Wednesday, October 31, 2012

End of the Unit---Now What?

I received an email from a teacher I work with that said, "I wondered if you had any ideas about publishing mini lesson statements. The deadline is Wednesday at the end of class, so tomorrow is a busy day of finishing up work."

Then today after leaving her class she said, "I wonder why reflection is so difficult for the students."

Ending a unit of study is a difficult time. As the students are finishing up their work, making copies, checking with the rubrics to be sure they have everything they need, rereading for clarity, it is tough to know just how we can help them be better writers! We don't want to overwhelm them. We don't want to just let them go either.  How can we give them the support they still need?

For the day before the deadline, we decided to go with punctuation. We knew that could be a big issue, but it could also be something that would make their pieces better. We had to remember that we were teaching the writer, not the Lucy Calkins always tells us! So this is what we came up with:
It says: "Writers look at punctuation to be sure it tells the reader how to read their piece. It's about controlling the actions of the reader." The YouTube video is of a robot being controlled by the man in the picture. He appears to have no contact with the robot, but when he moves, the robot's about control. 

The teacher also used a t-chart to give the purpose of punctuation and the class worked as groups to come up with the punctuation marks used for that purpose. This is what it looked like:
As the students finished their pieces or recopied to publish their books, they made sure their punctuation was telling their reader how to read the text.

Next, they filled out a reflection form. One of the questions was: "Choose the best (or your favorite) subsection or chapter you wrote.  What did you do to help that reader (from #2) learn about your topic in that section? (Be specific by naming the section title in quotes and use the words of writing to describe what you did.)"
It was so interesting to listen to the children explain this answer as I conferenced with them. Sydney said the reason she liked the chapter she wrote was: " Now the reader knows how to talk like Miamis."  Then there was Dante who told me he had a great way to end his book. He was going to write: "Guess I'm done, I'm out of paper!"

For the answer to the question...Why don't students like to reflect on their work?  Well, do teachers like to reflect? Even though it is the most important part of learning, we don't reflect as much as we should!  Kind of like Jacob said yesterday, "Mrs. N., you are making my brain hurt!"

Guess I'll go reflect on that!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writing Like a Scientist--Looking Closely

On Thursday during Gramma Preschool, Meron and I started our unit of study: Writing Like a Scientist. She was very excited to see what we would be doing. We talked about the difference between a story, like she has been reading and writing, and a nonfiction book to teach her readers. We have been doing science all year and even have a science notebook where she keeps her discoveries. But this time she would be writing a book to teach others what she was learning. Big stuff for a four year old!
We started off with reading lots of books about autumn, bugs, leaves, spiders, and even caterpillars. We looked at how the authors taught us things as we read and looked at the books. They had zoom in pictures. They had labeling. They had diagrams. These were all things she could do in her book, too. We talked about what we would see as we took our Science Walk!
The weather for our science walk was perfect!

Meron looked closely at the nut and found a "heart" inside.
As we walked to the woods in my neighborhood, we talked about how we were looking at things with fresh new eyes. She found a bug on the sidewalk and many different shaped leaves. They went right into her BIG zip-lock bag.  Yes, even the bug! We got to the woods and found many other things: nuts, more leaves, bark with moss on it, and lots of little white butterflies. We didn't put the butterflies in the bag. On the way back home, she even found a wiggly worm to stick in the bag. She had collected all the material she needed for her book.
Meron writes her book using colored markers.

Flower page from her book. Notice the F in the upper left corner. That says: Flowers
We spread all the things out that she collected in her bag. We sorted them into groups: leaves, bugs, nuts, and other things. We then talked about what kind of book she could make. She knew she could write a book about leaves because she had lots of those. She knew she could write a book about nuts because she had various types and sizes of those. She finally decided to write a book about Science Walks and talk about all of the things she found. She wanted to write a page for each subject.  She planned on having five pages: flowers, nuts, leaves, bugs, and worms.  She gathered five pages and began writing. She used two sizes of markers to write and illustrate her book. She had all her collections on the table beside her so she could refer to them to get just the right drawing. She also had a couple of her mentor texts beside her to refer back to them if she needed to some ideas. When she was done, she made a cover and we stapled the book together. She then took her book home to share with her little brother and teach him about Science Walks. She knows now how to look at things like a scientist with fresh new eyes!

Hope you have as much fun with your Science Writing as Meron and I had!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nonfiction Books for Writing Like a Scientist

The books I chose for today are both nonfiction books that would be good for any level student to use as a mentor text. As many kindergarteners are beginning the unit of study for the first time in this genre, it is important that they see books that will help them envision this type of writing. With imagination and approximation, these books will help children get excited about writing their own books. For the older students who will also be doing this work, these books are filled with ideas of how to turn their informational books into interesting nonfiction pieces.

Frank Serafini is one of my favorite authors, not just for nonfiction books, but also for his professional books  onn comprehension. He is an educator and avid nature photographer. His Looking Closely series inspires readers/writers to take another look at their surroundings. As the kindergarteners are writing like scientists, we teach them to look at things with new eyes. They are looking at things like scientists. Older students will do this in their content areas, too. These books are perfect for that idea. 
Gail Gibbons is one of the best nonfiction writers for young writers to use as a model. The books she writes are full of text features that the children can use in their own pieces. The samples of labeling, diagraming, and fun facts is perfect as a mentor for informational books.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Argumentive Writing for Fourth Graders

In November, many fourth graders will be writing argumentative essays--both personal and persuasive. Writers will state a claim and give supportive evidence using transitional words and phrases to organize their work. For many students this will not be easy. The first few weeks of the month will be devoted to writing the personal essay. At this time they will not be concerned with research or collecting information. Student will choose something they know well and can write about well.

To begin this unit, students will need to develop a thesis statement from a list of possible topics. In their notebook, they will make a list of big topics. The goal is to find a big topic that can have supporting details. The list might be: "Getting along with a sibling", or "Getting a new bike", or "Chores/jobs at home", or "Too much  homework". After they have a list, they might start doing quick writes in the notebook to get a feel for  one that feels right to them. That topic then becomes their thesis statement. For example: "By  having chores to do at  home it helps me become a responsible person." It might take time to revise this statement so it works with their thinking.

When the students have their thesis statements, they will be ready to collect small moment stories to demonstrate or prove their idea. This is work that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards. It might help for them to work with boxes and bullets to organize their thoughts. They would put the statement in a box at the top of a notebook page and then use bullets under it to list reasons for the claim. Those reasons will have stories to give evidence for the claim. In other words if we are using the idea of chores at  home, we might restate the claim over and over and add the word "because" followed by the reason:
  • "Having chores at home helps me become a responsible person because it showed me how to be reliable."
  • "Having chores at home helps me become a responsible person because it gives me a way to support my family."
For each one of these supporting statements, the students will need to collect as many small moment stories as possible.

In order to keep all this work organized, you might want to try something I saw teachers in New York City doing. They made a set of folders for each student to use. The student would take their thesis statement and write it on the outside of the folder. They would then make a smaller internal folder for each of their bullets or supporting statements. As they wrote their stories for evidence they would place them in the appropriate folder. After collecting and revising those stories they would select the best ones for the paragraph and rewrite the selected material. This method helps with organization and gives students smaller chunks for revision instead of waiting until the whole paper is written and little revision is done.

As students are collecting evidence, they could also use quotes, statistics or other students' stories. The main thing is that their evidence closely supports their claim. After they have selected the most powerful supportive material, they can tape or recopy the information into paragraphs that support each bulleted idea. Using those along with a beginning introduction paragraph and closing paragraph, they will then have constructed a rough draft of an essay.

They will soon be ready to polish up these essays with editing and celebrating. This essay will take about three weeks of the month. Next will come the persuasive essay!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Realistic Fiction at Several Levels

Next month's unit of study for many first, second and third graders is Realistic Fiction. This is a unit that most students will love. Children love to tell stories---both small moment or imaginary. I remember having a second grader come to school every day and tell me stories of how he had traveled over the weekend to California and saw a football game. Now, this could be true...but it wasn't. He had a great imagination and was a wonderful story teller. This would be a perfect genre for him!

Students will use everything they have learned about  narrative writing as they write this fiction. Having a plan for the stories is important. Younger students will tell their stories using their fingers for parts or will use telling the story as they move through the pages of a four to six page blank book. Older students can use a flow chart or story board to plan their book.  Using mentor texts and boxing out the parts of the story will help students see the big picture of how fiction works. Donald Crews and Ezra Jack Keats are great authors for mentor texts to use with boxing out the story.

Children will be writing stories about characters their age with a problem. It might be beneficial for the class to create a  list of possible problems. This would help them have some starting ideas. The rest of this paper will include possible solutions and end with an eventual solution.

As the students begin this unit, they can begin by collecting beginning ideas. They will start by writing the start of a story and then move on to another with a new character and problem. These collections could be kept in a special Realistic Fiction folder. Students will pick one to focus on after a couple days of collecting. The idea is to have your writing time look like a real workshop with students being at various points in the writing process.

One way to insure success for the children is to model this process in a class shared writing. Developing a character, choosing a problem and listing possible solutions shows the class how to do this in their own writing.

Using the enthusiasm for this genre will give you a great start. Constantly using the mentor texts as support will help children visualize how the piece will look. Remembering the goal of writing being sequenced and having detailed narratives is part of the Common Core State Standards.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Writing Like a Scientist in Kindergarten

Next month in many kindergarten classrooms the students will be writing like scientist since their unit of study is Observing, Labeling and Listing Like Scientists.  To get ready for that unit coming in November, it would be best to be reading as many nonfiction books for the read aloud time as possible. Students will be learning that writing is not only a tool for writing stories, but it is also a tool for writing about science.

Depending on the focus that will be used in your classroom, you will want to be sure and read lots of books on that subject before you begin the unit. As you are reading the books, be sure to talk about the text features that you see...zoom in pictures, bold fonts, italics, color fonts.  Things that perhaps the students will want to try when they begin their own books. Deciding ahead of time what your focus will be for this unit will help. As I am getting ready for using this unit with Meron, my four-year-old granddaughter, I am looking for books on autumn and fall since that is the focus I will use with her.
Working on her nonfiction writing!
As you are preparing for this unit of study, one thing to have ready for all children is science notebooks. This might seem like something only older children could take part in, but that is not true. As the students make discoveries in the world around them, they will need a place to collect those findings. The notebook collections will only be approximations of what they will do in the future. The information they put in these notebooks might be simply drawings and labels. Still they are looking at things with new eyes and have a place to keep those findings.  Another thing you might want to gather for this unit is several magnifying glasses so they can look closely.
Looking through a magnifying glass
You also will want to have a few boxes of zip-top baggies for the children to collect things when you take nature walks. You will probably want to have containers to keep the things they collect.  By preparing for this unit now, you will be able to enjoy more the discoveries and awareness the children have while writing about science next month!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interpretive Essay Focused on Characters

Many fifth graders are  now finishing up their interpretive essays in which their thesis statement focused on themselves and their beliefs. They have learned  how to support those statements with stories, quotes, and other facts. Now it is time to encourage those students to do the next round of interpretive essay writing.  This is similar to what they just finished, but this time they will be using a book character.

The first day of this unit of study will be spent picking a character for the essay.  It could be someone from their independent reading, one from the class read aloud, or one from a basal story. They will look back over any notes from their reader's notebook and find ones they have written about who would be worth including in an essay.  So, by the end of that day they would have the character and an idea of an angle that will become a thesis statement the next day.

On the second day, the students will not only write the thesis statement, but will also begin to plan how their essay will go.  They might box the ideas out in their notebook or use a story board to do their planning. They would have a good idea of which scenes will be useful to turn into anecdotes. They might have lists of examples that would give evidence to assemble into their supportive paragraphs. This would be the thinking necessary to plan for the essay.

Next, they will begin to assemble the evidence. This would be the scenes or lists that they had planned to use. This might be a good time to have a specific way to collect this material. On a visit to a classroom in New York City, I was able to observe an interesting way to do this. The teacher had made a type of accordion folder for each student. That folder would have many parts to it, just like the ones you could purchase in a story. On the cover or front of the folders the students had the thesis statement. On each of the separate folder tabs was a support statement. As the students collected (wrote) the stories, anecdotes, lists, quotes, they were then put into the corresponding folder. When they had collected all the evidence, they then could use what they felt would best support their thesis.

The paragraphs would then be written focusing on each of the supportive evidence. Now it is time to spend several days on the revision.  This would focus on elaboration.  In other words they would explain HOW a scene supports the claim they made in the thesis statement.

Since the students have already written the first personal essay, this one should not take as long to write. Some children might even want to do multiple characters if they have time. This unit of study is the backbone of the future essays they will be writing this year.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What Are You Reading?

Today I have picked two books that go with the season.  The first one is another Patricia Polacco book. It is one that I just love for this time of year. Since Patricia doesn't live far from my hometown, I have had the chance to visit many of the places she writes about in her books. She also lives in the same hometown as my cousin, so she keeps me updated on things happening there, too.

A picture of the actual Graves house in Union City.
Yes, you can go visit it!!!


Picture from the book

The Graves Family is a great book to read during the Halloween season. It is about a new family that moved into Union City, Michigan. (This is Patricia's hometown.) They have five children and are a little different, well ok, a LOT different. The story has a happy ending and teaches us to accept others even if they are not like us!  It is a funny book with a message.
The next book is about another season...the baseball season! With the World Series coming soon, this is just the right book for a read aloud. The great thing, too, is that it is a nonfiction book filled with facts, numbers and other statistics...but it isn't boring!  It is The Longest Game by Steven Krasner.  It starts off like this...
 "It was a baseball game.
One team won.
One team lost.
 But it was a special baseball game, so special it was even given its own name.
The Longest Game."
The book holds the reader's interest as the game goes on and on. Yes, it is a true story.  There are stats, there are quotes from people involved, there are even artist's sketchings. A new way of looking at nonfiction, informational writing!

Friday, October 19, 2012

National Day on Writing!

Here are a few of my for teacher experiences,
One from some conferences, one that I did with kids,
one with Richard Peck on the front!

One of the things that I planned to do when I retired is to write more. I love to write, so that was not going to be a problem. I now do a blog for teachers every school day, write on Facebook often, send emails to friends, write in a journal most nights.  I do all these things because I love writing and I am a writer.

US Senate Resolution 565 declares October 20, 2012, as the National Day on Writing. Since no one is in school on that day and some are  not there today, NCTE has asked that people Tweet #WhatIWrite on October 19 and then actually celebrate it when you can in the classroom.

When will you celebrate with your students? How will you celebrate this special day?

Thanks to Stacey Shubitz and  for the notice and idea for today's blog!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Using Characters to Build Theories

In order to write argumentative essays about books children have read, they  need to study characters in their reading first. This study of characters is not just the outward appearance of the character, but more the inner person. It is what makes up the character's personality: traits, motivations, troubles and actions.

This can be taught first in whole group through the basal story or a read aloud. Using a familiar picture book will help students really know the character. The main character should have a strong personality. This would be shown through not only the actions but also how the character does something...questions like: Why does she sit like that? Is she tired? Bored?

It is also important to pay attention to how the character talks and the words that are used. A way to know more about the character is to notice what that person is thinking.This might be how the author shows the character's motives.

As students learn new ideas about their characters, they will want to take notes. Using Post-its to collect those ideas is one way to keep them. At the end of the independent reading time, children can meet with a partner to go over their Post-its. This is a time to ask and answer questions to show an understanding of the text and to refer to the text as evidence for those answers. This work would support the Common Core State Standards.

The purpose of this work is to raise the level of their thinking!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Informational Writing in Fifth Grade

Another beautiful fall day...who knew that October could be sunny, crisp and beautiful.  After spending 43 years in a classroom in October, I just never had the chance to experience the beauty of fall.  As I walked to the front door of another school, I knew it was going to be another great day and the classroom experience did not disappoint me.

The children entered the classroom to the music playing in the background. They gathered their writing materials and headed to their table groups for the focus lesson.  The teacher began with the teaching point on the smart board: "Informational writers purposefully decide which text features to include on a page." Many of the students already knew about text features because they had been studying them for several weeks in reading as well as in writing. However, the teacher wanted to be sure they knew the purpose behind each of the features.  To do this she started a t-chart...feature on one side and purpose on the other. She had listed: bold print, color print, italics, bullets.  Each one was discussed individually with table groups talking in between the features. They copied the t-chart into their notebooks for future reference and went off to work on their informational writing.

I had the chance to sit beside several writers.  One of them was Ally who was working on her book about John Cabot. She was in the publishing phase of her writing. We talked about her process of putting the book together. She had started off thinking this would become a speech because that is what they had done last year. She had taken notes on her subject on note cards and sticky notes to later transfer into her speech. When she realized it was to be a book, her focus switched. Now she took those notecards and put them into groups and organized them into similar topics. She then used those topics to structure her book...they became chapters.

Another one of the writers I talked to was Faith.  She, too, was in the process of publishing her book. She told me she had first boxed out her ideas for the book and used that as her plan on starting her writing. Later she took those boxed topics to make her Table of Contents. As she did that, she realized that she had some topics that just didn't have enough material to become a whole chapter.  In order to still use those interesting facts she simply made a new chapter entitled: Fun Facts.

Later, as I was walking back to my car feeling the crisp fall breeze, I was thinking of all the smart thinking that was going on inside the building.  The author-talk that these fifth graders produced is just so amazing. I just love it when I leave their room and they shout out, "Bye, Mrs. Douglas. See you next week!"  What a wonderful day!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interpretive Essay: Inside the Classroom

On days when I visit classrooms I come away feeling so inspired and energized by what I observe. I am so excited to see how children are thinking and talking about their thinking.  The fifth grade class in one of the rooms I am visiting is working on the interpretive essay.  I was impressed with the work that I saw in that room.
Finding interpretive essays that are written in first person by students is very difficult. A site that was shared with me is:  It has sample essays by students under 18.  Teachers are using those pieces to be mentor texts for their students. There is even a piece by a kindergarten student, Tarak McLain, who has a list of his beliefs. 

As the fifth graders were working, I was able to talk to a couple who were struggling with their thesis statement.  We went back to the list of things that our mentor writer, Tarak, had on his sheet.  As we looked at his list, they began to make their own list. After a few minutes, they both knew exactly what their thesis statement would be and were ready to start collecting stories to support it.

I then sat down beside Sierra. She knew what her statement would be, but was struggling with the collection part.  She needed to see the “big” picture of where the essay was going…what it would look like. At that point we went back to another mentor text. This one was written by a child about being opinionated. What made this piece work for Sierra was the way it was laid out. Each paragraph started with a similar phrase: “At thirteen,” or “At nine,” or “At eleven”.  By seeing the format of this piece, she could then begin collecting her stories. She knew how it would look in her essay now.
The last child I worked beside was Adam.  He had a long list of beliefs but didn’t know where to go next.  He was just making a list!  I asked him to stop and read his list to me. I told him to be thinking as he read about items on the list that brought about a story to mind. He read through all 17 beliefs. I asked, “Did any sort of hit you?”  He said that one did.  He now had his thesis and was ready to begin collecting stories. We again looked at the same mentor text that I had used with Sierra.  This time he was going to use: “In first grade,” and “In second grade, and “In third grade,”. You get the idea.  He was ready!

Before I left, the teacher and I came up with a list of focus lessons for what would come next with these learners. Using mentor texts, listening to these young writers, and planning makes writer’s workshop a wonderful way to encourage thinking!

Monday, October 15, 2012

October: is Bullying Prevention Month

Since this is Bullying Prevention Month, I decided to share a couple books that could be used for this theme.  One is brand new. I've never used it, but since it is by Patricia Polacco, I know it is perfect for this month.  Yes, I bought it and it IS perfect!
It is about a new girl in school. Lyla makes friends on the first day of school with Jamie.  She makes cheerleading squad, makes good grades, and suddenly is part of the popular girls. However, she also knows bullying when she sees it.  She actually sees her new friends bullying Jamie and others on Facebook! Now what does she do?  Does she have the courage to stand up for her friend?
The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill is another book on how to deal with bullying. Mean Jean was a bully and no one did anything about it.  That is until Katie Sue came to school. Can she stand up to Mean Jean? The illustrations and fun rhymes make this a perfect book to start discussions about bullying and how to deal with it when it happens.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More Reflections from a Day With Stephanie

  1. Comprehension Strategy Instruction
  2. Active Literacy
  3. Gradual Release of Responsibility
  4. Nonfiction Literacy
Yesterday I shared number one with you: Comprehension Strategy Instruction. Today I will share the rest of my notes for numbers 2, 3, and 4.

Active Literacy classroooms, clipboards top the supply list. They act as portable desks so kids can jot their thoughts and questions to hold their thinking.  There are LOTS of charts that are constructed WITH the kids.

Possible Chart:

                            I Learned                                l           I Wonder           
  On post-its:                                                                        l
Use L for learning;
W or ? for wonderings

Gradual Release of Responsibility

When doing whole group teaching----do 3 - 4 minutes of teacher talk
Then have students turn and talk about what they learned or wonder
THEY do most of the talking...not the teacher
(Person doing most of the talking is doing the most....learning!)

When children do post-it notes, have them use markers NOT pencils. If they cross out...model how to just line it out with ONE line.  You want to be able to SEE their thinking (approximations).

When writing nonfiction books or informational books:
Specialist vs Expert

1. know a lot about the topic
2. love and care about the topic
3. want to know more about the topic

Assessment vs Evaluation:
1. Informs what child can and can't do and progress they are making
2. Informs future instruction
3. Informs OUR instruction

Evaluation:  To Grade Something

Again, check out Stephanie's website:  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Reflection on a Day With Stephanie

As I reflected on my notes from my day with Stephanie Harvey, I tried to imagine how I could share what I learned. I finally came up with repeating some of the things that made me go: "Wow!" or "That's Right!" or "Really?" or "What...I didn't know that!"
Here's my sharing...

Fun is the most direct link to engagement.
Engagement is the most direct link to learning.
So, make learning fun!

That doesn't mean playing games all day, pictures or reading super easy books. It means giving children choices, letting them explore and investigate.

How to scaffold purposeful talk:
  • Teach the art of conversation.
  • Start with "thumbs up" to the chest when they want to talk---NO MORE raised hands!
  • When a bunch of kids just jump in to talk---teach them to take turns.  After one shares they say, "    name  , would you like to share your  [learning, or questions, or wonderings]?"  "Yes, thank you!"
We teach kids to:
  • Be aware of their thinking
  • Think strategically
  • Recognize the power of their thinking
We teach comprehension strategies so kids can acquire and use knowledge.
Turn information into knowledge by thinking about it.

Today's "new knowledge" is tomorrow's background knowledge.   ---Pearson

That's enough for today! I'll share more in another blog. By the way, Stephanie's website is:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quote toThink About....

Spending the whole day with Stephanie Harvey was so inspiring!

Here are a couple quotes from the workshop with Stephanie that I went to yesterday. I have lots more to share and will do that tomorrow.  Stay tuned!!!

"Smart is not something you are...
Smart is something you get!
And you get smart by reading, writing, talking, listening
and thinking!"

                                              ----Harvey 2007
Every effort must be made in
childhood to teach the young
to use their own minds.
For one thing is sure:
If they don't make up their
own minds, someone will do it
for them.
---Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting Ready to Hear Stephanie Harvey

Today I'm heading to Warsaw, IN with the All Write!!! Consortium to listen to Stephanie Harvey. She is the author of such books as: Strategies That Work, The Comprehension Toolkit,  and Nonfiction Matters.  She also co-authored Comprehension  Collaboration with Harvey Daniels.

Since I will be spending the whole day and even having supper with her at night, I felt that I should do some homework. I read Strategies That Work years ago. I used Comprehension Toolkit.  I've watched and shared her DVD "Read, Write, and Talk" many times. But, even though I've owned Comprehension Collaboration for several years, I have not gotten through it. Because of that, I plunged in and began reading.

Right away in chapter 1---Kids Want to Know--I came across steps to initiate literature circles which are patterned after adult reading groups. Each student picks a book and then three to four classmates who want to read it, too, get into a group. The teacher picks books for them to choose from that are "just right" books for the students. They will pick the book that is at their just right level.

As these groups begin to read, they make a calendar and divide the book into chunks. The chunks will be discussed at two or three day intervals. The children then create ground rules which will include what to do about the child who is unprepared or who doesn't do the reading. The calendar and the rules are submitted to the teacher who gives her approval. They are then filed in the groups folder.

The students meet every few days to discuss their reading. When they come to the end of the book, instead of assigning a book report, summary or even a report about the author, the teacher has the group think about what questions they now have or still have after reading the book. They will be encouraged to reflect, examine their own thinking, and pose future questions.

This is where the inquiry circles come into play...thus the book: Comprehension Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.  I can't wait to hear Stephanie later today and hear what she has to say!  I will report back this week!

Monday, October 8, 2012


I know I already blogged about this book.  It is one I suggested as a great read for upper elementary students.  That was before I read it.  I had heard such great things about it, I knew I had to share it with others.  Well, now I have read it and I must say...EVERYONE needs to read it.  I finished it on the beach in Miami, Florida last week. Here I was on this beautiful beach with the ocean stretching before me with my husband at my side. We were both reading. As I finished the book, he looked over and said, "What is wrong with you?"  I had tears streaming down my face. They really were happy tears. The book just makes you feel so blessed and ready to take on the world. Let me give you some examples...

The main character has a facial deformity which prevented him from attending school until he was in fifth grade. Now, you know what fifth graders CAN be like. The story is about how he tries to convince his classmates he is just like them. That's the summary of the story, but there's more...

One of the teachers Auggie, the main character,  has gives the students a precept for the month.  Here are a few:
  • When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. --Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  • Have no friends not equal to yourself--Confusius
  • It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers---James Thurber
At the end of the year, that teacher challenges the students to write their own precept and send it to him during the summer.  Here are a few of theirs:
  • Don't be friends with jerks.---Henry Joplin
  • To thine own self be true.--Hamlet, Shakespeare
  • If you can get through middle school without hurting anyone's feelings, that's really cool beans.---Summer Dawson, a student in the class
AND now for Auggie's:  Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life because we all over cometh the world.---Auggie

Need I say more?????   Happy Reading!



Friday, October 5, 2012

Curiousity and Excitement in Learning

When I became a retired teacher, one of my goals was to explore how children learn. To simply sit back and watch them and then reflect. I told my friends I was doing research. I really was wanting to take time to do something that had always interested me. How do children think? If you let them explore and develop their curiosity and be there to nudge and guide them, what will they do?

I have had the chance to do that with various age levels these past weeks. I go with my two-year-old grandson to Story Hour at the library once a week. I provide a Gramma Preschool for my four-year-old grand daughter twice a month. I work along side a couple classrooms of fifth graders. Even though the learning is diverse, the information I'm gathering has a ring of sameness to it.

Graham, the two-year-old, sits fascinated with the story and has to move closer and closer to the reader. He is exploring the whole concept of interacting with others and figuring out how he fits into the picture.

Meron, the four-year-old, loves the science part of our morning. She can gather sunflower seeds and leaves and fit them together into her science notebook. Or look through a magnifying glass at tiny bird feathers. Her exploring develops by actually doing something: feeling it, seeing it, interacting with it.

Many times we feel that teachers can no longer allow this independent learning to happen. I don't think that's true. The fifth grade class I visited this week was working in writing their nonfiction research-based books. The teacher started her focus lesson with the posted question: What makes a good nonfiction picture book? As the students huddled in their groups, I could hear their discussions.

"Punctuation guides! You have to have those," one blond boy insisted.
"Pictures and diagrams," said another group.
The child I worked along side told me, "You have to have illustrations and color makes it good."

As the teacher jotted down their suggestions on the smart board, a group finally said--Table of Contents. This was the direction of the mini lesson---planning your books. Her teaching point was: Information writers make a plan for how their books could go. She sent them off to plan.

As I conferenced with several, I picked up a theme of using a mentor text to lean on when writing. Some were doing that already. Some needed a little nudge or suggestion to go in that direction. But all were doing it. The end sharing time was exactly that. Gabe showed how he decided to use mentor text to help his table of content and to develop the tone of his book. Cooper shared how she was using another student's idea of planning as her mentor.

It is so exciting to see how at any age children use their curiosity, their enthusiasm and their interests to grow knowledge. It doesn't matter if its a two-year-old learning to explore how to interact with others, or a four-year-old learning to use her senses to discover, or fifth graders exploring how to be nonfiction writers. The key for teacher is to allow children to be excited about learning and be able to direct that excitement into becoming life-long learners.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Raising Quality of Narratives

The unit of study that many third graders will be working on this month is narrative, but raising the quality of those narratives. It is important for students to be able to develop stories the best that they can since narratives are included in other genres--nonfiction, argument and informative. Stories will be part of most essays as they are used as evidence in those genres.

A way to start this unit is to make lists of possible stories from their lives in the writer's notebook. The lists should be of significant events in the lives of the students. They might list the first or last times they did something. These type of stories will be emotional happenings and therefore meaningful entries. They could make a list of a time they learned something---maybe a time an important person taught them. That also could evoke a strong emotion. They might generate a list of major issues---bullying, family issues, being a new student.

After a day of creating this list, students can then begin doing quick writes in their notebooks on various topics from the list. These small entries will take one to two days. When a student has a story that they feel could be developed into something that could be a meaningful piece, they will want to begin drafting outside the notebook. It is time to put their "blood, sweat, and tears" into the piece.

It will be at this time that you will want to have mentor texts for the children to model. It will help to have these texts be new, not something they used the past years. A few suggestions that I have used are: Let's Get a Pup by Bob Graham, Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and Hesse's Come On, Rain! Having on hand books that have various beginnings or endings help students learn how to craft those things.

Once students are started with this unit you will be able to see what areas need to be revisited to raise the quality of their narratives. Let the students' work drive your instruction!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Authors as Mentors

This month many second graders will be using Authors as Mentors as their unit of study. This is a time when students will use various authors as their writing teachers. They will develop styles, strategies and craft like a certain mentor writer. To do this the class will study several authors. They will read books written by the mentor authors and find what makes those writers unique.

First, a mentor author needs to be chosen to start the month. Some of the authors I have used are: Donald Crews, Ezra Jack Keats, Kevin Henkes and Tomie de Paola. As you choose your authors, they should be ones who can help students with craft. What the teacher already knows about her class of writers will help her make that choice.

After one author is chosen, the teacher will do a read aloud reading the book twice--once for enjoyment and once to look for various craft moves. Using a chart with the author's name and perhaps picture on top will be where craft  moves of the book are listed. As this author is being studied, different books by him/her will be read each day. The chart will have more craft items listed on it. Students will try to model what they have learned from that day's author in their own writing.

Children will be looking at the world through writer's eyes. They will see things in a different way---a way to turn what they see into a story. In order to capture these details of their lives, they may want to carry Tiny Topic notebooks with them. They can then jot down words or sketches of things that happen in their lives. This will give them a collection of ideas to use as stories.

Going through the various authors this month, students will pick up many new craft moves. Towards the end of the month the children will begin to realize they have a particular author who has become their mentor. You might even hear, "Hey, I write just like...."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Realistic Fiction

Writing realistic fiction is a unit of study that fourth graders will be excited to write and will take off writing long pieces. Even though this sounds great, it might be wise to hold on to that enthusiasm with reigns of structure. Students, many times, create long stories that lack details and meaning. It just gets out of hand.

By keeping that in mind as this unit is started, the area of planning should be focused on far more time than normal. Students might be better off having a few guidelines as they begin. As they are thinking of characters, it is best to have their main characters be the same age as the writer. Using only two to three characters helps focus, too. It is also best to have no characters names be the same as anyone in their classroom.  It might help to have the place and events be things the students have actually experienced.

In order to plan this piece of fiction it might help for them to draw out their story in their notebooks as a storyboard. Several possible stories could be planned out this way.  After doing this for a couple days, students would then be able to choose the one that would fit best for them.

Next comes the characters. Since the story plan has been developed in their storyboard, choosing characters to fit the plot can now happen. Knowing their character will help the development of details in this piece. It might help to sketch their character in the notebook and then list external and internal characteristics. Another list could be possible problems due to those characteristics.

The planning stage also takes time to develop the story arc. As the students develop their plot, there will be a turning point where the story changes. This is the top of the arc. Talking our the story helps this plan. Having the fourth graders have the story planned out in great detail will help the actual drafting. Again, once they start writing, they will have energy to put into this work. This piece will be longer than other writing they have done. It will be in the area of four to five pages and so they need stamina to finish the project.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Interpretive Essay: How it Might Work

Writing the interpretive essay is a first step in argument writing. It is a way to help students have a thesis statement and support that statement with evidence. This month many fifth graders will be doing this. They will have two essays to write (plan, draft, revise, edit). The first one is a personal essay. Starting with the personal essay gives them topics they feel comfortable writing so they can focus on the process of this genre. This essay will take ten days to complete.

Starting on day one, the teacher can help students by going over a list of character traits. Helping them see these traits as personal will give them the tools they need to write their thesis statement. In other words, they will pick out traits that sound like them personally. Immersing them in this genre would be beneficial also. After a focus lesson on these traits, teachers will send them off to list several they could prove were traits they have. The notebook is perfect for this.

On day two, the focus lesson would teach students how to "try out" their statement to see if it is going to be a good fit for them.  Modeling this for them with two - three samples would be the best way to go. Students would then work in their notebook and do two to three samples. This would be a thesis statement for each sample and then two to three stories. For this day the story would not have to be written out---just a title would work.

By the third day all students should have a thesis statement to turn in to the teacher. Now the focus lesson could be on planning the essay. How many small moment stories can you write to support this? How many quotes do you have for support? The plan could be a flow chart of the essay: statement, story, story, quote, story, conclusion. Each student would come up with their own plan naming each story.

From day four to day seven the students would be collecting stories to support their thesis. The focus lesson would be the teacher modeling her own way of collecting and writing her own stories. Students will collect and write more stories than they will use. Other lessons will be on quotes or other methods of support for the thesis statement.

On day eight to ten, the paper is ready to be put together using the strongest stories and quotes. This is the revising phases. Mini lessons on using transitioning words will be helpful. Also modeling how the teacher puts her essay together is a powerful focus lesson. Editing after it is written is the next step.

After the class has gone this far, it would be beneficial to share the essays in some sort of reflection. The next ten days will now focus on essay number two!