Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Behind the Books: A Place for Frogs

This is the third book I’ve revised and updated in the A Place for series, and it was by far the most challenging.

When I revised A Place for Butterflies in 2014, the process involved changing a sentence or two on each spread to bring the stories up to date. In 2015, I took the same approach to revise A Place for Birds with one exception. We decided to replace one illustration so that we could discuss the problem of birds, especially baby birds, flying into windows—an issue that wasn’t widely recognized back in 2009 when A Place for Birds was first published. We also decided to change the cover of the book.

But when it came time to tackle A Place for Frogs, I hit some major stumbling blocks. As I plunged into the research, I realized both the text and the artwork would need significant changes. One frog had gone extinct. Another was now so plentiful, that it wasn’t even worth mentioning.

One example from the original book had involved scientific misconduct (The scientist admitted to falsifying data, so it really wasn’t clear how the frog was fairing or if it had ever been in trouble in the first place.) Whoa!

Plus there were some new examples that I really wanted include.

In the end, illustrator Higgins Bond had to create several new illustrations and make major alterations to others. Much of the book’s text was completely rewritten.

With so much work to do, we all worried that the book wouldn’t make it to the printer in time for Spring 2016 publication. But thanks to a whole lot of hard work, late hours, and teamwork, we did make our deadline, which means the new edition of A Place for Frogs will be available for sale starting tomorrow—just as planned. Hooray!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Book of the Week: Why Are Animals Orange?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

The clear, simple text and stunning photos in Why Are Animals Orange?  are perfect for teaching students about animal adaptations. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book. I’ve also created a Teachers Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards.

For an innovative Reading Buddy experience, try a same-grade-level pairing in which an emergent reader shares Orange Animals (two simple words per page) and a more advanced reader shares Why Are Animals Orange? I guarantee great results.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, 6

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m sharing the last of my ideas for activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade.

After reading today’s post, you may wish to scroll down and read the earlier ones. I will be grouping them all together on pinterest soon.

When students have solid visual literacy and information literacy skills, they’ll be well equipped to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of websites as they conduct research for reports. Here are some tips that will guide them in assessing digital resources.

The first thing young researchers should do is look at a website’s URL and identify its domain name—the final three-letter abbreviation. The most common ones are .com (company/commercial), .net (network), .biz (business), .org (organization), .edu (education), and .gov (government). Then they should ask themselves: “What’s the main goal of the people who created the website?” 

For the most part, websites that end with .com, .net, and .biz are businesses and their main goal is to sell products or services so they can make money. Then ask, "Is this your main goal when you are writing a report?" No, of course not. A student's goal is to gather accurate, up-to-date information. Then explain because a student's goal and a company's goal is not the same, a company's website is usually not the best sources of information for a report.

On the other hand, websites that end with .org, .edu, or .gov often have the goal of sharing carefully vetted, up-to-date information, which makes them great resources for students. For example, if a student is doing a report on the circulatory system, the American Heart Association’s website is the perfect place to gather information. And if a student is doing a report on the history of his/her town, the local historical society’s website is an excellent resource. 
 
As students look at a website’s homepage, they should ask themselves: “What is the first thing my eye notices when I look at this website?”

By drawing on their visual literacy skills, students can judge the usefulness and reliability of the site. If their search for “hippopotamus” leads to a website with a prominent logo for a well-respected university or a world-renowned zoo, students can be confident that they will find reliable information. But if the most dominant features are stuffed animals and dangly hippo earrings for sale or a sad-looking hippo and a donate button, students should be suspicious.

Young researchers should also think about efficient use of their time. If they find that evaluating a website is difficult at first glance and will take a lot of time and clicking around, they may want to skip the site and look for resources that are clearly good choices. It's important to stress that they don't always have to make a "yes" or "no" decision. They can say, "I don't know." and then move on.

Using the activities I’ve described over the last five weeks, students should be ready to begin doing meaningful research on their own in grade 3, but that doesn’t mean they will always make the right choices. Today, information is literally at our fingertips, but learning to effectively evaluate, compile, collate, and synthesize it takes time and practice.

Do you have other fun activities that will help students develop important research skills--visual literacy, critical thinking, information literacy, digital literacy? I'd love to hear them.
 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Book of the Week: How Does the Ear Hear?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

How Does the Ear Hear? And Other Questions about the Five Senses aligns perfectly with NGSS PE 4-LS1-2. It’s also a great mentor text for language arts discussions about the question and answer text structure

The book’s carefully labeled illustrations and diagrams will help students gain a thorough understanding of  key science concepts. PLUS they can serve models for students adding visuals to lab reports or developing explanations of scientific processes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Author Visit Prep

The season when authors visit schools en masse is just around the corner, and that means schools are busy getting ready. After all, the more students know about an author going into the visit, the more they will take away from the experience.
Reading and discussing my books
Identifying text features and text structures
Filling out a text structure worksheet
Brainstorming question to ask me
In mid-April, I’ll be spending two fun days with the fourth graders at Hampden Meadows Elementary School in Barrington, RI. I loved seeing photos—tweeted by teacher-librarian Melanie Roy (@hms_library, @mrsmelanieroy)of students reading and discussing three of my books, identifying the books' text features and structures, filling out a text structure worksheet, and brainstorming questions to ask me. At this point, the students know the books as well as I do.

Mrs. Roy also sent me a copy of the school’s library newsletter, which contains this fascinating list of the students’ thoughts.

What Fourth Graders Can Tell About Melissa Stewart by Reading Her Books

  • It's nonfiction but she weaves fun stuff into it so you don't get bored
  • She likes animals - she writes a lot about them and their features
  • She puts books in a kids' perspective and doesn't use big words we don't understand
  • She tells facts in a kid-friendly way
  • She converts animal facts (feather book) into something a human would do
  • She has a sense of humor - little worms in the Monkey book
  • She really wants you to learn something
  • You can tell she really likes to learn about animals
  • She's very detailed
  • There's always a bit of fun - jokes in the Dolphin book
  • She makes it good for girls and boys
  • Her books are short but there's a LOT of information
  • She does a lot of research
  • She really cares about nature
  • She's scientific
  • She made me learn something new which is awesome
  • She puts surprising things in with her facts
I was blown away by some of these comments. I was surprised by how much the students had learned about me from reading my books. Seriously, they’ve got me pegged.

I’m super excited to visit Hampden Meadows Elementary because I know the fourth graders are ready to ask me deep, probing questions about my work. And those questions will lead to a rich, intellectually-stimulating dialogue about the writing process and its challenges. Hampden Meadows here I come!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, Part 5


Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade.

Last week, I focused on helping students learn to extract relevant information from texts, which is a critical research skill. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.

By second grade, students should know that a picture book is created by an author and an illustrator or an author-illustrator. In addition, children have probably heard about editors and editing during writing workshop. Now is a great time to let them know that there is also an art director who oversees the work of the illustrator. And in most cases, there is a book designer. (Sometimes the art director or illustrator does double duty by acting as a book’s designer.)
Here’s a picture of Diane Early, the designer/art director who worked on my book Feathers: Not Just for Flying. Most designers go to art school and have a degree in graphic design. During college, they’re trained to understand how the human eye moves across a page and responds to visual elements.

My book, A Place for Birds, was art directed by Loraine Joyner and designed by the Melanie McMahon Ives.

Melanie is the one who decided that the main art would occupy the bottom three-quarters of each spread and that the main text would be placed on a colored band at the top of the spread. This placement lets readers know that they should read it first.
Melanie also decided where the sidebar and the inset art would go. The placement of these elements varies from spread to spread, guiding readers as they explore the book.

In some children’s books, the design and format are such critical elements that they convey an extra layer of information.
In Move! by Steve Jenkins, the format and design move readers from one spread to the next. As a result, the way readers interact with the physical book matches the book’s theme. Cool!
 
Mosquito Bite by Alexandra Siy includes two distinct storylines. On each right-hand page, black and white photos show children playing a game of hide-and-go seek at dusk and a boy who encounters a mosquito. On each left-hand page, colorful micrographs illustrate the mosquito’s side of the story. Here again, the format is a key part of what makes the book special.



In The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton, the stylized cartoony art is black and white at the beginning of the book, and muted colors are gradually added as the main characters slowly inch closer to the discovery that makes them famous. At the climax of the book, a shockingly bright spread created with day-glo paints highlights the characters’ success. Thus, the intensity of the artwork makes the story arc visible to readers.

 
After sharing examples like these with your students, show your class a few photos (available online) that designers have altered in Photoshop for fun. Possibilities include a lion and zebra, side by side, drinking out of a waterhole or an animal with the head of an leopard and the body of a mouse. Next, show students images in advertisements that are clearly intended to manipulate consumers. Possibilities include toys or hamburgers that look far better than the real thing.

Let your students know that graphic designers are behind almost every visual we see, and they make decisions based on specific goals dictated by the companies, organizations, and institutions that employ them.

What does this have to do with getting students ready to research on their own? Once students realize that website homepage designs are intended to elicit specific reactions, they can make more informed decisions about the accuracy and reliability of the websites they encounter. I’ll discuss this topic in more detail next week.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book of the Week: Fantastic Feet Up Close

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

 Fantastic Feet Up Close is perfect for visual literacy lessons. In addition to clear, simple text, it features fascinating close-up images that highlight the fascinating features of many different animals’ feet. It can also be used in science lessons that look at animal adaptations and language arts lessons that focus on texts with a compare and contrast structure.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Celebrating Winter

I don’t usually do school visits during the winter. Travel can be tough. Cancellations can happen, and rescheduling can be difficult. And most importantly, I need open time in my schedule to write new books.

But when I received a request from a school less than 2 miles from my house, I decided to accept. And boy, am I glad I did.

Over two days, I visited with each grade level and did individual classroom writing workshops with all the fourth graders. The students were so well prepared, and they were buzzing to meet an author who lived in their town. Some were pretty sure they’d seen me in the library or grocery store.

All the presentations went well, but my favorite part of the visit was sneaking into the K classrooms to see the students’ glorious murals inspired by Under the Snow. They were so proud of their amazing work.

 
Look at how this group used plastic wrap to represent the ice on top of a pond. Isn’t that clever?
 
My memories of this fun visit will keep me toasty warm until spring arrives.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, Part 4

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade.

Last week, I focused on the Visual Teaching Strategies method. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.
What do taking notes during class and doing research for a report have in common? In both cases, students must decide what information is important enough to record. To help children learn this skill, I suggest that you pose a focus question or develop a wonder statement, and then work with students to extract relevant content from a fiction-nonfiction book pair.
As you read each book aloud and discuss the content, organize the pertinent information in a table, list, or diagram, as shown below, so that students have a visual record of the process. Then have students participate in an activity that involves synthesizing and integrating the information in the tables, lists, or diagrams.
Here are two examples:
Focus Question: How do animals depend on the place where they live?

Book Pair: Just Ducks by Nicola Davies & Hip-pocket Papa by Sandra Markle

Sample Tables: Guide your students in compiling tables on chart paper after reading the books.

Sample Activity: Students create a mural that compares what ducks and frogs need to survive and how those needs are met by their environment.



 
Wonder Statement: I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.

Book Pair: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry & Here Is a Southwestern Desert by Madeliene Dunphy

Sample Lists: Guide your students in compiling lists on chart paper after reading the books.
Sample Activity: Students fill in blanks to create poems about one of the animals in the list. Then they draw a picture of the animal. All the poems are compiled in a whole-class see-saw book that compares the creatures and features of each environment.
 

 
For more examples and details about how to implement this method, please see Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 by Melissa Stewart & Nancy Chesley

What’s next in getting ready for research? Next week I’ll discuss the role of graphic designers in creating books and other visual materials, including advertising. How does that relate to building research skills? Check back next week to find out.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Book of the Week: Why Are Animals Yellow?

Educators often ask me which of my books would work best in their classroom. So this year, I’ve decided to feature a book each week and highlight related teaching materials and strategies.

The clear, simple text and stunning photos in Why Are Animals Yellow?  are perfect for teaching students about animal adaptations. You can start your lesson with a fun Readers Theater script that I’ve written to accompany the book. I’ve also created a Teachers Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards.

For an innovative Reading Buddy experience, try a same-grade-level pairing in which an emergent reader shares Yellow Animals (two simple words per page) and a more advanced reader shares Why Are Animals Yellow? I guarantee great results.

Friday, March 4, 2016

March Madness Nonfiction

Last week, Shelly Moody (@shelmoody), the Instructional Coach at Williams Elementary School in Oakland, Maine, tweeted the images below. Her school was getting ready for a terrific event that I’d love to see happen in schools across the country.

Full bulletin board
Close up of left-hand side of bulletin board
Close up of the right-hand side of the bulletin board
During the month of March, students in every grade level at Williams Elementary will participate in classroom read alouds of sixteen nonfiction picture books. Then the children will vote on their favorites. Who will the winner be? I can’t wait to find out.

If you decide to try this activity at your school, you could ask older students to fill out a worksheet like the one below developed by Judi Paradis, the teacher-librarian at Plympton School in Waltham, MA.
When students are done, they can share their responses with classmates. Or the worksheets can be posted, so that other students can use the information to help them make book choices.

This fun combination of activities will get kids reading and thinking and sharing.

Note: You can find a more printable version of the Nonfiction Smackdown! worksheet on my pinterest Reading Nonfiction Board: https://www.pinterest.com/mstewartscience/

Update: See this post for more information about Williams Elementary School's March Madness experience: http://shellymoody.blogspot.com/2016/04/nonfiction-picture-book-march-madness_6.html

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, Part 3

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m in the midst of sharing a series of activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade.

Last week, I focused on using reading alouds as a foundation for teaching visual literacy. You can scroll down and read that post if you like. Today, I’m going to continue my discussion.

A few years ago, I attended a summer seminar at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. The instructor introduced us to Visual Teaching Strategies, a method developed by the museum community to help children think critically about fine art.
The Carle’s workshop emphasized using the method to explore the illustrations in fiction picture books, but I’ve discovered that the method works equally well with nonfiction picture books.
When I work with students, I like to use art from four books I’ve written--A Place for Turtles, Feathers: Not Just for Flying, When Rain Falls, and Under the Snow. Here are some suggestions for implementing the method in your classroom or library.
After selecting a few illustrations to share with the class, cover the words, as shown below, so that students’ minds can roam free. When the class is settled on the rug, show the first image and encourage students to look at it closely. Then ask: “What do you think is happening in this picture?” When a child has answered, follow up with: “What do you see that makes you say that?”
As you guide an active class discussion with these two simple questions (and possibly adding "What more do you see?" if students are having trouble digging in), students build observation and communication skills while developing confidence in their ability to construct meaning from visuals. To facilitate the conversation and promote full-class engagement, help students stay focused on the topic, restate students’ comments and ideas, and encourage the class to give students the time they need to formulate and express their ideas.
As students discuss this image, they say the bird could be hunting or taking a bath or getting a drink of water or taking off or landing. And they're all right. Any of these  things could be true. Without the words, we just can’t tell.
This is where the Visual Teaching Strategies method ends, but I’ve added another step that I think makes the activity even more powerful. As the class discussion winds down, I reveal the text, as shown below, and read it aloud.
 
Then I ask the children a key question to tap into students critical thinking skills: “Would you have drawn something different if you were the illustrator?” The students usually make some great suggestions.
If time is limited, I move on to the next illustration, but if possible, I invite students to create the illustration they envision. Here are some samples:
This child thinks the fish and frog should be in the image. Good idea!

This child wants to see the bird actually eating its prey. She also added the sun, so it's more obvious that the dark green area in the foreground is a shadow rather than pollution. Another good idea. 

Visual literacy and critical thinking are two important skills that students need to conduct research, and this fun activity is a great way to help them start evaluating the words and pictures in the books they read.

What’s next in getting ready for research? Now the students have a background in visual literacy and critical thinking, next week I’ll discuss helping students learn to extract key content-area information as they read fiction and nonfiction picture books. Stay tuned.