Tuesday, February 17, 2015

OES Reads: The Final Chapter

In addition to some final classroom projects, this week we put closure on OES Reads for 2015. Our last day of the five-week period was bookend-ed with excitement and celebration.

(Find more information about OES Reads in these previous blog posts in the series: Building Excitement, the Big RevealWeek 1Week 2Family Literacy Night, Week 4.)

Virtual Author Visits

Kate Messner has been a superstar in our new venture of unifying students PreK-6 with studying a single author's work. Kate has been generous in her support for OES Reads, always curious and interested in what was happening with her new readers in our small school in rural Maine. While we were unable to coordinate an in-person author visit with Kate, she was gracious in scheduling two virtual visits with our students and staff on Friday, the day of our closing assembly.

As the first group of students arrived--the younger readers who read Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail--a colleague shared with me that the students were excited. "They're more excited about this than Valentine's Day and the 100th Day of School!" (Which it was on Friday, too.) I think her comment stemmed from the nervous/excited buzz of the gym as students were seated on mats on the floor and were taken by the large projection on the gym wall. But that buzz of energy didn't worry me; it told me the students knew what I did--what was happening was something special. For this group of students (and many of my colleagues), our Skype with Kate was a first: they had never had this experience before. 

Soon enough, the icon near Kate's name turned green, I gave the students an ever-so-brief introduction, and they fell silent, waiting to see the author they've heard so much about over the last five weeks come alive on the screen.
The buzz subsided. They were fascinated as soon as Kate said "Hello."
Kate shared the story of how Ranger in Time came to be and told about the travel and research she did to write Rescue on the Oregon Trail and Danger in Ancient Rome. Our students delighted to hear they were among some of the first readers to see the newly printed ARCs of Danger in Ancient Rome, and they were happy to sneak a peek inside at Kelly McMorris's art. 
Kate also took questions from the group, ranging from how she "got so good at writing" to why she kissed a frog to do research! Students and teachers alike were mesmerized when Kate read aloud the beginning of soon-to-be-published Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt (March 3, 2015).

We signed off with Kate briefly and transitioned the K-3 group--with magic still alive in their eyes--back to their classrooms, bringing in the 4-6th grade group who read Capture the Flag. Some of these students had experienced an author Skype before, but far more of the students were new to the experience in this group also.

The reaction of the older students to Skyping with Kate was just the same. The students were engulfed in Kate's presentation about the research and writing process behind Capture the Flag. Writing became real for them when Kate showed them her oversized pages of maps and webs and plans. The questions posed by the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students showed real interest and curiosity about authorship. Most questions were about Kate's writing process and habits. 
The 4th-6th grade students' to-be-read lists grew a little during our Skype, too, especially when Kate talked about the plot in her Spring 2016 novel, currently titled The Seventh Wish. Now they will all be waiting along with the rest of us!

If she hadn't already captured the students with her books, Kate certainly won them over with her virtual visits on Friday. It might have had something to do with the package of bookmarked and signed book labels she promised, but I think it had more to do with the statement she made to OES Readers (and writers!) that they matter--enough that she wanted to talk to them. Kate became "known" to the students as a person behind the name and beautiful book covers. As an OES Reads author, Kate will remain part of our school community for a long time to come.

The Closing Assembly
The last 75 minutes of the day on Friday--a send-off to vacation week--was spent as a whole-school community. Assembled in the gym with many parent guests, our closing assembly was fashioned to showcase OES Reads-related work from across all grade levels.
Third grade students display poster-sized directions for making a yarn doll.

  • Kindergarteners sang "R-A-N-G-E-R" (to the tune of "B-I-N-G-O"). 
  • 1st graders shared visualization work or opinion writing. One class of first graders even taught the teachers a square dance.
  • 2nd graders shared maps of westward movement trails, including the Oregon Trail.
  • 3rd graders shared reflective writing and the directions for making a yarn doll.
  • 4th graders performed a skit to book-talk other Kate Messner titles for future reading.
  • 5th graders recited Kate's poem "What Happened to Your Book Today."
  • 6th graders performed a readers theater about the history of the Star-Spangled Banner.
  • Grades K-3 sang "Yankee Doodle" and grades 4-6 sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
  • And we watched the whole five weeks in review with a slideshow.
The closing assembly was special. It was a new venture to have so many students and classrooms share the spotlight. Parents snapped photos, took video, and beamed over everything the kids did.

The last day of OES Reads will be an important memory in the lives of our students as they look back on their year of school. From the opportunity to talk with our OES Reads author to the final showcase of student work, our last day of OES Reads 2015 embodied what it's all about: connecting through reading and writing.

Thanks for "journeying" with me/us through this blog series. I hope, sincerely, that something from our project has been helpful or inspiring to you as you think about making the connectivity reading and writing real for your students and school community. 

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