Archive for October, 2011

Now Online: I See What You Mean

We are surrounded by graphics and symbols as well as words. Maps, diagrams, tables, graphs, and charts are superior to text for conveying many ideas, but are often complex and challenging to understand. And visual information is more accessible to emergent readers, English language learners, and visual learners.

For all of these reasons, it’s essential that we explicitly teach kids how visual information works—how to comprehend it and how to communicate with it. Thoroughly revised and expanded, the new edition of I See What You Mean is a practical guide to incorporating visual literacy instruction throughout your curriculum.

Author and visual literacy expert Steve Moline delves into a variety of important visual text types using activities and scores of examples that naturally progress from simple to complex and concrete to abstract. The book helps you:

  • understand the vital role of visuals and how they complement basic text in literacy development;
  • integrate literacy with math, science and technology, history, health, and social studies;
  • motivate students—often boys—who are judged to be nonwriters and nonreaders;
  • extend the repertoire of young writers beyond sentences.

You can now pre-order and preview I See What You Mean in its entirety online. Printed copies of the book will start shipping in late November.

Add comment October 31st, 2011

Poetry Friday: The New Colossus

For this week’s Poetry Friday offering we have a poem AND a history lesson, all in one! This Friday marks the 125th birthday of the Statue of Liberty as a gift from France. Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus with its memorable appeal to “give me your tired, your poor,” was commissioned for a fund-raising campaign by artists and writers to pay for the statue’s pedestal.

Read an article in the NYT about the poem’s history and then read the poem itself below.

The New Colossus
Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

1 comment October 28th, 2011

Questions & Authors: Reading and Teaching Charitably

In our latest installment of Questions & Authors, Tim Gillespie (Doing Literary Criticism) takes a look at the importance of examining a piece of writing from a moral standpoint. He asks his students to raise questions about whether the text helps them understand others more deeply. “Does the work enlarge our capacity for empathy; does it stretch our moral imaginations? My students usually found this an avenue of inquiry worth traveling,” he writes. Travel along with Tim in this essay and then check out his book the Stenhouse website.

Teaching and Reading Charitably

A word that I read in a newspaper review has been stuck in my brain.

The review considered the latest T.C. Boyle novel, When the Killing’s Done, a story about environmental conflicts on the Channel Islands off the coast of California. A characteristic trait of the fiction of T.C. Boyle, a favorite writer of mine, is his fidelity to life’s complexities. For example, in alternating chapters in The Tortilla Curtain (a novel some colleagues are using in their high school classrooms), Boyle offers the perspectives of a homeless illegal immigrant from Mexico and a suburban California magazine writer just outside of whose gated community the immigrant is camping. Each protagonist, in his attempt to make a better life for his family, damages the other. Through these characters the contentious issue of immigration becomes a profoundly tragic human dilemma beyond all sound bites and shouting, calling forth from readers deeper reserves of imagination and empathy to be applied to the issue.

The same is true of Boyle’s latest novel with its environmental themes, according to reviewer Don Waters in my local newspaper. “Boyle does so much right,” says Waters, “he poses the big questions, refrains from offering answers, and humanizes the argument without proselytizing” (The Oregonian, February 27). Waters marvels in particular at the way Boyle treats the contradictions of characters on all sides, helping us understand their convictions and their doubts, their admirable acts alongside their flaws. The bottom line of the review: Boyle is to be applauded for treating both the complex environmental issues in the novel and his complex characters “charitably.”

That’s the word that has stuck with me: charitably.

The word offers an interesting way to think about evaluating the effectiveness of a work of fiction. I want to talk about that idea with students.

Might an important critical standard for judging literature be how charitable authors are to their stories and characters? Can generosity of spirit about fictional characters and about social issues be a reasonable marker of the quality of an author’s work?

These are the kinds of questions that I regularly brought into my classroom. “What’s your bottom line as a reader?” I’d ask my students. “What makes a novel applause-worthy for you? What counts in fiction? How should we read fiction? Why should we read fiction?”

For me, this kind of interrogation is at the heart of literary criticism. During my nearly four decades as a public high school teacher, my habit was to share a variety of such critical questions with my students—and the assumptions and theories behind them. The more different angles of approach the better, I figured, since all those hungry, iconoclastic teenagers sitting at their desks all have different preferences for what they want to get out of a reading. So instead of teaching particular readings of texts, I sought to teach multiple ways of reading texts. My conviction was that exploring many different interpretive strategies would ultimately help my students be more motivated readers and give them more tools for being independent critical thinkers. My recent book Doing Literary Criticism, describes those classroom explorations.

We would explore biographical, historical, psychological, philosophical, moral, archetypal, genre-centered, feminist, political, formalist and postmodern approaches to texts. Having all these different critical lenses available in the classroom means the door is open to all kinds of different ideas about reading that might walk in.

But what about that idea of being a charitable writer? I guess I’d ultimately call that an aspect of moral criticism, a critical angle that raises questions of great consequence: Does the text help us understand others more deeply, particularly those with perspectives and backgrounds different than ours? Does the work enlarge our capacity for empathy; does it stretch our moral imaginations? My students usually found this an avenue of inquiry worth traveling.

In addition, a moral critical approach lends itself nicely to a classroom unit on fiction writing. This activity is explained in much more detail in Doing Literary Criticism, but basically I ask students to create a fictional character unlike themselves and work at imagining in detail that character’s life, stretching their moral imaginations to invent a realistic, multi-dimensional character with the hodgepodge of experiences, traits, beauties and blemishes, gifts and frailties we all have.

Messing with moral criticism in all these ways means exploring what it means to be a charitable writer, reader, and person.

And messing with literary criticism in general means when we are provoked to thought by a single word in a newspaper book review, we have a way to bring that provocation into the classroom.

1 comment October 26th, 2011

Radio interview with Julie Ramsay

Teacher and author Julie D. Ramsay was recently interviewed by her local radio station in Alabama. During the interview Julie talks about her new book, “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing” and shares her strategies for getting students excited about writing.

Listening to the interview you will get a really nice picture of Julie’s classroom and the motivation behind writing her book. Julie says that the interview was a fun experience for her as well, and she got some great sound editing tips from radio experts.

Listen to the full interview and then check out her book online.

Julie talking to the show's host during her radio interview

Add comment October 25th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Studio Art with Mr. Chruscinski, New Trier High School, 1994

We are excited to share another lovely poem by Maine teacher and poet Anne Tommaso. We recently shared her poem “On Returning to Attend Poetry Class Ten Years Later,” and this week she once again takes us back to her school years.

Studio Art with Mr. Chruscinski, New Trier High School, 1994

Mr. Chruscinski built eight-foot still lifes
of junk: fabric, bones, dart boards
and we collected, hunched
into paper, hands black with coal,
faces figured madly while he stood
on his desk and bellowed, “draw on
the inside! Cubist, Cubist, Cubist!”

Mr. Chruscinski wore Rockports
and bought ties by the garbage bag
at church rummage sales, drove
his flesh colored Buick wagon to his office,
smoked four cigarettes, drank two cups
of coffee and was on a roll by seven fifteen.
It must have made bus drivers crazy when

Mr. Chruscinski planned field trips—
first Harold Washington Library in the Loop,
a side, side street gallery, Staropolska
on West Belmont for pierogi,
ziemniaki, cheese blitzes and then
down Milwaukee to American Science
& Surplus because “this is art”

Mr. Chruscinski would say and shame
those without drawings for critique
the next day. For him, there was never
“No Homework.” He scoffed at apathy,
sensationalized the “Smudge and Rub.”
He loved to say, “That looks like shit…
I love it,” which was almost as exciting

as when Mr. Chruscinski yelled “de Stihl!”
if you really turned yourself inside out.
He caught me alone in the back of the room,
one day late in May, students crawling
out of their skin to graduate, or at least
loiter in the White Hen parking lot. What inspired
my efforts, I don’t know. I was all over

the page in blue pastel, using the stump
so my lines were thick with the chalk,
and my arms were turning blue too.
Mr. Chruscinski moused his white head
between me and the paper.  He looked
at my work, but really at me and said,
“You get it. You. Right now. You’re an artist.”

Add comment October 21st, 2011

Kathy Collins and Franki Sibberson on literacy homework

Stenhouse authors Kathy Collins (Growing Readers and Reading for Real) and Franki Sibberson (most recently Beyond Leveled Books, Second Edition) recently recorded a podcast interview on the Choice Literacy website about making homework more meaningful.

“Making homework, distributing homework, correcting homework. I feel like sometimes the energies we put into homework we’re taking away from more valuable things, planning instruction,” said Kathy during the interview. She also reflects on how her views changed as she experienced homework from the “parent side,” and suggests that homework in the elementary grades should primarily aim to spur child-parent and school-home communication.

You can listen to the full discussion on the Choice Literacy website.

Add comment October 20th, 2011

Now Online: Academic Conversations

What role do classroom conversations play in thinking and learning?

What skills do students need to explore an important question, idea, or topic?

What structures can teachers use to foster quality conversations in language arts, social studies, science, and other subjects?

Tapping their experiences as instructional coaches, Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford share a model for fostering effective classroom conversations in their new book, Academic Conversations. Readers will discover how to:

  • build critical thinking and academic vocabulary;
  • enhance content understandings far beyond what tests require;
  • improve students’ oral language skills—essential for academic and career success, but seldom practiced outside of school;
  • assess student learning that doesn’t show up in writing or on tests;
  • fortify lessons with rich, authentic conversations through subject-specific methods such as history case studies, creative writing projects, and science labs.

Filled with dozens of activities and examples of real dialogue by diverse students, Academic Conversations will make your classroom a place where students independently initiate and sustain conversations that create, shape, and share important ideas. You can now preview the entire book and pre-order online!

Add comment October 19th, 2011

Why do you write?

Such a simple question, with so many possible answers! Thursday, October 20, is the third annual National Day on Writing and the Stenhouse Blog will join the celebration by asking you to answer the question: Why do you write?

Here is what some of our authors said:

” Writing allows me to build a whole city and all its inhabitants — not out of mortar and metal, skin and blood — but of words.” (Ralph Fletcher)

“Writing is waiting for a place to happen. As writing teachers, we just need to create the space.” (Jeff Anderson)

“I write so that I can teach children that their ideas matter and their words have power.” (Ann Marie Corgill)

Leave your response in the comments section between now and Thursday and you could be one of 20 winners to receive this fabulous poster with more inspiring quotes on writing:

25 comments October 17th, 2011

Video podcast: Kelly Gallagher

In our latest video conversation with Kelly Gallagher, the author of Write Like This talks about why he wrote this book and why he is concerned about students learning “fake school writing” instead of real-world writing in the classroom. Kelly also believes that teachers need model their own writing process. “I think we give students a false idea of how writing comes to be,” he says.

You can preview a sample chapter from Kelly’s book on the Stenhouse website.

Add comment October 12th, 2011

Math Exchanges blog tour wrap-up

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind

I hope you all had a chance to check out all four blogs participating in this week’s Math Exchanges blog tour. The interviews with author Kassia Omohundro Wedekind were very interesting and in-depth and there were some really good comments and discussion.

Things kicked off on Monday at Catching Readers, hosted by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier. In their interview they asked Kassia how teachers can stay true to the idea of “teach the mathematician, not the math,” and not solely focus on what their pacing guides dictate. “I think we, as teachers, can make a powerful choice to teach responsively, even in the difficult time in which we teach,” said Kassia. “We can show the amazing true understanding that comes from teaching a child to construct understanding rather than memorize isolated facts and procedures. We can change how people view mathematics in their lives and in the world,”

You can read the full interview here for more inspiration!

At Our Camp Read-A-Lot, teacher and blogger Laura Komos asked Kassia about what changes she should expect to see as she begins to use math exchanges with her first graders. “I think one major shift you will see is in your first graders is how they view themselves, not just as do-ers of the work their teacher assigns them, but as mathematicians,” wrote Kassia. “In a math workshop kids feel ownership over their thinking and work. They feel a sense of pride when talking about the strategies they used to solve problems. They take on challenges and see themselves doing the real, authentic work of mathematicians.”

Laura’s full interview with Kassia is here.

For Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine, Kassia’s book was the “right book at the right time.” At the beginning of their conversation, Kassia describes how her math workshop changed when she started to focus on “teaching the mathematician.” You can find their interview here.

At Elementary, My Dear, teacher Jenny Orr and Kassia address the very important question of how to be the first or only teacher to use math exchanges in a school. “Start small. Start simly,” advises Kassia. Read the rest of her advice here.

P.S. A note about our giveaway: Each blogger will pick one commenter as the winner of a free Stenhouse blog. You will be contacted by the blogger with details if you are the winner!

Add comment October 7th, 2011

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