Archive for October, 2009

Poetry Friday: Poetry is…

In his new groundbreaking book, Metaphors & Analogies, Rick Wormeli explores how teachers can use metaphors to help students grasp difficult concepts, whether they are learning math, science, or poetry. For this week’s Poetry Friday, read some examples from Rick’s book that came from teacher Bill Ivey who introduced his poetry unit at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School by asking students to incorporate a major component of poetry — metaphors — in order to describe poetry. Here is what his students wrote:

Poetry is a cloud in the sky. We can’t guess a cloud’s shape, color, or the weather that the cloud will make. Sometimes a cloud covers the sky, but sometimes it shows all the sky.

– Ashley Chung

Poetry is a face, which is always changing its expression.

– Jessie Bartolotta

Poetry is a black hole that you fall in and can’t get out of.

– Alyssa Cote

Poetry is the breaking point from reality. It tips the meanings, causing a downpour of ideas waiting for questioning. The poet reveals each thought through the piece of paper which speaks not on its own, but with beautiful assistance.

– Erin Moore

Poetry is a form of emotions. You don’t need to share it on your body, write it out, read it, hear it; it is like a rainbow. First it rains and then out comes the rainbow. First you feel your emotions, then your pen hits the paper like sparks and away you write.

– Alissa Ames

How would you describe poetry with a metaphor? Leave your thoughts in the comments section and preview Rick’s entire book online now!

3 comments October 30th, 2009

Movie review: Where the Wild Things Are

Rose Cappelli and her daughter recently went to see the much-anticipated movie version of Where the Wild Things Are. If you haven’t see it yet, read Rose’s review before you head to the theater! If you have seen it, leave your impressions about the movie in the comments section! Rose is the coauthor of Mentor Texts and Nonfiction Mentor Texts.

Mentors, Magic, and Memories

When I was a little girl, the classic 1939 movie version of The Wizard of Oz was broadcast once every year on network television. I remember looking forward to this magical event when I could once again slip into those ruby slippers right along with Dorothy. As I grew, my insights into the story deepened. I remember the first time I realized that the characters Dorothy met in the land of Oz represented important people in her life. When I was old enough to read the book, I saw it from a different perspective, thinking about the universal themes depicted in the story. Even into adulthood, my understanding of these well known characters has deepened as I’ve considered them through a different lens. 

So it is, I think, with many childhood classics that we revisit at different stages in our lives. We bring all of our experiences and understandings of the world up to that point to each reading experience, which perhaps allows us to see things differently or to think and understand more deeply. In the 2009 movie version of Maurice Sendak’s classic tale of misbehaving Max , Where the Wild Things Are, director Spike Jonze offers those who may have first met Max as a child, or perhaps in the company of a child,  the opportunity to experience his world once again but with a deeper understanding.  The movie is an amazing accomplishment that not only preserves the integrity of the original picture book, but also pays tribute to Sendak as mentor.

Spike Jonze was Max’s contemporary as a young boy, connecting with him and the magical world he ruled. Jonze loved Sendak’s books and revisited them often, especially when he began to direct music videos. He studied how Sendak was able to create a world and tell a whole story in just thirty-seven pages, with some detailed images and a few hundred words.  That’s what Jonze would have to do with his music videos – find the kind of structure that would clearly tell a story in a short span of time through images and, in this case, music. Sendak’s work helped him to discover the narrative structure he was looking for.  The two eventually became friends and actually collaborated on the movie, with Sendak acting as producer and, once again, mentor.

In making the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are, Jonze had the opposite task – take a short little book and elongate it into a feature length film. What he so expertly did was to take us deeper into Max’s personality and imagination rather than add so much to the original story that would only serve to distort it. In the opening scenes we see Max in all his boyhood wildness – chasing his dog, running through the house, initiating a snowball fight, letting anger rule his impulsive actions. We so quickly identify and sympathize with him that we easily feel the need for his escape to a place where he can sort out the confusions that are a part of his life. When Max reaches the land of the wild things Jonze uses his magic and creativity to help us better understand these creatures who “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” He gives them names and distinct personalities, and brings them to life by letting them talk. They become the emotions that Max (and most of us) deal with as we try to make sense of the world. We can easily relate to the jealousies, insecurities, and anxieties of the wild things. And we are right there with Max when they offer those words of wisdom that help him realize that he can’t create a perfect world or a perfect self, but he can learn to understand his world better by being the best he can be.

Both the book and the movie offer a wealth of classroom connections to teachers, especially in the area of teaching the elements of story. Sendak and Jonze have created vivid settings that are important to understanding the story, and the clear problem/solution is a good example to students of any age. But I think the greatest connection comes with studying the characters. By comparing and contrasting both works, students can find the elements that authors and filmmakers use to help readers understand and identify with characters, and the important role characters have in moving the plot forward. Older students, especially, can learn the value of revisiting a book to study its structure and craft and to deepen comprehension. They are the audience who will better understand the movie and appreciate the techniques Jonze used to bring us deeper into Max’s imagination.

So grab a friend, preferably a teenager or young adult who grew up with Max, or maybe someone who appreciates the frustrations of a child’s world, and “let the wild rumpus start!” because this movie is definitely worth making a rumpus about.

Add comment October 29th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Counterfeit beliefs about conferring

In this week’s Quick Tip, Patrick Allen tackles some of the myths about conferring. In his new book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop, Patrick maintains that the benefits of conferring with readers are worth the effort of learning to do it well. He sets out to reveal how teachers can overcome their perceived obstacles and make the somewhat intangible aspect of conferring with readers tangible.

I remember when my friend and colleague Lori Conrad and I met to plan a presentation on conferring with readers. Scones and lattes in hand, we set to work (we always do our best thinking over coffee, it seems). We had our conferring notebooks, anecdotal records, professional texts, and favorite conferring quotes spread out on the table. We were hoping to synthesize years of conferring work into a two-hour presentation.

When we spent time in others’ classrooms, Lori and I noticed that many teachers were conferring with writers, but fewer were having similar interactions with readers. Teachers were talking to children about their writing, but not always taking the time to have the short, meaningful types of reading conferences we were having with the children in our classrooms.

Why were we seeing so few regularly occurring reading conferences?

As we started to outline our presentation, Lori said to me, “There are a lot of misconceptions out there about conferring with readers. I hear them pop up when I talk to teachers about the power of conferring.”

I nodded in agreement and added, “I don’t have time; I don’t know what questions to ask; It’s too hard; I don’t know what to write in my notes; I don’t even take notes; I don’t know how to go deep . . . These excuses are myths that have developed about such an important instructional construct. Teachers have internalized lists of reasons about why conferring can’t or won’t work.

There has been such a focus on small groups of late. Reading conferences are less tangible, but not less important. I think people just think they’re too hard. The lists of ‘can’ts’ or ‘won’ts’ are the things people need help sorting and understanding. We know conferring is effective, but there’s so much to learn.”

“You’re right,” Lori said. “There’s a difference between legitimate wanting to learn and making excuses.”

“Learning to confer is an art; we know that. It’s not easy; it takes practice,” I said. “But it’s one of the most important and beneficial instructional moves I use with my students.” Then a lightbulb went off . “That’s how we should start,” we said together.

Lori said, “Let’s start out by sharing some of the conferring myths we’ve uncovered in our work with students and adults.”

“Should we call them myths? A myth is more like a legend or a tall tale,” I said.

We both laughed. We’d heard plenty of reasons why conferring takes a backseat to other instructional practices. “What about counterfeit beliefs?” Lori suggested.

“Counterfeit beliefs. I like that.”

We started talking about the film A Private Universe. You remember it, don’t you? Many of us saw the fi lm in one of our college methods courses. If you didn’t, it is an interesting commentary on what happens when learners develop and maintain long-held beliefs that lead to misconceptions in their understandings of a concept. In the fi lm, graduating Ivy League seniors were asked to explain what causes the seasons. The graduates thought that “eccentricity in Earth’s orbit” made it warmer when it was closest to the sun and that the moon’s phases were caused by Earth’s shadow. And when ninth graders at a nearby school were asked the same questions, they had similar misconceptions.

Then students had an opportunity to test their ideas and justify their reasoning. The results? If students saw their ideas proven wrong they would do one of three things: (1) immediately let go of their old ideas and accept the new ones, (2) try to blend the old and new, or (3) revert to their previous learning.

In college, before we became classroom teachers, we may have found the film a bit humorous, but our humorous reaction changed to a state of being flabbergasted. We started asking, “Why don’t students grasp these concepts?” Even the brightest students have long-standing misconceptions that endure despite what they were taught by their teachers. And, in our methods classes we had conversations about instruction and assessment, trying to identify the causes of having students leave our classrooms with mistaken thoughts, ideas, or notions about their learning.

In our experiences, Lori and I saw the misconceptions about the power of conferring running rampant. The very definition of conferring—discourse, consultation, discussion, comparison, viewpoints, deliberation, talk—was somehow getting lost in translation.

If confer means to bestow a gift, we hoped that participants would better understand conferring as a result of our workshop.  Jeff Wilhelm says that many teachers still rely on an “information-transmission” approach, focusing mainly on the what, which he believes is insufficient for powerful understanding (2007, 9). Wilhelm contends that if we focus on only the what of learning, it leads to “shallow learning and even misconceptions” (2007, 9). Educational psychologists know that “if misconceptions exist, meaningful classroom learning requires experiences that help to restructure existing knowledge” (Murphy and Mason 2006, 307).

Perhaps teachers were doing the same thing with the notion of conferring with readers. The misguided concepts Lori and I noticed about reading conferences needed to be restructured.

Murphy and Mason point out that “Conceptual change refers to revisions in personal mental representations; revisions that are often precipitated by purposeful educational experiences” (2006, 307). Lori and I felt that nudging teachers to revise their misconceptions was our best option. So what did we come up with? Here is our list of counterfeit beliefs. Which ones do you believe? Which ones have you actually said, or thought, at one point or another?

Counterfeit Beliefs About Conferring

1. If I meet with small groups, I don’t have to meet with individuals. It’s easier to meet with small groups.

2. If I don’t meet with every student every day, I’m not doing a good job.

3. If I don’t do a running record during each and every reading conference, I’m not really assessing my students’ reading ability.

4. If I don’t talk about all the errors a student is making while he or she is with me, I’m not being diligent.

5. I have to take an expert stance in each conference.

6. I need to focus on skills and fluency; comprehension comes later.

7. When I’m talking to a child about his or her learning, I’m conferencing.

8. I need to confer with every student the same number of times for the same amount of time each week.

9. I need to give the rest of the class something “to do” so they’ll stay busy and leave me alone so I can confer.

10. I’ve tried _____’s conferring suggestions and recommendations and they just didn’t work out.

Now before you close the book and say, “Wait a minute, I agree with number nine or number two,” let the statement weigh on your mind a bit. Think about each statement carefully. Spend some time pondering. Can you see why these ideas might be considered misguided?

Read the rest of Chapter 1 and the entire book online now!

1 comment October 27th, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: Reaching for the Moon

This week’s Nonfiction Monday selection comes from Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. Their recent book, Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8, identifies a wide range of mentor texts  and guides teachers through a variety of projects that demonstrate how teachers can help students become more effective writers of good nonfiction.

July 20,1969. We are with our families on a warm summer evening, huddled in front of the television, watching an incredible event. Not only has man landed on the moon, but we are able to watch it live! We wonder: What does this mean for us, our country, and our world? We wonder: What does Armstrong mean when he says, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”?

The importance of this event is often lost on today’s youth who may view rocket launches as familiar as cell phone communication. Today’s generation operates in the present and concerns themselves with day- to-day events. It is hard sometimes to help them recapture the wonder and mystery of past accomplishments, however spectacular and inspirational. This is what books can do for us. Books allow us to be time travelers – in this case, space travelers – and help us share in the experiences of past generations.

Robert Burleigh’s One Giant Leap relays the story of the landing of the Eagle on the moon and the return trip to Earth in true Burleigh style. The king of “exploding a moment in time”, Burleigh walks us through the touchdown on the surface of the moon using rich description that spills out like poetry. His use of the present tense places the reader side by side with Armstrong and Aldrin as they take their first steps onto the surface of the moon. Variation in sentence length and use of fragments create a cadence that emphasizes feelings, actions, and thoughts. The words almost beg to be read aloud.

But mostly their eyes are fixed on another place:

Blue, white, light brown and shining below them.

They want that now. More than anything.

A planet of oceans and rivers. Of grass and green hills.

A world of trees and family and friends.

A place called Earth: fragile, beautiful, home.

Burleigh’s book is also a cornucopia for punctuation study and craft. Looking through a writer’s eye, we can examine the author’s use of hyphenated adjectives, onomatopoeia, proper nouns, thoughtshots, listing, and  effective repetition. One Giant Leap is also a source for studying dashes, colons, italics, and ellipses.

After sharing this book with your students, the questions are sure to fly. They will want to know more. Look to the Stars by Buzz Aldrin is filled with information presented in a friendly and interesting format  that will satisfy their curiosity and wonder. Aldrin uses many features of nonfiction, but  the personal connections and anecdotes bring history alive for the reader. Aldrin shares each generation’s fascination with the heavens and flight by creating a timeline with informational text. Using the features of nonfiction, a reader can dip into and out of this picture book. It is an easy book to read and ponder in small chunks.

To extend the reading into writing, you can use the quotations at the bottom of each page and the end pages to inspire student reflection as notebook entries. How do you think your students would respond to the following quotes:

“Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” –Jules Verne

After his space walk, Ed White said, “I felt red, white and blue all over.”

“The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.” -Gus Grissom, Apollo 1

Look to the Stars is a study in features of nonfiction that students can imitate for informational writing: timelines, diagrams, labels, text boxes, and headings. This book contains an introduction and an afterward that serves as a summary conclusion, and has great examples of how to write a dedication.

If you are looking to create a text set for this subject area in reading and writing workshop you might also include Richard Hilliard’s Neil, Buzz, and Mike Go to the Moon, and If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty. Meghan McCarthy’s Astronaut Handbook Is appropriate for primary and older students and is written in the second person to establish intimacy with the reader. Armstrong’s Moon Rock by Gerry Bailey and Karen Foster combines a story with informational text in a multigenre approach to create interest.

Since that historic day forty years ago when two Americans walked on the surface of our moon, we have come to understand many of the things we wondered about  then. In Look to the Stars, Aldrin explains the words of his partner Neil Armstrong. He says that the first part of that famous quote is simply a statement of fact, but the last part is a dream for the future. The use of mentor texts to teach the reading and writing of nonfiction is one way to help our students connect with the past and dream of the future.

Add comment October 26th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Straight Line by Georgia Heard

This week’s poem, Straight Line, comes from Georgia Heard. Georgia and coauthor Jennifer McDonough are wrapping up a three-blog book tour later today at Carol’s Corner. Earlier in the week, they stopped by A Year of Reading and Miss Rumphius Effect to answer questions about their book, A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades.

Georgia and Jen will be conducting a live webcast on Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. EST. If you are interested in participating, e-mail

Straight Line
by Georgia Heard

All the kindergarteners
walk to recess and back
in a perfectly straight line
no words between them.
They must stifle their small voices,
their laughter, they must
stop the little skip in their walk,
they must not dance or hop
or run or exclaim.
They must line up
at the water fountain
straight, and in perfect form,
like the brick wall behind them.
One of their own given the job
of informer – guard of quiet,
soldier of stillness.
If they talk
or make a sound
they will lose their stars.
Little soldiers marching to and from
their hair sweaty
from escaping dinosaurs
their hearts full of loving the world
and all they want to do
is shout it out
at the top of their lungs.
When they walk back to class
they must quietly
fold their pretends into pockets,
must dam the river of words,
ones they’re just learning,
new words that hold the power
to light the skies, and if they don’t
a star is taken away.
One star
by one star
until night grows dark and heavy
while they learn to think carefully
before skipping,
before making a wish.

6 comments October 23rd, 2009

Questions & Authors: Preparing for tests – without worksheets!

This week Charles Fuhrken, author of What Every Elementary Teacher Needs to Know About Reading Tests, has some tips for preparing students for reading tests throughout the school year—and not one of them involves a skills worksheet!

In this age of testing, school campuses with a history of performing well on high-stakes tests may get through the first month of a new school year without a single mention of “the test”—they very well may make it through the fall and winter without mentions of an upcoming spring assessment.  That’s refreshing, because the sad truth is that this will not likely be the case for the school campuses that have been deemed “low performing” by recent test results; instead, anxiety is felt on these campuses and preparation for a spring assessment begins almost immediately.

Teachers know that students cannot do their best work when they are encultured to view “the test” as something to be feared and something that requires year-long preparation via worksheets.  Therefore, practices that will ultimately help students on tests need to be more seamlessly integrated into the teaching of reading.  Here are some ways of doing that:

Translate “classroom speak” into “test speak”

The language of tests has been called formal English or hyper-English.  It’s more like funky English.  Certainly, it’s much too polite for the ways in which students (and teachers) talk about skills in the reading classroom.  Because tests have a certain way or a couple of ways that questions are posed about reading skills, teachers might want to do a bit of digging around in released tests and supplemental materials authored by their state department of education.  These sources provide information about how students are expected to recognize and respond to questions about reading and can be used to guide and assess classroom talk.  For instance, a review of released tests might tell you the word “conflict” is used to ask about story problem.  And yet you may hear students repeatedly use the word “problem” to discuss story problem.  Seize the opportunity to help students cross the bridge from “classroom speak” to “test speak” by discussing that “problem” and “conflict” are synonyms.  For younger students, especially, you may have to be explicit about your purposes for pointing out the association.  You might have to say, “So if you see the word ‘conflict’ on a reading test, just know that the test maker means ‘problem.’”  Embedding test language into classroom discussions in this way provides students with nuggets of test-taking wisdom over the course of the school year and can help students feel more confident about the questions they will be asked.

Teach students to be reading skill “name droppers”

We all have experience with name droppers—those acquaintances who infuse their dinner party conversations with the important people they know.  At parties, these people are annoying, but in the reading classroom, we like name droppers!  By that, I mean, we want students to label and name the understandings they voice.  Teachers often have to model how to be a name dropper.  For instance, if a student says, “Paragraph 3 tells about how bats are nocturnal,” then the teacher can label that student’s talk by saying, “You’re helping us to understand the main idea of paragraph 3.  You explained what paragraph 3 is mostly about.  It’s about how bats are nocturnal.  That’s what the author wants readers to know about bats in that particular paragraph.”  Because a test will use the words “main idea” and “mostly about” to test the reading skill main idea, your labels will help students learn to “name drop” when talking about this reading skill.  That way, the names and labels that test makers use will have become part of students’ everyday vocabularies.

Gather and publicize test knowledge

As students are learning “test speak” and to become “name droppers,” keep public records of students’ understandings by having students make lists and charts of their growing knowledge of test information.  Then, closer to the spring assessment, students can review this information so that it is on their minds come test day.  For instance, students can create “Classroom to Test” dictionaries in which they “translate” classroom speak to test speak and share them with their peers.  Another useful exercise is to have students work together to host a test-taking workshop in which groups of workshop leaders share their top five (or more) tips.  Such engaging activities provide a review before a test without the need to resort to worksheets.

Help students build their reading stamina

Reading tests are long.  Let’s just put that out there as fact.  Even “accomplished” readers, if you will, can have a tough time of getting through the text-dense test pages in the spring.  That’s all the more reason why students need time to get used to facing multiple pages of dense text in one sitting long before the day of the reading test!  Here are some ways teachers can help students build reading muscles:

Increase time spent in self-selected reading gradually

Asking students to stay focused on one text for a bit longer each month in the fall will certainly help students focus their minds on test passages in the springtime.  Try to make the increases unnoticeable to students.  (Having great books available in the classroom library will help with this too!)

Offer a range of reading opportunities—and follow-up activities

Reading silently from magazines.  Reading a chapter book with a book club or partner.  Preparing and reading aloud a poem.  Listening to the teacher read and following along.  Then writing about their reading.  Talking to a buddy.  Acting out a scene.  These are ways for students to spend meaningful time with texts and increase stamina.  Nancy Gregory, supervisor of secondary English language arts in a San Antonio, Texas, district, once told me, “Stamina comes from being fully engaged in reading and being a good reader.  Stamina is not built by reading test passage after test passage in test prep booklets.”

Allow students to be accountable for their reading work

Lucy Calkins suggests asking students, before they begin reading, to place a post-it note on the page they would like to reach during a particular reading session.  She contends that doing so helps students stay focused on their task and push to reach their goals.

Test scores from a previous year shouldn’t interrupt or halt the “real” work of the reading classroom in favor of skill-building workbooks.  When the preparation for tests that students need is incorporated seamlessly into the teachers’ instructional decisions all year long, students can grow to feel powerful over the test instead of anxious about it.

9 comments October 21st, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Writing nonfiction leads

This week’s quick tip is from Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough’s new book, A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades. Georgia and Jen are participating in a three-blog book tour this week. Yesterday they were interviewed at A Year of Reading and tomorrow and Friday you can read interviews with them at Miss Rumphius Effect and Carol’s Corner. They will also participate in a live webcast Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. EST. If you are interested in joining them live, send your e-mail address to

Nonfiction Writing: Leads/Beginnings
Jen and I discussed how, just as in picture books, authors of nonfiction books also want to capture the reader’s attention from the first line.

Jen began the mini-lesson:

“Writers, I want to talk to you about something that writers do when they start books. They try to grab the reader’s attention by making the very first sentence interesting so the reader will want to keep reading. I want to talk to you about three ways that writers do this.

“The first way you can begin your nonfiction writing is by asking a question. Questions grab the reader’s attention, especially if it’s an intersting question. Remember the book  Have You Seen Bugs? by Joanne Oppenheim? That book begins with a question, ‘Have you seen bugs?’

“Another way writers can capture the reader’s attention is by stating a really interesting fact in the first sentence. We could start our hermit crab book with ‘There are 800 different kinds of hermit crabs!’

“Now, wouldn’t that grab a reader’s attention?

“And the third way writers can begin a nonfiction piece is by writing interesting sounding words.” Jen read from a volcano book that began, “Rrrrruuuuuumble! SSSSSSrrra! Ker boom!”

One of the kids yelled out: “Onomatopoeia!”

“Yes,” Jen said. “You are right, it is onomatopoeia.

“Today, I want you to get your nonfiction pieces and reread your beginnings. Is it a beginning that will grab the reader? Will it make them want to read more? If not, get your pencil and try another beginning — a question, an interesting fact, or a sound word.”

As Jen and I walked around and conferred with students, we noticed that a lot of the kids began their pieces with questions. A few revised their beginnings, like Andrew who was writing about crabs. He changed his beginning from “I see crabs” to “Scratch, scratch, scratch, that’s the sound of crab claws on the sand.” And Tommy began one of his chapters, “Chomp, chomp. That’s the sound of the tiger eating its prey!”

Jen’s Reflection

Georgia and I noticed that most of the kids wanted to begin their pieces with a sound or a noise. We had to remind them that the sound had to make sense and feel true to the reader. Ryan was writing about crystals and wanted to begin his piece with a sound, but after a conference, he agreed that sound wouldn’t really make sense unless it were the sound of rocks being crushed. During conferences, we remind the writers that the start of each new chapter could have an interesting beginning as well.

Add comment October 20th, 2009

Nonfiction Monday with Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough

The following are book recommendations taken from the “Books for Nonfiction Writing from the Heart” book list in A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades, a new book by Georgia Heard and Jen McDonough. Georgia and Jen picked these books not because they are necessarily new, but because these particular ones are timeless and classics and because all are excellent examples of exploring wonders from the heart – a genre of writing that they describe in more detail in their book.

Be sure to check out the first stop on Georgia and Jen’s blog book tour on A Year of Reading blog and then follow them over to Carol’s Corner and Miss Rumphius Effect later this week! You can also participate in a live webcast with Georgia and Jen on Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. Just send your name and e-mail address to

Byrd Baylor’s The Other Way to Listen is one of my all-time favorites. I have reread this book a hundred times as there is such timeless wisdom in Byrd Baylor’s words. An elderly man teaches a young boy how to listen to the earth like a poet – not just to label trees and rocks, etc. with proper names – but to listen with heart and a deep understanding to the earth’s beauty. In the classroom, we read these lines from the book to introduce the Discovery Table, “…go get to know/one thing/as well/as you can” — as children hold their beloved objects from nature in their hands — they are invited to use their senses to get to know their objects. It’s amazing that this simple story has provided such positive inspiration to kids who are aware, more than ever, of the earth’s beauty, but also of its fragility.

The Wise Old Woman and Her Secret by Eve Merriam is a story about an elderly woman, and the townspeople who demand to know the secret of her wisdom. She tells them they can look for it, and they rummage through her house and search her yard, but leave without any answers. Only a young girl discovers the secret– which is that wisdom comes from taking the time to look closely, and being curious. It’s a great read aloud to introduce wonder centers, and to inspire children to keep wondering and asking questions about the world around them.

Everyone knows the well-known Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox but I’m not sure how many people realize that it’s a great way to introduce exploring writing wonders from the heart. We asked children in Jen McDonough’s first grade if they remember what Wilfred Gordon’s question is, and many of them remembered that it is, “What’s a memory?” We told the children that Wilfred Gordon didn’t go look in a book, or search the internet for the answer; instead, he called on his friends who lived in the old people’s home next door, among others, Mrs. Jordan, Mr. Tippett and Miss Mitchell – who all gave answers from their hearts. We then asked the children in Jen’s class to explore and write one of their heart wonders, and try to answer from their hearts.

The First Song Ever Sung by Laura Krauss Melmed is another great example of a heart wonder book. When a little boy asks, “What was the first song ever sung?” he questions his father, brother, sister — all the people in his family — and each one gives him a different answer — none scientific – but instead, poetic, unique and rooted in their life experiences.

1 comment October 19th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Lucky

One book I just can’t read without tearing up is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Kafka said that literature should serve as an ax for the frozen sea within us. I can’t think of anything written more powerful than that book. Here is a poem from Tony Hoagland in a similar vein, and also a link to Munsch’s website:

by Tony Hoagland

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy

Read the rest of the poem here

Add comment October 16th, 2009

Reading to admire: A webcast with Mark Overmeyer

“Assessment must encompass so much more than grading,” writes Mark Overmeyer in his new book, What Student Writing Teaches Us: Formative Assessment in the Writing Workshop.

In this webcast, recorded recently with a small group of teachers, Mark talks about how he reads student work “to admire,” to take the focus away from strictly grading the work, to consider opportunities for helping students become stronger writers. During the webcast, he walks participants through the final draft of a picture book by a third-grade student, Veronica, to demonstrate how he focuses on her strengths as a writer.

(Note: this is a large file and might take a few minutes to load. Click here for a lower resolution version.)

“When I think of what to admire about Veronica’s piece, I can do so much more than when I think of grading or evaluating…. When I choose something to admire first, I not only stifle the editor in me but also find ideas for conferences,” Mark writes. By reading to admire, teachers will become familiar with each student’s individual strengths, will be able to select possible topics to begin a conference, and will find possibilities for using student work as a model during a mini lesson.

You can preview Mark’s book online and see Veronica’s completed picture book, along with more of Mark’s comments in Chapter 6.

About the webcast: When you start the webcast, it will launch in any media player installed on your computer (Windows Media Player or QuickTime). Make sure the sound is turned on on your computer. You will hear the audio from the presentation and you will see the slides Mark presented during each part of the presentation.

Add comment October 14th, 2009

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