Archive for November, 2008

Blog Watch: Beyond Leveled Books

Two teacher-bloggers found inspiration this week from the second edition of Beyond Leveled Books by Franki Sibberson, Karen Szymusiak, and Lisa Koch.

“After reading the foreword, the list of mini lessons, and the first chapter I knew that I had much to gain from this book,” writes Sarah Amick at Amick’s Articles in her review of Beyond Leveled Books. The book “draws you in during the first chapter as they persuade you to move away from the bookroom, away from the prepublished books from your basal, and to really evaluate the books you are placing in the hands of your children,” Sarah continues.

Read her entire review here

Stacey Shubitz at Two Writing Teachers attended a session by the authors of Beyond Leveled Books during last week’s NCTE. Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak were joined by Cris Tovani (I Read It, but I Don’t Get It and Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?) and Patrick Allen (Put Thinking to the Test) to discuss authentic assessment in reading workshop. Stacey writes that she will be able to connect what she learned to her writing workshop and shares how she will change her lesson charts to empower her students as writers. “I now think there’s a sense of agency we can create in our young writers by using a statement in the first-person as opposed to the third person,” she writes and gives the example of her upcoming persuasive letter writing unit of study chart to demonstrate the power of and importance of the language used in the classroom.

Add comment November 25th, 2008

Now Online: Good Choice!

As a young teacher, I realized that I needed to be the catalyst to connecting my learners to literature…independent reading needed to become an integral and focused component of my daily reading program, not simply an activity for early finishers or for settling down after lunch.

Tony Stead’s new book, Good Choice!, is a comprehensive guide for creating lifelong readers through independent reading and response. You’ll discover how to:

  • establish routines to make independent reading a natural part of each day;
  • excite your students by providing a range of reading materials — including magazines, newspapers, maps, and computers — based on their interests and abilities;
  • make the best use (and avoid pitfalls) of leveling for independent reading;
  • use mini-lessons and conferences to expand kids’ reading repertoire;
  • help them discover the many purposes for reading, become active participants in the selection process, and read more at home;
  • assist students as they respond to their reading, for both engagement and assessment.

Throughout the book, Tony provides classroom transcripts and student samples for grades K-2 and 3-6, with special sections that tailor ideas to kindergarten and grade 1. You’ll find dozens of graphic organizers and reproducible forms and rubrics, as well as a list of useful websites for independent reading and research.

You can preview the entire book online now!

Add comment November 24th, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Lost Pilot

This week, Bill Varner picked a poem to commemmorate Veteran’s Day.

A distant relative of mine recently passed away. I’d only really come to know him recently, and mostly through e-mail. He was a brilliant teacher, and also a fighter pilot in WW II. Yesterday on the radio I learned that on the 90th anniversary of WWI, “The Great War,” there are but a handful of veterans left. And each year we lose more and more veterans of WWII. In honor of Veteran’s Day this past week, here is a poem by James Tate, written as a very young man, about his father, a WWII pilot

The Lost Pilot
By James Tate
for my father, 1922-1944

Your face did not rot
Like the others—the co-pilot,
for example, I saw him

Read the rest of the poem here

Add comment November 14th, 2008

Blog Watch: Review for Of Primary Importance

Franki Sibberson, Stenhouse author and blogger extraordinaire at A Year of Reading, recently reviewed Ann Marie Corgill’s new book, Of Primary Importance.

“Ann Marie is all about the “whys” of her teaching,” Franki writes. “She understands the theory behind all that she does and her book helps us think through our own writing workshops.  She also spends a lot of time talking about the issues she has with mandated curriculum and the importance of workshop.  But she also gives us some nuts and bolts. She shows us her yearlong plan and then goes into depth with each unit of study—sharing book titles and planning that goes into each unit.”

Read the entire review here. And also be sure to check out Franki’s new book, the second edition of Beyond Leveled Books.

Add comment November 13th, 2008

Butterflies in the classroom

Sarah Mulhern is a sixth grade language arts teacher in New Jersey. Her blog, The Reading Zone, not only focuses on her teaching and students, but also showcases the work she and her students do with Monarch butterflies. In this guest blog post, you can read about how Sarah integrates Monarch butterflies into her curriculum. A short commentary follows her entry by Herb Broda, author of Schoolyard Enhanced Learning

Chrysalis. Pupa. Larva.

Typical vocabulary for a middle grades science class, but not the norm for a 6th grade language arts class. However, if you were to peek into my classroom during the first month of school, you would see students reading, writing, and observing our monarch butterflies. My bulletin boards are plastered with monarch posters, butterfly quotes, and maps of North America. The tables have tomato cages, butterfly nets, and potted milkweed covering the season tablecloths.

Our word wall includes the words chrysalis, pupa, and larva alongside language arts words like genre and visualization. While this may sound odd for a Language Arts class, I raise monarchs with my students every fall. From egg to adult, we care for and eventually release our butterflies for their journey to Mexico.

Our classroom theme is “Journeys”, as my students are on the final leg of their journey to middle school. They also get the chance to emerge every morning, as a new person- just like our caterpillars. However, this is only the beginning of our connection to monarch butterflies.

What many people do not know is that monarch butterflies are amazing creatures. They begin their lives as small yellowish eggs on milkweed plants across North America. When they hatch they are so small you need a magnifying class to find them! For the next two weeks they will do only two things- eat milkweed and create frass (caterpillar poop!). During those two weeks they will shed their black, white, and yellow striped skin four times. The fifth and final time they shed their skin they will become a chrysalis (n.b. butterflies form a chrysalis while moths form a cocoon.) This chrysalis is a bright green that is flecked with gold spots. The monarch remains in this chrysalis for approximately ten days before the green outer layer becomes clear and we can see the butterfly inside.

When this happens, the adult is ready to emerge! When my students enter my classroom in September they are immediately greeted by our first caterpillars. We begin our reading and writing workshop by sharing our monarch experiences- we read picture books and non-fiction about monarch butterflies and we write about our shared experiences in our writer’s notebooks. Two weeks ago, we were extremely lucky and both of my language arts classes were able to view a monarch emerging from its chrysalis during class!

Even better, we were able to view through the document camera, which allowed us to zoom in for an even closer look. We have used that experience as a shared memory and have been writing a class personal narrative during the active engagement aspect of our writing workshop. This serves as a model for my student’s independent personal narrative projects.

While we read and write about our monarchs in September, our monarch theme continues through the rest of the year. Monarch butterflies from east of the Rocky Mountains make a lengthy migration each spring. Some of them travel upwards of 3000 miles, from Canada to the trans-volcanic mountain range southwest of Mexico City. The trans-volcanic mountains will be home to millions of monarchs for the months of November to March. The butterflies migrate to the sanctuaries of the in the Mexican states of Michoacán and México.

And this is what makes monarch butterflies so amazing. While the summer generations have a life cycle of approximately one month, the last generation born in August/September will live for upwards of nine months. This generation will make the long and dangerous journey to Mexico, to small sanctuaries that they have never visited. Their great-great-great grandparents made the journey from Mexico to the United States the previous spring!

This migration shapes our curriculum for the rest of the year. We participate in
Journey North’s Symbolic Migration by creating paper monarchs. On the back of these monarchs we write letters in English and Spanish, working with our Spanish teacher, and the butterflies are mailed to the Journey North offices. Journey North then sends them to schools around the monarch reserves in Mexico. We can even track our monarchs’ progress on the Journey North website! In the spring, each child will receive a paper monarch from somewhere in North America. Just as our fall monarchs do not make it back to us in the spring, we receive different paper monarchs in the spring.

In the spring, each student logs onto Journey North and plots their monarch on an interactive map. They can see if their monarch has made it through the winter and can connect with the creator of the monarch they received!

All of my experience with monarchs is courtesy of an amazing organization in New Jersey-the Monarch Teacher Network. The Monarch Teacher Network is a growing network of pre-k to secondary teachers who have received training to use monarch butterflies to teach a variety of concepts and skills, including our growing connection with other nations and the need to be responsible stewards of the environment. The group hosts workshops across the country and has a sister organization in Canada. This past February I was privileged to join the MTN on a fellowship trip to the monarch bioreserves in Michoacan, Mexico.

This life-changing journey was chronicled on my blog, which you can view here. I visited the mountaintops which are home to billions of monarchs each winter. I also spent time at a bilingual P’urhépecha school in Santa Fe, Michoacan, Mexico. The few hours I spent with those students and teachers forever changed my world view. When I came home, I was able to share these experiences with my students.

We don’t just focus on monarchs in my class, though! The monarchs lead us to discussion on responsible global stewardship and conservation. Last year we had a fantastic time participating in a project called Voices…From the Land. In Voices, students use natural materials to create (and photograph) “eco-art” in an outdoor setting. The art is based on that of Andy Goldsworthy. The students then write poetry or prose about the art and their experience… giving the art, landscape and authors a “voice”. Students then layout, design and publish a full-color hardcover book of their photographs and poetry, sharing books with other schools in the project. The schools involved come from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Peru. Last year, we produced a gorgeous book of art and poetry, along with receiving similar books from a class in Canada and New Zealand. This year, we hope to correspond with students from that school in New Zealand! In one simple project we covered curriculum areas from language arts, science, technology, and social studies.

Every year my students fall in love with the monarchs, and I fall in love with them all over again. We build a community around our caterpillars, say goodbye to our butterflies as a family, and work hard to be responsible citizens of the world. My teaching was revolutionized by my time spent with the Monarch Teacher Network. It was the best professional development I have ever participated in- which explains why I spend part of each summer as a volunteer staff member training more teachers! If you are interested in the Monarch Teacher Network workshops, please check their website. If your state isn’t listed, leave a comment and maybe we can work something out! Every year the project expands to new states (and continents)! If you have any experiences, questions, or comments about monarchs in the classroom, please comment!


Wow! What wonderful ways to integrate the monarch butterfly into so many aspects of the curriculum! I want to be sure to reinforce the mention of the Journey North website that is included in the entry. Journey North includes several highly interactive activities for students.
The Tulip Project, for example is a wonderful way for students to take part in a real scientific experiment. Bulbs are planted in the fall and you record the zip code of your school. In the spring you note when the bulls first emerge and then record when they are in bloom. What I love about the activity is that students plant the bulbs in the fall and then can monitor the results of their own labor in the spring.
As students all over North America record the emergence and eventual bloom of their tulips, an interactive map allows classes to follow the progression of spring across the continent! It really is one of the simplest interactive scientific projects that I have seen. Be sure to check out Journey North—there are a number of other interactive projects available there also.

Commentary by Herb Broda

2 comments November 12th, 2008

Poetry Friday: Frederick Douglass by Robert Hayden

This week, our editor Bill Varner was insipired by this week’s presidential election in his choice of poetry.

Frederick Douglass

By Robert Hayden
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

Read the rest of the poem here

1 comment November 7th, 2008

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

“Classroom space impacts everything: Instruction, behavior, and our sense of well-being,” writes Debbie Diller in her new book, Spaces & Places. Creating a classroom environment that supports instruction and allows students to be comfortable and take risks without stress, is not an easy task. Mix in even just a few ELL students into that classroom, and the task becomes even more difficult.

To support ELL students in their learning, Debbie suggests including specific literacy stations in the classroom, adding books that especially support ELL students to your library, and finding a quiet place where second language learners can take a break from the commotion of a busy classroom.

Read more of Debbie’s ideas in Part II of our Questions & Authors installment focused on ELL classrooms.

  • “Be sure to plan for a comfortable, well-organized whole group instruction area where the whole class can gather for meetings and instruction. I often invite ELL students to sit near the front and have native English speakers all around them. I’ve found this creates a “surround sound” type of setting. Sometimes I’ve noticed ELL students choosing to sit near the outside of the group, but bringing them in helps them be more included in the group. Place the whole group teaching area near a bulletin board/wall/dry erase or chalkboard, so you can post anchor charts and refer to them while teaching. Use cooperative learning and group goals to increase interaction across students of different cultures.
  • Have music materials (CD player or tape recorder and music) readily accessible in the whole group teaching area, especially if you work with young children. Use these for transition times and to allow students to move and use their bodies. ELL students can use their bodies to interpret stories and songs even if they don’t know all the English words yet.
  • Create anchor charts with students, being sure to elicit ideas from your ELL students. Use their language, so they understand what you’re teaching. Pay close attention to language complexity. Use concise and deliberate vocabulary. Remember to include pictures on your anchor charts. This helps all students remember, and can be especially helpful for ELL students.
  • Create charts that show connections between English and students’ native languages. For example, make connections to cognates, grammar, punctuation, expressions, and word order.
  • Make “I Can” lists with your class, too. Again, get ideas for what kids can practice at literacy work stations and use their language on these lists. Be clear and concise. Don’t be too wordy. Add digital photos to the list that illustrate students doing these activities at the station. A picture is worth a thousand words and will help all children understand what to do for independent practice.
  • When teaching new vocabulary words related to literature or content areas, include a digital photo whenever possible to help illustrate the word and anchor it in students’ memory. I like to use Google images to find these pictures. Post a chart with this week’s words on it, and include kid-friendly definitions (as suggested by Isabel Beck in Bringing Words to Life as she writes about Tier II words) as well as a picture beside each new word. Refer to the chart constantly as you teach with it. Teach related words from ELL children’s first language to help them make connections.
  • I always include the following literacy stations in an ELL classroom, and sometimes even have multiples of these to give students more opportunities to hear and use English as they practice: listening station; computer station; drama or retelling station; science or nonfiction reading station; creation station. Have a space for each, so students know where to find and work with the materials. Include students in showing the rest of the class how to use each station as you introduce them to the whole class.
  • In the classroom library, have a few special baskets that will especially support ELL students. Include the following kinds of baskets: books by student authors; wordless books (for telling stories); books we love (from read aloud that are familiar); books written in two languages; as well as other categories of fiction and nonfiction books and magazines. Always label the baskets and have students help you sort the books to put into these. Fasten a label on the front of each basket that includes the type of book along with a picture representing this genre or group of books to help students find and return books. Also, be sure to include books representing the cultures and heritage of all students in your classroom.
  • Be sure to include a small group teaching area. All students will grow when provided with differentiated small group instruction that meets their needs. ELL students will benefit from this type of teaching and sitting around a table together will help to facilitate discussion which builds oral language and vocabulary.
  • Have a space in the classroom (perhaps the classroom library) where students new to U.S. can take a short break during the day. It can be tiring trying to listen most of the day to a language you don’t understand. Let them sit quietly and look at books.
  • For classrooms with limited space, use wall space outside of the classroom (or in the school lobby) to communicate to parents what students are learning. Use pictures and text (perhaps in English and multiple languages for parents) created by students in displays. Include an accordion folder with take-home sheets for parents explaining what students are studying with suggestions of things to try at home related to the learning displayed.)”

How do you accommodate ELL students in your classroom?

3 comments November 3rd, 2008


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