Category Archives: book review

One Word from Sophia, it’s Destiny!

Sometimes you know at first sight that you were destined to meet.  That happened to me today.

The SDAWP Summer Institute (SI) is in full swing, which means my head is full and my schedule is packed.  There is lots of reading and writing and thinking and talking going on…and I love it. Today at lunch I had a few minutes to myself, so I headed off to the coffee shop to treat myself to a latte. When I walked in and saw that there was no line, I immediately thought–jackpot!  I can take a few minutes and walk through the bookstore, just to look.

Coffee in hand, I headed toward the children’s book section.  And there it was…

I couldn’t resist.

One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail grabbed me and wouldn’t let go!

IMG_5968

I was drawn in by this brilliant little girl who knows what she wants…and has a plan to get it.

Sophia’s birthday was coming up, and she had five things on her mind–One True Desire and four problems.

This girl is a student of rhetoric and knows how to make an argument.  She knows her audience and how to tailor her reasoning and evidence (love the variety and types!) to convince.  And she takes her feedback as information essential for revision and iteration.

I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away all the details here…but if you are a teacher of writing, of argument, of debate…or just love a great story…you will want to read and study and probably even own this book!

And there’s more…rich vocabulary, compelling characters, and a surprising ending.  And this is not a book just for children.  I can see community college instructors using this book in their composition classes and kindergarten teachers too.  And you don’t have to be a teacher…this is a book for readers and definitely for writers.

I think this will be a relationship that will endure…right now, it’s love at first sight!

Here’s Jim talking about the story:

Invent to Learn: A Book Review of Sorts

Airplanes are great places to get some serious reading done.  The forced sitting, no access to the internet, no television…make perfect conditions for finishing that book I’ve been wanting to get back to!

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager is a book I’ve been wanting to read since I first heard about it last summer.  I started it a while back and got about half way through it before my overflowing to-do list pushed it back behind a pile too high to see over.  And okay, I admit, I did sneak a bit of “junk food” novel reading in there too!

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 4.00.09 PM

Anyway, I got back to Invent to Learn last week and remembered all the reasons I wanted to read this book.  One of the things I appreciate most about this book is the  theoretical foundation it lays down at the beginning.  I like the historical context of the Maker Movement and seeing where my own beliefs and learning experiences fit into it.  I also like the way that it extends making to include building with cardboard and other “old school” examples but also makes a case for including computers and digital technologies as well as electronics, circuitry, movie making and more.

In lots of ways this book confirms practices I already value and reminds me that messiness and time are essential elements of the learning process–not indicators of failure.

But, in spite of all my interest and good intentions to include a makerspace in my classroom, I haven’t gotten there yet.  We have done making and worked to help our students experience and understand iterative processes.  They have “made” with paper, with fabric and thread, and with digital programming.

So what are my obstacles?  Time is the big one.  I’m still figuring out how to balance the demands of curriculum, traditional learning expectations, and the value of making within the school day.

So I’m trying to be patient with baby steps, carving out small but consistent opportunities for making (of all types).

I encourage you to read Invent to Learn–definitely the first half–to think about why making and tinkering and engineering are such valuable practices for the classroom.  And then I would love to know more about how you will implement some version of making in your classroom. What works for you?

Ordinary

Today, out of necessity, I had to scrap a plan and invent another without notice.  For teachers, this is something that happens with some regularity and most of us pride ourselves on our flexibility. And I love it when that spontaneous plan blossoms into a wonderful learning moment.

We always have picture books at the ready to read to our class.  Some are set aside for specific purposes and lessons, others we know we want to read but are waiting for the perfect time to present itself.  Last year we read Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal–a book that our students loved.  We revisited it a number of times throughout the school year for different purposes…from mentor sentences to a situation for opinion writing.

At the end of the year, I came across a new book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal: Exclamation Point. So today, in that moment when I needed a plan at a moment’s notice, I picked up Exclamation Point, reminded my returning students (two thirds of them) that this was the author of Spoon, and started to read.  I love those moments when each student’s attention is fully engaged…and they were hooked by the bright yellow cover and the whimsical smiling exclamation point. They noticed right away that there wasn’t a title…at least not written in words. The exclamation point itself stood as the title.

15815400

We read and discussed and noticed and connected all the way through the book.  We delighted in the words and the pictures and the message.  And we were inspired to write our own stories about punctuation.

And then later in the day we managed to get packed up and ready to go home with enough time for a book before the dismissal bell.  Overwhelmingly, students wanted me to read Spoon. It was sitting near Exclamation Point…and suddenly today became the day for a mini author study.  The second and third graders were treated to an old friend, and the first graders were anxious to get acquainted!

After reading, students volunteered their observations, connections, reactions, reflections. They had so many thoughtful comments and ideas for their own writing.  And one student pointed out that Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote about ordinary things…in wonderful ways.  We started thinking about all the ordinary things we might write about and how our writing could transform them beyond the ordinary.  They were excited to write as the dismissal bell rang today…I hope they sustain that excitement long enough to actually get to the writing.

I’ve also been noticing the power of the ordinary.  Yesterday’s post was about the transformation of an ordinary photo into something I was willing to name as art.  And today on five minute friday the prompt is ordinary.  Today in the classroom the ordinary business of reading a book because an extraordinary opportunity to notice the magic of writers and writing…and turned students into active learners making meaning for themselves.  Today I was reminded that ordinary is a state of mind, and each of us has the power to re-look and re-see the ordinary in new ways.  I love when that wonderful learning moment in the classroom means that I learn too!

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge: #113texts

When we select books to read in our classroom we begin with well-written books about topics we want to address as part of our instruction.  Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is a lovely, well-written book that has been around for a long time.  (Published in 1989)

519KFKCRACL._SX260_

This book is about a young boy who lives next door to an old folks home and has made friends with the old people who live there.  One of his best friends–Miss Nancy, who has four names just like him, seems to be losing her memory.  When Wilfred Gordon hears this he goes to the other residents asking what a memory is.  Their responses:  something warm, as precious as gold, makes you laugh, makes you cry…prompt Wilfred Gordon to go home and find these for Miss Nancy.  He collects his interpretation of these things called memories into a basket to share with Miss Nancy.  When Miss Nancy unpacks the hen’s egg, seashells, puppet, and football she begins to tell the stories she remembers when she examines each object.

We started the school year a few weeks ago reading this book as a way of demonstrating the power of things to elicit stories and memories.  We asked students to bring in an object or artifact that represented something important or special to them and/or their families.

In addition to using this book to teach the concept of object-based thinking and writing, we also used it this week as a mentor text for writing.  We like to “mine” the books we have read for interesting sentences to help our students broaden their understanding of sentences, grammar, and conventions.  As our first mentor sentence of the school year we looked for a sentence that was accessible to our first graders and still “meaty” enough for our more accomplished writers.

We decided on this sentence:

He admired Mr. Drysdale who had a voice like a giant.

Asking our students what they noticed, we were able to identify the use of the simile (a voice like a giant), proper nouns (names), and pronouns (he).  We also talked about the verb admired as well as the basics like the use of a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence and period at the end.  After a couple of examples of how we might follow the pattern of this sentence from Mem Fox, students set off to write their own sentence following the pattern.

photo-1

Here are a couple of examples:

First grader, E, wrote: I love my bunnies because they love me.

Second grader, B, wrote: He loved his dog Milo even though he shedded on him if he brushed onto him.

Third grader, C, wrote: I admire LEGO makers who have a way of making awesome sets.

And another third grader, M, wrote: The people love to watch Emily who surfed the waves that were as tall as mountains.

You can see that not all students were including the simile…yet.  But all were able to expand a sentence similar to the way Mem Fox did in her sentence.

There are many other ways to use Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge as a mentor text.  Mentor texts are all around us, as close as those classroom bookshelves.  Take a close looks at some of your old favorite read alouds, you’ll be surprised at all the opportunities to use them as writing mentors!

Sorting Quiet

Today was a sorting and categorizing kind of day in my classroom.  Yesterday we read The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood.

quietbook

In it she describes quiet in lots of evocative ways…here’s a couple of lines:

Last one to get picked up from school quiet.  Swimming underwater quiet.  Pretending you’re invisible quiet.  Lollipop quiet.  First look at your new haircut quiet.  Sleeping sister quiet.

Then we asked our students to think about the best kinds of quiet they have experienced. They had so many wonderful ideas including things like lost in a good book quiet, waking up before everyone else quiet, playing your favorite video game quiet, watching your favorite cartoon on television quiet…  They wrote their best kind of quiet on an index card before the end of the day.

Today to help us think about sorting and categories we read Shoes, Shoes, Shoes by Ann Morris–a book about shoes from around the world used for a variety of purposes.  We thought about the categories our shoes fit into…and the ways they cross categories: school shoes, running shoes, playing shoes…  And then, in groups of four students shared their best kinds of quiet and thought about ways to group their “bests” into categories.  We asked each group of four to try to find 2 categories that their 4 index cards would fit.  They came up with lots of categories: electronics quiet, family quiet, in-the-zone quiet, playing quiet, learning quiet…

And as a class we were able to narrow their categories down to four that we will use to create a class graph of our best kinds of quiet tomorrow.  Can’t wait to see what the data tells us!

What’s your best kind of quiet?

Developing a Practice

One of my favorite weekend morning activities is the opportunity to lounge in bed and read. It’s such a luxury since even on weekends I often have to be up and about and out of the house early.  This morning I was reading Natalie Goldberg’s latest book, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life With Language.  I’ve read most of her books–and while this one doesn’t rank as my favorite–the chapter I read this morning on the importance of developing and committing to a practice struck me.  Here’s what Natalie says about practice:

…we established a different slant to practice other than “practice makes perfect”: It’s something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere.  You do it because you do it.  You show up whether you want to or not.  Of course, at the beginning it’s something that you have chosen, that you wanted, but a week, a month in, you often meet resistance.  Even if you love it, inertia, obstacles arise: I can make better use of my time, I’m tired, I’m hungry, this is stupid, I need to listen to the evening news.  Here’s where you have the opportunity to meet your own mind, to examine what it does, its ploys and shenanigans.  That’s ultimately what practice is:  arriving at the front–and back door–of yourself.  You set up to do something consistently over a long period of time–and simply watch what happens with no idea of good or bad, gain or loss. No applause–and no criticism.

To get myself blogging, I gave myself a challenge (maybe that is one variation on a practice) to write and post a blog daily for 30 days.  That short term challenge felt doable.  I didn’t create the challenge for myself because I hoped to become a professional blogger (or writer), but because I wanted to feel what it would be like to consistently blog.  But, I am on the verge of establishing a blogging practice.  I have continued to write and post daily on this blog, well past the 30 days of the challenge…but I am sure as the school year begins on Tuesday that this daily practice will need to morph to a regular practice that is more like a three times weekly practice.  But what I love about the practice is that I have written and posted every day–even when I was tired and couldn’t seem to think of anything interesting to write.  I have pushed past my comfort zone and figured out how to generate ideas and get something composed each and every day.

And I can authentically share my experience of developing a practice with my students.  I can help them develop a regular writing practice.  It doesn’t have to be my practice–writing and publishing a daily blog post–but the act of developing a practice and “showing up” on a regular basis help us each learn something about ourselves.  It also helps us to develop those valuable traits of persistence and grit–hanging in there even when things seem hard.  Because ultimately it’s our drive that determines success and learning.  Talent is great…but effort over time is everything.

This reminds me of my time working for McDonald’s Restaurants before I decided to go into teaching.  Ray Kroc, McDonad’s founder, was inspired by this quote by Calvin Coolidge…which I kept for years on the bulletin board in our home office.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Natalie recommends keeping a log of your practice–even if you skip–and rather than giving up when you miss a day, just make note of it and resume the next day.  I like this recommendation…and I like that my blog keeps track for me.  I can easily see which days I have “practiced.” What practice will you develop?

Rethinking Use

For the last couple of days, my teaching partner and I have been busy planning for the first week of school.  With a multiage class of first, second, and third graders, we have a wide span of age and school experience to take into account…and our older students have been in class with us for the last year or two.  That means we are always figuring out new ways to build community and academic skills, encouraging student engagement and building collaboration and problem solving.

We love using picture books to launch student thinking…and students love to be read to!  Today’s planning conversation involved many books, what role they might serve, and how we might use them as we start the school year.  Last year we read a book by Jerry Pallotta called How Will I Get to School This Year? which we used to get our students started with writing opinions.  We used this simple picture book to ask our students to come up with reasons and evidence to support their opinions about how they would want to travel to school.  Which would be better, a grizzly bear or a butterfly?

At the end of the school year when we came across another Pallotta book in the series, Who Will Be My Teacher This Year, we set it aside for potential use this fall.  And when we read it again this year to think about how we might use it, it initially fell a bit short of our expectations. And then we started thinking…

Something we want our students to begin when they come back next week is to help us reorganize our classroom library to better serve their needs.  We have lots and lots of books–but they don’t seem as accessible as we would like.  And we would love to have our students more actively recommending books to each other.  As we thought this reorganizational task through, we worried that some of our more accomplished readers might be dismissive of some of the easier to read choices in the library.

So…how might we use this Pallotta book to model how a seemingly simple book might actually be more than you see at first glance.  When we took a closer look at this book we noticed that in addition to the fairly simple text and some silly associations between teachers and animals, there are also a lot of idioms used.  Attention to these would change the way a reader looks at the book.  We also considered how our students might pick a page where the connection between the animal and the teacher action is tenuous (the alligator teaching students to be “green”–as in environmentally aware–is one example) and revise it.

We found ourselves reading and reconsidering picture books from a variety of perspectives in our planning today.  I know that our thinking today will inform the way we set our students up to revamp our classroom library.  I can’t wait to see all the ways they approach books when charged with this important task of making our classroom library work for them!

How have you rethought your use of and approach to a book you use with students?  What’s a favorite book you can’t wait to share?