Thursday, October 28, 2010

Using Fables

Lately, I have really enjoyed using fables in my classroom...they are great for the reading aspect, but also for vocabulary. Not to mention a perfect bridge for talking about kindness, respect, philanthropy, and giving.

We have read several versions of many of them -- it is surprising how many variations there are!

One in particular, I really liked. Jerry Pinkney's wordless picture book of The Lion and the Mouse.  I had my kids tell the story as we went along, since they weren't given words. It was fascinating to hear their interpretations of what they saw in the illustrations. When kids do that, they have to infer...a great skill...which causes them to tap into their previous knowledge, plus what is given, to figure out what is happening.

I would highly recommend using them with your kids. POWERFUL conversations.

And make sure you take the conversations from simply being about the book to how they can apply it right now, in their lives.

I am telling you -- great segways!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Did I really miss again?????

So it goes - busy, busy life. It's ok, I was just caught up in preparing for my principal observation that I had today (it went fine, by the way).

I have been working with a specific few students this past week, working on issues other than academics. More on the behavior front...let's just leave it at that.

I have tried lots of rewards/classroom management techniques, and they have worked (somewhat)...but I have noticed one thing that ALWAYS works...

sitting one on one, either reading or talking about books.

Like I have said so many times before, books are a connecting force...

When we are sitting together, or even when I am reading aloud to the whole class, there is peace. There is calm, there is focus.

Not that there is chaos in my classroom - I run a tight ship, and engaging in rigorous, enticing learning is what I strive to provide (and I think I do pretty well)...but there are times in our teaching careers where we are blessed with students who need to have their energies channelled in the right direction.

Maybe your child struggles with attention issues, or me. Find some engaging books. Something that makes them think. Read to them...a lot. You will see a big difference in demeanor.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I missed yesterday - sorry.

I am struggling, as you may be, with juggling all that is on our plates lately. Kids' practices, meetings, late work at school, planning, music programs, homework, oh, and there is the issue of keeping a clean house.

I wanted to share, however, the exciting things I am seeing with kids.

Today I worked with small groups in a nonfiction piece about Aesop...since we are studying fairy tales and traditional literature. It gave me the opportunity to review nonfiction text. It is so crucial to point out to them  all the specific things that help aid comprehension-graphs, pictures, maps, captions, etc.

We also talked about context clues and using sentences around vocabulary to make meaning. I asked them to look for "clues" - but with the caveat "words that help you get a guess about what it means" - I think that makes it clearer to them as to what they are looking for.

It's about getting them to think about what they are thinking - think about what your brain is doing as you are figuring things out. Think...think...think.

It's getting them to be active - not passive.

Which, by the way, is my kids these days - when we are reading together, they are hanging on my every word...a big difference from the beginning of the year. Also, they are discussing rather than just letting a few kids talk - that's fun.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

i need rejuvination

This week has been tough...just emotionally draining. It always floors me how exhausted you can physically be from strain emotionally.

I will recover. I just need this weekend to chill, hibernate, and recoop.

You may feel like that too...or your kids...remember to take care of yourself and your kids. Sometimes we are running so fast we don't realize that we haven't taken a second to breathe.

I know I will pick up a book as part of the recovery process!

Friday, October 22, 2010

I am reading...

a memoir of Lois Lowrey. It is really inspiring. I love the pictures and the way she has written snippets based on the pictures...amazing writer! (Number the Stars - holocaust based Newbery Award winner).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Teaching Empathy

I have found books such a great way to soften hearts and break down walls. I am reading a book (a Texas Bluebonnet Nominee) called Umbrella Summer. In it, a young girl is dealing with life -- a family in grief, more specifically.

It is a beautifully written book in that it makes deep discussions possible.

Even my rowdiest boy sits quietly as I read, hanging on what is going on. They gasp, they infer, they empathize.

Two other books I love for this purpose (PLUS they are just great books) are Mick Harte was Here (young boy killed because he fell off his bike and wasn't wearing a helmet - talk about a lesson to teach kids), and Love that Dog by Sharon Creech (the loss of a beloved pet).

They make me cry, and I like showing them how books affect me. I am not putting on a show, and they know it -- and they see that it is good to let books into your heart.

That's the depth I want and feel.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Examining Text Structure of Fairy Tales

We have begun our study of Traditional Literature, and we started with Fairy Tales. We start by reading the original (which the kids have discovered as rather dark) and then chart common themes and things we find occurring in the stories -

So far we have:

Begin with "Once upon..."
End happily
there is a prince/prince Charming
there are maidens in distress
a character is greedy
a deal is made
there is a lie involved
there are strong women characters
there is repeating words/chant
good vs. evil
there is a trick involved

They have done this with only three stories - I think that is awesome. They are clueing into what the text structure is and what patterns they find.

Why is that important? Because it aids comprehension!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Books Were a HIT!

Snatched one by one...

During independent reading today, my student, G, picked up Dr. Cuthbert Soup's book, A Whole Nother Story -- AND LAUGHED OUT LOUD THE WHOLE TIME. Which, of course, piqued other kids' interest.

Savvy is being devoured by K, who loves fantasy - she's been reading Harry Potter - until today. The lure of a girl character having a superpower was too much for her to resist.

And N, my switcher, is into the new toy inventor book...I should mention he is a Lego fanatic, so creating prototypes and inventions works perfectly with his personality.

So every penny has been worth it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Went to Bookpeople Today...

...and spent what I didn't spend at the Book Festival - easy to do with three boys who love books in tow. The great thing is, however, the boys bought their own books.

And we bumped into another author, who signed his book on the spot for the boys -- and I managed to convince them that one copy would be enough to share. :) His book is FUNNY - somewhat sophisticated humor, but I know exactly which four boys I am going to have read's called A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup. Good read. Highly recommended by all the Bookpeople associates (and they know their books)!

For the girls in my class -- and I selected them with specific girls in mind -- Savvy, 11 Birthdays, and Lily Quench, and the Dragon of Ashby.

A few others were part of series I have - Dragonbreath, Attack of the Ninja Frogs; Alvin Ho, and the last Dan Gutman book Matt hadn't read, Abner and Me.

I went out on a limb for a few others...Nerds - a team of 11 year old Super Spies; Vordak the Incomprehensible (thanks Kristy for the recommendation); The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow; and finally, Monster Squad - The Beast with 1,000 eyes.  Why those? After reading a few pages, I knew EXACTLY who would love them.

So there you have it. I will have my kids review them on my class webpage as soon as they finish them...check it out

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Book Festival = great fun!

I made it! In between baseball, working out, and the weekend errands, I got to the Book Festival -- and enjoyed it all...

Perfect weather for strolling through the tents, talking to authors, reading books along the way.

I had Sam and Nick in tow (Scott had the other two) and a funny thing happened. As we passed by a table, Sam picked up a book and exclaimed, "Hey, I know this book - we read it at school in our Texas Treasures book (textbook).

The book was a colorful book written by a class of second graders at a school for the deaf. It was a cute story, but Sam's connection and seeing him light up was what made an impression -- on me, and the women at the table. They were authors themselves, not of this book, but of others on the table.

They listened in on my conversation with Sam. I asked him to tell me about it - about the characters, his reaction, and his recollection of parts. I read the blurb to him and he told me how that gave clues about the story.

I asked him if he wanted me to buy one so he could share with his class, and mentioned that I too, could use it in my classroom, showing my kids that they could write books as a class too.

Before I could take out my wallet, both women gushed, "Please, take it - we would love for you both to have sounds like so many kids will benefit from your son having it and you too!"

Just like that. A free book. I can't wait to share it, and the story behind it, on Tuesday.

And do you think that made Sam's day as a reader? YOU BET. He beamed. To hear those women talk about him and give him a book -- HUGE IMPRESSION.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Couldn't have said it better myself...

at points. Today the Statesman had an article focusing on the Texas Book Festival, and in it, she supported the idea that kids keep reading picture books instead of rushing into chapter books.

I agree...with disclaimers.

Picture books tend to have a very sophisticated vocabulary - tricky for decoding and comprehension at times. So my advice would be to read those aloud to your child, and allow them naturally to gravitate towards books (whatever form that would be) that they are able to read on their own.

New third graders to my classroom tend to pick up picture books for different reasons...they enjoy reading old favorites that have been read before, they need a brain break from picture-sparse chapter books, or they really rely on those pictures to get them through a book. It's the last ones that I worry about reading them independently.

They are the ones who will skip over that more challenging vocabulary...and just miss a ton.

So, I agree with her point that while we shouldn't be pushing our little ones into chapter books too early, we need to be cautious in how they are reading picture books too. They are an amazing opportunity to help them be exposed to and learn this deeper, more complex vocabulary, but they need you to help.

Friday, October 15, 2010

For as tired as I am...

...I still love conference time. It gives me the chance to sit and talk to parents and really explain all that we do...all that their child does.

I love telling them the "why" and "how" we do things - and how precisely every activity is planned and balanced so that their child is not only getting the requirements of our state standards, but they are surpassing them with RIGOR and application.

It's not enough for me to have kids simply complete work...they have to UNDERSTAND, THINK, and ENJOY. Sometimes it isn't simple...oftentimes it isn't. It is complex.

I liken it to a workout class I take called Total Conditioning. It works every part of your body, muscular and cardiovascular...and it uses compound moves. So if I am doing a tri dip, I am doing a lunge on the Bosu ball at the same time.

We need our kids to be exposed to that. They can, and will, strengthen more. So as my kids are reading, I tell them something to specifically look for, focus on, or try. How is that compound? Well, the time they are reading alone works their fluency, accuracy, and when I add, say, a task to think about the relationships/influence characters have on each other, I have added a layer. Complex thinking. The next level would be WHY - why did that characters actions influence, and how did that impact the story itself?


Do kids shy away and tell me it's too hard to think that way? No. Because I model it first. Our read aloud book is where I show them how to think that way. I talk out loud and tell them what I am thinking and what I expect them to be experiencing. Then I send them to do it with their books.

How can you do that at home? Have a read aloud - either a chapter book or a picture book - and read that for a period of time first. Model what you are thinking, wondering - what you want them to do. Give them a chance to do it too, with that book. Help refine their thinking until they get it. Then give them some time to read their independent book (different from your read aloud) and have them try it. Here's the big part, need to talk AFTER they read and find out whether they could do it with their book.

How can I do it with 20 kids? I have them use notebooks and they write their responses in the Log. That's where I can see it, if I didn't get a chance to get around to talk with them during reading time.

Model, support, set works.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I started a new blog for my class...

Where they will be posting what they are learning in reading and writing...

Check it out!

I want them to realize that what they are learning is applicable through the writing, and that what they are doing in reading can be fun for others to hear about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The New Rick Riordan Book... out! And he had a launch yesterday at BookPeople in Austin (I MISSED IT, DRAT!)...and several of my kids went.

It was soosoooo cool to see their faces light up when they talked about hearing him read, all the neat things they heard from him about writing, and then their pride in showing where they got personalized author signings in their very own copies of the book. Signings they had to wait over an hour for.

I made a huge deal of it -- but was I fake? NO. I really, sincerely, think it is so cool.  And they have actually motivated me to borrow the first book, The Lightning Thief, from I can read it.

I am totally fascinated by how they are caught up in those series.

And do you think they liked that? YEP. They loved being the ones recommending books to ME.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Focus on Relationships Between Characters

Today we are looking at how characters change throughout books, and how those character changes occur due to relationships/influences from other characters.

In Julius, the Baby of the World, older sister Lilly is jealous of new baby brother Julius. She does all sorts of "mean" things due to her feelings UNTIL she hears cousin Garland expressing distaste for the baby. Lilly suddenly springs to Julius' defense and shows her true love for him.

We talk about character motives - why did she do "mean" things - is she truly that way, or is it her jealousy? What made her change? Would she have changed if Cousin Garland hadn't appeared?

Next, they go to their independent books - I tell them to watch their character...who are they interacting with? How does that influence their behavior and choices?

We make a little sketch of our character and arrows to names of others who enter the preparation to discover that those interactions ARE the storyline...

That's exciting!

Monday, October 11, 2010


So I have spent a great deal of time planning this weekend, and I have come back time and time again to one thing: how can I plan so that my kids are getting the most authentic experience in reading - how can I help them learn to read so that they understand that the reading is the most important?

Yes, I teach skills - very specifically, I might add. BUT - they are always embedded in actual time reading.

Lately, there have been opportunities that remind me that that is the way to go.

I have always held the philosophy that more time reading, not simply filling out worksheets, is what counts.  But I will admit, it takes more time, more thought, more of me personally understanding the reading process (and writing too, for that matter) than pulling out a workbook or packet.

Packets are more concrete, but they limit what kids can express about what they are reading and learning.

Does it make them think harder to not just fill in the blank? YOU BET. But they cherish their notebooks from day one. They know that it is their hard work, their thinking in there...and it doesn't go into the trash.

I also grade by rubrics - ones I make up specifically for the tasks at hand, the learning we are doing. In the boxes on my rubrics are descriptions ("thoroughly and thoughtfully addresses task" for a score 4 to a "work shown does not exemplify that task is understood" for a score 1, and variances for a score 2 or 3)

I love this because it does give accurate feedback to all involved. That way I can do my open ended questions and have them synthesize, connect, analyze and evaluate without giving them a worksheet. It's all them.

I think kids get a disconnect when it comes to reading packets and worksheets. I think they look at it as reading is apart from them, instead of a part OF them.  It is something they have to prove they can do by being exactly right.

There is the problem of the standardized tests, yes...and we prepare for them, you bet. But it is WAY later on, after they understand that reading is real...authentic...and this test is simply something they need to learn the form - how to take a test, and they are good to go.

So when I don't run things off, or don't have a ton of worksheets to send home to parents, don't worry, I have the right perspective, and my kids are doing AMAZING deep thinking...just check out their notebooks!

I am also wanting to start my classroom blogging...I think it will be a real world application of writing...and they can share with you all what they are reading! Website link to be posted soon!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New Big Nate Book...

Is due out in a few days! I got my Amazon alert that I have bought similar books (ok, they didn't say I have bought kajillions like it) so I may be interested...

of course I was, and have it ordered.

Just keep your eyes and ears open, and books your kids might enjoy will fall into view. On Wednesday, the Statesman will have a special insert for the Texas Book Festival - pull it out, circle events to attend, and GO!

Happy Sunday - I actually slept in, got up healthy, and am enjoying a fabulous leisurely morning! The first in a VERY LONG TIME.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Texas Book Festival!

As a newbie to Austin, I wasn't here for the annual event in 2009...but I am making plans right now to go next weekend!

When I lived in Los Angeles, we always made it a point to go to the UCLA Festival of Books Weekend. It was HUGE, and talk about inspiring.

AUSTINITES: here is your opportunity to take your child to meet REAL authors, who write REAL books, and to get them excited about reading.

They have some great plans - I really want to see/hear David Wiesner - but then they have a whole "boys" event too, with books and authors for the "guys" (they have it for the girls too - my girls who love Allie Finkle will be pleased).

I am going to be advertising it heavily in my classroom, so if you are one of my parents, be prepared to be asked to go!!!!!!!!!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Choosing Reading over Recess's Friday, and I am sitting here planning.

Yes, there are a lot of other things I COULD be doing, but I got motivated, and now I am excited.

I can't wait for what we are going to do next. But is the excitement in the fact that I am going to teach Cause and Effect? No...

But it is in the books that I am going to be sharing in order to teach it.

Funny thing happened at lunch and recess today. About half of my class took books with them. No, I didn't ask, or require, or even SUGGEST it. It just happened.

No, it doesn't just happen, really, but my kids are beginning to fall in love with reading. They have found books they enjoy. Books they want to spend time with.

Yes, they should be running around at recess...and they do, but they also love to sit on the benches in the shade, novel in hand. And I love that.

I am pretty sure it is having an effect on how much reading they are doing - maybe they do most of their reading at school but at home it's tougher to make the time - but I am COMPLETELY sure of how it is having an effect on how they THINK about reading.

Our discussions are richer...I can ask Why? What do you think? Turn and talk to someone around you...and they are giving deep, more thoughtful answers.

They are sharing before I ask. They are asking for more.

Yes, I still have a few I am still really working with. Some with issues deeper than motivation. And yes, some still need me to meet every day with them simply to stay involved in the book they are in.


my class is reading. And boy am I proud of them!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tonight, I will read

We have been talking about setting goals. Because I am a reader, just like my students, I set one too. I will admit, other than a glance at the newspaper and the occasional look at a professional book, I am not reading much these days at home.

And I feel guilty about it.

So my goal was to read a "grown up book" for 10 minutes a night.

And my kids have been holding me accountable.

It's a good thing. So I am going to turn off my electronics and read...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Making Connections with Your Books

Focusing on an author and reading several of his or her books is a great way for kids to get into books. They start to get a taste of a style, and they can use their previous information to help them with the new.

It's automatic now.

When I pick up a Kevin Henkes' book, you can hear it, "I bet it has mice as characters," "I think the characters will be young," "The title will be the character's name."

How do they get good with that? I ask them to reflect after we read. I ask pointedly, "How is this like the others we've read?" and we chart it.

They love "knowing" what is coming, and look forward to this next, new installment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Connecting Character traits with Text Evidence

One of the most important things to get kids involved in what they are reading: GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTER.

Like them, hate them, be shocked by them, laugh at/with them.

That's how you get hooked into a story, because the story hinges on them.

We have been "gathering" character traits on a chart in my room. We refer to that chart often when we are talking about books. They also have been giving me evidence from the story as to why they think a certain characteristic describes a character.

Today we made a chart where we used one character, Lilly, from Kevin Henkes' Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. They listed traits on one side, and proof from the text in either actions, words, or appearance of the character.

It was great. They really got it. Now, next step is to have them evaluate the character. How do they like them? What qualities do they admire? Like? Dislike?

The evaluation piece takes it to a deeper level, and also gets them more invested personally. They have a preference, an opinion.

Nudge your kids to get to know their characters - you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much more they care about what they are reading.

Monday, October 4, 2010

They've Come up With a way...

that Mo Willems can continue his Knuffle Bunny books.

Where I was satisfied with the way things wrapped kids just kept thinking.

"He could have Trixie's son or daughter have adventures with Knuffle Bunny..." "He could show how Knuffle Bunny lived those years with the other baby..."

I LOVED that they thought, and wanted more. Creative, creative kids!

I am sorry to make this short, but yesterday I didn't post because I got the flu for the second weekend in a row. This time it wasn't stomach, but fever -- and tonight one of my twins seems to have caught it too...I need to catch a break on this sickness thing!

I am pumping the rest with Vitamin C!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Latest Knuffle Bunny...

Came in the mail today, and I LOVE IT! There is a host of things that can be learned from this third and final episode in the series adored by so many.

My class, and my own boys, have been waiting with bated breath.

For any parents trying to ease your toddler from their beloved blanket or stuffed animal, this is a MUST HAVE!

I can't wait to read it on Monday!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Once they get a taste, they can't settle...

I have noticed my students are getting picky - and I am glad. They don't want just ANY book, they want a GOOD book.

That means different things to different kids, but overall, it means they are knowing themselves better as readers, they are developing tastes in books.

I love that they read the book jacket and blurb no fail to get their minds ready. They are smarter readers.

I like how they share recommendations with each other.

I like how they ask me to read certain authors and order certain books because they know them and they love them.

How did this come about?

Sharing, talking, and building stamina. Providing material and TIME. Sticking to teaching them what good readers do and being sincere and authentic.

That's where we are week 7.