Archive for June, 2010
If you haven’t had a chance to read Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Pyrotechnics on the Page, this upcoming long holiday weekend is the perfect time to do it! Then sign up to join our Ning group where a discussion of Pyrotechnics will begin Monday, July 12. The moderator of the discussion, Amanda Villagomez, already posted the discussion schedule. So join in with your ideas and make this the best professional development event of your summer!
June 30th, 2010
In her new book Make Me a Story: Teaching Writing Through Digital Storytelling, Lisa Miller shows that digital stories are not just about the bells and whistles of technology. Lisa uses digital stories to move students through the writing process from planning, to revising, to editing. In this week’s Quick Tip, Lisa gives seven compelling reasons to teach digital storytelling in elementary school. Lisa’s book is now available for browsing online and will start shipping in mid-July.
Some of the students I’ve worked with had never created digital stories before I showed up at their schools. We went through parts of the process together. Through their personal narratives I learned about a hamster named Lucy who is an intrepid explorer, a dog named Moxie who catches frogs by a pond, and a bearded dragon named Leo. I learned how it feels to wear a first baseman’s glove, what it’s like to be coached by your dad in hockey, and what you see when you walk by a spooky deserted house. These student writers demonstrated why elementary schoolteachers should teach digital storytelling.
Digital storytelling engages and empowers reluctant readers and writers and different types of learners. It makes everyone want to write. Most students, if not all, were seriously invested in the writing of these stories. Students who ordinarily didn’t put a lot of effort into their work did so. They wrote and wrote and wrote. Students who were already strong writers got a chance to try new skills and stretch themselves, since they had to match their words with illustrations and music and write scripts meant to be read aloud. Visual learners had illustrations to help them in building their stories. Some students revised all the way through the process to when we were recording their narration. “I don’t like the way that sounds,” one would say, rewriting a line and then rerecording. Students wanted to be sure to get these stories right, and not necessarily in the way I thought of as right, with the audio recorded without any mistakes or “uhs.” They wanted their stories to sound like them, sometimes “uhs” and all, and to unfold the way they had envisioned. They were in charge of these stories.
Digital storytelling projects can change how students see themselves and their classmates and can build community in the classroom. Students who are not strong writers but are adept at working with computers gain confidence from this part of the process. Struggling readers find these stories manageable because the scripts are short, ranging from a couple of paragraphs or a few lines of a poem to a page and a half of prose. Working on these projects, some students see themselves as writers for the first time. Students become experts on the subjects of their stories and have the chance to read their own words in their own voices—a very powerful experience.
Thinking about audience is an important part of the process. Students I’ve worked with had a strong sense of audience right from the start of their digital storytelling projects and wanted to be sure the stories would be viewed once they were completed. “Can I get a CD of this so my mom can see it?” “Can I show it to my teacher?” After I finished recording the voice-over for one third grader’s story and we watched the completed story all the way through, he immediately jumped from his seat and asked if his story would be on YouTube. I explained that it wouldn’t but that we were going to make sure he had a copy on CD to show his family. Students don’t always have that sense of audience with a piece of writing, nor do students often excitedly cluster around one child’s desk to read his or her latest essay. But from the start these digital stories were put together to be seen by others. The authors loved watching their stories with a live and appreciative audience (appreciative in part because the audience members had also done the project and knew what it took). Personal narratives were particularly heartfelt; students were very brave in telling those stories.
Digital storytelling projects do not have to be complicated to be effective. Many students’ stories were three minutes long or shorter, including only four or five pieces of art. Nonetheless, students got a great deal out of creating the stories. As Ellie Papazoglou said of her group of third graders, “To me it seemed that this assignment opened so many doors to them for creating and composing a story. They could be creative; they told their own story; they had visuals to scaffold the development of their story. It was more than just writing, revising, and editing. This was a tool that provided some good support for composing a story, yet at the same time allowed for innovation and creativity” (2009).
Stories can be done across the curriculum. Many students write about personal experiences, but digital stories can be told about many subjects. (See Resource Box: Across the Curriculum for a Web site that offers ideas about possible digital storytelling subjects.) For example, elementary school students I’ve worked with or whose stories I’ve found on the Web have tackled subjects such as patriotism in the aftermath of September 11; heroes; three little fish outwitting a shark (a fairy tale); why students should have the opportunity to take art classes; onomatopoeia; biomes; and famous people in New Hampshire history.
The process is the point; digital storytelling projects teach writing and technology skills. Throughout the projects, students practice all sorts of important skills: using appropriate and interesting vocabulary; gathering and organizing information; showing and telling; analyzing the information (textual and visual) they’re working with; explaining their stories for an audience; creating and presenting something original; and applying what they know about computers, technology, and storytelling to a new project. They learn about and try out the writing process, getting especially involved in revising, something students don’t always want to do. They experiment with different storytelling structures. While working on digital stories, they think through how best to tell and show the stories, how the visuals work with the written text.
The process draws on what students already know about storytelling—and moviemaking. Students I worked with knew a lot about the conventions of telling a story both from books they’d encountered and from movies and TV. They had a sophisticated knowledge about visual elements that can make a story effective. They couldn’t necessarily explain to me that they were panning across a picture or slowing the pace of a part of the story with slow music. But they knew that’s what they were doing and why. These students didn’t choose words or pictures or music or effects randomly; they did them with intention. Almost every student wanted to tell me about some element of his or her story that had been carefully thought out. One youngster spent a long time deciding what anecdotes to share about the horses she cared for and how to match music to the horses’ personalities—one shy, one a show-off. Another student, writing about his baseball team, thought hard about the photographs he had to work with and whether to put himself or his best friend first in the story (he went with his best friend). Some students used foreshadowing and carefully chosen transitions in their narrations. They wrote beginnings meant to grab viewers’ attention and endings meant to satisfy viewers. They tried out different points of view and so were reminded that not everyone sees everything in the same way.
June 29th, 2010
Sarah Mulhern is a sixth-grade language arts teacher and the blogger behind The Reading Zone. In this guest blog post she talks about how she uses “Mock Newbery Awards” to get her tweens excited about reading and she explains why read-alouds are not just for younger students.
When I tell people that I read aloud to my sixth grade students daily I get some strange looks. I also get a lot of questions, mostly along the lines of, “How do you know they are even listening? Kids that age don’t care about hearing a book read out loud. They think that’s for babies!”
I usually react by biting my tongue for a moment, to ensure that I don’t lash out at the offending party. After taking a few deep breaths I calmly explain that my students may feel the same way at the beginning of the year but the evaluations they complete at the end of the year rate read-alouds as one of the top three experiences of their sixth grade year. It’s the number one way I turn my students on to reading! Inevitably, this conversation leads to how I get my students to buy into read-alouds when they are “too old” to be read to. Well, that’s simple: Mock Newbery.
I begin each school year with a Mock Newbery. I explain to my students in the first week of school that we will be reading and enjoying a variety of novels as part of our daily read aloud. I tell them that while these novels will be very different- various genres, authors, and topics- they will all have one thing in common. Each book we share as a class from September to January will be eligible for the Newbery Medal that is awarded by the American Library Association in January. Tween and teens love competition and the Mock Newbery builds community while letting students work towards a common goal- predicting Newbery Medal and Honor winners for the current year.
I spend most of the summer scouring the blogosphere for books that are receiving a lot of Newbery buzz. I look at starred reviews in School Library Journal, Kirkus, and other industry magazines. I look for books that bloggers are talking about and praising. I read these books myself and decide on the first book we will share as a class. I continue reading books through the fall, looking for the books we will share in October, November, and December. I don’t always read the same books with all four classes and will sometimes choose books based on class needs and class personalities. But no matter what, we chart the books we read on our Mock Newbery bulletin board.
Our bulletin board is a focal point in our classroom. I post the cover of each book we read together. When different classes read different books this serves as an advertisement for a variety of new books, above and beyond any book talks I do in class. Throughout the school year we refer to the books we have read together and the bulletin board serves as a visual reminder of our shared reading for my visual learners.
After winter break my classes do a brief unit on the history of the Newbery Award and the criteria for awarding the medal. After studying the criteria for a few days each student writes a short essay supporting the book they think deserves the Newbery, according to the criteria. It’s a great exercise in critical thinking and writing about reading and the students get really into it. We have heated debates about the merits of each book we read and students get very heated when supporting their personal favorite!
But the best part of our Mock Newbery read aloud time is when we sit down together in January and watch the live webcast of the awards. Last year my students were on the edge of the seats and some even jumped for joy when their favorites won the medal or an honor. But I’m fairly certain nothing will beat a class full of students turning to me after cheering for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and exclaiming, “We knew it would be eligible! We knew it!” This was a class of once-dormant readers who were now experts on the Newbery criteria and were prepared to defend to their death that The Graveyard Book was eligible for a Newbery despite the fact that the fourth chapter was previously published as a short story.
That is the reason I share read-alouds with my tweens. That moment alone makes it worth the time and energy I spend on choosing books and sharing them with my students.
June 28th, 2010
Finding the main idea of a poem is an important skill for all students to learn. In Test Talk: Integrating Test Preparation into Reading Workshop, Amy Green and Glennon Doyle Melton use this poem to demonstrate how to go about finding the main idea. What questions do you ask yourself as you read the poem? What do you visualize as you read? What does the poet want you to learn from this poem?
All good questions to ask yourself as you read When I am Full of Silence by Jack Perlutsky.
When I am Full of Silence
When I am full of silence,
and no one else is near,
the voice I keep inside me
is all I want to hear.
I settle in my secret place,
contented and alone,
and think no other thoughts except
the thoughts that are my own.
When I am full of silence,
I do not want to play,
to run and jump and fuss about,
the way I do all day.
The pictures painted in my mind
are all I need to see
when I am full of silence…
when I am truly me.
June 25th, 2010
In “The Words Came Down!” English Language Learners Read, Write, and Talk Across the Curriculum, Emelie Parker and Tess Pardini detail workshop formats for reading, writing, and content-area studies. In this Quick Tip, they talk about ways to help ELLs read independently during reading workshop. This is especially a challenge for teachers when some of their students speak little or no English. But strategies like Buddy Reading ensure that all students can work independently.
Independent Reading Time
A favorite lesson for some primary teachers at Bailey’s to introduce children to the expectations of independent reading is a reading response to a Big Book called Bubble Gum by Gail Jorgensen. The children in the book learn to blow a bubble bigger and bigger and bigger. The last page has a great illustration of a popped bubble all over the children. The class enjoys acting out an innovation on the text of Bubble Gum. Without speaking, they pretend to unwrap gum, stick it in their mouth, and blow and blow. As they blow, they spread their arms out wider and wider. They carefully walk with their arms spread out to a place in the room where no one can pop their bubble.
If a child steps into or sits too close to someone’s “bubble space” then the balloon pops. Loud words can also pop a bubble. After the children can do this without fuss, the teacher explains that they will now take books inside their bubble to read alone. Later, after children learn to read independently in a bubble space, we show them how to let a friend come in and sit shoulder to shoulder in their bubble for buddy reading.
At the beginning of the year, teachers might find that there is a natural flow into this time of joyful book sharing and choose to establish the routines of buddy reading before those of independent reading. Buddy reading is an important option for reading work when students are not able to sustain independent reading for more than a short time. Buddy reading is important for many reasons.
- It is fun!
- Book discussions between students provide another opportunity for language development.
- It allows students alternative ways to engage with a variety of levels of text in a peer-coaching situation. For instance, ELLs can look at pictures and join in conversations about content even if they cannot read it
themselves. (See Figure 5.2.)
- ELLs can talk in their home language to reach a deeper understanding of the book from the pictures.
- ELLs can practice reading books in pairs.
- Advanced readers can support each other in challenging text or content.
In order to establish a calm working atmosphere for buddy reading time, Tess clearly models her expectations in a “fishbowl.” She demonstrates the procedure with one child as the others watch from the circle. She asks the students to comment on what they notice. They watch as Tess and her buddy discuss their choice of books at the bookshelf and then sit side by side with the books they have chosen, deciding which one to look at first. As Tess and her buddy talk quietly about the pictures or as one of them reads to the other, the students listen and hear them decide that they are ready to change books and then discuss what their next choices should be. Because the students have noticed all this, Tess knows that they are ready to practice this procedure themselves.
Then Tess joins the circle and asks two other students to model the procedure, again inviting brief comments from the class. She wants to move on quickly so that the whole class can practice the procedure. Tess names the ELLs, one by one, and tells them to pick a partner. She wants this first experience to be with a child with whom they feel comfortable interacting. Then Tess moves around the room, gently refocusing students on the expectations if necessary. After about ten minutes, the class meets back in the circle to reflect on how the experience went and discuss any modifications that might be necessary.
When it is time to practice this routine again the next day, the class helps to create a list of expectations first. For example:
1. Choose two books.
2. Sit side by side.
3. Sit at the same level.
4. Listen to the speaker.
It is simple to add pictures to this list so that the expectations are just as clear to the second language learners. The list is a reminder that can be revisited at any time.
The fishbowl technique can provide invaluable guided practice in many situations. It clarifies expectations for all students, but it is also a helpful way of making sure our ELLs see and experience the expectations with the group. There is then less chance of them misunderstanding directions, doing something the wrong way, or embarrassing themselves in front of their peers.
Our buddy reading expectations usually begin with pairs of children going to the library corner and choosing two books each. We talk about suitable spots for reading and places to avoid (like behind the door), and then the children are free to take their books anywhere in the room within the teacher’s sight to read, to look at illustrations, and to talk. Therefore, you will find children under the tables, squeezed into nooks and crannies, or sitting on our feet under the reading table as we work with other students (a great spot for ELLs to be absorbing reading behaviors!).
There are many ways to structure this time that depend on teaching style, schedules, class size, and makeup. But for us, the nonnegotiables are the elements of book choice and the opportunity for talk. Thus, we might modify our framework to involve more or less structure, depending on the needs of each year’s class. We might ask them to read the books in their book boxes to each other, or let them choose to do this if they wish. If necessary, we will pair up our ELLs with students who will be good language or behavior role models.
Sometimes we want to designate the partners for a particular learning or social purpose, but more often than not, we want the ELLs to have an opportunity to enjoy books with a friend, perhaps being able to talk in their home language about the text. Having an opportunity to discuss concepts or content in their home language is going to give the ELLs a chance to expand their understandings. These understandings provide the knowledge around which they can begin to build their English vocabulary and control of sentence structure.
June 22nd, 2010
The writing process and digital storytelling go together naturally. Just as writing can be a process of discovery, so can digital storytelling, where images, words, and music all work together to create meaning.
In her new book, Make Me a Story, Lisa Miller describes the power of digital storytelling as a tool for teaching writing and engaging elementary students. She walks teachers step-by-step through the elements of a digital story project, from prewriting and research through putting the story together in the computer using photos, drawings, paintings, video, narration, and music. Readers will also find answers to nuts-and-bolts questions such as how much computer work students should do and how to record voice-overs.
The accompanying CD offers over two dozen examples of student stories discussed in the book. Concise and accessible, Make Me a Story emphasizes that the writing process should not get lost in the bells and whistles of technology. If writers of digital stories don’t take the time to draft and revise their scripts, they won’t get to the deep thinking that’s essential to telling the best stories. Make Me a Story will start shipping in late July. We’ve just posted the entire text and two of the student samples from the CD for you to preview online.
June 21st, 2010
Here is a great poem by William Stafford for this Poetry Friday. Patrick Allen uses this poem in his book Conferring to remind himself what he needs to think about as he sits down to confer with a student: “To review what he is doing as a reader, to have him read aloud, to record my noticings. To provide instruction, to gather insights, to be intrigued. To plan together, to progress further, to set a purpose. I have to be ready.”
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
June 18th, 2010
A few months ago we received a request from Jennifer Sanders from Oklahoma State University to donate a couple of Stenhouse books for a literacy project she is leading in Belize. We happily obliged and in March she and a group of undergraduate and graduate students from OSU traveled to Belize City to work with teachers, children, and community members to improve literacy education. Jennifer is now back in the U.S. and she shared some of her experiences with us.
Teachers in Belize show off their copies of Strategies That Work
The two story, concrete school buildings had open-air classrooms with louvered windows for light and the occasional Caribbean breeze to pass through. The classrooms reminded us of classrooms in the U.S. with educational posters, alphabet lines, mathematics conversion charts, and children’s work hung on every available surface. But nearly everything in the Belizean classrooms was hand-made. Hand-made alphabet cards, with both Spanish pronunciations and the English letter names, were posted above the chalk board, and clothes lines were strung across the room to hang and display student work. Since resources were scarce, the teachers were innovative by necessity, using clear packing tape to “laminate” word cards for phonics games or turning cardboard boxes into tables for the reading corner or the drama center.
My eleven education students and I had the privilege of working with teachers in two primary schools in Belize City during spring break, March 12-20. Eight of my students were master’s degree students seeking a reading specialist degree, one was an elementary education undergraduate student, and two were doctoral students the literacy education program at Oklahoma State University. All but the undergraduate student were practicing teachers, and their expertise was invaluable. Our main goal was to provide literacy education training for the Belizean teachers, many of whom had little formal teacher training.
We provided afterschool workshops in comprehension strategies, writing craft lessons, and phonics/word study along with classroom demonstration lessons on these topics that the OSU students taught during the school day. Stenhouse generously donated copies of Strategies that Work, Crafting Writers, and Spelling K-8 for the 15 Belizean teachers and administrators with whom we worked. The professional books were extremely appreciated by the teachers: The day after the writing training session, we saw one teacher run into her classroom, grab her copy of Crafting Writers off her desk, and go out into the hallway to show another teacher something she read in the book. The teachers were hungry for information on effective teaching strategies, and we were excited to see this type of enthusiasm!
We also brought five high quality children’s books for each teacher, purchased with grant money from the International Reading Association, which we used as mentor texts for craft lessons and as read-alouds to teach comprehension strategies from Strategies That Work. All of the teachers, Belizean and American, said that one of the most significant things they learned that week was that they could teach many literacy skills with “just a good book” – that they didn’t need all the teachers’ manuals, pre-packaged curricula, or bells and whistles; just a good book and their knowledge about effective literacy instruction.
The OSU students also led a poetry workshop after school with students in Standard 3-6 (approximately U.S. grades 4-7). The children read a variety of free verse poems, learned about various poetic elements, and wrote poetry of their own. Craft lessons from Crafting Writers, such as her lessons on word choice that demonstrate how to put words on a continuum based on variations in meaning, make for excellent poetry craft lessons. Paper and pencils are luxuries in most Belizean schools (one teacher said, “Paper is like gold.”), so the children were eager for the opportunity to read and write poetry and were even more excited to be able to keep the poetry “books” they made that week. This poetry workshop was the highlight of the OSU students’ day and a very rewarding experience for everyone.
In the end, the literacy training seemed to be a success: the Belizean children enjoyed the lessons and were excited to participate in the reading and writing lessons we modeled; the Belizean teachers seemed to find the strategies and training useful and relevant; and the OSU students gained confidence in their own teaching abilities while learning a few new strategies themselves. All of this teaching and learning was possible because of the collaboration and contributions of the many partners involved: the Peacework nonprofit organization, Stenhouse, Pearson, the International Reading Association, the Belizean Ministry of Education, the Belizean teachers and principals, and Oklahoma State University students, faculty, and administration.
June 17th, 2010
In her book Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Learners, Teri Lesesne shares her ideas on how to find the right books for tweens, how to energize them to read, and what to do in the classroom to follow up after reading. In this week’s Quick Tip, she shares her own twist on the reading log or book log idea.
The reading log or book log is an idea that is not new in any sense of the word. Teachers have been using this alternative to traditional book reports for years. And, of course, that means there are literally dozens of variations on the standard concept of the log. I keep a running record of the books I read; otherwise, all the books would soon swim together into one conglomerate of a story. For a long time, I kept a traditional log—a spiral notebook—in which I recorded my thoughts and feelings as I read each successive book. There was no real structure to the log; I simply jotted down reactions and noted passages I enjoyed. I even commented on parts I disliked if I encountered them in a particular selection. As a teacher, I have used three basic approaches to the reading or book log.
One approach has a traditional structure with lots of parameters for the assignment. Basically, I asked students to pause at the end of each chapter and make some sort of comment, either a summary statement (if I was checking for comprehension) or some predictions for what might happen in a subsequent chapter (if it were important for me to develop that skill in the students). The log, kept in a spiral-bound notebook, was collected on a periodic basis. I made comments, gave a grade based upon the requirements of the assignment, and did very little to follow up on any entry that might have been made by a reader. With younger readers—and particularly at the beginning of the academic year—it is a good idea to offer the more traditional approach.
Then, as the year progresses and students are more invested in the reading, it is possible to open up the assignment and make it less prescriptive and restrictive. For this form of book log, I might lift the requirement to stop every so many pages for a response. This alteration came about because of a comment I overheard one student make to another when they were talking about keeping a book log. This student was reading Out of the Dust, a novel in verse and Newbery Medal winner, by Karen Hesse. She was pausing at the end of every few pages to make an entry, something she found frustrating. “I am just getting into the story that’s being told in the poem, and then I have to stop and write something. It kind of breaks up the story and I start to lose track of where I am.” Even though it is essential to check that readers are comprehending the text as they read, it is a good idea to be flexible about how often a reader needs to pause and reflect or respond. Give students a few pieces of self-adhesive paper and ask them to quickly jot down reactions and responses as they read. They can either then put these into their spiral notebook, or you can ask them to complete another activity from their work. For example, once students have completed reading and have made notes on their sticky paper, they can organize and categorize their responses into a chart broken down into personal, interpretive, and critical comments.
Finally, we can offer students a new take on the old idea of logs: the blog. A blog is, in essence, a web log. Blogs are online logs, logs that are accessible by others. For years, I resolved to begin a blog. I finally did so, and am amazed at how much others enjoy reading the blogs and responding to me as a fellow reader (you can reach my blog at the following URL: www.livejournal.com/users/professornana).
Again, this idea can be tailored to meet the needs of your individual classes. I blog once or twice a week. Sometimes I have little to report because I have not had a chance to read much. I might comment on a book I have finished reading, one that is sitting waiting for me to read, or one I have just begun to read. I introduce the concept of blogging to students by doing one of my own over the course of a couple of months. Allow students access to your blogs and encourage them to comment on your entries. This blog can be mounted easily within your classroom computer, or you can opt for a blog at one of a number of sites that sponsor free blogging spaces. Basically, you are modeling what you expect of the students once their time to blog arrives. This approach works, in one regard, because it is new and involves the use of the computer. Bear in mind, though, that blogs will most likely have to be done during class time, since not all students have access to computers outside of school. Even if you do not involve students in blogging, keeping your own book blog will be rewarding and send a strong message to students that you are as much of a reader as you expect them to be.
June 15th, 2010
At last week’s annual meeting of the Association of Educational Publishers, The CAFE Book by Joan Moser and Gail Boushey won the 2010 Distinguished Achievement Award in the Assessment Tools category.
In The CAFE Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literacy Assessment and Instruction, Gail and Joan present a practical, simple way to integrate assessment into daily reading and classroom discussion. The CAFE system is an acronym for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expand vocabulary. The system includes goal-setting with students, posting of goals on a whole-class board, developing small-group instruction based on clusters of students with similar goals, and focusing whole-class instruction on emerging student needs.
Gail and Joan have more than forty years of teaching exerpeience between them. They are also the authors of The Daily Five and the DVD Daily Five Alive! They are full-time elementary teachers and nationally recognized consultants who specialize in literacy, assessment, and creating classroom learning spaces.
June 14th, 2010