Archive for April, 2014

The Importance of Poetry with Shirley McPhillips

On this last day of National Poetry Month, we are excited to bring you an in-depth conversation with poet and author Shirley McPhillips, whose latest book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers will be available in early June. In this video Shirley talks about her early experiences with language and music that provided the foundation for her love of poetry. She also discusses the joy sharing poetry can bring, and how poems can help us discover something new about ourselves and about the world.

Add comment April 30th, 2014

Coming soon: Daily 5 blog tour

If you haven’t already, there is still time to get your questions ready for next week’s blog tour with Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, authors of the second edition of The Daily 5. The blog tour will stop at four blogs starting Monday, May 5. At each stop you can read reviews and an interview with The 2 Sisters. It’s also a great time to ask questions and to share your thoughts with fellow teachers. You should definitely visit each blog because the more you comment or ask a question, the better your chances to win one of five signed copies of The Daily 5. (The winners will be selected by each blog host, including the Stenhouse blog, at the end of the tour.)

Here is the schedule:

May 5: Ruminate and Invigorate

May 6: Enjoy and Embrace Learning

May 7: Reading by Example

May 8: Read, Write, and Reflect

May 9: Roundup on the Stenhouse blog

So join us next week for some great discussion! See you soon!

Add comment April 28th, 2014

Preview the Full Text of 3 New Titles!

We’ve just posted the entire text of three new books from Pembroke Publishers (distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse). Check them out now in their entirety! All three titles are available both in print and e-book formats.

Nonfiction Writing Power
Adrienne Gear
Grades K-8 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
Gives you a complete framework for teaching the key genres of descriptive, instructional, persuasive, comparison, explanatory, and nonfiction narrative writing. Includes 29 sample lessons, dozens of printable planners & organizers, anchor text suggestions, and student samples.

Struggling Readers
Why Band-aids Don’t Stick and Worksheets Don’t Work
Lori Jamison Rog
Grades 3-9 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
Provides a range of ideas that you can use to plan targeted small-group reading instruction for struggling readers in upper grades. Includes over 30 lesson routines and practices that span all aspects of reading instruction, from assessment to writing about reading, and includes numerous reproducible forms and organizers.

A Math Assessment Tool That Reveals Learning and Informs Teaching
Kevin Bird and Kirk Savage
Grades K-12 • 96 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
The ANIE (Assessment of Numeracy in Education) is a simple, powerful tool that all teachers and specialists can continuously use to identify students’ understanding of a concept or procedure, and build instruction to support gaps in learning. Works with any math program to support conceptual and procedural understanding.

Add comment April 24th, 2014

In the Classroom with Jen: Improving Stamina in Reluctant Readers

Today in our In the Classroom with Jen series author and teacher Jennifer McDonough shares her strategies for helping reluctant readers build their stamina. How do you help your students get to that “lost in a book” feeling?

jennifermcdonoughStrategies for Improving Stamina of Your Reluctant Readers in Reading Workshop

We will always have readers in our classroom who aren’t just having “off” reading days but consistently seem to be looking at the ceiling, rolling around on the carpet, or—better yet—spending their reading time coming up with new and interesting ways to get everyone around them off track as well. Here are a few suggestions I have tried in my classroom to help build the stamina of reluctant readers who haven’t quite found the “lost in a book” feeling that other kids have.

1. File folders (I got this idea from Chart Chums; Open a file folder. Put a green sticker on one side and a red sticker on the other side. Each child sets a goal for how many books he or she wants to read and puts those books on the green side of the file folder. After the child reads a book from the green side, he or she moves it to the red side. The goal is to try to get all of the books moved by the end of independent reading. This concrete way of measuring progress helps kids stay focused.

2. Have the students read independently for just long enough that the majority of the kids are focused and lost in their books. When things begin to get noisy or distracting, stop the independent part of reading workshop and move them into partner time. We don’t ever want to give the kids the idea that independent reading time is noisy and disruptive to others. To build stamina, have the kids set goals for the minutes they think they can read without going off task, and then record the time on chart paper so they can see the class’s progress. Partners who don’t spend the time reading or talking about books need to go back to reading alone until they can learn to stay focused. If you have one of “those” classes this year—the kind that doesn’t seem to be able to read long enough independently for you to be able to confer well enough—consider having the class read independently for as long as they can, switch to partner reading, and then go back to independent reading again. This may help stretch the time while keeping the kids on task.

3. Use an electronic device to read books aloud to a student as he or she follows along in the book. Then have that student reread the same book independently. I use YouTube for popular picture book read-alouds, but I can also use Audioboo (app) to record myself on the iPad reading aloud any of the books in my classroom. Listening to a book on CD or visiting websites that read the stories aloud (Raz-Kids, for example) can also be helpful.

4. Give a reluctant reader in your room the favorite class read-alouds that the kids love and that you have read over and over. Having heard the book read aloud allows them to read books above their independent level and also helps keep them excited about books. Readers who are struggling to decode often get bored or frustrated with decodable books that don’t always hold their attention.

5. Allow students to choose the books they read within a range of three reading levels. Having access to more books increases the chances that readers will find interesting ones. I tell my readers that the books one level above their independent reading levels are good for practicing decoding skills, books at their level are good for developing comprehension and understanding of what they are reading, and books one level below help build fluency because they should be easy for them to read.

6. I also create a “What Independent Reading Looks Like” chart with the class. We brainstorm what independent reading should look and sound like, and put it on the chart with photographs of kids modeling those behaviors. We go back to the chart all year long when certain kids, or the class as a whole, begin to lose stamina and we need reminders about what to do.

7. Videotaping is another great way to help kids build stamina in their reading. If you tell a reluctant reader that he or she is going to model for other kids what independent reading should look like, that child is likely to step up and stay on task. Every so often, I pull out the iPad and take videos of individual kids who need some reminders or do whole-class sweeps so the kids can evaluate how the class is doing.

8. Finally, when we think about the reluctant readers in our classrooms, we usually think about the kids who are reading below grade-level expectations. For a multitude of reasons, they just aren’t getting it as quickly and easily as the other kids in the class and simply need us more. I meet with these kids more often to teach them the spelling patterns and decoding strategies they need to know to learn to read. When I need to confer with the other kids, I either use one of the strategies in this list or have them shadow me and listen in on what I am teaching another student. Until kids become fluent readers, the world of reading is not that exciting to them, so it’s our job to figure out ways to keep them on task until they get there.



Add comment April 22nd, 2014

Making Notecards Exciting (Really!)

Teacher and author Sarah Cooper returned to teaching U.S. history this year after teaching English for four years and she will be joining us here on the Stenhouse blog regularly to share some stories and strategies from her classroom. Her first post is about notecards and how she and her students made the transition from the low-tech pieces of paper to high-tech electronic versions. (Technophobes need not be afraid!) Sarah is the author of Making History Mine and teaches at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, California.

MakiCooper author photo bigger resolutionng Notecards Exciting (Really!)

I loved doing research notecards as a child.

A family legend from third grade has me standing in the living room, cards in hand, smocked dress ironed, hair pixie-cut, ready to rehearse a three-minute talk.

“Bats,” I enunciated in my sharpest, most Hermione Granger voice.

I could organize my world, and the World Book Encyclopedia entry, in the space of three-by-five inches.

Needless to say, research notecards have never been quite as popular for most of the eighth graders I teach.

They understand why our history department requires the cards in grades 7 through 9 as a foundation, before students choose their own organizational method in grades 10 through 12. The cards help them avoid plagiarism, weave together facts, and create arguments based on other people’s research.

But that doesn’t mean they like doing them. The process is seriously detail-oriented.

So this year, when I returned to teaching history after four years of English, I wanted to find a way to make notecards fun, or at least a little snazzy.

At first I was reluctant to try electronic notecards because I didn’t want to lose the tangible moment of spreading and stacking cards to create an outline. But after realizing that students could still sort cards printed on half-sheets of paper—and after learning that our ninth-grade history team was switching over to electronic cards this year–I was convinced.

Our library has introduced the history department to NoodleTools, and I love the program for its power and one-stop shopping for research skills. (It does require an annual fee for your school or district. Some teachers also like free programs, such as Evernote or NoteStar, or set up a template in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.)

The brilliance of the notecard structure is just how much it includes—and that it forces students to think.

This spring, for each of fifteen notecards for a project on an American reformer’s successful tactics or strategies, I asked students to fill in the following fields on the program’s template:

1)     Title (Main Idea). Giving each card a heading helps with organization.

2)     Source. Students select a source from a dropdown menu based on their Works Cited list, and the information instantly links to the card.

3)     Direct Quotation. Students copy and paste—or type in, from a book—a sentence or two.

4)     Paraphrase. The direct quotation is paraphrased.

Steps 3 and 4 are what I like to call the “anti-plagiarism cocktail.” In the past, I’ve flipped through copies of sources at the back of a research paper to find the sentences that students had paraphrased. This time, as I was grading, I could instantly check quotations and paraphrases together.

5)     My Ideas. For each card, students wrote a sentence about how the fact showed the reformer’s tactics, methods, strategies, or personality.

By the time students completed the cards, especially the “My Ideas” sections, they had little trouble brainstorming a topic sentence for a 300-word paragraph on their reformer. In contrast, with handwritten cards in the past, students rarely understood they were heading toward an argument.

As with any new project, there were stumbling blocks from my lack of direction:

  • Students copied too much into the direct quotation box, making it difficult to paraphrase effectively.
  • Students sometimes paraphrased so generally as to make the information meaningless. For example, a few said that their reformer attended a lot of schools, instead of noting which schools were important to the person’s education and why.
  • Some of the “My Ideas” comments were too similar from notecard to notecard. Next time I will suggest commenting on that specific fact on that particular notecard.
  • The notecards consumed a lot of class and homework time. To complete them, students had one forty-three-minute period and one seventy-seven-minute period, plus three nights of homework, and some still had to push to finish.
  • Some students were annoyed that they didn’t use all the notecards for their analytical paragraph. This was by design, and I told them beforehand that they should use about half. Next time, however, I will require ten or twelve cards instead of fifteen, as many suggested, and also talk with students more about why they shouldn’t use everything they find.

James M. McPherson’s “iceberg principle,” from the preface to his excellent For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 1997), is a good rule of thumb: “Only one-seventh of an iceberg is visible above the water’s surface. Likewise the evidence for soldiers’ motivations and opinions and actions . . . represents only the iceberg tip of the evidence accumulated in my research. For every statement by a soldier quoted herein, at least six more lie below the surface in my notecards.”

At the end of the project, anonymous student feedback tilted toward the cards’ being worthwhile. Although about ten percent said that “the notecards didn’t help very much,” “took a long time,” and “seemed too formal,” about twice that many said, “I liked having the notecards to write the essay” and “Although the notecards seemed hard at first, they made writing the paper a lot easier.”

For me, the depth of students’ thinking means that doing notecards this way in the future will be a no-brainer. Research will still be painstaking work, but the appeal of the electronic means that more of my students may find their own Zen-like three-by-five-inch-card moments, just as I did in third grade the old-fashioned way.

1 comment April 16th, 2014

Book chat with Aimee Buckner

In case you missed our live book chat with Aimee Buckner recently, here is your chance to watch it at your own convenience. We just posted the full webinar on our website, along with some additional responses to audience questions that we didn’t have time for during the event.

Follow this link to the Stenhouse site to watch the book chat.

Add comment April 9th, 2014

The Daily 5 and brain research

We just posted a new video with Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, authors of The Daily 5. In this new installment the authors discuss the brain research that influenced their thinking as they revised their book. Watch the video and then pop over to the Stenhouse website where you can catch the archived version of our book chat with Gail and Joan.

1 comment April 8th, 2014

The Twitter Fiasco

We leave you with some lighter fare on this Friday by Stenhouse editor Maureen Barbieri. Maureen has been learning about and experimenting with Twitter and she often shares her excitement and her Twitter encounters during our staff meetings. She also shared this story that you are about to read and while we all laughed at first, I think we could also all appreciate the painful learning curve of some of these social media tools. I am sure you’ve all been there too. Share your own Twitter fiasco in the comments section by Tuesday, April 9, and Maureen will pick someone to win a free Stenhouse book!

The Twitter Fiasco

One of the things I like best about living in New England is the change of seasons. We’ve had a long, cold winter this year, but now spring is upon us, and this is reassuring. The year has a certain rhythm to it, and we know what we can count on. Still, the older I get, the more I realize that everything changes, that our days here are numbered. I face this the only way I know. I keep busy. I cherish my family, I read, I write, I stay in touch with friends. But most of all, I work.

In my sixties now, against all odds, I have a brand new job. Instead of being the one putting manuscripts in the mail and praying for a lucky response, these days I’m at the other end of the envelope or e-mail attachment—an editor who solicits work from eager young teachers who are passionate about what they are doing in classrooms. It is both a privilege and a big learning curve for me, not because I’m unfamiliar with what they write about—after thirty years as a teacher, I do know their world—but because writing, editing, and communicating have taken great leaps forward, and a person needs to know lots of new technology just to keep up. First I had to learn Track Changes, then Dropbox, Google Docs, and Concur. My NYU students compelled me to join Facebook, which I love mostly because it lets me see photos of their gorgeous new babies and keep up with how their teaching is going.

Lately though, I’ve become aware, again thanks to my former students, of the world of Twitter. At first I signed on just to follow people I admired, to see what they were reading and recommending. I follow educators, news agencies, arts organizations, even political groups, and I discover articles and video clips I certainly would have missed otherwise. Literacy specialist Shawna Coppola calls Twitter the best professional development available to teachers free of charge, and I tend to agree.

But I’ve begun to wonder if there might be more to it than just perusing what other people are saying or suggesting. Maybe I need to be more than what Chris Lehman calls “a lurker.” So the other evening, as I settled in to read my Penelope Lively book and watch television with my husband, I decided to check Twitter. Sure enough, there was a “chat” happening that I found intriguing. At something called #Engchat, teachers were talking about a new book that had just been published. I read interesting comments from people obviously committed to their work in classrooms. One person spoke of her love of poetry and how that helped her thrive. Others mentioned supportive colleagues. One said that yoga and meditation were important to her. Then, all of a sudden, I read this: “You know that if Donald Murray were alive today, he’d be on Twitter.” Well, that got my attention. Like so many writers, I adored Don. Teacher, mentor, friend: he was a hero to me, a huge influence on my life both in and out of the classroom. I perked up when I saw his name. I got brave. I decided to move beyond lurking and actually “tweet.”

“I agree,” I typed into my iPad. “I miss Don Murray every single day.”

Within seconds, there was my message, clear and bold on the screen. Except that it was a little different: “I agree. I is Don Murray every single day.”

Whoa!!!! Mortified, I choked back tears. I tore at my hair. I typed a furious correction—“I MISS”—and slammed the iPad shut. Then, as my husband realized what had happened, we both began to laugh uncontrollably. We didn’t stop laughing all week. My silly typo made me seem like a crazy person, thumping my chest on top of a mountain, claiming Don’s spirit. Since this happened, every time I express doubt about whether I can do something—drive in snow, cold-call a new author, plan a difficult meeting with a student—Richie says, “You can do anything. You IS Don Murray.” I married a comedian.

When I finally get over my embarrassment, there are a few things I will need to admit. First, I do try to channel my old friend as I navigate these rocky waters of being a grown-up—an “elder of the tribe,” as he used to call it. When I feel overwhelmed, inadequate, or fearful, I think of him and remember his insistence that the show must go on. Life moves forward. We have to stay in the game: striving, contributing, and, most of all, learning. It’s been said that there are no accidents.

Second, I must acknowledge that it’s not complex technology that caused this faux pas. It was instead the simple failure to proofread. This can happen when using any device—even paper and pen—at any time, and there really is no excuse for it. My fingers may be too fat or too fast for the iPad, but I should not have let my words go out into cyberspace so easily. A good lesson.

Finally, I am grateful to all the people at Stenhouse, at UNH, and all the other places where I’ve been lucky enough to teach, whose patience and support carry me forward. Lisa Delpit says that the only two things we need as educators are humility and inquiry. Thank goodness these are two things I have in abundance. I want to learn to navigate Twitter because, in the words of Tony Sinanis, “Twitter is about the human connections you establish . . . about the people you get to know, respect, and value, much like what happens in a well-functioning classroom or school.”*

So, I am committed to trying. With the help of good friends, I will learn to use this and other social media to be better at my job, to find out more about the world, and to engage in meaningful ways with other people. I believe that, if Murray were here with us today, he would indeed be tweeting. And, of course, I will always miss him.


*Tony Sinanis, quoted in “Social Media Is Better Than You Think” by Peter DeWitt, Education Week, March 11, 2014.

5 comments April 4th, 2014

Book chat with The Sisters — now in our archives

If you missed our live book chat with Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (The 2 Sisters) last week, here is your chance to catch up! The Sisters answered questions about the new edition of their landmark book, The Daily Five, from implementation to assessment. Here is what some participants said about the hour-long webinar:

LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this webinar! Thank you so much! This is so what I needed to get through the last nine weeks of school! I feel rejuvenated and excited to go back to school next week (I’m on Spring Break now)! Thanks so much!!!!! – Melissa (Alabama)

Wow! This was GREAT… This webinar answered all of my questions! –Tammy (New York)

The archived version of the webinar is now available on the Stenhouse website for free.

Add comment April 1st, 2014

New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites




Classroom Blogs