Monday, February 29, 2016

Book of the Week: A Place for Bats

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.

You could share one or two spreads of A Place for Bats to support NGSS PE K-ESS3-3 or read the whole book as part of a lesson that addresses NGSS PE 5-ESS3-1.

I have also created a Teacher’s Guide that makes connections to a wide variety of NGSS and Common Core standards. You can find additional activities here.

This book is great for Reading Buddies programs. For more information, read this article and look at the materials on my CCSS ELA RIT #1 & 2: Reading Buddies pinterest board.

A Place for Bats is chockfull of text features, so you can use it as a mentor texts when discussing the wide range of text features. You can also use the book in lessons that examine nonfiction text structures. The main text has both a cause & effect text structure and a problem-solution text structure, while many of the sibdebars compare past human activities that hurt turtles to current more turtle-friendly activities.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lovin’ the Learning

One of my favorite lessons from Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science uses the books Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer and A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson to address the first grade NGSS Performance Expectation 1-LS1-1, which includes “how animals use their external [body] parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.”

Since Frog in the Bog tells the delightful story of a greedy frog who chows down everything in its path—and then lives to regret it, we decided to start the lesson by giving students a chance to hunt like a frog, using a party-blower “tongue” with Velcro on the end to catch a variety of creepy crawly critters.

What a treat to receive these fun photos of the activity in progress from first-grade teacher Liza Womack (@sosmarchmass) and literacy coach  Jennifer L. Brady (@BradyLitCoach) in Merrick, NY. Don’t these first graders look like they’re lovin’ the learning?


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, Part 2

If you read my last Wednesday post (before vacation week), you know that I’m concerned by the negative attitude many middle school students seem to have about the research process.

Why do they think it's boring? Probably because their initial experiences with research haven’t been authentic. After all, it’s difficult to create active, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students.

And so, over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a series of activities that will allow early elementary 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.
To get the process started, I recommend modeling visual thinking with read alouds that:
encourage observation
help students understand story sequence
show how pictures and words can work together to tell a story or share information
show how pictures can enhance a story or make information relevant to children’s experiences by going beyond the words.
This scaffolded way of introducing visual literacy is especially helpful for English language learners and children who haven’t grown up reading bedtime stories with their parents.
I suggest starting with some simple books that encourage observation.

Where’s Walrus? by Steve Savage is a playful game-like wordless picture book that invites readers to look for a walrus that has escaped from the zoo. Children will giggle at the silly situations in which they spot the star of the story.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Litchenheld delights students with simple language and cleverly crafted images that can be viewed in two different ways. Which way is “right”? Readers must decide.

Next, share some of your favorite wordless picture books and guide students in telling the story by making meaning of the pictures.

Wave by Suzy Lee is a good example of a book that uses a series of pictures to show a natural process and convey a human experience.

In The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Peet, the pictures allow children to “read” the main character’s emotions and predict her behaviors.

Fossil by Bill Thomson shows how story panels can isolate moments in time and work together to tell a story.  
When the children seem ready to move on, introduce graphic picture books with simple text.
Possibilities include Blackout by John Rocco and One Day, The End by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. While these books are a blend of words and pictures, the images contribute a great deal to the storytelling.
In Where in the Wild by David M. Schwartz playful poems provide clues about camouflaged creatures hidden in the pictures. By extracting key information from the text, children can identify the mystery animals.
Finally, share some books in which the pictures go beyond the words, taking the story in delightful new directions.
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee includes illustrations that add humor to the story by contradicting the text.
Redwoods by Jason Chin features straightforward expository nonfiction text, but the illustrations show the imaginative thoughts of a boy who appears to be reading the same book. This technique allows readers to feel as if they’re experiencing the unique and unfamiliar redwood forest ecosystem right along with the child in the story.

Chances are that you already do some of the things I've described above. But did you ever looked at then through the visual literacy lens and did you realize that you were laying the groundwork for helping students develop research skills? You were, and that will become clearer as we continue with this series if blog posts.

What's the nest step in getting ready for research? Next week we’ll take a look at ways to help children think critically about the images they see in picture books.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book of the Week: Shockingly Silly Jokes about Electricity and Magnetism

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.

Don’t be fooled by the title. Shockingly Silly Jokes about Electricity and Magnetism is more than just a book of jokes. It also contains basic information about atoms, lightning, batteries, magnets, circuits, motors, and more.

And that’s not all. The backmatter includes a 6-page section about how to write jokes using a wide range of language devices, including alliteration, homographs and homophones, and rhyme. There’s no better way to get students to engaging in authentic word play.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Have a great vacation week!

Here's a book you might enjoy reading between sledding and skating and snowball fights.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Why I Love nErDcamp

Back in 2012, I wrote a book about the Titanic for the National Geographic Readers series. A few months later, Mary Ann Cappiello, Erika Thulin Dawes, and Grace Enriquez, three professors of language & literacy at Lesley University asked me to do an interview for their great blog The Classroom Bookshelf. But they didn’t want a traditional interview, they wanted a video interview. I didn’t have much experience making videos, but I decided to take on the challenge.

First, I tried sitting in front of my digital camera (set in video mode) and answering the questions they’d given me, but the result was, um, totally boring. What to do?

I wracked my brain for ways to make it more interesting, more fun, more interactive, and somehow I struck upon the idea of interviewing myself. That’s right. First, I dressed up “like a reporter” and recorded myself asking the questions. I kept telling myself that I was taking on a persona, and I should try to be as outgoing and energetic as possible.

Then I changed into my “writer outfit,” changed my hairstyle, moved the camera to a different part of the room, and recorded my answers to the questions as myself. Finally, I used a video editing program to cut apart the recordings and splice them back together, so the interview seemed to flow seamlessly.

I sent the video to my mother for her opinion, and she said she hated it. Uh-oh. I’d worked really hard on it, so I decided to show it to my husband. He said he thought kids would like it, so I sent it to The Classroom Bookshelf, and they posted it. I also added it to the Video section of my website.

It turns out my husband was right. Kids do love it. In fact, it’s one of the most viewed pages on my website.

From time to time, students contact me (via their teacher) because they want to know if I’m interviewing myself. I guess I did such a good job taking on a different persona as the reporter that kids aren’t quite sure if it’s really me.
A few weeks ago, I attended nErD Camp Northern New England and had a great day. During the after party, as I snacked on an ice cream sandwich (Thanks, Lesley Burnap!) and chatted with a group of fabulous Long Island educators, Erica Pecorale, Assistant Professor at Long Island University, told me an amazing story about my Titanic video.

When she showed the video to a class, the “identity question” was solved by some special needs students. Because they had difficulty interpreting body language and facial expressions, they had undergone special training to help them, and they were able to use what they learned to prove to their classmates that I was playing both roles. Isn’t that fantastic!

I love that those students were able to teach their classmates something. Just imagine how proud and excited they must have felt in that moment. Just imagine.

I love nErDcamp because spending time with dedicated teachers is so, so, SO educational and inspirational. Thanks so much to all the people who organized nErdcamp NNE and to Colby Sharp for bringing together the Nerdy Book Club and EdCamp in the first place.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, Part 1

Here are some words I associate with the act of researching:
Treasure hunt
Fascinating facts
Prospecting for rare nuggets of knowledge
Developing unique perspectives
Books, databases, observations, interviews

As you can tell from this list, I enjoy the process. So when Ellen Brandt, the Teacher-Librarian at Westford Middle School in Westford, MA, shared this word cloud based on words her sixth graders associate with the act of researching:
I was surprised and disappointed and confused. Why did these students have such a negative attitude about what I consider a fun adventure?

Are these students alone?

Unfortunately, they aren’t. The more I talked to educators about my concern, the more I realized that Ellen’s students aren’t an exception. They’re the rule.

Why, I wondered, didn’t students enjoy the hunt for rare nuggets of knowledge? As I searched for an answer, I started looking closely at the kinds of research experiences elementary students are having.

At many schools, early elementary students are handed fact sheets. For them “research” consists of picking facts off that sheet and incorporating them into a report. Older elementary students are often given a list of acceptable websites and told to use only them.

Suddenly, the word cloud started to make sense.

Students were bored because they weren’t doing authentic research.

Real research is active and self driven. It requires creative, out-of-the box thinking. That’s what makes it engaging.

But in the same burst of understanding, I recognized the heart of the problem. It’s difficult to create authentic research experiences for early elementary students.

And so, I asked myself a question: Is there a fun way to teach research skills—visual literacy, information literacy, digital literacy, critical thinking—to early elementary students without actually doing research?

I think the answer is “yes!” and beginning after February vacation (which is next week here in Massachusetts), I’m going to share some ideas with you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Book of the Week: Deadliest Animals

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.

After Deadliest Animals was selected for the Columbia University Teachers College writing program called Units of Study (masterminded by Lucy Calkins), I wrote a series of thirteen blog posts describing how I researched, wrote, and revised. So that it’s easier to access them all at once, I created a pinterest board called Creating Nonfiction Step by Step with links to all of them. 


Friday, February 5, 2016

Team Note-taking

During a recent #TCWRP Twitterchat about informational writing, Julie Harmatz (@jarhartz), a fifth grade teacher in San Pedro, CA, made a suggestion that I just love—simultaneous notetaking in a google doc. Now that’s what I call fun and informative!
Do any of you remember Ghostwriter, a popular PBS TV show that aired in the early 1990s? The show featured a group of Brooklyn, NY, tweens who solved neighborhood crimes and mysteries with the help of a magical notebook that wrote out clues, letter by letter, at key moments.

Whenever I’m collaborating with someone in google docs, I think of that old TV show. The person I’m working with could be 3,000 miles away, and yet, her thoughts magically appear on my computer screen, letter by letter, at key moments. It’s just plain fun to work this way—especially if we’re using different colored type. I like the novelty of the technology, but I also like getting a sort of sneak peek into my collaborator’s mind.

I think students would enjoy collaborative notetaking for the same reasons—the technological novelty and the access to the thought process of their partner(s). Pairing an adept notetaker with a student who is struggling to develop this skill could be a powerful experience. And students may learn better from their peer’s model than from adult instruction. Why not give it a try in your classroom?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Behind the Books: Colorful Revision

Back in November, Dana Murphy (@DanaMurphy68) wrote this post, called “A Close Look,” on the Two Writing Teachers blog. In it, she discussed a tweet I contributed to a Twitterchat a few days earlier.

This is something I do a lot. In fact, it might be the number one way I use mentor texts. Seeing text in manuscript form really helps me understand how the writer went about crafting it.

In her post, Dana used colors to highlight aspects of the writing she especially liked. I use that technique too. I use it when I’m examining another writer’s language, and I use it during my own revision process. It helps me focus on specific elements of a manuscript.

For example, I might highlight all my verbs in blue. Then I look them over and ask: Are they varied enough? Can any of them be stronger?

I might color comparisons green, and ask myself: Can I come up with examples that are even more relevant to my readers’ lives?

I might make all the examples of alliteration purple. Am I overusing it? I admit. I sometimes do.

Here are a couple of examples:
By using colors to focus my attention on specific parts of a text, patterns—both good and bad—become clearer, and I can revise to make the manuscript as strong as it can possibly be.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Book of the Week: No Monkeys, No Chocolate

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.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is one of my favorite books, so I went all out when it came to creating related teaching materials.

The book has its own Teachers Guide, ReadersTheater script, and pinterest board not to mention some fun activity sheets. But the pièce de résistance is this Revision Timeline that features a dozen videos, downloadable rejected manuscripts, sample sketches for the illustrator, and more that explain the 10-year process of creating the book. Yep. 10 years, and 56 revisions. It was a lot of work, but well worth it in the end.