Tuesday, March 3, 2015

#SOLC - March 3

I still continue to think about relationships in this slice...

The past two weeks have been PARCC assessments for my school district, and it has required "all hands on deck." So, I've had the good fortune to do these assessments with someone who has some testing modifications, and I have had a blast!!!

Yes, you read that correctly. Every day I have helped to administer an assessment to Kay (not her real name), I have ended up saying, "What a hoot and a half that was!"  And no, I'm not referring to the actual assessment. Instead, I mean my time with Kay during breaks and after she completed her work each day.

She is a student I might not have otherwise known, if we hadn't been thrown together for the PARCC.  Let me rephrase that - I knew who she was because I have the pleasure of spending time in her teacher's classroom as a literacy coach. But to really know her - it took the PARCC to make that happen.

Kay and I have developed such a fun relationship these past two weeks. She is never short of topics for conversation, and I have learned quite a bit. Things such as:

  • How her mom adds extensions into her hair by beginning with a "box" braid, and the fact that it takes multiple days to finish the entire process.
  • The best place to shop if you want to buy boots with zippers on both sides of the leg (only 1 is decorative and the other one truly works).
  • The magical draw of The Princess Diaries movies -- seems it encourages some young ladies to stay up way, way, way past their bedtime when they are in the middle of a marathon.
  • Chocolate has magical powers to help concentration so I guess it's a good thing Kay noticed the container of chocolate in my office!
  • The difficulties of having to move to 3 different cities, and how important it is to find a place where extended family resides.
  • Food - this topic could be a post all by itself.
  • The excitement of a planned shopping trip; we had much we could share together around this topic.
We always finished our assessment well before her homeroom was done, so there was much time for all of this rich conversation. I have loved our time together; we have one more test tomorrow, and I think I will have a little bit of "Kay-withdrawal" after that. The relationship that we forged was a fun one, and I will always smile when I think of out time together.


For more slices, head on over to our gracious hosts at Two Writing Teachers to read what others have written. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

#SOL challenge - Relationships - March 1



March 1 is here, and with it comes the opportunity to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge. These past few months have held many personal challenges for me, so I'm not sure I will have something to say each and every day. However, after reading Ruth's post yesterday, I am inspired to try for as many days as possible.

Then today, I ready Holly's post about choosing a theme for her writing last year and then again this year. That idea spoke to me - hinging my writing around a single idea. Again, I may or may not stay true to that, but it is my starting point. I have thought about what could be a guiding theme, and decided "relationships" would be the place to begin.

So, here we go...

Recently, I have had a very tight relationship with my Kindle and Overdrive from my public library. Today, I got lost in Overdrive for over 2 hours, browsing through possible titles to borrow for an upcoming trip to the beach.

I love the different categories into which Overdrive puts its books. My favorite today was browsing the Romance section - looking at all the bodice-ripping covers made me wonder if this wasn't one of the best reasons for having a Kindle - nobody can judge you because they can see the front cover of your book. But even with that anonymity, no Romance titles were borrowed.

Because here's the deal: borrowing eBooks, unlike getting books from the library, has limits. I am allowed to borrow only 10 books at a time. It requires a battle plan to use Overdrive. I have requested several books that are on hold for me and could become available at anytime, while others have pending due dates (again, at different times). So trying to plan for what 10 books will be on my eBookshelf at any one time becomes a challenge (though who doesn't love a book challenge!) and a little bit of a math problem.

I ended up borrowing a title from a new author for me, the next two books in an espionage/undercover series about Pike Logan by Brad Taylor, and final book in The Heist series by Ally Carter.

I much prefer being in an actual library or bookstore, but on a cold, snowy day, this was the perfect relationship with books for me - browsing on Overdrive and sending books to my Kindle.

For more Slicers taking the challenge, head over to our wonderful hosts, Two Writing Teachers blog, to see what everyone has to say.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#NF10for10 - 2015 version

What an exciting day this has been -- no school so plenty of time for organizing taxes, reading the next book for my adult book club, finalizing plans for #Dublit15, and choosing the finalists for my #NF10for10 list.

I promised myself I wouldn't do it, but I've already picked at a few of the lists - so many books I need to read and, most likely, purchase (and after just looking at the total amount I spent on books in 2014, I hope my husband doesn't read this post)! I love the different thematic ways people approached choosing their books.

In my new position this year as an intermediate literacy coach in our district, my 10 choices ultimately became the books I have most frequently used with teachers when modeling in their classrooms this year. Some of them were published in the past year, and others are texts I've been using as "touchstones" for several years. So with no further ado, here are my 10 nonfiction picture books for the past year in no particular order:

1) The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet caught my fancy the moment I saw it. A book about words that includes wonderful vocabulary and their definitions, and a boy who loves words; what is not to love about that?! A perfect book to share for a word study lesson. But the power of this book for me has been in sharing with students and teachers how a passion for something can begin early in life and you can carry that passion into adulthood.

2) Which leads me to another biography that I have shared many times this past year: The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Paul Erdos loved numbers from an early age, so much so, that basic life skills tended to escape him. I used this book frequently to share how to read across multiple texts (pairing it with The Right Word), and then to contrast/compare information about individuals, their motivations, and the conflicts they met along the way.

3) Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is another go-to text for me. I recently paired it with some excerpts from Jacqueline Woodson's brilliant book, Brown Girl Dreaming, to help give context to some of the southern racial backdrops of 1963 in that book.  This is also a nonfiction book that can help teach theme - students are amazed at the perseverance these college students demonstrated through the adversity others brought to them.

4) Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate is a wonderful text to pair with her story, The One and Only Ivan. The compare/contrast that could happen between the fictionalized account of Ivan and the true story is a good conversation to have with students. In addition, it is a great mentor text for informational writing, specifically biographies.

5) El Deafo by Cece Bell - I'm not sure what I can say about this book that others haven't already said. But the power of this book is great - it allows ALL children to see that they may have a story to tell, and more importantly, it allows them to see the power of embracing their individuality. I know the Newbery committee did not judge it as a picture book, but I feel comfortable putting it on this particular list. It has allowed me to demonstrate for both teachers and students the power of the graphic novel format; words are critical to telling a story in a more powerful way.

6) Hot Diggity Dog: The History of the Hot Dog by Adrienne Sylver had been a popular mentor text in my 5th grade classrooms the past few years, and then this year, I used it many times as a mentor text for informational writing. I love that each 2 page spread can be read and analyzed individually - I did much work with 3rd graders thinking about cause/effect as a text structure on these pages. And what a great topic to gather interest!

7) Ubiquitous by Joyce Sidman. I feel like that phrase can almost stand alone. Sidman is at her best when combining genres (using informational text and poetry) within her nonfiction picture books - The Dark Emperor is another wonderful example of this. Using Ubiquitous, I modeled for teachers how they could use a text like this to help push writers who might need a challenge. Recently, when I worked in 3rd grade classrooms, some students were very clear on how to gather information and organize it into paragraphs or other like groupings. I shared Ubiquitous as a text that could be a choice for them - try to organize their thinking about their chosen topic into a different genre. It was fun to watch them stretch their writing skills.

8) Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. The first reason I bring this to classroom is because Steven Jenkins is a go-to nonfiction writer that students need to know. I love how the point of view in this book is each of the animals and they are sharing information about themselves by answering a letter. This is another great mentor text to share with students writing informational pieces - that letter format is a great one to borrow and it makes organizing more manageable for some.

9) Island: A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin is a wonderful addition to any classroom. I share this a lot in 5th grade classrooms, as a perfect example of how to blend science learning (our state has learning about adaptations to environment as a 5th grade skill) and literacy. Cause/effect and problem/solution - this book has it all. In addition, this has been a great introduction into timelines as an infographic. The book is divided into sections, each millions of years apart. Creating a timeline for the Galapagos Island from the information has been good practice.

10) Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track it
by Loree Griffin Burns is part of the Scientist in the Field series of informational texts. I love the series, but what I love when I share this in classrooms is how it is so well written, I actually care about what is going on with beetles (and I don't even like bugs one little bit). The organization into chapters, how it reads in such an interesting way (not dull at all!), additional sections added in between chapters. This is a book I've tended to share more with 4th and 5th grade teachers as I've talked about the standards, specifically RI.4.10 and RI.5.10 - the standard at 4th and 5th grade that deal with text complexity. While I am a firm believer in what Dorothy Barnhouse shared at NCTE - we shouldn't try to begin teaching complex standards with complex texts; we should begin with simpler texts and make sure the learning is solidly in place - I do think it is important to scaffold readers into more complex texts and a book like Beetle Busters could fit the ticket.


Well that's it for this year. There are so many great books that I'm sure would work equally as well, so I'm excited now to head over to the Google community to see what others have put in their #NF10for10 lists!  Thanks to Mandy and Cathy for hosting!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

#IMWAYR - Feb. 2


 I so love reading #IMWAYR posts from others on Mondays - it gives me yet another window into book titles that might have missed my radar or ways those books might be embedded into the classroom. I learn so much. Thanks to Jen Vincent for hosting the #kidlit version of this meme. Be sure to head over to Jen's blog to see what others are reading!

First, what a great day this is!!!! ALA awards are announced - as I write this post on Sunday, I am so excited to think about all the possibilities of winners, and which authors/illustrators will be receiving "THE" phone call early Monday morning. I have read an incredible amount of wonderful books this year, all deserving of attention, but a few will be recognized further today.

One of the possibilities is El Deafo, by Cece Bell. I read this book in January and loved everything about it. Laurel Snyder, an amazing author herself, wrote this wonderful Facebook post about El Deafo.  NPR did a great interview with Cece Bell. I'm not sure what else I can add to these two pieces of writing except to say - this is a book that needs to be read - it needs to be on the shelves of classrooms and teachers should be reading it aloud to students. It's just that good! (*****Just saw the ALA Newbery awards - this is an Honor Book - yay! Talk about timing!****)

Three picture books I revisited and read aloud with students this past week were:

We were focusing on looking at a similar theme across several texts, and then doing a compare/contrast of those themes. Some of the themes students noticed were:
  • don't give up
  • perseverance
  • keep trying
  • when you encounter roadblocks, figure out how to get around them
As I shared these stories, it was wonderful to have the students connect these themes to their own lives. As I think about the instructional shifts Common Core has required like supporting answers with evidence, reading over multiple texts, and writing about your thinking, these three books that we read together allowed us to do all of that.

It is fun to not only reread texts with students, but to listen to their perspective on what the texts mean.

I hope you have a wonderful week of reading! If you're anything like me, you might be reserving books after hearing the #ALA announcements in the morning! :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SOL - Reading Cycles




In a recent Choice Literacy Big Fresh newsletter, Jen Schwanke talked about how her reading has cycled depending on where she was in life. When I read that, it was as if she had read my mind.

As some of you are aware, I have had some sad and difficult times since just after Thanksgiving. But with getting ready for Christmas, helping organize a funeral for my mom, and having family surrounding us through Dec. 28, I wasn't great, but I was managing.

Then, one by one, my family left. My oldest daughter flew back to DC. My youngest daughter headed  down to the Sugar Bowl. My dad went back to his house. My husband went back to work.  And the grief enveloped me because I was all alone with no buffers. That's when I landed on the word "courage" for my OLW this year; I was going to need courage just to get up some mornings.

I needed a plan of escapism to accompany my courage; how could I escape the sadness that threatened to overwhelm at times? That's when I remembered the piece Jen had written. She was right; we need different types of reading depending on life's circumstances.  In this phase of my life, I needed books that would allow me to escape.

Enter my good friend, Katherine Sokolowski, who had mailed me an ARC of a book by Ally Carter titled All Fall Down. This will be the first in a series titled Embassy Row. It was an easy read and I forgot about being sad for awhile. Just like students, when I find an author I like, I want to know what else they have written. As it turned out, Ally Carter has a series called The Gallagher Girls and another called The Heist series. Both looked intriguing and better yet, almost the entire Gallagher Girls series was available on my public library's Overdrive. I downloaded the series to my Kindle and away I went!

For a week, I read for big chunks of the day. The Gallagher Girls is not a tough series. I think middle school girls, and maybe high school girls, might enjoy it. It is about a spy school for girls and speaks to the power of girls and how they can do so many things when they put their minds to it, especially with the support of their friends. The adventures of these girls across 6 books allowed me to escape, and for that I was grateful.

This weekend, I have discovered another new author to me, Terri DuLong. She has written many fictional stories about an island in Florida, Cedar Key.  Though you don't necessarily need to read them in order, each story has intertwined the characters from all of the stories. I have found my new escape series - plots and characters are predictable, happy endings, not a lot of thinking on my part.

In order to have courage this year, I do believe I will have to be kind to myself, and one way I plan to do that is by escaping form time to time with my books and stories and characters.  

Thanks to the wonderful ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday. You should head on over to read other slices for this week.

Monday, January 19, 2015

#IMWAYR - Dog Breath




As a literacy coach, I have the good fortune to work in many classrooms alongside teachers, and while doing that, get to see a wide variety of mentor texts used with students.  One of the books I read recently was purchased after I saw a teacher use it as a mentor text for her narrative writing unit.

Dog Breath: the Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis has been around since 1994, but I had just never seen it. As I watched a 3rd grade teacher read it with her students, I found myself guffawing (I was way past laughing!) as the story unfolded.

The teacher who used this book used it as mentor for how narratives can have problems and solutions and story arcs. It worked beautifully for this as students could clearly identify the issue of the story: the dog, Hally Tosis (you have to love that play on words!), has incredibly bad breath which presents a real problem for his owners.

But this book could be used for so many more reasons which makes it a wonderful mentor. The idioms and language (play on words) would provide great conversation:
  • The dog with bad breath had the name, Hally Tosis.
  • When the children, trying to solve the problem, took him to see "breathtaking views."
  • They also tried to take him to a movie that advertised it would "leave you breathless."
  • Then the roller coaster that advertised "You'll lose your breath on our roller coaster."
  • "But that idea stunk too."
  • The last line of the story: "Because life without Hally Tosis just wouldn't make any scents!"
All sorts of fun to be had with words!!

Thanks to Jen for hosting the kidlit version of It's Monday, What Are You Reading? Head on over to her blog to see some other wonderful titles.


Friday, January 2, 2015

My #OLW for 2015


I actually had to go back and research what word I used for my #OLW this past year; I think that speaks to the fact that the word didn't find me, but rather I went looking for it. I could make up a post about how it truly guided my life this year, but it would be false, so I'm not even bothering.

This year, my word absolutely found me: COURAGE.

Many of you know this, but my mom died this past month - Dec. 13, to be precise. It came on the heels of the painful loss our friends had. It has been a difficult holiday season in many respects for my family and me.

But a friend who had recently lost a parent reached out and introduced me to an author I didn't know with this article. Glennon Doyle Melton's article spoke to me in important ways; ways that are helping me survive the grief of this past month. "Courage Today." That was something I could wake up each morning and try to live by. One day at a time. This was manageable, at least most days. Others were meant to be grieving with naps, tears, or total lethargy.

I truly wasn't going to participate in #OLW this year; it felt like one more thing on a plate I was barely balancing as it was. But there was that word - COURAGE - that I have been saying to myself each morning. Give me courage today. It was calling my name and I had to respond.

So COURAGE is the word that will guide me this year because it is currently helping me get through the day emotionally.

But, I think the longer-lasting impact of COURAGE will be important in my life as well, especially as I approach a new decade of life this year.

Courage to take even more chances professionally.
Courage to push my body to try new things athletically.
Courage to embrace all the small moments of life.
Courage to share the hard stuff; not just the good.
Courage to reach out and help others less fortunate than me.
Courage to embrace my new decade and all the wonderful it will bring.