Friday, September 23, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Truth

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by tubb


Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —




It's data analysis season in our schools. We've been looking hard at the various "truths" that different pieces of data tell us about students. Each one has its own slant, and to get at the core truth of each child as a learner -- the TRUE true, as it were -- there are so many things to consider that we're all feeling a bit dazzled.

But the more we know, the better we teach: "Success in Circuit lies."



Catherine has the Poetry Friday roundup at Reading to the Core.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How Much You Love a Book



Did you ever love a book so much that you deliberately slowed down your reading for the last third so you wouldn't have to come to the final page?

That's why I'm blogging instead of reading -- I'm desperate to find out what happens, desperate to see how Kelly Barnhill completes her masterful weaving of story strands, hopeful that the small stories will be strong enough to heal the big story.

I'm in love with the characters -- the lumpy, multi-armed monster-poet; the adorable little dragon whose sense of self is starting to match his reality; the "mad woman" in the tower ("hope is the thing with feathers..."); the witch who hides in plain sight for the first half of the book, while the one called "witch" clearly isn't. And of course, the girl who drank the moon.

I thought about her on my early morning walk today. There were puddles of moonlight on the street and sidewalks. The moonlight pouring down on me felt substantial enough to catch on my fingers and drink...almost.

While I walked, I thought of the dark cloud that's looming over our country. I'll try to remember this story's insistence on the power of hope. No matter how much darkness there is, hope has the power of light to overcome it.

Thank you, Kelly Barnhill, for this beautiful story. Thank you, Franki, for insisting I read it. I'm not sure when I'll finish the last 30 pages, but I know they'll be magical.



The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Sticky Notes!


This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the 2016-2017 school year.

This was my favorite weeks so far because routines are set and I am just beginning to confer with kids beyond the initial assessments and reading interviews. We are also starting to build routines around reading behaviors that are part of reading communities. I love this time of the year when I can slowly begin to teach based on some of the information I've gathered and think together about ways to move forward as readers. And it seems that we've already gone through our year's supply of sticky notes!



I had a conference with a student who was reading "fat chapter books". She told me that she knew they were just right because if she missed one word on the first page, the book was too easy, if she missed two words, the book was just right and if she missed three, it was too hard.  This is so typical in the upper elementary grades--readers thinking reading is about "getting the words right".  When I met with her about the book, even though she was halfway through, it was obvious to me that she struggled with comprehension since the beginning. I never "fix" things like this for a child because I am interested in helping the reader grow--I am not worried about whether they understand a specific book. I believe strongly in building agency and I know that if I swoop in in September and tell her the things she is misunderstanding, she will not build the skills she needs to build understanding herself. Instead I file the  information and know where my instruction needs to go. I kept my eyes open during independent reading time and a few days later she was ready to start a new book.  We conferred for the first two days of her reading the new book--one to preview and think about what we knew and wondered from the blurb, etc. Then she started reading with sticky notes placed every few pages to help her keep track of her thinking while she read. We talked about the need for readers to take their time during the beginning of a new book because there is so much to take in and understand in those first few chapters. We've met briefly a few times and this strategy is working well. It is slowing her down and also giving her a tool to hold onto a longer story over time (by rereading the stickies before she starts reading the next day). It is evident that she is comprehending better and she is in LOVE with the book and reading.  



Readers love to share books and some readers LOVE books that are "hot off the press". I am one of those readers. I love to get books the day they are released and I love to read them before anyone else. So when I saw Dog Man from Dav Pilkey was due out,  I preordered it so it arrived on August 30. I knew they would be excited about this book--even if they weren't familiar with Dav Pilkey, this cover and idea would draw them in. They'd know the excitement of getting a book the day it is released! I shared the book and the blurb with students during our mini lesson and everyone wanted to read it.  I typically have bookmarks  that kids can sign when they want to be on a list to read a particular book, but at this time in the school year, I am not that organized. So I grabbed a sticky note and introduced the idea of being on the wait list for a book and that it would make its way around our room. Currently we have 5 books with sticky notes just like this being read by someone.  This idea is one that caught on quickly and is building lots of conversations as kids pass books along.   (I may transition to what Stacey Riedmiller does --raffles off books to first reader of new books--you can read about that here.)


Finally, I discovered this strategy last year.  I met with a reader who was struggling with finding a book he loved and with sticking with a book once he found one.  Sometimes kids are overwhelmed by the choices they have and they have trouble sticking with a book because (in the midst of reading) they see another one that they might like better.  I've found that it's sometimes helpful to plan with the child and to use sticky notes as visual reminders. Many of our kids don't have "next read stacks" as we do and they aren't thinking that maybe they can read a book that looks good in the near future. A simple sticky note on the front of the book with a number, helps students like this prioritize reading and begin to finish books. By deciding which book to read 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, the child can commit to finishing one book, while taking comfort in the fact that the others can be read soon afterward.

Really, what did we do before sticky notes!  Even with all the digital tools my students will use for thinking and annotating, sticky notes are still the most important tool in our classroom.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)

Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  

You can order it online at Stenhouse!



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Monday, September 19, 2016

This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter

I read This is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter as one of our #classroombookaday books a week or so ago. It was quite a hit and it is now making its rounds around the classroom. Everyone was mesmerized by the story.

I must say that the book is a real surprise. By the cover, I assumed this was a sweet story about a little girl and her dollhouse. It is a story about a little girl and her dollhouse but not what I expected.  The book starts with these lines, "This is my dollhouse.  It used to be just a cardboard box."  The first half of the book goes on with the girl describing all the things she did to create the dollhouse by painting the bricks, using various things to create a TV, a stove, etc. It becomes clear that the fun of the play is in the creation and each day she uses things in creative ways to make her dollhouse better.

But her friend has a "real" dollhouse. So she is embarrassed to show her dollhouse to her friend. But it turns out that her friend's dollhouse turns out to be not as much fun and her dollhouse provides endless hours of play and imagination.

There is another fun surprise to this book. On the cover, there is a tiny badge that says, "Look inside the jacket for tips on how to make your own dollhouse!" The back of the jacket cover has step-by-step ideas that invite readers to create their own cardboard box dollhouse.

When I read this book aloud, the kids were fascinated. They loved the ways that she created different things for her dollhouse.  Every kid loves to make new things with cardboard boxes so this inspired so many great ideas. It is a great book to tie into kicking off a  Makerspace too.

I loved the messages this story gave about creativity, imagination and play. I have been spending a bit of time with the professional book Purposeful Play by Kristi Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler and this was a great way for me to bring some ideas about play and making and  learning to my students.

This year's Global Cardboard Challenge is on October 1. This would be a great book to use as you get ready for this global event.


Friday, September 16, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Everyday Miracle: A Septercet















































Everyday Miracle

Watching caterpillars morph
from worm into chrysalis
never grows old. Starting small

(teeny-tiny, truth be told)
they adopt a growth mindset --
after egg, it's grow, grow, grow.

They change caterpillar clothes
as they thicken and lengthen.
Then comes the ultimate change --

undigested food is purged,
silk belt is spun, anchoring
caterpillar, who lets go

and leans into the process.
Unseen to observing eyes,
parts that were caterpillar

shuffle, shift, reorganize.
What once began as all crawl
will become fluttering flight.


©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016



The Ditty of the Month challenge at Today's Little Ditty, issued by Madam Jane Yolen, was to write a septercet, a form she invented in which each verse (as many verses as you want) needs to have three lines, each with seven syllables. It can be rhymed or not. The challenge was also (I just realized) to make your septercet feature reading and/or writing. Oops. Maybe mind is about reading the natural world.

Michelle hosts the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Today's Little Ditty.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Power of Story



I Am a Story
by Dan Yaccarino
HarperCollins, 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

We've been looking closely at picture book dust jackets (inside and out), covers, and endpapers, thanks to #classroombookaday. I'm hoping the endpapers of this book will inspire thoughtful inferences about what we'll find between the covers. Will there be text that we can quote explicitly to support our thinking?

What will my fifth graders make of a book that chronicles the history of human story telling, from ancient oral story tellers around a fire under the stars to modern story tellers around a campfire under the very same stars?

Will they be in awe of their place in the course of human history as writers and tellers of stories?

What will they make of the little red bird who flies through all the places and times?





This book is making me think again about the TED Radio Hour episode I listened to recently, "The Act of Listening." Especially the parts about the power of Story Corps, and the man who invented it. Because what good is a story without a listener or reader?



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Still Learning to Read: So Much More than a Single Test Score





This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016.


I love getting to know my students early in the school year.  There is so much to learn and so many things to get to know about each child. The first six weeks of school is definitely not easy, but taking the time to get to know each student as a person and as a learner is so important.

In Ohio, we have a 3rd Grade Guarantee Law. No matter where you live, you are most likely living with some mandates that require an emphasis on standardized tests. When you are dealing with mandates and laws like these, it is easy to forget all of the things we know and understand about literacy and learning and to go through the motions of the paperwork required and to rely on standardized test scores alone.  The test scores tell us something about a child, but they do not tell us everything we need to know to plan good instruction.  I decided a few years ago that I had a choice as a classroom teacher. I try to do the best I can to meet the requirements of the law while working in ways that make sense for young children. It takes a bit of extra time and intentional planning but I know that meeting a child's needs requires more than a single test score.

In Ohio we give a state reading test in the fall and the spring.  Districts also have the option to give alternate tests for kids to show what they know. Our district provides each teacher with the Developmental Reading Assessment and I always sit down with every child to chat about their reading in an informal Reading Interview. I also spend the first weeks of school taking anecdotal notes about things I notice during independent reading time, mini lesson time, and read aloud time.

Each time I assess a child (with a standardized or more informal assessment), I try to pull out the most important things from the assessment-the things that seems to be the most important thing to know about that child right now. Then I look across all of the assessments to notice patterns and ask myself questions like:

  • Are there any outliers in the assessments? Something that doesn't fit the rest of the information?
  • Does the child do better with long text or shorter text? Can he/she hold onto a story/idea of time?
  • Are there patterns across strengths and weaknesses across assessments?
  • How does this child define reading?
  • Is this child an engaged reader?
  • What strengths does this child have that can be built on?
  • What is the one thing that seems to be most critical for this child to move forward as a reader?

To do this I use what I call an Assessment Web.  I want to look across several pieces of information about my students in order to plan for instruction that matters for them. I can't look at a level or a test score or an area of weakness and know what to do or how best to support a young reader. Instead I need to look hard at all types of data and information to determine what is the most important next step for a child. In our book Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop, I shared the way that I create an Assessment Web for each child.  The Assessment Web lets me think about all the pieces of information I gather about a child as a learner during the first few weeks of school and for me, the web allows me to see how they all work together, without one being more important than the other. I often use this web to share with parents at conference time. My categories change a bit based on the assessments we are required to give or the patterns I see but overall my web usually looks something like this:




Some years, instead of an assessment web, I compile the data on a form that is on page 83 in the second edition of Still Learning to Read.  This one is a bit easier and allows me to more easily look across grouping of students and patterns across the class.  But it doesn't give me a single page on each student that I can use as the year progresses and add changes, updates, etc.



Of course, the form doesn't matter--it just helps me make it easier for me to look across multiple pieces of information on a child.  In order 'to move forward with targeted instructional planning after these first few weeks of school, this step has always been critical for me. Since I started using a form like this over a decade ago, we've had new standards, new tests and new mandates. But the idea of the form continues to work for me as I try to look at all the data and information I have on a child in order to make the best instructional decisions possible for a child.



(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)

Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  

You can order it online at Stenhouse!



Monday, September 12, 2016

Early-in-the-Year Messages About Learning

There is no rushing the first few weeks of the school year. No matter how much I'd love to be in Week 8 right now with routines set and thoughtful conversations happening every day, I know that you can't rush community building. As hard as it is to establish routines, there is nothing like these first few weeks of school--getting to know students, watching them get to know each other,  and listening in on these beginning conversations.

I can never quite pinpoint exactly how things evolve in the classroom--how kids get from where they are at the beginning of the year to where they are at the end of the year.  I don't really have a set of lesson plans that helps to build talk early in the year.  I don't really believe in those "First 20 Day" planning guides. But I am very intentional about my planning and try to be responsive to each new group of students.  Each group comes in with different expectations as learners and I usually take my cue from them on where to do.  By May, I am always so amazed by my students' thinking and growth but they are not as comfortable talking and sharing early in the year so I spend a lot of time planning things that give them important messages and experiences about learning.

The thing is, lots of these things don't happen in Reading Workshop. In Read Aloud and in minilessons, we are learning to have conversations around books. But it seems to be that it is the conversations that we are having during other times in the day that also help build the conversations we have as readers.  In a self-contained classroom, nothing stands alone.  Somehow, conversations in reading are possible because we spend time throughout each day thinking about learning and thinking and talking.  The conversations overlap and talk starts to get better each day in the classroom in all areas.

Learning Happens Everywhere and in Many Different Ways
For the last few years, we've watched Caine's Arcade on the first day of school to talk about Caine as a learner.  I want my kids to know that learning happens in lots of ways and that lots of learning will happen in and out of school. I want them to know that the kind of learning Caine shares in his story will be valued in our classroom. Some years we've created a chart or had a conversation discussing the ways Caine is a learner or how we know Caine is a learner.


We Learn When We Think Together
We mention in our book the idea of Thinking Partners.  A board in the front of our classroom has a heading "Who Are You Thinking With Today?". Below are 2 sets of individual photos of the students in our class.  I use this to quickly assign partners for various things when needed. Early in the year we talk about how you learn different things when you think with different people.  We've done partner talk in all areas learning how to turn and talk, sit "knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye", keep a conversation going for a short amount of time, etc.


Thinking and Talking about Our Own Learning (and others' learning) Helps Us Grow
I invite adults in the school to come in and share their lives as readers with us during the first several weeks of school.  This helps students learn about others which in turn helps them reflect on their own reading.  As they learn about different readers and see connections and differences, they begin to ask questions and learn to talk about reading habits and behaviors in new ways.

Mrs. Phifer, our reading teacher, sharing things about her life as a reader last week in our classroom.

A Learning Community Gives Feedback to Help Other's Grow
Austin's Butterfly is one of my favorite clips to show early in the year.  I think the idea of specific feedback and supporting each other as we all learn and grow is fascinating to students as they watch this clip.


Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work from EL Education on Vimeo.

Our Brain Grows
This year, I shared one of Jo Boaler's videos on Youcubed. "Four Boosting Math Messages from Jo and Her Students" invited powerful conversations about the brain, making mistakes, and other myths about learning (math and beyond).



We Learn When We Are in the Role of Teacher AND When We Are in the Role of Learner
In our classroom, we have Wonder Workshop daily. This is the way I make sense of Genius Hour and Makerspace ideas and bring them together to give kids a time each day to take total charge of their learning.To kick off Wonder Workshop, each child shares something they love or are good at with classmates.  This is an informal presentation done at tables with small groups.  This joyful time helps us get to know each others' interests and also helps everyone discover things they may want to learn or try during Wonder Workshop. By the end of the week, we'll have 23 new things are possibilities for Wonder Workshop. And we'll have experienced the power of learning from each other over and over again.

We talk about being an active participant in a session and this is easy for them to do and understand when they are in both roles. We don't do a typical presentation--instead kids teach at a table to an audience of 3-5 kids several times until all kids rotate through. This keeps kids engaged and gives kids lots of experiences as both a teacher and and audience. We reflect on our roles each day and we also discover what we appreciated about the ways different people taught and learned. This conversation will carry on throughout the year.

We Can Learn from Others Through Technology
I made it a point to share resources from online sources so kids know quickly that we learn from lots of people and technology allows that. (They know this of course, but I want them to know that this will happen lots in our classroom.)  I also want them to know that there are people out there who create things to share to TEACH others. (This will be good when they learn to research and it also serves as an invitation to create resources for others online.)

We've learned from Ruth Ayres (A Peek Inside My Writer's Notebook), Jess Keating (Write With Jess Keating), Amy Vanderwater (Sharing Our Notebooks) and Mr. Stadel at Estimation 180. The variety of videos, blog posts, activities created for learning all show that there are so many ways to learn from others.

None of these things can stand alone but together they work magic when it comes to evolving messages about what it means to be a learning community.



Friday, September 09, 2016

Poetry Friday -- The Fifties



The Fifties

Trees feel the fifties
in their tip-top leaves --
ever so slightly not as green.

Bees feel the fifties
in their crystal wings --
buzz-uzz-uzzing sluggishly.

Runners feel the fifties
in groups of twos and threes --
comfortable in shirt-sleeves, breathing easily.

I feel the fifties
slightly differently --
cycling along...they're in my knees!


©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016



This is a poem I "jotted" in my digital writer's notebook (aka my phone) last Saturday morning. As I cycled along, enjoying the crisp (temporary) 55 degree weather, bits of a poem began coming to mind. I stopped a couple of times to capture key phrases in voice memos. When I got home, I wrote out a draft in my paper-pencil writer's notebook and worked on it throughout the weekend. The verse about the crickets chirping with greater urgency didn't make the cut.

The poem is true and untrue in a couple of ways -- I felt the fifties in my knees because they got cold in the first few blocks, but (thankfully) I don't feel the fifties (years) in my knees (knock wood and I'm not even going to say yet) while I'm cycling!

Happy Poetry Friday! Amy has the roundup this week at The Poem Farm.



Thursday, September 08, 2016

Listening to Podcasts


If you don't listen to podcasts yet, it's time to get started. Since you already love children's books, you should start with The Yarn, by Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker.


The Yarn "unravels" a book through an interview with the author or illustrator. Each episode is between 8 and 28 minutes long -- perfect for listening on a short commute or as a break in your work.

Franki wrote about The Yarn when it was brand new, just over a year ago. Colby and Travis have really come into their own over the course of a year, and they have some incredible episodes that will be worth going back to.

Take the episodes #26 and #27, for example, in which Travis and Colby talk to Kate DiCamillo at ALA. She talks about why she writes for children. I love her words so much, I'm going to use them to describe why I teach.

I teach because of the "necessity of hope." You can't show up every day and work with 10 year-olds if you don't possess more than the normal amount of hope. Teachers traffic in hope. It keeps us going; it keeps our students going; it keeps our schools afloat when the rest of the world would sink us without a second thought. And then there's the "peripheral magic." Like Kate's stories, we don't utilize literal magic, but you can't deny that there's some kind of magic going on when you see a child's eyes light up with understanding. 

In Kate's books, and in classrooms around the country, "Things are still possible." 

That's why you write, Kate? That's why I teach.