Saturday, September 24, 2011

Great Book Choice = Great Depth

This week, one of my reading blocks finished reading a FANTASTIC book, The Books of Elsewhere, Shadows, by Jacqueline West.

It's a fantasy book, with a female main character...sort of a Harry Potter meets Nancy Drew. I am not apt to pick up a fantasy book if I have the choice, but this book had me on the edge of my seat (not to mention all of them).

Those of you looking for WELL WRITTEN text for your child - here it is. The descriptive writing evokes wonderful imagery opportunities, and involves all their senses. The characters are complex and rich - you can analyze for hours!

We focused on a few aspects of character analysis and development:

The progression/change of a character from beginning to end
The traits inferred from her physical attributes, thoughts, words, and actions
Her actions and words as "windows" to a characters beliefs, biases, values, and background.
How characters interact and how those relationships affect events and choices
How characters' choices alter the events and events affect character's choices
How values affect character's motivations

We had amazing discussions and their thinking went deep.

I also began taking them to that next level: When we analyze the character, and with that new understanding, what do we better UNDERSTAND about the book/story? It's one thing to be able to analyze and know that inferential level, but take it further - how does that information affect YOU...the book...the author's purpose?

Wow. Second, Third, and Fourth Graders grappling with that on the 5th week of school...we've only just begun!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Working on Stamina

Well, school is settling in to week 4, and we are focusing on one of the most crucial aspects to teach to build stamina.

I liken it to my running. I tell them my goal might be to run a marathon.  I run every day, but if I stick with a mere 4-6 miles, I won't improve. My lung capacity will stay the same, my aerobic capacity will stay the same. I might be content, but if I want to meet my goal, I am going to need to push myself so that I go farther. I will need to put in the time, the effort, the practice. I need to run a mile more or a little longer each day. Yes, there are days where I may not want to, but I need to do it anyway. There's a bonus too: in the process, I may actually fall in love with running...find the joy in doing it, as well as accomplishing my goal.

Then I talk about how that's like their reading a book like Harry Potter. If they have read different books every night rather than sticking with one book, or if they only have the patience to read a chapter or two and then they abandon books, they will have an extremely hard time getting through Harry Potter and comprehending it. But if they persist and build their stamina, they will discover the joy of reading, the love of books, the feeling of getting caught up in a story - as well as accomplishing a goal.

Making analogies they can picture helps them understand what they are doing. Some kids just don't realize that they are doing themselves a disservice by not sticking with one book. They don't see that their choice to "fake" read or to "pretend" to read or even to skip from book to book is actually breaking their desire...

Find something to make an analogy that your child loves...maybe it's sports, art, about how they passionately spend time improving and how that relates to reading.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Keep the Conversation Going

Yesterday my son Ben and I had a conversation that we have had several times already. Ben is not a huge fan of reading right now. When he was little, he loved reading, but as he has gotten older and sports, games, friends, and other things have captured his attention, he's happy to just do what's required in reading for school. And he ONLY wants to read nonfiction.

He is no different than many, many young men in my class. It seems that boys, more than girls, are often wired for nonfiction, and they have difficulty developing stamina with books. I am generalizing - I don't believe readers are any specific "type." I do not like to stereotype because I feel it limits my ability to see THEM where they are and where they can go.

ANYWAY, Ben and I were talking about finding a book for him to start reading this week. I suggested a few fiction books, to which he responded, "I don't see the point - they aren't real."

Perfect opportunity! How would I respond?

I began telling him about how I had read a book, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, with my class. I explained how I had started it on a recommendation from our school librarian. I gave him a basic summary about the book to pique his curiosity (it's about a young girl with Cerebral Palsy and her experiences through middle school). I told him that, because of that book, I had a greater understanding of a person that is extremely different from me. I added that I had a great deal of sympathy for the mom, who worked tirelessly as her daughter's biggest advocate, and that made me appreciate my situation with having four healthy boys.

We went further into discussing how books can open your eyes to situations outside your own "bubble" and make you a better person. 

He stopped a moment. "So I guess I can learn something from fiction," he stated. "Maybe if I gave it a chance and read it like I am learning about someone different from me I will like it better."

Again, this was not the first time I have talked to him about how books affect us...he just got it this time. And that's my point. Sometimes we feel like we talk until we are blue in the face about the same things, and it isn't sinking in. Well, sometimes they aren't sinking in. 

Sometimes it's timing, sometimes it's development, sometimes it's the way we are explaining. Just keep that in mind and keep saying it. 

It'll hit home once, and it'll all be worth it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Enlist a Team

This week my in-laws have been in town helping with my kids as I get through Staff meetings and prepping my room. They have a great time, and I know they are in great hands.

My mother in law was a teacher, so she has the same belief that reading is crucial. She's made sure the boys read every day. And guess what? They didn't fight her about it.

That got me thinking. So often our kids don't want to do the things we ask them to do, but when others ask them, it's no problem.

Brainstorm all the people in your kids' lives: teachers, coaches, relatives, friends...and get them to help encourage reading. A simple statement from them is sometimes all it takes. No elaborate reward system, no huge plan...if they respect that person, they will listen.

Don't try to do it all on your own...we are in this together!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When the Going GetsTough

I had a little setback today. I had some stitches in my hip a few weeks ago, and today when I was running outdoors (at 5 am i.e. dark) I fell. On my hip. And popped the area again.

Accident. Bump in the road. Literally and figuratively.

All I needed today was to cry, to verbalize my frustration, my situation, my sadness.

I couldn't do anything to make my situation instantly go away. I am going to have to wait, to be patient, to take it step by step.

Those who know me personally know that I exercise - hard - daily. Bar hospitalization, I am moving in the gym or outdoors every morning.

So this is hard for me. It will take discipline to get back allow myself to heal.

How does this relate to our kids and reading?

Sometimes they may just need to cry. To tell you it's hard. To tell you they are sad, and they are frustrated. And you in turn, will have to help them learn to be patient, to take it step by step, and to help them grow.

I know a few months down the road this will be healed and I will look back and see my growth. Tell your child the same. It may not look too different day by day, BUT every day they do get better. Reading does get easier in some way, some how.

But give them those days to cry. They need it.

I also have to thank those who let me cry, verbalize and be sad today. I am glad you are my friends!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Remind Them We Are Nervous Too

In the next few days, your child is going to vacillate between two extremes of emotions - from excited to tenuous.  They will start thinking about the upcoming year and having questions. What will my teacher be like? Will she like me? Who will be in my class? Will they like me?

They will use prior experiences to already predict how their year will be.

Guess what? We don't outgrow those emotions and questions surrounding the first day of school. Teachers (ok I) have those same feelings and thoughts.

Tell them this for me:

Your teacher will absolutely love you. He/She will try and get to know you, challenge you, help you, appreciate you, and won't give up on you. He/She will cry with you when you make yourself vulnerable, wipe your tears, and bear through the tough times. He/She will laugh with you, cheer for your every effort, and brag on your every success. Your teacher will treat you with kindness, compassion, and respect. He/She knows you are coming into a new situation and will try and make you comfortable. Don't take boundaries as a way to keep you from doing things, but rather, a way to steer your energies in a positive direction. He/She will make mistakes from time to time, but be gentle -- it may be hard for them to admit they are wrong. He/She will never stop trying to help you become a better person...and remember that you, as part of their lives, are making them a better person too.

Remind them teachers are people too...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knowing the Reader

In all my preparations for this coming year, I always keep in mind that, as much as I know what 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders USUALLY read, I don't KNOW my kids this year yet.

I love the first few days of school for that reason. I get to sit with new friends and get to know them. I get to hear what they like, don't like, where they feel they excel and struggle...

and then I go to work finding books that match.

Yes, I probably know more children's books than the average person, but there are tons out there, and I couldn't possibly know them all.

So where do I turn?

Local bookstores have book buyers whose job is to find great books, read them, and review them. I love independent bookstores (sorry Barnes and Noble!) -- they have great selection, and it isn't just the "bestsellers." What's popular isn't the only good thing written out there.

My favorite bookstore (I worked there one summer and never made a penny - my whole paycheck went to buying books) in Pasadena was Vromans. It was awesome walking into the children's section and having ANYONE - they weren't just cashiers - be able to converse and recommend books.

Now I have Austin's own BookPeople - very similar. You walk in there and just want to hang out and read.

But if you don't have those kind of bookstores, Amazon has reviews by readers - that can be very helpful.

Another option - I ask other kids. Many times they have latched onto a series I had yet to discover.

First step - listen to the child - help them discover what they are passionate about (many times they don't know yet). Find out what makes them tick, lose track of time, focus undisturbed.

Then you can take that knowledge and find the books that get them reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Cried...Again

Last night I finished The Art of Racing in the Rain. And I bawled.

My kids noticed the tears.

"What mom? Are you ok?" They looked puzzled, until they realized I was holding the Kindle. Then they got it.

"Oh...the book, right?" I nodded, still processing the thoughts and feelings stirred up.

I was able to explain how it was sad, but it ended really positively. I told them there were some deaths in the story, but in each case, it wasn't scary and the characters were at peace about it. I told them I cried BECAUSE of the way it was handled so positively.

Matt asked if he could read it. I explained that there were two versions and I wanted him to read the one written for young readers (it adapts the more "explicit" parts to be age appropriate).

I think about how my kids (and students) get used to mom (Mrs. Forrest) crying at books, or getting angry, or gasping...they get used to emotion. It's a lesson for them, actually. As I have said over and over, letting books affect you -- get under your skin -- that's real reading.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Add technology to the equation

No, not the Kindle or the Nook. I am talking about a blog! By your child, for children.

One of my sons, Sam, is a computer nut with a capital N -- and you could underline, bold, and italicize it.

He's one of those readers who likes to do just what's required, but he will talk a blue streak about it...if it is on the computer. I have had him email me daily with "updates" about his reading. Just to keep him reading, actually.

It's working too. He loves to email all the details. I have started to respond to him with suggestions on how to summarize, questions I may have about the characters, and positive suggestions about how to edit and punctuate his emails to me.

He enjoyed the emailing so much, he's started to include both sets of grandparents, who live in California and Washington. It's nice, because it's actually a way that he is bonding with them individually. Being a child of four isn't always the easiest, especially when it comes to alone time with others.

It may be the incentive they need, and there are lots of benefits!

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I am Going to Miss Most

Ok, besides having a leisurely coffee (my commuter mug is at the ready for Monday) in the morning, I am going to miss having time to read for me.

When school starts up, "me time" goes out the window. Juggling full time work, four boys and their activities, and a husband who travels...well, I am not as apt to pick up a book or the Kindle, obviously.

Don't get me wrong. I do read. A lot. But it is more useful reading -- professional books, newspaper, websites, and of course children's books -- but not novels.

But maybe that's ok. Maybe it makes me appreciate the summers and the opportunity to read for "me" all the more.

Remember, readers go through phases, and have to adjust based on need. Try as I may, it just doesn't work for me to read a novel during the school year. And I am at peace with that. I am not going to beat myself up about it.

Think of your kids too...what is their current phase? Do they have time? Do they have energy? Sometimes there are things we can readjust (TV time) but sometimes there just isn't (three hour football practice + homework + sleep). Find a genre/type of reading that fits the phase.

Maybe you need to meet with the teacher and ask for help - maybe it isn't 20 minutes every night, but a cumulative 80 minutes over the week - which gives some flexibility with a busy schedule.

Sometimes it is just making sure there's a time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

For the Animal Lovers

I am about halfway through a book for all those who love animals, especially dogs. It's called The Art of Racing in the Rain. I am reading the adult release, but there is another version, suitable for younger readers. It does deal with life, love, and death, but through the eyes and mind of Enzo, a dog.

I am really enjoying it, but it's strange for me in that (SPOILER ALERT) one of the main characters deals with a brain tumor, something I have personally experienced and lived through. There were times in the book that my eyes flooded with tears because I COULD RELATE. It was real for me.

Having that common experience will definitely make this book more memorable for me than others. Knowing that, I keep that in mind with my students and my kids. Sometimes relating to book content is validating, captivating, and makes it a better read, however, sometimes it may be too painful, too close for comfort too.

Think about your child's resistance to books carefully. Maybe they don't relate, or maybe they relate too much to read it right now.

I don't think I would have wanted to read this book a few months, or even a few years after my surgery...I needed time for healing. It still touches me and stirs my soul, but I can look at it with the perspective of a memory.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I took note of this comment...

My eldest son is starting middle school this year. This week, he has been attending a three day orientation.

Unlike me, he is not scared (or he's not letting on). He's so excited. Everything is better, brighter, "cooler," and more to his liking. I am so glad.

Today they took a tour of another part of campus. His first comment: "MOM! The library is so awesome! I can't wait!" No mention of the cafeteria, the classrooms...even the locker rooms.

Yes, he's the reader. He's got it in his bones now. He won't shake it...even with the pressures of being a teenager. That comment tells me volumes.

It also reminds me that elementary is CRUCIAL in forming attitudes about reading. Making the library the neatest place on campus...

I have decided to think of some way to celebrate our class Library Day. Each class has a designated time/day to go...we need to make it up there with Field trips. I'll think of something, don't worry. But if you have ideas...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Two Weeks From Tomorrow...

It's back to school for kids in Texas. It's also time to start getting back into the routine, if you haven't already. I told my boys that this is the week we crack down and get our sleep cycles back to normal, start getting all our supplies ready to go, and take screen time from summer mode to school mode.

Matt finished his summer reading list for Middle School, and the twins each finished their latest book...but I am going to start getting them to log their daily reading. They are going to be asked to do it during school, so why not get started?

No, I am not unrealistic...I know all of this is going to be met with resistance -- a lot -- but I know that after the first week, they will know it is expected, and they will get it done.

Step one...make a chart with each of them for the reading. Sit and talk about when and where they will do their reading.

Step two - don't waiver. Make it happen, without yelling. Sit down with them, and make it a fun part of the day, not a task. Mix it up - some independent days, some together days - I am going to have the boys take turns reading to Nick.

Step three - the sleep schedule. This is actually tougher for us. Four boys is like a permanent sleepover. They like to sleep together (despite rooms of their own), thus there is talk. Getting them to quiet down is a feat in itself. That's where the reading is going to help. Having them to read right before bed isn't something I have pushed them to do - Matt and Nick are diehards, but the twins would rather be active right until lights out.

So I have my work cut out for me. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Finished it in One Day

It isn't often that I have a whole day without kids to shuttle, errands to run, work to get done...

But today it was hot, Nick is at preschool, and the boys are playing with friends - I had a day to do whatever I wanted.

I started a book this morning on the bike trainer (love the Kindle for this - sweatproof!) and finished it just now. It's called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. It was a GREAT read. It's a young adult book - but it tackles one of the most difficult of subjects, the Holocaust.

I was on the edge of my seat. The narrator, Bruno, is a 9 year old. The story unfolds through his naive eyes...that's all I want to say.

I highly recommend it for kids - probably mature Third Grade and up. I know a few kids in my class that would enjoy it.  I will say, however, that an adult will want to discuss it along the way to help them understand the facts behind it, if the reader isn't familiar with what happened.

It's hard to write about it without giving it away. It's a tremendous book about Fences...those real from that horrific time, and those imaginary that continue to this day.

John Boyne has also written another book that I have downloaded already, Noah Barleywater Runs Away.  Guess I will get started right away!

Remember that, once your reader has found a treasure, it will be that much easier to get them into the next. They will ask immediately if the author has written any others...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shopping and Saving

Today I "saved" money when I shopped the shelves of Half Price Books. So happy to get so many titles, and less than full price!

Stocking up and having good books available is one KEY to getting kids to read. Having them organized and attractively put into bins and on shelves is huge in their interest levels.

Just think about yourself when you are looking for a book. In a bookstore, you look for attractive displays, genres grouped together, and recommendations from bookstore workers.

So it is in my classroom. Making them available and enticing...and plentiful!

Thank you, my dear husband, for understanding - remember, I am not a shoe/accessory person...I hate malls - so it's all good!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Reading Connects Us to Each Other

This morning I wept as I was reading the Austin Statesman. It was an article about a woman who began a bakery in memorium to her daughter, who had passed away from leukemia at the age of 5 eight years ago. The story was about Paying it Forward, giving rather than receiving...her bakery donates their meals/goods to families who have hospitalized members, and others with needs. She does it because it was her daughters' example - even at the youngest of age, who lived that life, despite her state. She'd give stuffed animals she herself had been given to others who she saw in the hospital who didn't have as much - just to make them smile.

Anyway, that story and another about a running group whose leader (who has won countless marathons) escaped a torturous time in Burundi, Africa and now runs/works to provide clean water for his native country through charity runs got me thinking.

If I hadn't picked up the paper and read it - I WOULDN'T KNOW.

I wouldn't be the same person, affected by other's lives outside of my very, very small daily world.

Reading those made me want to help, to be be aware, to appreciate.

Reading...made me better.

That's what we need to tell our kids. It brings the world to us...connects us - even skype can't do that if we don't know about it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Your Reader and Starting School

The book/gift idea was a hit with my students' parents - I am so excited to see how it goes the first day of school!

I was thinking about the start of school and how kids absolutely BEAM when they come home that first day. They love their teacher, everything is new, the work hasn't set in yet...

it's a great time to have them shed old negative personas and put on new ones. What do I mean? Well, many kids (and adults) have "labels" of themselves as readers - they believe they are a good/bad reader, and that shapes their attitudes every time they pick up a book (or are asked to)

I want kids to come in and feel like THIS IS THE YEAR. Yep, this is the year I believe I am a good reader and I will look at reading time as an opportunity, not a task.

How do we get them there? Focus on the positive. When they cry and whine about having to read at home, praise them for having an opinion, but rather than being negative about reading, let's find a book that enables you to have an opinion of the character and what they are doing.

If you set a timer for five minutes and they only made it one, praise them for the one. "You did it! See, you are a good reader. What was your favorite part in what you read?" Get them to talk, and reset the clock the next time for five, and see if it is even 20 seconds longer.

The other key to the beginning of the year is a new teacher. With every new year, there is hope in each student that they will truly be valued and cherished and this person will help them every step to overcome things that are tough.

I spend a lot of time the first weeks establishing those bonds and making sure that hope grows - one thing I make a point to do the first day of school is to collect a sample of writing from the kids and that night, I read them, taking a highlighter and highlighting my favorite sentence in the piece. I write a post it note explaining why I love that sentence. That's it. No corrections, no other comments. Just a positive. I return them the next day, and guess what? They all want to write the next day, and not only that, but they know their teacher not only believes in, but likes what they do.

Is it hard to find a positive? No, because I am not looking at just the writing, I am looking at an opportunity to compliment the child. Same thing applies to reading. Compliments first...focus on the needs later, after they trust.


Monday, August 1, 2011

A Twist on a New School Supply

A suggestion today...

Why not make a stop at the bookstore while you are out buying school supplies, new tennis shoes, and any other "beginning of the school year" items?

Frame it as yet another essential part of going back to school. Tell them that you know the first days will be full of new and exciting things, and a book will be a great item to take with them.

Or better yet, wrap a book and stick it in their backpacks as a surprise when they get to school...write a note to say you are thinking of them and wanted them to have a book as a way to tell them you are proud of them starting a new grade...that book will be a treasure, and a link to home if they are scared.

I think I may have to email my parents to see if they want to do it! Thoughts?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Harry Potter

Matt has been reading the Harry Potter series for the second time, the twins for the first. I read up to Year 5 (my boys laugh at me because I stopped) when they came out years ago, but have long forgotten the details.  Once they finish a book, they get to see the movie.

A few reasons I am blogging on it.

1. Movies can motivate them to read
2. Movies can be the vehicle to begin conversations about the differences between books and movies, the images they had reading vs. the images on the screen
3. Kids love what's "in" and will give it a chance
4. Series like these can encourage reading with others and recommending reading to others

It also makes me think. Harry Potter (and much fantasy, for that matter) is not my favorite thing to read. I much prefer realistic fiction. But the craze popping up again in the past few years has got me wondering whether I should pick up the series again and give it another shot.

Readers need to realize that not all material others like will be their thing. It also may be something they like, but not right now.

Now my dilemma is to find time to read them!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's the Latest Adventure?

Three teachers, 72 kids...multiage, multiyear, project based learning. Yep! That's what I signed up for - and I AM EXCITED! Each teacher will be assigned a homeroom of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders and we will keep the kids through their fourth grade year. In addition, will will be assessing, flexibly grouping, and moving the kids through teachers and instruction depending on what they need. We will have homogeneous and heterogeneous groups -- to build on current strengths and to build new ones.

I have done multiage and looping before (in CA), and dabbled in project based learning, but not to this magnitude. I have been itching to do it again since I moved here to TX. I found a principal who, ironically, had been dying to do it for a while too! Perfect match!

It took time and planning to make sure everything is precisely planned...EVERYTHING ON PURPOSE, as I like to say.

Multiage - because that's life...we interact with all ages, and we are all developmentally different, no matter what our age. These kids will have instruction delivered as they need, with the materials they need. I have always individualized my instruction, and this is just on a grander scale. Little ones will be mentored by olders, yes, but the great surprise will be how much the youngers often teach the older ones! It's all about learning to learn together, to respect and appreciate others and their different perspectives, and that no one age has the corner of the market! :) Teamwork and collaboration...essential skills for a lifetime...

Multiyear - OH MY GOSH how I love having multiple years. The pace is exactly what they need. I can accelerate or slow down in different areas as the child needs. Sometimes it takes a little longer for things to click, and having the extra years will do that. I loved having the chance to pick up right where we left off the second and third years, despite summer break. There was no anxiety about starting school...we had a RELATIONSHIP. It's going to build bonds between the students and myself in a special way.

Project Based Learning - Projects that incorporate skills and learning that really impact the world. They create real life products that are shared in a global sense. We will be connecting with people from around the world, and learning essential leadership, collaboration, and technology skills that will serve us well past the classroom walls. It's hard to sum up in a paragraph...I am not doing it justice. See and for more information if you are interested.

Brain based instruction and best practices plus a strong character building component too...yes, my plate is full...but I won't fail you with the reading. I know that this blog was designed with that in mind, and I will continue. With a lot more to boot!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Ahhh Summertime

I can't believe how long it has been since I have blogged. It's one of those things...if I don't make it a daily habit, it falls through the cracks.

I will say, however, I have enjoyed reading this summer. With the boys, and by myself. It's actually the first time in MANY years that I devoured novels, just for me.

My assistant principal sent out a booklist of her favorite reads, and...well, as we know, good readers take recommendations from other good readers...

I read five books in a week.

My faves...Glass Castle, The Help, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Outliers, Room, When You Reach Me, and two professional books: Teaching With the Brain in Mind 2nd edition and Re-inventing Project Based Learning.

Some were Kindle read, some actual books...and I realized something about that. It's important to be able to use electronics sometimes in that way, and sometimes I would rather have the book. While on the airplane or on my bike trainer, the easiest thing was to pull out the iPad or Kindle. When wanting to take notes or comfy up with a cup of coffee on the couch, I preferred a book.

I also notice that there are times of day and places where I prefer to read.

Why do I make note of that? Well, those of you who have read this blog before know that the best way to be able to help your kids learn to read is to know YOURSELF as a reader. You can share with them your strengths and makes them realize that reading is a process and that no one ever completely arrives to a place where you are done growing as a reader.

My goal now? Well, besides fit in the rest of the books on my list (The Art of Racing in the Rain, Imperfect Birds, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Noah Barleywater Runs Away, and The Book Thief)
I want to get back on this blog.

It may look different this year. I am embarking on a project at school that I will be sharing with you along the way...more about that tomorrow!

Sunday, May 29, 2011


It feels good to sit down to type a moment...

I have a new landmark book in my life, and I know it is in several of my student's' called Out of My Mind by Susan Draper (and now I am super interested in reading more of her books). It is about a young girl, Melody, who is trapped in her inability to communicate, or use her body because she is severely disabled by Cerebral Palsy. I am not going to tell you details because I really want you to read it. I will, however, tell you the powerful themes that impacted our reading community and reduced us to tears...the power of parents in kids' beliefs about their abilities, beliefs about disabilities and how society treats them, the power of the mind, the value of family over any other dream we may have, the sacrifices we make for each other, peer relationships and values...I could go on and on. The themes are sophisticated, yet the power of the conversations we had blew me away.

Here is my thought today. I know that book is not a light one. However, my students BEGGED me to keep reading, and we all grew from reading it. The amazing way it took us into someone else's experience...made us think outside ourselves...made us better people. I don't think I thought about things like that in third grade...but maybe I should have. Maybe opening the world to these kids though books like these will make them more empathetic...and make this world a better place.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

So the TAKS is over...

Standardized tests...hate 'em or just take 'em...whatever your opinion, they are a part of education.

I don't make it a focus of the year, nor do I mention it until about a month before. All our attention all year long is how to become a better reader and writer, so it all works just fine. About a month before, we start learning test FORM. I just teach how to look at questions and figure out what they are asking, and the kids do the rest. Actually, they are surprised at how well they do on multiple choice format...they don't see it in my room any time prior to that.

I am looking forward to getting their scores -- I am positive they ROCKED it!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hmm...Best laid plans...

sometimes get crowded out by a full time job, four kids, spring baseball, and a traveling husband.

But there have been exciting things rolling, and I am planning for one of the BEST upcoming years ever. My dream, my passion, my hopes professionally look like they are within grasp.

Next year, I am endeavoring with two other teachers to create a multiage, project based learning cohort. The kids would stay for second, third, and fourth grade...let me tell you!!!!

I can't wait! I am dancing at the idea of being able to form a family with these kids, learning to discourse, inquire, dwell, investigate, and collaborate.

There is a lot of planning going on right now, which is why I am spending my free moments reading, reading, reading. And am I motivated? YOU BET!

Take this to the kid level. Kids have a desire/interest/passion...we say yes to being outside the box and that THEY can do you think they will start researching and reading -- oh yea!

We have been doing a little of that in the past two weeks. The kids studied the book, Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park. She purposely wrote the book to send a message to kids based on some true life statistics that motivated her.

The premise of the book is the death of a twelve year old in a bike accident. All due to his choice NOT to wear a helmet. It is told from the perspective of his older sister, an eighth she doesn't mince words. Feelings are raw, situations heart wrenching.

We talked about everything from the grieving process to parent guilt/survivor guilt...and so much more. They developed a deep empathy for the characters, and were left with deep longings to discuss...

When we finished, we talked about determining one theme that they wanted to take to project form. They decided on bike/helmet safety.

I did not give parameters...I let them choose groups...some chose posters, some gravitated towards powerpoint presentations. All decided an audience, they had to keep content and language appropriate for that level. They emailed and made appointments with the various people/classrooms.

Did I have to motivate them to read and find out what they needed to know - nope. They were on fire!

It was neat too, to see the kids who did something different -- other kids were interested -- Can you teach me? Can you show me how you did...? Where did you find that information?

SO...I can't wait. Let the adventure begin!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Real Reading

amidst the projects, the posters, the logs...

I have been a little frustrated lately. I know so many powerful things are happening in the minds of my classroom. In our character studies, our author studies, finding meaningful themes, author's purposes and content in our books...

We're proving our thinking with text, "arguing" with each other about character motives, and really digging deep.

But there are some falling off the passion of real reading.

My sons included.

Overwhelmed by how responding to literature happens...if you know what I mean. Not that I don't see the merit in research, reports, and book's just that, well, maybe it is extreme in our family because there are three out of four doing them, but I am not sure.

Maybe I am too "easy" in my teaching in that I don't require projects done at home monthly.

But my class knows. It is the THINKING I want to hear.

Tomorrow I am going to put some statements up on a big sign in my room. They are from Lucy Calkin's book, The Art of Teaching Reading. I always find amazing inspiration in that book when I need it.

Here are the statements: What are you thinking? What did you notice? Tell me more. Give me an example. YOUR RESPONSES ARE THE IMPORTANT STUFF.

Why do I want that? Because it's true. "Reading is merely ink on the page until a reader breathes life into them." Rosenblatt

Rigor is more with less. I know what my kids are doing in my classroom. With each carefully chosen book and lesson, they are learning the life of a reader. They are thinking and talking about books. Maybe not traditionally, but they are engaging in reading. I guess I don't need them to have another grade in the gradebook to show me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Getting Kids to Connect MEANINGFULLY with their Characters

I apologize for the, well, the long time off. It's just not been easy to get a moment with my computer without someone interrupting.

But a lot has been going on in my mind to share with you.

A really fun thing - the Kindle...I like the convenience, however, I still prefer dog earring my pages, putting post its where I want to share something with someone, and the feel of going through the book, in my hands.  BUT very easy to take everywhere and pull out. My boys fight for it, so that's good...

Also, I have been working with my kids to go deeper in their thinking. We talk a lot about how kids have to have connections with their book, but I have been pushing MEANINGFUL connections. Not just, "I have a bike too," but "I know how that feels in my body when I am riding my bike. I love the free feeling in my stomach, the way my legs are working hard, and how my breath gets fast with my heart. I like going fast, and feeling light."

So many books have characters with experiences our kids haven't ever how do they connect? ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL. This takes thought, however. You have to know HOW your character is feeling. Examine thoughts, words, and actions. Find character traits. Then ask them to relate. Ask them how it feels in their bodies when they feel that way. What do they do when they feel like that? Have them think of an example of a time they felt that way.

For example, in a book we were reading, Jin Woo, by Eve Bunting, the character is 4 - his parents have adopted a baby from Korea, and he relates the story of how he goes from one feeling to another in this process. The kids easily identified he had a "change of heart" through the course of the story, but I pushed them harder.

I had them write down three character traits of their choice, and next to the traits, I had them write examples from the text as proof of it. Then I gave them an example of how to deepen the connection.

"I know that you all haven't gone through exactly David's (main character) experience, but I saw in the story that he was WORRIED. I saw that when he talked about his stomach hurting when they got the letter that Jin Woo was coming. I also saw it when he watched mom and dad in the nursery and how they were spending so much time preparing the room and fussing over the baby. He mentions a few times how he is scared mom and dad won't have time for him.

I have felt worried too! Not about a new baby brother, but my example is really happening today. Tomorrow I have to go to the dentist and I have to get a root canal. I know those are really painful, and I am so worried about it. My stomach is knotted up, it keeps popping up into my thoughts, and I don't feel like eating. So I can really connect to that feeling with David of worry."

I tell them that it is so important to care about your character and to try and relate on a HUMAN level. Even fantasy stories. None of us have been to Hogwarts, but we can feel with Harry when he feels scared. We all know that feeling.

Wondering why your child doesn't enjoy and engage with reading? It may be that they are not connecting with their character.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Few Recommendations

We have been reading several books in preparation for the upcoming holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. I really enjoy these for the depth of conversation and thinking that they promote.

First, I love White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman. Kids really sense the bravery in the little girl in the story, and how she inspires adults to stand up for what is right.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodsen is another wonderful book, using the symbolism of a fence running through town as a vivid example of the separation between whites and blacks in the time.

Also, My Brother Martin by Christine King Ferris is a great biography written from the point of view of MLK Jr's sister. The kids see King in his childhood, and learn through story form why he decided to dedicate his life to what is right.

Finally, The Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson shares a march from the eyes of a child.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An inspirational book

Has it been since December since I posted? Ooo, that's bad. I have been so caught up in cleaning my house after replacing 75% of the downstairs tile (MESSY, but they are beautiful!), keeping holiday guests busy, and now resuming "normal" life.

All this and our internet at home is hit or miss (very frustrating).

I read cover to cover a book that I feel I could have written myself (probably not as eloquently). It is called The Book Whisperer By Donalyn Miller - she teaches here in Texas, and I have read her blog from time to time.

She believes, pretty much lock and step, what I do. Give kids time to authentically read. Model reading. Be  excited about reading. Enthuse them, don't worksheet them.

My favorite quote, however, comes from Mark Twain. I am going to share it with a few of my students tomorrow and get their feedback on what it means.

"He who does not read books is no more than the man who can't."

WOW. That hits right between the eyes.

It's wasted talent not to pick up a book.

In that case, let's read.