Archive for July, 2011

Poetry Friday: Learning Far and Near

This week we have a video poem created by Julie Ramsay’s class, inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” This video, along with many other projects created by students, can be found on a special website created to accompany Julie’s book, “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?” Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3-8. To gain access to the site, just purchase the book on the Stenhouse website!

Learning Far and Near

Listen my children and you shall hear,
Of the learning time from far and near,
On the twenty-ninth of May in 09,
Every digital citizen is still alive,
Who remembers the famous project we did,
We said to the world “Joy, Joy we,
Have done every thing alive. Like digital stories,
Wikis, Jing, READ posters, scanner colleges,
Tech and writing projects, more, more, and more.”
Our communications both back and forth
Traveled across from our Alabama school
Digitally riding to the Peoria Bay
Right when the sun,
Rose over the day where to our writing,
And ideas you never said “Nay.”
The writer’s block never came,
As we wrote to you for ever more,
A worldly collaboration with each letter,
Across the sky like a rainbow,
And a huge experience that was magnified
By flattening of classroom walls in our stride,
While everyone went through the valley of learning from another,
And we stayed on track and never,
Missed an opportunity to teach or learn.
Others wonder how we do it
But it takes lots of effort with us two,
We worked together in a quest for the best.
That’s why we say unto you thanks,
For a year that will stand out as the best!
—Sean (inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere)

Add comment July 29th, 2011

Franki Sibberson Reviews So What Do They Really Know?

Franki Sibberson, at AYear of Reading (and co-author of Beyond Leveled Books and Still Learning to Read, with Karen Szymusiak) has reviewed Cris Tovani’s latest book, So What Do They Really Know?

“This is a book that I read from cover to cover and one that I plan to go back to again and again as I struggle with the place of assessment in literacy instruction.  Cris takes us back to the most important reasons classroom teachers assess students–in order to make decisions on where to go next…to use assessments to inform our instruction.  No matter what level you teach, Cris gives us something important to think about when it comes to assessment. It is a book that will reground readers.”

For the full review and a video featuring Cris discussing her new book with Samantha Bennett, visit .  We have the full book available for  preview at the Stenhouse site .

Add comment July 27th, 2011

Blogstitute Week 3: How to critique writing

“Offering feedback to another writer is a learned skill,” writes children’s author and teacher Kate Messner (Real Revision) in this week’s Blogstitute entry. Kate shares a real letter she received from her editor as she was working on her book The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., and walks through specific steps of what feedback should look like.

Next week’s Blogstitute post will come from Julie D. Ramsay, author of “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?” Remember to leave comments and questions to be entered to win a package of five writing books!

How to critique writing

As a middle school English teacher and a published author, I find myself on all sides of the critique fence—giving critiques myself, teaching kids how to critique one another’s work, and receiving constructive critiques from my writing group members and my editors.

Offering feedback to another writer is a learned skill. You want to be supportive, but not so supportive that there’s no real constructive criticism. You want to be critical, but not so critical that the writer is plunged into fits of despair. You want to offer feedback while still leaving ownership of the piece and the responsibility for improving it squarely in the hands of the writer.

I’m an extremely fortunate writer; the editors with whom I’ve worked have turned constructive criticism into an art, and I think writers of all ages can learn a lot from studying an editor’s strategies for nudging an author to revise. Here are some quotes from the editorial letter that Bloomsbury/Walker editor Mary Kate Castellani sent me when we were beginning to work together on my middle-grades novel The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., along with some lessons on critiquing I’ve pulled from her model.

Dear Kate,

Four pencil nubbins and half a Pink Pearl eraser later, I’m finally returning your revision. I so enjoyed re-immersing myself in this story. In fact I got so into the story that any time someone approached my desk I jumped out of my chair because I forgot there was an outside world (or in this case . . . office). The changes you’ve made are just right and I am loving the funny parts of Gee’s voice. It’s been so much fun to reread and work on.

Lesson #1: Say something positive first.

Simple advice, but this paragraph puts me in the right frame of mind to appreciate Mary Kate’s suggestions and to believe in myself as a writer so that I’m ready to tackle the revision.

First, I want to make sure that the project’s obstacles evolve clearly and don’t feel episodic. I’ve sort of outlined them as I see them:

1.    At first Gianna is her own worst enemy by being a slightly disorganized procrastinator, better at the creative side of things and not very good at minding deadlines.
2.    Then Bianca proves to be an even worse enemy as she tries to ruin Gianna’s chances of completing her project.
3.    Then things out of her control, such as Nonna’s doctor’s visit and disappearance, take up her precious free time, really and truly making it impossible for her to finish her project.

Lesson #2: Tell the reader what you’re taking away from your reading of the manuscript.

If what Mary Kate read here isn’t what I intended, then I know I have some work to do in terms of getting my ideas across.

Gianna is foiled at almost every turn, but I wonder if her reactions at times seem a bit too mild. Her brand of stoicism and her ability to roll with things are part of her personality, but I wished she had stronger reactions when she suffers the most serious of setbacks: a) when all her leaves get thrown away (page 90) and b) when Bianca ruins all her identification cards in a super mean act of sabotage (page 105). I wonder, if Gee’s reactions are stronger, whether it will be easier to understand why she isn’t making any progress, and then later when it’s all put in perspective by Nonna’s illness it will all be even more complete. Does that make sense?

Lesson #3: Be specific in your feedback.

Here, Mary Kate doesn’t simply say that Gianna’s character needs to be developed. (If she had, I may have struggled with where to start on that momentous and vague task.)  Instead, she points out very specific instances where there are opportunities for me to make Gianna’s reactions to her situation feel more authentic.

I’m wondering if it is possible to inject more Vermont/New England. It’s sort of funny when you think of how most people romantically associate New England in the fall with mountains and the turning of the leaves and the gorgeous colors—when they are actually the bane of our main character’s existence. The scenes are there, but I found myself wishing for more of the region’s flavor.

Lesson #4: Note places where the writer may want to add sensory details.

This request from Mary Kate led to some of my favorite descriptions in the book, and students often write to me about the setting of this novel, telling me they really felt like they were experiencing autumn in Vermont. Sensory details—including those that go beyond sight—make a huge difference.

And lastly, I feel like Zig and Gianna’s “relationship” still needs just a bit of finessing. Nonna’s “prediction” emerges at an odd time when they are crouched in the classroom during a drill. I’d rather have it come right from Nonna with Zig and Gee present so that they can be thoroughly embarrassed and have that make them both realize that something might be changing between them. Then all the awkward little moments alluding to this will make sense to the reader (and to Gee as she narrates). As this situation goes from being confusing and weird for Zig and Gee to clear feelings of affection, I think it would be a more satisfying evolution. Does that make sense?

Lesson #5: Don’t be afraid to point out where things don’t make sense.

This explanation of one of the situations that didn’t feel natural to Mary Kate helped me to look at that particular relationship in the book through a wider lens and see how it could be better developed throughout. Before all was said and done during the revision of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., the book lost its first three chapters; got a new first chapter, two new middle chapters, and a new last chapter; and underwent many smaller changes.

I think just a bit more finessing will make an already strong story even better. I’ve been having the best time working on this book, and poor Stacy has had to listen to me stop and read parts out loud so that I can share my favorite moments with someone else. She’s been very patient with me.

Lesson #6:  Wrap up on a positive note.

Again, this puts the writer in the right frame of mind to get back to work. And finally . . .

After you’ve had a chance to look this over, let me know if you think these suggestions make sense, and we can go from there.

Lesson #7: Follow up written comments with a conversation when possible.

After I receive an editorial letter, Mary Kate and I often chat on the phone so that I can ask questions and she can clarify her suggestions. Sometimes, that conversation leads to a brainstorming session that produces more out-of-the-box ideas than I might have come up with on my own. This works with students, too. Whenever possible, try to follow up a critique-writing session with a personal conference, leaving ample time for questions and brainstorming.

Remember, real revision takes time, and it can be messy, but the results are well worth the long trail of marked-up manuscripts and sticky notes they leave behind!

18 comments July 25th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Sometimes Outside in September

I don’t know about you, but after complaining all winter long about the cold, right about this time of the year I start to complain about summer. It’s too hot. And humid. And the bugs… Not to rush the time, but I thought this lovely student poem from Kate Messner’s new book Real Revision captures what is ahead.

Sometimes outside in September
You feel the cool crisp air
as it gently wraps you in its arms

Sometimes outside in September
You see the brightly colored leaves
As they make their confusing journey across
Your feet to there [sic] end

Sometimes outside in September
You hear the crunch of a leaf
That has fallen off a tree

Sometimes outside in September
You feel the wind kiss your finger
And it leaves your fingers with a chill

Sometimes outside in September
You taste the crisp cool air
Each time its [sic] a new taste full of flavor

Add comment July 22nd, 2011

A “wow!” trip to Philly

Close to 18,000 people attended the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Philadelphia at the beginning of the month, including some lovely Stenhouse folks.

Julie D. Ramsay, author of the new book “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?” was there with her students who presented at the conference. To get a glimpse of their creativity, take a look at this great TripWow slide show they created from photos of their trip.

Also in attendance were Stenhouse editor Holly Holland and marketing and promotions coordinator Chandra Lowe.

From the left: Holly, Julie, and Chandra

Julie with her students

Add comment July 20th, 2011

Blogstitute Week 2: Celebrating Writers — Including You!

We continue our Summer Writing Blogstitute with an entry by Ruth Ayres, coauthor of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. If you ever found yourself wondering why on earth you write when it’s just so hard, this post will help you — and your students — push through those difficult times.

The next installment in our Blogstitute will appear next Monday, July 25. Kate Messner will talk about how to teach students to critique writing. Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered for a chance to win a package of five writing books at the end of the Blogstitute. You can also order this great package of resources at a special discounted price!

Celebrating Writers — Including YOU!

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.

—Oprah Winfrey

The more I write, the more I realize the importance of celebrating the steps of the journey. Writing is challenging, and often I want to walk away from the hard work of putting words on a page. I know our students feel the same way. They get up to sharpen their pencils, drink some water, and visit the supply center eight times in ten minutes. When the challenging work of writing becomes overwhelming, we find reasons to avoid the sweat.

Which makes me wonder, Why do I keep at it on the really tough days? And then, How can I help students to keep writing on the really tough days? It comes down to remembering the days when writing is rewarding. The days when the words flow and I write several pages of a draft. The times when I rewrite an ending and love it. The joy when someone tells me my words impacted them. I write because I’m addicted to the rush of my words going out into the world and making a difference in other people’s lives.

The small steps on the journey make the final step of publication possible for a writer. If we don’t celebrate the small steps often, we run out of stamina to make it to the final step. Here are some ways to celebrate the journey writers take in writing workshop:

  • Open Share Time: At the end of writing workshop, invite students to share the things they are feeling good about as writers. Leave the invitation wide open by asking, “What is working well for you as a writer today?” They may share a cover to their most recent book, a revised lead, or the way they edited for capitalization.
  • Process Groups: About a year ago I joined a writing group. Each month I meet with four other writers and we listen, encourage, and give feedback. More than anything else, though, we celebrate our writing lives. The e-mails between meetings are regular and usually based on celebrating the small steps we are taking as writers. This makes me realize the importance of honoring the process. By dividing students into small groups and inviting them to talk about the process of writing, they are given this same opportunity. To help this succeed, consider modeling the kind of talk you expect. Share with them your recent writing. Then listen as students talk about their writing work, and offer specific feedback and encouragement. As students begin listening and talking in their small groups, be vigilant in listening to the tone of their conversations. A positive tone should be used to celebrate individual writing processes.
  • Before and After: When I look at my writing from long ago and compare it to my writing today, I’m pleased with my improvement. Sometimes I don’t even have to wait for time to pass to feel proud of the improvement. When I revise a scene to make the dialogue more realistic or when I craft the language in an essay to make it read more smoothly, I feel good when I look at the initial draft and the revised version. Providing opportunities for students to look at their before-and-after work and reflect on their growth is another way to celebrate their writing lives. I like to encourage students to write their realizations on fancy paper or a cutout and then post their reflections on a bulletin board so others can celebrate their writing journeys too.

Celebration is about so much more than a final copy of a piece of writing. Celebrating the small steps on the road to being a writer gives us the energy to keep writing, even on the tough days. As you celebrate your writing life alongside your students, may you be pleasantly surprised to find more and more motivation to put words on the page.

33 comments July 18th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Snow

It is the middle of July, but as part of our Stenhouse Staff Poetry Friday selections, we have a snowy poem to share today. “Snow” by Louis MacNeice was picked by the newest — and I believe youngest — member of our staff, Jill Cooley. Jill said that she likes this poem because of the way it sounds. I really can’t argue with that — just go ahead and read it out loud.

Louis McNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes–
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands–
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

2 comments July 15th, 2011

What is ‘number sense’?

We recently sat down with Jessica Shumway to ask her about her new book, Number Sense Routines.

In the first part of our interview with Jessica, she defines number sense, talks about why it’s difficult to assess it, and how a lack of number sense can hinder students in reaching their potential in math. In the second part,  Jessica explains how the routines in her book help teachers learn about students’ mathematical thinking over time, and how math talk with peers can encourage reluctant math learners.

1 comment July 13th, 2011

A week of writing tips kicks off today!

We kicked off our week of writing tips with the Two Writing Teachers this morning. The first tip is about creating a list of classroom expectations. Inviting students to set their own rules for the classroom and for writing workshop can be a very powerful experience for both students and teachers.

Find out how the Two Writing Teachers walk through the process with their students by downloading and printing today’s tip from their Facebook page or by going directly here.

Add comment July 11th, 2011

Poetry Friday: Greguerias

This week’s Stenhouse staff selection comes from not exactly a Stenhouse staffer, but a staffer’s spouse. Editor Holly Holland’s husband, John, sent us his favorite poem — or actually many small poems — by Ramon Gomez de la Serna, a Spanish poet who specialized in one-line poems he called greguerias.



Greguerías by Ramón Gómez de la Serna

Sólo el poeta tiene reloj de luna.

Only the poet owns the moon’s clock.

La luna es un Banco de metáforas arruinado.

The moon is a Bank of ruined metaphors.

La luna de los rascacielos no es la misma luna de los horizontes.

The moon of the skyscrapers is not the same as the moon of the horizon.

La luna sí que está llena de conejos blancos.

The moon is full of white rabbits.

A la luna le gusta cortarse el pelo al cero.

The moon likes to cut all its hair.

Raja de sandía: luna de sangre.

Slice of watermelon: the moon’s blood.

La luna está llena de objetos perdidos.

The moon is full of lost objects.

A la luna sólo le falta tener marco.

The moon is lonely because the window keeps it out.

La luna sobre el mar es aviador y buzo.

The moon over the sea is both aviator and diver.

La luna: actriz japonesa en su monólogo de silencio.

The moon: Japanese actress in a silent monologue.

La luna es el único viajero sin pasaporte.

The moon is an old traveler without a passport.

La luna es la gran enceradora de pisos de los lagos.

The moon waxes the floor of the lakes.

La luna se hace tirabuzones en les magnolias.

The moon performs corkscrews in the magnolias.

La luna arrebujada de nubes es que ha salido de tapadillo.

The moon gathers up the clouds like a woman covering herself with a veil.

Luna: gran jofaina de la noche.

Moon: giant washbasin of the night.

La luna: la hermana de caridad de la noche.

The moon: charitable sister of the night.

Luna: cinematógrafo con películas viejas.

Moon: projector of old movies.

A la luna nunca la ha sentado bien el sombrero.

The moon has never worn a hat well.

Mirando a la luna nos ponemos bizcos de soledad.

We look at the moon and become cross-eyed with loneliness.

La luna es uno de esos peces redondos y pálidos que hay en el fondo del mar.

The moon is one of the round and pale fish at the bottom of the sea.

La luna va fijando pasquines en blanco por los sitios que pasa.

The moon’s white face ridicules the places that pass beneath it.

La luna es el espejo de la experiencia de los siglos.

The moon is the mirror of time.

En la noche alegre la luna es una pandereta.

On a happy night, the moon is a tambourine.

La luna es la lápida sin epitafio.

The moon is a stone without an epitaph.

La luna es a veces una maestro de escuela que nos quiere enseñar geografía.

The moon is a place where a schoolteacher cannot teach us geography.

En el fondo de los pozos suenan los discos de la luna.

At the bottom of the well sleep the faces of the moon.

La isla tropical es una luna que se baña.

The tropical island is a moon bathing.

La luna es el ojo de cristal del cielo.

The moon is the crystal eye of the sky.

La luna es lavandera de la noche.

The moon is the night’s laundress.

La luna y la arena se aman con frenesí.

The moon and the sand love each other with frenzy.

de la Serna, Ramon Gomez. (1995) Greguerías. Catedra Letras Hispánícas, Madrid.

2 comments July 8th, 2011

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