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I read a lot of professional books and I don’t post about all of them. But every once in a while, one comes along that demands a mention. “Let’s Find Out: Building Content Knowledge with Young Children” by Susan Kempton is one such book. And if you are a kindergarten or first grade teacher looking for a summer reading professional book, look no further.

513Zfv+93tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_The number one fact that drew me to this book was that Kempton moved to a school with a very diverse population (with students from low socio-economic families who faced multiple literacy issues), after having taught years in schools with many average to above-average readers. I knew I could trust her ideas and practices to work in the classrooms where I often find myself.

Kempton uses children’s natural curiosity about animals to build concepts and vocabulary on a variety of topics. Together they look at pictures, pose questions, infer, observe, research some more, and build vocabulary from polar bears and snakes to life cycles and dying. Her kinder class is filled with animals that offer many opportunities for the children to learn in an inquiry-based environment. I loved her stories about the bunny that was a comfort for the children to hold as well as the ones about the snake who devoured his lunch right before their eyes and later molted and left them his skin.

Her tools are many. She uses books, magazines, artifacts, movement, songs, dramatization, repetition, visual aids, the internet, and drawing. The children read and write daily and have many opportunities to talk. They ask questions, negotiate meaning together, and then draw, write, and share what they are learning about. Many teachers may say, “Well, I do all that too.” But the extent to which Kempton expands her students’ vocabulary is amazing to watch. At the end of each chapter she lists the concepts and language covered. I love the way she doesn’t “dummy down” the language. In one unit alone, her kinders become familiar with: tortoise, growth rings, hexagon, dome-shape, desert, hibernate, burrow, soil, reptiles, scales, hooves, rosettes, drag, prey, species, and so on. They even know how to tell the difference between a leopard, cheetah, and jaguar.

The two chapters I found especially inspiring were the one on the class’s Martin Luther King study and the one titled “What is Math?” She broadens the MLK study to include citizenship and civil rights in a way that kinders can understand and apply to their own lives. I admired the way she used the book Dear Willie Rudd which many may think is too hard for primary students. She continually asked the students “Who is Willie Rudd?” through multiple readings and discussions. But when she got no answer, she didn’t just tell them. She trusted the children as thinkers. She believed that with repeated readings and with time and opportunity for plenty of talk with partners and as a whole group, the children would get there on their own.

In Chapter 10, she shares how reading and writing have a root word that indicates their meaning. Math, on the other hand, doesn’t have an “identifiable act to bring it to life.” Throughout the chapter she supports the children as they discover what math is. “It is about shapes, graphing, patterning, sorting, adding, subtracting, comparing value, estimating, place value, surveys, symmetry, money, measuring, weighing, telling time, and more.”

I hope some of you will take the time to read this very worthwhile text that comes with several free videos that you can access on-line.

readers-front-and-centerI just finished reading a new book and now I’m feeling the need to shout about it. You might remember my posts from 2012 about my excitement after reading Barnhouse and Vinton’s What Readers Really Do from Heinemann (click on the 3 highlights and you will go to my past posts.) Dorothy Barnhouse has continued to share her work with her latest book, Readers Front and Center, from Stenhouse. Her premise is that “instead of listening for answers, we should be trying to listen to our students.” And she does exactly that as she takes us with her to each student she confers with.   She believes that if we really listen to our students we will be able to figure out not only what they are comprehending but also how they are understanding or misunderstanding what they are reading. But the biggest thing I’ve learned from her is what to do once I make those discoveries.

In every conference that Barnhouse shares, you will notice how she situates the child as a problem solver. Too often when teachers find out that a child is confused, misunderstanding, or losing track of the characters or plot, the teacher jumps in to rescue the child. We show the child where he got confused and then prompt, nudge, or support him in finding the meaning we were hoping for (sometimes just giving the answer.) To this, Barnhouse says, “If we short-circuit our students’ thinking, they will fail to learn that reading is an intellectual enterprise” (p. 39.) If we want kids to be problem solvers as readers, then we have to expect that they will get confused and make errors.

Here are just a few gems from her book:

* She teaches us how to help students do the “back and forth work” that readers really do as their reading processing system is at work.

* She suggests using “and” instead of “but.” When we say “you did it over here, but you didn’t do it here,” we are emphasizing what the child got wrong. But when we say, “you did it here and you can also do it over here,” we believe the child can be successful. “If we treat students like meaning makers, they will act like meaning makers” (p. 148.)

* “A conference is not a delivery system for a teaching point” (p. 62.) It is a teachable moment.

* She encourages students to “think across the pages” — connecting details and then asking and answering their own why questions. She is building on the ideas we learned from her first book with Vinton, but you will have many new “aha” moments when reading these very specific scenarios and seeing how she works with students on Book/Brain charts.

* Her examples span grades 2-8 and also show how this teaching can work in individual conferences, with small groups, and with whole group teaching.

I learned so much from this text; my end pages are full of notes! I can’t wait to find a group of literacy friends to discuss this book with. (And you can still preview the book on-line for free at stenhouse.com.)

When I last saw Katie we lamented about not blogging as often as we used to.  I told her, “I feel like I have nothing new to say!”  When I met Cathy Mere for coffee the other day in Columbus, Ohio (she blogs at reflectandrefine) she told me to stop stressing about it.  Blogs are not meant to be stressful.  The desire and inspiration to write on your blog comes and goes.  People get busy with other things and that’s just life.

So rather than trying to think of “the best idea ever to share with teachers,” I decided to write about some reading I’ve been doing. Many of our readers might be searching for a book to read right now, so here’s my list.

51uWLOkb2AL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_In the area of children’s literature, I enjoyed Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  It’d be a great read aloud for grade 5, but be prepared for 378 pages.  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is still with me, even though I read it a few months ago.  It’s a powerful story about two teenaged cancer patients aimed at older kids, 7-12th grades.  Another one for that age span is Divergent.  I picked up a copy at the airport mostly because it’s a popular teen book right now AND a movie is coming out.  Divergent was just OK for me.  It doesn’t hold a candle to either the Hunger Games or The Giver trilogies, but there are echoes of those books in it.

51RknfJZMqL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_My adult reading lately includes the newest Wally Lamb book, We Are Water, which I enjoyed a lot.  I liked Jeannette Walls’ The Silver Star (her first fiction one) and The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Those last two are fairly light reading.  Oh, and one more good one was Wild – the memoir of Cheryl Strayed who spent weeks/months hiking the 41p1ldx9y-L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Pacific Crest Trail alone.

41k2NXKvByL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_The last area is professional reading.  This week I’m highly recommending Ruth Ayres’ Celebrating Writers.  I’ve had this in my pile for a few months.  I kept putting off reading it because I thought it was only about the celebrations of ‘final products’ of students’ writing.  I let myself be misled by making an assumption about the title.  I should know better.  When I wrote One Child at a Time, several friends told me that readers may think the book was only for teachers who could work one-on-one with children and if they had 25 in their class, they wouldn’t pick it up.

Once I began reading, I realized that Ruth is expanding the idea of celebrations to include “the process writers go through and the products they create.”  In fact, only the last part of the book talks about those big celebrations after publication of students’ work.  Most of the book gives us ways to sustain our writers’ enthusiasm during the on-going writing workshop.  Here are a few things that got me thinking:

  1. “Response is noticing and naming the things a writer is doing and then sharing how we are affected as readers.”  Through her mini-lessons, charts, and 1:1 conferring, she teaches us how to support students in giving worthwhile response to other writers.  She also talks about forming partnerships among students so they get to know the work of one other writer well.
  2. Most of her figures (charts, surveys, reflection sheets, etc) can be downloaded from the Stenhouse website.  Whenever there is a web icon next to the figure, it’s available.  This is a big plus for busy classroom teachers.
  3. I’ve been in many conversations lately with colleagues about technology and social media.  Ruth answered a bunch of my questions. The biggest aha for me was when she was saying that kids today are all digital natives and they are usually way ahead of many of us in the world of social media.  However, they are self-taught.  “They know how to use social media, but they haven’t thought through how to do so with integrity and effectiveness.”  That’s where we come in.  By using social networks in classrooms, teachers can teach kids “appropriate ways to function in these spaces.”
  4. I love her idea of adding a sheet called “Can you spot our learning?” to a hallway display (pgs. 73- 74.) These help the visiting reader know what to look for in this display of writing, i. e., what the students have been working on.
  5. And finally, on page 50, Ruth is so kind to share her letter to parents which explains the reasons why she uses things like twitter, facebook, skype,  and blogs in her classroom.

When you read Celebrating Writers you will be inspired to improve your writing workshop time, no matter what grade you teach.

2014-01-09 15.38.53In my previous post, I shared some thoughts on the importance of reconnecting and recreating our community as we went back to school after winter break. January has turned into a constant dance of recreating routines with many snow days and 2-hour delays. It’s been a challenge to try to maintain a predictable schedule and keep routines flowing as Mother Nature continues to hand us arctic temperatures, snow and ice. My kindergarteners and I created this chart on our first day back from winter break. It’s been an anchor for us during the month of January. We read it together each morning during our Morning Meeting and I ask the students to turn and talk to a partner about what word they are going to focus on for the day.   We share out and then revisit the chart through the day as I notice children trying hard to live the vision we created together for our class. At the end of our day, during Closing Circle, I ask children to reflect on how the day went and how we are working together to have the classroom we imagine. This has resulted in some great conversations with children acknowledging areas that we need to work on and celebrating areas that we are successful in showing. As February approaches, I will continue revisiting our vision for our classroom and hopefully we will be able to get back into a routine. We shall see what else this winter holds in store for us!

How are you managing all the snow days and late openings? Have you tried this in your classroom? We’d love to hear from you!

 

IMG_4581It’s Sunday afternoon and here I sit, looking at my to-do list, planning for the week ahead in kindergarten, working on a presentation for later in January, checking Facebook…daydreaming out the window about how great the past two weeks of winter break have been. It’s a new year (on the calendar, at least) and I’m excited about seeing my kids tomorrow. I’m a bit worried too. While these two weeks off have been wonderfully fun and relaxing, well…it’s been TWO WEEKS OFF from school and routines for my kindergarteners. I know how important it is to rebuild our community, revisit expectations and routines and to make a plan for the rest of our year together. In a lot of ways, I see it almost like a second First Day of School. It’s a refreshing fresh start and a new beginning.

Tomorrow I want to be sure and listen to every child. I am sure they will be full of stories to tell and memories to share from their two weeks off. I don’t want to jump right into the new math unit or literacy unit of study right away. I want to make time to welcome the children back to our classroom family, to allow them to reconnect, play, enjoy each other, share their hopes and dreams for 2014 and to ease back into our routines and life in the classroom. I want to start our morning meeting by making a chart of “What kind of class do we want to have in 2014?” with the kids – creating a future for us together in the new year. I want to remember that community is at the heart of our classroom and when we’ve been apart for two weeks we need time to reconnect and recreate. What a fun opportunity as we return to our classrooms tomorrow! Enjoy the time with your students and I wish you a most excellent 2014!

What are you focusing on as you go back to school after winter break?

Spreading Some Sunshine

Clare Landigran (Teachers for Teachers) listed our blog (I write with Katie Keier) as one of eleven to receive the Sunshine Award. We were excited! This award is a way for bloggers to recognize other bloggers, as well as to encourage them to share a little bit more about themselves.   Here is the description:

The sunshine award gives others an opportunity to learn more about me as a blogger and then, in turn, I will send sunshine the way of 11 other amazing bloggers for you to get to know (but I’m going to cheat and not do 11!)

The Sunshine Award was started by Matt Renwick, an elementary principal in Wisconsin (@readbyexample). Here are the rules Matt lists in his post:

Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
Share 11 random facts about yourself.
 Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

Here are 11 facts about me:

  1. My husband (of 39 years) and I have two wonderful daughters, two cool son-in-laws, and 5 fantastic grandkids!
  2. I walk 4-6 miles every morning and then one LONG hike on the weekend.
  3. I’m a storyteller and love telling folktales to grades K-5.  My two favorites are Tailypo and Tinderbox.
  4. In H. S. I thought I would be a math teacher; in college I studied social work until switching to teaching.
  5. I LOVE to shop… in real stores, none of this “shop on-line” stuff!
  6. Love going to the movies. My husband, Rick, and I go just about every Friday night.
  7. My favorite authors are Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, and Geraldine Brooks.
  8. Since becoming semi-retired, I eat lunch at Panera just about EVERY day with my computer and some books.  I find it a great place to work and the food is terrific.
  9. I’m left-handed.
  10. Growing up we always had dogs – Molly#1, Molly#2, Jeepers, Tammy#1, Tammy#2.
  11.  I like to play cards, particularly Texas Hold ‘em, Smear, 15, and bridge.

These were the questions (along with my answers) I was asked by Clare:

1)   What is your favorite board game?

Definitely Trivia Pursuit, the original and other versions, but not the Sports one.

2)   Where is your favorite vacation destination?

Hawaii – we’ve been three times and have included Maui, Kauai, The Big Island (Volcano Nat’l Park was great!), and Oahu. I love reading their signs full of ‘w’s’ and vowels!

3)   What is your first school memory?

My kindergarten teacher took a vote everyday as to what record we wanted to hear at the end of the day. “Davy Crockett” won every day because there were more boys than girls in the class.

4)   If you have an iPad –how do you use it?

Don’t use it enough. I’m still attached at the hip to my mac.  Plan to figure out Evernote and use my iPad more in the new year.

5)   When I am stressed, I relax by….

Watching TV (but I only watch between 9-11 at night – that’s my ‘veg out’ time.) Scandal and The Good Wife are two favorites, but Homeland and Breaking Bad are favorite netflix series. Don’t tell me the endings; we’re not there yet.

6)   What is your best tip for balancing your work and family lives?

Retire!  Ha Ha! Actually when I worked full time in a school I tried to say “Yes” to a few extra things and then “No” to some others.  Don’t overload your plate.  Did I really follow that advice? Rarely!

7)   How do you plan for writing on your blog?

I wait for an idea to hit me (usually when I’m walking) and then try to write it up before I forget.

8)   What motivates you to write?

Knowing that teachers have liked my books and posts; I love when they tell me it’s helping them teach struggling readers better. This makes me want to write and share more.

9)   I love to spend Saturday…

Taking a 4 ½ mile walk to a breakfast place with my hubby, having breakfast, and walking the 4 ½ back… then staying busy the rest of the day.  I hate being bored or having no plan!

10) What is your favorite meal to cook?

I’m a terrible cook and have little interest in it.  But lasagna or taco soup are two things I make when having a big crowd over.

11)  The one thing I cannot live without is…

Family.  And I have a helluva big one!  I’m the youngest of 6; between us we have 25 kids; and now those 25 have 64 kids.  I love Facebook for the advantage of seeing all those kids’ pictures!

The bloggers that I’m giving my Sunshine Award to are:

Karen Terlecky

Vikki Vinton

Renee Dinnerstein

If you’ve already been given this award, then just bask in the knowledge that someone else loves your blog!

My 11 questions for these bloggers are:

  1. If you hadn’t become a teacher, what would you have been?
  2. Tell me something about the grandparent who meant a lot to you.
  3. My favorite charity is…
  4. What’s the funniest thing a student every said to you?
  5. Name a teacher from your past who impressed you and why.
  6. The one thing on my bucket list that I know I will get to someday is…
  7. For exercise, I like to…
  8. Who is your favorite children’s book author?
  9. If you could visit any other country, which one would it be?
  10. What is the talent you really wish you had?
  11. If you could invent a holiday, what would it be for?

I hope you have fun playing around with your Sunshine Award!  I look forward to your answers.

Pat

61-nLho6slL._SL160_SH30_OU01_SX135_I rarely notice the cartoons that my grandkids are watching on TV.  But this morning, one really grabbed my attention as four-year old Brenna was watching Arthur in school with his friends.  Buster (I think that’s the rabbit’s name) was telling the teacher, “You mean there’s no test for this book?  So I’ll get no points for reading it? But… but… I really enjoyed it.”  The teacher confirmed that it was true.  Buster would get no points because this particular book wasn’t on the list of choices. The teacher named the program that Arthur’s school was using — a made-up name.  They didn’t fool me; this show was poking fun at, and showing the flaws of, the Accelerated Reader Program.  I listened harder.

All the other kids tried to convince Buster that he should only read books on the list and then take the test for points because then you could turn your points in for prizes. (Another dig at those silly incentive programs that try to bribe kids to read rather than encourage the intrinsic value of reading.) Buster stood his ground. When the students went to “Point-Redemption Day” all the kids were complaining about their cheap-o prizes.  “I read 786 points worth and this is all I got?” The prizes were equal to turning in your tickets at Chuck E. Cheese’s (you’ve been there, right? 1,000 tickets for a plastic whistle.) Arthur asked Buster what his prize was.  Buster only had 38 points, so he got a straw. He told Arthur that that was OK with him because he had read so many books that were so interesting and exciting to him.

The cartoon show was followed by a short, 5-minute clip of real kids (2nd or 3rd graders) talking about how they choose books.  They discussed the kinds of books they loved to read, recommended some to friends, and talked about whether they mostly picked humorous books or adventure/action books, and so on.  Several of the kids mentioned how important it was to choose books you were interested in.

What can I say?  Hats off to the Arthur show and whoever wrote this episode.  What a great message for kids!  Maybe I should start watching more cartoons!

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