Saturday, August 30, 2014

The First Days

Last week I spent two days in district committee meetings preparing for the start of a new school year. When I heard a colleague describe her plans for the opening of school, I thought her objective to test all students' reading with an assessment in the first three days was hyperbolic. I was certain she was trying to be humorous, maybe poking fun at the way we sometimes are overzealous about collecting student data with many assessment measures. But this week I was chatting with her during our workshop days, and found that was precisely her intent for our first three days: Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessments (FPBA) and writing prompts for all!

Granted her instructional context is slightly exceptional because she is looping with her class this year, but I found this goal to be absolutely startling! I was taken aback as my mind imagined the tone being set around students' performance levels and measurement from day one. Her rationale was to get to know the students and set goals for them. On the other side of those first three days and looking back now, I learned about my students, too, and not with an assessment.

My mindset going into the school year was to make my students my highest priority of study in these first few weeks. I have always felt strongly about building relationships with students, considering relationships to be critical to my success as a teacher. This guiding belief was reinforced for me in reflecting on sessions with Kathy Collins, Sara Ahmed, and Linda Rief at Heinemann's Teacher Tour. All three presenters promoted the importance of student-centered work in today's classrooms.
In the first three days, my students have created and started sharing identity maps (Thank you, Sara), played community building games, attempted the Marshmallow Tower challenge (we'll be trying again), prepared and presented skits, and discussed read alouds and what they mean to us.

I learned Alex's passion is rocks and I can connect with her by finding her real ways to learn more about rocks and purposes for sharing.
I learned Lissa likes to garden (something I cannot do!).
I learned Steph eats, sleeps, and breathes One Direction.
I learned my students can't get enough of Jerry Palotta's Who Would Win series. Cassie is hungry for more Babymouse, Lee is into Percy Jackson, and book orders make them all squeal.
I learned Luke has a leader growing inside of him, and Michelle has exceptional patience and tolerance.
I learned Brittany is artistic, Scott is athletic, and Alan is musical.
I learned my students are sponges when it comes to read aloud and they just can't get enough.
I learned they really want to learn and master that most tricky operation: division.
I learned they expect kindness and helpfulness from one another and want classmates who look out for each other.
I learned their stamina for independent work needs developing, their cooperative skills are reasonably strong, and--more than anything--they want to do well.

I learned countless things about my students--families, interests, likes and dislikes, traits--and none of those came from an FPBA. 

There will be a time and place to assess reading comprehension, evaluate their writing, and rank their computational fluency. Those are important informants to my instruction and tools for monitoring student progress. But those will be meaningless and lack student interest and investment without establishing a community for learning first. My students need to see that they are the reason I'm here. They need evidence that I'm interested in them, what they are about, the people they are. From day one, I want my words and actions to tell students
Hey, this place is YOURS.
This thing called learning is a shared responsibility.
You're important--I want to know about YOU.

My classroom is about more than attaining a score on a trimester rubric... My classroom is about growing and improving, helping students discovering who they are and becoming who they want to be. Assessments alone will not equip me for what I need to be their teacher.

At the onset of our new school year, I'm on the lookout for what makes them smile, laugh, grow excited, and feel tense. So for now, MY FPBA kit can collect a little more summer dust while I listen and observe and discover my students.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fish in a Tree Book Vine

Want to get to know the star of Lynda Mullaly Hunt's newest novel, Fish in a Tree?
Meet Ally Nickerson: 
Disruptive, disagreeable, uncooperative, low-achieving, at-risk, trouble-maker...

What's that?
You've met one or two students with these characteristics yourself?

Maybe, but...

Is that really who Ally is?
Or, is she hiding beneath this persona to compensate for something or avoid exposing her real self?

And what about your students, the ones that came to mind? What are they compensating for or avoiding exposure of?

And what happens when Mr. Daniels enters Ally's world, challenging her with his unpredictable acceptance and tenacity in helping increase her self-acceptance? What happens when that one person is unfaltering in helping Ally see that great minds don't all think alike?

Ally's eyes are opened up to all that is IMPOSSIBLE.

Fish in a Tree is the much anticipated second novel by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, author of the incredibly popular One for the Murphys, and I have a copy to share!

You can get to know Ally (and Mr. Daniels) yourself by climbing inside the pages of an Advanced Reading Copy of Fish in a Tree from Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. I am so excited to be able to facilitate a "book vine" with this ARC, which won't be published until February, 2015!

The idea behind a book vine is simple: by reading the book, commenting/reflecting, and passing it on to the next reader, and having online discussions, we'll build a virtual reading community. 
Our reading experiences connect us. Earlier this summer, I had a taste of what it was like to read a much anticipated book after other readers. (See more about Brown Girl Dreaming in this post.) The experience was only enhanced by their marks, notes, and flagged passages. 

As a Fish in a Tree book vine participant, you'll be asked to:

  • Fill out this short, private Google form that provides me with your name and address. I will only share your address with the person on the vine before you so they can mail the book when finished.
  • Read Fish in a Tree when it arrives. Make small marks or post-it note one or two passages that you gave attention to or revisited. Sign these with your initials (optional). Sign your name and location to the inside front cover (not optional).
  • Write. Post a blog and/or come back to this page to leave a comment or reflection about your experience with Fish in a Tree. I'll create a link-up or jog with all of the blog links so that we can keep the conversation going about Fish in a Tree with others from our book vine.
  • Pass the book on. When you get Fish in a Tree, I'll send you the address of the next person on the vine so you'll be able to mail the book directly to them. After all, the idea is to open the community as wide as possible!
How's that sound?
Welcome to the community!

NOW ADDED: You can join in the Fish in a Tree Book Vine conversation by reading what participants are posting! Follow linked names below to see where the book has traveled and what readers have to say.

Katie (Michigan)
Jen (New Jersey)
Laura (Washington)
Sandy (Minnesota)
Marty (Massachusetts)
Kate (Maine)
Katie (Maine)
Sarah (New York)
Amy (Wisconsin)

Monday, August 18, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.18.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Mystery of the Eagle's Nest (Cooper & Packrat #2), by Tamra Wight
(Islandport Press, August 21, 2014)
     The boys from Mystery at Pine Lake are back with another equally excited eco-adventure. Cooper and Packrat run into big trouble on their regular geocache routine when they discover a cache with eagle parts. The boys know the severity of the crime they have stumbled into and try to find a way to protect the eagle parts and the campground's eagle family. Cooper weighs out information, suspects, and possible solutions, keeping the pages turning in this mystery.
     The characters in Tamra Wight's series are real and believable. Students will appreciate their mission as well as the mischief they fall into. While this book could stand alone, you wouldn't want to miss out on the first book in the series, too: Mystery on Pine Lake.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad by Nathan Hale
(Harry N. Abrams, 2012)
     Big Bad Ironclad is one of Nathan Hale's historical graphic novels, informing readers of the design and use of ironclad ships in the period of the Civil War. The book features the roles and importance of figures like John Ericsson and William Cushing.
      Graphic novels are well-loved, passed from reader to reader, and hardly see shelf time in my classroom. This series will be no different. Nathan Hale has packaged historical events and information in a format that will have readers engaged and asking for more. The humor of the hangman and British provost (who assist Nathan Hale in narrating the book) give cause for slowing down and prompting thoughtful comprehension. 

The End of the Line, by Sharon McKay
(Annick Press, August 19, 2014, ARC provided by NetGalley)

     Set in Amsterdam during World War II, The End of the Line is another point of view of families being broken apart and the way everyone lived with fear and worry every day. Lars and Hans Gorter work on the tram, and one day a young woman is captured during a Nazi search. She leaves behind 5-year old Beatrix. When the men insist she is their niece and should not also be taken, they enter a new experience of what it means to care for and protect another.
     Sharon McKay's holocaust story is gentler and softer than most She conveys the fears and concerns of the characters, but spares readers graphic descriptions and details of the brutal treatment. All of the story is set on the tram and in the Gorters' neighborhood with only a few references to the death camps. This book is worth adding to classroom collections to deepen text experiences about the Holocaust. 

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008)

     Jen Bryant's picture book biography of poet William Carlos Williams is another to be added to my growing shelf. 
     There is no wonder that the book earned a Caldecott Honor, with Melissa Sweet's incredible collage style illustrations, and, in this case, her interpretations of the poetry of Williams. This is a book that can be--and deserves to be--revisited again and again because I think there will always be more to admire and appreciate about this man's story, his art with words, and the art of the illustrator.
Hermelin the Detective Mouse, by Mini Grey
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 5, 2014)
     The literate young mouse, Hermelin, resides in the Offley Street neighborhood. When he reads the many notices being posted on the community board naming lost items of his neighbors, Hermelin puts his reading and writing talent to use to play detective. One by one, he leaves notes for the concerned neighbors with hints or suggestions of where they can find their missing items. When the neighbors throw a party to meet the mystery detective and thank him, they are in for quite a surprise!
     My nephews and I enjoyed the story of this sweet hero and his effort to be helpful. I could see opportunities to reinforce the many reasons/purposes for writing as a "bonus" in sharing this book with students. The typewriter theme lends itself to creating memorable illustrations with Hermelin's notes.

What I am Currently Reading:
Projecting Possibilities for Writers, by Matt Glover and Mary Alice Berry
(Heinemann, 2012)

What I am Reading Next:
Nest, by Esther Ehrlich
A Million Ways Home, by Dianna Dorisi Winget
Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

Sunday, August 10, 2014

August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event

The August 10 for 10 Picture Book event has happened annually for several years now, and you can find more information at the hosts' sites: Cathy Mere at Reflect & Refine and Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.

This year, I narrowed my focus a little, thinking specifically of picture books I will share in the first few weeks of school. All the books I selected are favorites for opening the door to conversation and establishing group norms for how we will function as a community in the coming school year. Some are tried and true, but others are (or will be) new. Take a look, and consider this an invitation to share with me other suggestions for community building pictures books, too!

Ten Picture Books for Building Classroom Community
(in no particular order)

1. Zero, Kathryn Otoshi
Among all the numbers, Zero struggles to find her place and feel value. When she and the other numbers start to work together, they uncover the value of using each others' strengths. (For that matter, I also like to use One, also by Otoshi.)

2. Bluebird, Bob Staake
Not only does this book lend itself as an introduction (or reintroduction) to wordless picture books, but it will let students bring the story and it's messages to life in their conversation. 

3. Stone Soup, Marcia Brown
I'm always amazed how many students don't know this story when I share it. Yet, I love the conversations that emerge when the students voice opinions about why the villagers were hiding away what they had to offer and how the soup came together when they were not so selfish.

4. The Story of Fish and Snail, Deborah Freedman
Soft illustrations and a light story of friendship, highlighting conflict between friends and how it is handled.

5. Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger has to deal with feeling stifled, and he challenges the expectation to conform. He opts for honoring his own style, his own "roar" if you will. Mr. Tiger encourages students to honor their wild side, their roar.

6. The Lion and the Mouse, Jerry Pinkney
Another wordless picture book and another choice from traditional literature, but this one tends to be more familiar for my students. It spurs conversations about judgments and everyone having something to offer.

7. Swimmy, Leo Lionni
Swimmy will be a new addition to my early in the year picture book read alouds, but this fable's attention to using teamwork, even when we are not all alike strikes and important reminder and fits with my "fish" theme.

8. Each Kindness, Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson's story will resonate with kids, whether they have felt bullied, been a bully, or witnessed bullying in action. The wise words of the teacher--to consider how their actions ripple outward--creates an image I hope will stay with students from the very start. Additionally, I want to encourage them to make changes/self-improvements for "today," and not put off "better" until tomorrow.

9. Peanut Butter and Jellyfish, Jarrett Krosoczka
The eponymous friends have a crabby neighbor, Crabby, who is not very kind. But when he needs help, the two put aside their reluctance and offer a second chance. Kids are quick to recognize the implication that two wrongs don't make a right, and we need to lend each other a hand, even when it might not be the first idea we think of.

10. Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great, Bob Shea
This book is a reminder, I think, that it's natural for most of us to feel a twinge of jealousy when we perceive others as better or more important than we are. Goat and Unicorn show that mutual admiration can happen and teamwork is even better. hard as it is to leave that list at TEN...those are books that will earn a spot in my first few weeks of community building!

What about you?

Monday, August 4, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (8.4.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin
(Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, October 7, 2014, ARC provided by NetGalley)
     Rose's autism and OCD impact her daily life, including relationships with her dad and her classmates. In addition to homonyms and prime numbers, the thing Rose loves most is her dog, Rain. When Rain goes missing during a significant weather event, Rose's world is shaken, and she pushes herself to grow in order to find her dog. But is he hers?
     Ann M. Martin has written another compelling canine story, capturing Rose's character accurately and creating real concern and compassion in her readers through the story. Rose's voice is real and conveyed through the novel's structure and emphasized attention to the homonyms throughout the book. The book is beautiful, and Rose will find a spot in your literary heart alongside other characters like Willow Chance (Counting by 7s) and Oscar (The Real Boy).

Sure Signs of Crazy, by Karen Harrington
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 2013)
     Sarah Nelson faces adversity every day when she wakes up, just as she has since age 2, on the day she was rescued from her mother's insane attempt to drown her. Sarah, living with her father and now 12, has moved every time her identity has been realized by her new community. With only a couple close friends, Sarah keeps most of her thoughts, including her fears that she will also become crazy (like her mother) or an alcoholic (like her father) to herself (if she doesn't share them with Plant--yes, a house plant). Through her teacher's summer challenge to write letters in a notebook to people or characters, Sarah reveals her desire for a deeper parental relationship. 
      Sarah had a lot going on in this book, but there was something admirable about the intertwined example of Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) throughout Sarah's story. Her concerns and tribulations as a 12-year old girl were spot on, and emphasized what she felt was missing in her life. While I'm a fan of realistic endings, I was happy this book's ending implied healing for the characters.

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy, by Nathan Hale

(Harry H. Abrams, August, 2012)
     Nathan Hale, the historical figure, was an American martyr, capture and hanged during the Revolutionary War. Nathan Hale, the author, tells his story and provides information about other details of the Revolutionary War in this graphic novel.
     The historical information of the Revolutionary War is embedded in Nathan Hale's retelling of the story, complete with side conversations and interjections of a British officer and a hangman responsible for executing Hale. The graphic novel format will make this informational text appealing to young readers and the writing style--with snarky personalities--will hold their attention while teaching them critical information as well. This book (and others in it's series) is a high priority on my list to books to buy for back-to-school.

Camp Rex, by Molly Idle
(Viking Juvenile, April 22, 2014)

     Rex and his cast of friends strike out on a camping trip, inviting readers to experience camping alongside them with each step, like pitching a tent and making a fire.
     Molly Idle's work is always striking to me, even though her artwork is whimsical and soft, gentle and friendly. This book will be well-loved by younger readers.

Three Bears in a Boat, by David Soman

(Dial, May 20, 2014)

     When the three bears do something they shouldn't and break something they shouldn't, they are faced with a situation and must find a way to remedy it. Believing they can replace the broken item, they set out in search of another, in "the right place." Eventually the bears discover what "the right place" is, unexpectedly.
     When reading picture books as an intermediate teacher, I always try to find the lens through which I would share/use a book in the classroom. I think this book will invite conversation about solving problems the "right" way, and what finding "the right place" was really about for the bears. This could be an open door to conversations about honesty and making amends.

My Pet Book, by Bob Staake
(Random House Books for Young Readers, July 8, 2014)
     Adorable illustrations and skippity rhyming text come together in Bob Staake's My Pet Book, where a boy looking for a pet settles on The book is personified and parallel aspects of pet care are represented in how he selects and cares for his book. 
     I'm looking forward to sharing this with students and asking them to consider what books would be worthy of "pet status" for them. The book will invite reading life conversations, and--I hope--give me a jumping point for talking about and inspiring book love in the classroom. This just may be the book I have been looking for to share with students and parents alike to spawn conversation about personal canons!

My Teacher is a Monster (No, I Am Not), by Peter Brown

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 1, 2014)
     Robert would prefer school if his teacher were not a monster. When Robert runs into his monster-teacher outside of school, in the park, a situation presents itself in which the teacher becomes a little less...and
      Peter Brown's book is humorous in nature and he uses his artwork assists in fully conveying the story's true message. This is a book I will be handing to my colleagues constantly between now and the start of school. It's a healthy invitation to laugh at the little monster inside each of us, but more than that, it's an opportunity to look at our relationships with students from the outside...and think about what it takes to avoid creating monster-fearing students.

What I am Currently Reading:
The Giver, by Lois Lowry (a reread!)

What I am Reading Next:
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad!, by Nathan Hale
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins
Projecting Possibilities, by Matt Glover