Friday, December 21, 2012

Looking Ahead to 2013

The end of a year is ahead of us. Many people make New Year's resolutions. Some people reflect on the past year. Here are a few thought starters as you get ready for your break:
  • My greatest wish for 2013 is...
  • My favorite New Year's memory is...
  • I'm looking forward to...
  • The one resolution that shows up every year is...
  • I'd most like to change...
Here are mine:

My greatest wish for 2013 is...that all teachers would have less stress and more time to share joys with their students.

My favorite New Year's memory is...when my son told us he was going to be a father for the first time.

I'm looking forward to...spending more time with all of the grandchildren..watching them blow out birthday candles, watching all their sports' events, playing with them at our pool, laughing at their funny sayings...

The one resolution that shows up every year spend more time reading and writing.

I'd most like to change...the pressures that the teachers feel so they can again enjoy just teaching.

I'd love to see yours.  If you have time during your break, fill these out and send them to me at    Merry Christmas!  Have a great vacation!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Love of Reading

Graham listening to a story at Story Time
One of the best parts of being retired is to take Graham, my two-year-old grandson, to Story Time at the library. Naturally, I want him to learn to love to read as much as I do. One way to do that is to let children know that all kinds of people read. They need to see their parents, grandparents, and siblings reading!

Over the last couple years I have been collecting pictures of people reading in various places. To me this is just proof that reading is fun. Hopefully, one day I will be able to pull all these pictures together for a power point to share the Love of Reading!
Reading in Phoenix

As you travel around the school or neighborhood, be on the lookout for adults, kids, anyone reading.  Point it out to the children around you. Share with them the fact that everyone loves to read in all kinds of places. It should become a habit with them, too. When you have some spare time...READ!
Yes, even Dave reads!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Looking Toward January: Informational Writing

In January many third graders will be writing informational text. This is very similar to what third graders have been doing in past years. When they were in K-2 grades, they wrote 'How-to' books and 'All About' books. That informational writing gave them the background to do the type of text they will write this year.

Students will be writing about things they are interested in and very familiar with. The purpose of informational writing is to teach others. It is important that they know a lot about their chosen topic. A possible way to begin after the topic is chosen is to separate it into subtopics. Each of those subtopics can be listed as chapters in the table of contents.
As students prepare to write this genre, it is important to have mentor texts that look like what they will write.  Books by Gail Gibbons or Seymour Simon are suggestions. These books should model the ways students will be sharing their information.
Each chapter or subtopic will have multiple pages. Students will need to decide what information they want to teach in each subtopic and how they will do that. One possible way to make those decisions is for them to try story boards in their notebooks using sketches and words. Ideas for those pages might be: "how-to" page; diagram with labeling page; compare and contrast page; or a "story" page. They would then choose paper that would be based on the structure that matches the information to be taught. Using what they have learned in previous grades about writing "All About" books, will help them know how to best present their informational writing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Opinion Writing--Persuasive Reviews

In many second grade classrooms, students will be writing opinion pieces with the focus on persuasive reviews!  Right away most of us think about book reviews. However, I would urge you to go further than that. What about movies, places they have traveled or would like to travel, or restaurants. One student I worked with decided to write about a favorite restaurant of her family. The teacher then sent the review to that restaurant. What a surprise when the student received a gift certificate from the restaurant AND was told that they framed the review and hung it by their door! So, don't just limit the writing, challenge the students to write for REAL reasons!
A book that I like to use for support and ideas is Is That a Fact? by Tony Stead.  His chapter on persuasive writing has examples and structure for K-3 students. He suggests doing a travel brochure together as a class. You might want to gather some brochures about one certain place and let the children investigate them in groups. Making a chart of what they learned about their special place, will give them the materials they need. You will then record it as a class in a shared writing.

Another idea he shared was to ask the children to look in those brochures for words and phrases that they felt were persuasive. These words would also go onto a chart. After each workshop's focus lesson, the students would work as partners or groups to develop their own brochure. Later, lessons on revision and editing would also be included.

Don't forget to check out the All Write!!! website for a set of lessons on persuasion for K-1. These lessons focus on writing book reviews, but I am sure you could use them for movies, travel or restaurants. This could become your favorite unit of study!!! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our Last Monday Read Aloud Before Christmas

The last read-aloud suggestion for 2012 is another Cynthia Rylant book. This one is illustrated by Diane Goode.  In this book, the author writes a personal narrative. She never uses her name, but the writing is in first person. Since Cynthia Rylant spent much of her time with her grandparents, this has to be taken from her life. Again, this is a perfect book to be a mentor text for personal narratives.

This book is full of writer's craft that teachers can use with their students. She uses the senses to add details: "...I pulled boxes of ornaments from her closet, which smelled like wool and mothballs."  She uses the power of three: "There were silver icicles and white glass stars and soft angels."  Also, notice the use of and in that sentence! A definite craft move. She teaches us how to use punctuation as a craft move, too.  "Every Christmas Santa gave me just what I wanted: a new doll."

There also is a circular ending with..."But in that closet of wool and mothballs, there would be boxes of old ornaments, waiting."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Looking Toward January: Opinion Writing

You just have to admit that even six or seven year olds have an opinion.
Ask them:
  • Do you want to stay up late at night?
  • Would you like ice cream or spinach for dessert?
  • Do you want a longer recess?
Yes, they have opinions! The difficult part is defending those opinions or even persuading someone else to agree with their opinion or change their mind in favor of their opinion.  That is why next month's unit of study for many first and second graders is going to be hard.

Since we are looking toward January, there are a few things teachers can do to get ready for that unit. One thing is to expose children to that type of writing now! Here are a few books you might want to use as read alouds to introduce and discuss what these authors are doing:
  • Can I Have a Stegosaurus, Mom? Can I? Please!? by Lois G Grambling
  • I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaugman Orloff
  • Earrings! by Judith Viorst
  • Dear Bear by Joanna Harrison
  • Should There Be Zoos? A Persuasive Text by Tony Stead
  • Dear Fish by Chris Gall
  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by mo willems
  • Click, Clack, Moo! Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
  • Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague
Doing read alouds to expose children to opinion writing, will help them have a vision for what it looks like. Making an anchor chart of their noticings now, will be helpful when they begin to write later.

For first graders, this unit is made up of writing letters and speeches. You will begin with letters so it is important that your writing area has stationary and envelopes in it. The stationary can be made with simple lines appropriate for letters. It can even have decorations or clip art on it. This is something you will want to have ready at the beginning of the month.
A great support for this unit is the book by Sarah Picard Taylor: A Quick Guide to Teaching Persuasive Writing-K-2. This is a small $8.00 book with loads of information including samples of kids' work. Check your professional library. You might just have one in your building! More to come next week for second grade persuasive writing!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Looking Toward January: Historical Fiction

Both fourth and fifth grades in many districts will be writing historical fiction in January. Now would be the time to begin immersing the students in that genre. Using historical fiction in read alouds. literature circles, and whole group teaching will allow children to become familiar with that type of writing.

There are two ways students can learn about a time period. One is to use the unit of study happening in social studies. As the class is studying a historical era, set all of their writing stories within that one era. They can use not only the social studies text book, but also film, photographs and stories set in that time period. It is important for them to develop images of  the time and place to draw upon as they create stories set in that context.

Another option is to set the stories students will be writing in the era of the Read Alouds they will be interacting with during whole group reading time. All of your read alouds for this month would be the time and place in history you have chosen. Material for this option can also come from folders of articles and photos from the time period the teacher has gathered.

I am including, in this blog, a list of historical fiction picture books that could be used for this unit. For my Monday book suggestions next month, I will be using these books and going deeper with descriptions of those books. For now, here's a list to get you started:
  •  Lewis and Clark and Me by Laurie Myers
  • Smoky Nights by Eve Bunting
  • Delivering Justice by Jim Haskins
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
  • January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco
  • A Good Night for Freedom by Barbara Olenyik Morrow
  • The Harmonica by Tony Johnston
  • The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter
Choosing books that fit your era of choice will give students a good starting point for writing this genre. Making anchor charts with lists of things they notice in this reading will also give you a place to start when you begin the writing workshop in January!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How's That Working For You?

 At the beginning of the school year, I did a blog on community in the classroom. In August, I talked about using various read-alouds to build a community. By now, teachers should know their students very well. They probably have been collecting all kinds of data and have talked to parents about how the students are doing in their academic lives. Another way teachers should be aware of their children is a more personal, individual way.  So, how well do you know your students?
In the book Sea of Faces by Donald H. Graves, he asks the teachers to make a list of their students. Next to each of the names, he tells them to put one thing they know about these children.  Not the data or academic information your grade book tells. Instead, what is something you know about that child's life?  Try it!  Since it is December, you should know something about each child.
Another book that shows the growth of students and  how they change with the great teaching and community the classroom brings is Writing Through Childhood by Shelly Harwayne. I love the cover of this book because it shows the students as kindergarten students and then again as fifth graders. She talks about how to tap into the interests and attitudes the children bring into the writing workshop.

Do you know your childrens' goals? What is their goal in writing? What is their goal in reading? What are they working on right now? Do they have dreams for the future? What do they see themselves doing as adults? How well DO you  know your students?

As I was thinking of former students in my long career, I thought of where they were as seven-year-olds and where they are now. Here are a few of them!

Laurie teaches in Las Vegas
Justin teaches in Washington D.C. & is founder of Refugees Read, Inc

Rachel is in marketing in San Antonio


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What's Your Teaching Point?

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit classrooms in a New York City school. One of the things that I came away with was how the teachers made sure the students knew their teaching point.  I always had the teaching point on my lesson plan. I thought I was communicating that point to the students in my mini-lesson, but was I?  After that trip I kept asking that.  Lately, in another classroom I have been visiting back here in Indiana, I noticed that teaching point being shown to the students. Today, I want to share some ideas as to how teachers can be sure their students know what the teaching point of the lesson is for the day. 
It is important the students know the purpose of the lesson they are hearing. That works not just for reading and writing, but any other content area being taught. Telling the children right at the beginning of the lesson what is going to be taught, is a good start.  Putting that teaching point on a chart or over head, is another way. On the charts that I saw in New York, the teacher had the abbreviation: T Pt. beside the teaching point.
Looking at the charts that I am including in this blog, you will notice that these are anchor charts and are left up for several days. Students can refer back to the charts as the continue with the unit of study.
I am also including an anchor chart used in math. Notice that the teacher is referring to the students as mathematicians. This is to help student realize they have a part in the learning, too.
The classroom I have been working with in Indiana, uses the computer and Smart Board to project the teaching point. She uses that means to interact with the students. Telling the students the teaching point at the beginning of the lesson and then referring back to it again at the end, helps the students stay focused and understand what they are to be learning.

No matter which  method you use, be sure your students know what your teaching point is...don't just assume they know it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday--Another Christmas Read-Aloud

Today's Read-Aloud suggestion is a book by a favorite author...Jan Brett. The book is also familiar to many: The Wild Christmas Reindeer.  Not only is the story one with a lesson, but the pictures are true "Jan Brett" with her special side illustrations to go along with each page.
Teeka is in charge of getting the reindeer ready for their big ride of the year. The only thing is, they will not cooperate. So Teeka does what so many of us do...she yelled at them. Day after day she tried and tried to get them to work together, but her attitude just was not helping.

Finally, she realized that their not cooperating was her fault. She promised no more yelling, no screaming, no bossing. A great lesson in how our attitudes and words affect others. 

Don't forget to take time to share the pictures, too!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Have You Tried a Book Trailer?

That's my question today...Have you tried a book trailer? I just learned about them this year, so I thought maybe, just maybe there were other busy teachers out there who also wanted to know more about book trailers.  Trailers for movies are very popular. You see them on T.V. You see them when you go to a show before the actual movie comes on. Yes, it is an advertisement, but why not advertise books?

I have seen teachers use these trailers to get kids interested in the next read aloud they would be introducing. The trailers are called "teases" to grab the children who might be reluctant readers. Or the trailers could be just to see what a book is about before taking it to read and finding out it isn't what you thought!  Today, as I was researching sites for this blog, I came across a trailer for the book: The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy. I watched the trailer and made a note to check out that book!  Students could do the same thing!

Here are a few sites that I found easy to use and with books that I would use with children...

The first one is from the children's book guild.  It is very easy to use. This is where I found the book I am interested in purchasing. Take a few minutes to check it out. The trailers are short and appealing to young readers.

Another one that I like is called story line online.  On this site, the book is actually read to the young students. I listened to one read by Betty White. That might not be as interesting to young children as it was to me, but she does a wonderful job! There are many books for the young reader on this site.

The last site I would recommend is book trailers for readers.  These trailers are very short, less than a minute. They give a tease and not a lot of information. They are cute and short. The one I listened to was Guinea Dog. A very cute book about a boy who wants a dog, but gets a guinea pig instead. The animal turns out to be more like a dog than you would think. Looks like a good one.
Okay, I better not spend too much time looking up these sites...I will be living at the library or buying too many books. I think I need to revise my Christmas list!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Coach or Being Coached

A new event has taken a part of our lives lately. It is going to wrestling matches and basketball games. We have three teenage grandsons in high school and middle school sports, so we are busy traveling the area to games and meets. This is another benefit of being grandparents (and retired to have the time to do it!).

As we were watching the wrestling match on Tuesday night, I couldn't help but notice the coach. I always said, "Being an instructional coach is just like being a coach of sports." This was very evident at this meet. I would watch the coach and think: "That is just what I do as a coach. Or at least I hope I do!" Here are a few things I learned.

Coach is seated second from left.
The coach observes what is happening. When I visit classrooms with the intent to coach the teacher, I sit back and watch. I take notes of things that I see...things I notice, questions I have and suggestions. Watching is hard. It takes practice to look for the right things and take note of them. The coach isn't there to evaluate in the sense of grading, but to see what support can be given.
"Make sure that team members know they are working with you, not for you." John Wooden

Coach is leaning over to player
The coach makes comments. When I work in a teacher's classroom, I might sit beside them as they conference a child. I sometimes stop the teacher in the middle of the conference and suggest a direction to take the child. If I do this, the teacher and student both realize I am there to coach the teacher. It is a wonderful thing for children to understand that we are always learning.
"The Coach does not play in the game, but the Coach helps the players identify areas to improve their game." Byron & Catherine Pulsifer, from What Does a Coach Do?
Immediately after player's competition
The coach encourages and suggests. Right after I have been in a classroom, I either take time with the teacher to talk over what I noticed, questions I have and suggestions as to where to go next or another approach. When we were at the wrestling match, we were so impressed with how this coach would walk up to the player coming off the mat, shake his hand and lead him to an area away from the attention of others. There he would stand and talk. Sometimes you would see him modeling examples of what to do. You would see him with his arm around the boy's shoulder. You would see the great degree of caring and support the coach had for the player. This is what a coach does!
"A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are." Ara Parasheghian

"The test of a good coach is that when they leave, others will carry on successfully." Author Unknown

No matter if you are a coach or the one being coached, it is the attitude you have that makes it successful.  One last quote:
"Coaching is a profession of love, You can't coach people unless you love them." Eddie Robinson
Ty, our grandson, competing

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Argumentative Writing in Fifth Grade

This month, many fifth grade classrooms are doing argumentative writing in their workshops. This is a step up from the persuasive work they have done in past years. The new Common Core State Standards have brought more rigor to the writing. Students need to be able to not only have an opinion from their reading and research, but also to be able to craft those opinions into argumentative essays. They need to be able to use thoughtful researched evidence.

Mindy Hoffar and Ruth Ayres talk to Karen Caine
Last year in April, the All Write!!! consortium brought Karen Caine, the author of Writing to Persuade to the area. We were able to listen to her thinking on this subject. In April, I blogged about that. Now that I am looking at this unit of study for fifth graders, I am reminded of her book. 
The book which is published by Heinemann and has a forward written by Janet Angelillo, is full of minilessons written for grades 3-8.  This is the best book on persuasive writing for that age group that I have seen.  It has a chapter for immersing students in this genre including how to read, jot, talk and write while reading persuasive text. There is a chapter on collecting ideas and developing those ideas. One of the final chapters is on minilessons for persuasive writing on standardized writing tests and analyzing the writing prompt!

One of my favorite things about the book, though, is the appendix. Not only are there additional resources, there are also many sample writing pieces to use as mentor texts. As Karen wrote in my book... "Thank you for giving teachers and students a voice in the world." That is what we want for our students, a way to have a voice in the world!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Pattern Books With Meron

Kindergarten children in  many classrooms are reading and writing pattern books this month. This is so exciting for them because they can see themselves as authors, patterning  after the books they read. Pattern books give students the structure to read and write. In order for the children to be successful in writing this genre, they need to not just read lots of pattern books, but also talk about what the author is doing.

Last week, I worked with my four-year old granddaugher in reading and writing pattern books. We first had a pile of books to look through. She then picked one to read. We would read it, talk about the story and then talk about what the author did as a writer. We did this over and over with lots of books. She noticed the repeated words, the repeated phrases, and the repeated theme in the books. Teachers might want to make an anchor chart of the things the children are noticing in those books.

Next, it was time to write her own book. We talked about what she had heard over and over. She then decided on her topic...her little brother playing dress up. We used the book Mom Dresses Up as her mentor text. She would write her words and then draw her picture, checking back to the mentor text to see how that author did it. Meron wrote and drew and wrote and drew. She had lots of pages.

The finished project, with a title page, was called: Bam Dresses Up!  Oh, yes, Dave had a great time watching and listening, too!
Bam Dresses Up

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Monday--Time for a Read-Aloud

Today's book is a new one to me! The cover grabbed my interest and the story did not disappoint. The book is: The Sparkle Box by Jill Hardie.  It was just published this year by ideals children's books.

Sam is excited about Christmas as most children are.  But he is curious about a special present that is wrapped in sparkling silver paper. This is a present that he and his parents will open together. However, they will need to fill it first. As Sam and his parents give to others in their community. They give of their time as well as material things. He sees how fortunate he really is. This is a book that will give children the true meaning of Christmas.

The author, Jill Hardie, took a special event in her childhood to turn into this story. This is a great way to show children that writing about things in their lives can make wonderful fiction stories for others. Oh, did I mention that there is a special Sparkle Box included in the back of the book for you to use in your classroom?