Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Thing About Luck Book Club Meeting


Hello Dear Readers,

I finished The Thing About Luck two weeks ago and have not been able to get the characters out of my head.  I'd love to chat about the book on Twitter next Thursday, January 30, at 7:45 pm.

If you read the book already, reread and look for some things you think may offer great conversation.  Then post them to the comments section of this blog post.

If you have not read yet, order your copy or download it tonight.  Then tell your friends at school to do the same so you can enjoy a great Teacher Book Club.
I am going to offer up some points of conversation below that might surface in our chat.  Happy reading! See you Thursday night on twitter.  My handle is @Read_Write_Play

1.  I am really interested in thinking and talking more about Obaachan.  Page 267 has a beautiful description  of Wabi-sabi.  Jiichan says it can be "beauty and nobility in a rough exterior."  Looking back at so many of my post-it notes about Obaachan, I see her beauty and nobility in that rough exterior.  Do you?  Do you want to collect examples too?  I'd love to talk more about this.

2.  We could talk about Summer and her thoughts about death.  She speaks about it on page 79 and page 213 in detail.  I think she is a vulnerable character to us as readers, but not necessarily to the other characters.  Agree?  Why?

3.  Chapter 12 just sums up why I love Cynthia Kadohata's writing so much.  She captures the heart of what it is to be twelve.  I love when summer says, "Have you ever felt humiliated and proud at the same time?" (page 199).  We can talk more about this chapter and why it is an important part of the book.

4.  I'd also love to talk about Jiichan and this book he gave her, A Separate Peace.  I love the part on page 102 when Summer says, "It made me think that each person had all sorts of things going on inside of them, but most of these things would never surface unless circumstances were exactly right."  It seems like Jiichan had an important role in fostering the sense of empathy and compassion that Summer carries throughout the story/her life.  Do you agree?  I'd love to talk more about him and what he does to influence both of his grandchildren.

5.  Did you get the chills (or what I imagine a runner may feel at mile 25 of a marathon) when you read the bottom of page 261.  Summer carries so much onto that wheat field.  I'd love to talk about why she carries it all with her and the consequences (perhaps positive and negative - or maybe with no judgement at all) of all she brings with her that night.

6.  Finally, we could talk about Jaz.  He is such a great secondary character and the way he helps bring the book to a close is artful.  I would love to talk about those last few pages including the unchanging Jaz and Kadohata's decision to also bring Mick and Jenson back into the story in such a deeply personal way.  I wondered if she was trying to tell us something about moments when we should use our empathy to reach out and moments when we should use our empathy to just silently wish someone peace and kindness.  What did you think about that ending?

I am looking forward to discussing these topics and more with you next Thursday!  Cheers to  great books!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Teacher Book Clubs:  
Reading, rereading, writing about reading, talking, and eating! 
(And falling in love with hope and squirrels.)

This winter I had the privilege of working with teachers at Kaukauna's NDLC on the topic of writing about reading.   We were all curious to see what would happen if we read a book together, did some writing about reading in preparation for a book club conversation, and then had the conversation, and wrote some more.  We were wondering if we would grow stronger in our teaching of reading (and writing about reading) if we actually did some of that work ourselves in the company of one another.   
I enjoyed it so much, that I wanted to share it with other teacher leader friends who may want to do something like this in their schools.  Here are my top 10 reflections on this book club.

#1:  Pick a great book.  We chose Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  It was on my list of children's lit that I wanted to read.  A close runner up (and on my nightstand now) is The Thing About Luck.  One of the teachers at the table ordered 13 copies of our choice on her smartphone and they were in the  mailboxes the next day!  Wow!

#2:  We decided to read it in less than a week.  The teachers and I said, "read as much as you can," and we all knew that choosing a children's chapter book meant that we would all finish or be close to done at the week's end.  We also set a goal to do some writing about reading and come to the conversation with something to offer-up to conversation.  The short deadline and specific assignment helped tremendously.

#3:  We ordered a great lunch for the book club meeting day.  Thanks so much to the principal for the treat!

#4:  We gathered, and as we mingled and opened our lunches, we reread our post-its for 3-4 minutes so we would be prepared for conversation.  I asked the teachers to jot on a post-it something they would like to talk about for a long time.    I also offered up the need to jot clarifying questions.  It is hard to talk about bigger issues or themes in a book if there is a part a reader is still working to understand.  And, we did do a bit of clarifying.

#5:  We decided on a few bigger themes or issues that we thought would make good conversations.  Some of us wanted to talk about a specific character and Kate's deliberate placement of her throughout the story (The Dr. Meecham).  Some of us wanted to talk about the changes in the main characters, Flora and Ulysses, and how the other characters influenced those changes.  Some of us wanted to linger on some very powerful quotes in the book.  We decided to start with one of these and then eventually, we got to it all.

#6:  We worked hard to listen to the person in the club speaking, to ask them to tell us specific text evidence, and then we all went back to reread theat evidence.  We learned that doing this close listening and rereading, helped all of us add on to the conversation and eventually our writing about reading.  For example, while discussing Flora's mother, we asked questions like, "Do you really think the character meant to say that?  Why or Why not?" and then we forced ourselves to dig deeper, rereading places where that character spoke in different parts in the book and we developed a theory about the mother.  This ritual reminded us of the kind of close reading our friends Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts write about in their book, Falling in Love with Close Reading.

#7:  We wrote about our reading in different ways.   All of us collected jots on post-it notes.  Some of us jotted connections, ideas about themes, ideas about characters, and some of us commented on author's craft.   Some of us used a timeline to mark significant changes in a character.  Some of us made double or triple timelines so we could notice how one character's changes may mirror another.  Some of us made character webs or t-charts to compare characters.  Some of us even began to write literary essays during our conversation on the second day. 

#8:  We began to see that the small jots perhaps didn't mean much alone, but when we reread a whole book full of jots, we saw patterns and could use those patters to develop and idea for conversation.  This real-life experience of writing about reading in a book club will help us explain the purpose and importance of all this reading and jotting to our students.  

#9:  We saw ourselves, our families, and our friends in the pages of this book and in our conversations.  Kate DiCamillo is a fabulous writer and this thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud book is just ripe for conversation in upper elementary classrooms - and in teacher book clubs every where.  

#10:  Meeting for book club conversation felt joyful to me, as well as the kind of good, hard work that I want my students to do when they read in a club.  I want to read with this book club, and more like it, in the upcoming months.  

Who wants to join me in talking and writing about The Thing About Luck?  My goal is to post about it next week.  I am hoping to take pics of my jots and invite you to have a conversation with me via the comments section.  Let's give it a try.

Another  big thank you to the #nerdlution twitter community out there.  In case you are new to the hashtag, check out the post that started it all at Colby Sharp's blog and twitter feed.  Nerdlution is motivating me to read 60 min of YA a day and I promise to blog about it.  Nerdlution lasts for 50 days, but I am hoping my goal sticks as a real, long-term habit.


I dedicate this post to my teacher friends at New Directions Learning Community.  You are exactly as your school-name says you promise to be.  I get the chills listening to you joyfully problem-solve, plan, and ask such important questions.  It has been a pleasure to be with you from the conception of your dream to the reality. 
A big thank you for this post goes to Barbara, one of the first grade teachers, who at the end of this 2-day book club conversation, read the most beautiful literary essay about change, hope, and love (and it included text evidence).  We all had to wipe away some tears or run our hands down the goosebumps on our arms.  And, I know Barbara would say that her thought collective helped her write it, so to all of you staff members at NDLC, a big CHEERS!

Monday, December 2, 2013

My Love Affair With Kevin Henkes Grows:  The Year of Billy Miller

I have always had a love affair with Kevin Henkes' children's books.  I feel in love with the books with the little mice characters when I was in college and took a children's literature course at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Sheila Rae stole my heart with her feisty bravery and honest need for support.  Lilly's spunk, passion, and love for her teacher made me wish for students like her in my pre-k and second grade classrooms.

Then, one fateful evening, I met Kevin at the Cooperative Children's Book Center's annual Charlotte Zolotow lecture.  We all (maybe 100 or so participants that hung around post-lecture) ate vanilla ice cream sundaes together with cherries on top - just like the characters in Weekend With Wendell.  I think I had an entire imaginary conversation with Kevin that night, wherein I told him how much I enjoyed his character development in books for such young readers.  In real life, I think I shook his hand and said hello.

Fast-forward nearly 15 years and countless books collected.  I found myself introducing Kevin at a speaking engagement at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project's annual Summer Institute.  I worked for weeks on crafting just the right words.  To prepare, I poured over his books - not just the mouse books - but also his richly woven chapter books.  I became a huge fan of Junonia and used part of that book to help craft the introduction.   I said this to him (among a few other things):

Your stories are the stories where characters go to dark places, and move through complex challenges and within themselves they find the knowledge they need to light their own way. 

We watch as Lilly faces the horror of losing her precious purple, plastic purse.  She goes a dark place and writes Mr. Slinger a letter.  But in the midst of the darkness, she realizes who she really is, a person who cares more about her relationship with a teacher than she does a purse, and she finds the courage and grace to ask for forgiveness.  That story helps us remember the person we want to be – helps us light our own way when we find ourselves in the darkness.

Time after time your characters seem to show us how children and adults can move into challenging moments with grace and humor along side of a little sorrow and longing.  And you seem to understand that all of that – grace, humor, sorrow, and longing is part of the way we grow. You show kids that these moments in life are to be expected and you trust your young readers to understand that they too can solve their own problems just as the characters do.

Your books mentor our kids into the kind of problem solvers we need in the world. Now, more than ever, the world needs heroes like you and books like yours. You are my author-hero.  You are a hero to us all.

This weekend, I fell in love with another one of Kevin's characters, Billy Miller, and declared Kevin an author-hero once again.  His chapter book, The Year of Billy Miller is one of my new recommendations for second and third grade read alouds this year.  Kevin does what he does best - crafting characters that are honestly their age.  Billy Miller is full of physical energy, wants to stay up all night long, and has a deep knowledge of bats.  He loves his family dearly and looks for their approval while simultaneously edging toward new boundaries.  He is annoyed with his table-mate at school on a daily basis, and his sister at certain moments (like when she threatens to ruin the all-nighter he has been anticipating for weeks).  He helps his dad with a "break-through" that advances his career and he decides to show his love for his sister and his mom in such genuine ways.

Some reviewers have said this book beautifully captures the ordinary moments, and I would agree, but it goes further.  It does the kind of subtle teaching that I love to do in k-3 classrooms.  Billy Miller's action, external dialogue, and internal thoughts are just the stuff that will give you great small group and whole class conversations after read aloud time.  And, it will fuel your character reading units of study.

My book has several dog-eared pages.  I'd love to talk with kids and offer kids time to talk with other kids about these parts.  Here are a few I can share without giving too much of the plot away:

The conversation Billy has with his dad in and around page 97 and 105.
- Why does Billy make this choice?
- What do you think this says about him as a character?
- How does his dad react?
 - What does this say about him as a character?

The conversation and actions between Billy and Sal around page 158.
 - What does he decide to do with the pearl?  Why?
 - What does this tell us about Billy as a character?
 - Is this what you thought would happen?
- What might you do?

The quote on page 176.  "Billy sighed.  He realized that as soon as one problem is solved, something else is right there, waiting to take up your time."
 - What do you think the author is trying to say or teach us?
- Does this remind you of anything?

In sum, I would love to hear what you think of the book and what your young readers and thinkers have to say after reading it.  Write me back with the ideas that come from your conversations.

And, lastly I need to give two big thank you notes for this post (I would write them and seal them in a dragon envelope like Billy Miller if I had them handy).

#1:  A big thank you to the #nerdlution twitter community out there.  In case you are new to the hashtag, check out the post that started it all at Colby Sharp's blog and twitter feed.  Nerdlution is motivating me to read 60 min of YA a day and I promise to blog about it.  Nerdlution lasts for 50 days, but I am hoping my goal sticks as a real, long-term habit.


#2:  As part of my Nerdlution goal-setting, I decided that I needed an incentive to do the blogging about my reading.  I thought back to when I wrote my first book, and one of the things that kept me going, was the thought of the dedication page.  I dedicated that book to my parents and every time I didn't want to write, but knew I had to, I would draft a dedication page, and that got me started.  So, I think I will try that again.

I dedicate this blog post to my friend of 25 years, Emily Rhoades, out in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Emily, I can't wait to read your words in your first book.  Congrats on making the decision to chronicle your stroke recovery and survival.  You are and have always been one of my mentor readers, writers, and teachers.  Thank you for your honest advice and empathy.  May this year be the year of Emily Rhoades.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Second Grade Partner Time
in Reading Workshop

Hello Teacher Friends!  I was so excited about my day at PS 116 last week.  I wanted to share with you some of the great partner talk happening there.  Partner time has been going well there because it is a work-in-progress.  The teachers are working hard to listen and coach it. 

Second Graders love to talk about books in Kristen and Alyson's second grade classroom at PS 116.  They started the habit early and the kids remembered so many things from their first grade partner time.  Last week (which was just the second week of school for these 8-year-olds) we reminded them about book recommendations.  We told the kids that friends are often asking each other, "What are you reading?"  or "Do you have a good book your could recommend?" We noted how a book recommendation usually sounds, modeled one with a Mr. Putter and Tabby book we had just read, and then got the whole class practicing with a book they knew from Read Aloud, Mercy Watson to the Rescue.  

Towards the end of independent reading time, we gave a quick interruption to help the kids plan for their partner time.  We said, "choose the book or the part of the book you want to talk about with your partner today.  You might want to use the chart to rehearse if you are going to retell and/or give a recommendation."

Soon, they met with partners.  The readers in this inclusive classroom span a wide range of levels and there are lots of options for partner time.  Some kids chose to read a book together, some chose to talk about favorite parts, and many chose to give a recommendation.  While the kids met with their partners, the teachers and I could listen and take some quick assessments about retelling and summarizing.  We ended that reading workshop brimming with ideas about some quick small groups we could gather to support partner time as well as retelling and monitoring for sense as you read.

Finally, we started a class book recommendation chart together during our end-of-workshop share time.  The kids were chomping at the bit to post their recommendations.  It is growing day by day.

Our hope is that all the good book talk results in great independent book shopping and an increase in reading stamina.  I read with stronger stamina if I know a friend has told me a book is great.  Don't you?  

What partner talk routines are happening in your classroom?  What are kids doing already that they remember from last year?  Do you have fun ways for kids to share book recommendations?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Help Kids Find Writing Ideas

I was invited to do a guest blog post at Two Writing Teachers last week.  I decided to offer some tips with topic choice and supporting kids who tell us they are not sure what to write.  Click here for the post.  Support the kids with empathy and be sure to help them find ideas using strategies so they will be able to use them whenever they are stuck.

Happy Writing!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Close Reading

I have been reading lots of good conversation about Close Reading at Kinderconfidential and I am delighted to see Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts are about to  publish their book, Falling in Love with Close Reading.  Chris and Kate have invited all of us to think about what close reading is and isn't, during their blog-a-thon.  You can see a few of  their glorious blog posts here and here.

I have been thinking about close reading quite a bit this summer as I watch my one- year-old daughter tear through the books she loves so much.  I say, “tear through,” because, quite frankly, we have been using a lot of packaging tape to fix those lift the flap board books.  But, really, this post is not about Baby M.  It is about the observations we make as teachers during independent reading time, the way we organize our classroom libraries and student reading materials, and the way we plan for read alouds.  Watching Baby M read just gave me the reminders I needed as I start this school year. 

Tip #1:  Collect some data about close reading when you observe you readers.  Collect some data about your classroom environment and how kids use it.
·      Do they reread? 
·      Do they look closely at the pictures or ponder about what the words mean?
·      Do they seem to reread their sticky notes where they have dome some writing about reading? 
·      Do they reflect on the things they have written and expand on those ideas?
·      How do kids check out books?  Do they “get to” check out books yet or do you make table baskets to share?
I noticed in June that M enjoyed reading books, went to them independently, and often chose them as her first item to play with in the morning.  But then, in July, I noticed that she was speed-reading through the shelf.  I worried, “shouldn’t she take her time, look more closely at the pictures?”  I tried modeling it.  Nope.  More tossing of books after she read just a page or two. 
Simultaneously, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M. ED.  He suggests, “Less is More.”  On Page 65, he says, “Quite Simply:  A smaller, more manageable quantity of toys invites deeper play and engagement.  An avalanche of toys invites emotional disconnect and a sense of overwhelm.” 
So, I counted up the books.  We had over 60 board books available to her at any given time.  (Yes, we are lucky to live literate lives and have friends who gave us great books as gifts).  This realization that we might have too many books available at one time and in one place lead to action and tip #2…

Tip #2:  Provide your readers with the amount of texts and tools to sustain them for a week and allow for close rereading. 
·      Do your k-2 readers have a book box they can call their own or do they browse a vast library with hundreds of titles? 
·      Do your beginning readers in kindergarten and first grade have 8-10 books in their book box?
·      Do more advanced first and second grade readers have tools like this  or this or this and a place to jot notes? 
I quickly made a book box for Baby M (see photo at the beginning of this post).  I put it next to the bookshelf that she loves and moved the other books into two other bins.  We switch out her books every 4-5 days so she is not bored with the titles.  I noticed almost immediately that she settled into her reading time with less tossing books overboard.  I also noticed her rereading books to find her favorite pages.  I think she was able to do this because she got to reread the same texts day after day.

In Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, I have begun to rethink the browsing bins for a whole table in September.  I have been wondering if would be easier for kids to stay engaged and do some close reading in September if they shared a book box (maybe a magazine box size) with a buddy.  And, maybe these boxes could be theme based (one about trucks, the other with Thomas the Train books, another with farm animal books, another with alphabet books, etc.).  I am wondering if we can help kids get the stance for close reading that Kristi wrote about on her blog if we give them these partner bins right away in the first weeks of school.  I wonder if there will be fewer arguments at tables about who will get the puppy book next and more sharing of thoughts, ideas, and favorite parts.  And, if kids switch partner bins every 3 days or so, perhaps they would know much of the library by the end of September.  Could this be a new way to browse the library?  Let me know what you think.  If you try this, I’d love to hear how it goes.

Tip #3:  Model the close reading and rereading in Read Aloud
·      Do you have class favorite read alouds that the kids love to hear again and again?
·      Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, do you have those Emergent Story Books lined up on your shelf ready to go?  What are your favorites?
·      Try modeling think-alouds or questions like this:
o   “Oh, today I noticed ____ in the picture.  I never noticed that before.  Maybe that was there on purpose as a hint to tell us what is happening next!” 
o   “What do you notice in the pictures today?  Why do you think the author/illustrator did that?”
o   “Oh, I thought this was just a simple list book, but really, it is also telling a story.”
I notice Baby M paying more attention to the pictures in her books these days.  I also notice that she is able to sit and attend to read alouds (although these are one-on-one read alouds) for longer stretches of time.  She points to pictures, tries to approximate reading, and taps along on her knees when a book has rhythm.  This all began around the time we started to read and reread the same 3-4 books every single day at the exact same time.  We modeled the close reading by pointing to the pictures and talking about them.  And, we lead the way, choosing to reread instead of just grabbing one of the other 50 books. 
Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers do this often as they include some Emergent Storybook reading in the beginning of their school year.  They read and reread titles like Caps for Sale and the kids chime in, reading along.  Soon they are holding their own copies. 
I wonder though, how often do we reread picture books when this emergent storybook unit ends?  And what about first and second grade?  This whole conversation about close reading has reminded me that is important. 
And one last final thought…
In one chapter of her book, Mind in the Making:  The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, Ellen Galinsky writes about the development of self-control and it’s relationship to attention with children.  This whole conversation about close reading has me thinking about Galinsky’s advice about developing and cultivating children who are able to attend and focus for longer and longer stretches of time.  In primary reading workshops, we can deliberately create environments and model the stance of close reading (and support kids to hold attention for longer stretches of time):  lingering, pausing, thinking for a bit, asking questions, and then talking about our ideas and questions with others.  

Thanks Chris and Kate for putting this topic out there to ponder.  I can’t wait for the arrival of the book!

close reading button

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Year Long Planning

Hello Teachers and School Leaders,

I have been visiting schools and supporting fellow teachers and administrators as they make their plans for the 2013-2014 school year.  I want to share with you some of the ideas that teachers seem to like best.

Idea Number 1:  Plan out reading, writing, math, science, social studies, as well as assessments on a calendar grid.  See this kindergarten sample from Manhattan School for Children.

 The teachers created this together and then we revised and added in the assessments we needed.  They searched for curricular connections and used note cards so they could physically move things around if needed.  Then, they added clear dates on their calendars for writing celebrations and assessment dates.

And, they also set up a protocol for their weekly planning meetings so they can hold themselves to this amazing grid.  They will start each meeting with a 5 minute calendar check-in so each teacher can reflect and set classroom goals for the following week.

Idea Number 2:  Plan out an Ideal Week
Use post-it notes to plan for everything you need to do and want to do in a school week.  Do you need to teach 5 math workshops in a week?  Then make 5 post-its that say Math Workshop.  Do you want to teach Word Study 4 times a week?  Then make 4 of those.  Don't forget the post-its that say lunch, gym, art, etc.  Then, plot it all out on a big chart.  Start asking, "What's most important?"  and "What can I leave out?"  and "According to my data, what do my kids need most right now?"  Here is an example from a first grade teacher.  She is still looking for the room to do more shared reading, word study, and interactive writing.  She'll make it happen.

Best wishes as you play around with your unit plans and weekly plans.  

Remember, we have so much of the day in our control.  
We can choose the things to teach that our students need most, 
and the methods that are engaging and fun!