Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dublin Literacy Conference 2015--Recap

Despite the eight inches of snow that fell the night before and morning of the Dublin Literacy Conference, it was a success!  Holly and I drove up Friday afternoon and met some friends for dinner.  So glad we did!  Some of our Cincinnati friends couldn't make the trek to Columbus because of the inclement weather Saturday morning.  It's a shame because they missed a GREAT conference!

One of my favorite parts of the Dublin conference is the students that kick off and introduce each of the keynote speakers.  Take a look at this video:
How could you not love an introduction by Kindergarteners? 

Soon after the kids left the stage, Chris Lehman took the floor.  If you're not familiar with Chris, you should acquaint yourself!  He is co-author of Falling in Love with Close Reading (along with Kate Roberts), as well as multiple other books for educators.  He also founded The Educator Collaborative (check it out by clicking on the link).  Chris centered his keynote around the idea of close reading and how we should be doing it versus how it is being done in many classrooms.  Most importantly (and near and dear to my educational philosophy) is the idea that we MUST provide students with CHOICE in reading.  If we don't give them CHOICE, there is no impetus for them to do the hard work of comprehending (and caring about) a text.  Common texts work wonderfully as mentors, but we must allow students to find reading material that is important, and speaks, to them.  Once we teach students the fundamentals of dissecting a text and gaining a deeper level of thinking, therefore meaning, we should be able to send our students off to dissect their own texts.  Our job as educators is to teach the various structures our students need to understand, teach them how to identify patterns and create habits of looking through the lens of closer reading, and then have them perform these tasks independently.

How can this be accomplished?  First we must start with something FUN!  It's no fun for anyone to commence a difficult task (such as close reading) with something that is nearly impossible to figure out.  Instead, we should begin with something accessible to, say, a Katy Perry song...and work from there.  By listening and looking at the lyrics, we can figure out what the song is really getting at.  What a great way to introduce the idea of close reading, and to get kids to care about looking a little deeper at language.

Once things have been noticed, and patterns have been found, students can then develop new thinking about a topic.  For example, imagine any song you like.  Think about why you like that song.  Find the lyrics online and read them.  What did you notice?  What patterns do you see in the lyrics (both literally and figuratively)?  How does this change your thinking about the song and the message in the song?  What do you think the songwriter was really trying to tell you about the world?  Pretty cool, huh?  What a meaningful way to get kids hooked on taking a closer look at the world around them, too.  

Perhaps my favorite thing about Chris and Kate's book (and Chris's keynote) is the idea that close reading isn't just for books.  It's for our lives.  We should be close reading our lives.  Observe what is going on around you, listen to what people are saying to you and what you are saying to others, make lists of things you notice.  Understand what is going on in your world.  If you find something that you don't like, alter it.  If you need to make more time for people, do so.  After all, isn't this the essence of living?  Shouldn't we want to close read our lives and make adjustments as necessary.  I certainly hope so!

Next up?  Author Lisa Graff

Lisa is the author of A Tangle of Knots, Absolutely Almost (one of my personal favorites!), Lost in the Sun, and many other books for intermediate grade children.  She led us through a writing workshop she often uses during school visits, in which she guides children through the writing process.  It was even complete with handouts!  It was an interactive session where the audience built a story based on contributions from each other.  It was really fun to see how many different directions a story with a common character, setting, and problem could take.  We got pretty creative!  

Lisa also did the second keynote address after lunch.  It was hilarious to hear her speak about how she got her start and what she loves about writing.  My students were excited to hear that I met her, as Absolutely Almost was our first read aloud of the year.

Next up?  My presentation with Holly!  We presented "The Top 10 Ways to Turn Your Classroom Into a Hotbed of Enthusiastic Readers".  What a mouthful!  Click here to check out our Prezi.  Our presentation was based off a Nerdy Book Club post we cowrote a couple of years ago.  You can take a look here.  We had so much fun presenting together!  Holly and I have been working together for years.  If you want to learn more about us, check out Holly's blog post about our incredible professional relationship.  We truly are professional soul mates!  We had a great turnout and were able to stay after and talk individually with several people that attended our session.  This is why we love presenting--we get to share our passion about teaching reading and writing, and we get to meet so many great teachers who believe in the same thing!

After presenting, it was lunch time and we had the good fortune to meet Mr. Schu!  We've long stalked him online via his blog Watch. Connect. Read.  Here's our picture with him:

The final session of the day was back to Chris Lehman to learn about digging into book groups in the classroom.  

Book clubs are something that occurs regularly in my classroom and I loved what Chris said at the beginning of the session: "If we overprescribe how club are run, we take away kids ability to talk authentically."  That is so true!  Several years ago I tried literature circles, where each student in the group have a prescribed role.  It was boring and certainly led to little or no real conversation about books.  That's when I turned to common sense and thought about what I enjoy in my adult book club: talking with my friends about the book we all read independently!  That is the heart of book clubs--talking about a common text and the interactions we all had with the same story. 

Lehman suggested we explicitly teach three categories to our students in order for successful book groups to authentically take place in our classrooms.  The first category is "good conversation."  We have to teach our kids how to talk to each other in a group.  Silly as it sounds, if you've spent any time in a classroom, you know this is true!  They need help in taking turns and validating others' opinions.  The second category to explicitly teach is "social interaction." This is all of the management junk that isn't fun to teach (because it seems like it should be intuitive, but it's not), but once you've established ground rules and expectations, you can follow them all year).  The third category is "reading."  Simply put, we have to teach kids how to read in more thoughtful ways (refer to the top of this post again for how to do that).

One of my favorite things addressed in this session was how to teach kids to look at books and think about what they have in common.  As teachers, we should be able to identify what the books our kids read have in common, even if we haven't read them.  For example, I teach 5th grade.  An intermediate chapter book usually has the following things in it: dynamic character (a character that changes or transforms from the beginning to the end of the novel), secondary characters (characters that help the dynamic character transform), and a degree of plot complexity--usually in the form of two storylines that intertwine.  If you teach intermediate grades, think about that for a moment.  Just about any chapter book you pick, from Harry Potter to Hatchet to Wonder has all of these elements.  Because we know this, it shouldn't be a secret kept from our students.  We should explicitly teach these things so our students can be looking for them throughout their own books.  Imagine!  If our kids know before they start a book that there will be a character that makes a major change, there will be other characters that help or hinder that change, and there will be at least two storylines that will converge at some point.  Won't they have a leg up at the beginning of the novel knowing this?  I can't wait to do this at the start of our next round of book groups.  I love learning easy tweaks that help my students become better, more appreciative readers.

I've been attending and presenting at the Dublin Literacy Conference for several years.  It just gets better and better.  I'm not sure what's in the water in Dublin, but I try to drink up while I'm there!  What a great day of professional learning with colleagues that care about getting kids to enjoy learning.  Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mesoamerican Artifacts and Gallery Walk

We recently wrapped up our unit on ancient Mesoamerican civilizations--Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas.  This is typically one of the kids' favorite units of the year in social studies because who doesn't love learning about human sacrifices, sun gods, and pok-a-tok (an ancient game similar to modern-day basketball and soccer combined, except that if you lost the game in ancient times you were likely sacrificed).  The culminating project (assessment, if we must use that language) is to create an artifact portraying some learning about a particular aspect from one group.  Students first pick one of the three civilizations on which to focus.  Then, they decide if they're going to dig deeper into government, religion, daily life, art, technology, or agriculture.  Next, we spend some time in the computer lab conducting research (nothing too in-depth, as we are always pressed for time).  A fantastic website that helped lots of kids is Ducksters.    I also supply Kids Discover magazines on each of the three civilizations, and I've built their background knowledge through videos and some articles we've read together about each group.

After researching in the lab and talking with fellow classmates, students brainstorm artifact ideas.  They get to mull this over for a few days to figure out exactly what they want to create.  In the meantime, I show them this video clip about the Smithsonian museums in DC.  We watch it through the lens of noticing how exhibits are displayed and what information is included in an exhibit.

We notice that most exhibits have plaques next to them explaining the artifact and providing some history.  Of course, this is the next layer of the project.  In addition to creating an exhibit, students must also write about the significance of the artifact and explain how they made it.  I provide examples class and students work on this during class time.  I set aside one day in which students bring in materials for artifact creation.  They can work on making the artifact and writing the exhibit notes on an index card.  Here are some in-action photos of the great work that occurred in our classroom.

A quipu, a pyramid, and a mask

Calendar creation

More calendar magic

An ancient battle sword

The base-20 number system

The next week we set aside about 30 minutes to hold our gallery walk.  Students display their artifacts and index cards and we walk around admiring (and some of us grading...) projects.  It's always so much fun to see what kids create and why they chose a particular item.  Here are some final product shots:

Alexis was her own artifact (displaying ancient dress).

Abby showing off her ancient mask.

Timur and Abagail sharing their artifacts.

Andrew and his ancient Aztec mask.

Madi Jo is an architect!  So is Chloe!

Jenna shares her pyramid.

Miya shows off her display of the differences between peasant and noble lifestyles (BIG difference!).

As you can see, a lot of thought and work went into these projects.  I love this one because the kids do the bulk of the work at school and I get to watch them create their masterpieces.  Another successful gallery walk is in the books!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My 2015 Outlook

Oh my word!  I had full intentions of doing an end-of-the-year blog post about my lack of success in reading the books on my Must Read in 2014 list, and now I can't even find the list!  I've searched the desk, behind the desk, behind the printer, I've looked out the window, I've poured a glass of wine, I've searched again, ...  So, suffice it to say, I read some of the books on the 2014 list, I started some of the books on the 2014 list, I abandoned some of the books on the 2014 list, and the rest I either will roll over to my 2015 list (assuming, obviously, that I find the list), and some I will forego.  You can thank me now for not providing you with a list to further add to your overwhelming to-read pile.  You're welcome.

I've been feeling a little under-inspired on the blogging front.  My last post was from September 1.  September 1!  That's four months ago.  Geesh.  Life seemed to get in the way and to be honest, I'm not a good blogger at 9:30 at night after a full day's work and the normal nighttime routine of a certain five-year-old who occupies our house.  But, even though I haven't been writing, I have been thinking.  My last post was on my "I CAN" statements.  To switch things up, I've been thinking a lot about what I need to change as a writer or blogger.  I'm thinking about it as I don't have to keep-up-with-the-Jones's anymore.  I love reading other's blog posts and I will certainly continue to do that.  But, I'm giving myself permission to not feel the need to blog every day or every week.

Which leads me to my One Little Word for this year (boy, I'm really cramming in all of the end of the year/beginning of the year stuff, huh?): SIMPLIFY.  My life is hectic--wonderful, but hectic.  I know you all know what I'm talking about because your lives are hectic, too.  I really want to focus this year on a few things I ENJOY doing and do those things even better.  So here goes--my plan on simplifying:

1. I will only read books I think sound good, without caring if they're children's, adult, fiction, nonfiction, or professional.  I love to keep up with current books for my classroom, so I'll certainly keep doing that, but I will also acknowledge that it is okay to read and enjoy books written for adults.  Seriously--My kid to adult reading ratio is 10:1, at least.  I will no longer feel guilty!  (haha)

2. I will blog about things in my classroom that I think will help other teachers.  For example, when I have a creative, innovative take on teaching something, I will write about it in the hopes that others can use the idea.  We're always trying to NOT recreate the wheel, right?  I love getting ideas from blogs, Pinterest, collaboration, etc.  I will not feel guilty about not participating in memes.  I love reading memes that other bloggers write, I just struggle with getting them done on time, leading to that feeling of having too much on my plate and having to sacrifice something, hence the guilt.  Common theme for me, apparently, huh?

3. I will attempt to work on a fiction writing piece that I started two years ago.  I think it's a decent start.  I also think it'd be really cool to get some online feedback.  The piece is currently historical fiction for intermediate grade kids.  Actually, it goes back and forth between present-day and the 1850s.  I will be okay with only writing a sentence a day, if that's all I can do.  But, I need to work on it and get it out there.  It's the only way for it to progress.

4. Here's my other idea to simplify (and honestly, this could go either way--simple or complicating): I want to pick up something like needlepoint.  What?!?!  Out of left field, right?  Well, I used to love doing crafts.  I've discovered scrapbooking and card making are not for me, but I think I could like needlepoint or cross-stitch.  Here comes the guilt part again, though--I will attempt to not feel guilty that I'm needlepointing and not reading or writing or grading or planning or whatever else my conscience will come up with.  My mother is a knitter (I'm not that advanced yet) and my mother-in-law is a needle pointer and cross-stitcher.  I love that both women can create something beautiful out of yarn.  I want to try it too!  I actually think it might be soothing, and dare I say it...simple (because I'll have the pattern created for eight-year-olds...)

So, here's to trying new things, letting go of some of the old, and ALWAYS holding near what is dear and valuable to you.  Read, blog, write, sew, and if I was being really ambitious, I would have some goal on there about cooking more (because I truly do love to cook), but I'm sticking with my OLW: SIMPLIFY.  Here goes it!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Keeping Up: My "I CAN" Statements

Ah, it's that time of year again.  School has been in full swing for three weeks, Mother Nature decided to finally have summer, my classroom is a stifling box of humidity and heat, I'm learning all about my new kids, I'm wrapping my brain around all of the forms that need to be filled out for the new teacher evaluation system, I'm prepping for a presentation I'm giving for the Ohio Writing Project about peer and self assessment in writing, I'm gathering books for our first literacy contract based around empathy, and I'm responding individually to each student in the form of a response letter to get to know them better.

I go through this maniacal month at the start of every school year.  It's hot, there's a TON of work to be done to set the stage for the rest of the year, and there is ever-mounting pressure on evaluations and assessment results.  We MAP tested the first full week of school, after all.  I know I'm not alone.  Chances are, if you're reading this, you're probably in the education arena too, and know exactly what I'm talking about.

Here's how I get through it.  BREATHE.  Then, I think about what I CAN do to have a successful school year:

I CAN get to know my students by reading the letters they wrote to me and responding, by having them fill out conversation calendars about what they like to read and then recommending some books to them, by having them do copious amounts of writing at the beginning of the year so they have a rich variety from which to draw ideas throughout the year.

I CAN fill out the teacher evaluation forms and know that I am good at what I do.  I've taught long enough to know what works for kids and what doesn't and I'm always learning something new about my practice because I'm reflective of my work.  Just having confidence can go a long way in thinking about how someone will evaluate your performance in the 30 minutes they have to make a conclusion on your effectiveness.

I CAN look forward to presenting and sharing knowledge with other teachers of reading and writing on a Saturday in September.  I'm so excited to hear their ideas and bring back new things to try in my classroom.  Educators should constantly learn from each other.  We have so much to offer!

I CAN make lots of trips to the amazing public library and pick up books I've requested so my students have a wide variety of choices for their first literacy contract.  This is the part of teaching I love.  The contracts help my put all of my literacy standards under one umbrella.  September is empathy--an important concept as we build community in our classroom and think about connecting a little more with the outside world.  I can't wait to get my kids in book groups and thinking critically about how to be more empathetic with each other and the community.

I CAN make a difference in the lives of my students and they make a difference in mine.  It's a whirlwind month, but so worth it.  I learn so much about my kids and my teaching practices in the first month of school.  It helps me keep up with everything rest of the year.

I hope your school year is off to a great start and that you're able to keep up by thinking about all of the things you CAN do.  Have a great school year!

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm participating in the meme #IMWAYR started by Book JourneyTeach Mentor Texts, and Unleashing Readers.

I was out of town last week, so I'm displaying two weeks worth of books today!


My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems

A fun book about the value of friendship.

I Am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems

Another fun addition to the Elephant and Piggie series. Natalie and I especially loved the end--where all of the characters attend a fancy, costume pool party. Ha!

More Tales of Amanda Pig by Jean Van Leeuwen, Illustrated by Ann Schweninger

We found more Amanda Pig at the library! A nice book of short stories involving Amanda and her brother.

What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada, Illustrated by Mae Besom

A great addition to the writing workshop picture book genre! This book validates what it feels like to have no ideas when faced with the task of writing. I think a lot of kids will be able to relate.

Tuesday Tucks Me In by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter, Photographs by Dan Dion

Tuesday is the service dog for a veteran, Luis Montalvan, who suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. This charming story is told from Tuesday's point of view. The reader can immediately empathize with Luis and see all the good Tuesday does to help Luis feel more comfortable in civilian life. A touching story to share with any animal lover.

The Porcelain Man by Richard Kennedy, Illustrated by Marcia Sewall

This is a strange one. A girl pieces together porcelain that her oppressive father finds in the street. A porcelain man is created and declares his love for her. The girl's father smashes the man and she reforms it into a horse who carries her away. The horse destroys itself so she can once again create the man. Another young man is passing by and helps the girl collect the pieces. They take the pieces back to his house where they create a full dinnerware set. They fall in love that day. During dinner, a plate proclaims it's love for the girl and she tells it to be quiet. The man and the girl live happily ever after. (?) Maybe I'm missing something??

Letter Lunch by Elisa Guiterrez

I loved the illustrations and the graphic novel format of this book, but didn't completely understand the author's choice to make the hungry kids collect letters. It felt a little forced.

A Thirst For Home: A Story of Water Across the World by Christine Ieronimo, Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

This is a great addition to our empathy unit, to use in conjunction with A Long Walk to Water. Alemitu is a young Ethiopian girl who collects water with her mother daily. Once her family has no food left, her mother is forced to give up Alemitu for adoption. Alemitu is adopted by an American family and becomes Eva. She never forgets her roots, though. The story is perfect for young readers to understand the hardships so many people in the world face.

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? by Rita Gray, Illustrated by Kenard Pak

A nice story about a nesting robin surrounded by other birds in the forest. The end has a great interview with the mother robin.


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Oh my goodness. Cady, what a burden you carry. Lockhart masterfully crafts characters that you at once sympathize with, yet don't fully understand. A gripping novel about a wealthy American family taking a hit from within.


This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is the story of a lost man, whose father has just died, wife has been found cheating with his husband, and he must sit shiva for seven days with his dysfunctional family. It's a glimpse into someone's life who is on the brink of breakdown, but told in a humorous way.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

I loved this book about Cora who chaperoned Louise Brooks (a famous film star) when she first set out for NYC from Wichita, Kansas. Cora embarks on her own journey to find her roots in New York and finds a whole new world. I'd highly recommend this!


The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater


Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

I'm also contemplating starting a nonfiction book.  I have so many good ones I want to get to!

What are YOU reading?

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm participating in this fun meme created by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts.

I read a lot over the last week!  I love that feeling!


Amanda Pig, Schoolgirl by Jean Van Leeuwen

Cute story about a pig's first day of Kindergarten and how she helps out a fellow classmate. Natalie has a new favorite series.

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett

This was a fun story about President Taft getting stuck in his bathtub in the White House. He calls in various government officials to get him out and none of them can come up with a plan (sound familiar?). Finally, Taft listens to his wife when she suggests they all grab hold of Taft and pull him from the tub. The end of the book has a list of facts we know about Taft and his obsession with oversized tubs. Certainly an interesting read, kids could learn a little about government offices and something about a past president. I particularly loved the illustrations because they're done by the Mercy Watson illustrator!

Lost for Words by Natalie Russell

A cute book about how sometimes it's easier to sketch your thoughts and feelings than it is to write them. Could validate some kids' struggles with writing by allowing them the freedom to draw to get ideas instead. Great book for writing workshop.

The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon

A young girl is upset about moving away from friends. Instead of having a good bye party, they decide to have a good pie party where everyone brings a pie.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss

A classic rhyming book for beginning readers.


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

I absolutely loved Albie! This book reminded me so much of Wonder--a 5th grader who struggles and relies on the support of those close to him, in this case, his amazing babysitter Calista. Albie's parents want to help him deal with his shortcomings at school, but they are overextended in their careers and often can't figure out why things are so hard for Albie. Calista helps Albie recognize that he is important and special and above all, kind. This will certainly go with my opening empathy unit. It might just become the first read-aloud of the year!


Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

This one has been on my list since it came out. I wasn't disappointed! This is a story of finding new hope in old places. Great summer read!

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

I loved this little book about showing your work to the world! Kleon argues that to be acknowledged for the work you do, you must put your work out there and share it with the world. In return, you'll acquire a following and your work will become known. I enjoyed the style of this little book and appreciated all of the various artists he included. I even found a few passages to use with my 5th graders during writing workshop!


A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

I'm still listening to this in the car, when I'm by myself.  I like it, but I wish I would have just read it myself, because it's dragging on and on.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

This is another audio and it's long!  I've been listening to it while working out.  It's wonderful!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is our book club selection of the month.  So far, it's pretty amusing.

I have a stack of middle grade novels on my nightstand to choose from for what to read next.  It's a tough choice!

I'd love to know what you're reading!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Must Read in 2014 (#MustReadin2014)

Well, the midpoint of the year has rolled around (how did that happen?) and I'm proud to say I've read  some of the books on my Must Read in 2014 list.  Not nearly enough, but hey, be kind to yourself~you're doing the best you can do (I saw that on Pinterest and loved it and I'm excited I could work it into a blog post about reading--because let's face it, we all want more time to read!).  In no particular order, here's what I've read since the last update:

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

This one has been on my list since it came out. I wasn't disappointed! This is a story of finding new hope in old places. Great summer read!

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

3.5 stars, and probably 4 stars if I'd read it faster. I've been reading this for a few months during silent reading time at school. The book is about the Cholera outbreak that 616 people in one part if London in the mid-1800s. I liked how real people who played crucial roles in solving the mystery of the epidemic were given big roles in the story. The main character, Eel, is a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kid who ends up being an assistant to Dr. Snow and determining the outbreak stems from a contaminated water pump. This book isn't for every kid, but one interested in science and mystery would enjoy it.

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

In the same vein as The Help, this is a story of a young, Southern girl trying to put her family back together, but finding that family is not always related by blood. I especially liked the change over time of Starla (the white Southern protagonist) as she came to know and love Eula (the black, Southern woman with whom Starla finds on her journey).

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

I just couldn't make it through this one. Maybe I need to pick it up again this summer when I can sit and read more than two or three pages at a time.

So that looks pretty meager on the screen, but I've been reading tons of other fabulous books, too!  You can look at my Goodreads list as proof.  I really wanted to include A Snicker of Magic, because I'm starting the last CD in the car today, but alas, I'm not quite done.  I'll include it on my next update.  Hope you've read something good, too!