Sunday, November 30, 2008

Living with Flat Stanley

My name is Flat Stanley, I have been spending time at Sarah's house during the Thanksgiving weekend. Here I am sitting with Sophie and Sydni while we watch Kung Fu Panda. Sarah is making the popcorn while her husband is taking this picture. I am having a great time! The girls are so nice to me, after they heard the story of why I am flat they have decided to show me a great time.
Here I am getting ready to go see the lighting of the Santa in downtown Fort Wayne. That will be fun but I wish that whoever made me would have made me a coat too. It is freezing here!
Tomorrow I am going on a hike at Sarah's grandma's house. I know that will be a lot of fun.
There is a lot to do here during the weekend. On Friday I got up real early to go Christmas shopping with Scott and Sarah. I know what the girls are getting for Christmas!
On Saturday, last night, I went to the Festival of the Trees. Sarah and Mrs. Barney went there and the trees were beautiful. We keep very busy!
I will be glad to be back at school on Monday, it will be a good rest for one tired Stanely!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It Seems Like a Lot of Fluff...

So I heard this phrase this week: "This writer's Workshop thing seems like a lot of fluff..."
Makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up doesn't it? Me too!

I pondered this statement a little further. I want my workshop to be fluffy. Any time I have ever read a book, or article that has touched me in some way I can imagine that it has been written with a certain flair of fluff. Any time I have every read something that has changed my life whether it be professionally or personally it has been surrounded by "fluff." Touching quotes that make me think, personal stories that make me weep, and differing ideals that make me stand up against the flow, these are the things that may be considered "fluff."
As I teach writer's workshop each day with my students I want them to believe that their "fluff," is real. Their words matter, what they have to say on a daily basis is important to me, and if that means I have to create an environment that others would consider too "fluffy" then so be it. This is my most important task, creating a world for children in which they believe that their words are worth putting down on paper. A world of fluff.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beyond Leveled Books

Recently, Stenhouse Publishers, sent me a book to review for them. I was so excited to receive Beyond Leveled Books by Karen Szymusiak, Franki Sibberson, and Lisa Koch. But to review this book in one post will be impossible. After reading the forward, the list of mini lessons, and the first chapter I knew that I had much to gain from this book. Franki Sibberson, if you don't know is a co-blogger. Her blog, A Year of Reading, is a great place to land when you are looking for that perfect book. I have found myself browsing over there several times in the past. She and Mary Lee have much to offer to us in the teaching world.
Beyond Leveled Books draws you in during the first chapter as they persuade you to move away from the bookroom, away from the prepublished books from your basal, and to really evaluate the books you are placing in the hands of your children.
Chapter two begins by showing us that there is a place for leveled books, it is beside the real books. These books, in baskets are arranged with in our classrooms for students to pick from. Chapter 2 has an extensive list of authors that k-1 students can choose as "just right" texts for independent reading. This book list would be great for teachers who are just beginning to understand what Reader's Workshop is all about, and how to select and set up their classroom library.
However, where my learning occurred was through the rest of the book. These authors have shown me how to move my first grade readers into that transitional territory and then into independence. The authors discuss the importance for these transitional readers to choose books within a series. (Henry and Mudge, Mr. Putter and Tabby, The Magic Treehouse, etc.) When readers choose series books they can rely on the characters to carry them through the new material. They learn to rely on these sections of the book, they come to trust the author and even struggling readers can use their comprehension strategies because of the "known."
Again, there is another extensive list of series books, picture and chapter, that a teacher could use to select and use within their classroom.
Mostly, I have loved just reading that others that teach are excited about children learning to love books. At the end of the book the ladies give this information:
"In a time of test scores and accountability, teachers are being forced to spend precious classroom time in ways that do not necessarily foster lifelong reading. We worry that in the name of accountability we are increasingly pressed to find time for the things we know our transitional readers need." Amen sisters! This book keeps me from searching for those things that my students need, it is within this book. I am anxious to use the mini lessons, and strategies suggested in this book. I can more explicitly teach in my crunch of time. Thank you for showing me the important "stuff."
More to come from this book:
Mini lesson, mini lesson, mini lesson (this book is full of them!)
Ways to take learning home for your students, there are lots of ways to encourage your families in their discussions about books.
Graphic Novels, and their take (I love Graphica!)
Go get this book, it is phenomenal!!!!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Author Mentor...Lynn Plourde

Yesterday I gave my students a two column page and two books by our mentor. The student groups took to their places and scoured their books looking for things that they could use as a writer. Here is a list that we generated as a class:
1. She writes small moment stories-all of her stories could happen at school.
2. She uses comeback phrases.
3. She loves the seasons and creates imaginary characters out of the months.
4. She grows her story problem- it gets bigger and bigger like a mountain. And, then there is a solution.
5. She uses the dash, a lot. She also likes the exclamation mark and the elipses.
6. She uses letters to show how the character is feeling or the loudness of the voice. Gets bigger when their voice gets louder, and smaller when they are whispering.
7. Uses a lot of rhyming text and fancy words, words that roll off your tongue. She does this to make her words draw the reader into the story. (they actually said this!!!!)
8. The text on the page is placed weirdly on the page. I'm not sure if this is an editor thing or author sort of thing? Any ideas?
9. She loves sound words.

So today, I went a different direction, I went with the magical way she uses word groupings. We are going to do a few short practices together and then I'm going to have them have a go with it. It is so cool to see their growth from last year. They really get the idea of using an author to mentor them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thank you for your service...

Today I have the day off of school. I am remembering the sacrifices that these brave men and women face everyday. I thank them for their sacrifice. 1.6 million soldiers are currently deployed to other areas of the world. Whether you believe in the politics behind the deployments you must always support their sacrifice. Husbands, mothers, sisters, wives, dads, brothers, sons, and daughters currently serving our country for my freedom and yours.
Support our troops today!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Using Lynn Plourde as our mentor!

Last week, every day of the week, my students were greeted with a wrapped gift sitting on the chalk rail. Every morning they came in excited to see who would unwrap the gift, what the title of the book would be, and who would be the newest character we would be introduced to?

My students were very excited, I had learned of this author when I had coffee with a friend at Starbucks. Cathy, from becoming, had mentioned these books as being perfect for study an author as a mentor. She was right!

Lynn Plourde has published many titles that you have probably seen. The books we opened were from her series about a teacher, Mrs. Shephard and her crafty students. They get into a lot of mischief, and they are centered around real events that happen at school. Here are the titles we opened this week:

Teacher Appreciation Day

Book Fair Day

Science Fair Day

School Picture Day

Pajama Day

After we opened four of the books, on Thursday, I sent home a secret letter with each child. Inside was an invitation to wear their jammies to school on Friday. I mentioned that it was in honor of our last Lynn Plourde book.

Friday morning dawned and I arrived at school and hoped they were as thrilled about being in their jammies as I was. We hugged and giggled about each other's jammies. We talked about our adorable slippers, and then during our morning meeting we read the last of our series. It was a celebration that I didn't expect. We became one again as a community, we again enjoyed books, and we are anticipating this week's mentor lessons.

During writer's workshop we didn't even discuss the literary elements of Lynn Plourde's work. We discussed our own literary elements, things we have discovered about one another. I have a student who has been mimicking Kate DiCamillo in his own work because we have been reading The Tale of Desperaux. I used Lester Laminack as a mentor in one of my pieces and I wanted my students to see my end result. We also read Peter Reynolds' book The Dot. We noticed things about using books as our mentors.

Today I went to my main branch library, after checking out a gazillion books by Lynn Plourde I came home and brainstormed some things that I want my kids to notice about her work. Here is my current list:

1. Magical words of three

2. Sound words

3. Words placed weirdly on the page and in different colors. I have two people I know this will impress!

4. Characters have names used to describe their personalities

5. Mrs. Shephard, the setting, problems at school- they always reoccur in those series books

6. Clever use of elipses

7. Ms. Plourde loves alliteration

8. The story always seems to lead back to familiar phrases

9. Verbs in synonyms

While I realize that my students won't find all of these things within the pages, they will see some of these things very useful. I can't wait to see their growth! Here is an interesting quote I found in my teacher ideas notebook about this unit of study. Not sure where I got it but I am still going to use it with my students. Here it is:

What can I learn from this that I might try in my writing?

Caption: This is a beautiful book about a dump man who takes care of the town dump. He refuses to throw away books. He lends then out, gives them away, but all must promise not to throw them away. Through the storyline we discover that he himself can not read! Imagine, a person who can not read cherishing books so much, a lesson for early readers!

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Two Treasures

I took these photos recently of the girls. They are both oblivious to the fact that I am taking their pictue at these times. Recently, I have been reflecting on my life with them. It seems that eight years ago my life changed and now my two treasures are walking around in this giant world, unprotected. I question what I did before they were here walking this earth?
What did I do with my time?
Now my life, thoughts, actions, and emotions are wrapped up in these two little girls. I want so much for them, I want it all
Lately, I have felt this responsibilty the most as I haven't been able to attend all their field trips, as I have had to pick them up at school sick, and while the little one cries because,
"I want you to be a stay at home mommy like my friends."
As I look at these photos of them, oblivious, I see contentment.
I see happiness.
Their childhoods are more than most people can ask for, or have ever had.
I must push away the guilt, the questioning, the worry...
and just enjoy

Monday, November 3, 2008


We launched visualizing today in our classroom. I started by having the students take a large piece of newsprint paper and folding it into fourths. I then played for them 4 sounds:
1. A horse's neigh
2. crickets
3. fireworks
4. a crowd cheering at an event

My students were to draw connections that they made with the sounds, images that popped into their heads as they listened. Each sound was short, even played several times, but colored pencils were working themselves into a frenzy. When the sounds were finished, we gathered together on the rug and shared our picures with a partner. We discussed what each sound brought forth into our minds, the discussion was amazing. What we really discovered was how different our schema is, we have all been to some amazing places in our lives. Images are everywhere!
Tomorrow, When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. I am going to read it and reference my images as I read, modeling the appropriate language. Already though, I can see the creative images flowing.