Archive for October, 2008

Poetry Friday: Haunted Houses

The Stenhouse office is right across the street from the boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I’d never really thought much of his work until I took a tour a few years ago of the home. I had no idea he was responsible for so many common phrases and sayings in our language today. Walt Whitman wrote after his death: “He comes as the poet of melancholy, courtesy, deference — poet of all sympathetic gentleness — and universal poet of women and young people. I should have to think long if I were ask’d to name the man who has done more and in more valuable directions, for America.” So here’s a Longfellow poem for Halloween. I’m not sure I quite get the last two stanzas — so if you have any insight, let me know!

Haunted Houses

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses.Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.

3 comments October 31st, 2008

Now Online: Of Primary Importance

I have long know that Ann Marie Corgill is a gift to her students, their parents, and her colleagues. Now this brilliant early childhood educator has given us all a professional gift.”

–Shelley Harwayne

What does a writing year in a primary classroom look like? Join Ann Marie Corgill as she shares her thinking from fifteen years of teaching and gives you a clear picture of successful writing instruction in her new book, Of Primary Importance.

Ann Marie immerses you in her classroom and lays the foundations for helping young writers — from creating the right learning environment to setting writing goals to structuring writing studies. Of Primary Importance is rich with student examples and detailed units of study on poetry, nonfiction, and fiction that demonstrate the writing workshop process at work.

You’ll see how mistakes are just as much a part of the success of the writing year as those magical writing moments, and discover new ways for students to publish and celebrate their work. Rather than offering step-by-step direction, Ann Marie encourages your own thinking, supports your own work, and fills your head with questions and ideas. You will come away energized, challenged, and wiser in your classroom writing instruction.

Preview the entire book online now

1 comment October 30th, 2008

Podcast: Robin Turner

“Every population has students who are in a subculture where college success is not part of the game. One of the things I try to address is how do we reverse that culture–how do we get into that culture, find its strengths, celebrate those strengths, and still propel students to academic success?”

In today’s podcast, Robin Turner reflects on the obstacles he overcame to gain a college degree and how the successes he experienced applying the principles of California’s Puente Project inspired his book, Greater Expectations.

Get a glimpse into Robin’s classroom at Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California. We’ve also just posted a sample clip from his new DVD, Academic Literacy, due out early next month.

Listen to the podcast

Add comment October 28th, 2008

Poetry Friday

Nothing says fall more than Halloween. In my town, people from the more rural sections descend upon my neighborhood in wild costumes. Some of my neighbors really go all out with haunted houses and decorations. I love taking the kids trick or treating out in the crowded streets. Here’s a poem by Kenn Nesbitt called “Halloween Party.” I could see myself in this situation!

Halloween Party
By Kenn Nesbitt

We’re having a Halloween party at school.
I’m dressed up like Dracula. Man, I look cool!

You can read the rest of the poem here

1 comment October 24th, 2008

Questions & Authors: Setting up an ELL classroom – Part I

In Part I of our Questions & Authors installment focusing on classroom spaces for ELL students, Mary Cappellini, author of Balancing Reading and Language Learning, talks about the use of environmental print to help second language learners. Mary believes that the words, labels, and images students see around the classroom help them make connections, see patterns, and encourage them to navigate the classroom on their own. She encourages teachers to look at their classroom spaces with new eyes and ask some important questions to determine whether what’s on the walls reflects the learning that takes place within the walls.

“English Language Learners need to see the new language that they are learning up on the walls of their classrooms. This helps them make the connection between listening, speaking, reading and writing. What they hear and what they (or others) say can be written down, and then read and then copied or used in their own writing. By having a room environment rich with print, ELLs are better able to validate their predictions of how to use certain words in which contexts by checking it with the print they see on the walls. This doesn’t mean just word walls, but rather graphic organizers with words used in complete sentences or language patterns, and charts of their learning.

Every time a teacher does a shared reading lesson or a strategy lesson in read aloud time, she should use a chart paper to record the information. ELLs need to see reminders on charts of which strategies to use while reading, and how to use them, but also how to ‘say’ it and spell that strategy correctly. They need to see their predictions of what they ‘know’ on KWL charts before, during and after readings. They need to see graphs of content learning, with adjectives, nouns, verbs and other parts of speech used to ‘tell’ about what they are learning, whether about the ocean, space or the artic circle. They can then use that new language in different contexts or within the same theme they are learning or as they come across the same words again in their independent reading. They start to make connections between the language that they are hearing and starting to say orally, as they are reading and writing.

Most people are visual learners, and while learning a second or often a third language, it is important to visually see that language in use, especially if the new language is spelled so differently than their own. Many children may be fluent in their own language, and if their alphabet is close to English, they can often figure out how to say certain words that they see on the walls or the pages of their books. And yet still others that are not fluent in their own language or who have alphabets that are totally different than ours, need as much help visually seeing the letters, the words, and the language patterns used by native speakers in order to start to learn this new difficult language of English. By slowing down and writing down the essential elements in a lesson, the teacher is not only able to help highlight important information, but she can also help ELLs who are struggling to make sense of the main ideas being spoken.

Using the morning message and the Daily News [a daily oral language strategy that builds language skills and community by asking students to share their ‘news’ with the class] is a wonderful way to record language and teach how sentences are constructed in a natural way. Teachers compose their own morning message, which they can then use to teach a letter/sound relationship, a punctuation point or a verb or adjective placement. The Daily News can be used to do the same thing, but in a more powerful way, since the teacher uses the language of the children to write and compose correct sentences, encouraging all levels of English speakers to participate at their own levels. The Daily News and the morning message are written on chart paper in a ‘big book’ format for each month, and they are left in the classroom to illustrate and to reread.

Of course for kindergarten classrooms, letter knowledge is critical and by placing pictures (either drawings or photographs) of common words that start with certain letters, they can make connections to the sounds of the letters they hear with actually images of real words that start with them — like a picture of a ‘dog’ and a ‘dad’ for the letter ‘d’. Photographs of real people in the class or the school that also start with that letter in their name is another powerful tool to help them make connections to those letters. They learn to read names of people no matter how long, like Esperanza, before they learn how to read even the shortest high frequency words, because the names have meaning to them and they can make connections to a real tangible being.

Teaching of word families and highlighting onsets and rhymes, one at a time, can really help ELLs see patterns in words and add to their reading vocabulary. 25 basic rhymes make up 500 of the most used primary words in reading, so it is critical to be able to teach the children, in a natural way, how to read them and how to see patterns in a word. If they can read cat, they can read sat.

Labeling the classroom and organizing your book collection or library is also very helpful for ELLs. Signs with directions, labeling corners of the room and especially labeling thematic collections of books can only help ELLs on track while they try to navigate the room independently. Book boxes by favorite authors or common themes (Revolutionary War, Immigration, Global Warming) can also help ELLs find the books that they want to read in a faster and more orderly manner.

There are so many ways we can organize our classrooms, but if we try to ‘look’ at it with new eyes, as if we are coming into the room for the first time, what could we learn from just reading our walls? Could we see what we were studying? Could we navigate the huge book collection? Could we find the information that we were looking for? Hopefully we can ‘rewrite’ our classrooms so that all children, especially ELLs, can learn more from reading them.”

Do you have a question about creating an ELL student-friendly classroom, or do you have ideas to share with other readers? Post your comments and Mary might stop by as well to answer questions.

4 comments October 23rd, 2008

A visit from Chet

The Stenhouse office had a furry visitor this week. Chet is a traveling bear from Chets Creek Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida. Students follow his adventures from Africa, to Boston, to Maine, through his blog.

While you are reading about Chet’s adventures, also visit the school website. Every classroom has its own blog where teachers and parents can stay up to date on what’s happening in class, and students can display their work.

8 comments October 20th, 2008

Poetry Friday

This week Bill asked his daughter, Olivia, to pick out a poem. She chose “Brother” by Mary Ann Hoberman, who was recently named Children’s Poet Laureate. “Oh, does this poem ring true in our household!” says Bill. “Except, maybe, that Livvy wouldn’t want a new little brother ‘for a change.’ She’d be happy without one! But I imagine eventually on long car trips, or post-bedtime sneaking around, she’d miss her co-conspirator.”

By Mary Ann Hoberman

I had a little brother
And I brought him to my mother
And I said I want another

4 comments October 17th, 2008

Blog Watch: Podcast with Debbie Miller

Angela Maiers, educational consultant, talked with Debbie Miller on her blog recently about the transition from the classroom into the consulting world, lesson plan designs, and the importance for teachers to develop a sense of agency in their classrooms.

Several fellow bloggers commented about Debbie’s new book, Teaching with Intention. After reading the book, Ms. Lux asked herself what her ideal classroom would look like. Ms. Teacher browsed the book for strategies she can implement in her own classroom. Marisa over at Living the Life of A Reader and Writer wishes she had read the book as a beginner teacher. And finally Dayle, at Timmons Times found that clearing the clutter in a classroom can help to clear the mind as well.

1 comment October 15th, 2008

Questions & Authors: Responding to reading journals

If the stack of reading journals on your desk seems impossible to conquer and you find yourself at lunch quietly calculating the number of pages you have to read tonight, you are not alone. Many teachers across the country struggle with giving valuable, meaningful feedback to reader’s notebooks, but find it hard to keep up with the responses.

Pam Juday, a reading specialist from Elkhart, IN, said that teachers in her building would like to use reader’s notebooks, but they hesitate because of the time required to keep up with responses. “One teacher, who is responsible for around 50 students, reported that she saw a significant decline in quality and motivation when she failed to keep up with her responses,” Pam wrote, asking for suggestions from our authors.

So we asked Adrienne Gear, author of Reading Power, and Cheryl Dozier, author of Responsive Literacy Coaching to help Pam and teachers in her school find a solution to managing reader’s notebooks.

Adrienne’s response:
As a literacy mentor in the Vancouver School district (Canada), I have worked with many teachers who have begun to use reader’s notebooks in their classrooms. Successfully managing the marking of these notebooks has been an issue that often arises. Here are two ways that teachers in my district have attempted to solve this:

1) Students might write 3-4 entries in their reader’s notebook per week, however, the teacher will only respond to ONE of these entries. Students select, indicating with a star inside the margin, which response they would like the teacher to read and respond back to.
2) Another way to cut down on daily responding is to divide your class into 5 small groups. Each group is responsible for handing in their reader’s notebook on a different day during the week. (i.e. Gr. 1 – Monday, Gr. 2 – Tuesday) Groups and “hand-in” days are posted in the classroom. This way, if there are 30 students in the class, for example, the teacher will read and respond to six per day. This is more manageable than reading and responding to 30 notebooks two-three times each week.

I believe that we need to be realistic about the amount of responding we can manage each week. However, one careful and thoughtful response per week is, in the long run, of more benefit to the students than several short and “tired” responses. When students look forward to their teachers’ one longer response each week, motivation is less likely to be compromised.

Cheryl’s response:
While there are numerous benefits to reader’s notebooks, it can be daunting to take a pile of reader’s notebooks home over the weekend – especially if the pile remains untouched until Sunday evening. I now respond to a set number of reading responses each evening. Then, I am much more likely to engage deeply as I read. Sometimes my responses are short, sometimes they are lengthier. Regardless, when I write a response, my guiding question is: “Is this response thoughtful and genuine?” I want my responses to be open ended and focus on continuing conversations.

I see reader’s notebooks as places for conversations – reader to reader. I love reading children’s responses and seeing how they interpret, question, or read against texts. Through their responses (written, artistic), we can learn where children are confident as readers. What authors or genres resonate for them? We also learn what is harder for them to navigate. Do they take risks as readers and writers? When I read responses, I often gain additional perspectives, begin to ask new questions, or make connections I had not considered previously. I see reader’s notebooks as generative spaces to engage in a collaborative dialogue.

Writers write for an audience. When students do not receive a response, they may take their responses less seriously. I agree, it does take time to respond to letters written by students. The benefit? When we view these letters/responses as windows into children’s understandings and how they make sense of and connect to books, we learn from and with one another. Student responses serve as an anchor for continued conversations.

Several questions come to mind: How are we defining responding to students? What do our responses look like and sound like? Are there ways to open up responses (for both teachers and students)? In addition to responding in writing, I have also asked children to select a piece or sections they would like to share with the class to encourage multiple or contrasting viewpoints. Responses in notebooks can serve as conversation starters as children discuss texts together. After engaging in conversations with partners or with the whole class, students can then revise their responses. Younger children often sketch responses and are delighted to share these with their classmates.

9 comments October 13th, 2008

Poetry Friday: Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

This week’s poetry selection comes from our editor Bill Varner again:

There are some poems one returns to again and again, poems that, for many reasons, connect with you more than most others. Tom Lux’s “Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy” is one of those poems for me. Perhaps because I’m a bit of an arachnophobe, perhaps because it articulates mercy so well, perhaps because I don’t want big spiders in my sock drawer. Whatever the reason, I just never get tired of this poem.

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

By Thomas Lux

For some semitropical reason
when the rains fall
relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long

and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,
a reward for not loving

The rest can be found here.

2 comments October 10th, 2008

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