Monday, May 25, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You 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.

Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch is a fabulous picture book that tells the story of a German baker's experience during the years that led up to the Revolutionary War. While it teaches about the war through a different perspective, it could inspire students to ask questions about different cultures in early America. Because Christopher Ludwick was a real person, some students may also be inspired to research more about him, as he was a generous beneficiary to many people who couldn't afford an education, in addition to a being a great baker. 



New York's Bravest by Mary Pope Osbourne and Steve Johnson reads like a legend, as it tells the story of Mose Humphreys, a New York firefighter in the nineteenth century. Dedicated to the firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attack, this book is a wonderful example of text written to celebrate someone. It would also lead to great discussions about what is real and what is exaggerated and what is realistic fiction and how exaggerations move it into the realm of legend.


Happy reading!



Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You 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 was in the library this afternoon looking for some books that would inspire students during our summer writing academy when I got distracted by the Woodson books on the shelves. I love Brown Girl Dreaming, and Each Kindness, but I had never read some of Jacqueline Woodson's other books. I sat down and read one of them right on the spot. Honestly, Our Gracie Aunt took my breath away. I knew that Jacqueline Woodson writes emotional books, but I wasn't ready for the power of this picture book. I found myself welling up right there on the library floor. This is a book that I would use to teach turning points to young readers and writers, as the emotional arc in the story is intense. 

 I brought some of Jacqueline Woodson's other books home with me, so that I could cry in a less public setting. 

What a beautiful book Coming on Home Soon is! While it would be a wonderful addition to a text set about African American's roles in wars, it is also an amazing book for teaching craft moves in narrative writing. For example, there are shifts in time, as the book is written in the present tense with memories and flashbacks woven in throughout the text. Also, Jacqueline Woodson is a master at using fragments effectively. On the first page, she writes:
Mama's hands are warm and soft. When she put her Sunday dress into the satchel, I held my breath. Tried hard not to cry.
I would love to talk to students about how that last sentence is so powerful, not only for the meaning, but also because of the use of a fragment. E.B. Lewis illustrated this book, and did an amazing job at capturing the story and suggesting what might be happening with the artwork. I could envision powerful conversations emerging from the secondary storyline that exists in the illustrations.

If you are trying to teach students how to capture dialogue and details of a place, We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past has fabulous examples and mentor passages. I loved the line "Grandma says Martha should be in any room but the kitchen." What an amazing job of holding on to the funny things people say and then re-creating them in a book Jacqueline Woodson does.

And then Show Way is a book that I will return to again and again. I'm planning to sit down with a pile of post-its and mark it up for the power of images--, the power of listing things in a series--stars and moons and roads--, the power of repetition--Loved that baby up so. Yes, she loved that baby up...If you have never read Show Way, I highly recommend it for both the incredible prose and the beautiful artwork by Hudson Talbott. Just have tissues close by.

Happy reading!

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You 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.

Each summer, we offer a Summer Writing Academy for students who love to write. We organize and plan the academy with specific themes in mind, and this year, we are planning to emphasize the power of story in relaying opinions and messages. Additionally, we will study mentor texts that celebrate people and places, and I am predicting that many of our students will write some wonderful pieces along the lines of When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, one of my all time books and one that celebrates the magic of a place. 

Today, I spent some time in the library looking for and rereading books that contain opinions, as well as books that celebrate people or places. 

I'm guessing that most of you have read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, but it was wonderful to read it and think about it as a book with a strong opinion that so many children share. We should all treat each other with kindness is a popular claim for elementary opinion writing, but Each Kindness is a beautiful example of how narrative writing can express that claim.

Along similar lines is Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee. We usually use this book as a mentor text for teaching students about the power of small moment stories, but this book also has an opinion about trying new things that is embedded within the story. I forgot about The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting as a book we could since it is such a beautiful narrative about never being too old to learn something new. 

Sometimes opinion writers can write essay-like pieces to celebrate people and places, but we can also express those opinions with narrative pieces. Sweet, Sweet Memory by Jacqueline Woodson, My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston, What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan, and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox are all books that I am looking forward to using as mentor texts for celebrating places and people. (And don't forget When I Was Young in the Mountains!)

Dr. Seuss is an author who embeds strong opinions, and his work will definitely find a place in our Summer Academy. If you have some other favorites or suggestions, please share!

Happy reading!



Monday, April 27, 2015

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.

Good news: This post is not going to be an expensive one to read...

Last week, I was involved in a professional discussion with teachers about the challenge of finding mentor tests for opinion writing. We came up with a few picture books that demonstrate some craft moves-- I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff and illustrated by David Catrow,  Dear Mrs. LaRue by Mark Teague, Earrings by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Nola Langner Malone... However, as much as I love these books for their humor, voice, and structure, they don't provide the mentoring that would really help fourth-grade and up students see what they need to do in order to write high impact opinion/argument texts.

I spent some time reading on-line pieces, and I was really excited to find change.org. I HIGHLY recommend this website for appropriate, engaging, relevant letters that can be analyzed for craft moves, structure, and elaboration. For example, there is a letter petitioning McDonalds to offer healthier alternatives, and I am including just one paragraph of the letter:

Adding plant-based protein options at McDonald's will appeal to workers out for a quick lunch, families with health-conscious members out to dinner, children on field trips, and anyone looking for something different than the current menu at McDonald’s where even the french fries contain beef flavoring (they don't in Europe, incidentally)! According to a recent survey, more than one-third of Americans already buy meat substitutes for reasons that range from health to ethics! So why not make a meatless option available at one of America’s favorite restaurant chains for everyone to enjoy? Healthy living should be about progress, not perfection, and this is an easy step that McDonald’s could be taking. 
(https://www.change.org/p/mcdonald-s-it-s-time-for-a-healthy-meatless-option)


 This passage could be used as a demonstration text to inspire students to:

  • use punctuation deliberately for voice and reader engagement
  • include statistics and facts to strengthen an opinion/argument
  • state a clear claim that aligns with reasons and evidence
Change.org has TONS of letters and petitions ranging from G/PG rated ones to more provocative, controversial issues. I am sure that you will find examples of opinion writing that will strengthen your workshop instruction across elementary grades and into middle school, as well!

Happy reading,





Monday, April 20, 2015

Grand Conversations Following a Read Aloud




Tuesdays are Slice of Life day hosted by the writing community at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome to join in!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the read aloud work that our Staff Developer, Christine Holley, did for some of our first and second-grade teachers. I wrote in that post that I would share more about the "Grand Conversations" that followed a read aloud in a later post, and here it is. 

After reading her book, and it could be any picture book, or even a chapter book for older students, Christine had the first-grade students sit in a circle. Because they did not have much practice with having a full-class conversation about a book, at first she encouraged them to raise hands, but after a few minutes, as they got going, she made a BIG deal out of telling them that they could try not raising hands. "Just talk to each other," she said. "Try it out."

When several students were talking at the same time (yes, that happened...), she stopped the class. "What are we going to do if four people want to talk at the same time?" she asked. One of the students suggested that they decide who would talk first, and then the others would automatically get to go next. The other students nodded in agreement. 

While the initial conversation was mostly around retells, Christine prodded the students with questions that required some deeper reflection. More importantly, she taught students some prodding lines that they could use to keep the conversation going, such as:

  • Why do you think that?
  • Can you say more about that?
  • What do you think?
Within five minutes, the students were engaged in a conversation and Christine sat back from the circle as they analyzed why Leonardo did not want to be a monster any more in Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. 

I loved that Christine invited students to participate, but did not pressure them. At one point, she interrupted the conversation and said, "If you haven't spoken, then you can go ahead and start us off," after she gave the class an open-ended question about the book. This question made many students reflect, thinking in a seven year-old way about whether they were talking too much or too little. When she ended the whole class conversation, she finished with, "If you didn't speak in today's conversation, that's okay because there will be lots of other chances to do it."


I really do hope that there will be lots more chances for students to engage in this speaking and listening work! It was so powerful to watch them get the hang of participating in a meaningful conversation.

Happy reading, speaking and listening! (As well as writing!)




It's Monday! What Are You 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.

While I was at a small bookstore, I picked up a copy of The Extraordinary Mark Twain by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Ethan Fotheringham. This would make a wonderful mentor text for information writing units because it is almost two stories in one. The book contains inserts written from Twain's daughter, Susy, who had a different perspective to share about her father. It is a wonderful example of narrative nonfiction, as well as a great teaching tool about how perspective and bias impacts what we think is true and how we express our ideas. 

I also read Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad. A loosely interpreted biography of Julia Child, this story focuses on an imagined friendship, weaving culinary concepts together with themes about life and living. It's another great example of narrative nonfiction for developing creative information writers. 






I have to admit that I spent more time during my vacation writing than reading. It’s hard to find time to do both when adventures and outings beckon. However, I did pack and read What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher. This book was published in 1993, and somehow I missed it. I’m not sure even now what prompted me to take it from my shelf and read it, but I am so glad I did. Ralph Fletcher is confirming as a writer, as a teacher of writing, as a writer who reads, and as a reader! He breaks down the habits and mindsets of writers with such clarity, simplicity, and wisdom. This is a book that you will read and walk away with inspiration as well as practical ideas for teaching writers of all ages. 


Over the year, my high school daughters have asked me to read their essays many times, and I have been consistently struck at the clinical voice (or lack of voice) in their writing. Saddened by it, actually. Deeply saddened by it. Ralph Fletcher writes about the destruction of voice in writing instruction. Maybe they are writing about topics they care very little about. Maybe they are spending too much time on research and not enough time digesting and wondering about their research. Maybe they do not spend time orally rehearsing or even mentally rehearsing how their writing is going to go. Anyway, I digress...if you haven’t ever read What A Writer Needs, read it. And if you have read it, consider reading it again. 

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Community Inspires Writers




Tuesdays are Slice of Life day hosted by the writing community at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome to join in!

Today has been one of those days when it's hard to get going on my Slice of Life.  Not because I don't have anything to write about--I could write about my coffee on the sunny deck or our encounter with a crabby diving mask salesman or swimming with sea turtles or being stalked by barracuda or deciding to walk to the restaurant three blocks down for late in the day key lime pie. The trouble with writing today is that it takes time. 

I have to thank Larkin because she gave me the push I needed.  Larkin is at college, so we are having our first vacation without her. (Please notice that I did not write family vacation!) When we came off of the boat, I had a text waiting for me. 

Let's just take a moment and think about how happy it makes me that my daughter who is a college freshman has joined this writing community, and not only has joined, but reminds me of my commitment to it as well. When I responded that I needed ideas as well, she wanted to know about our day. 


She immediately texted me back that I had an amazing post. I just had to write it. 

I have tried to explain to Larkin that I work hard to keep a balance of education and life moments in my slices, so once again, I was trying to figure out how to make my foray into snorkeling with some cute and some scary ocean denizens fit into the mission of my blog which is educational, when I realized that the link is all about the writing community. This morning's call for quests asking if we are yearlong bloggers and Larkin's assumption that even on vacation I would be blogging inspire me and remind me of my commitment to write. Communities inspire writers.

Thank you to Larkin and to the rest of the community.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

March Madness Book Edition 2015: Championship and Champion Announcement!

My class loved Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, as read alouds this year so it was no surprise that both titles were voted into our championship round! 
  

We are huge fans of Lynda Mullaly Hunt and for the past 2 years, One for the Murphys has been in our championship round and won! So I couldn't wait to see how students would vote between two of their favorite read alouds from this year because it was going to be a tough decision.  

 And the champion title is…

 drum roll please…



This is the third class that has voted One for the Murphys to be the champion so if you have not had the honor of reading this book, I highly and strongly suggest that you pick it up to read soon!

Thank you Lynda Mullaly Hunt for bring Carley and Ally into our lives! :)

Working With Strong Writers

Throughout the year, I have had several teachers ask me about working with their stronger writers. I am always happy to talk about this topic. Here are a few ideas for working with this population of young writers:

  1. Use mentor texts. Develop a cache of go-to writing for your units and mark them up so that students can study craft moves. Specific annotate pieces, either in the margins or on the pages with Post-its so that students have a visible representation of what the craft move is and what it looks like. Challenge these students to try out the craft moves in their own writing. Some go-to mentor texts, broken down by genre include:
    1. Narrative:
      1. Anything by Cynthia Rylant, Patricia MacLachlan, Eve Bunting,or Kevin Henkes.
      2. For small moments, Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee, Fireflies by Julie Brinkloe, and Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
    2. Information:
      1. I love the nonfiction books that Nicola Davies writes, because she includes such beautiful language and craft moves for hooking and interesting readers.
      2. Any of the National Geographic publications because they all feature catchy introductions and conclusions with an assortment of text features.
    3. Opinion
      1. I am constantly on the hunt for editorials and debate examples that I can share with students. Lego’s recent debate about whether to market pink Legos spurred some great writing of strong opinions about this topic.
      2. Youtube videos of persuasive speeches. Whatever craft moves work in speeches typically works in writing.
      3. Martin Luther King’s speech, I Have a Dream, is full of powerful strategies for opinion writers--repetition, images, personal stories, emotional references all appear in this historic speech.


  1. Develop or obtain grade level checklists for each genre- narrative, information, and opinion/argument-- and make them student friendly. Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins is an incredible resource for student-friendly, genre-specific, spiraling checklists.

If you don’t have access to this book, study the Common Core State Standards and develop some checklists that show progressions for students. For each type of writing, subtle difference ramp up the level and sophistication of writing.
Once students learn to use these checklists or progression ladders, they can study the nuances that exist between grade level, as they move of the ladder of writing sophistication. Students who excel at writing will be inspired to set and meet goals in their written work.

  1. Set up seminars for students. Even students in lower elementary grades will like the concept of signing up for seminars, since even the name sounds collegiate and high level. Better yet, enlist some of your strong writers to become “experts.” Perhaps they can apply for expert status, by demonstrating the skill or presenting evidence of the skill in their work. It’s never too early to teach students skills that are involved with job applications. The picture below is of a bulletin board in a third-grade classrooms. The “experts” are thrilled to continue to develop their skill and feel a strong sense of responsibility to do so, while their peers enjoy learning from other students. Meanwhile, the classroom teacher is freed up to work with more students.

Lisa's wall.jpg


4.   If you teach genre-specific units, encourage strong students to try to write in a different genre. For example, students can write a story to illustrate an opinion or  to prove a point. Here’s a potential example:
One day, I was left at the soccer field. All around me, my friends left, but no one realized that I didn’t have a ride home. If only I had a cell phone...

Narrative is also a powerful genre for teaching readers. High functioning writers who have met the standards of information writing might really enjoy the challenge of embedding information into a narrative piece along the lines of a biography or a Little House on the Prairie episode. If you are comfortable with poetry, encourage writers to use poetry for any of the genres.


Hopefully, somewhere in this post, you will find an idea that inspires you to challenge some of the children in your classroom who are brimming with writing enthusiasm.

Happy Writing,

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Snapshots and Snippets from an Afternoon With a Staff Developer




Tuesdays are Slice of Life day hosted by the writing community at Two Writing Teachers. Everyone is welcome to join in!

I had the privilege of watching our Staff Developer from Teachers College, Christine Holley, do a read aloud in a first-grade classroom. Because I had have read the book, Leonardo the Terrible Monster  by Mo Willems, several times, I focused not on the plot of the story, but on Christine's art of delivering a read aloud. Here are some of the major noticings I had in the less than ten minutes that she read:

  • She talked about the thinking and the talking that happens in books, introducing the book, predicting what terrible would mean, and cueing the students to try to figure out why Leonardo was so terrible. 
  • She modeled visualization, challenging students to think about how big another monster was in the book.
  • She gave the students an opportunity to act, asking them to show her what Leonardo was doing to be scary. "Show me just your face, not your noises," Christine directed when the students got carried away.
  • She varied her voice, both the volume and the speed, so that students quieted down and engaged in the story. 
  • She maintained a purposeful pace and balance of interacting with the text, tucking in her thinking and modeling her personal connections to the story.
  • She asked the students to turn and talk, scaffolding their conversations by writing "I think ________ because_________" on a piece of chart paper. When she asked students to share some of their thoughts, she asked them to say the whole sentence. This subtle move is so important in helping students practice the oral skills that help them develop their writing skills. 

After the read-aloud, Christine's work with the students continued, as she led them in a whole group conversation about the book. More on whole group conversations will be coming up in other posts...


When Staff Developers work with our teachers, I have gotten into the habit of creating a section in my notes for lines I want to remember. Somehow, these people just string together words and lines about teaching and learning that inspire me. Here are some of the lines from Christine's presentation today:
  • “If you hold them (the students) to saying what you want them to say, then they won’t say anything.”
  • "Always think about how we are going to engage the kids."
  • “Anything you say should be to get students to think bigger.”
  • “It’s really important to think about what the book introduction is going to be when you're doing a read-aloud."
  • “Learning through the illustrations is inferring.”
  • “Some books are worth revisiting and some are not.”
  • “Be clear about your purpose and vary the genres.”
  • “When you read, you talk and react and think.”
 I always feel so fortunate to work in our district and get to be part of this sort of professional development. I hope that the snapshots and snippets of the day can inspire others out there!

Happy reading-aloud!



Monday, April 6, 2015

March Madness Book Edition 2015: Our Final Four Announced!

Students were very excited to vote for our Final Four today! The energy and anticipation in our classroom were high while the results were appearing on their screens as they submitted their votes on Google forms.  I am pleased to announce the four amazing titles that are in our Final Four: 

If you have not had the honor and pleasure of reading these four titles, we highly recommend that you put them at the top of your TBR piles!
The students realized today that 3 out of 4 of the titles were read alouds in our classroom this year! The students love these four books and already know it is going to be extremely tough to choose only one champion!
Stay tuned :)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You 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.

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper is a complex story set in North Carolina in 1932, as African Americans were registering to vote in hostile and dangerous environment. This book not only tackles historic themes of struggle, oppression, and racism, but also universal themes such as struggles with learning, empathy, and personal responsibility. With an engaging plot, Sharon Draper pulled me right into the fear, frustration, and anger of Stella's family, giving a personal look at the struggles for basic human rights that people endured in our country. 

I attended a conference in Boston put on by the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Because Bryan Collier was one of the presenters, I read some of his books over the weekend. Uptown Bryan Collier's first book, was inspired by The Snowy Day. This book contains repetitive language and strong images of Harlem. Collier's collages are beautiful and launched his career as an illustrator. 


Because The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats served as a mentor text for Uptown, I brought it home from the library and reread it. The simple language and drawings remain powerful, even after years of sitting on library shelves. It's fun to read these two books side by side and find the inspiration that Ezra Jack Keats' work provided to Bryan Collier.


 Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier was available for purchase at the conference and will be available in another couple of weeks in bookstores. It is an autobiography, telling the story of Troy's musical development in New Orleans. The words and language are lyrical, the images are memorable, and the collages are beautiful. This is another great book to add to collections of resilience, growth mindset, and perseverance.

Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill  and illustrated by Bryan Collier is one of my new favorites books. Based on the true story of a slave named Dave who made over 40,000 pots during his lifetime, it is a wonderful example of narrative nonfiction. The amazing teachers at The Classroom Bookshelf have collected and mined an incredible collection of resources to add depth to inquiry lessons you can teach through this amazing story. 




Happy Reading!