Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adventure #4--Reading Strategies during Read-Aloud

Three years ago I read Writing About Reading by Janet Angelillo (get the book here).
 In it, she talked about having her students respond to her read-alouds on a daily basis.  In years past, I had asked my students to write a response to our read-aloud books about once a month.  The response had to be a paragraph long and it had to contain thoughts and feelings, not a summary.  We had talked about all of the different ways in which you could respond (inferring, predicting, connecting, etc.), but students still struggled with how to apply these things in their writing.  I knew I needed to get them to write more consistently about what they read (I write a book review of each book I read, so you really do use writing about your reading in real life).  I picked up Angelillo's book and instantly found an idea I could take back to my classroom.  She suggested giving students sticky notes to respond on each day.  The idea was, that as I read aloud, students would jot down an inference, or a prediction, or they would make a connection, or they would sketch (for visualization--and let's face it, it's just fun!), or any other number of things we came up with as a class.  The structure was pretty free.  Kids were allowed to try any type of response they wanted, they just had to do one.  After read-aloud was finished for the day, they could share some of their thinking with other classmates.  I made the kids keep the sticky notes in the "Read-Aloud Response" section of their Reader's Notebooks.  This was great for about two months, and then we ran out of room in our notebooks.  Do you know how quickly you can fill up 1/4 of a composition book with sticky notes?  Pretty darn fast!  So, in order to save space and money, we went away from sticky notes and just wrote or drew our thoughts right in the notebook.

Three years later, this is now a daily routine for my classes.  I pass out Reader's Notebooks as soon as they kids enter my room.  Read-aloud is expected each day (usually at the beginning of class) and if, for some strange reason, I don't do it then, there is basically a mutiny in my room and they're ready to throw me overboard and one of them will pick up the book and gladly read to the rest of the gang.  Therefore, we always do read-aloud.  This year, I've read-aloud six books so far (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Horton's Miraculous Mechanisms, Liar and Spy, The False Prince, Wonder, and True (...sort of) ).  For each of these books, my students know they have to proffer up some type of response that goes deeper than "I really like/dislike this part...".  We've shared lots of our thinking and have responding to classmates responses.

Because it was test prep week last week (a favorite time for all educators), I thought it would be fun to give each student a sticky note and have them respond.  Before I read aloud, we talked about all of the ways you could respond to a text.  I made a quick graphic organizer on chart paper.  As I read aloud, kids wrote or drew.  When I was finished, they had to stick their response on the graphic organizer.  Here's what it looked like:

Pretty cool, huh?  I was so impressed that the chart had a wide variety of responses.  Personally, I anticipated only prediction and visualization to get all the glory, but they proved me wrong.  We talked about why predictions and visualization get so much attention and is was agreed that those two reading strategies are the easiest for them to "get."  But, we've come a long way this year, as evidenced by the amount of stickies on other areas of the chart.

I've been leading a book study group after school with some fellow teachers, and we're reading a book by Tanny McGregor (a Cincinnati local!) called Comprehension Connections (find it here).  She's suggests offering up concrete examples to get kids better understanding these reading strategies.  So, of course, the old mind is always cranking.  Next year, I anticipate starting the year by spending a few days on each of these strategies, providing some concrete examples to refer back to throughout the year, and then expecting a wide variety of responding and making meaning to be occurring throughout the year.  In the meantime, I'm pretty darn happy with what we've done this year and how our thinking has truly grown.  I don't know that any test can really measure that.

Here's some up-close and personal shots of our responses:This is always a favorite!  Funny how they      mostly drew the same things, though.

 We're currently reading True (...sort of) by Katherine Hannigan.  It lends itself so nicely to empathy.  A great character education lesson there, somewhere...
Wondering is a little more than one question.  These kids really talked it up!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Adventure #3--Conflict in Fiction

So this year my grade level decided to go all-out Common Core for Language Arts.  Yes, we still have the OAA (Ohio Achievement Assessment) for two more years, but we decided to transition in to CCSS so we have a better idea of what our kids (and staff) are expected to do in the upcoming years.  It's been a great transition, filled with much more rigorous work (the chosen word-of-the-moment to describe anything CC).  One of our units consisted of how characters overcome conflict in literature.  Here's my disclaimer for the rest of this post:  No where in the CCSS does it state you have to teach 5th graders about Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Unknown, Man vs. Society, or Man vs. Self.  However, a couple of other teachers in my building put together a unit based around these types of conflict, and I thought, "how cool!  My kids could totally do this!".  So, I jumped in and the kids loved it.  They felt very sophisticated when talking about classifying types of problems/conflicts in the books they were reading.  They would disagree with each other and find evidence from the text to support their thinking (gasp--how organic that they learn how to do this, not because I made them do it, but because they wanted to prove they were correct).  Exciting stuff happens in room 100, I'm telling you!

One of the lessons I did with my kids had two purposes.  First, I read aloud a lot of picture books for mini-lessons.  The class loves them!  However, most of my students won't pick them up from our classroom library.  I'm going to say it's because they're always reading novels that they don't want to part from (which is very true), but it's also because I don't give them many opportunities to peruse these fabulous picture books.  Thus, Goal #1: get kids looking at my ever-growing picture book collection.  Goal #2: Identify the conflict in the story, cite evidence from the text to support your claim (is my language impressing you yet?  We really have gone no-holds-bar Common Core, baby!), identify the key players (main characters) in the book and describe their relationship with the conflict.  Also, describe each side of the conflict and tell/explain how it was solved.

Let's look at some action shots of this lesson:

One of our favorite books, I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, was snatched up fast for this project.  Find his book here: I Want My Hat Back

Baloney is another great picture book that can be used for many things (context clues, conflict, setting, etc.).  These two got a kick out of it's nonsensical words.
Find this book here: Baloney

These two kids picked Eats, Shoots and Leaves.  I wasn't sure they would be able to pull it off for conflict, but they did!  What a great way to stretch thinking!

While Coretta Scott is certainly not a fictional picture book, it is beautiful nonetheless.  And, what teacher could tell a kid "no" to nonfiction?!?
Find this book here: Coretta Scott

 Blackout is a fairly new addition to my library (I got it as a Christmas gift).  The illustrations are beautiful and it is told in graphic novel format.  Pretty straightforward conflict, too.
Find this book here: Blackout
 Another nonfiction selection, but again, who am I to deny some quality nonfiction learning?  This is a great one: The Boy Who Invented TV.
Find this book here: The Boy Who Invented TV

This was a win/win for me.  The kids had some quality time reading fun, engaging picture books and they learned a little something about how author's craft their stories around conflict and the solving of it.  How do you approach the subject of conflict in literature?  I'd love some new ideas!  Leave a comment below. :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Adventure #2--Nonfiction Reading and Writing in 5th Grade

A few weeks ago, my students immersed themselves in nonfiction picture books.  There were many reasons I wanted them to get their hands on some nonfiction.  First, and foremost, because there is some WONDERFUL nonfiction out there right now that is perfect for intermediate grades (4, 5, and 6).  Most of said nonfiction (NF) is in picture book format.  Don't let this dissuade you in its value for children ages 9-12.  Just because the text is accompanied by pictures, doesn't mean it's simplistic in nature!  Some of the NF picture books are quite full of information and require lots of dissection and digestion.  I've found myself buying more and more NF for my classroom library, and our school librarian has made some recent purchases that are right up 5th and 6th graders alleys.  If you're just getting started in your quest for quality NF picture books for intermediate kids, here are some you should check out:

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and her Cat by Susanna Reich

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland (apparently I have a thing for Julia!)

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh

And ANYTHING by Seymour Simon and Steve Jenkins

Once my students had picked a book to dig into deeply, either with a reading partner, or by themselves, they had time to sit and read and enjoy.  As they read, they had post-it notes at-the-ready to document their thinking.  We've practiced "close reading" (a slow version of reading where you focus on what the author is really saying and your thoughts and reactions to it) several times this year.  As my students read, they read closely by documenting their thinking on post its.  Check out the pictures at the end of this paragraph.  After they had read the book and could tell me what they learned from reading the book, they completed a NF flip book assignment.  In this assignment, they had to write a short summary of the book they read, find and copy five facts directly from the text (this get them back into the reading and shows me that they understand what a fact is) and give two of their own opinions about the topic or person about which/whom they read, illustrate their favorite photograph from the text and write why it was their favorite and how it was significant to the text, create five cause/effect statements (because of X, Y occurred), and identify five vocabulary words that were either new to them or that they deemed important to the context of the story.  Below you will see some pictures of their hard work:

                                 An example of close reading a nonfiction book about minerals.

                                                Close Reading and Flip book Examples

I have a few motives for carrying out this project in my room.  The first is to engage and excite kids about reading nonfiction.  They often think they won't like nonfiction, when in fact, they love it!  That is reason enough to give them time to read and think.  The flip book is simply a different format than a worksheet to check for understanding.  The assignment seems a little more broken down for kids and they can pace themselves easily.  They can start on any section they wish and include some of their own thinking in the process.  By the time students are done with this project, they usually want to read more books on the topic they selected!  That's a homeroom in my book!