Archive for March, 2010
If you are looking for a classroom activity that combines literacy and art or if you are looking for a new tool to help students think deeply about content matter, then The Artist’s Book retreat might be the best summer professional development event for you. Join JoAnn Portalupi, author of Craft Lessons and Nonfiction Craft Lessons in a week-long retreat to explore your artistic side and to take back a creative, fun activity to your students in the fall.
The Artist’s Book: A Retreat by the Sea
JoAnn Portalupi and Shawn Pelech
For the last three summers Shawn Pelech and I have traveled to Lubec, the most down east town in Downeast Maine, for intensive weeks of painting. During these retreats we experience the energy and learning that come from spending unhampered time in a community of like-minded peers. In between sessions of easel painting, we watch for eagles, visit beaches where sea glass still abounds, treat ourselves to homemade sweet rolls from the local bakery, watch the fishing boats come and go. Always, when we return to our easels, we find ourselves renewed by the quiet time spent in the rhythm of this humble town perched on the edge of the sea.
It was into this space that we dreamed of the workshop we are offering July 18 -24, 2010: The Artist’s Book: A Retreat by the Sea. Shawn and I share a love of both painting and teaching and this topic, the Artist’s Book, is the likely marriage of our talents and interests.
What is an Artist’s Book? In this workshop we will view the Artist Book as a creative expression where form and content work together to convey a maker’s intent, understanding that the maker will borrow on selected aspects of the book form.
An Artist Book might be as simple as a commonplace book of literary lines gathered in accordion style fashion or a fictionalized journal depicting the life of an immigrant ancestor compiled with photos and artifacts into a handmade stub book. Or maybe it breaks the bounds of the traditional page-turning book and becomes a sculpted memorial told through images, objects, and design.
An Artist Book may be:
- an object of art
- something made by hand
- a tool for interdisciplinary learning that invites students to think deeply about content area subject matter or
- a way for students to show what they know
If this sounds intriguing, we invite you to let the rhythm of the tides create a place where you can discover this tool for yourself. Workshop participants will explore a variety of print-, paper-, and book-making techniques as they create unique Artist Books of their own. Time will be available for interested participants to reflect together with instructors on how to bring this tool into the classroom.
For more information, please visit our website at www.artinlubec.com
March 31st, 2010
Randi Allison brings it again! This week’s poem is courtesy of Leah, age 11. Leah’s poem So Worn, So Soft was inspired by Happy Blanket by Tony Ross. Randi provides some background information:
“We have been practicing memory writes for the last couple of weeks. During a read aloud students are invited to jot down what they are thinking about. During the read aloud of Happy Blanket.
Leah jotted down:
*grandma and grandpa
After the read aloud students are asked to write continuously for ten minutes. “
So Worn, So Soft
Have you ever had a
toy truck or doll you could
never let go of? Or was
it your blanket? I’ll tell
you a secret if you
promise not to tell. I
still have my blanket.
Even though it’s worn
out, I still love to
lay on it over my pillow
at night and go to sleep.
Even though it’s 11 years
old, I still love to
bring it downstairs
with me on days when
it’s cold and on days
when I’m sick and
can’t go to school.
Even though it’s starting
to rip and the fluff
is coming out, I look
at it through different
eyes and dream of when
it was new. Someday
I know I’ll have to
let go, but not today.
Maybe tomorrow, maybe
March 26th, 2010
When reading nonfiction texts, many children are hindered in their understanding when they come across an unfamiliar word. To solve this problem and to equip students with the necessary strategies to decode unknown words, Tony Stead shows students how to look for clues in the text and how to use a book’s glossary for clues. In his book, Reality Checks: Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction K-5, Tony outlines many other practical approaches to help children become confident readers of nonfiction.
In Lisa’s classroom we realized that before providing demonstrations, we needed to initiate talk about what strategies the children themselves used when faced with challenging vocabulary. We achieved this by reading part of a text on whales. When we came to a challenging word, we stopped and talked about ways we could determine its meaning. The children came up with many suggestions, so we charted their responses.
Strategies to Use When You Don’t Know the Meaning of a Word
■ Look in a dictionary.
■ Ask a friend.
■ Ask the teacher.
■ Context clues
Read over. Stop and think.
Look for important words around it.
■ Look in the glossary.
■ Break the word apart.
Think about the meaning of each part.
Put it back together.
■ Use the picture.
It was not surprising that looking in a dictionary was their number one reply, yet the set of class dictionaries appeared to be gathering dust, indicating it had been some time since our learners had used them. It is also the number one response of most children in classrooms where I’ve worked, because they have been instructed so many times to rely on this strategy. Yet rarely do they employ it when faced with an unknown word. They find going through a dictionary laborious and tedious, and the reading becomes joyless. This is especially true when they encounter a barrage of unknown words in one piece and find themselves with the dictionary as their main source of reading rather than the selected text.
Many children haven’t even been instructed in how to properly use a dictionary and spend their time aimlessly flicking through pages, hoping the unknown word will magically appear. What is even more frustrating to learners is that if they happen to chance on the word, its meaning uses even more complex vocabulary than the word itself, leaving the children totally confused.
The children were aware of a multitude of good strategies that could assist them, but they rarely used them. Clearly they could talk the talk, but not walk the walk. We sorted the strategies into two categories: primary and secondary. For primary strategies, the reader uses methods within the body of the text to solve word meanings. Secondary strategies require the reader to go outside the body of the text, whether it be a glossary, a dictionary, or simply asking another person for assistance. We encouraged children to use primary strategies before secondary strategies. This way they were not always having to go outside the body of the text to find word meanings, which inevitably interrupts the reading and compromises comprehension. An example of the list below can be found in Appendix E.
What to Do if You Don’t Know the Meaning of a Word
■ Context clues
Read over. Stop and think.
Look for important words around it.
■ Break the word apart.
Think about the meaning of each part.
Put it back together.
■ Use the picture.
■ Look in the glossary.
■ Look it up in a dictionary.
■ Ask a friend.
■ Ask the teacher.
Once the lists were completed, we modeled how they could be of assistance when students were faced with unknown vocabulary. We knew explicit modeling was needed, which is often the missing link in instruction. Too often we solicit talk from the children and they give us what we want to hear, yet they have not internalized how to use the strategy independently.
We brought the children to the meeting area, and Lisa and I took turns reading Chapter 1 of a text called The Voice for the Animals by Evelyn Brooks. We made sure all the children could see the text as we read it to them. We told the children that as the text was read, they should raise their hands if they heard a word whose meaning they didn’t know.
What Are the SPCAs?
“Throughout the United States, there are many local organizations that work to save the lives of abandoned and mistreated animals. Each organization is known as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The people who work at SPCAs rescue and care for these hurt creatures. At the SPCAs the animals are cleaned and fed. If the animals are healthy and well behaved, they are offered to people for adoption.”
When we read the word abandoned, several hands were raised, so we stopped reading and wrote the word on chart paper. We referred them to the first primary strategy—context clues—and asked whether there were any words or ideas around the word that gave them hints about its meaning. The children told us that mistreated and organizations that work to save gave them clues, so we recorded those on the chart next to the word abandoned. We asked them to discuss with the student next to them possible meanings of the word based on the key words around it and recorded their responses.
We then asked which words were most likely the true meaning. The children came up with the words hurt and left through the process of elimination. They agreed that smacked didn’t make sense because lots of people smack their dogs when they are naughty, and an organization that tried to stop this didn’t make sense. As Katie put it, “You’re not saving an animal’s life if you stop the owner from smacking it.” The words yelled at were also quickly eliminated for the same reason. This left hurt and left, which both made sense, so we then looked to other primary strategies: breaking the word apart and looking at the picture. These appeared to offer little support, so we suggested we leave our primary strategies and look to the first secondary strategy: the glossary. This was met with some resistance, as the children informed us that only words in bold such as prevention and adoption would be in the glossary. Therefore, in the children’s eyes this was a waste of time. When I showed them the glossary with the word abandoned, they were stunned. “But how can that be?” Jeremy asked. This was a good question, so we gave the children some time to think until Alex asked to look at the previous pages of the book. I showed the children the page before, which happened to be the introduction.
I had not read it to them, and there was the word abandoned in bold print. This was a valuable learning experience for our children, for they realized that you can’t assume a word won’t be in the glossary just because it isn’t highlighted on a specific page. They had also learned that when trying to locate the meaning of unknown vocabulary, you sometimes need to use more than one strategy. Harry summed it up perfectly when he said, “I feel like a detective looking for clues and some of these are hidden from me. You have to look carefully.”
Harry’s notion of being a word detective was one that appealed to the children, so we ensured that when reading texts that had complex vocabulary we always put on our detective hats and used our strategy chart to help solve the mystery. Sometimes Lisa and I would provide texts that contained vocabulary that could be solved only with the use of a dictionary. Other times we used texts with complex vocabulary that could be easily solved by simply breaking the word into parts, such as compound words. Our goal was to get our learners to start using these strategies naturally as they read independently so that their comprehension of informational texts was not lost. To achieve this goal we needed to provide ongoing demonstrations.
March 23rd, 2010
Putting together a classroom newspaper with a group of first grade ELL students may sound like an all-day project. But Brad Buhrow and Anne Upczak Garcia do a “class news” activity nearly every morning and it takes less than 30 minutes. In their book, Ladybugs, Tornadoes, and Swirling Galaxies: English Language Learners Discover Their World Through Inquiry, Buhrow and Garcia explain how the newspaper format helps them use personal stories and shared writing to teach ELLs things like language structures, grammar, and syntax:
Part of what we do to learn about each other is encourage the telling of stories about ourselves. Both teachers and kids share stories from day one. We do this a number of different ways, and we begin the journey within the supportive structure of shared reading and writing. Shared writing is an excellent way for ELLs to practice language structures orally and see conventional grammar and syntax modeled. We have been using a format called Class News. As a class we create daily news almost every day from day one. This routine allows the kids to contribute to a writing, reading, listening, and speaking activity that is all about them.
Often we write our news early in the morning and find it a good way to start the day. First we write the title of our news, for example, “First-Grade News” or “Second-Grade News” or something more exciting such as “The Class Adventures for [date].” We ask the kids to think about what news we have that we can write. After giving them a couple of minutes of quiet time to think, we let them tell someone next to them what they are thinking. Next, as we hold the pen we ask someone to share. Often they like to start with the weather. For example, “Today is hot and sunny.” We first draw lines to represent where words will go, usually using a yellow or light-colored marker. Drawing lines for each word emphasizes spaces for words and makes a connection between voice and print. Then we ask, “What goes at the beginning of a sentence?” We choose someone who has a thumb up. As we write, we stop sometimes to talk about letter sounds, coloring in some of the letters. For a word such as Thursday we would talk about the beginning sound and color in the Th to make it stand out—a brief graphophonic lesson. We also stop before the end of a sentence and ask, “What is the next word?” This gives the kids practice with semantic cues. They need to put in a word that makes sense. When we come to the end of the sentence, we ask, “What do writers put at the end of a sentence?” Sometimes we say, “Tell someone next to you what goes at the end of a sentence.” This gives everyone a chance to talk, and we write what they say. With this shared writing we are able to teach in-context conventions, English syntax, vocabulary, graphophonics, semantic cues, and more. We also point out differences and similarities between English and Spanish, such as cognates and letter sounds, as a way to show the students the relationships between the two, because we have a large number of Spanish-speaking students. Each day we choose a couple of colors such as blue and green and alternate colors for each sentence. We also draw small pictures to represent some of the words. In the sentence “Today is hot and sunny,” we might draw a sun above the word sunny and a thermometer above hot. The pictures help make the text more comprehensible to our new English learners. When we are finished, we take turns reading our news together. In twenty minutes we have already written and read a newspaper!
March 22nd, 2010
With the move to daylight saving time earlier this week and the especially spring-like weather here in the northeast, we thought something outdoorsy would be appropriate for this week’s Poetry Friday entry, courtesy Bella, one of Randi Allison’s students. The inspiration for Bella’s poem comes from Trees Be Company, An Anthology of Poetry. Bella embraces the invitation to seek out poetry in her everyday life, ensuring a palette of never-ending ideas to splash her thoughts and noticings, filling her blank canvas.
What A Tree Looks Like
In the summer
a tree looks like
a happy grandma
with lots of children
running around her.
When it’s windy
a tree looks like
a giant with messy
After a snowstorm
a tree looks like
a delicious cookie
with sparkly, vanilla frosting.
In the spring
a tree looks like
a huge broccoli,
a home for
squirrels, birds, and bugs.
a tree looks like
a spooky tower
keep princesses hostage.
when the leaves are gone
a tree looks like
a dancer swaying side to side.
That’s what a tree looks like
Bella, age 8
March 19th, 2010
We’re thrilled to have a guest blogger this week! Stacey Shubitz of the excellent Two Writing Teachers blog and co-author of an upcoming Stenhouse book, explains her inspiration for writing at an early age, how she used her own writer’s notebook to set an example for her students, and how to work writing into your daily routine.
Carol Snook, my first grade teacher, encouraged me to write and publish lots of small books. Every time I published one of those construction paper masterpieces, she placed them on one of the rotating book racks in our classroom library so my peers could read my writing.
I kept in touch with Carol mostly by letters. From 1984 – 1988, we only wrote each other letters in the summertime since I saw her around school during the school year. When I transferred to a new school in 1988, we began sending letters all year long, with one or two in-person visits per year. By 1995, we took our letters online when I started college, sending e-mails back and forth. I always looked forward to getting mail from Carol since her letters were interesting and thoughtful.
Carol passed away in 2002, but her memory lives on for she was the person who inspired me to become both a teacher and a writer.
Not everyone had a first grade teacher who made them passionate about writing. In fact, many teachers I know do not like to write because they never enjoyed writing when they were in school. As a result, they don’t write very much as adults. The problem with having an aversion to writing when one is a teacher of writing is that it’s hard to understand the difficulties and obstacles students face when one is not writing on their own.
I’ve come to believe that teachers of writing must be writers themselves. Perhaps it’s because I like to write. Or, maybe it’s due to the fact I’m not willing to ask students to do what I’m not willing to do. However, I’m not alone in this belief. Don Murray said, “You should write too, under the same conditions – on the board or in your notebook – and share your writing first. It’s a matter of ethics. You are going to be seeing their work; it’s only fair that they see yours.”
When I was a classroom teacher, I used to keep my writer’s notebook out so my students could snoop around. By leafing through my notebook, my students were able to sense my commitment to writing since I wrote daily. They discovered I wrote about a variety of topics. It was possible for them to view my struggles as a writer since there were words or sentences crossed-out, as well as notes in the margins. It was clear, to every student in my class, that I was doing the kind of writing I was expecting them to do.
Engaging in the same type of writing work as my students did, month-after-month, provided me with richer demonstrations during my minilessons. Since I was the living, breathing, adult writer in the classroom, I was able to show them my work in progress, talk about my writing process, and help them understand how I worked through struggles. My writing wasn’t always wonderful. It didn’t have to be. What mattered was that it was present for my students to see.
While I dream of spending long days writing at a lakefront cottage, that’s not my reality. I write wherever and whenever I can. It often means writing early in the morning or right before bedtime. Sometimes I write when I’m a passenger in a car or when I’m sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office. Finding ten uninterrupted minutes in a day to write can often be challenging, but it’s a luxury I’ve grown accustomed to and don’t intend to give up.
I write about the ordinary moments of my daily life I want to capture. I write about things like folding laundry with my husband and shopping in a crowded supermarket before a snowstorm. I live life with a heightened sense of awareness so I can recapture these moments with clarity when I write. Most of the days of my life aren’t extraordinary, but they are worth capturing because my life’s journey is unique and worth preserving.
In Creating Writers: Linking Writing Assessment and Instruction, 2nd Edition, Vicki Spandel and Richard J. Stiggins draw attention to the fact that writing about everyday life can be rewarding. After all, one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, “Seinfeld,” was a show about nothing. Spandel and Stiggens note:
The wisdom of “Seinfeld” is this: little topics work best. Don’t write about world peace; write about how you handled having your parents discover you threw away the watch they gave you for your birthday. Don’t write about the hazards of global pollution; write about falling into the river on a boating expedition and wondering whether the water you couldn’t help swallowing would kill you (174).
Are you a teacher of writing, but not a teacher-writer? Are you ready to become a teacher-writer? Schedule a time to write, just like you’d pencil-in an appointment. Buy yourself a writer’s notebook and pen that feels comfortable, or go online and set up a blog if you prefer writing on your computer. Get started by thinking about the little pieces of your life that hold meaning or value to you. Once you do schedule time to write, use writing tools that work for you, and write about the tiniest moments of your life you will realize that you, too, are a writer.
Stacey Shubitz with Carol Snook (10th grade, 1993)
March 18th, 2010
Stenhouse editorial director Philippa Stratton has been named Outstanding Educator in the English Language Arts for 2010 by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). The award, which will be presented to Stratton at the NCTE annual convention in November, recognizes a distinguished national or international educator who has made major contributions to the field of language arts in elementary education.
Stratton, who co-founded Stenhouse in 1993 with her husband Tom Seavey, was honored for her decades of work “shaping some of the most important innovations in literacy education, including whole language, readers’ and writers’ workshop, reading comprehension strategies, literature circles, and literacy centers.” Prior to starting Stenhouse, Stratton worked in the London offices of Heinemann and moved to the U.S. where she and Seavey began to develop Heinemann’s publishing in the field of literacy education.
In announcing the award, NCTE highlighted the enormous impact the books Stratton has edited have had on education: “With her quiet, behind the scenes work spanning decades, Philippa Stratton has dramatically influenced the profession of English language arts.”
“I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful authors and colleagues over the years,” Philippa said. “I see this award as a testament to the importance of giving teachers a platform to talk with, and learn from, one another. Tom and I founded Stenhouse to highlight the voices of individual teachers and I continue to be inspired by the creativity and commitment that teachers bring to the huge challenges they face in teaching students to become independent readers, writers, and thinkers. And some even make the time to write about their work while in the midst of it — amazing!”
The award will be presented at the NCTE convention in Orlando on November 18th by NCTE’s Elementary Section, which represents a diverse group of teachers, literacy coaches, reading and special education interventionists, teacher educators, and school administrators interested in literacy development and in literacy teaching at the elementary school level.
Read more about the award on the NCTE site.
March 17th, 2010
In this week’s Quick Tip, Pat Johnson, author of One Child at a Time and the upcoming Catching Readers Before They Fall, talks about how she supports teachers who are new to working with ELL students. She discusses book introductions as a way to help ELL students – and their teachers – talk about a book before they begin reading.
Last year I had the privilege of working with Katie Keier, an excellent teacher new to the school. During Katie’s thirteen years of prior experience teaching primary grades, her classes often contained students with special needs—learning disabilities, emotional problems, poverty issues—but she had never worked in a classroom where the majority of students were ELLs. As she began teaching second grade at our school, one of her goals was to learn as much as she could about supporting them as readers and writers. Katie was open to watching me work with some of her second language learners and equally open to letting me watch her. She was also excited about hypothesizing and experimenting with a variety of ways to support ELLs. The sections that follow include some of the things we learned during our year of studying together: first, information on book introductions, because those played a significant role in our teaching; then, common issues in texts that often cause difficulties for ELLs; and finally, a suggested teaching move and sample scenario that Katie and I decided to try.
In her book By Different Paths to Common Outcomes, Marie Clay writes: “Book introductions are an authentic social interaction about the new book; but when they provide an orientation to novel features of stories and of texts, they are also a kind of teaching. Readers should remember that although the interaction flows like a conversation and leaves room for the child’s input to inform the teacher, it also includes deliberate teaching moves.” (1998, p. 175)
Clay defines book introductions first as “social interactions.” The teacher begins by giving the title and brief summary. Starting off this way helps activate students’ prior knowledge, which facilitates future comprehension. Think of how your comprehension and the ease with which you read something are affected based on whether you have prior knowledge of the topic. After the title and summary, a conversation ensues as the children begin to discuss the cover and the pictures. The children might make connections to something the teacher said in her summary, or they might answer a question that the teacher posed to stimulate interest or inspire discussion. All of this is done conversationally.
Second, Clay says that book introductions are a “kind of teaching” because teachers make “deliberate teaching moves.” The teacher can intentionally decide to include some of the vocabulary or language structures from the text in her conversation. The teacher is also listening to what each child is saying to gather information that will inform her teaching decisions. What information or vocabulary does the child have related to the topic? Did the child have a similar experience that will support comprehension of this text? Does the child need clarification or elaboration of terms or ideas before beginning to read?
Several questions arise when discussing book introductions with new teachers. Some wonder why we don’t let the children figure out the title. One reason is that the titles of books are often harder than the level of the text. For example, an emergent book’s pattern can be: “The bear lives here, the lizard lives here, the alligator lives here,” and yet the title of the book may be “Animal Habitats.” Other teachers question the summary part of a book introduction, asking, “Aren’t you giving away too much of the story?” The title and brief summary put the meaning of the text in the head of the child so that he can draw upon meaning as one source of information to understand the book and solve the words. Children are “entitled” to a book introduction (Clay 1991). The summary also opens up opportunities for students to connect the ideas in this book to their own prior knowledge. It’s been my experience that the summary and conversation stimulate interest in the book and hook the children in and, when asked to read the text on their own, the students do so willingly and enthusiastically.
A book introduction also acts as a way to level the playing field for ELLs. Think about this example. Native English-speaking children who are about to read a text about a boy playing soccer would bring a fair amount of vocabulary with them (goalie, uniforms, shin guards, goal post, passing, heading the ball). Many of these terms would not necessarily be part of an ELL’s vocabulary. The ELL may know the concepts but not have the English labels for those terms. Therefore, the teacher can use these words in her part of the conversation.
Another question teachers ask is, “The book introductions connected with standardized assessments, like the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), are extremely brief compared to the kinds of book introductions you are suggesting. Shouldn’t we prepare kids for that testing situation by not telling them about the book?” Keep in mind that guided reading is not a testing situation. It’s instructional time with the student, time to teach and support readers. We don’t prepare students for a writing prompt test by giving them constant writing prompts, but rather by developing strong writing workshops that include instruction on writer’s process, author’s craft, and mechanics. In the same way, we don’t use guided reading instructional time to practice for a benchmarking test. We use instructional time to teach reading strategies and behaviors that the child can use on any text, even ones they encounter in a testing situation.
Book introductions were something both Katie and I already used regularly in our guided reading and individual sessions with students.
However, our research led us to ask these questions:
Is there space in the book introduction for supporting ELLs?
What might that support look like?
What types of things might be added to a book introduction to support the English language learner’s successful reading of the book on his own?
March 16th, 2010
How is a metaphor like a power tool in the hands of a good teacher? That’s the subject of Rick Wormeli’s new book, Metaphors & Analogies. It’s also the focus of a contest and online discussion we launched with Rick in January. Several teachers shared with us their favorite teaching metaphors and discussed ways metaphors can help students make sense of abstract concepts, connect new ideas to background knowledge, and highlight relationships between language and image.
Now, Rick has rejoined the conversation to select the winning entries in the metaphors contest and share his thoughts about the wonderful submissions. Read Rick’s commentary on the most interesting metaphors teachers submitted.
And check out the conversation and share your thoughts on our Metaphors & Analogies Group.
March 15th, 2010
Writer/teacher Randi Allison shares another student poem this week. This one, by Trevor, is inspired by the read aloud All the Places to Love, by Patricia Maclachlan
On the day I was born
the rain fell outside the
window, the thunder boomed
like God’s clap, a rainbow
bowed across the sky. The
rain stopped, a bird chirped
and my father picked me up.
I lived in a small house. I
caught bugs and let them go.
I saw cottonwoods bloom and tried
to catch the white fluff as they
floated by and brushed my face.
I drew small pictures and wrote
I went to school.
I explored and I made friends.
I walked places, did things
and noticed. I sketched and became
part of all my places to love.
Today I drew a picture of the
places I love and I remember all of
the times before and my brother
watches me and does his job of bothering
me. I rode my bike tons of places,
to school and everywhere, but then I went
somewhere I shouldn’t go and my
mom took my front wheel
off my bike and hung it up
high and I would stand in the garage
staring up at it in the rafters longing and soon
it would be back on my bike
and I would be free to fly
again. And I found that I could
say stuff with my painting that there
were no words for, and the colors could flow
how I want them to. Control
is a virtue in life and sometimes
I can’t control, but the pain I can.
March 12th, 2010