Monday, November 23, 2009

NCTE - Part 2

Ok, I forgot to tell you 2 more very special parts about the session I attended on book choice Friday. First, Donalyn Miller, of The Book Whisperer fame, was there, twittering about how excited she was to hear this particular group of women present. There is actually a group photo that I am in with Donalyn after the presentation. I will forward it as soon as my friend, Lisa, who managed to be the only one with a camera ready, sends it my way. Second, my friends (some new and some old) from Choice Literacy joined the session as well. Like I said in my first post, LOTS of smart people in one room -- it was incredibly invigorating!

Moving on to Saturday -- I was thinking about technology and literacy together all morning.

I started by listening to a panel of which Kevin Hodgson was a part. They talked about assigning and assessing multimedia writing. Kevin shared how he, working in tandem with his students' art teacher, science teacher, and librarian, helped his students make digital picture books on a scientific concept (cell mitosis) complete with animation and video. He used the Magic School Bus series as his mentor text. Another presenter, Dawn Reed (a high school teacher from Michigan) had her speech students compose very moving essays / podcasts titled "I believe...". I found myself making all sorts of connections to possibilities in my own classroom.

Then, I went to hear Bud Hunt and Troy Hicks (author of the Digital Writing Workshop) speak about Newer Literacies and Technologies. These two men are brilliant! I can't wait to read Troy's book! These men were twittering and answering questions in real time with the audience. Their mental agility was phenomenal! And they had pretty wicked senses of humor, as well. The thing they said that stuck with me is that the technology needs to be part of a writing workshop process where students have choice and time to write. See what I mean about them being brilliant?!!

Stopped by the exhibit hall after all this technological information, and picked up even more books. I was especially excited to get Patrick Karman's latest series, Skeleton Creek, and have him autograph them. I also got to meet Lisa Yee.

After that, I got to hear Kelly Gallagher and Jeff Anderson speak about Rethinking Literacy Instruction. Kelly Gallagher is the author of Readicide, Jeff Anderson is the author of both Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. Many great points were made. Even though their target audience was probably more middle and high school, I was able to take away many good ideas.

I ended my day listening to an authors' panel about blogging. My blog and author friend, Barbara O'Connor, was part of the panel, so I really wanted to hear what these authors had to say. It was interesting to listen to them talk about how much the time they spend blogging means to them. Fascinating insights into each one of them, but especially good to see Barbara again.

Out to dinner for Italian food with Dublin friends Saturday evening. I found myself in disbelief that the weekend was drawing to an end.

If you've ever been to the NCTE convention, you know what I mean when I talk about the rush I felt being surrounded by not only smart people, but people who share similar beliefs as me when it comes to literacy, and more recently, 21st century literacy. I left the convention feeling so energized!!! It was an amazing weekend.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fabulous Times at NCTE

I'm currently in Philadelphia for the NCTE convention. I am a first-timer to the convention, and all I can wonder is why I haven't made it here before! Since the moment the convention began on Thursday, I have met and listened to a multitude of very smart people.

My first session on Thursday was headed by Ralph Fletcher and was titled The Pleasures of Language. The entire session was about how we, as teachers, need to make words and language more fun for students. Ralph shared a multitude of ways that we can have children play with language. He was joined by two other presenters -- Kate Norem-Morris from Washington and Gresham Brown from South Carolina. Kate talked a lot about having students gather wonderful words for themselves and then "releasing" the words into their writing -- great idea! I can't believe I've never heard about Gresham or his blog ( before. Gresham encouraged teachers to create a playful room, full of jokes, songs, chants, tongue twisters, and poetry. I could have listened to him tell stories about his classroom forever.

This session was followed by the Elementary Section Meeting. What great fun! I sat at a table hosted by Franki Sibberson. The table also included Sharon Taberski, Pat Johnson, Ann Marie Corgill, Nancy Johnson, Mary Lee Hahn, Karen Szymuziak, and Katie DiCesare. Can I tell you how fun it was to be surrounded by all those smart people?!!

My first session on Friday was actually a presentation put together by Mary Lee Hahn, Katie DiCesare, and myself on how writing a book, making a video, and blogging have all made us better reading and writing teachers because of how much we have had to reflect on our own reading and writing processes. And all these things - writing, being on camera, blogging - forced us to take risks we might not have otherwise done. Don't we ask our students to do that each and every day at school? We had spent time planning together and that process really helped us grow as well. We were delighted with the turnout and the reception of our message!

Then, I got to go to a session where someone else was doing the work -- a group of teachers from California talked about the power of using blogs, podcasts, voicethreads, and digital videos with 4th graders. I came away energized to get back to my own class of 5th graders and to start diving into technology with them. More importantly, to find the best way to embed technology into everything they do, especially writing workshop.

Lunch was at this fabulous market across the street from us -- best turkey reuben I've ever had -- very yummy!

Then, Friday afternoon, I attended another session titled "Book Choice Matters", and the presenters were Ann Marie Corgill, Debbie Miller, Franki Sibberson, and Karen Szymuziak. They made me think a lot about what "just right" actually means, and if a child needs to always be in a just right book -- there are times it is appropriate for readers to read easy books and challenging books.

My second session was supposed to be The Significance of Teacher Talk by Peter Johnston, but by the time I got to the room, there was a crowd already outside. There was no way to pack even one more person in that room. I was disappointed, but recouped my good mood by doing some retail therapy. I went to the Exhibit Hall, and found many free ARCs, but I also paid for other books I was dying to have for certain students.

That night, dinner at a local pub where I was the oldest person in the place. Tons of fun and good times with my fellow Dublin NCTE participants.

Tune in tomorrow for the second half of my exciting weekend at NCTE.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A HUGE Grand Discussion of Bystander

Several years ago my friend and colleague Joyce and I started an event for fifth grade students and parents. We pick a book, have the students read with a parent and then we all meet together for an evening discussion of the book. We called it The Grand Discussion and both of us think it's one of the best things we do as teachers each year.

On Tuesday, we convened in the school library to discuss James Preller's newest book, Bystander. I reviewed it here and I honestly think it should be required reading for students in middle school or just getting ready to enter middle school like our students are.

Well, the turn out was of record proportions! Typically we have between 40 and 50 people at our events and Joyce and I pat ourselves on the back and say, "Job well done!" Imagine our surprise when people started showing up, and kept showing up, and then some more showed up, and then we started welcoming everyone and some more showed up and in the end around 85 people were at the most recent Grand Discussion! 85! That's right, 85!

I pulled all of my chairs from the back room and Joyce and some boys dragged some chairs from the second grade classrooms across the hall, and we still didn't have enough


We had people discussing Bystander in THE PIT!

We had people discussing Bystander in The Commons!

We had people discussing Bystander ALL OVER THE LIBRARY! IT WAS AWESOME!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Not Last Night, But the Night Before in THE PIT

I discovered this one on the new book table at my local library, Not Last Night, But the Night Before by Colin McNaughton, and I've been reading it to everybody, pre school through fifth grade, and it's been fun.

Each page starts of with "Not last night, but the night before" and then someone is knocking at the door. Each time it's a fairy tale or nursery rhyme character. One time it's three little pigs, another time it's Goldilocks, or Little Bo Peep, or Little Miss Muffet. Each time the door is opened, the characters come in, knock the story teller down and take their gifts upstairs.

When the knocks on the door end, the narrator goes upstairs where all of the characters sing:

Happy Birthday to you
Squashed tomatoes and stew
Bread and butter in the gutter
Happy Birthday to you

I still laugh every time I sing it, the kids laugh too. It's just plain silly fun. Another fun feature to the book is guessing who will come with the character at the door. For example, the big bad wolf comes with the three little pigs, the three bears come with Goldilocks, and a big fat spider squishes the narrator with Little Miss Muffet.

The illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark are bright and fun and make the reader feel like they are at a party with all of their favorite characters.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CYBILS 2009: 14 Cows for America

Every September I struggle to find an appropriate book to commemorate the World Trade Center tragedy. Finally I have found one that while it remembers that horrific day, it has an uplifting message of peace. Next September 11, I will share 14 Cows for America in THE PIT.

Written by Carmen Agra Deedy and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez 14 Cows for America is beautiful to read and to look at. The author collaborated with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah the Maasai tribesman whose story is told.

Kimeli was in New York City on that tragic day and he witnessed the events. He was a student in the United States and his gentle warrior heart felt compelled to do something to help. When he returned to his native Kenya and told the story of the attacks, and the devastation experienced by the people of the United States, his countrymen were also alarmed.

In the tradition of his people, Kimeli offers up the most sacred of things a man can own, his cow. As the warrior offered up his gift cow for blessing to give to the grieving people of the United States, 13 of his fellow warriors did the same and fourteen cows were blessed for the people of the United States.

The American ambassador and his wife were moved to tears when hundreds of Maasai stood in respectful silence as the Star Spangled Banner played during the presentation of the 14 cows. Holding with tradition, the fourteen cows could never be slaughtered and now with offspring, the herd totals 35.

This simple yet moving story is beautifully illustrated with scenes from Africa. The colorful artwork captures the splendor of the continent and the beauty of its people. This is an awesome book. Watch the cool trailer here.

Mary Lee interviewed Thomas Gonzalez at A Year of Reading.
Author James Preller interviewed Carmen Agra Deedy.

Other reviews at:
5 Minutes for Books
Picture Book of the Day
A Fuse #8 Production
The Reading Tub

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Operation YES is a Definite YES!

I'm taking a quick break from our CYBILS reviews because I'm so excited about this book by Sara Lewis Holmes. When I learned that I would be meeting Sara at the KidLitCon in DC, I really wanted to read Operation Yes, but alas, I was unable to get a copy at my local library.

After meeting Sara, I was on a mission. I went to the library on Monday with an Operation Yes postcard in hand ready to tell whoever would listen that they needed to order this book, and they needed to put me first on the reserve list! Well, I was quickly deflated when I found that it had already been done, and I would have to settle for third place on the reserve list.

When I finally got my hands on the book, I couldn't put it down. It kept me interested from start to finish. I'm sort of a sucker for books about kids in school and Operation Yes doesn't disappoint.

Set on an Air Force base in North Carolina, Bo, the commander's son, is in the sixth grade and something of a trouble maker. His new teacher is unusual to say the least. First of she's short, smaller than many of her students, she has multiple piercings in her ear, and the students discover a small bird tattoo. Miss Loupe uses some interesting teaching practices to engage her students, her specialty is improv and the kids love it.

Bring in Bo's cousin Gari from Seattle. Her mother, an Army nurse is being deployed to the Middle East and Gari needs someplace to stay. Bo's parents take her in and she becomes part of Bo's life, a fact neither really appreciates.

Brought together by a war related tragedy in Miss Loupe's family, the sixth graders band together to help their teacher and her brother through a tough time. They organize and carry out a fund raiser for men and women wounded in service to our country that includes thousands of green army men and a pretty funny play. All in all, good clean fun that kids will love.

I was reminded of 4 Kids in 5E and One Crazy Year, kids working together for a common goal. We could all learn something from Miss Loupe.

Cool Operation Yes blog
Cool Operation Yes teacher tools

More reviews at:
Coffee for the Brain
The Reading Zone
Jen Robinson's Book Page

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cybils 2009: Unite or Die

Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Jef Czekaj is one of the most kid-friendly books I've ever read that explains how our Constitution came to be. When I originally read the title, I assumed the book would be about America's fight for independence. This book is great because it is so much more than that.

The story is told with a very clever plot device -- a school play at Forest Lake Elementary. Some of the students in the play are dressed up as the original 13 colonies. The story begins right after the American colonies have won the Revolutionary War, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. Turns out the colonists have spent so much time unified as a group, fighting against King George, that they really don't know how to live together as one country.

Jacqueline Jules uses great dialogue between states in the play to show how much self-centeredness and bickering was actually taking place among the states. Students will be able to identify with the characters Jules has created in the states. Each one has a distinct personality and its own wants and needs.

Because of this bickering, the United States of America was not able to function effectively and something had to be done. The story does a nice job explaining all the different events and plans that take place as representatives from the different colonies met in Philadelphia to try to find a government that would work for all.

Jules does a wonderful job mixing the facts of these events with the dialogue of the states (in speech bubbles, no less). During all of this, the dialogue of the states propels the story forward in a way that children will be able to understand. Because of this dialogue, the reader is better able to understand the need for the three separate branches of government provided in the Constitution.

But if all that weren't enough, the last two parts of the book were the clinchers for me. There is an afterword that more fully explains the Constitution and focuses on the fact that these state delegates from long ago, formed a document that could change with the times that they could not even imagine -- a great introduction to the power of amendments. Finally, little questions that I found myself asking while reading the text like, on pages 28-29, "How did Roger Sherman save the day?", are asked and answered in the last section. So many great facts that kids will love to find out!

Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation
was given to me by the author as a courtesy at the most recent kidlit blogger conference. How exciting that I was able to meet the author of this Cybils nonfiction picture book nominee! Even more exciting is how I will be able to use this book in my own 5th grade classroom.

I would be remiss if I didn't give a tip of the hat to Jef Czekaj for his wonderfully amusing illustrations that children will love!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

CYBILS 2009: In the Trees, Honey Bees

In the Trees, Honey Bees by Lori Mortensen is an interesting combo for me. Written in rhyming phrases the book passes along a lot of information. It's almost as if it was written for readers of two or more levels.

On each page there is a rhyming phrase, like:

Blossoms out.
Dancing scout.

Then on the same page is a paragraph that explains, in higher, more scientific language, what the rhyme is all about. The paragraph that goes with this rhyme talks about the scout bees looking for flowers rich with nectar and pollen. They then return to the hive and tell the others where to find it.

In addition to the text levels, the illustrator, Cris Arbo, presents yet another level of information. The illustrations are realistic and detailed. So much so that emerging readers could use them to learn about honey bees and the work that they do. The edition I looked at included something I have never seen before. Apparently one of the illustrations has the hive positioned incorrectly. On that page is a sticker that tells of the error and how it will be corrected in future editions.

I like this book a lot because of how it will reach readers of all levels. It will make a great tool for teachers to use with and entire class because of that fact. I can also see it being used in a "buddy class" type situation with the older students working with the younger students on a common project on honey bees.

You can read other reviews at:
Reader Buzz