Archive for December, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Technology and Writing

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Peter Lourie and David Somoza’s new book, Writing to Explore. First, Peter talks about how he uses technology during his adventures and how technology enhances his writing. Then David talks about how this applies in his classroom. The full text of Writing to Explore is still available on the Stenhouse website for browsing!

Using Technology in the Field
Peter Lourie
Portable audio recorders, digital cameras, high-definition camcorders—these are the tools of my trade. Oh, and
notebooks and pens. When I begin an adventure, whether to the Arctic or the Amazon, I bring plenty of tools to record the details of my journeys. Not being blessed with a photographic memory, this is the only way I can come back with the rich layers of material (stories, characters, history, atmospheres,settings) that I need to write my adventure books. What makes these tools so important in the digital age is that I can use the sounds and pictures—and now HD video clips—in ways that are complementary to my writing. Telling the kids about a particular experience in the jungle is nowhere near as dramatic as showing them howlers running through the trees and stopping to roar or whales surfacing and blowing water vapor from their blowholes in the Beaufort Sea. I like to use photos, tape recordings, and videos to excite kids about ancient cultures, distant lands, and foreign places. I also can use short clips on my Web site or blog. (In fact, I developed a whole Web site around such digital stories].

Iñupiaq Eskimos and scientists alike tell their own stories in their own words, all of which I hope will demystify the Arctic and bring the complex issues that exist above the Arctic Circle into people’s homes.) I sometimes sell photos and footage to national magazines. And I always end my writing workshops with stories about collecting material in the field.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this is tedious work. In fact, it’s a ton of fun. I love holding a camera or tape
recorder; I love to capture such rich stories for future use. Since good writing is detailed writing, I show kids how much detail I can collect with these instruments of my trade. When I get back I listen to the tapes and look at the photos and video, and from these records I write my first drafts.

The truth is, if I were a kid today, I might choose to become a videographer rather than a writer, because on video you can collect setting, character, and history all in one dynamic place.Video is so immediate and exciting. With Movie Maker or iMovie or the one I use, Final Cut Pro, a videographer can create rich and exciting adventure stories. For now, however, my collections of digital files are used to write more effectively. They help me remember: DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS.

Using Technology in the Writing Classroom
David Somoza
I never intended to use technology to such an extent in the teaching of writing, but it sort of evolved over time. And I keep stumbling on new ways to use various forms of technology in teaching kids to write. When most teachers think of integrating technology into teaching,the first subject that comes to mind is usually not writing. But when you think about writing as a way of connecting with the world, it makes a lot of sense to use technology to help kids create this link.

This is particularly true for a research project like the state adventure, where the Internet can become the vehicle that connects the kids with the world (see Chapters 6 and 7 for a full explanation of the project). Maybe it’s just for a brief while to gain a better understanding of another place, another person, or a potential adventure, but the Internet allows kids to have virtual adventures and bring back valuable information. In fact, without the aid of the Internet, the state adventure project could not be developed to the extent that we do, because it’s the addition of online research that allows us to better ground the adventure essay with factual and detailed information. It’s this detailed information, so easily accessed through online research, that allows us to revive the research paper and turn it into a journey
that is deeply personal.

In addition to the Internet, there are many easy-to-use software programs available that can synthesize images, audio, and video to create multimedia vignettes that can launch an adventure project. Once these vignettes are created, the presentation equipment is key to the effective delivery of this material to students. In other words, the kids will become engaged in the video and music to a greater or lesser degree depending on the equipment used to present it. With a larger, clearer image and with higher sound quality, students will become more engaged in the writing prompt—and therefore more engaged in their writing. The combination of equipment, programs, and Internet-based research makes for technology-rich, multisensory experiences for the writing student. Ultimately, it’s what takes
them out of the classroom and into the world.

Add comment December 28th, 2010

Happy Holidays!

The blog — and its editor — will take a few days off to celebrate Christmas. Thank you for reading this year and we’ll be back with another Quick Tip Tuesday Dec. 28.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Stenhouse!

Add comment December 23rd, 2010

Check in with Rick Wormeli

We have been regularly updating the special section of the Stenhouse website dedicated to Rick Wormeli’s book Fair Isn’t Always Equal. After a FREE registration, you will find a wealth of resources assembled by Rick to answer all of your questions about assessing and grading in the differentiated classroom.

In the latest video we posted, Rick discusses how to set up gradebooks:

You can also send your questions to Rick by e-mailing him. He will not be able to answer all e-mails, but check back on our Q&A page to see if your question has been answered.

Add comment December 22nd, 2010

Preview five new books online!

We just posted the full text of five new books from Pembroke Publishers, available in the U.S. from Stenhouse. Browse them all for free online!

How Bullets Saved My Life
How Bullets Saved My Life
Fun Ways to Teach Some Serious Writing Skills
Judy Green; Foreword by David Booth
Organized around the 6+1 writing traits, this practical book is chock-full of writing tips, strategies, and fun activities. It shows how to call on favorite authors and mentor texts to demonstrate writing techniques.

The Cornerstones to Early Literacy
The Cornerstones to Early Literacy
Childhood Experiences That Promote Learning in Reading, Writing, and Oral Language
Katherine Luongo-Orlando
Offers concise overviews, strategies, and activities that help teachers shape experiences with play, oral language, word play, print encounters, and reading & writing.


The Writing Triangle The Writing Triangle
A Fresh Look at Your Tired Writing Process
Graham Foster
Gives teachers and students specific planning, revision, and assessment strategies for a variety of common writing forms: description, exposition, formal e-mail messages, exploratory writing, and more.

Keepin' It Real
Keepin’ It Real
Integrating New Literacies with Effective Classroom Practice
Lisa Donohue
Distills the latest research into ideas that you can use tomorrow, with 21 activities and 26 “digital task cards” that will get your feet wet with digital tools across the curriculum.

Teaching in Troubles Times
Teaching in Troubles Times
Kathy Paterson
Provides simple, specific, and effective strategies for dealing with difficult situations brought on by fears for safety, fear of failure, social fears, and world problems.

Add comment December 20th, 2010

Poetry Friday: Listen

I came across this poem while flipping through Test Talk by Amy Greene and Glennon Doyle Melton. Especially around this busy time of the year it’s a great reminder to slow down and decide what to do with that precious fruit in our hands.

Nikki Grimes

Let me tell you
where things stand.
Each day is like fruit
Resting ripe in my hand.
Will I sample its sweetness?
Will I toss it away?
Will I let you steal it?
I got one thing to say:
Don’t try it.
Don’t try it.

1 comment December 17th, 2010

Professional development pie

If an army marches on its stomach, a professional learning team needs tasty snacks and freshly brewed coffee to get the most out of good professional development. Last Wednesday Stenhouse author Kathy Collins (Growing Readers and Reading for Real) worked with K-5 teachers from RSU 23 at Jameson Elementary school, Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Not only did third-grade teacher Sue Gallant welcome participants into her classroom where they observed Kathy teach a lesson and confer with students, but she also baked an amazing pastry. 

Kathy’s hand gives you an idea of the scale. It was big. And not a crumb remained by lunchtime when the K-2 teachers departed and were replaced by teachers in grades 3-5. But Sue’s backward planning was flawless. She had predicted that the delicacy would not last so she made chocolate chip cookies so her intermediate colleagues would not miss out on the goodies.   

Add comment December 15th, 2010

Quick Tip Tuesday: Why is voice important?

In How Bullets Saved My Life: Fun Ways to Teach Some Serious Writing Skills, author Judy Green explores the elements and mechanics of good writing and shows teachers how to use mentor books to demonstratge specific skills. In this week’s Quick Tip Judy talks about the importance of a strong writing voice and how to demonstrate this elusive characteristic and skill to young writers.

Once I led a writing workshop for intermediate teachers and school principals. We began by discussing excellent children’s authors—writers of picture books, nonfiction, fiction—and establishing what makes good writing. As I listed the characteristics of good writing, I said, “We look for interesting ideas, clear organization, appealing word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and of course, ‘strong voice’.”

One of the attending principals asked, “What do you mean by a you-ish voice?” “Sound like yourself, rather than an encyclopedia,” I answered. Voice is how you “talk” in writing. Writing Traits expert Ruth Culham explains it as “the way a writer brings the topic to life, depending on the intended audience.”

Strong voice is engaging to read. Energy and emotions charge the writing so that it is compelling and full of conviction. The writer’s tone is interesting and presence is powerful. Readers can “hear” personality in the writing. A weak voice, on the other hand, creates a watered-down effect, where the writer seems indifferent to the subject or distanced from the audience. The writing is plain, and the author sounds monotonous, flat, or even bored. With a weak voice, a writer loses the reader’s emotional investment.

Mem Fox and Lyn Wilkinson wrote a book called English Essentials: the wouldn’t-be-without-it guide to writing well. They offer this insight about the elements of good writing: “The presence of voice  ill indicate to readers that above and beyond the sweat and the bother, the writer has actually enjoyed writing the piece. Voice reveals a lively commitment to the writing task, a desire to be read, a high level of care. Let your voice be heard. It will make your writing come alive.”

Voice is difficult to pin down in writing. Just understanding it can be a challenge. Before we get into how to teach it to students, let’s compare strong voice to weak voice in chart form.

Strong Voice vs Weak Voice
Writing is compelling, authentic, and engaging; tone is interesting; you hear the writer’s conviction
Writer connects with audience. Writer’s devotion comes through in the text
Expository writing is committed, persuasive
Narrative writing is honest, engaging, personal

Writing is plain; writer is indifferent, distanced from topic and/or audience
Writer sounds flat, bored, unaware of audience; reader loses interest
Expository writing lacks commitment
Narrative writing shows no attempt at voice

Understandably, the concept of voice intimidates young writers. Some students require help adding voice to their writing. Like the principal in my workshop, they need a clear understanding of what strong voice sounds like. Once they know what voice means, it becomes easier to grasp.

Recently I read aloud Chester’s Masterpiece to the uproarious laughter of primary children. When Mélanie Watt’s cat Chester attempts to write his own masterpiece, a duel ensues. This is a good book for teaching voice. Words like “artistic expression” and “mime” challenge primary kids, but they can easily distinguish between exasperated Mélanie —“Chester, what are you up too???” “Chester, this is unacceptable!” “Chester!!! That’s not funny!”—and bossy Chester—“This is MY BOOK! I can write whatever I want! AND I can draw all over the pages and make up MY own stories!” Obviously, these two characters sound different. They use different kinds of language: different words, tone, sentences, and forms of address.

Voice is the individual style you use that gives your writing personality. Your voice establishes the tone and sets it apart from other writing. This applies as much in writing nonfiction as it does in fiction.

I’m writing this book in a friendly, conversational voice. I want to sound the way I would speak if we were chatting face-to-face. Encourage students to think of writing as chatting with someone. Use your talking voice but, instead of speaking aloud, write words. Sounding like yourself has a conversational effect. As you write, let your author’s voice shine. How do your words sound? Look at:
• tone: Is it friendly, formal, chatty, or distant?
• word choice: Do you use everyday words or high-brow language?
• sentence patterns: Are they varied, or do they repeat?
• personality: What do you show about yourself?

Teachers can demonstrate voice by reading aloud. Some picture books, like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, appeal to all grade levels and make good teaching tools for voice. In this hilarious twist on the original story, kids can identify the wolf ’s sarcastic and impassioned voice. After hearing several examples of strong voice, kids can practice it in their own writing.

Doctor De Soto is another excellent read-aloud to teach voice. As is usual for William Steig—who also wrote Shrek, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Abel’s Island—his tone is matter-of-fact. Sounding like himself was important to William Steig.

The following piece describes Martha Parravano’s experience reading Doctor De Soto to her daughters: “I found myself experimenting with different inflections and different voices each time I read the book (once even reading Doctor De Soto’s invitation to the fox to try his “remarkable preparation” in the sing-songy come-on voice of a carnival huckster). The all-too-human fox, with his wimpy aversion to pain (“‘Please!” the fox wailed. “Have mercy, I’m suffering!’”) and ridiculously short gratefulness span (“On his way home, he wondered if it would be shabby of him to eat the De Sotos when the job was done”) provided much comic relief and opportunity for exaggerated villainous voices.”(Parravano, 2010)

1 comment December 14th, 2010

Blog tour wrap-up

Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz, the authors of Day by Day were on a blog tour last week, answering blogger and reader questions about their new book.

The first stop of the tour was hosted by Stenhouse authors Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn on their popular blog A Year of Reading. In the interview Stacey shared what she loved about writing workshop: “I love watching the way writing workshop helps children find and develop their voice.  Writing workshop shows students that they have poignant stories to tell and important messages to share with others.  In addition, I enjoy witnessing the transformation of non-writers into confident communicators within the context of a writing workshop. ”

On Raising Readers and Writers  Stacey talked about the importance of teachers being writers themselves and how to overcome the fear of sharing their writing. ” If you just share once or twice, then your students won’t become more comfortable sharing their writing in class. If teachers share their own writing with students on a regular basis, then it will foster a stronger classroom community where everyone’s writing is valued.”

In an interview with The Write Brained Teacher, Ruth opened up about her writing habits: “I write with my laptop balanced on my knees, usually with music in my ears. This is one of the few constants. I bounce around the house – near the fireplace with train tracks being built around me, in the living room with a game on the TV, in the car waiting for appointments. Mostly, I write in the early morning hours or late at night. Writing is squeezed in around my family life. As far as rituals, I like to reread something I’ve written before I start writing. At the end of a writing session, I like to make plans for my next writing time. Because my writing time is limited, it is important I know what I’m planning to do before I sit down. This way I can be thinking about it in my time away from my computer.”

The last stop of the tour was hosted by Once Upon a Teacher. Blogger Melanie Holtsman set up her trusty Skype connection and camera to interview her colleagues at Chets Creek Elementary in Florida about the questions they had about Day by Day. She also talked to her friends and colleagues at the International School of Bangkok and produced this video interview with Ruth:

1 comment December 13th, 2010

Poetry Friday: December Substitute

I have to say, this is a perfect poem for this time of the year. It combines school, teachers, and St. Nick! Enjoy the December Substitute by Kenn Nesbitt.

December Substitute
by Kenn Nesbitt

Our substitute is strange because
he looks a lot like Santa Claus.
In fact, the moment he walked in
we thought that he was Santa’s twin.

We wouldn’t think it quite so weird,
if it were just his snowy beard.
But also he has big black boots
and wears these fuzzy bright red suits.

He’s got a rather rounded gut
that’s like a bowl of you-know-what.
And when he laughs, it’s deep and low
and sounds a lot like “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

He asks us all if we’ve been good
and sleeping when we know we should.
He talks of reindeers, sleighs, and elves
and tells us to behave ourselves.

And when it’s time for us to go
he dashes out into the snow.
But yesterday we figured out
just what our sub is all about.

We know just why he leaves so quick,
and why he’s dressed like Old Saint Nick
in hat and coat and boots and all:
He’s working evenings at the mall.

1 comment December 10th, 2010

Stenhouse author websites

We just updated our list of Stenhouse author websites and several of our new authors have blogs or sites where you can find out more about them and their work.

On Peter Lourie’s site you can find out about his latest professional book, Writing to Explore, written with David Somoza, as well as his adventures books. He also has a section for teachers and descriptions of his journeys.

Jennifer Jacobson is the author of No More “I’m Done!” and her site includes information about her keynote speeches, children’s books, as well as a link to her blog.

Stephanie Harvey’s site has information about her summer institutes, as well as a full catalogue of her publications – including Strategies That Work. You can also sign up for her mailing list through her website.

Liz Hale, the author of Crafting Writers, K-6, has information about her workshops available on her new site.

Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz, authors of Day by Day, blog regularly at Two Writing Teachers and Stacey has her own website as well.

For more Stenhouse author websites, scroll down a bit on this page and right under our tag cloud you will find a full list of sites.

Add comment December 9th, 2010

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