Thursday, May 26, 2011

Enthusiasm is contagious; start an epidemic. ~ Don Ward

Here it comes…the Top 5 picture books that have, in some capacity, impacted my reading and teaching life this school year.  All of these books have “the door wide open”.  I have read, reread, and re-reread each one numerous times and see so many opportunities for them in the classroom.  These books are not my “go-to” books.  I have no scripted answers from the past to expect and no specific responses that I am looking for in the future.  I see instructional possibilities in all of them and find myself smiling during each read.  Some of the books on the list inspire future inquiry.  For other books, it is the word choice.  And for one book…it is the illustrator’s style that adds a whole new level of humor and content to the storyline.  I hope you catch my “top five bug”!


Just check out his eyes!  Isn’t that enough to want to read about Seabiscuit? The use of black and white snapshots to depict time changes in the book and the determination of an underdog, or should I say under-horse, are just two reasons this book is so captivating. The inquiry possibilities are endless…the Great Depression, training horses, validating the facts leading up to the race…the book provides resources for inspiring one to research their wonderings!

Who wouldn’t love a little cloud trying to accomplish big things?  Not only is Cloudette’s story of determination enduring, but also Tom Lichtenheld’s illustrations make the story have even more possibilities.  If you look closely, you can enjoy the humorous comments coming from the characters in the illustrations.

You will be captured by Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s creativity of using mathematical symbols in combination with words to make powerful statements.  My favorites are…”book + chair = cozy” or “somersault + somersault + somersault = dizzy”.  What a wonderful way to use mathematical equations and words to introduce yourself at the start of the school year or to give a positive statement to a friend at the end of the year. 
Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten.  After reading this book you will need to change it to the following…everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten AND from one smart cookie.  Amy Krouse Rosenthal uses the concept of making and eating cookies to support students in understanding life lessons in the classroom.  Real life experiences with making and eating cookies demonstrate the meaning of words such as compromise, organized, prepared, and ponder.  Now I just need chocolate cookies to demonstrate with and eat!
And she is back for a third time on my list…Amy Krouse Rosenthal has created yet another text to sum up “one of those days”.  Each one of her “days” could be a springboard for list making, small moment writing, poetry, and more.  The best part is that even though we can have an “answer to everything is no day", each day does end and in the morning you have a new beginning!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

No two persons ever read the same book. ~ Edmund Wilson

Just this week a box that contained a new book arrived! What teacher does not love the smell and look of a brand new book?  Who doesn’t love the opportunity to be the first to crack the book open, pressure the binding and begin turning each crisp new page? It was the arrival of my school’s summer professional book club book…Teaching Reading in Small Groups: Differentiated Instruction for Building Strategic, Independent Readers by Jennifer Serravallo.

Teachers enjoy reading the same professional book together.  It is so exciting to hear the individual and personal journeys that have brought each one of us to where we are in our teaching.  Although we will be reading the same words on the page, it will be our individual journeys and what we bring of ourselves to the discussions that will enrich the reading experiences of all who participate.

The blurb on the back of the book, written by Lucy Calkins, is what grabbed our teachers when making our selection:
For Teachers who sometimes feel as if data—based instruction, differentiated groupings, and formative assessments somehow involve going over to The Dark Side, this book is a powerful antidote. It will help you know that you can hold tight to your deepest beliefs about children and literature, classroom communities, and good teaching.”

Often when developing small groups for reading instruction in the classroom, it is easy to get caught up in the management of the group and not necessarily the purpose of the group.  Hopefully this book will support us in finding a way to use individual conferences and small group conferences to drive our instruction and meet the needs of our readers in the classroom.

Our summer book club will divide the book in thirds and meet at a different teacher’s house each month.  It will be this casual setting, wonderful food, and the personal experiences shared when reading the same book that will serve as another mile marker on our journey of teaching literacy.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I haven’t read. ~Abraham Lincoln

Over the weekend I was able to spend some time exploring a local bookstore.  As I was in the checkout line, I found the above quote on a book bag.  My mind started to wonder to the number of days that are left in the school year and the “next read book stack” that is growing by the minute next to my bed and in my classroom.  I spent time hoping each book was anxiously waiting a turn to be read at the pool, on vacation, or late on a Sunday night. Do our students have the same vision of summer reading?  Do they look forward to the idea of immersing themselves in authentic reading experiences that are done on their terms, in their environment, and with text they selected?

As the school year begins to wind down, the greatest gift we can give our students is guidance in developing a summer reading plan.  Thinking back to the start of the school year, we spend so much time on mini-lessons that focus on “just right” reading selections and genres for independent reading.  At the end of the school year, we should also spend just as much time celebrating the books we have read during independent reading, rereading books that have impacted our reading life, and receiving book recommendations for the summer months. In the classroom, students could support each other by performing book recommendation skits or videos, participating in book swaps, creating book awards (scariest book, funniest book, most surprising book, most lovable character, etc…), or gathering a list of titles from all the book conversations that would occur.

Why should the students have all the fun?  At our school, we have a teacher group that meets bi-weekly in our media center called “Spotlight".  It is an optional meeting time where we “spotlight” a picture book, read it as a group, discuss our experience with the text, and discover all the possibilities within the text for instruction across grade levels.  Our time together this week asks each teacher to bring a book that they want to read, reread, or recommend to the staff for the summer months.  The books can be personal selections, picture books, student novels, and/or professional books.  The lists and stacks we create during our time together will hopefully serve as a model for future mini-lessons on developing a summer reading plan.

Here are the titles that I am bringing in my “next read stack” to share with the group…
Professional Read...
Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action
By Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels


Picture Book...
Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships By Catherine Thimmesh


Children's Novel...
Because of Mr. Terupt
By Rob Buyea
Personal Read (adult)...
Love the One You're With
By Emily Griffin

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread. ~Francois Mauriac

I stumbled across this quote while planning a professional development class on independent reading.  I kept coming back to this quote and rereading it.  I started thinking about my reading life…I can name a list of books that I have read over the past months and I can rattle off a never-ending list of books in my “next book stack”, but books I have reread???? The only two times I can come up with in my own reading life that I reread are professional books/chapters on literacy and when sharing a new picture book with a colleague or students and seeing their reaction to this “new find”.  So…do you know me better now that you know what I reread?  Would we know our students better if we asked them what they reread or encouraged rereading in the classroom?

I started observing my own children.  My third grader constantly rereads so…I finally asked my third grader why.  The answer: I enjoy it! My third grader went on explaining the personality of the character and discussing the structure of the text. As I looked at my kindergartner sprawled out on the floor rereading books, I found that she was celebrating!  Celebrating the understanding of the structure of a story, being able to retell a story from pictures, noticing words she could not read before, and enjoying all the ideas a picture book can bring. So…what about in the classroom and not just in my family room?

In the classroom, our primary goal with rereading is not to just focus on the storyline of one specific book but to provide the opportunity to see more of you in the book.  Rereading brings opportunities for celebration and enjoyment but also for clarification, reflection, and acknowledgement that each time we reread we bring more of ourselves to the book and the reading experience.  Now that I examined my belief on rereading…where is the evidence of it in the classroom?  Could it be as simple as adding a rereading question to a reading interview, making a spot for books that have been reread on reading logs, creating a “reread” basket for the classroom library, modeling rereading during reading workshop mini-lessons or read aloud?  Or can it be just as simple as using language in the classroom that encourages rereading?  Reread this blog.  What do you believe about rereading in the classroom?