Friday, November 19, 2010

Readers ARE Readers: NCTE 2010 Picture Book Possibilities

Readers are readers. So often the words reluctant, struggling, striving, remedial, and even nonreaders are words used in our profession to describe children. I'm always a little uncomfortable with these labels (I think we all are). I wonder if the children start to feel them and begin to believe in them.

You see, I'm a gardener. Actually I'm a terrible gardener. If you stop by my house in the heat of July you will find my plants in need of watering and the weeds are beginning to win the battle for space. You see, I'm not the best gardener. I love to garden. I enjoy deciding what will be in the garden and getting it planted. I enjoy watching the plants begin to grow. I enjoy working outside in the sun for some perceived purpose. However, somewhere in July when the sun gets hot, and we find ourselves busy, the garden begins to be overtaken. By August I'm struggling to have something make it through the summer. When it is time to spend hours in the garden harvesting, I'm busy spending hours in my classroom preparing for a new school year. It never goes as planned.

Yes, I'm a gardner. Not as good as my neighbor, not as productive as the gardener down the street, now as experienced as many....but I'm a gardener. Gardeners will talk with me about their work. Stores will let me buy all kinds of tools and gardening supplies. I suppose I could be called a reluctant gardener or a struggling gardener, but no one ever says that.

I feel the same way about reading. Students are all readers. They all come with different experience and different places on their learning paths, but they're all readers. As a community we come together to talk about the choices readers make, books they want to read, and authors that are a must. My students talk with each other about books and share equally in the conversation.

Time for independent reading is an important part of our day. My students would yell and scream if I even attempted to cut that out of their day. There would be a mutiny. My students love to take home picture books, and I've found ways to support that in our classroom. In our classroom, students choose the books they will take home each day. Overwhelmingly they love to carry picture books home to share with their families. Here you will see some of the ways this works in our community and the characteristics of books which support readers.

Following is a link to our presentation today about Picture Book Possibilities: Using Literature to Collaborate with Learners with Katie DiCesare, Kathy Collins, Ann Marie Corgill and myself.

Here are the links to other presenter blogs:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Am I Crazy? Blogging with First Graders!

Getting Started

My goal this year is to utilize technology with my students in purposeful ways. By sharing their examples, enthusiasm, and expertise, educators like Katie DiCesare (@katiedicesare), Aviva Dunsiger (@Grade1),Greta Sandler (@gret), and Kathy Cassidy (@kathycassidy), convinced me to start blogging with my students. It seemed the only way to begin was to just dive into it.

Starting blogging with first graders was a bit intimidating to me. There were so many questions. How would I manage 22 first graders on a blog site? What would we blog about? How would I handle commenting? Would they be able to compose on the computer or need prewriting strategies? What about the dotted red line under their words? Am I crazy? There were so many questions I asked myself. I didn't know how to start, but I've learned one thing across my years of teaching: TRUST THE KIDS to figure it out. They always make it work. I knew that as a community we would find our way as bloggers.

Here We Go

So, I took the plunge. I headed to school one morning in early October knowing the day was going to be messy. I pushed the computer carts down to my classroom, rolled up my sleeves, said a little prayer, and began. I'm so glad I did! Honestly, the hardest part was getting everyone signed into the site, From there we were off and blogging.

Putting all my doubts and fears aside I began because I wanted to see the growth from the beginning of the year. To make it more manageable we began with a common post about visitors from Hong Kong. From the first post, kids were off and rolling. I couldn't believe how easily they navigated the blog. It wasn't long until they were commenting on each other's posts, blogging from home, and before I knew it someone figured out how to add a picture to a post.

Within days students were independently and purposefully blogging about what was important to them and finding their voice within our community of learners. It also wasn't long before a parent asked me about the purpose in blogging. It was a genuine question, and one I had thought about often.

I suppose my reasons for blogging with my students are very similar to my reasons for having my own blog. Aside from the obvious benefits of writing often, here are some of the advantages I think my students receive through blogging.

We Blog To:

build community. Blogging has strengthened the community in our classroom. We have common conversations on our blogs about our learning, but we also have opportunities to read and learn about each other. Blogging gives students a chance to share what is important to them in their daily lives and comment on one another's worlds. It's not uncommon to hear someone come in and say, "I saw your blog about your favorite stuffed animal. I take mine with me everywhere too."

have an authentic purpose for writing. We sometimes write about a shared topic, but I'm finding the blog is best for allowing students to choose their own purpose for writing. I'm learning a lot about them through blogging (and this really helps in Reader's and Writer's Workshops to support book choice and develop writing ideas). I don't see any reason to constrain their writing. Bloggers write about a variety of topics that are important to them --- so do my students.

expand audience. This is probably one of my number one reasons for blogging with my students. Writing for a teacher isn't true writing. We write for an audience because we have something important to say. My students are writing for themselves, their classmates, and our community, but parents and other staff members are also reading and commenting. Students are motivated by the response of others to their message. I'm envious of schools that allow student blogs to be accessed by the world. Imagine the excitement when a comment is received from a reader in another state or country.

understand the power of our message. Writing a response to turn it in, or creating a story to be put in a folder, is not really how writing works. Yes, many writers have a notebook they use to play with their writing and collect ideas privately, but they're looking for the power in the message they want to share with others. Students need to feel the joy their message can bring. They need to understand they can ask important questions to make others wonder too. They are not in school to learn to be a part of our world, but are in school to be a part of our world. I want my students to have a voice now.

develop a learning conversation. I'm finding my students blog about some common learning ideas. They're sharing what they've learned in content area studies. They're reflecting on the authors and books we are reading in our classroom. They're connecting the learning in our classroom to their lives at home.

encourage revision. This is just starting to take shape. When writing is going out into the world for others to see, you have some responsibility in revising your message for clarity and editing to make it easier to read. Students seem more willing to do this work when they know their audience benefits.

move my classroom into the 21st Century. I read a post recently (and I wish I could remember where) in which the author talked about finding some photographs from her classroom that were taken 20 years ago. She was reflecting about how similar her classroom looked today. She was asking herself, "Has my teaching change?". I've been watching children outside of their classrooms with their parents' iPhones, library computers, and various real-world technologies. I've realized our classroom needs to look more like the world my students are living in today.

teach social responsibility. This has been an added bonus. I'm impressed by how thoughtfully my students comment on each other's posts. We've been able to have conversations about creating a positive image online. If you're mad at your brother you really don't want to write a post for others to see about him. How can your voice help make the world a better place?

learn about internet safety in a monitored environment. This is another conversation I am happy to be able to have with these young learners. How do you protect your identity? How do you post and comment safely? There is information you do not want to use in your posts. We're talking about that.

More Reasons to Blog
My students are blogging for authentic purposes. Here are a few reflections about why others have started to blog. I think you'll find the reasons are often the same. (There are some great comments on these posts as well.)

Aviva Dunsinger, Why Do I Blog?
Microbiologybites, Why Blog?
Dr. Jeff Cornwall shares a video clip of Seth Godin discussing reasons to blog, Why Blog?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

October Favorites

Nothing quiets a classroom of first graders like a good book. My students sit spellbound through many a read aloud. In our classroom we read aloud several books across our day. As we read books in our classroom we place them in our "This Week" basket. The basket's contents grow all week long. At the end of the week students vote for their favorite. There are always so many good books to choose from in our basket. It's never an easy decision.

As the month ends we take all of the favorites from the month and vote to find the book we loved most of all. It is always hard to choose. Here are our favorites for the weeks of October. Our very favorite is at the end of this post.

At the beginning of the month we chose Birdie's Big-Girl Shoes by Sujean Rim. This book was recommended to me by my friend,
Deb, as a good book for talking about choosing just-right books. Students enjoyed the story of a girl who loves her mom's shoes and wants to wear them, but finds them all to be a bit too big. These beautiful shoes make it hard for Birdie to do the fun things she loves to do.

Another favorite we read was What Am I? Halloween! by Alain Crozon. This is a favorite every year. The pages in this book are filled with flaps which hide many of our favorite Halloween characters. Rhyming clues help children guess what might be hiding behind the flaps and make the book fun to read aloud.

Where has Jan Thomas been all my life? I was looking for simple pictures for our study of illustrations. Our media specialist quickly recommended Jan Thomas. Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas is still being checked out each evening in our classroom. It is a book which begs to be performed. Jan Thomas's other books are quite popular, as well, each day in Reader's Workshop. This author has now earned a place on our author shelf as students just can't get enough of these stories. We love that Thomas writes and illustrates her own books just like we do!

I Stink! by Kate McMullan and Jim McMullan is one of the books I chose in my picture book 10 for 10. It is a book I just can't live without, and another book passed across the hall (Thanks, Deb!). My students can't live without it either. "I Stink" is the story of a garbage truck who loves his work! He's a truck with attitude. The illustrations are captivating. Students enjoyed watching his lunch be consumed alphabetically.

I've had this book for a long time and it is ALWAYS a favorite. Shake dem Halloween Bones by W. Nikola-Lisa and illustrated by Mike Reed is our very favorite book in October. In this story the rapping host encourages all the characters to shake dem Halloween bones. Students enjoy seeing Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, the Three Pigs, and others dance at the Hip Hop Halloween Ball.

September Favorites:
Marley Goes to School by John Grogan and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chalk by Bill Thomson (also featured in my Picture Book 10 for 10 list)

Where's Spot by Eric Hill

Good Boy, Fergus by David Shannon (our very favorite for September)