Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meet Me at the Moon

One of the highlights at the NCTE conference was shopping for picture books in the exhibit hall.  My savvy book shopping friend and #pb10for10 co-conspirator, Mandy, was quite good at spotting arcs for review.  I fell in love with this book as soon as I saw it.

Yes, I am just over the moon with this new title, "Meet Me at the Moon" by Gianna Marino to be released on my own mama's birthday, March 29, 2012.  In this story Mama must leave her baby elephant to climb the highest mountain in search of rain.  Mama Elephant is gone for days and days.  Will she return?  Will Little One be able to find her again?

The illustrations in this book are stunning. The incredible detail in the drawing of characters, the precision of each picture, and the use of texture and vibrant color in this African setting call readers back to the book again and again.

The delightful illustrations are balanced by the language used to tell this story.  There is a rhythm to the words, a beauty in each sentence, and a kind tone that makes the reader fall in love with the characters in this story.  Mama tells Little One, "When the night sky is bright, Little One, meet me at the moon, where the sky touches the earth."

I know the young readers in my classroom will enjoy this story.  The organization of the story and the structured pattern within can be easily understood, and perhaps considered for writing, by my students.  Though I know this book will be well loved in my classroom, I can't help but think it is the perfect book for young children at home.  It reminds me of many of our family favorites when my children were young.  You'll definitely want to add this book to your list.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Really, a Post About Markers?

Really, a post about markers?  Oh, it's worse than that.  My colleagues and I spent an entire lunch period discussing markers in Writer's Workshop.  Only primary teachers could obsess over something so minor.  (OK, maybe only I can obsess over something so minor.)

I'm not going to lie, for years I did not have markers out for students to use during Writer's Workshop.  I know some of you are cheering to hear me say that.  I also know some of you are shaking your head in disgust.  Markers - like erasing, writing on the backs of paper, using scissors and allowing conversation - are an aspect of Writer's Workshop we don't want to discuss.  People feel strongly one way or another about it.

Today I'm a little embarrassed to admit I didn't have markers out for a long time, and over the years I realized I needed to rethink this.  The more I read and the more I talked about Writer's Workshop, the more I began to think markers needed to be a choice.  So a few years ago I started introducing them.  My introduction went something like this, "Here are the markers....listen for the click when you are done using them."  For some reason (I wish sarcasm came across better in writing), they just never took off.  Students never really chose them.  Imagine that.

The Day It Happened
Well, this year was different.  I introduced markers as I always do, and they sat.  Imagine that.  Then one day someone grabbed the markers.  I was busy conferring with a student, but had noticed the sudden murmur moving across the classroom.

Finally someone spoke up, "Mrs. Mere, _____ is using the markers."  A hush fell across the classroom.  Everything was silent.  No one moved.  No one breathed.  Everyone looked at each other.  Everyone looked at me.

I glanced at this young writer, marker in hand.  She looked at her friends and then she looked at me.  I could tell she was worried about her standing with her friends and her teacher.  This was an important moment for her.  "_____, why did you choose markers for your illustrating," I asked rather nonchalantly (outwardly).

"I thought it would make the pictures look better," ____ replied in a hesitant whisper.  (Well, it was something like that.  That's really not important.)

"Seems like a smart choice of tools for your writing," I replied matter-of-factly and went back to conferring with writers.  Yes, I acted like this choice seemed perfectly logical, but I also knew what was coming.

Here's What Was Coming
Yes, young writers gleefully jumped up from their seats to grab the markers.  FREEDOM!  Weeks went by and markers were a part of workshop.  It was actually going pretty well.  Illustrations had maintained a reasonable amount of detail and popped with color on the pages of stories.  We had made it through the coloring over our words part of the process, and I was noticing some students were actually better able to draw with markers.  They just seemed to sit in their hands more comfortably; it seemed easier to form lines and make circles.  I was rather proud of myself for getting over another control hurdle and trusting my students.  They never fail me.


One day, I noticed it here.

I noticed it there.

I noticed it here and there.

Students were writing words with markers instead of pencil.  GASP!  (This post really needs sound effects.)  Now I was the one who wanted to shout, "Teacher, ______ is using a marker to write his words."  Actually, you know that feeling you get when what you are thinking, what you believe, and what you practice aren't matching?  I knew this was one of those moments.

The Dilemna
FASTFORWARD to our lunch conversation.  Should I let students use markers to write words?  Thankfully I teach with great friends who will tolerate my worry over little matters and conversations over tedious details.  (You all rock!)

The pros:
  • Some students seemed to be able to write more with markers.  It seemed easier to form letters and words with the thick tips of a marker.  The size of the marker made it easier to grip.  Yes, OTs everywhere are shouting OF COURSE.
  • The words really stand out when written in marker. 
  • I can easily see the corrections students have made as they were unable to erase.
The cons:
  • Some students seemed to write much bigger when using markers.
  • Some students raced through their writing and it wasn't as neat as their pencil work.  

Yes, the answer is obvious when you read it like that.  As a colleague reminded me, "Some of the kids using pencil need to make their writing look better too."  It's true.  It isn't really an issue of the tool, but an issue with the process.  Students want to write a story that others can read so they have be responsible about some of their choices.  I have students in my room who wouldn't ever want to write words with marker.  They want their writing to look neat, they want to be able to erase (yes, I let them erase --- another day's post for Writer's Workshop purists), but for others it's easier to create with the flow of the marker.  It's easier to get words onto paper.

My Decision
It was decided, at least for now, that students will continue to use markers to write if that is the tool that works best for them and their story.  I will continue to teach through it.  Yes, it will take a few days, but in the end I'm hoping it will be worth it.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sharing Our Stories

Karen, Mandy, Me, Stella
Picture from Stella
Reading the Past, Writing the Future
Every year I rearrange schedules, feverishly complete progress reports, arrange conferences with families, and make travel plans to attend the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention.  It's a lot of work that has to be done quickly and I often wonder if I will manage it all, but every year I do.  Every year as soon as I join my friends and colleagues at NCTE I know it was well worth it.

This year was no exception.  As I attended session after session the significance of story kept catching my attention.  I began by attending the Elementary Gathering on Thursday night where Kathy Short received the 2011 Outstanding Educator Award.  Short talked about the significance of story.   Her thoughtful keynote seemed to shape my thinking across the entire conference.  Every speaker I heard gave me nuggets about story.  Every place I went I saw the potential for story.  

My favorite NCTE quotes about story from speakers:
  • About Story:  "Stories are such a normal every day occasion that we often overlook their significance."  Kathy Short as she received the 2011 Outstanding Educator Award at the Elementary Gathering.
  • About Story:  "Good nonfiction is narrative.  Giving kids the gift of thinking about what matters most."  Ellin Keene
  • About Story:  "Math stories are everywhere in our world."  Mandy Robek as we walked across Chicago (not her exact words, but...)
  • About Mentor Texts:  "Literature can help second language learners connect to, and find, their story."  Mary Capelli
  • About Process:  "After I write I read it aloud to hear it in my mind and in my ear."  Seymour Simon 
  • About Audience:  "I've been thinking about how our vision of audience changes....and how it changes us as writers."  Tony Keefer
  • About Audience:  "When I know my writing will be read by others, I work on my writing harder." Meredith age 10 shared by Tony Keefer 
  • About Publication:  "Books in hands at school can then be hands at home."  Katie DiCesare in talking about having shared texts created in learning community made into digital pieces of writing
Capturing the Stories of Young Writers
Throughout the weekend I wondered how to help my young writers to see the significance of the stories in their lives.  How do I help them to capture their stories?  I thought about how they race in each morning to capture my attention to tell me their stories.  I thought about how they bring in objects to share with their friends that tell their stories.  I thought about the conversation I overhear with friends as they enter our classroom each day to tell their stories.  Young writers aren't that different from "older" writers (couldn't resist).  We are all so caught up in our lives we forget the stories we are living and they slip right be us.  

When I returned to my classroom excited to share my own stories with my students - stories of learning, friends, meeting authors, finding new books -  I noticed my students also had brought "stories" with them.  

Nathan had brought his story of the new cars he got in Iowa City.  He shared the stories of seeing family, visiting sites, purchasing and playing with these new cars on the long ride home.

Natalie had brought her book from when she was a baby.  She shared stories of the beginning days she and her twin sister shared together.  She told stories of her grandma coming to hold and love them.  She told stories of their first Christmas together.  She told stories of her life as a twin which her friends had plenty of questions about.

Luke brought his stories from a surprise trip to Disney.  He had a notebook --- yes, I was pretty excited about that --- he had made to collect writing ideas from his trip.  He shared the story of his favorite ride.

Lily came in carrying a picture of she and her sister decorating the Christmas picture with another picture of the dog and cat chasing each other it.  She laughed telling about the challenge of decorating this large tree and the chaos the pets caused shortly after.  

Stories are everywhere if we listen.  Thanks NCTE (and friends) for helping me to notice the stories right in front of me every day --- and for helping me to make my own new stories.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Beyond Classroom Walls

On Saturday, November 19th, Julie Johnson of Raising Readers and Writers, Katie Keier of Catching Readers and I shared ways to honor the voices of young readers and move conversations beyond our classroom walls.  The NCTE 11 conversation is shared here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Redefining Choice in the 21st Century

Students need opportunities for their writing to go forward and go public - to reach audiences outside the classroom and the school - so that they can then begin to see how their words truly affect the feelings, beliefs, and choices of other people in the community.  Ann Marie Corgill, Of Primary Importance (p. 23)
I think about these words of Ann Marie's often as children write in my classroom.  New technologies not only provide opportunities to make writing public, but also cause us to rethink our definitions of composition and literacy.  In a conversation with Julie Johnson of Raising Readers and Writers, we will share our journey in revisioning choice in our workshops at the first ever conference of the Columbus Area Writing Project.  This collaborative effort with the Literacy Connection will also feature speakers Troy Hicks, Sonia Nieto, and Asma Mobin-Uddin.  Our slideshow (hopefully with links embedded) follows:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Stenhouse Blog Tour: Math Exchanges

"Learning occurs when children are actively engaged in their environment and work to create a system of meaning and deep understanding."  Kassia O. Wedekind 

Sometimes the right book comes along at the right time.  That’s what happened when I read Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s new book, Math Exchanges.  Right now in our school, we are in the process of transitioning from using a math program to really focusing on Ohio's New Model Curriculum (developed from the common core), data from assessments (such as the Developmental Math Assessment), and student performance to plan instruction.  In the transition I'm spending much time reading and rethinking math instruction in our classroom.

In her book, Kassia focuses on the problem solving conversations teachers have with small groups during math workshop.  What are children saying?  How are they figuring things out?  How is the teacher supporting math learning? While Kassia's book, Math Exchanges, focuses on the significance of small group conversations in developing mathematicians it also helped me to rethink the way we talk about mathematics in our classroom community.  Kassia reminds us, "It is the role of the students to raise their own questions, generate their own hypotheses and model possibilities, test them out for viability, and defend and discuss them in the community. (p. 9)"

When I was asked to be a part of the Stenhouse Blog Tour for Kassia’s book I was honored.  I’ve been having conversations with Kassia (@kassiaowedekind) on Twitter, and following her blog, Math Exchanges, for quite some time.  I've already learned so much from Kassia and enjoyed so many conversations, but to have an opportunity to talk with her about her new book was a bonus.  (Speaking of a bonus...remember to leave a comment to possibly win a copy of Kassia's new book.)     

Our Interview
 Me:  In your book you talk about the difference between “mathematics” (ideas and procedures created in the past by others) and “mathematizing” (constructing one’s own ideas and understandings of math).  What do students need in math workshop for this type of learning to occur? 

Kassia:  Lucy Calkins said, “teach the writer, not the writing.” When I began to think in terms of “teach the mathematician, not the math,” my workshop changed. Put this quote on your wall, in your planning notebook, someplace you can look at it when you’re feeling, “I just need to show them how to…” or “I’ll just teach them this easier way to....” Those thoughts creep into my mind from time to time. When I find myself getting into this kind of thinking, I tell myself: Honor the child’s thinking. Meet her where she is. Build from there. I know I can’t rush a child into building understanding overnight. That’s not how true learning works.

When your focus is on “teaching the mathematician,” your workshop will change. Here are some changes that occurred in my workshop when I made this shift:
  1. Focus on fewer problems. Giving just a couple of problems and spending significant time asking “How did you solve the problem?” “How did you figure it out?” “Did you solve it like Clara or did you use a different strategy?” “Why do you think Abdel decided to start counting at 52 instead of 6?” Teach deeply with fewer problems.
  2.  Simplify. I used to spend a lot of time planning complicated centers for my students to do while I met with small groups. I hardly had anytime left for looking at student work and my notes in order to plan strategically for the small groups with which I’d work. I learned to simplify my centers or tasks. Giving students collections to count, starting a counting journal (where students count by different numbers and find patterns), writing their own story problems, playing simple math games. Focus on planning simple, truly independent centers or tasks that provide meaningful practice and exploration. This will free your planning time for focusing on thinking about where students are in their thinking and how to move them forward.
  3. Choice. Elements of choice are important for students to feel ownership and self-efficacy in the workshop. Choice of tasks, choice of numbers for a problem (“Choose the numbers that you feel ready to take on. Not too easy, not too hard.”), choice of partners. You don’t need to offer all of these choices all the time, but it is important to always have some element of choice in the workshop.
  4. Joy! How do you feel during your math workshop? How do your students feel? When things are going well, I feel a kind of joyful buzz in the air. Kids are talking to each other. They are trying new ideas. They feel important. Children are excited to meet together in small group math exchanges. If I’m feeling like this most of the time, then I know I’m on the right path. If not, I look for ways to change what is going on.

Me:  Tools are obviously flexibly used in your math workshop to solve problems and think about math.  How do you create environment in which students know they can flexibly utilize multiple tools/strategies in math exchanges?  

Kassia:  First you want to create an organized space where kids can easily access tools. Children should know what tools are available and the ways in which they can be used. Give time in the beginning of the year for free exploration of the tools. Have kids make labels for the various tools so they feel ownership over the tools and learn how to care for and organize them.

Help students identify what tools and strategies that help them most effectively and efficiently solve problems. “Jaime, why did you choose to use the sticks of ten Unifix cubes to solve that problem?” Or “I noticed that you used to use … and now you use … Why did you decide to change tools/strategies?” You want to highlight strategic tool use that is appropriate and efficient. You want kids to use the tools when they need them, and then feel comfortable dropping the tools for more efficient strategies at some point. Help them understand and talk about when and why they changed tools and strategies. You’re helping children to self-monitor for changes in their thinking and strategies.

Me:  You stated, “the role of teachers is to provide problem-solving experiences that invite questions, wonderings, and space for grappling with new thinking.”  One of the pieces I appreciated was reading many examples of language you use with young learners in math exchanges.  Can you share a few types of feedback you used to give and what you say now that encourages students to questions, wonder, and grapple with math learning?

Kassia:  What an important question! I learned a lot about academic language from Peter Johnston’s book, Choice Words. I re-read this book a couple of times a year (it helps that it’s a short book!) to remind myself of language I want to use. And then I write it down. It takes a while for new language to stick in my mind, so I may need to write down a couple of questions or phrases that I want to use until it becomes natural for me. So, here are some examples I’ve been thinking about lately. There are many more in the book!

Me:  I realized when I was reading your book I needed to learn to look at what students do and say in math much more closely to determine what they know and what is next.  What resources/practices have helped you to know and notice important shifts in thinking?

Kassia:  Yes, I’ll tell you about two books that changed my thinking and practice as a math teacher.
  1. Young Mathematicians at Work: Constructing Number Sense, Addition and Subtraction by Catherine Fosnot and Maarten Dolk.  This book examines the “landscape of learning,” the mathematical strategies, big ideas and models that young children construct as they learn mathematics. It taught me what to look for as I analyze children’s work and words, and how to help children make steps forward in constructing meaning. Young Mathematicians at Work is one of those books that perfectly balances research with practice, and offers a lot of classroom vignettes that you can implement in your classroom.
  2. Children’s Mathematics: Cognitively Guided Instruction by Thomas Carpenter, Elizabeth Fennema, Megan Franke, Linda Levi and Susan Empson.  This is the foundational work of the idea that children construct understanding through experience with problem-solving. The authors explain the problem types you can work with and the development of strategies towards efficiency and understanding.  

Me:  You talk a lot about “the stories of math” in life.  How do you help students to find the math stories in their lives and share them in the classroom community?

Kassia:  I think we all live rich mathematical lives, whether we are aware of them of not. I certainly didn’t think of my life in these terms before I started teaching! It happened slowly. First I’d be in a grocery store and see the perfect array of plums that I needed to take a picture of to share with my third graders who were just beginning to explore strategies for multiplication. Then I’d be at the metro stop and see these hexagon tiles on the floor and start to wonder, “why hexagons?” So, I think sharing this passion with my students caused them to start thinking in these terms as well. I invite students to bring in stories and items from their mathematical lives. I give them time to share them and a space to display pictures and items where other kids can interact with them, ask questions and offer comments on the items and pictures shared. (There’s a post about a Multiplication Museum my kids made on my blog that shows a picture of this kind of thing).

I’ve just returned to the classroom this year as a kindergarten teacher. It’s made me start thinking about how to help our youngest students discover and share their mathematical lives as well. The best parallel I have is to how I teach writing. I learned from Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover (in Already Ready and their many other books) to say to my students “You could make a book about…” or “You could make a book like that” in reference to kinds of picture books we study or experiences my students have. I’ve started looking for opportunities to say things like that about the math my students are discovering in their play. After they became interested in make long rows of animal toys on parade I said, “Wow! How many animals are in the parade? Would you like to take a picture of this so you could make a sign telling people about how many and what kinds of animals are in the parade?”

I want to thank Kassia for taking the time to answer these questions.  Reading her book has helped me to shift my thinking as I move from teaching "mathematics" to supporting "mathematizing".   Kassia explains, "The difference between "mathematics" ideas and procedures created in the past by others, and "mathematizing," constructing one's own ideas and understanding of math (p. 40)."  I'm looking forward to the journey.

Remember to leave a comment or question for your chance to win a free copy of Kassia's book from Stenhouse.  Also, if you haven't had a chance to stop by the other blogs on the tour you will want to take time to visit each blog.  I have enjoyed each day's conversation.

Monday, October 3rd:  Catching Readers Before They Fall hosted by Stenhouse authors Pat Johnson and Katie Keier.  This post discusses some ways to encourage students to talk together about math among other conversation points. 
Tuesday, October 4th:  Our Camp Read-A-Lot hosted by first grade teacher Laura Komos.  This post discusses ways to assess the small group conversations and student thinking.  The rubric shared one way to think about the work students do in small group math exchanges.  
Wednesday, October 5th: Here  
Thursday, October 6th:  Elementary My Dear, Or Far From It, hosted by first grade teacher Jenny Orr

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Developing Ownership: New Goals for a New Year

This year is off to a terrific start.  I have a fabulous class.  Well, I thought I had a fabulous class until my brother stopped by my classroom for a visit and my students were certain - way too certain - he was younger than I.  For the record he is, but I would have liked for them to have to think about it a bit longer.  Seriously, they are such a hard working group.  They absolutely love books so I'm pretty sure we are going to get along quite nicely.

This summer I spent a good part of my time reading professional books, having conversations on Twitter about education, and trying to update and improve my practice.  A few weeks ago, Laura Komos at Our Camp Read-A-Lot posted her goals for the coming school year.  I was inspired to do the same, but found myself talking more about my goals to continue my professional learning.  I would be remiss to not talk about my goals for student learning as well.

Though I have been teaching for several years (I can't say how many as I'm still recovering from my class's declaration that I am obviously older than my brother), I have goals for our classroom community in this new learning year.  These are changes I know I want to make to support students in owning their learning.

Classroom Goals

  1. Learn New Curriculum:  Learn and use Ohio's new model curriculums for Science, Social Studies, Language Arts and Math in daily instruction.  
  2. Math Workshop:  For the last few years, I've been trying to move toward using a math workshop which allows me to start with a focus lesson, have students work toward math goals during an independent learning time in which I confer and meet with small groups, and then finishing with a share.  This instructional framework will allow students to have ownership of their learning and provide opportunities for differentiation.  
  3. Improve conferring in Reader's Workshop:  This summer I participated in a conversation about Patrick Allen's book, Conferring:  The Cornerstone of Reader's Workshop.  For me, it has always been easier to confer in Writer's Workshop.  It seems the conversations are usually grounded in the writing students are doing.  Writing conversations seem to naturally end in a plan or some type of teaching point that moves the writer forward.  However, I find conferring much harder in reading.  Reading Patrick's book I realized there needs to be a clear "plan" at the end of our conversation to help students continue to move forward.  
  4. Improve Student Learning Conversations:  I want to improve the conversations I have with young learners, but I also want those conversations to carry into the conversations students have with each other.  My hope is to find a way to help young learners learn to provide feedback to one another.  Yes, I know that sounds a bit too "teacher-ish".  In our classroom students set their own goals for much of their learning.  These goals are based upon their learning, concepts being studied, and assessments given.  When conferring with students we often reflect upon these goals and look for evidence of improvement in their work (reading, writing, math, etc.).  This year, I want the conversations we are having in our share circle and the conversations students are having with each other to reflect the learning we are doing in a way that helps to move us forward.  
  5. Seamless Use of Technology:  For me, last year was the first time I wasn't asking what I could do with technology.  Instead it seemed I was thinking about our learning and finding that technology often was the perfect way to create, compose, and share our learning.  (Yes, Deb, this includes VoiceThread.)  For the first time, technology seemed to be more like any other tool we use in our classroom to learn.  This year, I want to continue to have students discover ways to use technology as a part of their learning.  Here are a few links that speak my technology journey:
It's going to be a great year.  I'm looking forward to all I will learn in this new community.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Math Exchanges Blog Tour: Stop by October 5th

"Envision a workshop as a space for learning in which learners become leaders."  Kassia Wedekind p. 15 

Transitioning to Math Workshop
I first began using a workshop when I started building a Writer's Workshop after reading Nancy Atwell's, In the Middle.  In later years, I used this framework to transition our reading instruction into a Reader's Workshop to give young readers opportunities to not only read, but to develop their reading lives.  It wasn't long until I started to notice the disconnect between my literacy instruction and the way we were learning math.  The math instruction in my classroom did not reflect what I felt was important for young learners.

Math Exchanges
For the last few years I have been trying to move toward using a math workshop to structure our math learning.  This transition hasn't been easy.  For some reason it is always a challenge for me to take what I know about literacy and use it to think about math.  Obviously, I was quite excited when I heard Kassia Omohundro Wedekind was writing a book to talk about those small group learning opportunities in math; perfect for thinking about those small group conversations during our math workshop.

The Blog Tour 
On October 5th this blog will host a stop on the blog tour for Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's new book Math Exchanges.  
Kassia (@kassiaowedekind) and I have been having conversations about learning on Twitter for quite some time.  I've enjoyed reading her blog.  I've already learned so much from Kassia so I'm quite thrilled to be a stop on her Stenhouse blog tour the first week of OctoberI'm looking forward to talking with her about her new book --- and learning more about making math workshop a place where learners become leaders.

Win a Copy
Stop by October 5th and leave a comment.   One lucky commenter will win a copy of Kassia's new book.  Well worth the stop!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Creating Learning Spaces

Our Starting Arrangement
Our Classroom
One of my first graders from last year stopped by yesterday on his way out the door.  "You've changed everything," he exclaimed as he stopped in to say hello.  After talking to him I was relieved to realize he didn't think it was better or worse --- just different.  It's true I've arranged a few things to create the spaces we'll need for learning.  Here are a few pictures from before school the year began.

Our Meeting Area
Our Meeting Area
The meeting area is by the chalkboard so I can add our word wall.  The magnetic surface makes this a great location for the words we are learning.

Math Area
Math Tools
I like to keep our math tools in a common place.  This place is perfect as traffic should flow relatively well when getting supplies and there is room to hang math related charts on the walls around the shelf.  A few book baskets with picture books about math help make the area ready for math learning.

Places for Collaboration
I'm most excited about this area.  Last year this lowered table was a hot spot for writing, reading, and working in small groups.  This year I wanted it by the window.  I had picked up a few stools at IKEA that are the perfect size for students.  They love reading, writing and working here.

Making use of both sides of easel
Rethinking Furniture
I've opened up the space behind my easel so I can use the back of the easel which I gleefully discovered is magnetic.  Oh, the possibilities.  Right now we are using it for a daily check-in question, but I think being able to use it for small group word work is another possibility.

To the left you will see our "island" in the middle of the classroom.  A colleague suggested I rethink this piece of furniture and I'm glad I did.  It is the perfect central location for supplies and recess games.  It is short enough that I still have visibility across the classroom.

Author Collection
Rethinking Spaces
I wasn't sure this space was going to work for me.  This piece of furniture is always difficult to place and, to be honest, I'm not overly crazy about it.  However, my students always love it.  Originally marketed for leveled text, I use it for author collections.  Every year kids pull up chairs to our author collections and read, read, read.  I've learned to like this piece of furniture and surprisingly I like it here.  First of all, I usually try to keep my tile clear.  It's a weird thing, I suppose.  However, I'm never crazy about furniture on the tile.  Secondly, I was worried about how this would work with traffic when it is time to clean up at the end of the day.  Actually it has slowed down movement as students clean up and is perfect.

I'm really excited about this open space our new arrangement created.  We have laptop carts we can bring to our classroom.  It is always quite congested when these carts are in the classroom.  This new space is right beside all of our plugs and internet connection places.  When I bring the carts into the classroom I can park them in this corner, plug everything in for students, and still have plenty of room to move around the classroom.

In the weeks to come the students will begin to shape the way these spaces look and are used.  Soon the walls will be covered with their thinking.  The charts we create as we learn together will begin to fill the walls.  When old students stop by I think they'll find things look different, not better or worse --- just different.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I'm a Versatile Blogger

I woke up this morning and the sun was shining.  My patio called, but my phone said it was only 52 degrees.  The skies were a beautiful blue, the birds were chirping (actually turns out it was a convention of blue jays so chirping isn't quite the word), and a mist covered the grass.  I had to go to the patio.  So I grabbed a pair of sweats, a sweatshirt and my cup of coffee.  I had a few things I wanted to get done this morning and knew I should probably get a post on this blog.  The post I need to get up isn't quite ready --- but then I realized Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading had nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Perfect - a post to write.  Of course, I googled "Versatile Blogger" and found there to be 10,800,000 links which means choosing 15 blogs that haven't been chosen could be a task in and of itself this morning.

It only seems fitting that the two people who started me on this crazy adventure would nominate me.  Thanks to both of you for the nomination and all of the learning I've found on the internet.  I am a much better educator, learner, and collaborator thanks to you both.

After accepting this honor there are some things we are requested to do:
1. Thank the person (people) who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog.
2. Share 7 things about you.
3. Pass this award along to 15 other blogs that you have discovered.

So, here are 7 things about me:

  1. I have a Twitter addiction.
  2. I started this blog when I found 140 characters on Twitter just wasn't enough to talk about education and literacy.
  3. This is my 23rd year of teaching.  I've taught grades kindergarten through 6th and worked as a Reading Recovery teacher and literacy coach.
  4. Having visitors to my classroom makes me a nervous wreck  --- even after 23 years.  
  5. I love new picture books and chocolate (yes, I know that is technically 2 things)!
  6. This really isn't a very versatile blog, I blog mostly about children, learning, literacy, technology, picture books, and building classroom communities (of course, you will find an occasional politically motivated rant).
  7. This blog collaborates with Enjoy and Embrace Learning each August 10th to host the August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event.  (next year will be year 3!)
Here are 15 blogs I would like to recognize (it's not hard to think of 15 blogs):
  1. Barbara at Love to Teach Reading and Writing
  2. Gail at Mrs. Poulin's Blog
  3. Jen at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It
  4. Jennifer at A Work in Progress
  5. Jackie at Ready, Set, Read!
  6. Jill at My Primary Passion
  7. Kassia at Math Exchanges
  8. Katie & Pat at Catching Readers
  9. Laura at Our Camp Read-A-Lot
  10. Lyssa at My Mommy Reads
  11. Lori at Lori's Lessons
  12. Michelle at Literacy Learning Zone
  13. Scott at Brick by Brick
  14. Sylvia at Ele'Mentor
  15. Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds
That was a fun challenge and walk through many blogs I love to read.  I must say, however, I think I could have finished that post that has been hanging over my head in that time.  :o)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Discovering What Kids Know

I love the first days of school when everything is new.  New folders, new pencils, new crayons, new paints and, best of all, new students.  These first days of the school year are so important for setting the tone of our classroom community.  In these first days I want the children in my classroom to begin to see themselves as one community.  In these first days I want to learn how they work together, who leads, who follows, who listens, who talks and who builds on the thinking of others.  In these first days I want to know what they love to do most.  I listen to their stories to learn what is important to them at school and, of course, in their lives beyond our classroom.  We discover the ways we are similar and the ways we are different.

In these first days every step is carefully made to help us to live and work together in the coming year.  In a teaching world filled with data, I think the best thing about the first days of school is getting to know kids not by numbers, but by living beside them.  In these first days of school I want to know what they know.  I want to watch them in the messy work of figuring things out, as they settle in with a good book, as they look at that blank piece of paper and plan what they want everyone to know.  How do they make meaning?  I want to know what they know really well.  I watch them for signs of what they have under control, what they may be ready to learn, and what they may need help to accomplish.

In the first days I spend my time talking with children about their reading/writing.  It is in these conferring conversations that I learn most about their lives as readers and writers.  I learn by talking with students, but I also learn by watching them work in the workshop.  By carefully observing how they go about their reading and writing.  Much can also be learned by looking thoughtfully at student writing as well and talking with them about books.

Here are a few questions I ponder as I sit beside students to confer and reflect on their learning:

  • What are the student's literacy attitudes and habits?  Do they read/write at home?  Do they have books in their rooms?  Do they have a library card?  Did they go to the library in the summer?  Where do they get books?  Do they read stories before they go to bed?  Do they prefer to read by themselves or with others?  Do they have places they like to write?  Do they see their family members read/write?  Do they approach reading/writing with confidence?  Do they have the stamina to attend to reading/writing for a lengthy period of time?  
  • What do students know in reading?  How do they make meaning?  Do they search for the message of the books they read?  Do they have favorite books/authors?  What kinds of books do they choose to read?  How do they talk about reading?  What strategies do they seem to use automatically to make sense of books?  Do they monitor their reading/thinking?  
  • What do students know in writing?  Where do they get ideas for their writing?  Do they write about a variety of topics?  Do they easily begin a new piece of writing?  How do they plan their writing?  Do they prefer to draw first or write words to begin?  How do they organize their writing?  How do they construct sentences?  Do they have a bank of known words?  How do they write new words?  Can they reread their writing?  Do they add details to their pictures/text? 
  • Does the child's oral language support learning and communication?  Do they ask questions as they read/write/talk?  Are they able to articulate their thinking?  Can they connect their conversation to the thinking/discussion of others?  Do they use the vocabulary from their reading/writing in their discussions?  Do they listen carefully to others?    
  • Do students have a sense of story?  Do students talk about their writing as if they are telling a story or just isolated events?  Do they connect ideas when talking through the pictures in a book?  
  • What are the connections (and disconnects) between reading and writing?  Is it easier to write words than to read them?  Is it easier to read words than to write them?  Are they more confident in reading or writing?  Do they have strengths in one area that might support learning in another?  
So in these beginning days I will be sitting beside the young readers and writers in my classroom to celebrate and discover all they already know.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keeping an Eye on the Road Ahead: Professional Learning Goals

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.   Learn as if you were to live forever."  Mahatma Gandhi 

It's been a great first two weeks of school, but it has been all I can do to keep up with my colleagues on Twitter.  Additionally, reading and commenting on blogs --- let alone posting --- has been virtually impossible (yes, that was my attempt at cyber-humor this morning).  All I have been able to manage is an occasional glance at my Twitter feed or a quick read of a post on my phone in small snippets of time I have found.  Donalyn Miller uses books for her emergencies, I use my phone (it has my books, blogs, Twitter colleagues, etc. always at my fingertips).

In the midst of the first days of madness I caught snippets of this Twitter conversation between Michelle Nero (@litlearningzone) and Laura Komos (@komos72):

Being a person who loves "a challenge" and a bit of #cyberPD, I thought I'd add my post to this conversation which began at Laura's Camp Read-A-Lot, The Big Picture for 2011-2012.  Here Laura shares her goals for the upcoming school year in a post written to help her stay accountable to them.  I'm a bit nervous about posting my goals so publicly as I know there will be no turning back.  I considered making my goals:  eat more cookies, sleep in on the weekends, give up laundry, but I knew you wouldn't buy any of that.  

So falling to peer pressure, here are a few of my goals for the coming school year:

Professional Learning Goals:
In an effort to continue to grow as an educator I think it is necessary to read, interact, and share our learning beyond our classrooms.  In these tough times for public education, I want to be more "transparent" (not a fan of the word, but it works here) in all that I believe about education.  It is important to maintain our professional lives and share them with the public so they move beyond the notions of education predominately shared in the media (stepping off soapbox...oops).  

Currently, I am reading Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's book, Math Exchanges, published by Stenhouse (and, I believe, now available).  This blog will be one of the stops on Kassia's blog tour.  I'm looking forward to talking with Kassia about her book (and hopefully getting a few answers about my math workshop).  

In October, I will be attending the Columbus Area Writing Project's Fall Conference:  Writing and Reading Our 21st Century Lives.  At the conference, I will be joining Julie Johnson to share ways literacy is moving beyond our classroom walls.  In October, I'm also considering attending the Literacy Connection's session with Troy Hicks and OCTM's conference in Toledo.

In November, I will be attending NCTE's conference in Chicago:  Reading the Past, Writing the Future.  Love, love, love this conference!  Like Laura, I have to pay for this conference myself --- and use personal days (ouch!), but it is always worth it.  This conference always energizes my teaching and thinking.  I'm really looking forward to presenting with Katie Keier and Julie Johnson (ok, not the presenting part, but the working with friends part) in our session:  Beyond Classroom Walls:  Honoring Voices of Young Readers in the 21st Century. 

In February, I will be attending Dublin's Literacy Conference.  Going to conferences can be EX-PEN-SIVE!  I love this conference as it is reasonably priced and full of great speakers and learning conversations.  This year's list looks exciting with picture book authors Bob Shea & Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat!), and professional authors Ruth Ayers and Donalyn Miller among the many sharing their thinking with us.  If you are within driving distance (even if you're not), I highly recommend a trip to Ohio (in the snow and cold) to attend.

On the TBR professional list:  Comprehension Going Forward, Write Like This, So What Do They Really Know?, Investigate the Number System.

Twitter, Twitter, Twitter.  I will never be able to articulate all I learn, all the professional development opportunities I find, all the conferences I stalk, or all of the great thinking shared here.  Just know I am trying to find a way to be sure to keep up with it all.

Reading and Commenting on Blogs:  During the summer I tried to make it my goal to comment on at least 3 blogs per day (ok, some days it didn't happen).  I am pretty sure I can't keep that pace during the school year.  My goal is to comment on at least 10 posts per week (for those of you that like math, that is likely going to be 3 each day of the weekend and 1 each evening --- with a day off).

Blogging:  At least once a week I will share something I've been thinking about in teaching children.  Yes, I'm going to make it a priority to go back to posting at least once a week.  There, I said it.

Writing:  While I am on the subject and just making myself accountable for things, let's talk about writing.  I do believe being a writer (in any terms) is important to teaching writers.  I've been struggling a bit to get back into my writing routines...ok, I've been struggling a lot.  The weekly blogging goal is an attempt to fix this as is my commitment to writing weekly.  (Still debating on whether to set the goal by words per day/week or minutes per day/week.  Pondering - and taking suggestions.)

Classroom Goals
While I am throwing it all out here, I might as well add classroom goals.  However, I need a bit of time to get those thoughts into an organized list.  So in the coming days, I will post my goals for my classroom.  I think you'll see they are tied to the above professional learning goals.

"I'm a big believer in growth. Life is not about achievement, it's about learning and growth, and developing qualities like compassion, patience, perseverance, love, and joy, and so forth. And so if that is the case, then I think our goals should include something which stretches us." Jack Canfield

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Wrap Up: Our 2nd Annual Picture Book Event August 10 for 10

Thank You
This week was our second annual picture book event:  August 10 for 10 (#pb10for10).  While Mandy Robek and I co-hosted the event, the real success of it came from the diverse group of participants willing to share their picture book expertise with one another.  The result of this collaboration is a resource we can all return to throughout the year.  This year's event included books for preschool children, nonfiction lists, picture books for math, multicultural literature, old books, new books, borrowed books, blue books (ok, I'm getting a bit carried away).  Thanks to everyone who took the time to post, to e-mail, to tweet (and retweet), and to tell friends.  You rock!  (And a special thanks to Mandy for joining me in another year of crazy fun.)

August Event Links
If you'd still like to post, I'm not much of a rule follower so I'll be happy to add your post to the collection.  Just comment here (or on my 10 for 10 post) or mention (or DM) me on Twitter.  

It's hard to explain to other people what I have gained from professional interactions on the internet.  The networks I've come to rely on through Twitter and the blogging world are such a big part of the learning I do.  I've gained a positive community of educators willing to help one another.  This event is a perfect example of what happens when we all join together.  You inspire me!  Thank you.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 10 for 10: Authors I Just Can't Live Without

It's here!  Today is our second annual picture book event:  August 10 for 10.  If you love picture books, you'll love this event which I'm excited to be hosting with Mandy Robek.  For weeks we've all been wrestling with the 10 picture books we just can't live without in our worlds.  You'll find picture books for your classroom, your library, and your bookshelves at home in this year's collection of posts.  If you'd like to have your blog linked to the conversation, just comment with the link for your picture book list here or at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  You can also send us a link on Twitter using the event hashtag #pb10for10.  If you don't have a blog, but would like to join, there are lots of ways to participate.

Authors We Can't Live Without
Last year, I shared my list of 10 picture books I just couldn't live without.  This year I'm going to share 10 picture book authors I could not live without in my classroom.  I cannot even begin to imagine how I would teach without a collection of picture books.  The authors of these books are such a part of the discussions that take place in our learning community.  They are the books we read to learn, laugh, and talk together.  Not only do these authors help us to grow our reading lives, but they also help us to learn to live the life of a writer.  Authors are an essential part of our classroom.  Here are some must-have authors:

Eve Bunting
Eve Bunting is an author I just can't live without in my classroom.  Her books are perfect for young readers no matter what the grade level.  ANYtime I need a book that is a good mentor text for writing or a read aloud that will evoke discussion I know I can go to his author to find a book that will work.  Most of her books are written in first-person from the point of view of the main character.  Choosing a favorite is a bit of a challenge, but children always enjoy Ducky written by Bunting and illustrated by David Wisniewski.  Bunting wrote this book after reading about a box of plastic toys lost at sea (book includes an author's note).  In this story, Ducky spends days lost at sea hoping to be saved.   He has to be brave as he tries to survive.

Mem Fox
Mem Fox is one of those authors children just love.  I'm always amazed by the reactions her books get when being read aloud.  I love Mem Fox's books for young readers and writers for the very reason she wrote them; they put the sounds of language into the hearts and and minds of children.  Children love to hear books written by Mem, and those books then turn into great writing mentors in our classroom.  Young writers can learn a lot about language, repetition, and story from Mem.  I couldn't live without Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild by Fox and illustrated by Marla Frazee.  My classes always love this story about a small girl, Harriet, who seems to have a hard time staying out of trouble and a mom who sometimes finds it hard to be patient.

Mo Willems
I must admit I was a little slow to get on the Mo bus.  However, it didn't take me long to realize the power his books had with children.  Mo is a bit like Mem in that as an adult I look at his books and say, "That's a pretty good story."  Then kids get ahold of the books and shout joyously as they turn the pages.  Children seem to come alive at the crack of a story by Mo Willems.  Now my classroom is full of Mo Willems books.  My students just can't get enough of his books.  They are a perfect way for emergent readers to choose real picture books in the classroom and not just leveled readers.  So I have to choose a favorite?  Just one?  I think my class from last year would want me to tell you about Elephants Cannot Dance.  In this story Piggie tries to teach Gerald how to dance, but no matter how hard he tries he just can't move like Piggie.  Will Gerald ever find his groove?

David Shannon
David Shannon is the perfect author for a classroom full of beginning readers.  Shannon's character, David, is always one of the characters students love most in our classroom.  I can't imagine starting a year without David Goes To School.  In this story, David seems to have a hard time following the rules of the classroom.  As in many of Shannon's books, the pictures tell the real story.  This is good book for beginning a conversation about ways to make the classroom a place for learning and how each of us can help to do that.

Robert Munsch
Every classroom has to have a collection of books by Robert Munsch.  How can young readers resist stories in which the adults are always a mess and the children always save the day?  The repetitive phrases in Munsch's books make them easy for young readers to reread after the story has been read to them.  Kids love the humor in Robert Munsch's work and his books are always being taken home from our classroom.  Again, picking a favorite is tough, but I'm going to have to say Alligator Baby is always a hit.  In this story, written by Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko, Kristen's parents go to the hospital to have a baby but keep coming home with an animal baby instead of a people baby.  It seems they got confused and went to the zoo instead of the hospital.  Kids love guessing the animal as Kristen slowly lifts the blanket to find the new baby doesn't have "people" characteristics.  Can Kristen save they day?

Todd Parr
I love Todd Parr's books for the message, but the bonus is that young readers love them too.  I think his books are perfect for the beginning of the year when students are first learning to use pictures to tell a story.  Parr's use of shapes and bold colors are perfect for helping young writers begin illustrating their own stories.  Being the literacy geek that I am, I couldn't live without Reading Makes You Feel Good (thanks, Deb Frazier).  It is perfect for the start of the year as we begin our Reader's Workshop and share our love of reading.  (Oh, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of his new book, The I'm Not Scared Book.  Yes, I think I might have just bent the rules a bit and slid in an extra book.)

Eileen Spinelli
Eileen Spinelli is the perfect author to help teach the craft of writing.  Spinelli varies her choice of crafting techniques in her books creating a strong collection of mentor texts for young writers.  My favorite mentor text for young writers is In My Yellow Shirt.  In this story a young boy receives a yellow shirt for his birthday.  What would be considered by many to be an ordinary gift turns into an extraordinary gift as he shares all he can be in his new yellow shirt.  This imaginative tale demonstrates the use of repetition, strong vocabulary, and a seesaw pattern of text among other techniques.

Kevin Henkes
Kevin Henkes is another must-have author for any classroom.  Children love listening to his stories.  His new book, Little White Rabbit, is a book I just couldn't live without in my classroom.  In this story, rabbit wonders what it would be like to be different.  After each page in which little rabbit wonders what it would be like to be different, a beautifully illustrated double page spread shows what it might be like.  For example, little rabbit wonders what it would be like to be tall.  Readers turn the page to find a double page spread showing rabbit taller than the fir trees.   A group of us have been discussing using wonder to frame discussions of inquiry in our classroom.  Maria Caplin has shared Wonderopolis and an idea using wonder jars to start inquiry with students.  I'm thinking this book might be perfect for a collection of books about wonder to help in this experience.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I really have to thank Franki Sibberson for this next author.  She has often mentioned Amy Krouse Rosenthal in posts at A Year of Reading.  Eventually I started to put two and two together and realized how many books I had by Rosenthal, and how many more I needed to check out.  I'm still in the discovery stages of noticing all this author can offer the young readers and writers in my classroom.  However, I'm quite sure she belongs on this list of must-have picture book authors.  My students would want me to tell you about Duck! Rabbit!, but I'm going to suggest another favorite Little Hoot written by Rosenthal and illustrated by Jen Corace.  In this story Little Hoot doesn't want to stay up all night like the owls.  Will he ever talk his parents into letting him go to bed early?  Kids love this play on tricking parents at bedtime.

Eric Carle
Though these authors are in no particular order, I suppose it makes sense to end with the tried and true work of Eric Carle.  I don't think I have to tell anyone about all that Carle's work teaches my young writers about illustrating and story telling.  I love, that like Henkes, Willems, Parr and Shannon, Carle writes AND illustrates his own books just like the young writers in my classroom.  They love the innovative ways he presents books to children and this usually inspires some innovation in student writing.  Yes, Eric Carle brings out the scissors and the glue invariably...and a lot more.  Not only are Carle's books perfect as writing mentors, readers love rereading his books over and over again.  It is truly impossible to pick a favorite from Carle's collection, but I suppose A House For Hermit Crab ranks high on my list.  In this story Hermit Crab gets too big for his shell and has to go out searching for a new home.  Will he find the perfect home  for him?

There they are; 10 authors I couldn't live without.  A big thank you to the authors who share their stories in our classrooms shaping the reading and writing lives of the young children in our classrooms.