Monday, December 16, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading weekly on their blogs.   To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs. Some of my very best reading recommendations come from this pathway!

It's a busy time of year and I have not been able to sit down and read a book that requires sustained attention. However, I have a few books and articles to share.

I picked up several nonfiction books at the Scholastic Books Warehouse sale a couple of weeks ago. I had read about How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg a while ago and I thought that it sounded funny. It's not only funny, but you can learn A LOT from this book. There are many mini-history lessons throughout this book, as it tells about the deaths of various people from Cleopatra to Darwin to Columbus to Beethoven. Some of the morbid descriptions of death might inspire middle-schoolers to research more about the eras or the people, as there are many historical and scientific references and facts woven into the end-of-life stories. For example, I had no idea that Darwin was afraid of people, obsessive about lists and record-keeping, and married to his first cousin. Did anyone else know that of his ten children, only three were able to reproduce and two died as babies? Sort of ironic given his scientific specialty of genetic survival of the fittest...

Because the CCSS are big on students writing introductions and conclusions to informational pieces, I am always on the lookout for nonfiction books that contain these elements and can serve as mentors for students. I have been consistently impressed with National Geographic's nonfiction books and so I bought Everything Rocks and Mineral by Steve Tomecek at the book sale, as well. This book has an introduction and a conclusion, as well as several text features that I don't always see. There is an interactive glossary, several referenced websites for further research, an index, and many narrative elements woven throughout the pages. It really is a great nonfiction mentor text!

Within my reading life, I have to give a shout-out to What an incredible collection of posts these teachers/writers/amazing thinkers put out each week! While I have always loved this blog and Ruth and Stacey have always been inspirational to me, there are now five writers for this blog and every single post is a session of professional development. Thank you to each one of them: Stacey Shubitz, Tara Smith, Elizabeth Moore, Betsy Hubbard, Dana Murphy and Anna Cockerille. This is an incredible source of learning.

Happy reading,

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Jen Vincent and Kellee Moye cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading weekly on their blogs.   To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to check out their blogs Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers

One of my students recommended Maggie and Oliver or a Bone of One's Own by Valerie Hobbs to me and I am so glad she did! Maggie is an 11 year old orphan who finds herself on the street having to find a way to survive on her own.  Oliver becomes a homeless dog when his owner passes away so he must also find a way to survive out on the streets just like Maggie.  The book tells both Maggie and Oliver's story and connects the two stories at the end.  I read this book in one sitting and loved how it reminded me of Annie too! I highly recommend this book! 

I have been doing a lot of reading and work around the concept of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset for the past couple of years so I was excited to see the new book, Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci. I started reading this book last week and had time on the train this weekend on my way to NYC to finish it - I loved it! I highly recommend educators to read this professional book and share it with their colleagues.  It would also be a great choice for a faculty book club to read and discuss at faculty meetings.  There are many beneficial strategies, charts, descriptions, quotes, etc. that help educators build a growth mindset culture in their classrooms and schools.

I am very fortunate and grateful that my principal shares professional books and articles from ASCD with me - thank you Grace! The latest book that she let me borrow was The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching by Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell. This professional book discusses the CCSS, how to use checklists with students and teachers in beneficial ways, how to give feedback that fosters a growth mindset, and how to align the standards to our teaching while challenging students to expect more of themselves in the process.

Some of my favorite lines that I marked with post-its are:

  • "As you develop lessons, you should use standards both as a rearview mirror to look back on the knowledge and skills students should have acquired prior to reaching your classroom and as a windshield to help you anticipate the knowledge and skills teachers in later grades are counting on you to teach your students." (page 12)
  • "Teachers should use standards to structure student learning and the curriculum while using their own creativity to develop lessons and unit plans that are lively, intriguing, and motivating to students. " (page 13)
  • "Teachers can inadvertently diminish student motivation and achievement by praising for ability instead of effort.  That's why it is important to guard against praising for ability and ensure that all comments to students reinforce the importance of their effort and its link to their achievement." (page 96)

Enjoy reading this week! :)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

No More Erasing!

I loved Elizabeth Moore's post about using pens in writing workshops. Since I read that post a month ago, I have shared it with as many teachers as I could, trying to spread the idea of using pens in writing workshop. I have also been trying to spread the idea of teaching students to "cross off and keep going" as part of the writing process. I have actually made this a teaching point for some students, demonstrating to them how I draw a quick line through a mistake in my writing so that I can keep writing and remember what I was planning to say. I have been paying a lot of attention to how students use erasers in classrooms and I am developing some reasons why I believe in a moratorium on erasers during writing workshops:

  • I am a special education teacher by training and whenever I am in classrooms, I gravitate to the struggling writers. Almost without exception, they are the students who have erased and erased their work. If the paper is still intact, the writing may be difficult to read because it is on top of so many other versions. There are a few issues that worry me when I see this. First, these struggling students spent more time erasing than writing. If we believe that we get better at writing by writing, then valuable time is wasted because erasing actually takes a fair amount of time and effort. Additionally, they have made already challenging-to-read writing more challenging to read. It's almost like you can hear them subconsciously saying, "if I make it so hard for others to read, then they won't try hard enough to read it, and others won't realize that I'm not so good at writing." I'm not saying that students really mean to say this, but I think that erasing becomes a way to hide for many struggling writers.

  • As a teacher, I want to see the tracks of student thinking. If you had access to the revisions that I have made on this post, you would see my thinking and my understanding of the revision process (as well as my my keyboarding mistakes!). You could see how I have changed my thinking, re-wrote a phrase to incorporate parallel structure, changed a word to make the writing flow better. If I were a student, those changes might be coming after a mini-lesson or teaching moment, and you could see the evidence of instruction. Erasures hide that evidence, whereas a single line cross-out may reveal the development and progression of new skills.

  • We want to send a message to students that writing is a process and we value the process. When students erase and erase and we support them, I worry that the message that they are receiving is that the work has to be perfect. Another recent post at by Elizabeth Moore asks whether published has to be perfect. This is another wonderful post, reminding us that writing is a process, that even published writing is not perfect, and that there are ways to showcase and honor the development of writers.

  • Another issue with writers who continually delete their work with pink erasers is not one that I have seen or hear much writing or talking about. Our young writers are on an increasingly fast pace to the use of digital tools. Many of our fifth-graders are now composing with keyboards. Once they learn to compose on computers, then how will the chronic erasers fare? Will the backspace and delete buttons be the first to wear out on keyboards? I had one student who was always deleting his work, and was obsessed with the red lines that appeared underneath his digital words as he wrote. We had to spend a lot of energy on the concept of "just keep going--come back to it later." Now, more than ever, young writers need to learn how to capture their thoughts on paper and on a screen, but what will happen to the students who struggle with spelling and fluency and also struggle with keyboarding skills? I worry that fluency will be even more difficult for these students to achieve.
I remember loving a brand new pink pearl eraser. I remember loving the smell and the smoothness of a fresh eraser. Now, however, I see little purpose for these tools except for in the land of crossword puzzles. I'd love to hear the thoughts of others about erasers, especially as we think about the technology that students are learning to use? I love google drive and I am sure that there are other apps and programs that allow us to see all of the deletions and revisions that writers make along the way, but how do we teach students to embrace the process, to accept and share imperfections, and to spend their time in writing workshop writing

Enjoy the rest of the weekend,

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading weekly on their blogs.   To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs. Some of my very best reading recommendations come from this pathway!

I read Georgia Heard's Finding the Heart of Nonfiction about a month ago, and I have been planning to write a Monday post really detailing some of the important points of this book. However, I shared it with one of my teachers who has been reading it as she is teaching our informational writing unit. Per teachers' requests, I have ordered copies for each school and I keep hearing from teachers about how much they are enjoying and using it as they are teaching nonfiction writing units. I love that my teachers don't want to give up their copies of this book, but I don't want to wait longer on this post because I know so many people have moved into teaching nonfiction writing by this time of the year.

Without getting too specific, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction moves writers away from encyclopedia-like informational writing to more, for lack of better word right now, artistic informational writing. For example, Georgia Heard points out that you can learn about a tarantula from an encyclopedia article or from a narrative paragraph such as one that Jean Craighead George would have written; the narrative would be much more likely to have impact and be remembered. 

Finding the Heart of Nonfiction is full of specific lessons designed for workshop instruction and full of specific references and incredible mentor texts. I can't imagine that any elementary or middle school teacher wouldn't be inspired by Georgia Heard!

Along much sillier lines, I picked up a copy of The Klutz Book of Brilliantly Ridiculous Inventions by John Cassidy and Brendan Boyle at the Scholastic warehouse sale. I was thinking that I would give it to one of my nephews for Christmas because he is always making stuff, but my whole family has been previewing it. We have had a lot of laughter and conversations inspired by some of the inventions. How about "Beeping Back-up Shoes?" Or, "The Double Barreled Peanut Butter Jar"--who hasn't gotten peanut butter on their knuckles trying to get to the last of the peanut butter? I love that this book has my youngest daughter reading out loud to us and getting us all to notice our world harder, thinking about inventions that could make our daily lives easier. It's a great book for creating and inspiring innovators!

Happy reading!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kindergarten Students Using Book Creator

Last year, I wrote a post about Book Creator. Mel and I had used it for our poetry celebration and the students loved typing their poems, selecting pictures to go with them, and then recording themselves reading the poems. I also used this app with some of my students with special needs so that they could dictate stories across the pages. When I worked in the classroom, I was always using my iPad with my students and I was always impressed at how intuitive this technology was for them--they always could figure out more than I could. This week, I was reminded of this when I went to visit a kindergarten class.

The teacher had been asking me to come during learning centers for about a week. I was a little surprised because usually I go to classrooms during workshop. "You won't believe what they are doing independently," she said. I am so glad that I made it to the opposite end of the building because she was not exaggerating. The students are in the middle of their Looking Closely unit. They have collections of various natural items--leaves, rocks, twigs, acorns--and during writing workshop, they have been writing about what they notice when they look closely at these objects--it's a great integration of science and writing! However, during learning centers, three students worked on iPads, using Book Creator to make digital books.

I sat and watched these children turn on the iPad, open the app, create a new book, and get to work. One of the girls was clearly the table expert. "How do you do the recording?" a writer asked. "Here, I'll show you." She tapped on an icon and created a recording. Then, she deleted the recording and instructed her classmate to go ahead and try it herself. Success followed, and both girls continued their work. How is that for collaboration and independence?

The stick is long.
Since the app offers the choice of writing with a finger or using a keyboard, I watched one student write his words with his finger. He took a picture of the stick that he was observing, and then got right to work crafting the words that would go with his observations. His only struggle was having the iPad upside down and making the cover swing awkwardly. As soon as his teacher reminded him to keep the cover on the down-side, he was independent. This same child worked for a little while without the iPad while I was watching and I took a picture of his digital work sample, as well as his written sample.
The stick is short.
I definitely found myself wondering why he remembered to space his words on the iPad, but not on the paper. I think that there is a tremendous opportunity for transfer here, as this could definitely be pointed out to him.

I loved watching the girls work on their book, as well. In the fifteen minutes that I watched, the resident expert Book Creator wrote four pages about her observations of an acorn. Each page had not only the typed words, but also the recording of her reading the words. The app does indicate misspellings and I was so glad to see her ignore the red lines underneath her words, or I wouldn't get to share my favorite page that she wrote:
It has three swirls on it.
 Again, I have to reiterate, all I was doing was sitting and watching the children work. They took pictures, typed or wrote, and recorded anywhere between two and four pages. "You should see some of the other books some of the kids have done," the teacher said to me before I left, and she showed me the digital shelf of books that students had written on other days. Amazing work in a kindergarten classroom.

Enjoy the weekend,

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Slice of Life: the Spirit of Giving

Each week the Slice of Life is hosted by the writers and teachers of Many bloggers write slices each week that you can read by following the links from the comments, or feel free to join in on the slicing!

On Sunday morning, I had more time than I usually do to mull over the New York Times, and I am so glad that I did. While my mother usually puts Tom Friedman and David Brooks under my nose, I don't think that I have ever read a column by Nicholas Kristof until Sunday.  I have now read several, as I dug into the Nicholas Kristof archives.  My mother teased me that she didn't think he would be my type--I have to think about that?!?!--but anyone who writes a column encouraging gifts of donations that support world hunger, education for Afghanistan girls, scholarships for Haitian high schoolers, and programs to eliminate teen pregnancy is going to get high approval ratings from me. In case you missed it, I highly recommend reading his column in yesterday's New York Times which I am linking here.

I also love that Kristof runs an annual contest for college students in the United States and takes the winner with him on a reporting trip over the summer. How cool is that?!?! I got on the phone on Sunday night to tell some of my friends about it who have college students interested in journalism. You can listen to his announcement and description of the contest here. The winner will travel to a developing country, blog for the New York Times, and be featured in videos about the trip. I believe that he has taken teachers on some of his trips in past years--hmmm...

I look forward to Sunday nights because all of my daughters are usually home and we sit at the dinner table together and talk. This past Sunday night, I read them the column. Initially, they rolled their eyes, but the first sentence made them smile. (Read it, and you will know exactly what I mean.) By the end of the column, they were on board and they even googled some of the references. I'm hoping that I have a couple donations under the tree or at least a scarf from the third world.

Enjoy the week,

Monday, December 2, 2013

It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Jen Vincent and Kellee Moye cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading weekly on their blogs.   To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to check out their blogs Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers

Carnivores, written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat, is a hysterical and laugh-out-loud kind of book! One of my colleagues recommended it to me because she knew I would thoroughly enjoy it, especially since I am a vegetarian! I read it aloud to my class last week and they loved it! In this book, the carnivores are expressing how their feelings are hurt because of the reputation they have for eating other animals so they decide they are going to attempt to become vegetarians.  Needless to say, their attempt is not very successful and they end up realizing that just because they eat meat doesn't mean they are bad, it is just what they do! This book will have you and your students laughing hysterically while reading it.  My students immediately said this should be a series and should include a herbivores book too! Thank you Sandy for recommending this book! :)

I also just started reading two new professional books: 

The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day by Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Russell.  This is an ASCD book that was published this year that my principal shared with me - thank you Grace!  TCRWP has been talking about the power of checklists and how we can use them with students instead of only rubrics so I am excited to read more about checklists in this new professional book.   At the beginning of this book, it discusses how pilots and doctors use checklists all the time and how powerful they are in those fields and how they can also be powerful in education. Stay tuned to hear more about this book next Monday! 
I also just purchased Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci. I loved reading Mindset by Carol Dweck and Opening Minds by Peter Johnston, along with many articles about growth mindset so I was excited to see this new professional book.  I have been teaching my students about growth mindset vs. fixed mindset for the past two years and can't wait to learn new strategies to build a growth mindset school culture from this book.  Stay tuned to hear more about this book next Monday! 

Enjoy reading this week! :)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

News-O-Matic app - The Daily Newspaper Just for Kids

The News-O-Matic app, by Press4Kids, delivers the daily newspaper just for kids! Each edition has five new articles based on current events around the world.  I came across the app about a month ago and was very intrigued because I knew I could connect my iPad to our class Smartboard so we could read the daily newspaper together. The subscription to the app was very reasonable at $10 for the year (they have subscription deals frequently).  If you aren't sure if you want to subscribe yet, you can read some of the editions to try it out before committing.  Once you subscribe, you are able to access past issues in addition to receiving the new edition daily.  

I love how the newspaper is interactive and you can see the five new stories at one glance to see which one or ones you are interested in reading first.  Once you make a decision, you click on the photo for the article and it brings you directly to that story.  The articles cover all the latest current events and are written in a kid-friendly way.  Within each story, there are nonfiction text features such as headings, bold words, quotes, etc so it is a great resource to include more nonfiction reading skills within the day. Each story also includes an "act" and a "fact" button.  When you click on the "act" button, it will tell you what you can personally do to make a difference and get involved. When you click on the "fact" button, it gives you an important fact related to the story.  This app is also completely free of ads so there are no worries about anything inappropriate popping up while reading the daily newspaper articles with kids.  

Almost every day, I connect my iPad to the Smartboard during morning meeting, while kids are eating snack, or at closing circle so we can read the newspaper and the kids love it! They are so engaged, learn a lot of new information, and also get inspired by some of the stories.  For example, there was one article about a child who was granted a wish through the Make a Wish Foundation and they were immediately inspired to get involved with the foundation and have already started brainstorming ways we can raise money for the foundation.  This app was well worth the $10 for a year subscription and I highly recommend purchasing it and using it in your classroom! 


It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsbury at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading weekly on their blogs.   To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs. Some of my very best reading recommendations come from this pathway!

I have done a lot of reading this weekend, but much of it has been articles, posts, excerpts and other professional reading. However, I do have two important books to share.

It occurred to me that I have not shared Beatrices's Goat by Page McBrier and illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter. The timing is perfect for the share because I will be buying several goats this year from the Heifer Project and giving them to people with a copy of this book. Beatrice's Goat is a narrative account of a Ugandan girl who wants to go to school, but is needed to help with the chores and the other children. When her family received a goat, Mugisa which is the Ugandan word for luck, the positive impact on the family's daily life is profound.

Patricia MacLachlan has always been one of my favorite authors and I usually buy her books as soon as they are available. I missed the August release of The Truth of Me, but fortunately, our school librarian had ordered a copy and I spotted it sitting on her shelf of new books. This book is deceptive because it seems so simple with 114 pages and big font--you could easily out it in the hands of a second or third-grader. They might be bored, though, unless provided many opportunities to talk about and analyze the text--the action in this book is emotional and you have to be a careful reader to pick up on it--even reading closely, younger children might miss the subtleties and understatements that I love about Patricia MacLachlan's writing.

I borrowed the November issue of Educational Leadership, which has several articles about nonfiction by some of my favorite bloggers and tweeps, so I'm going to sneak this into my post. With articles and contributions about nonfiction from Timothy Shanahan, Mary Ehrenworth, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, and more, this issue is definitely worth getting your hands on!

Welcome to December!