Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Behind the Books: Stepping Up to Research, Step 4

According to new findings from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the best nonfiction writing occurs when early-elementary research experiences are scaffolded as follows:





1. Organize and categorize information 
     (a) based on personal experiences
     (b) on a topic they care deeply about
  

2. Organize, categorize, and compare observations.

3. Conduct guided research.
 
4. Conduct cold research.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at each of these steps in detail and suggesting activity ideas.

For step 4, students choose a topic they’re passionate about and conduct research with the support of their classroom teacher, literacy coach, and school librarian.  By now, they have the skills they need to find facts in books and online articles. They may also be ready to consider other kinds of sources. Encourage students to think outside the box.

For example, if students are writing about an animal, can they observe it in its natural setting? If the animal lives in your area, they may be able to find it and watch it. They may also be able to locate a webcam that shows the animal going about its daily routine.

If students are writing about a social studies topic, can they visit a local historical society or museum? What can they learn from artifacts? Can they interview people who are knowledgeable about their topic?

The more creatively students think about their research process, the more invested they will become in their topic, and their enthusiasm will definitely shine through in their written report.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Quintets for Curious Kids: 5 Great Books about Rocks

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian

A Rock Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas

A Rock Is a Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston

Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst  

Monday, November 21, 2016

Quintets for Curious Kids: 5 Great Picture Books about Rain Forests

Army Ant Parade by April Pulley Sayre

The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart

Rain, Rain, Rain Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson

Red-eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley

Friday, November 18, 2016

THE Best Book Ever for Kids Who Love to Learn About Animals

The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins

Seriously, this book is in a class all by itself, so run right out and buy it as a holiday gift for all the curious kids in your life.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Behind the Books: Stepping Up to Research, Step 3

According to new findings from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the best nonfiction writing occurs when early-elementary research experiences are scaffolded as follows:
 
 
 
 

1. Organize and categorize information 
     (a) based on personal experiences
     (b) on a topic students care deeply about
   

2. Organize, categorize, and compare observations.

3. Conduct guided research.

4. Conduct cold research.


For Step 3, students write about a topic the class is studying. This is a great chance to integrate ELA with your science or social studies curriculum.

At the beginning of the unit, draw your class’s attention to a Wonder Wall that you created on a classroom bulletin board. Let the children know that as they study the topic, they will probably have lots of questions. Encourage students to record these questions on sticky notes and add them to the Wonder Wall.
 
If a question is answered during the remaining part of the unit, jot the answer on another sticky note and place it next to the question. At the end of the unit, invite students to choose one of the unanswered questions or develop a new question. Working with the school librarian and a literacy coach, guide the children in researching their questions independently and sharing their findings with the class.

Next week I’ll take Wednesday off, so I can clean my house and go grocery shopping in preparation of for the Thanksgiving festivities, but I’ll be back on November 30 to look at Step 4.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Quintets for Curious Kids: 5 Great Picture Books for Kids Who Love Math

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

Just a Second by Steve Jenkins

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Behind the Books: Stepping Up to Research, Step 2

According to new findings from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the best nonfiction writing occurs when early-elementary research experiences are scaffolded as follows:




1. Organize and categorize information 
     (a) based on personal experiences
     (b) on a topic students care deeply about
  

2. Organize, categorize, and compare observations.

3. Conduct guided research.
 
4. Conduct cold research.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at each of these steps in detail and suggesting activity ideas.

For Step 2, take a look at your science curriculum. Students could observe and compare soil samples from home and the school playground. They could observe how a plant changes as it grows.

Here’s an activity I love. Collect a dozen rocks or shells. Divide your class into small groups and give each team one of the objects. Ask the children to use words and pictures to describe their object.

As the groups finish, one member should return their object to a central location. Then have each team rotate to a new table, leaving their description behind.

Invite the groups to read the description in front of them and carefully study the drawing. Then the teams should take turns going to the central location. Their task is to select the object they think the first team used to create its description. Encourage students to repeat this process until all the teams have identified the correct object.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Quintets for Curious Kids: 5 Great Picture Books for Kids Who Love to Explore

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman

Friday, November 4, 2016

Three Tips for Writing Teachers

Recently, a teacher tweeted me with this question:

When kids revise, their changes may not be improvements. How can we lead them to make their manuscripts better?

That’s a great question, but it’s not something that can be answered in 140 characters. And in fact, I’m not sure there’s an answer—at least not one teachers will like—at all.

I think that the only honest answer is that revision is messy, and sometimes our attempts to re-envision our writing are complete and utter failures. That’s why writing is hard.

As I describe in this Revision Timeline, creating the picture book No Monkeys, No Chocolate was a 10-year journey. When I share this timeline with students, they always ask the same question: “Does it always take so long to write a book?”

No, it doesn’t. But for most of the picture books I write, the journey from inspiration to publication is far longer than most people expect. Here are some stats:

Can an Aardvark Bark? (coming in 2017),  7 years

Feathers: Not Just for Flying,  8 years

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs (coming in 2018),  7 years

A Place for Butterflies,  5 years

Summertime Sleep (coming in 2019),  8 years
 
Under the Snow,  5 years

For each of these manuscripts, I wrote draft after draft after draft. And I openly admit that some of those drafts were worse than the ones that came before them.

When it comes to writing, not every attempt is an improvement. Not every idea pans out, and you know what, that’s okay. It’s part of the process. Like I said, writing is hard.

But it’s also important. For more and more people, being able to clearly express information and ideas in writing is a critical job skill. And that’s why I think the best thing a writing teacher can do is:

Be a Coach
A good coach knows how to help players improve by giving them the right advice at the right moment. Writing teachers can do this by building a classroom collection of mentor texts and handing students titles that will address specific writing elements that they are struggling with.

For nonfiction, the collection should include books with:
—various formats and text structures
—different writing styles (narrative and expository)
—different voices (lyrical, lively, and various options in between)
—various points of view (first, second, and third)
—strong verbs
—rich use of language devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes and metaphors, etc.)

Coaches also teach strategies by going over past games play by play. Writing teachers can use old student work to showcase how those writers chose a clever format or used voice well or included strong verbs.

Be a Role Model
Time and again, when I do writing workshops in schools, I see that the classes that do the best are the ones where the teacher participates. She pays attention to what I’m saying. She takes notes. She asks questions. And most importantly, she writes right alongside her students.

As she writes, she verbalizes the things that are challenging her. She asks her students for advice and suggestions. She encourages them to consult with one another. She shows them that writing is a struggle for everyone, and yet, it’s something that is worthy of her time—and theirs.

Be a Cheerleader
When students feel frustrated or defeated, writing teachers can spur kids on. They can encourage young writers to keep trying by sharing examples of their own setbacks and successes. They can also share the trials and tribulations that professional writers discuss on their blogs or social media. When students see that the adults around them struggle with writing, that it's just part of the process, they can learn to move past the frustration they feel and experience their own successes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Behind the Books: Stepping Up to Research, Step 1

According to new findings from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the best nonfiction writing occurs when early-elementary research experiences are scaffolded as follows:





1. Organize and categorize information 
     (a) based on personal experiences
     (b) on a topic students care deeply about
  
 
2. Organize, categorize, and compare observations.

3. Conduct guided research.

4. Conduct cold research.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at each of these steps in detail and suggesting activity ideas.

For Step 1, topics like “My Baby Brother” or “My Dog” or “My Mom” or “My School” work best. These are topics kids know about as a result of their everyday interactions. So the struggle isn’t related to gathering information, it’s related to organizing it into a piece of writing that flows in a logical way. (As an added bonus, this assignment might teach children knew about their relationships or family dynamics.)

This kind of assignment works better than “write what you know” because young students might think they know a lot about frogs, but when it comes down to it, there are bound to be gaps in their knowledge, and that’s a problem at this level.

This assignment also works better than “write something you could teach” because, let’s face it, rehashing the rules of soccer is pretty boring.