Monday, May 31, 2010

PIT Museum Follow Up

I really wanted to post this sooner, but you see, my daughter graduated from high school on Friday and then there was the party on Sunday, so things have been a bit crazy around here getting ready. It was a fun, busy time and now we just prepare for her leaving for Ashland University in the fall. She's going to be a teacher, she'll be good at it, she has that connection with kids that can't be taught. Can you tell I'm pretty proud of my kid?

So on the suggestion of my friend Maria, I put together an iMovie of all but one artifact. For some reason I missed one of the books, Wag, as I was taking the pictures. I figure this will serve two purposes, you can see the museum and for those of you requesting list of titles I shared in THE PIT this year, pay attention! The music is the theme music from Night at the Museum, which we played as the kids explored and filled out their answer sheets. I think, overall, they enjoyed the museum enough that it will become an annual event.

Four more days with kids and then the 48 Hour Reading Challenge. I think I'll start Friday after school and my first book will be The Red Pyramid. It's pretty long so I'm not sure how many books I'll get done this year.

Friday, May 21, 2010

End of the Year Fun From the Pit

Each year I've been in the library, I've struggled to find the perfect activity to close out the year and wrap it up in a fun way. I think I may have discovered it this year. It's an idea that has been incubating in my brain for a while, and about 3 weeks ago I sprung it on Super Aid Yvonne. She liked it immediately, why do you think I call her Super Aid!? and we were on our way.

Here's the idea, I wanted to create a Museum of PIT Artifacts. One item to represent each book we have read together in THE PIT this year. I've read a total of 56 books so far this year and began making a list of titles and artifacts. I reviewed some of the books to come up with ideas and was actually able to come up with 37 artifacts. As it turns out, that's plenty, and so, the scavenger hunt was on. Yvonne and I scoured the library and every storage area we could find to locate the items we needed. We searched our own houses, children's toy boxes, friends' children's toy boxes, basements, garages, recycling bins, and created those didn't exist. When we were down to just a few items I emailed the staff and collected their stuff too. I even borrowed an Ugly Doll from one of my students to use. Actually it was pretty fun!

This week I set it up in the library numbering each artifact and displaying as many of the books that were available. When the kids come in I welcome them to the Museum of PIT Artifacts an describe the idea behind it. Each student takes a paper numbered 1 - 40 and then identifies the book that goes with each particular artifact.

It's been pretty fun and several kids have said they think I should do it every year, so, I probably will.

In addition to this, I'm reading what may be my favorite book of the year, Sunday Chutney. I'd also like to add it to Franki's list that I could read again and again and again!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Sixty Eight Rooms Provides Fun Fantasy

In a recent conversation with one of my parent volunteers the topic of the Thorne Rooms exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago came up. It seems that on a recent trip to Chicago she had taken her girls to visit the rooms and then discovered a book that takes place in the room. The book was The Sixty Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone and I immediately went to my computer and reserved it at the "big" library as we call it. I was not disappointed.

Two kids who attend an exclusive private school in Chicago go on a field trip to the Art Institute and after finishing the required portion of the field trip, they find themselves in the Thorne Rooms exhibit. The main character, Ruthie, is completely taken in by the rooms and finds herself wishing she could actually walk through them, lay in the fancy princess beds and touch the tiny artifacts. Her friend Jack is not quite so taken in by the rooms and wants to leave quickly, but changes his mind quickly when they talk a guard, Mr. Bell, into letting see behind the rooms. While in the halls behind the rooms, Jack finds a mysterious looking key and takes it with him.

By now the kids are completely fascinated by the rooms and have questions about the key that Jack found. They also discover that the guard, is a famous photographer that dropped out of the art scene many years earlier because a portfolio of very personal photos went missing under mysterious circumstances. When the kids return to the institute with the key, they discover it's magic. When Ruthie holds it, she shrinks to the same scale as the rooms and is actually able to enter them and experience their magic first hand. This is where the real fun begins.

The kids plan a secret overnight at the museum to explore as many of the rooms as they can. They discover magical things, like Ruthie is the only one that can make the key work, but everything she is touching will also shrink. When they leave a room through the doors with scenery behind them, they actually enter the time period of the room and can interact with people who live there, but none of the created room is visible or real to the people they interact with, Jack and Ruthie disappear to them when they re-enter the room.

And they discover some mysterious stuff, like a modern day pencil in one of the rooms from the 1600s and a pink backpack in a cupboard in one of the rooms. Clues that lead them to believe that they aren't the first to experience the Thorne Rooms first hand.

The Sixty Eight Rooms is a quick, fun, entertaining fantasy read. Kids who like The Indian in The Cupboard or The Castle in the Attic will like this updated shrinking adventure/mystery. The cast of characters is interesting from Ruthie and Jack to the eccentric antiques dealer Mrs. McVittie.

I plan on sharing the book with all third through fifth graders along with a copy of the Art Institute of Chicago catalogue on the rooms that plays such an important role in the book.

More reviews at:
Book Aunt
Charlotte's Library

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Last Read Aloud of the Year

How can it possibly be that time of year already?!! This week, I started my final read aloud of the year with my students. For me, the first read aloud of the year and the last are the ones I feel the most pressure to choose the perfect book to share with my students. In the beginning of the year, the pressure is to find a book that will allow us to start to build our reading community from Day 1. At the end of the year, the pressure for me is to find a book that embodies all the wonderful qualities of writing we've celebrated all year long during this special time together. It is also a gift of language from me to them to lift them up as readers as they leave our 5th grade classroom and head to middle school.

After much deliberation, our final read aloud is Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper. Not only is it beautifully written, but the characters, especially the main character Melody, are so vibrant and well-developed. In addition, the conversations about students who look different from the typical student, and the assumptions we make because of those appearances have already been very meaty, and we've only read for 5 days!!

Bill is a HUGE fan of Countdown by Deborah Wiles. He is currently using Countdown as his measuring stick for his opinion about Newbery hopefuls. I loved Countdown, also, but for me, Out of My Mind is my current Newbery measuring stick. What's fun about that is I have helped develop a community of readers who really loved my passion for When You Reach Me, and especially loved that we were reading it together when the Newbery was announced this year. So, when I told them how strongly I felt about Out of My Mind, they were immediately open to the experience and the story. Most of them are already in love with Melody because Draper has given her such a great "voice".

The message that I take away from this experience is that children are really influenced by our passion about books. Rather it is our first read aloud, a read aloud in January, or our last read aloud, we need to be committed to what we are reading and really love the story and writing ourselves.

So, what is (or will be) your last read aloud? It's always fun to share good titles!! :)

*for my full review, check here

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reflection on my time with Samantha Bennett

Well, it's been almost a week since Samantha Bennett visited Dublin, and my classroom. I feel like I've had enough time to decompress, and now it's time to write about my big take-aways from the time I spent with Samantha.

First of all, if you've never seen Samantha in person, she is truly a delight. She is this small bundle of energy who wears the most fun clothes and best accessories I've ever seen. From the moment we met at a dinner last Thursday night until our final day on Saturday, I couldn't wait to see what she was wearing each day. Samantha never disappointed!

But my time with Samantha actually started several months before when one of the board members of the Literacy Connection here in Central Ohio asked if it would be ok to use my classroom as one of the demonstration classrooms when the visiting author they sponsored came to town. I said sure, no problem, relying on years of past experience when authors like Ralph Fletcher, Georgia Heard, and Lester Laminack came to town and did demonstration lessons in writing workshops. Our writing workshop has been humming along, full of activity this year, so having a guest come in to teach should not be a problem.

Turns out I had gotten the story backward. Yes, Samantha would be in my classroom, but she would be there to observe our workshop, how it works, and what transpires during that time with a focus on the structures, rituals, routines, and systems of our workshop. Gasp! If Samantha is there as an observer, I guess that meant I would be the teacher.

Another piece of the story is that the workshop would be on a live video feed broadcast for participants to see (I think there were somewhere around 70 people there on the actual day). Because all these educators didn't know me, my students, or the structures of our classroom, Samantha asked me to write a letter to them that would include my core beliefs, what guides my instruction, what had happened in our reading workshop prior to this observation, what would be happening in workshop that day, where we were heading after that, and what were some pressing questions I had "that kept me up at night."

I thought about this assignment, typed up a rough draft of my thinking, and sent it Samantha's way. The moment I received my reply from her, I realized Samantha was a coach who would not let me "settle" for anything but my best effort, and she would be pushing my thinking in many areas. I had to re-reflect about the questions listed above, and totally revise my first draft. What happened is something I am very proud of -- a 7 page letter that really got to the heart and soul of my belief system. It was tough work, but it really clarified what is important to me as an educator and to the students who are learners in our classroom. Through coaching, Samantha helped me get to this final product.

Last Friday was the actual day that Samantha came into our classroom and labeled what she saw, and why those things were important. Before she came upstairs, however, she very clearly identified observation skills that the other educators were to use as they watched our classroom. She told them they weren't allowed to "gush" -- it was not to be about how great the lesson was, or how on-task the students were, or how terrific the read aloud was. Instead, they had to label what they saw -- Karen read 14 Cows for America during a mini-lesson on meta-cognition. Then, they had to identify why that had meaning. See what I mean about her being a great coach?! That's a fabulous protocol for all observations we participate in; it protects the teacher and more importantly, forces the observer to dig in deeper to the reasons we make the educational decisions we do.

I'm not going to bore you with all the details of Samantha's time in my classroom, but I will say that my classroom was full of people -- in addition to my students, me, and Samantha, there were also 10 - 15 observers from the group that got to come in for a "close up" view of our classroom, along with the camera person. After the coaching Samantha had done about being respectful, not talking during the lesson, and really working on labeling and thinking about the "why", all those visitors were almost invisible to both my students and me. It was a good workshop, full of the things we do on a normal basis: mini-lesson, independent work time when students are reading books of choice while I confer with individuals or meet with strategy groups to work on specific skills, and debrief. Our 55 minutes flew by!!

When we went downstairs, Samantha then guided the group through a debrief of the workshop they had just seen. During this time, each table was identifying what they saw during the reading workshop, and talking about its importance and its reason. My assignment from Samantha was to go from table to table listening to all these people talk about our reading workshop. It was a very humbling experience. No one gushed, but as they focused on the things they noticed, and why they were important, I was surprised by the depth of things they noticed going on in our classroom. After about ten minutes of eavesdropping on these conversations, I then had to stand in front of the group and share whether their comments accurately reflected what I had actually experienced.

I feel incredibly grateful to have met Samantha, to have her "nudge" me as a coach to share my thinking in a more clear and precise way, to have so many respectful educators label what they saw in my classroom, to have agreed to put make my learning public in a way that definitely helped my learning and hopefully helped someone else as well. More importantly, I realize that we can't do this big thinking alone; to use a quote from one of Samantha's core beliefs, "We are smarter together." We also need to build the all important TIME into our schedules to have these big conversations about why we do what we do in workshop, and to also plan in thoughtful, meaningful ways.

For more on Samantha's visit, check out:

Franki's Top 10 favorite Samantha Bennett quotes
(wish I had thought of this!)

Mandy's reflection about the workshop

Katie's reflections about Samantha and sharing her workshop with others (wish I coud get to the point as quickly as Katie does!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Unintentional Results Are Awesome

I have really enjoyed Karen's posts on her teaching, and knowing how awesome she is in the classroom, it's been a treat for me to really get inside of her thinking to see how she pulls it all together. I've enjoyed all of your comments, especially those dealing with teaching with intention and purpose.

However, in my three years in the library, I feel like I notice the unintentional moments more, I'm not sure why that is, but it seems that they happen more often then I remember in the classroom.

For example, when I started in the library I decided to do read aloud everyday with every class that has come through the library. I also decided to only read things that could be finished while the kids were in the library, no carry over from week to week. Here comes the part that provided an unintentional result, I chose to read the same book for grades 1 through 5. I wish I could give some solid educational rationale behind this, but I can't, my reason for doing this was to make it easier to keep track of what I was reading, nothing more than convenience to me, took the kids right out of my decision.

What ended up happening is that a reading community was built. Every kid at Bailey Elementary had something in common and I actually heard book conversations going on between first and fifth graders! I got emails from parents talking about dinner table conversations about the book that had been shared in THE PIT that week. Of course I played it off like some great plan based on sound educational practice, but it was all born of keeping things simple for me...who knew!?

The Grand Discussions I've hosted with my friend and colleague Joyce for the last 4 years have been filled with unintentional results. They have opened numerous avenues for parent and child conversations about important growing up topics like bullying, self esteem, world awareness to name a few. And of course this year the with the starting of Coins 4 Kids, a result of our Grand Discussion of Also Known as Harper, our fifth graders raised $780.00 to buy books for the library at my sister's school. Joyce and I never meant for that to happen but we're sure glad it did.

The books have always been my focus in the library, this year I branched out into a little more tech stuff, and plan to do more in the future, but because of my passion for books, I have kids recommending titles to me and their friends every day. I have also noticed lately, that the incredible volunteers that work in our library every day are having book talks about what they are reading while they shelve the books. My awesome aid Yvonne, a voracious reader, many times is involved, quite often starting these discussions, sharing titles and thoughts about the books her book club is reading.

So today I'm celebrating the awesome unintentional result that has occurred in the library in three years, a community of readers from our youngest in pre k to our parent volunteers. I love going into work every day, just waiting to see what happens next!