Thursday, July 29, 2010

Choosing Picture Books

"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
Lewis Carroll (from

On Tuesday, August 10th, Mandy from Enjoy and Embrace Learning and I are hosting a blogging event: August 10th is 10 for 10 picture books. The list of bloggers that will be sharing their 10 must-have picture books is growing. We're getting excited about the event, and hoping you'll join us. As Julie of Raising Readers and Writers said, "Guess I better save my money...I'll be getting more ideas for books to buy."

To get ready for the event I've begun to consider which 10 books I will add to my list. I've started to compile my list of 10, but I have realized how difficult (and fun!) it is going to be. Only 10 books!! My classroom is full of books I've collected over the years, and I've spent most of this summer updating my library. Only 10 books?? How is one to narrow the list to 10 when there are so many amazing books out there?? Right now I am sure of 1 of my 10 (it's a secret). I have old books I love. New books I'm amazed by. Authors I couldn't live without. Illustrators who captivate my students.

All this talk about picking 10 books to share with everyone has me considering characteristics of a picture book which make it perfect for the classroom. Besides being hard covered, and taped well, I'm thinking picture books for teaching need:
  1. Wonderful words: Picture books that beg to be read aloud in a classroom need wonderful words. There needs to be a rhythm to language, a way the words just fall out and sound like music. The words need to allow a little play with your voice. Places where the words say slow down, speed up, talk softly, pause. Words to help you to see the place, share the character's feelings, and participate in the story. My students love books with repeating phrases and words that are fun to say.
  2. Illustrations: In picture books illustrations help tell the story. Often they create meaning in ways that words cannot. How often have I been reading to my students and they notice something in the illustrations that is important to the story, but because I am so focused on the words I have completely missed the clue?
  3. Length appropriate for attention: It is important to consider the length of a text for read aloud. Let's face it, kindergarteners need a different length of text than a second grader. In first grade, at the beginning of the year, shorter texts are more successful. As the year moves on students are able to attend for longer periods of time so I can share longer stories then.
  4. Structured appropriately: Picture books that work best in the classroom are structured in a way that makes sense to children. Characters are manageable and dialogue is easy to understand. My students always love picture books with strong characters or situations they can connect to their daily lives.
  5. Mentor texts: While not a necessity for read aloud success, I like to share books with children which can serve as a mentor for their writing. I think it is important for my students to be able to say, "I can write a book like that," or "I can try that," or "I can illustrate like that."
  6. Anchor text: The picture books I couldn't live without are those that not only appeal to children, but also support the thinking and learning in the classroom. Let's face it, I'm a teacher. The best books for the classroom are books we can use for different types of teaching. Books which allow us to anchor our thinking and learning. They're books that make us connect, predict, wonder, ask questions, synthesize, debate, and reflect. Interestingly the best books do all of that anyway.
  7. Loved by kids: The best picture books for the classroom are those children love. They are the books students want to take home every night. The books classes have loved over and over again. They are books that make kids laugh and touch their hearts. Of course, I think if we love a book enough it will show as we read aloud, and students will be drawn to the story. Different teachers have success with different books. However, I think we have to remember we are adults and sometimes the books that appeal to us are not the ones are students will love. We have to read the silly books. The series books. The books kids want to pick up when they go to the library.
So, I'm off to pick out book #2 for my list. Here are a few sites you might be interesting in visiting:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

August 10 for 10: A Picture Book Event

If you were stranded on an island and had to teach, what 10 picture books would you hope to have in your bag? Of course, I'm being a bit dramatic (because it's fun), but I do always want to step inside the classrooms of others to see what books they love to use with their students. Which books spark delightful conversation? Which books keep children laughing or touch their hearts? Which books beg to be read aloud again and again? Which books could be used as writing mentors? Which books support the teaching and learning in the community? That's part of the reason why Mandy, of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and I are hosting an "August 10 for 10" Picture Book event on - you guessed it - the 10th of August.

A little over a week ago, Mandy began reviewing the books I had suggested for teaching in a review of More Than Guided Reading on her blog. I remember writing the list of books. It was fun trying to consider 10 books I thought worked really well with students in a lot of ways. As I made the list I considered books students always connected with in the classroom. As I read her reflections though, I couldn't help but smile. I had been following Mandy's blog for some time, and I knew she had reviewed so many amazing books. I had a feeling Mandy's list of 10 picture books she'd want to have in her classroom would be interesting to read. As I followed her blog through the reviews I began to wonder more and more what Mandy's list would be.

As I followed the reviews of the 10 picture books I'd use for teaching, I also knew my list of 10 books had changed. I still loved all of those books (you'll find each one of them on the shelves of my classroom and each one still has its moment in my teaching), but I wrote More Than Guided Reading when I was working as a literacy coach. I chose the books more from a literacy coach's point of view. I wanted books which would work with students in a range of grade levels. Now I'm teaching first grade....and it's been about 5 years since I made that list. I've read a lot of kidlit blogs since then! I've made way too many trips to the bookstore. I've had so many friends hand me books they love to use with their students. My students have brought me so many books they just love. What would my list of 10 books be???

The more Mandy and I chatted, the more we wondered about the lists of favorites of other teachers, parents, and writers. We thought it would be fun to host a round-up of our friends, favorite blogs, as well as newbie bloggers (like me) sharing their favorite 10 picture books to use in their classroom. Since we're also beginning to feel the excitement of a new school year that is quickly approaching, we couldn't think of a better way to kick off the new school year than with a sharing of books! We're hoping you will join us on August 10th in a celebration of books by sharing the 10 picture books you couldn't live without in your classroom.

Pass the news along to your friends and join us on August 10th for a virtual book tour - a picture book party! Just in time for back-t0-school shopping. Let us know you'll be joining us on our blogs, on Twitter (@mandyrobek or @justwonderinY) or by e-mail. On the day of the event we will both be linking to the posts of your "faves". Can't wait!!!!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Creating Meaning With Visual Images: It's a snap! Right?

"There can be infinite uses of the computer and of new age technology, but if the teachers themselves are not able to bring it into the classroom and make it work, then it fails."
Nancy Kassebaum, US Senator via Tony Vincent

As the word "AUGUST" looms on my calendar I'm finding my thinking slowly switching from "relax and reflect" to "plan and prepare". The beginning of the new year is coming, and I'm starting to feel the excitement of planning for a new group of students. This year I want to provide more opportunities for my students to use technology. My goal is to find manageable ways for students to use it purposefully and with authenticity. I've spent a good part of the summer learning to use many of the tools available for obtaining and sharing information, trying to determine which may work in our community.

This summer, I've joined a group of teachers from my district to discuss "The Digital Writing Workshop" by Troy Hicks. (Here you will find my wallwisher of quotes from the book I am pondering.) My hope is that with the help of this community I will be able to find ways to use technology purposefully with my students. When I read the section "Composing Digital Pictures and Creating Photo-Essays with Online Photo Sharing" (pp. 61-63) my attention piqued. There seemed to be such potential for young learners to use visual images to create meaning.

Photographs, digital stories, and other visual media hold many possibilities for young learners developing oral language and a sense of story. They hold possibilities of supporting exploration, inquiry, and observation with budding scientists. The improved availability of tools like camera phones, digital cameras, and flip video cameras make it much easier to incorporate visual images into student learning. Applications like Voicethread, Flickr, Smilebox, and Animoto (to name a few!) are making it easier to use digital photographs to share a message or create a story.

When I read these quotes by Hicks the ripple of ideas began. Here are a few of the quick possibilities I've considered as I think about ways to use digital pictures, photo essays, and digital storytelling with students. This is really just a brainstorming of ideas so they're not necessarily sequenced ---- and not necessarily that amazing. However, linked with some sites I have found inspiring, they may provide a springboard to get your thinking started.

Hicks: "A picture is words. And a picture with a smart caption, combined with just a few other photos, can be worth even more." p. 61

My Thinking:
As writers, young students need to know the importance of adding captions to help clarify our thinking for our readers. Images can enhance understanding, but proper captioning makes a powerful difference. Knowing how to choose the best image to tell a story also strengthens the meaning for readers. The image of the flower can mean so many things to you, the reader, right now. You are likely asking why I even placed it here. If I were to add the caption, "This pink lily bloomed in July in my Ohio flower bed," you know more about the flower.

As readers, students need to understand the importance of reading captions to understand meaning. Beginning readers have to be taught to read the captions connected to photographs to help consider the authors message.

Maybe We Could:
Get To Know You: To help get to know students and learn to use the camera feature on the computer, students could take a picture of themselves then add a caption or speech bubble to tell something about themselves. Perhaps using Pixie to take photo as in this example from Katie D. at Creative Literacy.

Explore Captions: Find pictures with strong captions.

Add Content Captions: Students could add captions to a picture from a book read, a science experiment, an observation photo, etc..

Read Captions for Understanding: First show a picture from a nonfiction book. Have students discuss what the picture is telling the reader. Then read the caption. How did the meaning change? Then read the text near the photo. How is the meaning different now?

Hicks: "Digital cameras--and now, mobile phones with built-in cameras--allow us to capture and share images in ways unimagined just a few years ago." p. 62

My Thinking:
Instead of having students go home to write or draw about something they have discovered during the exploration phase of new content, it seems to make sense to have them take pictures of these discoveries and bring them back to school. In a day where many families have a phone with a camera, sending these pictures would be easy. Students could find the example, snap a picture, and send it to me via e-mail or a shared site. Photos could then be shared with the class for discussion (Smartboard, mosaics, digital prints, slide shows, get the idea.)

Maybe We Could:
Create Exploration Mosaics: In this case, I made a mosaic of tools that measure from around my home as an example. Student photos could easily be shared in a mosaic like this one or in other digital formats. Similar ideas could be used to snap a picture during any exploration or inquiry: find a rectangular prism, find an example of change in matter, show something that is important to you (or collect other writing ideas through photographs), show us your favorite reading spot at home, take a picture of the books you have at home, etc..

Hicks: "Photo-essays offer students a chance to compose with both images and words." p. 63
My Thinking:
Young writers are learning to find, develop, and sequence ideas to tell a story. Pictures can, not only spur ideas, but can help writers organize and develop their writing. Writers who are learning to match their oral language to the text they write, can use digital storytelling to use their voice to tell their story over pictures.

Maybe We Could:
Create a Photo Essay: We study mealworms as we learn to investigate as scientists. We could take photos of this process and add words to tell what we have learned. Photo essays could be used in science experiments, how-to writing, personal narratives, etc..

Create a Digital Story About Me: This would be a great beginning of the year way to get to know each other. Younger learners could take a picture of themselves in Photo Booth or Pixie, for example, and use voice to record something they wanted others to know. Older students could create short digital stories about themselves to share with the class.

Study Cultures Through Photo Essay: I stumbled upon this photo essay,
A Day With Kentaro, about a boy who lives in Japan. It tells much about his daily life. The internet brings many possibilities for bringing this study to life for students.

Reader Response: Voice thread offers some great possibilities. In this example
children tell about friendship, but I think this format could easily be used to respond to a read aloud, to discuss characters, to share learning, and much more.

Want to Know More? Here are some links to help:
Creating Meaning With Digital Images:
Student Examples:
Words bring clarity to an image. An image provides a deeper understanding.
If you have student examples, websites with information, blog posts on this topic, or tools you wouldn't live without, I hope you'll share them in the comments.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Technology: What are the questions to ask?

If we engage students in real writing tasks and we use technology in such a way that it complements their innate need to find purposes and audiences for their work, we can have them engaged in a digital writing process that focuses first on the writer, then on the writing, and lastly on the technology. Troy Hicks, The Digital Writing Workshop, p. 8.

You can call me Snow White. Not because I took an apple from the crazy lady in the woods, and not because I live with the dwarfs (just crazy teenagers), but because I feel like I've been asleep forever. I awoke about a year ago to find all that technology can do for me. It can bring me a recipe in a second, it can help me keep up with family and friends near and far, it can allow me to make a book/slideshow/photo album in seconds. It can get my pictures developed without leaving my house. It can take me into other classrooms and provide enough professional development (amazing professional development) to last a lifetime.

Since the awakening I have switched to a more functional e-mail account, joined social networks, and started following blogs. I've updated my tools to allow me better access. For the last year I've been learning my way around the place again. As I've been learning more about technology, I've been discovering all that is available.

Along the way I've started to realize (ok, maybe I already had realized, but now I'm doing something about it), I need to catch my teaching up to the world around me. This was never more clear to me than when we went on a multi-family vacation in Florida. The house was filled with kids and chatter. The adults surrounded the pool, and the kids started getting out movie cameras and computers. In a matter of hours, they had worked together (ages 6-15) to produce a YouTube video. They planned their parts, shot video, edited, put it together, and sent it off to be viewed by the world in minutes. It was this moment that shouted to me that our kids are way ahead of the teaching we are doing in school.

I am just past the anniversary of my awakening. I'm reading books about technology, developing a diverse learning community on Twitter to hold my hand, and have found a group of people who inspire me and push my thinking. I discovered a community of online bloggers who continually talk about tech and education (and great literacy ones too!).

I've been working to answer the question, "What is available to use with the primary (insert any age level) students in my classroom." However I'm realizing that I need to change my questions I'm asking about technology, but what are the questions I should be asking?

When our tech group meets we look at applications recently discovered as well as those members have used in their classrooms; applications we think have potential for our learners. Our group is diverse (teachers K-5, tech people, media specialists, intervention specialists), but we're always asking if we can use this in our school. I'm always inspired by the experience of these learners, and their unwillingness to accept obstacles.

I know I want my students to be able to choose the technology which helps them to get their message out to others. As primary learners, I know this is going to mean I'm going to have to find time to show them how to use different applications and give them time to explore. I will need to demonstrate, guide and support. I'm going to have to develop their visual literacy skills alongside their reading and writing. It's all about meaning, message, purpose, and understanding. I want to stop thinking about technology as something that sits in its own space in our curriculum, but instead as something that is woven within it seamlessly. I need to broaden my definition of literacy.

So, what are the questions I should be asking? How will I start my year differently? Where will I carve out time to teach about technology and allow for exploration? How will my literacy workshops change as a result? How can I teach content more effectively with technology? How are my students already using technology at home? How can we use technology to help us do what we already do in an easier way? I need to move beyond the "what" question, and I'm thinking you can help.

I'm hoping you'll comment and discuss some of the questions you consider as you think about the use of technology with your students.

August 10 for 10: Our 2nd Annual Picture Book Event

Start Searching!
Mandy Robek, of Enjoy and Embrace Literacy, and I are so excited to announce the 2nd Annual (cue flashing lights and loud music) AUGUST 10 FOR 10 PICTURE BOOK EVENT (#pb10for10).  Yes, that's right.  It's time to dig through your stack of picture books once again to find the 10 you just cannot live without in your classroom.   Now I know many of you have been participating in #bookaday, making wishlists on Amazon, and answering the door when the delivery truck arrives with new books so you might want to look through those new stacks too.  This isn't going to be easy.  

What is August 10 for 10?  
It's a conversation about picture books.  Last year, Mandy (her post last year) and I (my post last year) began to wonder which picture books were the ones we just couldn't live without in our classroom?  Which books did our students beg to have read over and over again? Which picture books had language we loved?  Which books could serve as mentors for our young writers?  Which books sparked lively conversation?  Which books did we know our children would return to time and time again?  We began to wonder what other educators would say about this, and this wonder led us to this event.

Last year, 40 blogs participated in this event.  Each blogger put his/her own spin on a list of 10 favorites and the result was an amazing resource of over 400 picture book titles.  This year I am hoping these same blogs will participate and more bloggers will join us.  I am looking forward to hearing the "must haves" of so many literacy friends knowledgeable about children's literature.  

Join Us
So start your search.  Write a post about the 10 picture books you couldn't live without in your classroom. Sometime during the August 10th event, comment with a link and brief description of your post to my blog or to Mandy's at Enjoy and Embrace Learning (no need to link to both). We will then link all of the blogs together.  (Oh, no blog?  No worries.  You can comment on Twitter using the #pb10for10 hashtag.)

Pass the news along to your friends and join us on August 10th for a virtual book tour - a picture book party! Just in time for back-to-school shopping. Let us know you'll be joining us on our blogs, on Twitter (@mandyrobek or @cathymere) or by e-mail. You can grab the picture and place it on your sidebar so others will know you are participating.  On the day of the event we will both be linking to the posts of your "faves". Can't wait!!!!!