Saturday, March 15, 2014

Five Minute Friday - Crowd

Check out the Five Minute Friday posts at  I don't usually join in, but I'm making it a goal to do more writing, even if it's just a five minute quickwrite here and there.


They're gathered around in a circle, some talking in hushed tones, some speaking loudly over the others.  Two spot a favorite title and squirrel it away, running off to find a cozy spot to share it together, out of the din.  There are conversations about recess, about the movie that opened last week, about how the sun hits the sparkles on her shirt and makes the library corner look like a discotheque.  And then there are conversations about the books.  "Have you read this one yet?" "Ooh, I love this one!" "Can I have that when you're done with it?"

The crowd in our library corner ebbs and flows as I quietly check off the attendance and lunch count. To the untrained eye, our morning starts with chaos. There are no worksheets, no test prep, no warm-up questions.  Just a community of friends, gathering back together for another day, surrounded by the books we love.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Slice of Life - My Reader

Slice of Life is hosted at the Two Writing Teachers blog every Tuesday. 

It's a cloudy afternoon in Maine, and the ground is covered by a new coat of fresh white snow, the first of the season.  We sit not quite side by side on the couch, me leaning against the back, her snuggled under her Mickey blanket against the pillow.  A library copy of Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop's Red-Eyed Tree Frog sits open between us.  The book was checked out for first grade wonderers but hasn't yet made it to the classroom, claimed instead by the curly-haired wonderer at home.  Her eyes go from questioning to amusement as we read through the little frog's day.  "He sleep all day?" she asks, wondering what kind of silly frog would do a thing like that.  Choruses of "What's that?," her favorite question, accompany nearly every page.  She giggles at the katydid--"Silly bug"--and her eyes go wide when the frog jumps to escape the boa snake in a dramatic double page spread.  The frog goes back to sleep as morning comes to the rain forest, and as I close the book, I hear "Again!"  Later she will pick it up on her own, talking her way through the pictures.  "Frog sleep all day."  "No eat caterpillar."  "Jump!" "Frog go to sleep."  My baby is a reader.

One red-eyed tree frog
plus one wide-eyed two-year-old
makes reading magic.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Holdout Joins the #nerdlution

I'm not sure when this #nerdlution thing started, but somewhere in the neighborhood of Thanksgiving night, a bunch of people on Twitter decided to make resolutions together to commit to for the next 50 days.  What started as a couple of tweets snowballed into a full-fledged Nerdy resolution revolution, with new people joining the community every few minutes.  From my couch, I briefly got excited reading the resolutions that people were making:  writing every day for 30 minutes, walking/running/exercising for 30 minutes, even 100 pushups a day (go @iChrisLehman!).  The competitive part of me that doesn't like to be left out wanted to shout my own resolution from the rooftop to match theirs.  And then the logical part of my brain took over and announced, "Great ideas.  But that's not going to work for you."

This part of my brain was totally right.  There are seasons in everyone's lives, and I am not currently in a season where I can commit to these kinds of resolutions.  I'm not in a position to start a new exercise program right now, much as I'd like to.  I know that I could try to commit to writing for 20 or 30 minutes every day, but I honestly don't have that time to spare without taking more time from my two-year-old and my husband.  So, as I watched #nerdlution after #nerdlution pass through my Twitter feed, I gave up on the whole idea.  "I can't do this," I thought.

But the idea wouldn't let go.  I got thinking about what this would mean in my classroom.  Sometimes I like to think of my Twitter PLN as a big class--we are a diverse group with different learning styles and different ideas who have come together by building our community and sharing books.  That pretty well reflects my first grade class as well.  What would happen if I asked my first graders to set goals?  Would I encourage them to set the same goals, or would I differentiate, helping each student to set a goal that worked for her, that pushed her to a new level?  I would never accept "I can't do this" from a student.  I returned to my resolutions to see how I might differentiate for myself.

In reading through the #nerdlutions, I saw patterns.  Most people were choosing two resolutions, one having to do with improving health and one having to do with leading a more literate life (through reading or writing).  I started thinking about what I could commit to daily and feel fairly confident about experiencing success.  Here's what I came up with:

  • Drink more water each day.  I know, this sounds totally simple.  However, I'm not good at hydrating throughout the day, and the health benefits of this one are myriad.  
  • Write a haiku every day.  I want to live the life of a writer, but I also know that time is precious.  I wanted a writing #nerdlution that I could do on my lunch break, or while I'm cooking supper, or quickly before my daughter wakes up in the morning.  Haiku are one of my favorite things to write. (I got a reputation for writing snarky ones in some of my less-interesting undergrad classes.)  They are also kind of a gateway drug--I think that the more I am thinking like a writer, the more I will write.  Whether this means in some kind of a notebook or more blog entries, I don't know, but we'll see where it leads.  For now, I'm committing to a daily haiku.
So, I'm in.  Thank you, Twitter PLN, for giving me a push once again.  Only the Nerdiest among us set resolutions going into one of the craziest times of the year, but we're in it together.  Here's the first of my 50 haiku.  

Writing #nerdlution:
Fifteen syllables a day.
I can handle that.

P.S.  I drank half a glass of water while I wrote this post.  I've totally got this.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Why I'm Thankful for a Cold

I'm joining with Ruth Ayres and lots of other bloggers in this week's celebration link-up.   Ruth has been inspiring me lately in her book, Celebrating Writers, and her blog, Ruth Ayres Writes to consciously make a decision to celebrate successes and blessings daily.  Here are my celebrations from this week:

1.  Parent Teacher Conferences

I was attempting (in vain) to fight off a tremendous cold as I met with the parents of my students on Monday and Tuesday, but the parents I met with were more than patient with what was left of my voice.  I loved having the opportunity to share my students' growth and learning from the last 50+ days of first grade.  I'm making a goal to share more of these celebrations with parents in the future with positive notes and phone calls.

2. Reading Time

Unfortunately, the cold didn't go away and our plans for two family Thanksgivings quickly changed into pizza and hanging out on the couch for a few days.  Last week, I had tweeted that I thought I was being a bit ambitious with my reading plans for the break, but at the end of the day on Wednesday, I was wishing I had brought more home from the library.  So far, I'm up to 6 novels.  After a long, busy stretch without much time to read, reading through the stack of titles I've been looking forward to felt like sinking into a soft feather bed.

3.  Family Time

I have loved having this time at home, even if Mommy hasn't been much fun this week.  Listening to my daughter singing through her repertoire of nursery rhymes always makes me smile.  She's growing up too fast--she'll be two in a couple of weeks--but we are cherishing every day with her at this stage.

What are you celebrating this week?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why You Are Not a D: Thoughts on Reading Levels

"This book is an F?  Wow!  I thought I was a D!"

If I never hear another comment like this again in my classroom, I will be a very happy teacher.  As a first grade teacher and former Reading Recovery teacher, I know the value of leveled books in my classroom.  I know that my beginning readers will be best supported by the gradually increasing sight word vocabulary, phonics demands, and text structures that leveled books offer.  I love to introduce them to characters like Bella and Rosie, or the Bear family, or Kitty Cat and Fat Cat, knowing that their knowledge of these characters will support them as their books get more difficult.  I think the quality of leveled books in fiction and nonfiction is better now than it ever has been, and I put as many of them into my kids' hands as I can.

I think where our use of leveled books has gone off the tracks is when we chose to focus on the level and not the book. I want my students to be, to borrow Donalyn Miller's phrase, wild readers.  I want them to be able to pick up a book because it looks interesting, then judge for themselves whether it is just right for them now or will be saved for later.  My classroom library is not leveled for this reason.  Wild readers need to be able to make that determination for themselves.  I am very aware that first graders (and all students) need a lot of support to make that happen, but I worry that in our intention to build a scaffold, we have built a cage instead.  Will my first graders who are excited to move from level D to level F grow up to be sixth graders who avoid books like See You at Harry's because it is "not the right level"?

I do not share or emphasize reading levels with my students.  I tell that that there are lots of books with different letters on the cover that will be just right for them for different reasons, and that I try to pick the book that I think will help them grow as readers.  I think there are other ways to show students how they are growing as readers besides presenting reading as a video game with levels to be completed.  I want them to BE readers, to connect with characters, to get lost in another place, to see the world from the eyes of someone different than themselves.

To the student who told me, "But I'm a D!", here is my reply:

No, you are not a D.  You are not a letter.  You are a reader.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 10/21/13

I'm linking up with Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts.  Make sure you check out their book recommendations as well!

Here are my books for this week.  This was not exactly a record-breaking reading week, but we're going with quality over quantity. Most of my new reading was done with my students this week, so these are also their stories.

David Wiesner's new book, Mr. Wuffles, is a fun wordless book.  Mr. Wuffles is generally very picky about his toys, but the alien spaceship that has landed looks quite entertaining to him...much to the chagrin of the aliens.  I'm going to share the trailer with my students this week, and then I'm guessing it will probably become very popular.  We haven't done a lot with wordless books yet, so my kiddos are not terribly familiar with how they work.  Here's the trailer, if you haven't seen it.

I totally forgot that I'm a Frog! was going to be released this week.  I had preordered it, and I was quite surprised when I opened the giant box from Amazon that I thought only contained my daughter's diapers.  My students were really excited as well.  After I shared it once, we put the book under the document camera and split the class in half to read the parts of Gerald and Piggie.  They had so much fun! We will definitely do this with other Elephant and Piggie books in the future.  This won the vote for Room 11 Book Pick of the Week in a narrow victory over the next title.

The story of Otis and the Tornado is subtitled, How My Students Learned About the Wonder of Interlibrary Loan.  We shared Otis by Loren Long for Read for the Record Day a couple of weeks ago, and I had told the kids that there were other Otis books.  A couple of my students had seen this one in the bookstore, so I told them I'd try to find it in the library.  We looked it up together and found it at a library a few hours away.  I made the request, and they were so excited to walk in this week and see it sitting on the desk.  They are really starting to learn about how readers plan ahead for future reading.  Of course, we added Otis and the Puppy and the new Otis Christmas book to our Shelfari TBR list.  This is a great story to read if you enjoyed the original, and if you haven't read any of them yet, definitely add them to your list.

I love Kevin Henkes, although I had only read his picture books before this one.  The Year of Billy Miller is a great book for late first, second, and early third graders.  I like that the book is about a boy.  It seems that these types of early realistic fiction (with the exception of Ready Freddy and Horrible Harry) are usually centered around girls (Junie B., Clementine, Ramona, Marty McGuire).  That being said, I wish Billy Miller had maybe a little bit more spunk.  It was a sweet story, and I like how it focused on his family relationships as well as his school ones.  I may share this with my students toward the end of the year.  

I'm currently listening to The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck on my commute, and I've got a small stack upstairs that I'm hoping to get to soon, including Serafina's Promise and Penny From Heaven.  What else should I add to my list?

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? 10/14/13

It's been quite a while since I've done an IMWAYR post (or a post of any kind, actually).  I'd feel bad about that, but I'm not going to.  There is a season for everything, and apparently the six weeks of school is not a season for blogging.  Today I am enjoying the last day of my beautiful three-day weekend, which means a little extra sleep, time to read, and Pete the Cat singalongs and plastic pizza cook-offs in our pajamas this morning.

Although it's been quite busy around here lately, I have had some time to sneak in a few books here and there.  I'm linking up with Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Reader for this post today.
Here are some of my favorites from the last few weeks.

I listened to Jennifer Nielsen's The False Prince on audiobook, and I really enjoyed it.  The narrator was just right for Sage, the cocky and infuriating main character.  I really enjoyed the plot twists and it was hard to get out of the car in some parts because I wanted to keep listening.  Right now I'm reading the second book in the trilogy, The Runaway King.  I had a hard time putting it down last night.

This is a cool picture book.  I'm not generally a huge fan of Raschka's illustrations, although I love to use A Ball for Daisy with my students.  This one reminds me a little bit of Marla Frazee's Walk On and others like that.  I didn't love the illustrations,  but the story and the message made it worth reading.  It's a great book for encouraging persistence and determination in pursuit of a goal.

Fall Walk by Virginia Brimhall Snow is a really neat book that a friend recommended.  The illustrations are terrific, and I love how only the leaves on each page are in full color.  The story is a nice rhyming story about walking through the woods in the fall, and on each page, Snow highlights a different kind of leaf.  This is a great one to add to your fall collection, especially if your backyard is as colorful as mine is right now.
I have been looking forward to Ame Dyckman's new book for a few months now.  Tea Party Rules is about a cub who desperately wants cookies and will do ALMOST anything to get some at this tea party.  K. G. Campbell's illustrations are hysterical.  When I shared the book with my students, we had to take a second look at the illustrations with the document camera.  The emotions that he is able to convey in the characters' expressions are perfect.

My class flipped for Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown.  This is such a very cool book.  The story is terrific, the illustrations are terrific, and even the design of the book jacket and cover is terrific.  This was voted our Room 11 Book Pick of the Week for this week by a wide margin.

There's not a lot I can say about The Real Boy that hasn't already been said.  I absolutely loved it.  I wanted to rush through it and savor it at the same time.  I love Oscar and Callie and their friendship.  I love how Anne Ursu developed her magical fantasy world and the plot twists and turns in the story.  I waited to read this book for a very long time and I was afraid that it wouldn't live up to the hype, but it did and then some.  This is my favorite 2013 book so far.

I'm hoping to finish The Runaway King this weekend and start on The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes.  I'm also reading Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities to Publication by Ruth Ayres (free preview right now at Stenhouse).  What are you reading?