Sunday, February 25, 2018

Our Classroom Libraries: Connecting, Stretching, Evolving

Yesterday I was able to chat classroom libraries at the Dublin Literacy Conference with Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning. Our session probably began to spin last year as she started to reflect on the students in her classroom and the books that would be best to support her community.  It was a delightful conversation that continued across time and soon we decided we would love to talk with other educators about classroom libraries.  

The Heart of Our Learning Community
The classroom library is the heart of the community.  It's the authors who mentor our students' writing.  It's the books that inspire thoughtful conversation.  It's the common texts that bring us together in shared understanding.  It's the stories that help us to find ourselves and to see out into the world.  Our classroom libraries shape our learning.  

While there are many joys to our classroom library, there are also many challenges.  My work allows me the privilege of being in and out of classrooms across fourteen elementary schools.  There are just some classrooms where the library pops as soon as I walk in the door.  There are classrooms where books surround the children every day.  In these classrooms, books spill out of the library and into spaces around the room.  A reader can hardly take three steps without running into a book.  Imagine the power in just that.  In these classrooms, I can feel the books as soon as I walk in the door and it always seems that in these communities I know when I talk with young learners they will be able to talk about books.  There are classrooms in which I can tell as soon as I walk in which authors the community has grown to love.  In others, it doesn't take long to tell what the focus of study is in the classroom by the way books are arranged around the room.  Our libraries say a lot about our learning community - and our beliefs about supporting literacy learning.  

Growing Readers with Strong Libraries
Knowing there isn't one right way to manage a classroom library, Mandy and I wrestled with what was most important in sharing our message.  For me, it was the library that supported the conversations in our community.  Across the year my library would change.  At times across the year,  I would notice readers were a bit restless in the workshop and would realize it was our library that needed a little freshening; after all, across a school year, learners grow in their ability to read and their interests shift across the year as a result of new conversations.  

Here are the three considerations Mandy and I discussed in thinking about our classroom libraries.  Our classroom libraries work to help our readers by:
  • Connecting:  Classroom libraries connect readers to their next book, to new authors, to one another.  As educators, we curate libraries that have books of appropriate challenge and make sure our collections are inclusive to all of our readers.  Books in our collections provide mirrors for seeing ourselves, windows for looking out, and sliding glass doors to step into new possibilities.  The books that surround our learning community help to grow common conversations that will shape and connect learners across the year.  In today's world, through the use of digital tools, our classroom libraries will also help us to connect to authors (websites, Twitter), other readers, and to outside experts.  
  • Stretching:  Classroom libraries can provide stepping stones into new texts.  Across the year our conversations help readers learn to balance their reading.  We find ways to help readers stretch to try new genres, authors, and types of reading.  As a community, we reach to discover more through multiple media that grow our understanding, help us to compare a variety of information, and ask us to consider other perspectives.  In our mini lessons we include a variety of texts and consider the balance between print and digital possibilities.  
  • Evolving:  Classroom libraries continue to grow during the year to meet the new needs of our readers.  Our libraries change as we study new authors, dig into a particular genre, or delve into a new topic of study.  They evolve as we move from a literal understanding of text to try to understand author's perspective and work to uncover the themes within a text.  Our libraries evolve as readers request new books, young writers need to learn about different crafting techniques, or our scientists seek more information.  Our libraries evolve as new books are published and new possibilities begin to find their way into our classroom.  Our libraries are no longer confined to the physical space in our classroom, we consider the digital possibilities for our readers.  Using Padlet (example of digital reading Padlet here), our classroom hubs, or other digital spaces we can curate digital spaces for our readers.  

More About Libraries
As Mandy and I were working on our session, I wondered what other educators would say about the classroom library.  I found myself wanting to go into classrooms to really take a look at their libraries so I created a hashtag and asked some educators to share their tips and pics.  As always, everyone was so gracious to share both.  You can learn more about the classroom library on Twitter at the hashtag #CRlibrarylove.  Please join the conversation by sharing pictures of your library, beliefs that shape your work with your classroom library, and resources.  Of course, we'd also love to see some library makeover pictures!!!  ;o)  

More Links for Libraries:
I'd love your links, resources, and thoughts in the comments below.  Please share!  

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.