Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meet Me at the Moon

One of the highlights at the NCTE conference was shopping for picture books in the exhibit hall.  My savvy book shopping friend and #pb10for10 co-conspirator, Mandy, was quite good at spotting arcs for review.  I fell in love with this book as soon as I saw it.

Yes, I am just over the moon with this new title, "Meet Me at the Moon" by Gianna Marino to be released on my own mama's birthday, March 29, 2012.  In this story Mama must leave her baby elephant to climb the highest mountain in search of rain.  Mama Elephant is gone for days and days.  Will she return?  Will Little One be able to find her again?

The illustrations in this book are stunning. The incredible detail in the drawing of characters, the precision of each picture, and the use of texture and vibrant color in this African setting call readers back to the book again and again.

The delightful illustrations are balanced by the language used to tell this story.  There is a rhythm to the words, a beauty in each sentence, and a kind tone that makes the reader fall in love with the characters in this story.  Mama tells Little One, "When the night sky is bright, Little One, meet me at the moon, where the sky touches the earth."

I know the young readers in my classroom will enjoy this story.  The organization of the story and the structured pattern within can be easily understood, and perhaps considered for writing, by my students.  Though I know this book will be well loved in my classroom, I can't help but think it is the perfect book for young children at home.  It reminds me of many of our family favorites when my children were young.  You'll definitely want to add this book to your list.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Really, a Post About Markers?

Really, a post about markers?  Oh, it's worse than that.  My colleagues and I spent an entire lunch period discussing markers in Writer's Workshop.  Only primary teachers could obsess over something so minor.  (OK, maybe only I can obsess over something so minor.)

I'm not going to lie, for years I did not have markers out for students to use during Writer's Workshop.  I know some of you are cheering to hear me say that.  I also know some of you are shaking your head in disgust.  Markers - like erasing, writing on the backs of paper, using scissors and allowing conversation - are an aspect of Writer's Workshop we don't want to discuss.  People feel strongly one way or another about it.

Today I'm a little embarrassed to admit I didn't have markers out for a long time, and over the years I realized I needed to rethink this.  The more I read and the more I talked about Writer's Workshop, the more I began to think markers needed to be a choice.  So a few years ago I started introducing them.  My introduction went something like this, "Here are the markers....listen for the click when you are done using them."  For some reason (I wish sarcasm came across better in writing), they just never took off.  Students never really chose them.  Imagine that.

The Day It Happened
Well, this year was different.  I introduced markers as I always do, and they sat.  Imagine that.  Then one day someone grabbed the markers.  I was busy conferring with a student, but had noticed the sudden murmur moving across the classroom.

Finally someone spoke up, "Mrs. Mere, _____ is using the markers."  A hush fell across the classroom.  Everything was silent.  No one moved.  No one breathed.  Everyone looked at each other.  Everyone looked at me.

I glanced at this young writer, marker in hand.  She looked at her friends and then she looked at me.  I could tell she was worried about her standing with her friends and her teacher.  This was an important moment for her.  "_____, why did you choose markers for your illustrating," I asked rather nonchalantly (outwardly).

"I thought it would make the pictures look better," ____ replied in a hesitant whisper.  (Well, it was something like that.  That's really not important.)

"Seems like a smart choice of tools for your writing," I replied matter-of-factly and went back to conferring with writers.  Yes, I acted like this choice seemed perfectly logical, but I also knew what was coming.

Here's What Was Coming
Yes, young writers gleefully jumped up from their seats to grab the markers.  FREEDOM!  Weeks went by and markers were a part of workshop.  It was actually going pretty well.  Illustrations had maintained a reasonable amount of detail and popped with color on the pages of stories.  We had made it through the coloring over our words part of the process, and I was noticing some students were actually better able to draw with markers.  They just seemed to sit in their hands more comfortably; it seemed easier to form lines and make circles.  I was rather proud of myself for getting over another control hurdle and trusting my students.  They never fail me.


One day, I noticed it here.

I noticed it there.

I noticed it here and there.

Students were writing words with markers instead of pencil.  GASP!  (This post really needs sound effects.)  Now I was the one who wanted to shout, "Teacher, ______ is using a marker to write his words."  Actually, you know that feeling you get when what you are thinking, what you believe, and what you practice aren't matching?  I knew this was one of those moments.

The Dilemna
FASTFORWARD to our lunch conversation.  Should I let students use markers to write words?  Thankfully I teach with great friends who will tolerate my worry over little matters and conversations over tedious details.  (You all rock!)

The pros:
  • Some students seemed to be able to write more with markers.  It seemed easier to form letters and words with the thick tips of a marker.  The size of the marker made it easier to grip.  Yes, OTs everywhere are shouting OF COURSE.
  • The words really stand out when written in marker. 
  • I can easily see the corrections students have made as they were unable to erase.
The cons:
  • Some students seemed to write much bigger when using markers.
  • Some students raced through their writing and it wasn't as neat as their pencil work.  

Yes, the answer is obvious when you read it like that.  As a colleague reminded me, "Some of the kids using pencil need to make their writing look better too."  It's true.  It isn't really an issue of the tool, but an issue with the process.  Students want to write a story that others can read so they have be responsible about some of their choices.  I have students in my room who wouldn't ever want to write words with marker.  They want their writing to look neat, they want to be able to erase (yes, I let them erase --- another day's post for Writer's Workshop purists), but for others it's easier to create with the flow of the marker.  It's easier to get words onto paper.

My Decision
It was decided, at least for now, that students will continue to use markers to write if that is the tool that works best for them and their story.  I will continue to teach through it.  Yes, it will take a few days, but in the end I'm hoping it will be worth it.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sharing Our Stories

Karen, Mandy, Me, Stella
Picture from Stella
Reading the Past, Writing the Future
Every year I rearrange schedules, feverishly complete progress reports, arrange conferences with families, and make travel plans to attend the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention.  It's a lot of work that has to be done quickly and I often wonder if I will manage it all, but every year I do.  Every year as soon as I join my friends and colleagues at NCTE I know it was well worth it.

This year was no exception.  As I attended session after session the significance of story kept catching my attention.  I began by attending the Elementary Gathering on Thursday night where Kathy Short received the 2011 Outstanding Educator Award.  Short talked about the significance of story.   Her thoughtful keynote seemed to shape my thinking across the entire conference.  Every speaker I heard gave me nuggets about story.  Every place I went I saw the potential for story.  

My favorite NCTE quotes about story from speakers:
  • About Story:  "Stories are such a normal every day occasion that we often overlook their significance."  Kathy Short as she received the 2011 Outstanding Educator Award at the Elementary Gathering.
  • About Story:  "Good nonfiction is narrative.  Giving kids the gift of thinking about what matters most."  Ellin Keene
  • About Story:  "Math stories are everywhere in our world."  Mandy Robek as we walked across Chicago (not her exact words, but...)
  • About Mentor Texts:  "Literature can help second language learners connect to, and find, their story."  Mary Capelli
  • About Process:  "After I write I read it aloud to hear it in my mind and in my ear."  Seymour Simon 
  • About Audience:  "I've been thinking about how our vision of audience changes....and how it changes us as writers."  Tony Keefer
  • About Audience:  "When I know my writing will be read by others, I work on my writing harder." Meredith age 10 shared by Tony Keefer 
  • About Publication:  "Books in hands at school can then be hands at home."  Katie DiCesare in talking about having shared texts created in learning community made into digital pieces of writing
Capturing the Stories of Young Writers
Throughout the weekend I wondered how to help my young writers to see the significance of the stories in their lives.  How do I help them to capture their stories?  I thought about how they race in each morning to capture my attention to tell me their stories.  I thought about how they bring in objects to share with their friends that tell their stories.  I thought about the conversation I overhear with friends as they enter our classroom each day to tell their stories.  Young writers aren't that different from "older" writers (couldn't resist).  We are all so caught up in our lives we forget the stories we are living and they slip right be us.  

When I returned to my classroom excited to share my own stories with my students - stories of learning, friends, meeting authors, finding new books -  I noticed my students also had brought "stories" with them.  

Nathan had brought his story of the new cars he got in Iowa City.  He shared the stories of seeing family, visiting sites, purchasing and playing with these new cars on the long ride home.

Natalie had brought her book from when she was a baby.  She shared stories of the beginning days she and her twin sister shared together.  She told stories of her grandma coming to hold and love them.  She told stories of their first Christmas together.  She told stories of her life as a twin which her friends had plenty of questions about.

Luke brought his stories from a surprise trip to Disney.  He had a notebook --- yes, I was pretty excited about that --- he had made to collect writing ideas from his trip.  He shared the story of his favorite ride.

Lily came in carrying a picture of she and her sister decorating the Christmas picture with another picture of the dog and cat chasing each other it.  She laughed telling about the challenge of decorating this large tree and the chaos the pets caused shortly after.  

Stories are everywhere if we listen.  Thanks NCTE (and friends) for helping me to notice the stories right in front of me every day --- and for helping me to make my own new stories.