Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Slice of Life: Looking Back and Looking Forward

During this last week of the school year…

I wonder how it can already be the end of the year.  Has this school year actually gone by faster than the previous year? It certainly feels like it has.  It seems as if students were just walking through the front doors of the school, their backpacks filled with new school supplies and their smiling faces showing all the excitement and anticipation that a new school year brings.  Now, it’s already June and another school year is coming to an end.

I watch and listen as two first graders read side-by-side, propped up with pillows in the reading corner with Little Bear’s Friend in between them.  I think back to the beginning of the year and remember when they were reading the simplest of texts, each page with one sentence heavily supported with picture clues.  I listen to them work through difficult parts of the text together, reread parts to make it sound more fluent, and giggle about the story as they make meaning.  I celebrate this growth in their skills.  More importantly, I celebrate that these students now see themselves as readers.

I hope my students will continue to read over the summer.  I’ve stressed the importance of summer reading and tried to encourage them to read.  I’ve told them about summer reading programs at a local bookstore and the library.  I’ve given booktalks so students could start creating a summer reading wish list of titles they are interested in reading. I’ve discussed when, where, and what they can read this summer.  I’ve shown a video created by Dav Pilkey, about being a reading superhero, and I’ve reminded my students that reading will help them maintain their brain power.  I’ve given away books as I’ve weeded through my bookshelves.  I hope my students find time to relax and enjoy the warm, summer days, but also remember to read.

I plan for my own summer reading as well.  The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan is the first children’s book on my own summer reading wish list.  I also have a stack of professional books that I can’t wait to learn from.  Visible Learning for Literacy, DIY Literacy, Creating Cultures of Thinking, and the newly ordered Hacking Leadership, because I just started hearing about it on Twitter, are some of the books in my stack.  I have plans for my summer professional development, as well.  I am looking forward to attending ILA in Boston this year.  I’m teaching a workshop on writing with mentor texts for Buzzards BayWriting Project, my local organization of the National Writing Project. I am also attending the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy at the University of Rhode Island.  I plan and look forward to the learning and new knowledge I know I will gain this summer.

I look back and I look forward.  This is what I do during the last week of the school year.


Monday, June 20, 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…

What Do You Do With a Problem by Kobi Yamada

The boy in this story has a problem, which from the illustrations looks like a storm cloud following him.  It causes him a lot of worry, but that only makes the problem bigger.  The boy realizes he must face his problem and learns that a problem can be turned around into something positive.  This would be a great classroom read-aloud to discuss problems and help students understand that it is possible to work through them and overcome them.  This is a powerful follow-up to What Do You Do With an Idea?

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book just from knowing that it was about a girl, named Raymie, who wants to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition so that she can get her father back. The story of friendship that emerged surprised me and won me over.  I loved that the Three Rancheros, Raymie and her two newfound friends, helped each other with their problems and stuck by one another.  The uniqueness and eccentricities of the characters made it a fun read.  There was wisdom, as well, such as when Louise asks, "Aren't we all brokenhearted?" making it a meaningful read.  I enjoyed this story of friends trying to overcome their heartache.  

Rookie of the Year (Rip and Red) by Phil Bildner 

This is the second book in the Rip and Red series.  Rip and Red are friends who stand by one another and play basketball together.  In this book, they have a new classmate, Tiki, who is outspoken and, to them, seems different.  Tiki's arrival creates a problem for Red on the basketball team and gets the classmates involved in a plan to do what they feel is right, although it could get them into trouble.  Like the first book, there is lots of basketball action which fans of the sport will appreciate.  I enjoyed this book, as I did the first one in the series, and I think many of my students will find it engaging. 

Monday, June 13, 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…

Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske

I'm sure most of us have either heard the words, "I'm bored" from a child or remember uttering that same phrase ourselves as children.  Barnacle expresses this same sentiment because every day is the same for him.  As he sits stuck beneath the pier, the tide comes in and the tide goes out, but he never has any fun like the polka-dotted fish.  When a big, green eel with sharp teeth swims by, Barnacle learns a lesson.  This is a fun, playful picture book, as the story is told through colorful illustrations and speech bubbles.  Readers may be thankful they are bored when they are done reading!

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

The plot of this middle grade chapter book is as strange as the title implies, but I think students will find it fun and entertaining.  Dwight has an origami Yoda finger puppet which gives advice to his classmates.  Yoda seems to be all-knowing and pretty wise.  Tommy is trying to figure out if there is more to Yoda than meets the eye.  There is lots of humor in this story, but the characters learn something about themselves, so there is some sweetness to it, as well.  This is a series I am going to recommend to my upper elementary readers for their summer reading.

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Ravi has just moved from India to America and is starting fifth grade.  Joe is a student in his fifth grade class, whose best friends have moved, and is often the target for Dillon, the class bully. The book tells about a week in fifth grade as these two boys are trying to navigate a path to fit in and be understood by their classmates.  The chapters alternate between the perspective of each of the boys which makes the story interesting to read.  There are themes related to cultural differences, bullying, empathy, and friendship.  This book made me think of Wonder by R.J. Palacio because of the important message about respecting others' differences.  I loved this book because it brings to light some of the issues students in the classroom may be struggling with and some important life lessons about acceptance and kindness.  I think this book is a must-read and would make a great classroom read-aloud.

This Week's Professional Reading...

Who's Doing the Work?: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris

I finished this book a few weeks ago and loved it so much that I was inspired to start a virtual book club.  The discussion started last week, with the introduction and Chapter One as the focus, so I have been rereading parts of the book.  In the introduction, Burkins and Yaris, discuss how our scaffolding may be getting in the way of students' reading because they end up relying on us rather than learning to be independent and make decisions for themselves.  From reading posts in the book club and reflecting on my own teaching, there are definitely instructional practices that teachers implement in the best interest of students that could be adjusted to allow students to do more of the heavy lifting so that skills and strategies are more likely to transfer to independent reading.  The book provides many ways to do this within common classroom reading contexts - read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. The ideas are so practical. This week, the book club will be focusing on Chapter Two, which is about read-aloud, so if you are interested in being part of the conversation join the Facebook group page.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Slice of Life: Better Discussions

One day last week, in the first few days of June, I was meeting with the small group of fourth graders I work with to provide reading intervention.  In partners, they were reading a book, The PS Brothers by Maribeth Boelts.  Every few pages, they were stopping to discuss the book, talking to each other about such things as what was happening and what they were figuring out.  When I listened in to the talk, I heard partnerships engaged in meaningful conversations about the book.  Two students were talking about their prediction and explaining their reasoning.  Another two students were discussing the reason for the main character’s behavior.  The other two students were discussing what they thought a character was feeling. 

As I listened in, I was pleased with students’ conversations.  Students were truly listening and responding to each other.  When I started working with this group of students they were not accustomed to talking back and forth in a way that built upon each other’s ideas.  When I first started working with this group, I knew I had to break their habit of parallel talk.  If I asked these students to turn and talk to a partner, one student would say a thought or idea and the other student would then respond with another thought or idea not directly related to what the first student said.  These students did not seem to realize that a conversation involves not just hearing what a partner says, but really listening in order to understand what was said.

I started working on supporting students in discussions about books starting at the very beginning of the year.  I modeled effective conversations, using a fishbowl strategy, and discussed how my partner and I discussed an idea.  I supported students in their use of language with anchor charts about how to keep a conversation going and prompts for meaningful talk.  I also gave my students many opportunities to talk to each other.  For example, partners would take their post-it notes on which they wrote thoughts about their reading and choose one to talk about.  I would challenge them to talk as long as they could before I called time’s up.  My students have gotten better at talking about text, but it is something we have had to work at all year.

One of the challenges to teaching my students to have better discussions about their reading has been their hesitance to offer their own thoughts and ideas.  At the beginning of the year, there were many times I would ask students to share their thinking and there would be six pairs of eyes staring back at me.  These are kids who talk a lot – they talk as they walk into school in the morning, they talk in the hallway on their way to my room, they talk at recess.  But, talking about something they read is a whole other story.  I have been asked more than once, “Am I right?” during a group discussion.  In addition to conversation skills, getting students to share their own thoughts and ideas has been something that we have also had to work at all year.

When I reflect on this, I think part of the challenge is because of what we unintentionally teach students.  Teachers ask so many of the questions.  Students learn to answer.  Students start school and it’s not long after that they begin to think the teacher is looking for the “right” answer.  Students become less willing to share their ideas because they don’t want to be wrong.  I want my students to have meaningful discussions.  I want them to grow their own ideas, not rely on my thinking.  I want them to come up with their own theories.  I want them to take a risk in their thinking without worrying if they might be wrong.  I have strived to get my students to have conversations that will support their understanding of text.  It has been challenging work to teach students to have better discussions.  It continues to challenge me, because as I have reflected on my teaching, I know there are ways in which I can continue to improve upon the lessons and strategies I use to support students’ discussions of text.  Supporting students in their ability to have a meaningful conversation about text has been challenging, but it is important and worthwhile.  To be independent readers, students must do their own thinking and talk can provide an opportunity for students to share their thinking as well enhance their thinking.

Monday, June 6, 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 Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

This is a very clever picture book.  When I first saw the cover it reminded me of Battle Bunny by John Scieszka. It can sort of be described as a fiction story layered over an informational book. Pages of the book tell facts about creatures in the deep sea, but also include illustrations of Blobfish who is commenting on the information.  Blobfish wants to know why there aren't any blobfish in the book, but then learns they are the world's ugliest animal.  The book provides facts about the deep sea, but also has a message about friendship.  It's humorous, but also the kind of book that makes me wish I could be so creative.

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (A Narwhal and Jelly Book) by Ben Clanton

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley.  The story tells about the adventures and friendship of two very different characters, Jelly and Narwhal.  I think the graphic format is what makes the story unique and entertaining.  A lot of my students love graphic novels, but most of the graphic novels in my collection are more accessible to those in the upper elementary grades. This graphic novel is fun and will be one that I can share with even my lower elementary readers.

A Whale in the Bathtub by Kylie Westaway

This is a fun bath time story that includes humor and imagination.  Bruno must take a bath, but to his surprise there is a whale in his bathtub.  He tries to solve his problem by telling members of his family, but no one seems to believe there is a really a whale in the bathtub.  The whale eventually helps Bruno solve the problem and the ending will leave readers wondering whether Bruno has been telling the truth about the whale or not.  The illustrations are wonderful, showing the immensity of the whale and getting across the point that a whale in the bathtub is a big problem.

Puppy Pirates #1: Stowaway by Erin Soderberg

I have been trying to find some new series to recommend to my students so they have ideas for their summer reading.  This will be a perfect series for transitional chapter book readers who have a love of dogs and are fascinated with pirates, as many of my students are.  There is something sweet about Wally, who is trying to prove he deserves to be a crew member aboard the Salty Bone.  The adventure and theme of bravery and heroism will keep readers interested. 

The Fairy Swarm: The Imaginary Veterinary: Book 6 by Suzanne Selfors

I will recommend this series for readers who like adventure with some magic and fantasy thrown in.  Pearl Petal and her friend, Ben Silverstein, are apprentices to Dr. Woo, a veterinarian for imaginary creatures.  There are mythical creatures, including sugar fairies and a sasquatch, as well as an evil villain, Maximus Steele. I started with the end, as this is the last book in the series.  I think it will be an entertaining read for many of my readers.