Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ways we are using our Reader's Notebooks!

One of my favorite parts of reading workshop is teaching students how to talk and write about their reading.  I LOVE creating charts to write about our read alouds and to help lift the level of our conversations so I am constantly modeling how to write about reading through chart-making with my students.  I always tell my students that the chart is our giant reader's notebook and during read aloud I model a variety of strategies to organize, keep track of, and deepen our thinking.  This consistent modeling helps students transfer the strategies into their own reader's notebook to write about their independent books.  To read my post I wrote a couple years ago about reader's notebooks, click here.

Below are some examples of charts created during read aloud to model a variety of writing about reading strategies:


Each year, I encourage students to not only try out the strategies that I model during read aloud, but to also create and try out their own strategies.  I want my students to always feel ownership over their reader's notebooks and know that it is a place for them to choose how they want to express their thinking about their reading in a way that makes sense to them and is purposeful for them.  I don't want it to feel like a chore or something they are doing just for me.  I want them to see and understand the purpose and value of writing about their reading and how it helps them grow their thinking and conversations.  Students have the choice to use pencil, different colored pens, post-its, sketches, and more.   By giving students ownership of their notebooks, they truly do use it as a tool and it is amazing to see the strategies they create and use! 

I think it is important for students to teach one another the strategies they create and use so I make time for students to share and teach one another.  Last week, during reading workshop, students had the opportunity to share a strategy they are using in their reader's notebook.   They used the document camera to share a page from their notebook to visually show the strategy and teach their classmates how and why they use it.  In addition, they share the name they chose to call the strategy if they created it - some of the strategy names are very creative! As students share strategies and explain them with an example from their notebook, I record the strategy name along with an example on a chart for the class to use as a tool.  Next to the strategy, I write down the name of students' who shared the strategy so their classmates can check out their notebooks and/or talk to them more about the strategy.  

Below are two of our class charts that were created while students shared strategies from their notebooks: 
Class chart created while students shared ways they are using their reader's notebooks

Second class chart created while students shared more ways they are using their reader's notebooks.

Below are some examples from students' reader's notebooks:


Students also showcase colored photocopies of pages from their reader's notebooks on one of our bulletin boards.  If they want a page photocopied, they mark the page with a post-it and put it on a table in the back of our classroom at the end of the day.  Once it is photocopied, they hang it up along with a colored label where they write their name and the name of the strategy they used.  This bulletin board not only gives students a chance to showcase their writing about reading strategies, but also serves as a teaching tool where students learn from one another! 

Reader's Notebook Bulletin Board 

Happy Writing about Reading! :)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Anchor Charts for Conventions

Last year, I worked with one of the teachers in our district on how to teach conventions to students so that they would not only retain the skills, but also use the skills in their writing. Together, we created a chart during an inquiry lesson that specified all of the conventions that her fourth graders knew. That chart held her students accountable for those skills whenever they wrote, and the skills on that chart were aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Because her students did so well on both our district's editing and revising assessments as well as the conventions component of our district's analytic rubric, I have created a set of master charts for grades 1-5 that I am sharing. These charts align to grade level standards and increase in expectations going up the grades. Since these charts are cumulative, you wouldn't want to be a fifth-grade teacher if students haven't mastered the previous grade level standards!

I would teach a separate lesson on paragraphing.

My hope is that these charts serve as anchor charts for conventions within classrooms. They can be introduced during writing workshop with the important teaching point that writers pay attention and use conventions in order to make sure that readers can understand their writing.  I also am creating smaller versions that can serve as toolkits for students to keep in writing folders or within notebooks. Depending on how teachers roll out the lesson, perhaps students' initials may appear on the charts in order to increase accountability and designate "classroom experts."

So one of the CCSS language standards is addressed within out curriculum. Now, on to parts of speech and grammar... If anyone out there has done work around integrating some of the grammar standards into workshop practices and writing units, I would love to hear about it. 

Happy writing (and punctuating!),

Sunday, September 14, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading...

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson could be my new favorite mentor text. I loved the New York Times review by Veronica Chambers where she wrote:

"You can read “Brown Girl Dreaming” in one sitting, but it is as rich a spread as the potluck table at a family reunion. Sure, you can plow through the pages, grabbing everything you can in one go, like piling a plate high with fried chicken and ribs, potato salad and corn bread. And yes, it’s entirely possible to hold that plate with one hand while balancing a bowl of gumbo and a cup of sweet tea with the other. But since the food isn’t going anywhere, you’ll make out just as well, maybe even a little better, if you pace yourself."

I found myself reading Brown Girl Dreaming holding the plate in one hand and gobbling as I went, so I had to ge back and savor it after I made it to the final page. My family humored me and listened to several of the entries, especially since they were stuck in the car with me as we drove home from Rhode Island last night. I plan to continue to mark pages and savor pages...

Many parts of this book remind me of When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, except that instead of just having 32 pages of images, powerful memories, and sensory language, Jacqueline Woodson provides 330 pages of evocative writing. While a strong plot winds through the lyrical verses, many of the chapters can stand alone as individual stories to inspire both readers and writers to pay attention or create sensory details, foreshadowing, parallel structures, minimalism, characterization, figurative language. Many schools have upper elementary students write I Am From or I Believe poems and one of my favorite chapters is What I Believe at the end. Do not miss this!

In addition to providing incredible lessons for powerful close reading and writing mentorship, Brown Girl Dreaming also weaves American history and geography throughout the twentieth century. This book will definitely inspire questions about segregation, civil rights, and equality since the Woodsons' experiences included the north and the south over the course of the sixties and seventies. One seven line chapter, Ghosts, relays history in just these lines:

In downtown Greenville, 
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs, 
except on the bathroom doors, 
they didn't use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.

Themes of perseverance, resilience, and acceptance run throughout this book, as well as messages about growth mindsets and the power of believing in yourself.  I could go on. What a beautiful, inspiring book!
#don't miss it!

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading...

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Unusual week for me , as I have no picture books on the list...

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff has been on my list all summer, but I had loaned it to my 13 year-old nephew who doesn't love to read. (He loved it. Do I need to write more?) When my blogging partner, Melanie Swider, listed it on her list of favorites, I cut the TBR line and I am glad that I did. Absolutely Almost is a wonderful book to read and talk about empathy and kindness. I wasn't prepared for how sad I would feel for Albie, the main character, in this book, as he grapples with learning difficulties, friendship issues, and parental realationships.  This is also a wonderful book to talk about the power of voice in writing, as Albie is funny, honest, and insightful.

I had two long car rides last week, one with my going-to-college daughter and another by myself. Larkin had tried to pick a book that we would both enjoy and had selected The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. Not a book I would normally pick up since it is young adult and I rarely venture from my world of middle grade and picture books, I have to say that I enjoyed the plot. I'm selective with my seventh grade daughter's books, and I would have no problem with her reading this (no swearing, only one mention of sex, a short violent scene) and I think that she would learn a lot, as woven into the plot were strong messages about global warming and our disregard for the warnings in our world. The main character is a "time traveller", and is in our world from a world that is 80 years ahead of us. Her community had to escape blood plagues along the lines of AIDS, as well as deadly and prevalent mosquitos. Overall, the audio kept my attention along long highways, and I listened to the last third without Larkin, who bought the hard copy in Michigan.

Before I let Larkin put in her choice, we listened to several chapters of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, who is the COO of Facebook. I think that her TedTalks and her book are important reading for young women, as she delivers a strong message that women need to be more represented in leadership positions. Larkin (18) and I had some good conversations about the truth of Sheryl Sandberg's points--we found ourselves nodding as we listened, agreeing that she was right about how women behave versus how men behave--and I was glad to have shared this experience during an important time in Larkin's life. I will also have my younger daughters watch her Tedtalks, found here and here.  I have read many books about raising strong daughters, but I felt like there were messages in these talks that young women should definitely hear.  It's also a book that fathers should read, as well. 

Happy reading (and listening!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Favorite Books I Read this Summer

Each summer, I try to read a lot of new books for children so I can recommend them in the fall when the school year begins.  I have a "New Books" basket that I regularly add to and love to keep up with all the great new books that are being published.  
I am usually asked questions from my colleagues and former students such as, "So what did you read this summer that I should read? What were your favorites?" 
I organize all of my books on Goodreads and always have a list for my summer reading each year so I can answer these questions with ease and of course keep track of all my reading! :)

Below, are my top 6 favorite books that I read this summer, in no particular order.  

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff 

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about Dash by Kirby Larson which comes out today!  

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin which comes out on October 7th.  

Click on the title to read the post I wrote this summer about The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.  

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L.Holm is out today - yay! This was the last book that I read this summer and I loved it! This is a fascinating story about an eleven year old girl named Ellie who misses her most recent goldfish.  One day, a young boy shows up with her mother who reminds her a lot of her grandfather, but it can't be...or can it?? Did her Grandpa Melvin, a famous scientist, actually discover how to return to a younger age? Read to find out and discover more about Ellie and her Grandpa Melvin or should I say the young Melvin! 

Fish in a Tree is Lynda Mullaly Hunt's newest book will be published on February 5th...I know it is a ways out, but definitely mark your calendar because this is a must read book!!! I had the honor and privilege of getting an ARC in my hands to read and I devoured it in one day! I am reading aloud this book to my new 5th grade class at the beginning of the year and can not wait to have them experience this book.  My class two years ago also had the big honor of not only meeting Lynda, but also listening to a couple chapters of this book and naming chapter 25! We are also in the acknowledgments in the back of the book which is very cool! Stay tuned to hear more about this book as I read it aloud to my class.  Thank you Lynda for writing another fabulous book and bringing Ally into our lives! :) 

Hope you all enjoyed your summer and read lots of great books too! 
Melanie Swider 

Slice of Life- Big Moments in Family Life

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

Yesterday morning at convocation, I sat next to a teacher who is returning after a maternity leave. After six months home, she left her two young children with a babysitter and headed to work. I could totally relate to how hard the morning had been for her and I loved looking at the pictures that she has on her phone of her children learning to sit up, pushing a play stroller, smiling at their father-- they took me on a major sentimental journey. Okay, ANOTHER major sentimental journey... And then came the question that traumatized me all morning, because I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “How are your girls? What grade are they in?”

Well, one of them (there are four) is a junior. That means that she is of the age to get her driving license and, in fact, she got it on Friday and drove to school for her first day yesterday. Yes, I have another high school daughter who I drove, but it's not the same. And for all of you who are approaching teenage driving years, know that, while it's  great independence for them, it's less time that we have to talk to our children.

Oh, and one of them will be a freshman in college. My stomach flipped as I wrote that because tomorrow, the countdown is over.

Tomorrow, Larkin and I will head off with a car full of life’s necessities. We will drive all day, unpack and set up on Thursday, and on Friday, I will. leave. her.

It’s what’s supposed to happen. 

She’s excited. 

She’s ready. 

She’s going to a great place, she will keep in touch, she will be home for Thanksgiving, she has a good head on her shoulders. She will be safe. 

She will be safe.

All of a sudden, August 28th, a date that has been far off in the distance, is really close.

A friend of my mother’s shared the wonderful practice that she started of keeping a box in her child’s room when he is away. Whenever anyone comes across something that they think he would like, they put it in the box, wrapped or unwrapped, but with a message. When the box is full, she mails him a care package. Larkin’s box will be on her bed when I come home, and I know that I will be filling that box over the next couple of months. 

If anyone has any favorite sending-off traditions, please share. I have some ideas, but am still open to others!

Happy writing,

Monday, August 25, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading...

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Over the summer, I did a lot of writing, so I was constantly on the hunt for books that developed strong plots with memorable characters. What I have realized, and it really intimidates me as a writer, is that most of the books that I admire have more than one plot, with several stories intersecting and intertwining. 

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer is a beautiful book about a 12 year-old coming to terms, as much as anyone can, with her mother's death. Thank you to Tara Smith for the recommendation! The characters are complex and developed, with quirks, hobbies, secrets, talents, and passions and they are all so likable and memorable. Voice is critically important in middle grade fiction, and the first person narrative is packed full of preteen insights, emotions, and humor. This would be a very long read-aloud, but a great book for strong upper elementary readers. 

Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur surprised me with sub-plots I was not expecting and elements of magic within what seemed at first to be realistic fiction. Because the main character, Siena, is such a strong and insightful narrator, readers learn a lot about the writing process through her experiences, as well as about struggles with moving, making friends, and guilt. As a writer, this book inspired me to think about how to weave stories together, but it also inspired me to learn more about selective mutism and I could also see it inspire students to want to learn more about war and what some American soldiers experienced when fighting overseas. 

Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Takeaways for Classroom and Coaching Practices from a Summer of Writing

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

I have written a lot this summer. Not much on the blog (and I feel guilty about that--I am working on letting it go!). Not even much as far as weekly slices are concerned, because I have been completely committed to finishing and then revising a chapter book that I started several years ago--I think that the first pieces of it were from 2008!

But, I have learned a lot about writing this summer, as I reflect on the work. I have gotten to know about communities that exist to mentor, encourage, and inspire writers. If any of you are trying to write a chapter book, is an incredible resource. I can not say enough about how much the community there has taught me. 

Here are a couple of big takeaways for classrooms. Writers crave responses. At the firstfivepages website, we put our writing up publicly for critiques and I read, re-read, read out loud, and even printed out many of the comments. On the days when we put up our revised versions, I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times I checked to see if my piece had any new comments. When we are really into writing, it’s brave and scary to put it out there, and that’s what we ask kids to do in workshop oriented classrooms. As a teacher, as a coach, as a human, I pledge to remember to respond when people, young or old, share their work with me.

Another takeaway for classrooms is that letting go of ideas or parts of written work is hard. I found myself going through a predictable process when my writing community made suggestions that involved significant revisions (and admittedly, my writing community was probably much more honest and critical than I would think most teachers would be to students). First, I have to say, I felt defensive. I wanted to explain why I made the decisions that I made and have my readers/critiquers just understand. Then, I would try to dig into what they were saying. This is when I was really grateful for written comments because I could repeatedly return to them. Gradually, I would rehearse in my head how to incorporate suggestions and feedback before I could sit down and really do meaningful revision. 

I’m not saying that students follow this same process when teachers give them stuff to work on, but this summer, I have developed a second favorite word. (My first favorite word is yet, since it opens up a world of possibility.) Maybe has a whole new place of power as a word for me this summer. When critiquers used the word maybe, I felt empowered, almost like their idea was my idea. (It wasn’t. Many times, the ideas were other people’s...) I am planning to use maybe in my practice much, much more. I am even working on a post about the power of maybe.

I’m off to celebrate my last day at the beach--this week I return to the land of working with meetings on Thursday and work-related tasks on Friday. 

Happy Writing,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections on Writing Every Day.

Slice of Life is hosted by the inspiring community Everyone is welcome to read, post, and comment every Tuesday. Feel free to stop over and join us!

I made a commitment to write over the summer. Every day.  I committed to write or revise a chapter of a book that I started a few years ago. Every day. 

Here are some of the things that I am learning as I live with this commitment.

  1. It's hard. I know that doesn't surprise all of you. It reminds me of exercising, though. Some days are easier than others. Some days my knees don't hurt when I walk or it takes less time to work out the kinks in my forehands. Writing is like this, too. Some days it flows and my fingers can hardly keep up with my brain and other days, I hit the delete key more times than I hit the rest of the letters on the keyboard. 
  2. I have not been able to keep up my reading life as much as I had planned. Partially, even in the summer, time is an issue, and I only have so many available hours for my intellectual life. Additionally, I have been reading differently. Instead of reading to engage in the plot and immerse myself into the world of the characters and story, I am studying the craft for how the author has pulled me in. Because of this, I am reading much more slowly, and I haven't been losing myself in books the way I usually do. Yes, a couple books have distracted me away from the craft with the power of the story, but mostly I'm studying the development, pace, voice, conflict...
  3. Preparing mentally is important. I am much more efficient and effective on the keyboard if I have had time to think, really think, and rehearse, really rehearse, what I'm going to write. This realization is an interesting one when I think about teaching and learning because I don't know how much time we dedicate in classrooms or for homework to thinking, and if we did, how would we ever hold students accountable for this task? Your homework tonight is to think about what you're going to write tomorrow... I want you to take time just thinking and visualizing your story and when you are ready, then start to write... Do we picture this working? Maybe in a very smooth and well oiled writing workshop where students really do think of themselves as writers, which leads me to my next realization...
  4. Picturing myself, and announcing myself as a writer has helped me to maintain the commitment to write. This summer, I told my friends and family that I am writing a book. I even announced it on this blog. There's a lot of pressure when you announce this. It's sort of like training for a marathon. People ask how it's going and what it's about. Some even ask if they can read it. (I've said yes to only a couple...) I have found that this sort of checking in is really motivating. There's an accountability that I feel and it has helped me stay with my writing, especially when the process has gotten hard or when the delete button has been overused.
  5. Being a part of a writing community has been essential to my progress. We established a web-based writing community and every Sunday night for the last four weeks, I have met up with Catherine, Julie, and Stacey for an hour via google hangout. In between Sundays, we have all posted our work, opening our writing up to questions, feedback, comments, and compliments in shared google drive documents. We have shared links, contacts, tweets, articles, and opportunities, as well as our expertise as writers and teachers of writing. Just as exercising is easier for me in a group setting works better,--I'd much  rather walk with someone than alone or take a fitness class than do individual machines-- writing with this group has helped me keep going. More importantly, writing together has helped me to fix mistakes, address important questions, and engage in meaningful revision. 
I finished my first draft two days ago, and have started the hard work of going back through it, seeing where readers lose interest, trying to answer the hard questions that Lisa Cron poses in her book Wired for Story, a book that I recommend for any aspiring writers!

Happy slicing!

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading!

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

I ordered I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora because To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite all time books and I was fascinated to see how someone would spin this classic. As it turned out, it's not really a spin on TKAM, but more of an endorsement of it. Three clever middle schoolers launch a plot to increase the interest in TKAM. Their theory is that if they make the book more inaccessible, the perceived value would increase. Their plan spins out of control via social media and the press, and there were definitely moments when I wanted to jump into the pages and ask them what on earth they were going to do next in order to keep themselves out of some serious trouble. Woven into the text are some not so subtle messages about bookstores, readers, curriculum, and literature. I'd be interested to hear how a middle school reader would interpret them. I'm not sure that reluctant readers would enjoy this book, but strong readers will appreciate the layers of conflicts, and may even be inspired to pick up some the classics that are referenced, including To Kill a Mockingbird.

 What an adorable picture book The Adventures of Beekle: the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat is! This book could be a great read aloud at the beginning of the school year, as the central conflict has to do with the struggle to find a friend. Beekle waits and waits to be claimed as a friend, but finally sets off on his own, struggling to connect with anyone and to find his special person. Reading this book could lead to some important discussions about how we decide who to become friends with, as well as the potential pitfalls of having just one person. Discussions could also happen about inclusion, kindness, and empathy because of some of the pages and pictures within this one. Enjoy!

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters is not a new release, but it was on my daughter's summer reading list. I started it with her, reading it out loud. She had just come home from camp, so she went to bed early, and I finished the book. As a further endorsement, my daughter, who is not an avid reader, finished it also this morning before we did anything else. While there are some discussion questions listed in the back of the book, we did not need them in order to engage in a pretty deep conversation about the messages and the characters within this story. Antonia and Jazz are two strong middle school girls who provide significant and complex evidence that things aren't always what they seem. If you have missed this book, I strongly recommend it, and if you have forgotten about it, it is a wonderful book for reluctant readers, girls and boys.

Happy reading!