Saturday, February 10, 2018

Nonfiction Picture Books to Inspire Informational Writers #nf10for10

Today's the day for our nonfiction picture book event:  #nf10for10.  This is our 6th annual nonfiction event.  In the past, Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, Julie Balen of Write at the Edge, and I have cohosted this event.  Again this year all activity will be collected in our Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.  Stop by to read, share your favorites, and/or link up.

Ways to participate:

My 2018 List:  10 Nonfiction Picture Books to Inspire Informational Writers
As a student, I remember writing research papers year after year after year.  I think we all do.  Sometimes the process required some time with an encyclopedia and an assigned topic, others it required a large stack of notecards.  Always the paper ended up about the same.  I'm sure my teachers were tortured by my voiceless writing and lack of passion for my subject.

A lot has changed since then.  Since I began teaching, there seems to have been an explosion of new informational text.  (Thank you, authors!)  Inquiry and research no longer require a research paper; thanks to today's authors, writers can envision so much more.  Moving our thinking beyond research papers, to new possibilities in genre and craft, can open new doors for our writers.  It might have saved my teachers from falling asleep while reading my research papers all those years ago.

Here are 10 nonfiction picture books to inspire writers.

Animals by the Numbers by Steve Jenkins

Did you know that nearly 1,000,000 insect species have been named with new discoveries happening all the time?  Did you know that termites have the largest biomass with a combined weight of 700,000,000 tons!?  Did you know that giraffes only sleep about 2 1/2 hours a day?  In today's world, infographics are everywhere.  Oh, the possibilities in this book!  From graphs to charts to unique visual representations, Jenkins shares a variety of ways to compare and contrast information across a topic.

This book not only makes an outstanding mentor text for infographics, but it is sure to be a book children will return to again and again.

Little Leaders:  Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

This collection of essays describing the important contributions of black women will surely bring readers back again and again.  Featuring essays of over 40 women who have had an impact on our world for over two centuries.  Each essay tells about the leader's childhood, life experiences, and accomplishments.

This book would surely work as a mentor to help writers to understand the power of the essay in sharing important information with others.

Freedom Over Me:  Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

In this book, Ashley Bryan discovers a real historical document about property auctioned from a plantation including a houseful of slaves.  Bryan was moved by the document and decided to use poetry to imagine the stories of their lives.  She features eleven slaves in two poems.  The first poem describes their role at the house, and the second their dreams.  The possibilities abound with this book.

Poetry provides informational possibilities for writers of all ages and the mentor text possibilities continue to grow.  After narrowing my collection I still had a stack of five books including When the Sun Shines on Antarctica by Irene Latham, Shaking Things Up:  14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz, National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry edited by J. Patrick Lewis, and When Thunder Comes:  Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis.

Miracle Mud:  Lean Blackburne and the Secret that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly with illustrations by Oliver Dominguez

This book just stays among my favorites.  You can't go wrong with a story about baseball, but this one has the stretch of mindset.  Kelly tells the story of Lena Blackburne who wanted to be a baseball great.  Things didn't go as planned for Lena, but he found a way to contribute to a sport he loved.

Narrative nonfiction uses story to tell about people, places, topics, time periods or other important information.  It takes a deep understanding of a topic to be able to weave it into a narrative.  This is another stack I struggled with as it is a favorite of mine.  In the end, my literary nonfiction stack also included The Water Princess by Susan Verde and Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson with impressive illustrations by Frank Morrison.

How To
How to Swallow a Pig:  Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Want to know how to trap fish like a humpback whale?  Build a dam like a beaver?  Dance like a grebe?  Then you'll want to check out this book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.  It offers step-by-step advice on how to do each of these things, and so much more.  Illustrations complement the steps of each of these tasks.

In the You Tube age, everyone wants to know how to do something.  Beyond videos, there are many possibilities in books to learn something new.  Sharing mentor texts with students can open up the possibilities.  While some picture book mentors carry one how-to task across many pages (like Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle by Chris Raschka), this mentor text puts readers in the place of the animal to help them understand some of their interesting behaviors.

Consider a Side Bar
Fabulous Frogs by Martin Jenkins with illustrations by Tim Hopgood

Readers will love this fun, fast-paced, book about frogs.  Perfect for read aloud because of its way with words, colorful illustrations, and interesting information, this book is sure to be a hit.  I also love that it has two layers.  First, it is possible to just readd the narrative of the author who shares interesting descriptive information about frogs.  Next, readers will love to return to the side bars for more information.

Many nonfiction authors include side bars, often placed at the side or bottom of the page, to give readers more information.  Often easier to make sense of information because of their placement (as opposed to including it in the back of the book), side bars are often seen in literary nonfiction or alongside informational poetry.

Question - Answer
Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart with illustrations by Steve Jenkins

In this book, Stewart playfully takes a look at the sounds animals make through the use of questions.  Can a porcupine whine?  Can a dingo bellow?  Can a giraffe laugh?  You might be surprised by the answers.  Stewart answers these questions while using questions to compare and contrast the sounds animals make.  (Yep, more side bars too.)

This mentor text can help young writers see the way questions can be used to tell readers more about a topic.

Circle Text

Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer

This book is a delight for young readers.  It begins with the acorn that becomes a tree.  Because of the tree so many things happen in nature.  As the story ends the acorn returns.  The author's rhythm of words, "because of a ____, a _____," will make this a book young readers will want to read again.  Beautifully illustrated, students will want to take time to notice all the detail the illustrator has provided.

When I think about a circle text structure, where the end brings us back to the beginning, I often think of this craft move for fiction, yet it works well with informational text as well as is illustrated by this book.  This structure would also work well for steps in a process, "before a ___, a ____," or "after a ____, a ____."  It seems this would also make sense when trying to write about a system or cycle.  This mentor text might open the door to a lot of new possibility for young writers learning to understand the world around them.


Woodpecker Wham!  by April Pulley Sayre with illustrations by Steve Jenkins

This book makes a delightful read aloud.  Full of beautiful words and catchy rhythm, this story of the woodpecker just rolls as you read it.  Young readers will be drawn to the illustrations full of strong shapes and bold colors.  At the end of the book, Sayre has included more information about woodpeckers.  Readers will enjoy digging into these pages to learn more about woodpeckers.

This mentor text is perfect for thinking about informational books that might include sounds.  What would a woodpecker book be without sounds like "CHOP, CHIP, CHOP?"  There are just some informational texts where sound might make a difference.  This crafting technique might be useful in writing about observations or topics where sound is important.

Words Beautiful Words
If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian with photographs by Barbara Lember

Young readers will enjoy the way the author talks about the many different kinds of rocks that can be found in the world.  The photographs enhance the text, making it perfect for read aloud and revisiting.

Nonfiction writing requires curiosity, reading, recording, and often some observation.  This book, not only demonstrates the power of deep observation but, uses beautiful words to help readers know more about each rock.  If you want informational writers to be thought about words, this book is the perfect mentor to start that conversation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

It's Coming: February's Nonfiction Picture Book Event

Our February Nonfiction Event
How did the calendar get to 2018 so quickly?!?  Well, here we are...and January is moving so quickly.

February is waiting right around the corner and, of course, there's a lot to LOVE about February.   It's time to get ready for one of my favorite events: February's Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 event (#nf10for10).  This year will be our 6th annual nonfiction event (August is the sister event #pb10for10).  Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 allows the opportunity to bring our community together to share our favorite nonfiction picture books.  I'm always trying to grow in my knowledge of nonfiction, and this event always reenergizes this quest.

What is #nf10for10
In 2010 Mandy Robek and I hosted our first picture book event.  In 2013, Julie Balen suggested we add a nonfiction picture book event that worked the same.  Participants choose 10 - well, usually 10 (they're a crafty bunch) - nonfiction picture books to share.  On the day of the event, we'll ask that you visit the Google Community site to add your nonfiction link to the 2017 #nf10for10 tab.

Join us!

Start sorting through your collections to find your favorite titles and join us in one month as we each share 10 nonfiction picture books we just can't live without.  Feel free to grab the #nf10for10 button and spread the word.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Meeting Learners Where They Are

As a classroom teacher, the first weeks of school were always among my favorite.  There is something about spending the time to get to know a new group of learners and their families.  There is something about sowing the first seeds that will help a community grow together across the year.  There's something about the first books that will start us down the path to discovery.  The first weeks are a delight, but there was always this point where I looked out at the students and worried if I had what it would take to get them where they needed to be.  It's a tremendous responsibility.

Now that we know our entire community of students, let's be honest, we worry.  The needs in a classroom are varied and diverse --- and the expectations are great.  Additionally, there are students who will not just need our support academically, but those who will need to know our classroom is a safe space for them.  We wonder if we are enough.  If we aren't careful, we can find ourselves looking at the factors we cannot control.  For me, when I felt the moment of worry coming that I might not be able to get this group where I wanted them to go; when I heard that little voice saying I'm not enough, I had to change my lens.

Here are a few things I remind myself when I begin to worry:
  1. Start where they are.  There isn't any need to think about the fact that the group is in a different place than the previous year's group.  Often we forget the beginning, and it doesn't change anything anyway.  They are where they are so I remind myself to go meet them where they are. 
  2. We only control our time with students.  Students can come to our classrooms with a lot going on in their lives.  It's life.  They're people.  Families have people who get sick.  Parents have to work extra jobs to maintain their houses and put food on the table.  They might move from one parent to another in the course of a week.  They might be with an older sibling for hours after the school day ends.  We can't control any of that, but we can make the time they are with us their safe space.  We can help them continue to learn in these situations by listening but maintaining high expectations for their learning.  
  3. Show them how.  When I begin to feel overwhelmed I go back to think about the gradual release of control model.  I remind myself that high support components of the literacy framework such as read aloud, shared reading, shared writing, and interactive writing, are essential in helping students find their next steps.  I remind myself that making learning visible by creating charts that help students refer back to learning conversations can help them in their work.  
  4. Try something new.  When I feel that learners aren't making the progress I'd like to see, I try to figure out something to do differently.  Sometimes this means taking a closer look at assessment information and artifacts from the classroom.  Sometimes this means videotaping and reflecting on a few lessons.  Sometimes this means inviting a peer or coach into the classroom to help me problem-solve.  
  5. Celebrate small steps.  Maintaining high expectations for our leaners requires knowing where they are and what is next for each of them.  Taking the time to notice the small changes and celebrating them can help maintain momentum and keep me focused on the positive.  
  6. Know I'm enough.  This one is the hardest, and even as I type it I know there are times I don't quite believe it, but I just keep telling myself I can do this.  I just keep reminding myself I'm enough.  
We've got this.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Danger! New Books You Can't Miss

The problem with going around to fourteen different buildings, working with fourteen different literacy coaches, and having opportunities to meet with classroom teachers across our district is my book budget is a hot mess.  It's hard to go anywhere without seeing a book I just have to add to my list.  I may have to get a second job to support my book buying urge.

Here are a few titles that I had to get my hands on this week:

Solutions for Cold Feet by Carey Sookocheff.  Katie Sauer, a new first grade teacher in our district, handed this one to me and I fell in love with it right away.  The book has several problems we face and possible solutions.  This is such a fun read.  Each problem is introduced along with possible ways to solve it.  This would make a great mentor text for young writers, and the perfect book for talking about solving problems in our learning community.

Great Big Things by Kate Hoefler and Noah Klocek.  Kelly Hoenie, a literacy coach in our district, handed this one to me as I was on my way out the door.  She has a habit of keeping these tempting baskets of new books on a display in her room for others.  I try not to look.  I try not dive into new titles.  I just can never resist.  I'd almost managed to get out of her door on Friday, but then she pulled out this title and handed it to me.  How can you not love this one?  This small mouse walks for miles and miles, across all kinds of terrains, to carry a small crumb to a friend.  The illustrations are ah-maz-ing!  The language is beautiful.  The message is one that will melt your heart.

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake.  I stopped by to talk with one of the media specialists in our district, Stephanie Miles, and was handed another book I just have to have.  Maybe it was the beautiful retelling she did as she paged through the book.  Maybe it was the way she's mastered the art of raising and lowering her voice.  Maybe it was the way she wove the story from page to page making it impossible for me to not hear the end.  Maybe it was the amazing illustrations by Bob Staake. Maybe it was because it was about finding a well sought after book --- something as readers we all understand.  I don't know, but I loved this one!  I was spellbound.  In this book, a small child goes on a quest for a mysterious book:  The Book of Gold, but it turns out what he learns along the way matters most.

This Is How We Do It:  One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe.  I'm pretty sure this one made it into my hands thanks to another literacy coach in our district, Tonya Buelow.  I try to stay away from her room as she always has new books propped around the room to temp me.  In this case, she happened to see my son at a book sale and added this one to his stack for me.  How can you not just love learning about the lives of people around the world?

The Power of Moments:  Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  This one was mentioned by Sharon Esswein, one of the teacher leaders in our district.  Sharon is full of wise words and I know when I'm talking with her two things will happen:  1)  I'll add at least one book to my list and 2) I'll have something new thing to think about (okay twenty new things).  She's currently reading this book so I added it to my list.  I've enjoyed every book she's suggested.  I know I can't go wrong.

You can see the challenge in the work I many books, so little time.  Wait, the challenge many books, so little book funds.  No wait, maybe the challenge many book-loving friends, so little willpower.  Maybe I'll win the lottery.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Literacy Connection: Every Reader a Super Reader

Yesterday I spent the day with Pam Allyn and Literacy Connection.  I'm never sure what the best part of the day is when I am with Literacy Connection.  Is it the thoughtful literacy leaders they bring to Central Ohio?  Is it the opportunity to learn alongside so many local inspiring educators?  Is it the thought-provoking conversations around literacy?

This year, we are taking a closer look at Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell.  Pam gave us plenty to think about.  

Here are three takeaways I'll be pondering this week:
  1. Read Aloud Every Day:  Allyn reminded us of the power of read-aloud.  I appreciated her distinction between an instructional read aloud and a ritual read aloud.  While we've learned to weave read aloud into our instruction, carving space into our day for a read-aloud that offers an opportunity to listen and enjoy a story is essential.  
  2. Relationship is Essential in the Teaching Reading:  Across the day Allyn came back to the importance of relationship in reading.  In discussing read aloud, she reminded us that it isn't the book as much as it is the relationship built between the book, the listener and the person reading aloud.  She also discussed the power of intentionally building belonging and helping readers to be a part of our reading community.
  3. Stay Strengths-Based:  Pam shared seven characteristics in staying focused on strengths.  These included belonging, curiosity, kindness, friendship, confidence, courage, and hope.  

The Questions I'm Pondering:
  • How do we make sure our readers receiving extra support also have time for real reading? 
  • How do we shift from accountability to intentional decision making?
  • What are the essential steps in learning to trust our readers?
  • What message does our teaching of reading send to literacy learners? 
  • How do we strengthen our classroom libraries?  
Thanks to everyone at Literacy Connection for organizing a great day of learning.  I'm looking forward to the continued conversation.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

More About "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching Reading"

This week on the way to school I listened to Larry Ferlazzo's BAM! Radio Show discussion with educators about "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching Reading."  It's a short podcast worth listening to as you have time.  The five educators have an interesting discussion around avoiding the common mistakes we make in teaching reading.

Here are a few highlights:

Pernille Ripp:  "Teachers don't give time to read.  We fill our reading time and lessons with lots of tasks and lots of things to do."

Jeffrey Wilhelm:  "We actually don't teach reading.  Most teachers and schools equate teaching reading with teaching decoding or these lower level constrained skills instead of the unconstrained skills of inferring and making meaning and constructing understanding."

Valentina Gonzalez:  "Kids are not given a lot of time to actually do the reading so they're doing a lot of worksheets, a lot of fill in the blanks, a lot of activities, but they're not given the time to practice reading independently and in small groups."

Diane Laufenberg:  "The reluctance to give up the control of choice reading to the kids."

The podcast had me nodding along as I too know the challenge of giving students choice in reading.  I too have wrestled with finding the time for readers to have opportunities to practice the skills and strategies they are learning --- especially in situations where readers might be receiving additional reading support.

These literacy experts talk a lot about the importance of learner agency and authentic opportunities to read.  While I tend to find myself thinking in a "do this instead of this" frame, listening to the podcast did make me think of a few other reading instruction mistakes I try to avoid in my teaching.

Mistakes in Reading Instruction 

  1. Not using assessment to be intentional in reading instruction:  It is easy to get caught in the trap of doing something we always do because it is the time of year to do it or because it is a book we always read instead of looking at what readers need as we design lessons for students.  It is often easy to find ourselves teaching a book instead of teaching our readers.  Knowing the strengths and needs of our readers can help us to plan language, learning opportunities, and design lessons that help readers to grow forward.
  2. Forgetting how important writing is to reading development:  It is easy to forget that reading and writing are reciprocal processes.  Often what students are learning in writing can help them to grow as readers.  The opportunity to read and write for extended periods each day can help students begin to see these connections.  
  3. Getting out of balance in reading instruction:  Readers need to develop their ability to sustain reading using strategies to solve on the run, and also to extend their thinking as they determine the author's message.  There is a balance required of instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  At times, in an effort to help a student make quick progress, we can find ourselves out of balance.  Instead of maintaining a balance of meaning, structure, and visual cues, we can focus too much on one cueing system creating readers who over-rely on one kind of information.  Maintaining balance in instruction can help readers learn to flexibly read for understanding.  
As you have time, stop over and listen to the podcast.  What are some of the mistakes you work to avoid in reading instruction?  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Are We Over-Scaffolding? What's Important in this Conversation

We've all had that lesson.  You know, the one where readers are gathered, everyone has their book in hand, and soon it becomes obvious the book isn't going to work for a reader.  For a myriad of reasons, the reader begins to struggle with the text and before we know it, we're off to the rescue.  You know the lesson:  the one where we find ourselves repeatedly giving prompts that are all over the strategy map.

  • "What would make sense?"
  • "Look at the first part."
  • "Try something that would sound right." 

Yep, in these situations, we find ourselves suddenly doing anything in our power to help the reader to get through the text without having to abandon it in the middle of the lesson.  


We've all had that reader.  You know, the one that looks at us every time they run into a challenge in the text. Yep, the reader we all work not to make eye contact with during the lesson.  The one who seems to be having difficulty using what is known to read an unfamiliar text.  The one that before we know it we are off and running with reading prompts galore.  


We've all made that move.  You know, the one where our finger moves across the table and into the reader's book.  Yep, that's always the moment where I know I need to rethink what I'm doing with a reader.  

I'm going to guess we can all confess to times we've "over-scaffolded."  

On the other hand, we all know the readers that have grown in confidence.  We all know the books that have matched the next steps for readers, the ones that have given the right amount of challenge to grow forward.  We all know these successes have come from carefully assessing our readers, reflecting on what they can do and what they need next, and then thoughtfully helping them build that next skill, strategy, or understanding.  

What About Rescuing Readers?
More and more I read about the dangers of over-scaffolding.  More and more I note the tweets and posts from teachers who are wondering if they should be scaffolding.  I'm going to be bold enough to say that I worry a bit about this conversation.  I, too, have read the concerns of Terry Thompson, Burkins and Yaris, and Vicki Vinton, among others.  I get it.  As someone who has spent much time beside emergent and early readers, worked alongside learners in Reading Recovery and reading intervention, I know I have, at times, been guilty of over-scaffolding.

At the same time, I also know that it took me many years (much training and many professional books) to learn to scaffold readers in a way that helped them work toward independence.  I think we should use caution in this conversation.  In education, we easily slip into an all or none discussion.  This isn't really about scaffolding or not scaffolding, it's about being cautious of doing too much for our readers.  As I've read Terry Thompson, Burkins and Yaris, and Vicky Vinton, what I take away is that I can be more intentional in the support I give the readers that sit beside me each day.  Through thoughtful reflection and planning, I can precisely focus on a next step, while adjusting my expectations for readers to use what they've learned to read and understand a new text.

Thinking About Scaffolding
I've found all of this conversation fascinating.  It has made me pause, rethink my practice, and clarify my thinking.  It has made me step back to consider the support I give readers, as well as the ways I might be over-supporting them.  It has made me wonder when to scaffold and when to step back, how to scaffold effectively, and what I should consider in tailoring support.  Where is the line?

I, in no way, have this figured out.  However, I'm wondering if we over-scaffold when we:
  • scaffold the text instead of the reader
  • give too supportive of book introductions
  • monitor for readers 
  • teach to give prior knowledge to help readers read complex texts
  • prompt every difficulty instead of maintaining focus on the next step for a reader
  • prompt too quickly instead of letting a reader attempt to solve the problem

Scaffolding requires that we know our readers and consider their stage of development.  Scaffolding should be:
  • based upon a reader's needs
  • specific 
  • on the reader's edge or next step
  • thoughtful in the level of support of the prompts utilized

When sitting beside readers I know I have to be intentional with my every move.  For me, that means having the self-discipline to keep a reader's focus first and leaving time for the reader to do the work they need to do to problem solve as they read for understanding.  For me, that means thinking about the prompts I will use ahead of time and staying clear in my language.  I hope we'll continue this conversation about scaffolding our readers and helping them to grow in independence.  I think we're all going to learn a lot!

I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.  When should we scaffold?  When should we step back?  How can we more effectively scaffold our readers to help them take next steps?  What is essential?