Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Making Memories

Over the last several weeks we've been working on a literacy contract (which is a reading and writing cycle) focused on families.  We've read realistic fiction chapter books with a strong family theme, we've read memoirs, we've written our own memoirs, and we're currently wrapping up making scrapbooks.  Admittedly, I wasn't sure the scrapbook thing was the best idea I'd ever had.  I have strong convictions about Language Arts consisting of reading and writing, not arts and crafts.  I tried to be loose with the idea of a scrapbook, but my students knew me too well.  They demanded a rubric, of all things.  Never one to deny some guidelines, I quickly created what they needed.  The rubric consisted of loose requirements:  the scrapbook had to revolve around some type of family (after all, that has been our theme topic since mid-November), it had to be five pages in length, it had to represent a significant time in the life of its creator, and the book had to have significant items or representations throughout (it did not have to have pictures...these can be hard to print and/or find.  Rather, students could paste in ticket stubs, magazine cutouts, stickers, items they created to represent important memories, etc.). 

After covering the requirements, I felt a bit better.  There was a direction students could take with creating a meaningful scrapbook.  It might not all be a loss or waste of time.  While I felt better, I was still not completely comfortable.  I allowed myself the reprieve of knowing that students were doing some hard-core thinking and writing during this time too.  They have been working on short pieces of writing about memories in their lives.  They have all read a memoir, and I've read aloud several memoir picture books.  We've talked about the elements of memoir and they have chosen which particular significant memory they want to explore.  They've worked hard on this, crafting engaging leads and helping the reader to infer the significance of the event without explicitly stating it.  There was real writing happening in room 100 over the last several weeks.  Surely it would be okay to devote 30 minutes a couple of days this week to creating a scrapbook.  Surely.

Today we completed our second day of work on finishing up the final copy of the memoir and crafting the scrapbook.  AND IT WAS WONDERFUL!  There, I said it.  It was amazing to see the work and thought my kids put into creating a special piece of text that means something to them.  I thought their memoirs were turning out well.  Little did I know I would be blown away by the things I was seeing for scrapbooks!  Take a look at some of the work that was being done today in our classroom.

Most of the students in my fifth grade room are planning on using these scrapbooks as Christmas gifts for loved ones.  I often get frustrated with the lack of meaningful work the standards fail to address.  A scrapbook with a purpose is a perfect example.  Not just scrapbooking to fill time, but scrapbooking to investigate and remember a significant time in a child's life with family.  Is there any better gift to receive from your child at Christmastime?  I think not.  So while I'm still not a Language Arts and Crafts teacher, I am an embracer of creativity and exploration of all things meaningful.  Go forth and create memories!

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Monday! What are YOU reading?

I'm participating in the meme created by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts and will be reviewing both children's and adult books.

I've been MIA from the #IMWAYR scene for a couple of weeks, not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been BUSY!  We can all relate to that this time of year, right?  Here goes my attempt at catching up!


The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

A cute book about dealing with the fears of going to school. Natalie loves this book, but she can't understand why the owl teacher doesn't have another teacher with her. Ha!

Pumpkin Town by Katie McKy

This book is about pumpkin seeds that get scattered in a town and the boys that go save the town by chopping the pumpkins and vines. I think it could be developed a little more. It's choppy. On the upside, Natalie has fallen asleep the last two nights I've read this to her.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

What a fun book!  I bought this book at NCTE for my four-year-old daughter, Natalie.  Ssshhh…it's a Christmas gift!  I've read a lot about this book and only heard glowing remarks.  And now I see why!  Mr. Tiger is a wild man who only wants to act as a tiger would naturally act.  Once he finds his way to the wild, he realizes he misses his friends.  When he comes back home, he understands he has started a social revolution with the message of: be yourself!  A great book to teach theme and talk about the power of illustrations in a picture book.  Mr. Tiger is a keeper!

Check out Jen Vincent's Nerdy Book Club post about Mr. Tiger here.

Watch Peter Brown talk about Mr. Tiger!


Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

If I could give this book more than five stars, I would! It's my pick for the Newbery! I absolutely love the story of Willow Chance and her struggle against the world after her parents are taken from her. She is taken in by a Vietnamese family while she awaits her fate in the foster home system. A truly gifted girl, Willow must learn to alter her world and do the best with the hand she's been dealt. Through it all, her favorite place remains the library because: "books=comfort. To me anyway." How could you not fall in love with a dynamic character that adores a library? Her uniqueness shines and she is absolutely amazing. Through it all she learns, "When you care about other people, it takes the spotlight off your own drama." A lesson from which we all could learn.

Some of my other favorite lines from the book are:
-- "It has been my experience that rewarding and heartbreaking often go hand in hand."
--"A second can feel like forever if what follows is heartbreak."
--"If there is anything I've figured out in the last months it's that you can find labels to organize living things, but you can't put people in any kind of group or order. It just doesn't work that way." HOW TRUE WILLOW!!


Oh, this is angsty. I think I would have liked it even more if I had read it, rather than listened to it. That being said, it's still a great investigation about what life is like for boys struggling with their sexuality. A great text that could easily be used in high school.

There were several other books that I shared with my students that fit into the category of memoir (we're reading and writing memoirs right now in class), along with some Thanksgiving books.  However, I've read all of these before and reviewed some of them on this blog.  I also plan to incorporate those title into some other blog posts soon.  I want you to see the great work my kids are doing with memoir writing!



What are YOU reading this week??

Sunday, December 8, 2013

I was a guest blogger for Kirby Larson on Tuesday! Check it out!

Kirby with her new book Duke at NCTE 2013.  I even got to hang out with Kirby at the Nerdy Book Club gathering.

I had the good fortune of being Kirby Larson's guest blogger for her weekly series called "From the Office of the Future of Reading" on Tuesday.  It was so fun to contribute to Kirby's great blog.  She's celebrating blog posts from teachers from all over the country.  What a great way to get some new ideas and see what other people around the U.S. are doing with their classes.  When I showed my 5th graders the blog post I wrote the other day, they were very excited to see some of their work on an author's website.  Thanks Kirby for the great opportunity!

Click here to read the post I wrote about Literacy Contracts for use in intermediate and middle school ELA classrooms.

Friday, November 29, 2013

NCTE 2013--Boston

Last week, Holly Mueller and I had the good fortune of attending the NCTE annual convention in Boston.  It was a whirlwind experience!  We arrived late Thursday night and attended sessions throughout the weekend.  We also attended the Choice Literacy contributors dinner and a get-together with all of the Nerdy Book Club people.  The best part of the conference was walking through the convention center, and spying well-known and highly admired authors, like Judy Blume (Judy Blume!), Nancie Atwell (pioneer teacher of writing), Barbara O'Connor, Louise Borden, Ralph Fletcher, Jerry Spinelli, and the list goes on and on!  It was an experience we'll not soon forget and one we're looking forward to making an annual tradition.  We hope to present at next year's conference in D.C.  Time to write up our proposal about literacy contracts for intermediate and middle grade teachers.  Thanks NCTE for inspiring us to keep doing what we're doing in education and introducing us to those we know from our online family.  I can't wait until next year!

Enjoy some of the shots from our trip.  Unfortunately, I could not get them in the order I wanted, but they're still fun to look through. :)  Ah, technology.  Maybe Nancie Atwell had the right idea...

Fancy Shmansy at Bricco Italian restaurant in the North End.  Yum!

Faneuil Hall in Boston.  We did manage to escape the hotel and convention center one night.

I might have fallen in love with close reading because of these three: Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts and Maggie Roberts.

The iconic Nancie Atwell lugged her overhead projector clear from Maine!

Holly and I with Deborah Wiles!  The lady that wrote Countdown!
Appetizers at the Choice Literacy dinner.  Look at that lobster!  Yum!

Holly and I at the Choice Literacy dinner at The Capital Grille.

Kirby Larson signs her new book Duke.  I guest blog for her next Tuesday at Kirby's Lane!  Make sure you check it out.  She is nothing but kind.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Integrating Technology, Speaking, and Listening, Oh My!

A couple of weeks ago we wrapped up our October theme topic unit in which we delved into the concept of FEAR.  My students read small group historical fiction novels that dealt with fear and they read self-selected nonfiction books related to something they feared.  The ending project was for them to find an article, video clip, and infographic related to some type of fear.  We had discussions and answered fear questions throughout the month.  It was a great October theme to discover.

As the end of the month drew near, kids were emailing me their videos, articles and infographics.  On the day of presentations, I paired them with two other students and all three had to present to each other.  The day before, I modeled what an effective presentation should look like.  I showed the kids the rubric, which included a summary of what was presented, a response to the presentation from the reviewer, and a 4/3/2/1 system of grading things such as eye contact, relevance to fear, volume, and knowledge of type of literacy (in other words, did the presenter know what he/she was talking about and showing the group).

On the day of presentations, excitement was in the air.  The kids couldn't wait to share with each other their finds.  Most were technology based, and fortunately, we're right next to the computer lab, so they could pop over and pull up what they needed.  Some students had printed out article or infographics for their peers to view while they shared their knowledge.  One student even brought in her IPad to share her information.  How cool is that?

As I floated around the room listening in on presentations, I thought to myself, "Yep.  This is what education in 2013 should look like."  These kids were resourceful, tech savvy, interested, engaged, and happy.  They were working on something that was meaningful to them and they were excited to share that information with others.  Isn't that the kind of enthusiasm we want our young people to embrace to make sense of the world?  They will be ever increasingly responsible for finding and presenting information.  This was a great display of how well they can do it!

Presenting an infographic about storms.

This one is so scared of spiders she couldn't even watch her own video while she showed it to her group.  She knew her stuff, though!

Technology is always challenging in a 75 year old building.  We could only get this video to work on my computer.

To end it all, the students used the same rubric and evaluated themselves.  They were honest and critical.  And best of all, they asked when we could do it again.  Success!

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday!  What are YOU reading?

I'm participating in a meme created by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts.  I'll be reviewing children's literature and adult literature.


Annie and Rew live with their grandmother (Gran) in the town of Sunshine. Annie and Rew have been told their father was killed by an angry man several years ago. However, after a riot at the local prison, Annie, Rew, and Gran are "visited" by Andrew Snow--Annie and Rew's father. Set against the backdrop of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Annie and Rew are held hostage by their father. Over the course of the next three weeks, the truth about their family unravels and they must learn to deal with the lies they've been told until now.

I loved this book by Kate Messner! Gianna is a 7th grader who is learning to deal with her grandmother's memory loss. Nonna has episodes where she doesn't know anyone or know where she is. Gianna is forced to be the only family member in the doctor's office when Nonna gets evaluated and early-onset Alzheimer's is expected. It's a lot for a 7th grader to shoulder and Messner does a superb job of getting the language and feelings correct for a junior high girl. I'm excited to use this as a book group book with my fifth graders for our family theme topic unit.


Unlocking Complex Texts by Laura Robb

Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller


Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
(I'm really hoping this is our next book club book.  We have our meeting tonight, so we'll see!)

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I'd love to know what you're reading this week, too!

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's Monday! What are YOU reading?

I'm participating in a meme created by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts.  I'll be reviewing both children's literature and adult literature.  


The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Henri Sorensen

I read this aloud to my class following the read aloud of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. It's a wonderful story of King Christian X of Denmark, who ruled over Denmark during the German occupation. It is obvious the people of Denmark love King Christian X. Even though the story told in this book is fictional, parts are based on things King Christian X said and/or did. It's an idealistic view of a country that loved its ruler and the people that lived within its borders.

This is another fun Strega Nona book about planting seeds to harvest in the garden. Poor Big Anthony has yet to learn his lesson. Stega Nona sings to her seeds after planting, followed by three kisses. Big Anthony watches her so he knows what to do with his own garden, then adds three more kisses. Thus, Big Anthony's garden continuously produces vegetables that he cannot use. He leaves them on the steps of Stega Nona's house and she eventually invites the village for dinner. Great for young children to learn about growing things and reaping the harvest and gathering with friends and family.

I honestly can't remember if I've read this before or not (and I tend to remember most of what i've read). This was a delightful story of a person doing something they should not have done and facing the consequences. Great for inferring theme.

Nightsong by Ari Burk, illustrated by Loren Long

A sweet book about a mother letting go and her son finding his own way in the world...but always remembering to return home.


Holy Bagumba, this is a great book! Flora, a self-proclaimed cynic befriends a squirrel, whom she names Ulysses, after a near fatal accident involving a vacuum cleaner. Flora and Ulysses embark in a journey to keep the squirrel safe and find friendship and love are all around them. A witty mix of chapters and comics, make this book appealing for any reader. I just love Kate DiCamillo and her use of language to make a subtle point.

Reread. This is an all-time favorite for intermediate kids. It brings to light the heroic efforts of the Danish people to save its nearly 7000 Jews from being "relocated" by the Germans during WWII. Annemarie Johansson and her friend Ellen never imagine they'll have to deal with the atrocities of war, but they are forced to grow up quickly when Ellen's family is targeted by the Nazis. The Johanssons help aid the Rosens (Ellen's family) to escape to Sweden to gain freedom. Told with accurate historical facts about the amazing Danish resistance, yet in a manner appropriate for middle grade readers, Lois Lowry proves she is a master of her craft.


This book really deserves five stars for the writing. Bohjalian always offers up wonderful language, imagery, and realistic dialogue. However, this book was so depressing and dark that I can only give it 4 or 4.5 stars (still, not too shabby, right?). The story fluctuates between war-torn Italy in 1944 and post-war Italy, 1955. The two sets of characters, the Rosotti family and Serafina, a female detective in 1955, seem at first to not coincide. But, as the novel progresses, the reader learns of how each character played out the war and how they are all interconnected and running from a madman within their own circle. Once again, Chris Bohjalian offers up historical fiction, mystery, and a classic twist at the end. I listened to this book and was again mesmerized by the narrator (who has narrated several of Bohjalian's books I've listened too). Simply wonderful intonation! This is an intriguing story about an area of WWII that is not heard of as often as others.


The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner


Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz


Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Happy Monday!  Let me know what you're reading!  I'd love to hear from you!