Monday, June 28, 2010

So I met Cleo...

It happens every year in first grade: the chapter book craze. Honestly, I'm always a little sad to see it. To me, it's somehow like letting go of your childhood a little too early. There are so many amazing picture books. Picture books that make you laugh. Picture books that make you cry. Picture books that make you stop and really think.

Parents brag about it, "My child is reading CHAPTER BOOKS." For kids, it seems to be some significant entry into the reading club. I usually try to not sweat it as I see the chapter books start creeping into book piles of these beginning readers. They proudly carry them around as if to say, "See I can read long books. I'm a reader too." The truth is, they may spend a few minutes with the book, but most readers quickly return to their picture books.

The challenge of chapter books for young readers is they require students to be able to sustain reading for longer amounts of time. Among other things, readers have to be able to follow multiple characters, understand dialogue, consider the connection among events to the main idea of the story, and have strategies for going back when the reading doesn't make sense. Because of the "chapter book craze" I'm always careful to not read chapter books too early as a read aloud. Because I know the chapter book craze will happen despite my best efforts, I am also always on the lookout for books with a chapter book appearance but with supports for my young readers.

Recently I met Cleo, and she just might help me out. On a trip to Cover-to-Cover I received an ARC copy of Uh-Oh, Cleo: I Barfed ON Mrs. Kenly by Jessica Harper and illustrated by Jon Berkeley. Let's be honest, kids are going to like this book right away because it has the word "barfed" in the title. Just reading the word aloud will elicit screams of joyful disgust.

Though this is the third book in this series, it is the first time I have read about this character. Young readers enjoy books with well developed characters and being able to follow them in a series is a bonus for most readers. Cleo tells her story of how it happened. Cleo has a history of getting carsick, so overeating pancakes before climbing into the back seat of a crowded car was likely not a good idea. You can imagine where the story goes from there. You can't help but empathize with Cleo's uncomfortableness and embarrassment in her situation. Like all of us, Cleo perseveres through the barfing incident to enjoy the party with her friends.

I could see some of my voracious first grade readers enjoying this story. While many text features in this beginning chapter book support young readers, they will have to be savvy with their knowledge of text structures to understand the events of the story. I can't wait to check out the published copy of this book to see how the illustrations support the text (no illustrations in the ARC copy).

Cleo is a fun character who is a lot like many of the young readers who will pick up a copy of this book. I'm going to be honest, what teacher can resist the quote on page 44-45, "Then I did this thing I do sometimes. I thought of what happened that day like it was a story, like a tiny book inside me."? Now I'm going to have to read the rest of the Cleo books.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tech Gathering: Extending Professional Communities

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."
- Helen Keller
Last week I was fortunate to be able to attend an evening technology chat at Katie's house. Nearly a year ago (after the Michigan trip that changed my technology/professional life) I attended my first chat with friends from nearby districts. At that time, I was just getting started reading blogs, following twitter, and thinking of ways beyond Pixie to use technology in my classroom. I've learned a lot since then, and was feeling much more confident as I entered the house. I'd prepared a list of questions before arriving, and actually had something to share about how I had used technology differently in my classroom in the past year. All was good.

Maybe it was the food, maybe it was the conversation, but when I arrived the kitchen was full of people. After snacking, chatting, and catching up, we began our conversation about technology. The plan was to go around the circle, each person would introduce herself/himself and share something s/he had done with tech. Of course, each introduction resulted in questions and conversation. Everyone had so many useful ideas for technology. (Franki shares her reflections to tech night at A Year In Reading.)

After almost making it around the circle, we broke into smaller groups to share websites, show examples of student work with technology, and ask/answer questions. It was an amazing evening! Now to figure out how to support my primary students to become more independent and flexible with technology. On Twitter, Mary (@MMBrothers) reminded me, "Let primary kids explore tech, model for them, let them guide each other and they will become independent." It sounds so easy...

I'm left wondering:
  • How will I begin my year differently with technology?
  • What do I want my students to be able to use/do?
  • What are the possibilities with wikis? (Most of the teachers at this meeting are using wikis for so much more than I am. I think I'm missing something.)
  • How do I want to digitally save student work, videos, photos, etc. to create a "portfolio" (there is probably a better tech word for this) I can send home with students at the end of the year?

Shared sites I want to explore:
  • I'm very interested in finding more ways for students to digitally create and publish their work. Katie shared Kathy Cassidy's website. It is full of examples for ways primary students can use technology purposefully (not just "let me tell you about them"....actual examples which show children demonstrating understanding through technology). Katie also shared Kidblog a site which allows kids to blog in a secure environment.
  • Mary Lee shared Toondoo. A site which allows students to create comics.
  • Everyone's talking about, and it constantly came up in our discussion: Animoto. I have no idea what can be accomplished with this site, but everyone keeps telling me to use it. I guess I need to explore a bit.
The evening was thought provoking. Ideas for using technology in word study, using Flip cameras in the classroom, and pros/cons of Glogster were also shared. I suppose in the past year I've significantly increased the amount of technology I use for "consumption". Twitter has exponentially grown my professional community and constantly provides me with new information about teaching. Blogs help me to improve my practice. Communication with educational professionals continues to become easier.

In this next year I know I need to grow in my use of technology to "create". This is true in my classroom as well. I need to find ways for my students to create with technology. By myself, change would be challenging...
but with this community, it is possible.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


"Hope is finding happiness in simple things." Lauren Thompson from Hope Is An Open Heart

Recently I was able to attend breakfast with several central Ohio bloggers at the Northstar Cafe. Mmm...the food was good and the company was delightful. Listening to Mary Lee and Franki of A Year in Reading, Bill and Karen of Literate Lives, Tony of Learn Me Sumthin', Julie of Raising Readers and Writers, and Lisa of Two Learning Journeys is always a learning (and laughing) experience. I was thrilled to finally meet Mandy of Enjoy and Embrace Learning as we have been keeping up with each other in the blogsphere and on Twitter. It is always fun to finally put a face with all of the wonderful writing I read online.

After nourishment, our group then went to Cover to Cover. Cover to Cover is a picture book lover's paradise. I carefully set my spending limit before even walking in the door. I knew being in this bookstore with so many other book lovers was going to be expensive. Katie from Creative Literacy joined us. She has already cost me so much money as I follow her blog, I knew she'd hook me into several books while we were there.

I'm pretty sure I'm the last person to discuss what was in my reading bag. I'm trying to keep it top secret! If you follow my blog (or know me), you know why I'm really the last one to write about what was in my bag.

The first book I fell in love with was Hope Is An Open Heart by Lauren Thompson. Published by Scholastic the cover shows it to be a "help for Haiti edition". Scholastic is donating $50,000 to Save the Children's Scholastic Recovery Fund through this title.

Each page of the book has a photograph of a child with a short line of what hope means. My favorite line is ""Hope is sad tears flowing, making room for joy." The image of the sadness being pushed away by the joy is powerful for me. Hope so often lets us push away difficulties to find something better to fill the space. Because of its repetitive text structure it is a book I think my students will be able to use as a mentor for their own writing.

The ending is powerful. "Hope is a heart that is open to the world around you. Hope is knowing that things change - and that we can help things to change for the better."
In the last pages the author discusses where she got the idea for her story. Interestingly it wasn't the devastation of Haiti, but the attacks of September 11, 2001, that originally impacted her life. On these pages she discusses several of the photographs. Some of the children photographed have experienced great hardships, but found their way through them with hope. This book celebrates the resiliency of life and the strength of children.

The next book I placed it my bag was called....Hope. I was starting to develop a theme in my shopping. Hope is by Isabell Monk and illustrated by Janice Lee Porter. This book was written in 1999, and I wonder how I have missed it all these years. I was grabbed immediately by the first page of the book. The line, "I think Aunt Poogee holds all the love in the world inside her and lets it out bit by bit through the twinkle in her eye," is enough to take your breath away. I could have closed the book right there and bought it.

I kept reading, however. Hope is the story of a small girl by that name. The book is written from Hope's point of view. There is something powerful about a story written in first person. I always feel like I'm right there with the character. Hope tells the story of visiting her Aunt Poogee each summer, and describes all the memorable pieces of the trip. She loves helping Aunt Poogee sell cosmetics and going to the fair with her, but most of all Hope loves the stories her aunt tells about the family.

The summer she is going into second grade, however, something happens to make Aunt Poogee tell Hope how she got her name. While at the fair a friend asks Aunt Poogee if Hope is "mixed" because of her lighter skin. Aunt Pogee is quite annoyed by the question asked without thought of Hope. That night instead of stories about the family, Aunt Poogee tells the story of how Hope got her name. I want to quote the words for you right here, but I feel I will be spoiling some of the beautify of this book. Hope is a book that rests in your heart for awhile.

My goal this summer is to add new books to my classroom library. It needs "freshened" a bit. These two books will be excellent additions. I promise to share more of the books hiding in my bag in the weeks to come. You won't want to miss it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Trouble with Blogging: A Writer's Lament

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. ~Norbet Platt
Let's try this again. If you look (and please don't), you will notice my last blog was well over 3 months ago now. The guilt over this has finally become overwhelming enough for me to remedy the situation. It's bad enough when you don't privately keep up with your writing, but even worse when you fall short publicly.

I began blogging near the start of the new year as a way to:
  • reflect on my practice as an educator.
  • refine my teaching.
  • participate in the larger conversation of educators on the internet.
  • work toward a more purposeful role as a community member in my school and in the profession.
  • improve my writing.
Knowing I would struggle with the same obstacles I work to overcome in my writing, blogging was sure to be a challenge for me. For this reason I set a goal that wasn't ambitious, but obtainable, to post by Thursday of each week. Of course, it wasn't long before I let a Thursday slide, then another, and another. You see, the trouble with blogging is the same as the trouble with writing. To be a better blogger, I have to become a better writer. Somehow I think (hope) placing these personal goals on a public site may make me more accountable, so I'm telling all of you I need to:

  1. make blogging/writing a part of my routine. As much as writing takes time to put "pen to paper" (archaic expression), blogging takes time to put "fingers to keyboard". Once I had a writing habit. I dabbled with ideas for a bit of time each evening, waking early on Saturdays and Sundays to write longer pieces. Ideas had been brewing for days making it easy to get much accomplished in these writing bursts. Somehow life kept creeping into my writing time and soon my established routine was gone. You see, I'm a creature of habit. If I am to be successful at blogging, I have to plan time to write posts. This will be easier in the summer as my teenagers sleep until after noon. (Good parenting says I should break this habit. The writer/reader in me loves the quiet. What to do? What to do?) I'm going to have to hold myself to my commitment to post each Thursday, at the very least. These morning times to write will work for now, but I'm going to have to come up with a new plan when the school year starts afresh.
  2. find time to be inspired. Writing/Blogging require inspiration. Lucky for me, I have so many insightful educator friends who inspire me. Of course, Twitter and blogs constantly provide new thinking and dialogue in education. Additionally, I know I need to continue to find time for professional reading to keep my thinking fresh and challenged. Thanks to all of you, I know I will remain inspired!
  3. record little thoughts and ideas so they don't slip away. I'm pretty sure I suffer from pre-alzheimers as I can't remember ideas for any length of time. I think I need a blogging "notebook" to jot blog ideas down whenever they occur to me. I keep a notebook for my writing, but adding a separate one for blogging may help me. Some of you are probably thinking I should keep my ideas on my phone in keeping with the "techiness" of blogging. Hmmm, maybe I should.
  4. consider audience. For most of my life, writing has been personal. It has been enough for me to write for myself. It has always been a way to maintain balance - "equilibrium" - with the world. Recent experiences in my career, with fellow professionals, and on the internet have led me to understand the importance of putting my writing out in the world. As someone who changes her thinking often, I am a bit intimidated (to say the least) with placing my thoughts in any permanent form. Writing is often more like footprints in concrete as opposed to footprints in sand. Scary!
  5. fine tune my purpose. A strong piece of writing has a clear purpose and structure. Readers leave it somehow moved or changed by its message. It seems to me, blogging should be the same. My favorite blogs have some kind of common thread holding posts together. Sometimes it is in the routine of the types of posts. Sometimes it is in the message of the posts, the structure of writing or the voice of the writer. I have to find the thread in my posts to pull my writing/blogging together.
  6. find internet (or QUIT MAKING EXCUSES). I'm writing this post from my dad's house as we have used all of our internet again this month. This problem is unique to blogging, and most of you do not even have to worry about it. One of the biggest obstacles to writing a blog post is having enough internet megabytes to do so. The only way to get "high speed" (faster than dial-up) internet where we live is through cellular companies. We have a MiFi from Verizon which has changed our world, but is limited to 5 GB. Can you imagine 5 GB in a house with two high school students, a college student, and myself? Luckily my husband still prefers his books to internet, or we'd really be in trouble. So what happens? We run out of MB a week or two before the end of our billing cycle. It's hard to post if you don't have internet. Of course, this is an easy out when the writing is challenging. I guess I really don't have to find internet, I have to give up the excuse. To be a successful writer/blogger, I am going to have to quit making excuses. Ouch!
The trouble with blogging is writing. To fix it, I'm going to have to fix my writing. I hope you will comment with your tips and tricks for successful blogging/writing.

Still looking for writing/blogging advice?
Inspirational Posts: