Archive for August, 2011

Coming soon: blog tour for Math Exchanges

Copies of Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s new book Math Exchanges are arriving in our warehouse right now. Order your copy today and take part in an upcoming blog tour where you can discuss ideas from the book and ask questions from the author!

The four-stop blog tour will begin October 3 and will take place at these great blogs:

Catching Readers Before They Fall hosted by Stenhouse authors Pat Johnson and Katie Keier

Our Camp Read-A-Lot hosted by first grade teacher Laura Komos

Reflect and Refine hosted by Stenhouse author and first grade teacher Cathy Mere

Elementary My Dear, Or Far From It, hosted by first grade teacher Jenny Orr

At each stop Kassia will answer questions and each blog will raffle off a copy of her book (or if you already have her book, your choice of any other Stenhouse book) among those who leave a comment or ask a question. If you order Math Exchanges between now and October 3, you will also receive free shipping on the Stenhouse website. Just use code MATHX.

Check back here for more news about the blog tour as we get closer to the date! After you have ordered your copy, make sure to also visit Kassia’s blog.

2 comments August 31st, 2011

Blog Watch: Tuesday roundup

We have two items for this week’s Tuesday blog watch roundup:

Joan Brodsky Schur, author of Eyewitness to the Past, was interviewed by eschoolnews.com about how teachers can prepare to discuss 9/11 in their classrooms. “I feel certain that a school with young children is going to do whatever memorializing they’re going to do in a respectful way towards the people who gave their lives, but also respect the needs of young children,” Joan says. Read the full article here and then revisit Joan’s tips for teaching 9/11 from a piece on the Stenhouse blog.

Over at EdWeek, teacher, author, and blogger Donalyn Miller invited Terry Thompson, author of Adventures in Graphica to share his research-based reasons for using graphic novels in the classroom. “The instructional potential in graphic novels is most evident in the way they motivate readers, scaffold meaning, and adapt easily to a variety of learning situations and settings,” writes Terry. Read the full article on Donalyn’s blog,  The Book Whisperer.

Add comment August 30th, 2011

Author interview: Carolyn Coman

We recently sat down with Carolyn Coman, author of Writing Stories: Ideas, Exercises, and Encouragement for Teachers and Writers of All Ages. Carolyn talks about the risks writers must take, the hard work that goes into crafting a story, and why it’s so important to make time for writing stories in the classroom.

“The idea of putting something that you care about in words, on paper, that will then be shared with others, is a scary proposition. It takes courage to do that, to let yourself be seen, to be vulnerable.”

Add comment August 29th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Purple

Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli use My Many Colored Days, Color Me a Rhyme, and My World of Color, along with other poetry books to help their students think about and make connections to colors in their own poetry. These poetry books help children think about colors not just as something they see, but something that also involves smells, sounds, tastes, and feelings.

In Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature K-6, Lynne and Rose share a poem created by a group of third-grade students about the color purple.

What is Purple?
Purple is a violet singing a sweet, sleepy lullabye.
It is the taste of grape jelly spread on warm wheat toast.
The purple smell is the night sky on April Fool’s Day.
Medicine trickling down your throat is a purple feeling.
Purple explodes in your mouth like Fourth of July fireworks.

The full moon on a misty May night has a purple glow.
Purple is a forgetful two-year-old with a mind of his own.
It is the shy feeling that hides deep inside your heart.

Also check out Lynne and Rose’s new book, Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8.

Add comment August 26th, 2011

Ten years later: teaching 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches, many of you may wonder how and what to say to the students in your classroom. How do you teach something that is so recent and fresh? Joan Brodsky Schur, author of Eyewitness to the Past, was recently a panelist for the Smithsonian’s September 11: Teaching Contemporary History forum. She shares some of her suggestions for marking this anniversary with your students in a meaningful way and placing the events of 9/11 in the context of modern history.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the National Museum of American History’s “O Say Can You See?” blog and is republished here with permission.

In these beautiful summer days of August 2011 the last thing I want is to revisit the day of September 11, 2001 in New York City where I still live.  As the school year opens many teachers, wherever they live across the United States, may feel the way I do. But we need to go down the hole of one of history’s darkest days in order to come up with some light to shed on it for our students this September.

Here are a few suggestions I can make after considerable thought about teaching in the 10th year of our post 9-11 world.  First, be clear about your goals. Memorializing is a way to express shared grief, to honor lost lives and those who tried to rescue them.  By creating works of art, singing appropriate songs, and participating in public service activities, students of all ages can forge a renewed sense of community within their school and beyond. But after memorializing we must also teach history, especially to  secondary students who can begin to contextualize it. The task then becomes analytical: what were the causes of 9-11, and what are the consequences for the United States and the world?

Teachers justifiably wonder about finding the time to teach about September 11. One way is look for those essential questions that can help us to compare aspects of 9-11 to other events in U.S. history as we teach them throughout the year. I have identified five essential questions that will hopefully prove useful in this ongoing endeavor.

  1. What accounts for the resiliency and spirit of volunteerism in the United States? The American Revolution, Great Depression, and World War II come to mind.  In New York City on 9-11 governmental agencies at all levels responded to an unprecedented emergency.  So did ordinary citizens. At Battery Park over half a million people were ferried to safety by fireboats, yacht cruises, sightseeing boats, and tugs.  A similar event occurred on the night of August 29th, 1776 during the Battle of Long Island. American forces, pinned down by the British in Brooklyn were ferried to safety in Manhattan by what David McCullough calls “a makeshift emergency armada assembled in a matter of hours.”
  2. The U.S. government needs to protect the safety of its citizens while also protecting our civil liberties. What is the proper balance between the two? The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, the Espionage and Sabotage Acts passed by Congress during World War I can be compared to the USA PATRIOT Act, and the “detention centers” like Guantanamo Bay.  Each of these efforts to protect citizens may have seemed justified in a moment of fear, but how is their Constitutionality judged over time?
  3. Under what circumstances is U.S. military intervention justified?  President Roosevelt’s War Message to Congress of December 8, 1941 can be compared to President Bush’s Address to Congress of September 20, 2001 and declaration of war against Iraq on March 20, 2003 in terms of how each one meets or does not meet the criteria used in “Just War Theory.” These criteria include just cause, right intention, proper authority, last resort, probability of success, and proportionality.  (For a lesson plan I wrote on Franklin Roosevelt and Just War Theory go to PBS http://www.pbs.org/thewar/downloads/just_war.pdf.)
  4. Once at war, how should the United States protect citizens who are at risk for reprisal?  These groups include the French during the French Revolution, Germans during World War I and II, and the Japanese — who were placed in internment camps during World War II. In the wake of 9-11 Japanese Americans advocated for the need to protect the rights of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans.
  5. What should be the relationship of the United States to the international world order?  Over time Americans have both rejected and accepted membership in/adherence to the League of Nations following World War I, the Geneva Conventions, which in 1949 delineated the humane treatment of prisoners during wartime, the establishment of the United Nations after World War II.  How does the Bush doctrine of “American Exceptionalism” following 9-11 fit into this on-going debate about the role of the United States in the world order?

Originally published in the National Museum of American History’s blog, O Say Can You See.

3 comments August 23rd, 2011

Blogstitute Week 7: An Unlikely Writing Group

We end our Summer Writing Blogstitute with an entry by teacher educator Maureen Barbieri. After working as a teacher, principal, and literacy coach for many years, Maureen currently teaches literacy courses at the University of New Hampshire, volunteers at a local elementary school, and takes care of two young grandchildren every week.

This is your last week to purchase our special summer writing package at a reduced price of $80 — a savings of $28!

We hope you enjoyed our Blogstitute and that the posts helped you prepare for a new year of writing and teaching writing. We hope you will join us for future blog events — until then keep commenting and keep writing!

Expect the Unexpected: An Unlikely Writing Group

Years ago, when I moved away from New Hampshire, Donald Graves made me a promise: “Wherever you go,” he said, “you’ll find other literate people.” Sure enough, in Cleveland, South Carolina, and New York City, I was blessed with friends who loved what I love.

When I came back to New England in 2008, it was heart wrenching to leave my job at NYU. My husband had retired, and, as a result of what turned out to be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, full-time work eluded me. During those months of adjusting, there was one constant in my life: daily exercise at a local women’s gym. In a small room, women worked the machines in a circuit, so it was hard to avoid other people. But surely these women’s lives were unlike my own. Many spent winters in Florida, while others spoke of playing golf, quilting, or gardening. I kept my head down and did my exercises in silence.

One day I overheard a woman named Kerry describe how much she admired her mother for raising four children alone. When Kerry turned thirty, she had hired a private detective and tracked her father down. Fascinated with her story, I blurted out, “You really should write about that.”

“Write?” she asked. “I’m not really a writer.”

“Well,” I told her, “I had a teacher who used to say, ‘Everyone should write her own story.’” My friend Don Murray believed that writing lets us discover meaning in experience.

A week later, another one of the women at the gym was eager to tell me she had found Murray’s Boston Globe columns online. “He’s a great writer,” she said. I gave her his books My Twice-Lived Life and The Lively Shadow. Thus began my friendship with Beth, sharing reactions to books, chatting about our families.

Slowly, the gym took on new dimensions. A year passed, we continued to talk books on a regular basis, and then several things seemed to coalesce. Beth was itching to try writing. Kerry’s mom became ill, her memory faltered, and Kerry lamented stories left untold. She wondered if she should write down some of her own recollections for her daughter. Nancy, an accomplished journalist, wanted to try memoir and was looking for advice. Michelle, the mother of two boys, one severely handicapped, wanted to write about them.

We began our writing group with trepidation, holding our first meeting at the local library where Beth was a trustee. New to writing for an audience, the women were nervous and unsure of what to expect. Though I’ve taught writing and worked with new writers for years, I felt rusty, not having written anything personal in a while. What if I had nothing to say?  I remembered that Murray always saw himself as a student at the writer’s desk, ready to be surprised by whatever appeared on the page. His spirit propelled me forward. Kerry’s husband baked madeleines for our first meeting and—partly because good food builds community and helps break down barriers—the tension eased. We spoke about what we wanted from the group:  an audience for our stories; gentle, supportive feedback; questions.

Now we gather at each other’s houses once a month. The anxiety has lessened with each meeting, and stories have emerged: the courage of sick friends; memories of parents, siblings, and teachers; the heartache of first jobs, leaving home, and the rigors of getting older. Sometimes we try prompts, but mostly we write for our own purposes:  Kerry, a eulogy for a beloved friend and a tribute to a colleague of twenty-five years; Michelle, blog posts about motherhood; Nancy, reflections on being a bone marrow donor for her brother.

Our meetings run late. Friends now, we hate to say goodnight, but there’s something else. The stories have become richer, more textured, and replete with the “revealing specifics” Murray prized. Because we consider each other “audience,” we respect deadlines and strive to be more effective.

As I spend time with grandchildren, students, or my husband, part of me assumes the role of spectator-participant, and the writing yields new attention to ordinary days. A boy I worked with in Chinatown years ago observed, “Most of the things that happen in your everyday life aren’t very important, but when you write about them, you make them important.”

We tell students that writing is a way to communicate, but it is so much more. Writing allows us to discover what our lives have been, are now, and may yet be. What would happen if busy teachers made time for this kind of exploration on a regular basis?  To write about life and work, and then to meet with people eager to listen, seems a worthy endeavor. Literate people find each other, yes; and, in the sharing of stories, we sustain each other too.

12 comments August 22nd, 2011

Poetry Friday: Facebook Sonnet

This week’s poem was selected by Stenhouse general manager Dan Tobin.

“Like a lot of people, including some recent commenters on our blog, I have ambivalent feelings about Facebook. It can be a wonderful place for connection and communication, but it can also make you feel like you’re stuck in a time warp. Or like you’re trying to talk in the present and past tense at the same time.”

The Facebook Sonnet by Sherman Alexie

Welcome to the endless high-school
Reunion. Welcome to past friends
And lovers, however kind or cruel.
Let’s undervalue and unmend

The present. Why can’t we pretend
Every stage of life is the same?
Let’s exhume, resume and extend
Childhood. Let’s all play the games

That preoccupy the young. Let fame
And shame intertwine. Let one’s search
For God become public domain.
Let church.com become our church.

Let’s sign up, sign in and confess
Here at the altar of loneliness.

Add comment August 19th, 2011

Blog Watch: Tuesday roundup

Here are a couple of interesting Stenhouse-related tidbits from around the blogosphere:

Mike McQueen at Reading on the Run recently conducted an in-depth interview with Cris Tovani. The interview focuses mostly on Cris’s book I Read It but I Don’t Get It. Listen to the interview and then make sure to check out Cris’s latest book So What Do They Really Know. The book is now available for full preview on the Stenhouse site!

Sara Fillion wrote a lovely review of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice on the Responsive Classroom website. “Day-by-Day is not only an excellent resource but also a really fun read for anyone who teaches writing,” Sara says. Read the full review here.

If you ever wanted to explore the virtual reality of Second Life, here is a great reason to do so! Julie D. Ramsay, author of “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?” will host a virtual book discussion beginning August 22. You can find out more about the event here.

Check out this video clip of Rick Wormeli discussing his book Differentiation: From Planning to Practice, Grades 6-12. And if you had doubts that Rick was a multi-talented author, here is another proof: a song that he co-wrote with Monte Selby. You can listen to the song here.

Add comment August 16th, 2011

Blogstitute Week 6: A creative alternative to the research paper

This week’s blogstitute entry comes from David Somoza, coauthor of Writing to Explore: Discovering Adventure in the Research Paper, 3-8. He and author Peter Lourie demonstrate how to teach adventure writing, which integrates nonfiction and fiction and motivates students to write with imagination, curiosity, and a hunger to learn everything about their topic.

Coming next week: a BONUS blogstitute entry from Maureen Barbieri on how she found friendship and writing inspiration in an unlikely place.

Don’t forget to leave a comment or ask a question to be entered to win a package of five writing books. You can also purchase the package for a special, reduced price — for a limited time only!

The Adventure Essay: A Creative Alternative to the Research Paper

David Somoza and Peter Lourie

At some point all of us have either written a research paper or taught students how to write one. My experience, from both perspectives, brings up feelings of dread. I may be way off, but I bet others have similar feelings. And yet, when you think about why we teach students to write research papers, some great reasons come to mind. The skills that kids get from the process are important ones: from learning how to research a subject in depth, to being able to understand text and rewrite it in a meaningful way, to learning how to organize ideas into a cohesive essay. All of these skills are valuable, but more often than not there’s little or no opportunity for creativity in the process, and that’s the downfall. There’s also no personal attachment or purpose to the writing itself. It’s the tedious and laborious work in the absence of imaginative thought that leads to the feelings of dread when someone mentions the words research paper.

Recently I stumbled upon a way to instill imagination and purpose into the process of writing the research paper—and it all revolves around adventure.

After multiple failed attempts to make research paper writing more engaging for my students and myself, I began reading some of Peter Lourie’s nonfiction books. I found them full of factual information yet very engaging. The difference between his books and my students’ research papers was the creative element. Pete describes his passion for nonfiction adventure writing this way: “Research is exploration. Whether you’re exploring a subject by traveling to a place, or studying history in a book, or talking to experts, it’s all about discovery. Once I’m engaged in a journey or adventure, then everything I learn is possible material to weave into the adventure.” Pete develops a narrative thread that often places him at the heart of the subject matter. Whether he’s hiking through a jungle in search of Mayan ruins or talking with a gold miner in the Amazon, it’s through his eyes that we journey forward; inadvertently, we learn about the subject matter as he learns it himself when he travels. This, I realized, was the kind of writing I hoped to get from my students.

Through many conversations with Pete, I began to understand his process of writing, which I’ve tried to replicate with my fifth graders. Essentially it involves two unique elements that must come together seamlessly: the research element and the narrative element. Because I can’t take my students to the jungle before they write about it, they need to take virtual journeys, adding an element of fiction to an otherwise nonfiction research paper. The narrative is driven by the adventure that each student chooses to take.

We begin with research. Through the research process, students gain a deep understanding of the topic. In addition to facts and figures, they find photos, maps, and even video clips to strengthen their understanding of the place where they intend to travel. Once they have a solid grasp on the subject, they begin to plan their adventure. This is the fun part; they love to imagine themselves traveling and heading out on exciting adventures.

When a solid plan is in place, we dive in. Where will you go? How will you get there? What will you do? Where will you sleep? These kinds of questions tend to jar their imaginations and make them realize that we’ve gone from simply researching a subject to engaging with it. Kids have the best imaginations, and they’re eager to learn the details of places, history, and people.

This is where the two streams come together—the stream of research and the stream of imagination. As the imaginative stream continues, it gains its strength from the details in the research, and vice versa. In other words, the learning is woven into the fabric of the story to ground it and make it realistic. As teachers, we facilitate this back-and-forth process by encouraging students to do more research or expand their adventure narrative.

This process of alternating between the imagined journey and the actual research maintains all the best teachings of the research paper but also calls on students to be imaginatively engaged with their topic. Pete and I have found that this adventure writing model works in many settings. I use it with my fifth graders when they study the U.S. states and again when they learn about Latin America. Pete uses the same model with his students at Middlebury College, where he teaches adventure writing and digital storytelling.

As a departure from the traditional research paper, this adventure-based approach integrates student research with aspects of creative writing. The process of taking an imagined adventure can be more engaging, more personally relevant, and more rewarding for students. Their final projects represent not only their research but also their self-expression.

I’m sure this idea can be used as an alternative to a variety of research projects that we haven’t thought of yet. How might you use it in your own classroom with your own students?

7 comments August 15th, 2011

Poetry Friday: My Papa’s Waltz

This week’s poem selection is by Theodore Roethke and it was picked by Stenhouse editorial manager Chris Downey.

My Papa’s Waltz
by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Add comment August 12th, 2011

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