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!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Walk for Water

On Friday, our school's entire 5th grade (450-500 students) took a mile long walk to donate water to our local food pantry and a local church that provides a free meal once a month.  Why?  Because we read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  The story is part true, part realistic fiction.  Two stories are told in the book, that of Nya, a young African girl living in South Sudan and that of Salva Dut, a young boy in the 1980s during the Sudanese Civil War.  Nya must travel hours each day to gather water in a 50 lb. jerry can to take back to her family.  It's the closest water source to their village and it's dirty.  Because of this, Nya cannot attend school, as she is the sole water provider for her family.  Salva Dut lost his family in the Sudanese war in the 1980s.  He fled from his village and eventually became one of the "lost boys" of Sudan.  He eventually made his way to the United States and started an organization, Water for South Sudan, in which he and other people drill wells in remote parts of Africa.  Nya and Salva's story eventually meet up with a rewarding ending.  Watch the book trailer!  

Our 5th graders were riveted by the harsh life of several million people around the world.  It's hard for them to imagine not having water in their homes, let alone dirty water they had to walk hours to get twice a day, like Nya.  Upon finishing the book, I introduced the idea of collecting fresh gallons of water to donate to our local food pantry for those in need.  Needless to say, the gallons started rolling in.  I proposed the idea of a walk to the other 5th grade teachers and they picked it right up and ran with it!  We all loved seeing the enthusiasm and empathy the book created amongst our students.  They were committed to making a difference!  

How did all of this come about?  Nerdy Book Club, of course!  Davide Etkin and Holly Mueller (who happens to be not only my good friend and former teaching partner, but also my writing partner for Choice Literacy and a book venture we're embarking upon) planted the seed in their joint Nerdy Book Club post, Long Walk to Water.  Check it out!  I guarantee you'll be inspired, too!

Now, onto some of the pictures from Friday!  The weather was gorgeous~a crisp, cool fall day in the Cincinnati area.  Perfect for a walk in which we think about those less fortunate than us and look forward to helping those in need.  What a way to kick off November, a month in which we reflect on everything we're thankful for.  These kids and teachers deserve a huge shout-out.  They ROCK!!

Lined up at Berry and ready to walk Lebanon!

These are my yahoos!  They're amazing!!  

These are mine too.  Again, fabulous!!

On our way to the food pantry!

Having fun...and realizing we're glad our gallons don't weigh 50 lbs., like Nya's!

We've arrived!


Look at all that water!  Wonderful!

I challenge you to take a look at the world water crisis.  It does really exist and it's something we can all get behind to make a difference.  Be thankful for what you've got.  There's always someone with less.