Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wonder Jars and Wonder Wednesdays

I posted a few weeks ago about how I had started Wonder Wednesday in my classroom. It has been a grand adventure, one both of my language arts classes look forward to each week.

The vehicle that I use to tie together my thinking for each Wednesday is the website Wonderopolis with its daily wonders. But oftentimes, already this early in the year, I have found that Wonderopolis provides the springboard to even bigger thinking.

Let me give an example. Last Wednesday, I went back in the archives of Wonders at Wonderopolis, and looked at the different possibilities listed under geography. I wanted to support the teacher I team with as she was starting a unit on geography with our students. The Wonder that I chose was posted last April 22 for Earth Day, and started with a video clip about the Wonders of the World. It was one of the longer videos that I had seen, but it was a great kick-off for where I wanted to go with our thinking.

To help the students think and write more critically, we created a t-chart with questions formulated after watching the video and as we looked at the focus questions Wonderopolis provided on one side. On the other, we clearly articulated in writing any new learning we had as we read the rest of the article. Great thinking abounded!!

To further our thinking about the wonders, in word study I had a large picture of Angel Falls (a possible new Wonder) displayed on our SmartBoard. The students did a Word Storm together, brainstorming all the words and phrases that came to mind as they looked at this image. What a great vocabulary builder!! Each class filled 2 entire chart papers with their words and phrases - the power of learning and building vocabulary with peers is immense!

One of the items posted in this Wonder is the fact that there is an opportunity to vote for new Wonders of the World. Wonderopolis generously provided this link, and the students found out there are 28 places nominated for this new distinction. Students will begin doing partner research on these 28 places, share what they learn with their classmates, and then each student will have a vote on choosing the next Wonders of the World in the next few weeks.

How cool is that?! And it all stemmed from the connections we made using Wonderopolis.

I'm also grateful to Wonderopolis, because they overheard a conversation I was having on twitter this summer with a few friends about the idea of having a Wonder Jar in our classrooms, and what that might look like. They supported this train of thought, and it really has guided the type of thinking we are doing in our classroom this year.

I had to think about what a Wonder Jar might look like for me. As you can see in the picture, what has happened is that the Wonder Jar for both language arts classes I teach is from Sam's Club, and used to be full of Cheetos (what happened to them is a conversation for another article) :). I wanted this to be a year full of all students wondering and inquiring and researching topics of interest to them. I thought it would be fun to capture that wondering and make it visible to all.

Our Wonder Jar is where we put things that represent what we are wondering about. One of my students wonders about BigFoot; he put a small plastic BigFoot in the Wonder Jar. Another student wondered about how glue is made; a glue stick was deposited into the jar. Another student is fascinated about the process of making ice cream; she got a cup from Coldstone to represent her thinking and put it in the Wonder Jar. The list goes on and on.

As each student shared what they were wondering, they put a replica that demonstrates what their current wonder is. As they deposit their wonders, I take pictures of them, and have put their pictures in frames throughout the room. These pictures are yet one more visible reminder that we will be a class that wonders together. I expect to change these pictures multiple times over the course of this school year. Once we investigate and learn about one wonder, we will move right on to thinking about yet something else.

The Wonder Jar is providing all of the students an opportunity to delve deeper into topics that interest and intrigue them. I noticed that in this first sharing of wonders, the students' thinking was pretty surface level. As we continue to work with wondering throughout the year, I anticipate their level of sophistication of wonders and questions to improve.

My students and I love our Wonder Wednesdays and our Wonder Jars! Thanks Wonderopolis!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Full Moon is Rising

I love Marilyn Singer! Her poetry book Mirror, Mirror is one of the most-read books in our classroom. Children are always astounded at how the point of view changes when the lines are reversed.

So, when I saw Marilyn Singer's name on A Full Moon is Rising on the "New Books" bookshelf at my public library, I had to read it. Now that I've read it, I will truly have to have it and buy it for our classroom library!

This collection of poems reminds me a little of Amazing Faces, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, which I absolutely adored! Both books deal with a single topic, but throughout the book, the topic is looked at through different cultural lenses.

In A Full Moon is Rising, the focus topic is the full moon. On each new set of pages, we look at the full moon from different locations in the world. What I love about this is Singer has chosen some sites that most children might not know, so there is a world map included that highlights all the different locales. In some of these places, the reader even learns about celebrations connected to the full moon. Great learning with accessible text. And if the reader wants to know even more, Singer has included more text in the back of the book about each location, and has also included a section about the different phases of the moon. The nonfiction text and the poetry in this book blend beautifully together to share important knowledge of cultures and of moon facts.

In addition to the fact that I love Singer's poems, one of the topics covered in 5th grade is about the Earth and the moon, including its phases. This will be a great book for my teaching partner to share when she teaches science, but A Full Moon Is Rising will also be a wonderful book for me to share in my language arts classes as an example of wonderful language and good mentor text for literary nonfiction.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We're Very Versatile!

At least our friends Marylee and Franki at A Year of Reading think so! As part of being chosen as versatile bloggers, we need to thank them, so...thank you! We can honestly say these wonderful ladies were our mentors -- first, by jumping into the blog world themselves and showing us how it could look. Then later, when we were ready to jump into blogging, they were there for us again, supporting us, getting us started with the tech stuff (thanks, ML!), and connecting us with other smart bloggers. There, step one done.

Step 2: List 7 things about us:

1. After this post we are 2 away from 600 blog posts...and they said it wouldn't last!

2. Our blog was "born" on a very cold Groundhog's Day 2008 at a Panera in Columbus, Ohio.

3. We will be hosting our annual Looking for Newbery series beginning in December.

4. We used to teach in the same school, and for a while, we were even at the same grade level. Then life changed for both of us, and we are no longer in the same building. We really do need to sit down more often because our conversation is always good!

5. One of our favorite things to do is to present new books to the teachers attending the Dublin Lit conference in February. We've done it for the last four years in a row! Even if no one else appreciates us, we crack each other up!

6. We still get a little giggly and excited when an author responds to one of our posts.

7. Picks From THE PIT provides some pretty good read alouds.

Step 3: List 15 (or so) blogs we follow and enjoy. This one was a little tough because a lot of the blogs we enjoy and follow have already been listed at other sites. Here a few in no particular order:

100 Scope Notes (a very smart librarian and contributor to SLJ)

James Preller (we fell in love with Jimmy when he made a visit to our school. )

Barbara O'Connor (both James and Barbara post so much more than just about their lives as authors - always entertaining!!)

Anne Marie Corgill (aka: AM Literacy Learning Log)

Kate Messner (an author and teacher extrodanaire!)

Lori's Lessons (we're not the only ones who Lori is versatile; she's gotten at least one another nomination as well!)

Word from the Corner (love Mandy's lessons, and her learning journey with her new iPads is fun to follow)

MotherReader (one of the first blogs we followed; love her 48 Hour Book Challenge)

The Reading Zone (loved her when she was blogging as a 6th grade teacher; now that she is in high school, love hearing about how English/language arts can look in that setting)

Teach Paperless (a great place where a variety of contributors think about 21st century learning)

Heavy Medal (this is a blog at SLJ that just has to be followed as we head into award season)

My World- Mi Mundo (a blog that our fellow Central Ohio blogger, Stella, writes. She's part of the Columbus Area Writing Project and she is an ELL teacher. So thoughtful!)

Carol's Corner (We've served on the Cybils NFPB panel with Carol, and Karen seems to have very similar tastes in books as Carol.)

A Book Maven's Haven (Susan and Karen connected this past year via twitter, and ended up having their classes blog together about Out of Mind, and culminated in the 2 classes having a skype book chat together. Susan works in Maine and Karen is in Ohio.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Titanic series by Korman continues

Back in January, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of a new series Gordon Korman was launching about the Titanic, titled aptly enough, Titanic. It was to be a trilogy of books. Since that time, Book One, Unsinkable, came out in May. Recently Book Two, Collision Course, arrived in bookstores on August 1, and Amazon is telling me that the final book, S.O.S., came out this past week on September 1.

While I have not gotten the third book yet, the second, Collision Course, picked up with its non-stop action right where the first book left off. We have Irish thugs chasing one of our main characters who also happens to be a stowaway on the Titanic, we have children becoming friends across socioeconomic lines, we have Jack the Ripper possibly onboard and trying to get back to what he likes to do best, we have arrogant captains trying to rush the Titanic to New York, and yes, we have the big ship hitting a huge iceberg.

Like I shared in my first review, this is a book that refuses to let you put it down, even though historically you know what is in store for these travelers. I will be fascinated to read the final book in the trilogy, as I am so invested in some of these children characters, I can't bear that they will suffer the plight that so many others did. My questions heading into the final book will be if Korman keeps it realistic, or if he tries to make it as happily ever after as a disaster can be.

Because I don't want to give much away, I won't review that final book. But I will be introducing this series to my class this Wednesday in a tub with nonfiction books about the Titanic as well. I predict that these books will have long lines of people waiting to read them!! Knowing that, I guess I will need to purchase the final book asap!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bigger Than a Breadbox

Laurel Snyder has written several books; Penny Dreadful is the most recent. But on September 27, her latest book, Bigger Than a Breadbox, will be released. Recently on Twitter, she offered to do a free Skype visit with people who might be interested. I absolutely wanted this opportunity for my students, so I signed up. I love that an author will be joining us and sharing about herself as a writer!

But, I committed to this experience before I had even read Bigger Than a Breadbox, and I worried a little about the fact that it might not be a good read for me; I know how important my investment in a book is when I read aloud to my students. Well, consider my concerns ridiculous!! Laurel Snyder's publisher sent an ARC that I received this past week, and I read it all in one sitting Monday. I couldn't put it down. What an amazing story!!

The main character, Rebecca, is the narrator of the story. Her mom makes the decision to take Rebecca and her little brother, Lew, from their home in Baltimore to Atlanta to stay with their grandmother for an indefinite period of time. Rebecca's mom and dad have been arguing and Mom has decided she needs a break from her husband. Rebecca loves her grandmother, but Atlanta isn't her home and from day one, she is constantly trying to get back to her real home and her dad in Baltimore.

The theme of "be careful what you wish for" is important to the story. Rebecca thinks she wants/needs certain things, but finds out that getting each of those items comes with a tremendous cost.

There are so many layers to this book for discussion. Feeling invisible, children caught in situations when parents aren't getting along, being the new kid at a school, trying to fit in, magic wishes, how difficult it can be to do the right thing, sometimes the things we wish for came at someone else's expense. The list goes on and on. But Laurel Snyder weaves these important topics together seamlessly. Add to this, the fact that she blends in lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song - I was totally hooked!

I think I'll have to gather some google images of breadboxes to build background knowledge for my students since that is such an integral part of the story. Plus, it will help them understand the gorgeous art on the front cover of Bigger Than a Breadbox.

Our visit with Laurel is one of the first weeks in November. I can't wait to first share Bigger Than a Breadbox with both of my classes, and then to Skype with Laurel! As my students track their thinking in their read aloud notebooks, I am sure they will develop many questions they want to ask about the story, some of the characters, some of Rebecca's actions, and in particular, the breadbox. I will make sure to blog about the experience afterward. I'm really looking forward to all of it!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

R My Name is Rachel

I really enjoy the versatility of Patricia Reilly Giff as an author. It is delightful to be able to show students an author like her who has written so many types of books.

R My Name is Rachel
is a historical fiction piece set in the Great Depression era, specifically 1936. We see these times through the eyes of Rachel, a 13 year old. Her mother died when Rachel was young, and her dad has hit some difficult financial times, along with the rest of the country. In an effort to find a job, he packs up his family and some of their possessions into a truck and heads off to upstate New York. He has heard of a job that may be available in North Lake, and there is a farm there they can rent.

This move saddens Rachel for so many reasons. Leaving the only home she's ever known, leaving the school and the teacher who mean so much to her, leaving her best friend, leaving her neighbors, and leaving a solid adult friend, Miss Mitzi. These are all tough things, but set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, they are small concerns against the reality of survival.

And once they get to North Lake, this book is a gritty story about survival. Rachel and her two younger siblings, Joey and Cassie, are called upon to do far more than they or the reader would expect. What they are asked to do and need to do would make for great conversations with students. Would they be able to do this? What are the survival skills they do have? Do parents sometimes make decisions that are hard for their children? So many more questions as well. I envision some deep and animated conversations.

And if I didn't already like this book for so many other reasons, I would have to add these as well:
  • Rachel is an avid reader. It is her escape from reality at times, but it can also be a key to life solutions at other times.
  • Rachel is a writer. She writes many letters to her father and Miss Mitzi throughout the story.
  • There are not just one, but TWO teachers in this book I would like to nominate for A Year of Reading's 100 Cool Teacher's in Children's Literature!!! Mrs. Lazarus and Mrs. Collins are teachers who truly support putting books in children's hands!
  • I love the character of Miss Mitzi. I love her positive attitude, I love her kindness, I love her relationship with Rachel, and that's all I can tell without ruining the story.
R My Name is Rachel will have an important place in our classroom this year, rather as a read aloud, a book club, or on the shelf of "Books You Just Can't Miss!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Wonder Year

I am looking at my classroom this year with a different lens. Instead of being a self-contained class as I have been for most of my career, I am teaching two separate sections of language arts, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

When I tackled this endeavor, I knew it would be critical to mesh the thinking/goals/learning of both classes with my teaming partner.  We sat down this summer and had several long conversations about what we wanted for our classrooms, and hashed out some big global thinking we wanted to have.  The biggest take-away from our conversations was that we wanted our students to wonder/inquire/research/investigate/think critically/analyze.  It wouldn't matter if it took place in a math/science/social studies classroom or in a reading/writing/word study classroom.  We felt these were critical life skills we wanted our students to learn.  These skills will permeate everything we do this year.

With that in mind,  I borrowed some thinking from two colleagues and friends who were doing very smart things in their own classrooms.  This past year, Maria introduced me to the power of Wonderopolis in her classroom as it helped her students think critically about important questions and learn to investigate topics that might be off-shoots of the original Wonder of the Day.  Another colleague, Andrea, has shared much about how she looks at nonfiction on a regular basis with her students.  Much of this thinking I have garnered through her articles for Choice Literacy.  But, we had the opportunity to be together at a Choice Literacy workshop in Michigan this summer, and then share a 3 hour car ride home.  During that time, Andrea so graciously shared with me ideas about creating community when teaming with another teacher, using nonfiction to wonder in the classroom, and teaching her students to both read and write like scientists.

So much great thinking.  Now I had to find a way to make it my own.  Here is my current version, though I expect to have many revisions of this thinking throughout the year.  To start the year, I am establishing a routine with both classes called Wonder Wednesday.  In a nutshell, this is how it will break down in the beginning:

Writing workshop -- we will experience the Wonder of the Day on Wonderopolis as an entire class.  I will be modeling how I would take notes about the topic, thinking critically as a scientist.  Then, I will invite students to find another Wonder they may be interested in or find a nonfiction text in our room that makes the wonder, and take notes on their own.
Soemtimes the writing we do will be about the wonders we put in our Wonder Jar (more about that in an upcoming post).  We will be digging deep into things we wonder about and asking good questions and reflecting like scientists.

Word study -- actually this week, we will be doing something my friend, Andrea, calls "Word Storm."  I will give each student a visual, and then have them use words to think about the picture.  Some weeks on Wonder Wednesday, we might pull one of the words from Wonder of the Day and do a word observation.  This will be our day to think about words in a different way.

Reading workshop - My mini-lessons will focus on multiple ways of understanding nonfiction text.  For example, this week and next, we will be looking at the text, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.  If you know this text, you know that we learn from both the poems in the book as well as the nonfiction text.  It is important in this day and age to make sure our students have the tools to read a variety of nonfiction text.

These are not things I will only teach on Wednesdays; they will be infused throughout the year.  But, on Wednesdays, all 50 of us will know we are wondering hard about how to write critically, read critically, think critically, and observe words critically.  What's even more exciting is that my teammate will be joining me soon on these days to wonder with our students about her topics.  They may wonder about science inquiry, they may wonder about a topic in math, or they may wonder about a concept in social studies in a deeper way. 

I am so looking forward this year of wonder!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kids Helping Kids

The school year is off to a smooth start, although hectic as usual. It's always fun to catch up with the kids when they come back and visit with the parents that work so hard in our building to help make Bailey so successful. I was glad to see my friend and super parent volunteer Amy Proctor this week. She co-chairs the PTO author visit committee which has given us the chance to work together on several projects. Amy is also one of the driving forces behind the Coins for Kids that started 2 years ago. She attended a very special Grand Discussion that had some unintentional results which led to Bailey supporting Lincoln Elementary in Ashland.

Last year the group decided they would like to begin supporting a school closer to home and a connection to Weinland Park in Columbus was established. Our 5th graders raised money and bought some new playground equipment for the building as well as books. The hope behind all of this Coins for Kids thing was that their might be some opportunities to actually get the kids together for some things. Amy shared with me some exciting news about her daughter and friends who established a friendship with Weinland and have been over there several times working with the kids, playing games, and just spending time with them. She passed on the blog that the girls have started, and I wanted to pass it on to all of our Literate Lives readers.

I think it's important to highlight kids doing good things, especially when it's kids helping kids. check out Helping Weinland Park, and give these special girls some positive thoughts.