Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Slice of Life: Be Influential

After years of researching it, thinking about it, and debating the pros and cons in my mind, I finally purchased a Vitamix blender.  This blender is the Cadillac of blenders and like a Cadillac it comes with a hefty price tag.  After spending almost four hundred dollars for this blender, I made my first smoothie and realized it was worth every penny.  I have a friend who also loves to drink smoothies, so I told him about my Vitamix and how wonderful it is.  When I told him he should get one, he didn’t seem very interested.  Soon after I made my purchase, my friend came over my house and I offered to make him a smoothie.  It was smoothie magic – in an instant he had a delicious, perfectly smooth smoothie.  About a week later, I was at his house and I walked into his kitchen and on his counter was a shiny new Vitamix blender.  Telling my friend he should get a Vitamix did not make him go out and buy one.  It wasn’t until he had the evidence of what I had been telling him - a strawberry banana smoothie without one hint of a strawberry seed - in front of his eyes that he made the decision for himself to get one.

I couldn’t force my friend to buy a Vitamix, but I did influence him.  Last week, I participated in a Twitter chat at #g2great, the topic of which was Influence in Education.  Similar to many of the times I have participated in a #g2great chat, I was still thinking about the thoughts and ideas that were shared even after the chat was over.  This chat left me thinking about how we, as educators, can have an influence on teaching and learning.  I have thought about how we can influence not just the students we directly teach, but also how our influence can extend beyond the four walls of our classrooms. 

In my first few years of teaching, I wanted to implement writing workshop so I asked my principal to purchase the Writing Units of Study by Lucy Calkins.  He agreed and I began implementing the units in my first grade classroom.   My daily writing time was transformed into a writing workshop in which my students were writing daily and thinking of themselves as authors.  This was very different from the traditional writing instruction that occurred at my school. I began talking with my first grade colleagues about the writing workshop in my classroom.  I also shared my students’ actual writing, which had a powerful effect.  The other teachers became interested and wanted to make changes to their own writing instruction.  A year later, all kindergarten through grade two teachers at my school were referring to the Units of Study and teaching through a writing workshop model.

Through this experience, I learned about the power of influence in spreading my beliefs about my teaching practice.  I knew what I believed to be true about effective writing instruction and I knew my students were benefiting.  I felt so strongly about it, that I wanted to share with other teachers so their students could benefit, too.  Of course, forcing teachers to implement writing workshop never would have worked.  I was able to influence them by talking about what I know to be true about writing and by showing the evidence, students’ writing. 

Influencing others is not always so simple as making someone a perfect smoothie or sharing writing samples so I’ve been considering ways that educators can be influential. Through thinking about influence and reflecting on the thoughts shared during the #g2great chat, this is what I’ve come up with:

Be Knowledgeable

Read a lot. Whether it’s books, journals, blogs, or articles, read to learn and understand what is effective practice and how student learning and teaching can be shaped to promote independent, life-long learners. Knowledge is power.

Be Articulate

This year, at the New England Reading Association Conference, Katie Wood Ray sat on a panel of authors who were involved in writing the book, The Teacher You Want to Be. The panel was asked how we should best advocate for our instructional beliefs.  She suggested that educators be able to articulate the reasons and purposes for doing what they do.  Explaining the why makes it easier for others to understand our beliefs.

 Be Connected

I have found social media to be one of the best ways to extend my professional network beyond my own school and district.  Educators on social media sites offer so much useful insight into teaching and learning and information and ideas can be spread widely and quickly.  Recently, I started a virtual book club to discuss the book, Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris.  There are over six hundred members to discuss the book and hopefully, influence each other with insightful ideas as we reflect on what we've read. There is still time to join the book club before we start discussing the book, so if you'd like to take part join the Literacy Teacher Book Club Facebook group page. 

Be Innovative

George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity states that teachers should always ask, “What is best for this learner?” in order to create better learning opportunities for students.  Teachers can be innovative by thinking about how they can change or improve upon learning in order to provide purposeful, relevant, and engaging opportunities for students.  We influence our students’ learning when we make changes to our practice with the needs of our individual students in our minds.

 Be Open-Minded

I watched the film Most Likely to Succeed recently.  The film highlights High Tech High, which has a very non-traditional curriculum in which students learn by doing and teachers facilitate learning that is personalized for all students.  I’m sure this approach to teaching and learning has its advantages and disadvantages, but being open-minded about new ideas and principles that may be different from our own leads to new ways of thinking that can potentially lead to positive change.

MRA Committee sign-ups 

Be Involved

Professional organizations help to connect educators and seek to improve learning and teaching.  I am a member of the International Literacy Association (@ILAToday), as well as my state reading council, the Massachusetts Reading Association (@mraread), and local reading council, Southeast Regional Reading Council.  Through these associations I have had the opportunity to network with other educators, participate in activities that improve my teaching, and share my own knowledge and ideas as a conference presenter.  Professional organizations, whether they are related to literacy or have another educational focus, have an influence on educational practices and our involvement helps to drive that influence.

What are your experiences with influence in education?  How else can we be influential in our attempts to share our beliefs and what we know to be effective practices for teaching and learning?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Slice of Life: A Reluctant Reader Reads

A boy crashes to the earth and he’s only wearing his underwear.  It turns out that he’s not even a boy.  He’s a robot. 

I think my readers were hooked at the underwear part.  I have never met an elementary student who didn’t giggle over any mention of underwear.

It turned out the rest of the book did not disappoint.  Action. Adventure.  Humor. Friendship.  Good guys versus bad guys.  And it’s a graphic novel.  I have not yet had a student who read Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth and did not think it was just awesome. 

One of my most reluctant readers was the first to read it back in October.  He immediately asked for the second one, which to his disappointment, I told him was not going to be published until May.  Until this book, this reader of mine has never shown interest in wanting to read a book or much excitement about anything that he has read.  Since he has asked to read and really liked several other graphic novels.

Many of the other students who have read it have also asked for the second book in the series. Of course, I had to preorder it.  I placed a picture of the book with a “Coming Soon…” sign and a sign-up sheet. I’ve heard multiple times, “When is it coming?” or “Have you gotten it, yet?”

When it finally arrived last week, it was like receiving a present in the mail.  I knew my students would feel the same excitement.  I walked into the classroom of that reluctant reader and showed it to him.  He had a huge smile on his face.

Word is getting around that I am now in possession of the second book, Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World.  Now I am asked, “When do I get it?” One student has come to my room every morning since I got the book to find out if it is his turn to read it.

Hilo is a character that my students have fallen in love with. They love the graphic format and they love the plot.  For a reading teacher there are not many things more enjoyable than seeing students excited about books.  I love this book as much as my students.  As an adult it was enjoyable for me to read.  More enjoyable than many of the graphic novels I have picked up and tried to read.  But, most important this is the type of book kids really want to read.  There are so many things about it that appeal to kids, from the underwear at the beginning to the cliff-hanger at the end.  Even if a book doesn’t appeal to me, if it gets my students reading it is a book I love, too. 

I am thankful to Judd Winick for creating this book.  I just wish he would write faster.   My readers will definitely want to read the third because there is a heart-wrenching cliffhanger at the end of the second.  I checked Amazon and the third book is not available until February of next year.  Students have already asked if there is going to be a third book and I almost don’t want to tell them how long they have to wait.  Even so, I am thankful this sort of book exists, providing my most reluctant readers with books that get them excited about reading.

Monday, May 23, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the New England Reading Association conference in Portland, Maine.  The conference was great - sessions were thought-provoking, insightful, and inspiring.  In addition to the conference, I spent some time exploring downtown Portland and happened upon a wonderful, little bookstore.  There was a great selection of picture books.  I could have spent hours there!  So this week, my list is all picture books.

What I Read This Week…

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

This picture book would be a great mentor text for young writers working on a nonfiction unit of study.  In the book, a boy tells what happens as his family begins a trip by going to the airport.  It's very informative as it tells step-by-step what happens when taking an airplane.  The illustrations are detailed and interesting and they add to the text by telling a parallel story, that of a missing sock monkey.  I have some readers who love books about moving things, such machines and trucks, and I think they will enjoy the information in this book.  

One Hundred Bones by Yuval Zommer

This book combines two things that my students are always interested in reading about, dogs and dinosaurs, and does so in an interesting way.  Scruff is unlike the other dogs, who all have collars and human friends.  Scruff loves to dig and the other dogs are not impressed until one day he digs up one hundred bones.   The bones seem unusual, so the dogs take them to the Natural History Museum and they find out Scruff has made an important discovery.  I think this will be a fun story to read aloud to my first and second graders.

President Squid by Aaron Reynolds

Squid wants to be president, but his reasons are anything but presidential.  The other sea creatures seem uninterested in Squid's desires to be president, but a clam and a sardine help him learn what it really takes to be president.  This book has humor that children and adults will appreciate.

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexi

Thunder Boy Jr, nicknamed Little Thunder, hates his name.  He has many ideas for other names, like Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth and Mud in His Ears, because they show something about who he is.  Since Little Thunder was named after his dad, he doesn't know how to tell him how he feels.  But, his dad seems to know he needs a name all his own. There is both warmth and humor in this story.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I Read This Week…

If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don't! by Elise Parsley

This is a picture book that I can see young readers wanting to read again and again.  Magnolia insists on bringing her piano to the beach and she is quite determined as she pushes and drags it and finds a way to get it there.  Her mother warns, "you'd better not lose it!"  One would think you couldn't lose a piano at the beach, but it is a whole other story for Magnolia.  It's an adorable and entertaining story that I'm looking forward to reading to my students at the end of the school year as we look forward to summer.

Mr. Particular: The World's Choosiest Champion! by Jason Kirschner

Mr. Particular is a hero, but one who, "liked things the way he liked them - and only the way he liked them."  All non-dessert food must have ketchup, no humming, shirts should be tucked in, and mud (and also oatmeal) is too squishy.  When the Super Duper Group no longer want Mr. Particular in their group because he is too picky, he shows them that he is a true hero.  This is a picture book written and illustrated in comic book style that tells a fun story of an unlikely hero.

Rules of the House by Mac Barnett

The cover of this picture book intrigued me and when I saw the author was Mac Barnett I knew I had to read it.  It is imaginative, a little weird, and, with frightening monsters, a bit suspenseful. It's also a story that anyone who's ever been annoyed by their sibling will probably relate to.  Ian is a rule follower, but his sister, Jenny, is a rule breaker and neither one seems to understand the other.  While they are staying at a cabin, Jenny breaks the house rules and there are frightening consequences.  Ian realizes there is a very important, unwritten rule, "always save your sister from being eaten by monsters" and that sometimes rules have to be broken.  Rule breakers and rule followers alike will enjoy this one.   

Wolf Camp by Andrea Zuill

This picture book about Homer, a dog, who must go to Wolf Camp where he will live as a wolf for a week will make readers laugh.  After Homer carries around the flyer for Wolf Camp, "his people" finally let him attend.  Homer learns about being a wolf, but not everything about being a wolf is what Homer expected.  Homer is sweet and funny.  The illustrations are fun and add to the humor. This book would be a good one to read to a child going to camp, but it's also one to read just for the fun of it.  

The Curious Cat Spy Club by Linda Joy Singleton

When Kelsey discovers abandoned kittens in a dumpster, two schoolmates help her to rescue them and together they form The Curious Cat Spy Club.  They take care of the kittens, but also work to solve a mystery that involves missing pets.  Although the three friends are very different from each other, their love of animals joins them together.  In the story they must work together and learn to understand their differences and get along with one another.  This is the first in a series that mystery readers and animal lovers will enjoy.

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

Charlie's mom has recently died and both he and his sister, Imogen, feel like they have lost everything.  Then Imogen discovers a secret world where their mom still exists and it seems that they can get back the happiness they all had together.  Charlie soon learns that this other world is not as it appears and there is a possibility that Imogen could be lost to it forever.  With the help of a good friend and a dog, Charlie is determined to bring his sister back. There are sad parts to this story, there are important themes related to loss, memories, and courage, there is a bit of fantasy and magic, and there are endearing characters.  It's heart-breaking, but also full of hope and warmth. Such a lovely book and I'm looking forward to the next novel by this author.


Monday, May 9, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading.  For more information check out the host blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers.

What I Read This Week…

The Storm by Akiko Miyakoshi

The boy in this story has been looking forward to a trip to the beach, but an impending storm threatens to interfere with the plan.  This is a small moment story, as it simply tells about the boy's concerns as he waits to discover if the storm will pass.  As I was reading this book, I thought it would make a great mentor text when teaching primary grade writers to write their own small moment personal narratives.  The text is sparse and straightforward, but it eloquently captures the voice and feelings of the young narrator.  

Fluffy Strikes Back (A P.U.R.S.T. Adventure) by Ashley Spires

Fluffy Vandermere is a cat with a big job - to protect the planet from alien domination.  When his headquarters are under attack, he and his right-hand cat, Click, are up against an angry swarm of insects. There is a lot of silly humor and action as the "good guys" take on the "bad guys" in this graphic novel.  I know many of my students find this kind of story fun to read and it is an easier-to-read graphic novel making it appropriate for younger readers.   

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Two sisters from the Philippines have been abandoned by their father and are now living with their very cruel stepmother in the United States.  Sol takes on the responsibility for caring for her sister Ming, who believes they are going to be rescued from their unhappy living situation by an imaginary aunt.  The girls have a very difficult life, but their story shows the power of strength, hope, and sisterhood.  The book is written for grades three through five, but it touches upon some difficult themes that may be more appropriate for the higher end of this grade band.

Slacker by Gordon Korman

Cameron's parents force him to get involved in some type of club or sport after he almost burns down their house and they get tired of all the time he spends playing video games.  Cameron has no interest in doing anything that is going to require time that could be better spent playing his games so he invents an imaginary club.  But, soon others want to join and he can no longer shirk his responsibilities as the president of the Positive Action Group.  The story is funny, but there is also an important message about helping others.