Book study group: Pyrotechnics on the Page

Join our book study group on the Stenhouse Ning Network to share your thoughts about Ralph Fletcher’s latest book, Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing.

The discussion will begin July 12 and will be moderated by Amanda Villagomez, a middle-school language arts teacher. Amanda already posted a schedule for the discussion on the Ning page. Ralph will check in every week to comment on the discussion and answer questions.

To join Ning:

1) Go to the Stenhouse Publishers network on Ning

2) Click Sign Up at the top of the page (or Sign In if you have already joined one of our Ning groups in the past)

3) Once you’ve signed up, click the Pyrotechnics on the Page Group and then click to Join the Group in the top right corner

Order your copy of Pyrotechnics on the Page by June 15 and get free shipping with the code SPARK.

4 comments May 26th, 2010

Classroom Blogs: Online Book Clubs

We’ve been following the progress of Amanda Villagomez during her first year of using a classroom blog in her middle school language arts classes. In her prior posts, Amanda talked about setting up the blog and her initial experiments with it in the classroom . Now, midway through the year, Amanda continues to be excited about the possibilities created by the blog. In this post, she reports on the successful integration of online book clubs and talks about her plans for the remainder of the year:

Another quarter has flown by, and I am officially half way through my first year of integrating a classroom blog. Throughout the quarter I was able to continue posting Author Tip Tuesdays on the weeks that I was teaching in English (I teach half of the time in Spanish). My students seem to look forward to them. They especially enjoyed a week integrating a YouTube video that Mary Amato created about her revision process , as well as a Q&A with S. Terrell French after a group of 7th graders read her book as a book club.

The most exciting part of the blog this quarter was a successful integration of an on-line book club. I originally thought of it as a new way for my students to interact for their book club discussion. However, before I started the club, I realized that it opened up many more possibilities, including being able to facilitate multi-grade level discussions. Students also enjoyed that other staff members, parents, and relatives left comments of encouragement. I recently blogged about more of my reflections on this first book club.

Next quarter students will participate in more book club discussions via the blog. Collaboration with people outside of the classroom will be an exciting component. One group will be reading Pride and Prejudice, and I requested some suggestions from Kelly Fineman to provide support for my students, as I had appreciated her previous chapter by chapter notes about Northanger Abbey earlier in the summer. Some of my students had mentioned an interest in Austen, but they quickly lost their motivation when they were not able to understand it well enough attempting to read it on their own. Fineman was gracious enough to send me detailed suggestions to guide my students through the reading. Actively blogging on my own has been very beneficial in networking with different authors and bloggers to further engage students. Other future possibilities may include having university students in children’s/YA literature classes comment on discussions, having parent and staff members participate in book clubs, and having book discussions with students in other classrooms.

For third quarter my biggest new blogging venture will be having my 7th graders set up their own blogs. Within the next few steps I will be guiding them through the process. They will begin blogging by creating posts such as book reviews, slice of life stories, and facilitating their own book club disscussions. I would also like to incorporate podcasting eventually, but it may not be until 4th quarter. I am still debating whether or not to have my 6th graders begin their own blogs this year, depending on how smoothly it goes with 7th grade, but they will be able to view 7th graders’ blogs as mentor texts and will be encouraged to leave comments and participate in book clubs that they facilitate. Moving into the second half of the year I am still very enthusiastic and excited about the amazing opportunities that blogging has created in order to enhance my language arts instruction.

1 comment January 21st, 2010

Online book study group: A Sense of Belonging

If we invest in beginning teachers up front and provide them with more support in the beginning of their teaching career, then we will reap the payoff in the long run—skilled, thoughtful, reflective, and energized educators who are essential members within our collaborative learning community and committed to student learning and achievement.


A Sense of Belonging
In her new book, A Sense of Belonging: Sustaining and Retaining New Teachers, Jennifer Allen offers research-based, practical ideas on how to support new teachers while honoring and celebrating the innovation, idealism, and enthusiasm they bring to the classroom.

Join fellow teachers, literacy coaches, mentors, and principals in our online book discussion group as you read A Sense of Belonging, and discuss your thoughts and insights on how schools can offer sustained support for new teachers. Share what worked in your school, or for you personally, and what didn’t work.

The discussion will be moderated by Janice Driscoll, principal of Midlakes Intermediate School in Clifton Springs, New York, and starts on Thursday, September 17. Janice will guide the discussion, ask questions, and respond to comments. To participate in this free group:

  1. Order the book by Thursday, September 3 for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, September 15 (see free shipping offer below). You can preview the entire text on our Web site.

  2. Visit the discussion group’s home page on the social networking site Ning.

  3. Click the Sign Up link in the upper right part of the page to become a member of Stenhouse on Ning. After completing the form, you’ll be redirected back to the group’s home page, which should now display +Join Book discussion: A Sense of Belonging near the top. Click that link to join the group.

  4. In the Discussion Forum window, click on a topic or thread that you would like to read or respond to. The moderated discussion will begin on September 17.
    *Free shipping offer extended*
    We’ve extended free shipping on A Sense of Belonging to Thursday, September 3. Just enter the discount code NLQ at the bottom of the “Summary” checkout screen at stenhouse.com. Orders placed by September 3 will be shipped for delivery on or before September 15.

Add comment August 28th, 2009

Study Group Discussion – Of Primary Importance, Part IV

The group of teachers at Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio wrapped up their book study for the year, but not before sending along reflections from three  teachers about how they implemented some of the strategies and ideas. The group will meet again in the fall to continue the discussion and to ask author Ann Marie Corgill some questions about her book, Of Primary Importance. Catch up on what the group discussed earlier.

From McKenzie, 3rd Grade Teacher
Corgill spends a lot of time during her writing workshop studying the genre before getting students started with a writing piece.  One of the focus studies for third grade is for students to spend time learning about and writing literary non-fiction.

I tried to spend more time with students observing and examining the genre before we started writing within the genre of literary nonfiction.  I began this study in my reading workshop by introducing and reading books that fit this genre.  I spent a lot more time choosing mentor texts than I have in the past.  After some time reading this genre in my reading workshop, I moved the study into my writing workshop.  We looked at many books that fit the genre and began a chart in our writer’s notebook.  The chart contained four columns:  The title and author, the organization of the book (ie. Question/answer, ABC, etc.), how the author engages the reader, and finally an example of one of the previous two columns.  This helped the students focus on how authors present factual information in an interesting way.  As students started thinking about their own writing, they were able to identify what they wanted to do in their writing that really caught the readers’ attention while providing factual information.

Next year, I would like to look through our learning targets and identify two or three genres for students to study and write during writing workshop.  I am going to try using Corgill’s template for her unit of study curriculum map.  In this curriculum map, Corgill identifies what students should have, understand, and be able to do.  She has also compiled a list of mentor texts for each unit of study.   The last piece of her curriculum map is how she will assess students.  Corgill doesn’t just assess one piece of writing from the unit of study.  She looks at many writing samples, she documents student writing conferences, and looks at the reflections of her students as they have gone through their writing journey.  I found the sample reflections to be very informative when determining each students learning within the unit of study.

From Debbie, Reading Teacher
Although I am not a classroom teacher doing writing workshop, Of  Primary Importance helped with greater understanding of how I can  further develop and build those important connections between reading and writing.  “When students are consistently exposed to different types of literature it increases student’s motivation to write the kinds of books they read” was one quote that meant a lot to me as a reading support teacher.  I can continue to encourage and support them to read a variety of genres.

Another area that I found  of interest was the section on  nonfiction.  To avoid copying from the test when writing nonfiction, struggling readers will need additional practice with putting their reading into their own words.  I will reflect on  more ways that I can help them with this so that they can make the “slow and steady” progress in their writing.

From Laura, 2nd Grade Teacher
After reading the book Of Primary Importance, I have a lot of new ideas for my writing workshop next year, as well as how I am going to connect reading and writing workshop with my required content areas.  One great idea I plan to implement next year is the idea of dividing the year into 3 areas of focus, fiction, non-fiction and poetry.  I had to rethink how I would incorporate all I need to teach into these areas, and I have a good plan in place to try out next year.  After reading the book, I also see the importance of taking time to set up your workshop and not just jump right into it.  I will take the first 6-8 weeks to set up and talk about expectations etc.  I think I will have a better outcome for my writing workshop if my students know exactly what the next step is in their writing, where everything is, ,and what to do when they finish.  It will save me a lot of explaining the same things over and over again!

1 comment June 24th, 2009

Blog Tour and Contest: What Student Writing Teaches Us

Read Mark Overmeyer’s new book online before it is released in mid-July, and then join Mark and your fellow teachers in discussing this new, exciting title during a four-stop blog tour. Participate in our writing contest and win a free, signed copy of the book. (See details below.)


What Student Writing Teaches Us“Assessment, when used correctly in a formative way, can empower students and teachers to not only improve, but better yet, to believe in themselves as writers and teachers of writing. And once you believe you are a writer, and a teacher of writing, any barrier, no matter how imposing, begins to crumble.”

—Mark Overmeyer

In What Student Writing Teaches Us: Formative Assessment in the Writing Workshop, Mark shares his ideas about how teachers and students can use formative assessment effectively in all stages of the writing process. As Mark demonstrates through descriptions, anecdotes, and student samples, formative assessment requires meaningful planning: feedback through rubrics, checklists, conferences, and classroom discussion; and a partnership between student and teacher.

Tour stops

Visit these blogs to submit your questions to Mark and to see what others have to say about it. Then return on the given dates to read Mark’s responses.

June 23: http://creativeliteracy.blogspot.com
June 25: http://thereadingzone.wordpress.com
June 29: http://teachingthatsticks.blogspot.com
July 1: http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com

Contest details

In his new book Mark discusses how a writing prompt that might seem limiting actually helps students focus their writing. He talks about a second-grade classroom where students were excited to write about the following topic: “Your baby brother is inside the house and you are locked out and need to figure out a way to get back in.”

Your challenge is to write a quick, piece in 500 words or less for that prompt. Mark will select the winner, who will receive a free, signed copy of What Student Writing Teaches Us. Submit your entries by July 15 to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com. The best entries will be posted on the Stenhouse blog and website.

Add comment June 5th, 2009

Study group discussion: Of Primary Importance – Part III

Lynsey, a third-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, is part of the book study group that is discussing Ann Marie Corgill’s new title, Of Primary Importance. This month, Lynsey shares how Ann Marie’s chapter on teaching poetry showed her new strategies for moving her students from discussing poetry to writing their own poems.

You can read about previous group discussions here and here.

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with teaching poetry. Right before teaching it I get this feeling inside; it kind of feels like the feeling you get just before you work out. So when our group talked about the chapters we were reading next my ears perked up when I saw there was a chapter on teaching poetry.

In the past, I’ve tried many different teaching methods with poetry. I always get stuck when it comes to having the children write their own poetry. I love the part when we read poetry and discuss authors’ crafts and poems that inspire us, but making that leap to having children begin writing their own poetry kills me every time.

I’ve reflected numerous times on where the breakdown happens. The children are all excited and love reading the poems and talking about them, even recording poems in their reading notebook that they can’t live without, but as soon as I say, “Okay boys and girls lets write!” it happens, faces drop and the momentum has left the room.

So, understandably I’ve been searching for a way that children in my classroom can love to read and write poetry. I will be honest and admit that writing poetry for me is not a day in the park. I have never been quite comfortable with my own poetry writing so when I teach it I stick to formulas and that is not working for my students.

Reading Corgill’s chapter on poetry helped me see that formulas are not the way to go and I don’t have to be a poet myself to help engage children in writing poetry. There are many highlights of her chapter that helped me to rethink and restructure how I will teach poetry this year.

I loved how students took time to name and group poems. This is a great way to get children thinking about what they possibly write. She also writes about children making poetry observations and sharing them each day. This is where teachers introduce craft and hopefully students will take elements of these crafts to produce their own poems.

Most importantly, I feel her poetry writing process makes a lot of sense. Her process begins with reading and talking about poetry and moves to organizing and designing. I noticed how she never said, “Boys and girls today we are going to write a haiku.” She writes about organizing your thoughts and designing your poem kind of like when you are building something tangible. The she moves to word choice and voice, hard to teach but a very critical step. Once the children have engaged in this process they have had multiple times to feel good and successful about their writing. There is no pressure to get the formula right and make sure your words rhyme and everything is nice and pretty.

In our group discussion there was a lot of talk about the importance of using good mentor texts. We all liked her booklist and realized that without mentor texts that appeal to children, the excitement of poetry somewhat diminishes. We also spent time sharing great ways to showcase students poetry and collections. It was very helpful to hear how other teachers do this in their classrooms.

For me, I’m hoping that my love hate relationship turns this year to a love, love relationship. I’m excited to try some new things this year and watch my students fall in love with reading and writing poetry.

Add comment April 6th, 2009

Study group discussion: Of Primary Importance – Part II

A group of teachers from Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, have been reading and discussing Ann Marie Corgill’s book, Of Primary Importance since December. This month, two second-grade teachers share their reflections on the book. First, read about how the group started its work.

Debbie’s reflections:

I started out with the Personal Narratives. We shared some stories from Ralph Fletcher’s book Marshfield Dreams – When I Was A Kid. My class made a list of things that they were experts about at the beginning of the year for their writer’s notebooks. We continue to add to that list for reference and ideas.

They picked one idea to write about for their personal narrative and then we edited and published. I loved the ‘comment’ page we included at the end of the book. The children shared with each other and read the comments readers gave them. We shared with our first grade reading buddies also. We would like to arrange a time with all of second grade where the kids can browse the other class’s personal narratives and make comments.

I think that being able to read the comments others have made, drives home the idea that you are writing for an audience. As a beginning teacher many years ago, I read books by Donald Graves for my writing workshop. I feel that Of Primary Importance reinforces many of those ideas I continue to hold valuable for my writers in my classroom, i.e. the writing folders, the sharing of the writing, the ease to implement the writing process for young children, having supplies out and available for them to access.

Anita’s reflections:

After reading Of Primary Importance, I wanted to try to slow down and dig deeper with my students. I’m also working on giving them more time and choice with their work.

I have encouraged students to write several stories and choose thier favorite one to publish. We will celebrate their finished piece of writing at the end of the unit.

As a team we have have also discussed how the celebrations can extend beyond invidual classrooms. We are brainstorming ways for the entire second grade can share their writing with each other.

Add comment February 26th, 2009

Study group discussion: Of Primary Importance

In the first chapter of her new book, Of Primary Importance, Ann Marie Corgill invites readers to “Step inside and breathe the writing workshop air with me.”

That is what a group of teachers from Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, are doing for the next couple of months as they meet every other week to read and discuss the book.

Franki Sibberson, author of Beyond Leveled Books, is part of this study group. She and her fellow group members are going to post regular updates about their progress and discussions. The group met last week to set their schedule and to talk about questions they have as they begin to read.

We got together for our first meeting of our group that will be reading and discussing Ann Marie Corgill’s new book Of Primary Importance. We met last week to give ourselves a reading assignment before vacation and to focus in on the big questions that each of us hopes is answered during the course of the study group. Everyone in the group had a chance to preview the book and came ready with lots to think about.

We are a group of teachers who teach at Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio. There are 12 of us in the group, K-3 classroom teachers, principal, reading teachers, a math teacher and me. It is a great group and we are going to try to meet every other week for a few months starting in January.

We started the meeting looking at the book so we could decide how much we should read. Someone suggested that we read Chapters 1-5 because those chapters are all about the set-up and routines. It seemed like a lot to read, but then we remembered that we had almost a month to read and that it made sense to read that part of the book to start. So, we are reading from page 1-83 before we meet in mid-January.

Everyone had previewed the book so some of the talk was around how to use the book—some people hope to get an idea or two, others looked through it and want to follow many of her units to add some structure to their workshop. We are all hoping to get different things from our study group.

We brainstormed those questions that we hoped to have answered by the end of the study group. We shared the things that we hoped to learn. They included:

My kids love to write but where do I go next with them?
Is it better to teach forms of writing or to let kids have free choice?
How much editing makes sense? What should I edit? What should I let go?
What level of writing should I accept? What is a realistic expectation for primary kids?
Which authors and mentor texts work?
How important is the finished product?
How do I balance process with product?
Where does prompting fit in? How do you work to help kids get away from needing a prompt?
How do I keep kids’ interests when they are working on a piece over several days?
How do we keep kids engaged through the process?
How do I best manage the tiem?
What can I do with all of the kids who rush though the process and come to me saying, “I’m done.”
How do I help kids generate ideas? What prewriting work is best?
How can kids be more independent in the process?

So, these are the things we are thinking about as we begin our talk. We all left excited to read and think about our questions. We talked about mid-January being a long time to wait and we think we will probably have lots of informal conversations with each other before our next formal meeting.

We’ll post updates every time we meet—sharing our individual thinking and growth because of the book. We are excited to share our new learning.

5 comments December 18th, 2008

Short texts show students way into literature

Assigning a full-length novel to a group of middle or high school students is probably met with a lot of eye-rolling and groaning. Many students will struggle to complete the book and those who do may read it quickly and superficially. Teachers often find themselves sacrificing valuable classroom time to allow students to read the book, leaving little time for discussion.

Members of the Mosaic Listserv — a discussion group devoted to teachers who want to help their students become thoughtful, independent readers — recently participated in an online discussion about a book that suggests using shorter texts as a way to expose students to a wide range of literature while deepening their comprehension. In Less Is More: Teaching Literature with Short Texts, Grades 6-12, Kimberly Hill Campbell encourages teachers to look beyond novels to engage students, and embrace a richer variety of literature, including graphic novels, short stories, and essays.

She argues that not all students are ready — or in many cases willing — to take on a full-length novel and that short stories provide most students a way into literature. “When students are confronted solely and consistently with texts that are complex and lengthy, there is resistance, a tendency to disengage and to look for shortcuts that may help complete a required assignment but that circumscribe or even totally avoid actual reading,” writes Leila Christenbury in the book’s foreword.

Many of the teachers participating in the Mosaic discussion found themselves in that situation: trying to coax middle and high school students into reading lengthy pieces of required literature in a limited timeframe, and engage them in meaningful discussion about the piece. Leslie Popkin, a literacy coach from Bellerose, NY, shared that “as a coach in a K-8 building, writing a curriculum for the upper grades that is workable and meaningful has been a challenge. The reading of Less Is More couldn’t have been more timely.” She added that the strict time constraints faced by middle school teachers makes fitting all the components of balanced literacy into the confines of a middle school ELA program very difficult. “This book is a superb source for high school teachers,” Popkin wrote, “and a good one as well for middle school teachers.” She considers the book a “must-read” for teachers of grades 6 through 8 and thinks that the strategies from the book can be used at almost any level.

Heather Rockensock, a literacy coach from Holmen, WI, shared that she had a hard time helping her reading and writing teachers integrate learning strategies into their teaching. “As soon as I read this book, I knew that I had a solution to my problem,” Heather wrote. Instead of struggling with trying to fit full-length novels — and the time it takes to read them — into the allotted time, Heather and other teachers are now adding shorter texts to their library. Rockensock’s students in the eighth grade are beginning their study of the Holocaust. Reading the usual required texts — The Diary of Anne Frank and The Devil’s Arithmetic — “would take forever,” she said. “I am excited to say that we are adding picture books, short stories, and graphic novels to our collection…I can’t wait to see how this enriches our discussions because now we will have time to actually have discussions!” The eighth-graders will also write a memoir as part of the unit and Rockensock says that she can already see the advantages of exposing students to various forms of literature.

Donna DeTommaso, an ESL teacher from Hatfield, PA, said that she likes to use short texts to provide her students the opportunity to reread the piece multiple times and to dig deeper into the text. Inspired by the book, DeTommaso read the story Charlie by Shirley Jackson to her students. “Sometimes I get so hung up on having them muddle their way through it that I don’t choose to do this. Kimberly inspired me to back up and do more it,” she said. She then asked her students to reread the story on their own and used Campbell’s strategies to teach the class about foreshadowing and inferring.

Amy Windus, a fifth-grade teacher from Scio, NY, is also faced with trying to fit a lot of material into a limited amount of time. She believes that the strategies in Campbell’s book will not only help alleviate the time issue by using shorter texts, but will also allow students to read, re-read, and truly engage with the text in a meaningful way. “In my opinion, this is actually one of the greatest benefits of shorter texts,” she said. “Once they’ve been read and students understand the content, you are then free to re-examine them from any number of lenses, depending on the skill, strategy, or craft that you want students to understand.”

Add comment July 18th, 2008

Study guide for TeamWork now available

The authors of TeamWork compiled a study guide to use by yourself or with a study group to help you reflect on ideas in the book. In each section of this professional development guide you will find an introduction to a chapter, reflection questions, and action steps.  You may journal as you read the book and use the reflection questions as a guide for your writing or for a discussion. Action steps range from basic to more complex steps.

Download the study guide from the Stenhouse website and enhance your understanding of this great book.

Add comment June 6th, 2008


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