of Fish and Snail who love each other, but experience the normal conflicts of friendship. With few words, gorgeous images and unique perspectives you can explore what these mean to you, your students and Fish and Snail.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
August is different. He was born with a severe facial deformity that makes everyone stare at him and, now, at ten his mother decides to enroll him in a public school. This book is narrated by Auggie. He has such a wonderful voice that you can only cheer for him. Interspersed between his chapters are the honest points of view of other characters close to him, giving a full perspective of his story. This book inspired a Choose Kind Campaign and is an engaging read-aloud and character builder for your class.
Forgive me, I Meant To Do It. False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine
Forget what I have to say! Listen to Jenny at @60secondrecap explain the book.
Sometimes you don't have time for a novel and these witty "false apology poems" based on William Carlos Williams poem This Is Just To Say might just inspire your students to write false apology poems of their own...or at least...have fun identifying who is apologizing to whom for what. Great point of view game right here!
Zomboy by Richard Scrimger
A good partner to go with Wonder. These might even be great grade 6 literature circle books with a theme of Acceptance. Imre has a physical disability of sorts. He is an indestructable, but not-so-smart zombie and he now goes to Bob's school. The SCC is not happy and Bob's best friend Evil-O has decided to befriend Imre, even if Bob's not so sure about him. This leaves Bob with no friends to speak of. An exploration of friendship and acceptance with a number of zany twists and a dark secret that hides within the book.
Although Intermedaties do like listening to a good story too, it's sometimes hard to get a whole 200 page novel in especially if you only have them on rotation, but there are great picture books with mature topics that students love. Every year I read Faithful Elephants on Remembrance Day and every year I cry. They often ask to hear it again. Also there are some great collections that give you snippets of books and can hook your students onto great authors. Extend your literature circles by reading a thematically connected short story together.
Guys Read Series by Jon Scieszka
Pick a genre: Sports, Humour, Sci Fi, Horror Pick an author: Patrick Carmen, James Patterson, Anthony Horowitz, Tom Angleberger, Ray Bradbury, Rick Riordan, Rebecca Stead, Neil Gaiman, James Howe Pick a story. Read it & see where you go!
Read All About It by Jim Trelease
I haven't read this one yet, but I do have it on order so here is an excerpt of the review from Goodreads: A treasury of fifty sensational read-aloud pieces for young adults. From Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to Maniac Magee, sci-fi to op-ed. “Casey at the Bat” to a moving true story about the reunion of two Holocaust survivors, this wonderfully diverse collection of excerpts from newspapers, magazines, and books has been created by Jim Trelease especially to turn young people on to the many pleasures of reading. If you want to read the rest of the excerpt click here!
Reading Poetry in the Middle Grades by Paul B. Janeczko
I like poetry. Not everybody likes poetry and this is what I like about it: It is short. It doesn't have to rhyme. It gets to the point. It uses various literary elements. It doesn't have to follow rules. Great vocabulary. It is short. If you aren't sure about poetry. This is a great collection to start with. Paul Janeczko gives lots of ways to tie them into your language program, and there is a poem for everyone. Here's one which usually grabs your action, sports boys ....Foul Shot.
In the library the call number for every picture book starts with an E. The E supposedly stands for Easy, but I don't think so. I don't believe that picture books are easy and I never have. I always thought of them as "everybody books" because picture books aren't just for kids. As you know, picture books explore diverse topics in thoughtful and engaging ways and sometimes aren't even appropriate for younger readers.
As a ten year old at Uxbridge Public School among the bookshelves in the library, I declared to myself that I would never stop reading picture books and I never have. I even got in trouble in grade 8 for including a picture book on my list of books read during a "Challenge Yourself to Read" assignment. My response was, "It's a book and you didn't say we couldn't read it." She gave that one to me, but told me not to do it again. It probably helped that I had read a wide variety of other books, ranging from Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew to Stephen King and Flowers in the Attic to balance it out, but still, I was making a point.
Over the break my philosophy of "everybody books" was confirmed by an insightful review on Jim Trelease's newly re-released book, The Read Aloud Handbook. Matt Renwick wrote about this book as a Nerdy Book Club Post, as his school is reading it together to bring a greater "awareness of the importance of reading aloud both at home and at school."
In his review he provided ten takeaway points from the book and although I agreed and rejoiced with many of them the one that most applies to this post was:
Ha! I had no idea they were called "everybody books" now. I thought that was just my take. I love it when the world confirms I'm not as strange as I'm led to believe I am.
Finally...since they are "everybody books" and they are sooo good I'm going to share with all of you. Here are the top ten Canadian picture books of 2013 as chosen by the Ontario Library Association. We have them in the library to share with the primaries as they participate in the Blue Spruce Program, but perhaps you'll be able to use them in your program too. I've highlighted themes, links and activities and hope you and your students will enjoy and grow from them. ***PDF with live links available at the bottom of page.
Click here to access Blue Spruce pdf with live links. Click here to access the activity resource for Sky Color.
August is here & it's time to get rolling. Here's a small journey from this summer & where it's taken me.
As you know our library is a two-story glass encased room, a fishbowl, the Timbit in the centre of the double decker doughnut of our school. It is, supposedly, a show case, but there is a problem, as can clearly be seen from the second floor windows. My desk and creative organization system are quite visible from many places in the school. I try. I really do. A couple times a year I ruthlessly purge the paper and piles and shamelessly ponder for a short time how organized I am, but then the mess creeps back in again!
This photo was taken after end-of-year purge.
I was reading Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them this summer when I hit page 62 and these words jumped off the page. “I’ve reached a point in the school year when clutter outweighs my purpose on my desk.” Can you believe it? I saw myself…a very eloquent self, but still myself. I love it when you recognize yourself in a book. That is one of my goals for my students. I want them to find the books that reflect their lives, their truths and, as Penny Kittle states in Book Love, “something that will surprise me -- surprise me with the skill of the writer – … the deep exploration of questions about life that I didn’t know I was asking” (Kittle, Penny. Book Love. p. 32) How can I keep that focus? Clutter accumulates not only on our desks…although some people seem immune to that…but in our brains. How do we keep focussed on what matters to us individually and how do we keep the students focussed as well?
I challenge you this year is to Find Your Words. I'd love our students to create an Inspiration Board to glue to the front of their language book. I want them to have a visual reminder of what is important to them to keep them focussed throughout the year and I challenge you to set your goals too.
As you can see, I made an Inspiration Board of my own, which I will be using to introduce this beginning of the year project. Hyperlink to project is available in the project title. I would also like to have Inspiration Boards from various staff to show our students that we continue to learn and grow too, but I do understand reality. If you wanted to create an Inspiration Board and send me a pdf, jpeg, png or hard copy to post, I’d love it, but if you just wanted to let me know a couple goals you have and a song, author, book or quote that inspires you, I’d happily take that too!
Here’s some potential goal topics that might get you thinking:
academic goal personal goal athletic goal reading goal fun goal technology goal
If you are not completing a board, you could post goals on the comments below or email them to me, but remember for it to get posted on the board they have to be in to me before Friday, August 30th because once the students come in…the clutter begins!
Summer is here! It's the time for rest, rejuvenation and READING! I thought as a fun end of year post, I'd share with you a small variety of books, professional, fun and enjoyable , but with a little weight that you might enjoy during your cottage time, beach time or quiet morning coffee time this summer!
If you like Hunger Games, Science Fiction, Dystopian, Action & a little bit of romance you'll love The 5th Wave! The world is ending, but not due to our own stupidity. It's due to an alien invasion & you'll never guess the form these aliens take. The story is told through first person multi-narrators, who are all strong, but the main character is a smart, strong, weapon-wielding, female character, Cassie! What I liked best though was an action-filled plot that just kept moving and when you thought you had figured out what was going on, Yancey throws another twist at you which takes awhile for your brain to adapt to. Here's a bit of a review from a great YA book review site The Book Smugglers: Seventeen-year old Cassie (for Cassiopeia, not Cassandra or Cassidy) is all alone in the world. Camped out in a solitary stretch of the woods, it has been weeks since Cassie has seen another person – for all she knows, Cassie may just be the sole remaining human survivor of a swift, brutal mass extermination.
Just a few months earlier, the Arrival of the Others was a global sensation, inciting political mayhem, hope and fear. And just ten days after the Arrival, the 1st wave strikes – a concentrated global EMP, destroying all electronics in a single fell swoop, and killing half a million people.
Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky.
In the 2nd wave, three billion people are killed in a single day. Using a powerful tactical strike, the Others create a massive earthquake and tidal wave that literally wipes out every person living within 60 miles of an ocean coast.
Bye-bye, New York. Bye, Sydney. Good-bye, California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia. So long, Eastern Seaboard. Japan, Hong Kong, London, Rome, Rio. Nice to know you. Hope you enjoyed your stay!
Definitely worth the read. I couldn't put it down!
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
I often find there are two types of fiction readers...those who love action & those who love character. Cutting for Stone has both, but every character in the back story is fully thought out with wonderful details providing quirky and unique characterization. Scenes from this book will stick in your head, as you learn about the lives of conjoined twins, Marion & Shiva, secret child of a nun and a doctor as they grow up in Addis Ababa. Their birth scene is one you will never forget! Medicine plays an important role in this story as the boys grow up in a hospital & become active in medical communities themselves. The medical details are very accurate as author, Abraham Verghese, is a doctor who writes in his spare time. How does one do that? History is rich, characters are fabulous and the plot has action and is diverse. This was a top book for me and my Book Club this year!
Penny Kittle seems to be the new guru of teaching language. Her two books Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers and Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing are all the buzz in knowledgeable online teaching communities. I know they are aimed at older students, but I also know we, as flexible educators, are able to take quality ideas and adapt them to the ages we teach. I know I've eternally applied the concepts I learned in my Primary Qualifications to all areas of my teaching. So...if you're interested...order one through our local independent book store, Blue Heron, & give it a read. Mine is sitting on my bed side table right now.
If you don't have time or the inclination to check these out, check out the blogs of these excellent language educators. Lots of insights on books & teaching to motivate you for next year! Nerdy Book Club Teach Mentor Texts