Sunday, June 30, 2013

Open-Mike for Poetry Celebration

Most of our teachers have end-of-year writing celebrations in their classrooms and invite parents and special guests. One of the parts that I love about my job as the district's writing coordinator is attending these events.

Students, parents, and other guests enjoy poetry
 reading at an end-of-the-year celebration.
One of our fifth-grade teachers, Heather O'Connor, arranged for her class to celebrate the end of their writing year with a poetry slam at a local restaurant. Peaberry's Cafe hosts open-mike nights for poets. Heather called the owner to ask about bringing her class to one, and the owner suggested that instead, they have their own. Describing the event, Heather wrote, "I will definitely make this a yearly tradition. It was a such a wonderful way for the kids to share their word play, and it truly felt like a celebration of their work. Plus, we were able to host more people-- 93 people (including the kids)."

Heather thanks the students and guests for coming
 and celebrating poetry and the year of writing.
If you have ever had a chance to listen to Alan November's TedTalk about motivating students by giving them purpose, this is an amazing way to celebrate writers and give students a purpose. The students truly planned the night, creating an order of events, introductions, announcements, and even a mini-lesson for guests. Additionally, they collaborated in order to make sure that there would be microphones, hand-outs, photography, and necessary supplies.

Heather's final reflection? "All in all, it was a perfect night -- a true celebration of the writing life!"

I'll be sharing some of the other celebrations I attended, and I would love to hear about more!

Be well,

Monday, June 24, 2013

It's Monday! What are You Reading? Every Day After by Laura Golden

Thank you Jen and Kellee for hosting this weekly!  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to check out their blog Teach Mentor Texts :)

I have been waiting for Every Day After by Laura Golden to come out on bookshelves because I could not wait to read it after reading the blurb and online reviews about it.  This weekend I sat in my favorite chair and read it in one sitting - I could not put the book down! I needed to keep turning the pages to find out what happened to the characters, especially Lizzie Hawkins. 

This book takes place in the Depression  era and the characters are dealing with a lot of issues linked to the Depression.  For example, Lizzie's father left her and her mother after not having work for awhile and her mom has not been the same since.  With the father gone, they are behind on their mortgage payments and may lose their home to the bank if they can't pay it.  If that is not enough, Lizzie is also having issues with a girl named Erin who is out to get Lizzie and will go to any measure to make Lizzie's life miserable.  Since she is dealing with a lot at home and has a lot on her mind, her friendship with her good friend Ben becomes strained and tested.  Will Lizzie be able to save her home, help her mother, keep her friendship with Ben, and be able to deal with Erin? 

Once you begin this book, you will not be able to put it down.  The characters seem so real and you will fall in love with them and want to know what happens next to them! This is Laura Golden's first novel and I hope she has more books in the works because I can't wait to read more written by her! 

Happy Reading this week! :)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen and Kellee host Its Monday! What Are You Reading? on their blog, You can find great reviews and recommendations from the people who link up every week!

We received our new Units of Study about a month ago. Lucy Calkins, along with her team of staff developers created grade specific series in narrative, opinion and informational writing and each grade has four complete units, as well as supplemental books, as well. Each of the spiral-bound books contain about twenty detailed sessions that include a mini-lesson, a mid-workshop teaching point, a share, and an idea for conferences or small group. They are packed with teacher language, rationales, student writing samples, ideas for charts,
and instructional tips and strategies, and checklists for students to build independence.

People have asked me about what is different between these books and the ones Lucy Calkins published in 2010 for teaching the writing workshop. First, the new units of study are grade-specific and provide detailed descriptions of specific units of study. Additionally, the authors pack two to three teaching points in each session; mid-workshop interruptions and end-of-workshop shares are not to review the initial mini-lesson's teaching point. Instead, these are teaching opportunities for different strategies. Another difference is the alignment of the new books to the common core. Each grade has units that specifically address the three types of writing and within those units, there are grade specific checklists that students and teachers can use to help students set goals and build independence.

From Scenes to Series by
 Mary Ehrenworth and Christine Holley
At this point, I have read several of the books, but the first one that I read was From Scenes to Series, the first grade book about realistic fiction by Mary Ehrenworth and Christine Holley. Some of my highlights of this book for me include:

  • the idea that fiction writing is a game of pretend--what a fun concept for first-graders! (or writers of all ages, for that matter...)
  • the references throughout the first bend of the unit to Choice Words by Peter Johnston. If you're looking for a great book to read over the summer, that's one! Christine and Mary embrace the concept that every moment in classrooms can be a significant learning event.
  • the importance of children writing a lot. By session 3, the expectation is that students have written up to four stories!
  • teaching children to read their own writing with a sense of drama.
  • incorporating spelling instruction into writing workshop. Because each session has more than one teaching point, time opens up for spelling strategies and even grammar instruction. In Session 4, the author suggests "role-play being a writer their age who is daring to use sparkling words." p. 32.
  • teaching young writers to use checklists to set goals and develop independence.
  • the line that "the work of reflection is not the work of one lesson or one day, but is an ongoing habit for writers." p. 50
  • studying mentor texts in order to become better writers. While this is not a new concept in workshop instruction, Christine and Mary give many explicit examples of how to do it, using inquiry lessons, as well as direct teaching.
  • the use of dramatic role-play in developing characters and stories. On p 68, they describe creating a pretend interview with a character. What a great way to have students increase their knowledge about the character in their stories!
  • the step-by-step, lesson-by-lesson development of charts. Charts are teaching tools that students should be a part of creating in this unit. They develop with the teaching points.
  • the emphasis throughout the book to teach children that hard work leads to results. "Every time you make comparisons to activities that children work hard at, such as baseball or music, or bike-riding, you explicitly suggest that children want to get better at things, including writing." p. 90
  • the importance of explicitly showing children how to do what you are teaching. I am teaching you...and one way to do it is...
I have not included all of the important points in this book as there are far too many in the 158 pages. Whether you are teaching the exact unit or just looking for inspiration and fresh approaches, you will find it in From Scenes to Series!

Happy reading (and writing),

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Surprise Author Visit!

We had an author make a surprise visit to our classroom this week! This year, we read aloud One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and the kids loved it! They loved it so much that the book was one of our winners in our March Madness Book Edition and also won Book of the Year and Read Aloud of the Year last week when we voted on our Classroom Book Awards. I posted about the awards, One for the Murphys received, on this blog and on Twitter.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt was very honored and asked me to please thank the kids!

Wednesday morning at about 8:30, who walks into our classroom?? Lynda Mullaly Hunt!!  She surprised us with a visit to meet us and thank us for honoring her books with these awards.  It was one of the best surprises ever!  She spent a couple of hours in our classroom talking, sharing, reading some of the students’ writing, and passing out signed bookmarks and bookplates.  She also gave the kids a steel penny from the WWII time period and told the fascinating story behind it and how it connects to one of the books she is currently writing.  She even read aloud a chapter from one of the books she is working on, called Alphabet Soupand had the kids brainstorm and vote on a title for the chapter.  She is going to use that chapter title in the published book and include the class in her acknowledgments! The kids were beyond excited about all of this and can't wait for Alphabet Soup to be published. They absolutely loved getting to know Carley in One for the Murphys and look forward to getting to know many more of her characters in the future! If you have not had the pleasure of reading One for the Murphys yet, put it on the top of you TBR stack for this summer! 

I just had to take a moment and share part of our fabulous day we had this week with Lynda Mullaly Hunt and share what an amazing person she is! She has a heart of gold and went out of her way to make the day memorable for all! It was truly an honor to have the pleasure of meeting her and having her as a guest in our classroom.  

Thank you Lynda Mullaly Hunt for surprising us and spending time with us this week - we deeply appreciate everything! 

Also, thank you Kristen Brighenti for helping to keep this visit top secret and a surprise!

Cheers to an amazing week! :)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Classroom Book Awards 2013

Last year, I read a post by Colby Sharp about Classroom Book Awards on his blog and I loved the idea! It is a perfect way to reflect on all the great books we read and enjoyed during the school year.  Before reading about this idea, I always had students reflect on our class read alouds by choosing which read alouds were their favorite, sparked the best conversations, had the strongest characters, and taught them important life lessons.  However, I never thought about opening the reflection up to include more categories and to give out book awards, which seems more official and exciting for the kids.  

So last year, I began this tradition of hosting Classroom Book Awards and students loved it! Click here to read my post about the process from last year.  Since the end of the school year is approaching, we started the process of nominating and voting on books this week and we now have our winners! To begin the process, we decided on our award categories as a class and I created a nomination form with categories on Google Drive.  Then students nominated one book per category on their form independently.  I collected the nominations and tallied the books that had the most nominations.  Those books then went to the next round.  I repeated this process of tallying up the most votes for three rounds and then the 4th time was the final round where students were voting between two books for each category.  Below are the winners for our awards: 

Classroom Book Award Winners  2013

Book of the Year - One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Best Social Issues Book - Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Favorite Chapter Book Series - The False Prince Trilogy by Jennifer Nielsen

Best Middle Grade Novel - The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Favorite Graphic Novel Series  - Lunch Lady Series by Jarrett Krosoczka

Read Aloud of the Year - One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Most Inspiring Read Aloud - The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Best Picture Book - It’s a Book! by Lane Smith

Best Historical Fiction Book - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Best Nonfiction Book - Winter’s Tail by Juliana Hatkoff and Isabella Hatkoff


Enjoy Reading! :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Thank you Jen and Kellee for hosting this weekly!  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to check out their blog Teach Mentor Texts :)

About a week ago, I was in my glory at BEA (Book Expo of America) in NYC surrounded by new and upcoming books!  This was my third time going to BEA and I will continue to go each year.  The Javitts Center is filled with high levels of energy and excitement for books!  It is a great opportunity to meet authors, learn about new books being released, get ARCs signed by authors, and be around thousands of people that share a passion for books and reading.  One of the best parts of the day is coming home from the conference to look at all the new ARCs and make my new TBR piles, as well as think about which books I will recommend to different kids in my class.

Some of the books I have read this past week are: 

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner comes out on September 10th.  My students were very excited when I showed them we had an ARC of this book! This year was the first year I had a student with a concussion...not just one student, but three! So they were the first ones who wanted to read this book since the main characters suffered from a concussion and are attending a facility to try to get rid of their ongoing symptoms.  This is a suspenseful book that is filled with mystery and adventure!  My 5th graders who have read it so far, loved it. :)
 The Show Must Go On! (Three-Ring Rascals) by Kate Klise and Sarah Klise also comes out on September 10th.  This is Book 1 in their new series and I was excited to read it since I love the 43 Old Cemetery Road series! This book/series is written in a similar style to the 43 Old Cemetery Road series and has some letters, illustrations/graphics, and speech bubbles.  Readers love their writing style and find it very engaging. This series will also hook reluctant readers too and is perfect for grades 3-5.  I look forward to continuing to read the next books in this series too.

Home Sweet Horror: Scary Tales Book 1 by James Preller will be released on July 8th.  I am not the scary story type of reader, but I always have students each year who enjoy reading scary stories.  However, sometimes the scary stories are not always appropriate or sometimes even too scary for middle grade readers.  I enjoy James Preller's books so when I saw him signing ARC's for his new Scary Tales series at BEA, I knew I wanted a copy.  At first, I thought it was going to be a book of scary short stories since the title was Scary Tales, but it is actually one continuous scary story with short chapters.  It is a short chapter 
book with illustrations and an appropriate amount of "scary" for middle grade readers.  

Last year, at BEA, I received an ARC of Book 1 in this series so I was very excited to get my hands on Templeton Twins Make a Scene: Book 2 by Ellis Weiner (thank you to the generous person who gave me their copy when I asked where they got it from...thank you, thank you!) This book will be released on October 8th in bookstores.  If you haven't read The Templeton Twins Have an Idea: Book One yet, then definitely add it to your TBR list! 

In addition to the ARCs I received at BEA, I also have been reading books that will support our American Revolution unit that we are currently in.  
One book that we have been reading is The Split History of the American Revolution: A Perspectives Flip Book by Michael Burgan.  This book is part of a series, including one on World War II, the Civil War, and Westward Expansion.  I love this series because it tells both perspectives for the historical event. For example, in the American Revolution book, if you hold the book one way, you read about the Patriot perspective. However, if you flip the book around, you read about the British Loyalist perspective.  It is a great tool to teach point of view and perspective! I highly recommend this series for social studies units and/or nonfiction reading.  

Enjoy reading this week! :)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

One of my favorite Monday morning routines has become checking out the links at to find out what other bloggers are recommending to read. I have many saved pages that I return to whenever I am at the library or bookstore. Feel free to join with your book recommendations.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about some of the how-to books I have been reading to use as mentor texts during our writing academy this summer. I found another one! How to Negotiate Everything by Lisa Lutz is a hilarious mentor text that could be used at many levels. I shared it with our kindergarten teachers who loved it because the pictures offer so many opportunities for inference and it is packed full of persuasive language. Since they are teaching an opinion unit, these teachers were going to use it as a read-aloud to develop a chart for how to convince people of your opinion. I hadn't thought about it as a mentor for opinion writing, but it works for that as well. This book has many teaching opportunities and laugh out loud moments and I can't wait to see how the children respond to it this summer from second right up to sixth grade.

One of our teachers who attended the Book Expo lent me Patricia Polacco's new book, The Blessing Cup, which is available for pre-order on Amazon. I love how Patricia celebrates special objects that
 have rich histories and stories; The Blessing Cup is another beautiful celebration of family history told by way of the importance of the cup that is passed down from generation to generation. I have read many of Patricia's books several times and there are certain pages that always reduce me to tears. Without being a plot-spoiler, there is a page that got blurry for me and I suspect that I will continue to well up whenever I read this particular page. Once again, Patricia has created a story full of memorable characters and moments. Enjoy!

Finally, I can't say enough about the new Units of Study that have finally come out from Teachers College. This week, I have read Writing Reviews by Lucy Calkins, Elizabeth Dunford, and Celena Dangler Larkey, which is the first-grade opinion writing resource. I also read Changing the World by Lucy Calkins and Kelly Boland Hohne which is the third-grade opinion writing resource. If you are not familiar with the set-up of these new books, they outline about 20 sessions of writing workshop per unit, with explicit ideas for mini-lessons, conferences, small groups, mid-workshop interruptions, and shares. Veteran writing teachers, as well as new teachers will find an incredible amount to learn, as all of the books are not only aligned to the Common Core, but also committed to the philosophy that young writers need audience and purpose, as well as tools for independence and repertoire. The comments throughout all of the books are so passionately full of respect for the struggles that all writers face and authentic practices for encouragement. Each grade level has its own set of books, worth every penny!

Enjoy the week,

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How Writing Impacts Instruction

Last week, Stacey Schubitz of posed the question to her blogging community:


 I did not respond that day, as I have been swamped and exhausted. (What a cliche at this time of year!) Also, when I started to respond, I realized that this was a much bigger question for me than I could write in one sitting without mulling and thinking a lot! Since Tuesday, I have been thinking about this question almost whenever I have had a chance to think random thoughts. I will start by agreeing wholeheartedly with Elle, who wrote:

Katie Wood Ray is the person who helped me to understand just how important it was for teachers of writing to be writers. She said that you wouldn’t take your child to a dance teacher who couldn’t dance or to a piano teacher who couldn’t play the piano. She said that teachers have a job that is doubly hard. They need to know how to do the thing – whatever it is (in this case, writing) – and then they need to break it down and talk about the doing of it so that others can understand. She called to us to hop onto the smart train to learn to write or read or dance or play better so that we could be better teachers.
I find myself urging teachers to write alongside of kids. My own writing alongside of teachers gives me the understanding of the process, the failings, the triumphs of doing it. The power of the community, the need for feedback. The lifeblood of feedback. It makes me know that teachers can’t wait days to give back assessments. That students must feel the touch of their hand on their work each day in the feedback we give.

I was lucky enough to have a week with Katie Wood Ray many years ago as my first experience with workshop instruction--she gave a week-long workshop at Amherst College in the mid-nineties that still impacts my teaching life-- so I especially loved Elle's reference to her. I also couldn't agree more that teachers have to be writers with their students, just as athletic coaches have to be knowledgeable about their sport. My tennis coach would not have been able to teach me a serve if he was not able to break it down into small parts.

But there's more about being a writer that helps me teach when I am in classrooms.
  • I know that sometimes writing does not go the way that you plan or expect. Sometimes a piece takes a turn away from the preconceived path and a map or an  outline loses its effectiveness. While this is a problem for a prompt-oriented piece, some of my favorite work that I have done took me on an unexpected path. While I love to teach children about planning their writing, I also think that, especially for students who are more advanced writers, there will be times when discoveries about how stories should go will be made along the writing path. If, in my coaching life that doesn't give me my own set of daily students, I am lucky enough to meet with a student who discovers something about a character along the story's way or thinks of another reason to support a claim from writing about others, I would celebrate, and teach into how writers adjust and modify plans, sometimes.
  • Sometimes, it really is hard to think of what to write or how to start. Sometimes, ideas tangle and dance just out of reach and no matter how many starts and re-starts you take, those ideas just don't make sense out of your fingertips or off of your pencil. I am more empathetic to students when this happens to them, and I am a great believer in having sections of notebooks that are dedicated to potential ideas. (I've been needing this for blog posts, recently!)
  • Responding to the mechanics of my writing is much less important to me than responding to my writing as a reader. I want to know if what I write has an impact. Yes, of course I want readers to understand my work, but I want them to relate to my work and have a reaction that is not about grammar, spelling and punctuation. Do you like what I've written??? Have I convinced you or entertained you or informed you??? Those are the questions that I really matter to me. One time, I read a piece in my writing group that was full of emotion to me and at the end, one of the members told me that she wanted a little more description in the opening setting. This happened a while ago and I still remember the sadness I felt that the first response to an emotional piece was about the setting, even though I really do know that settings are important. As a teacher of writing, I try to always react to the content and the emotion in students' work before anything else, especially when a student has taken any sort of emotional risk.
  • Charts and checklists really do work for me when I am going back over a draft of writing. Just recently, I have used charts to remind me of transitional language when I was writing a mentor essay. I also appreciate the reminders that charts provide for story components and craft moves. I write a lot, but even still, I don't remember to include all that I should and these tools of the trade are really helpful. As a teacher, modeling how I use them and authentically using them really supports our students' paths toward agency and independence.
  • Having a writing life makes me a better participant in life. I pay attention more, ask more questions, wonder out loud, linger over interactions, make decisions to remember, appreciate the everyday humor, emotion and beauty that exist in my daily world. This is where I think that story-telling and morning meeting times when teachers and students really, really listen to each other talk about what has happened to them is so, so important. 
  • Having a writing life can also be distracting to my daily life. I find myself thinking about my writing when I wake up, when I'm walking, when I'm driving, when I'm cooking dinner--you get the idea... And when I am really involved in developing a piece, it's harder for me to generate energy for another. I have a lot of respect for my high school daughters who have to balance writing assignments across subjects, but I wonder about the passion and commitment that they have for any of their pieces.
  • When I am really involved in creating a story, I need to talk about it and create those characters, scenes and events so that they are almost as real in my physical life as they are in my mental life. When I am developing a claim, I make it much stronger when I can get people to debate with me and be on the hunt for clues that support or detract from my opinion. It amazes me how much is out there when you are looking for it!
Stacey's question distracted me this week and I am grateful for that. I also loved reading what others wrote! You can read more by following the link to the comments.

Enjoy the week,