Saturday, December 31, 2011

Catching the Bug

As a reading and writing teacher, I do my best to stay "in the loop" when it comes to books that my kids are or will be reading. If you haven't already noticed, this means I read a LOT of children's literature. In fact, I have not read a book for "grown ups" in quite a while. I guess you can say I fianlly caught the "reading bug" when it comes to children's literature (aka "kidlit"). This, however, is the way I prefer it.

When I was younger, I was "genre-ist". In other words, I was prejudice against all books that were not Babysitters Club, and anything not written by R.L. Stein. Although I was a reader, I had tunnel vision. A big reason for this was that I never had a teacher that helped steer me towards other genres as I developed my reading preferences. Of course I read the occasional Science Fiction and Historical Fiction books, but usually it was under the circumstance of needing to complete an assignment of some sort. In fact, the only time I remember stepping out of my comfort zone as an independent reader was when I read A Wrinkle in Time. I didn't like it...until I was in my early 20s and decided to read it for a Children's Literature class in college. Looking back, I feel like I missed out on a lot of really great books.

The reason I am giving you a peek into my reading past, is because it is a big part of what drives me to push my students into as many different genres as possible. In her book The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller explains how she tries to do the same with her students. It's important to expose them to as many different kinds of books as possible. Will they latch on to one genre for the majority of their reading lives? Maybe. But at least they will know what else is out there, even discover additional genres they are willing to delve into now and then.

In order to help guide my students, I read as much as I can. It is so much more meaningful to a child when they receive a recommendation for a book, series, or author from someone who has actually read those books. It also gives you the upper hand because you can discuss the books in more depth with students. Is it feasible to read every book in your library? No. I would not have time to teach or have a life if I did. However, it IS feasible to read at least few children's books a month. A while back I emailed Donalyn Miller to see how she gained so much knowledge about the books in her library to make quality recommendations to her students. Here is what I gleaned from her response (and began to do myself):

Reading one book by an author will help give you a sense of their writing style, which in turn will give you some ideas about which students may respond well to that author. Reading the first book in a series accomplishes the same thing. It is also helpful to get to know and follow blogs that review children's books (see the list of blogs I follow to find some great ones). This is a quick way to find out about books that provides more information than you may get from the back cover or inside flap. I have also found that following other teachers, librarians, and authors on Twitter is an amazing resource for keeping up-to-date on trends in reading, as well as hearing about great new books.

Here is my final piece of advice: find a way to get your hands on some Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of books that are not yet published. This is a great way to not only be more informed about current books, but also stay a step ahead of your budding readers. NetGalley is a site I joined for this exact reason. The copies I get are digital, but if I really like a book or think my kids will, I make a note of its publication date so I can get a copy for my classroom library. The best part is I already know the content, so I do not have to hesitate when bringing it into my classroom. Getting books is super easy. All you have to do is sign up if you are a teacher or blogger, browse through their books, and request the ones that seem interesting to you. Then, NetGalley contacts you when your request has been granted. Once you get your copy, you can either download it using Adobe Digital Editions or (get this!) some titles can be sent directly to your Kindle! How cool is that?!?

I am very much enjoying my rekindled love of children's and young adult books. I feel like I am making up for all I missed as a kid, and it helps me to be a more effective teacher. Not only am I better at helping my students select books, but my love of reading is very apparent (and hopefully somewhat contagious) when I talk about books. I highly encourage you to also catch the bug...if you  haven't already.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Delicious Holiday Craft!

Ok, so this really doesn't have anything to do with reading OR writing...but it was fun, so I am sharing!

We all know that the last day before Winter Break is a wash academically (admit it, you know it's true). However, it is a GREAT day to spend time having fun with and getting to know your students. In fact, I really enjoy this day because I get to do things with my kids that we all enjoy. I spend the day talking and laughing with's a fantastic day of building and strengthening teacher-student relationships.

This past "Day Before Winter Break" (which was the day before Christmas Eve...lucky me!), we did a variety of holiday related activities. However, I saved the best for last because, let's face it, holding something over their heads has it's advantages on this particular day. :) We had a party, but during the party we made...

HOLIDAY TREES! (We all know why they were dubbed with this name...)

This idea was born from my usual go-to craft: Ginger Bread Houses. However, I dislike making these in the classroom. If you've made them before, you know why! They never stand up, they are incredibly messy, and extremely difficult to transport home. I wanted something similar, but more classroom friendly- enter the Holiday Tree. I got some ideas from the net (click here to see the site I referred my Room Mom to) and they turned out so nicely! Set up and clean up were a breeze, the kids loved them, and to transport home all we needed was a quart-sized plastic storage bag!

All you need are:
  • Sugar Cones
  • Vanilla Frosting
  • Green Food Coloring
  • Candies of different shapes and sizes
  • Sprinkles (aka "Jimmies")
  • Plastic knives
Mix up the food coloring with the frosting, apply thick layer to cone, and decorate to your heart's content! Allow to dry for at least an housr before attempting to place the trees into baggies.

If you ever thought of ditching the tried and true Ginger Bread House, give this craft a whirl. I bet you'll love it as much as I did. Take a look at some of the masterpieces that my kiddos created below.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's Monday...What are YOU reading? 12/26/11

Hello again friends! With the busy holidays, had I had to pare down my reading goals last week. However, I did meet my goal of finishing the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy: Catching Fire. This book was fantastic and the ending left me I IMMEDIATELY had to get the third book: Mockingjay. I thought when I finished the Harry Potter series, I was going to be lost. However, I am pleased that I was able to pick up this incredible trilogy to help me fill my Harry Potter void. I thoroughly enjoy these books, despite my prior belief that I was not a "SciFi" fan. (I guess I have my husband to thank for my new found interest in all things geeky.)

In addition to finishing Catching Fire and starting Mockingjay, I also read a couple of picture books. These books were accessed through NetGalley, a site which allows reviewers, educators, etc. to request Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) of books to preview before they are published. All of the books are digital copies, which is quite convenient because you can download a lot and take them with you. I currently have 17 books that are awaiting me. 

The first picture book I read was Mooshka, A Quilt Story by Julie Paschkis. I really enjoyed the artwork in this book. Although it's not a folktale, it had the feel of one. The story is simple: A little girl named Karla loves the comfort she gets from her quilt made of fabric scraps. Each scrap represents an event in her family's history. However, when a new baby comes along, Karla passes on the stories and comfort of the quilt to her new sibling. It was very sweet.

The second one I read was The House on Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittenger. I think a lot of children will relate to this story. It is about a girl and her mother moving into a new home, but the home is in serious need of some TLC. At first, the girl is upset and never thinks it will feel like home. But, with some help from their community, it becomes the house of their dreams. I liked the art in this book as well. I read that they were originally photographs that were turned into illustrations. This is a neat concept and made the illustrations that much more interesting.

Well, that's it for how! I am planning on finishing Mockingjay this week and moving on to another book that I have hear a lot of great things about... Monster Calls. Now that I am enjoying my Winter Break, I may be able to read quite a bit more.

What are YOU reading this week?

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Monday...What Are YOU Reading? 12/19/11

Hello again! It's time for another weekly update on my reading life. I am a tad disappointed as I was unable to get my hands on the picture books I so desperately wanted to read this week.

However, I DID finish reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It was wonderful! There were a lot of twists and turns that I was not expecting...which is something I really value in a book. The ending has left me wanting more, so I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. I am not sure I would recommend it to my 5th graders, as there are some romantic scenes and a lot of death/gore. However, I would recommend it for students in grade 6-7 and up.

Another book I read this week that I had not planned on was Press Here. It caught my eye when I was shopping at Barnes and Noble. Since I was standing around waiting for my husband, I read it. I enjoyed the simple artwork consisting of primary colored dots, and the clever way it was written. It gives children directions as they read that "cause" something to happen on the next page. For example, at one point it says to tilt the page to the left, and on the next page, all of the colored dots have magically grouped up on the left page. Cute! I think this would be great for teaching children patterns, counting, and relative direction.

I am still on the hunt for my previous picture books, so I am not adding more picture books to my list this week. I am planning on getting a hold of Catching Fire, which is the second book in The Hung Games trilogy.

So...what are YOU reading?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

These Books Really ARE "Great"!

You know those days when you teach a great lesson and you just feel...amazing? I had one of those days this week. It was sublime!

My principal recently ordered the intermediate teachers in my school a program (if you want to call it that) called Junior Great Books. I.Love.It. "Love" might even be an understatement. I was so sick of our county anthology/basal, that this was a welcome change. It comes with a "guide", but I also find there are so many ways to "make it yours"...which is why I love it so much. I always has trouble making the anthology "mine" and the kids hate the feel of a textbook in their laps as we sit on the carpet. The stories are very high interest (mainly made up of realistic fiction and traditional literature). The best part is they are regular "book size" so they have the feel of a novel. 

Students used sticky notes to keep track of
questionsthey had as they read. 
Actually...the REAL best part is they are designed to be discussed! We have had some great literature circles with these books! I have the students create their own "complex questions" for their groups (see photo). You know...the ones that can't just be answered with one word, or that have more than one answer. This was exactly the stepping stone I needed to help guide me in the process of transitioning from an anthology to reading workshop...which is what I am working on.

Anyway, now that I have come down from my soap box (I should get some compensation from the company for my little plug...), here is what happened:

We've been reading an African folktale called "Kaddo's Wall." Today we discussed how the character experiences both losses and gains as a result of building said wall. I was assuming they'd pick up on all the material things that he both gained and lost which sort of had to be inferred in some cases. Of course, they blew me away with all of the things that even I didn't pick up on. For example, one student explained how one of Kaddo's losses was his "loss of dignity." We discussed how his having to beg for food after being selfish would cause this to happen. Another student chimed in with how he "gained the king's pity" when he was given the food. Wowzers! Then this led to us discussing how some gains (such as pity) are not always positive...which opened up the flood gates for other negative gains and more discussion! I was in teacher heaven!

I ended the lesson by asking the students to answer the following prompt:

"Explain the effects of Kaddo's decision to build the wall of corn."

I am sure you can guess that they had PLENTY to say. Just had to share :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Monday, What Are YOU Reading? 12/12/11

I am joining Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts in their weekly posts about reading! I read a lot of "kidlit" (thanks Twitter) these days, and figured that visitors to my blog would benefit from posts like these...not only themselves, but also for their students. I have to admit that a the world was put on hold this week as I read the 7th and final book in the Harry Potter series...Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Simply was AMAZINGLY, SPECTACULARLY, WONDERFULLY FANTASTIC! This book was everything it should have been and much more. I laughed, I cried, I got angry and then felt bad about was rather emotionally draining. BUT, it was well worth it! 

Because I was so bound and determined to finish this 784 page masterpiece, I didn't read much else this week. If you have not yet entered into the world of Harry Potter so immediately. Put all other books on hold and jump in feet first! It was the best reading decision I have ever made and I wish I had made it sooner!

As I am still getting used to my renewed love of reading (thank you, Donalyn Miller!!!), I am setting small goals for this week. I am going to work on reading (and hopefully finish) the first book in The Hunger Games series. 

 I am going to try and get my hands on some picture books this week, too. So I also plan to read:

We'll see how it all pans out! So...

What are YOU reading?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the Season of Giving!

What better gift to give than a book to a child who needs it most?!? I have been frequently visiting a site called "We Give Books." This site allows you to read a variety of childrens' books online (cool enough, right?). But that's not all! For EACH book you read, they will donate a book to a literacy campaign of your choice! It's such a wonderful cause! Not only do I get to add to my growing list of "read" books on GoodReads, but I am also making positive contributions through my love of reading. Win-win!

I thought this was so amazing that I am going to try it out with my students this week. I made a class login and plan on using the same login for each student. I will let you know how it goes!

In the meantime, head on over to We Give Books and give some books yourself!

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's a Bloggy Blog World!

This week, I had the most fun blogging with my students! Blogs are a fantastic resource because the kids forget they are "writing", therefore they enjoy it a whole lot more than when we whip out the pencils and paper! We have used blogs in the past to post book reviews and discuss stories, but this week we worked on expressing ourselves by playing "Three Truths and a Lie" in the blogging world. 

For our class blog, I use KidBlog. It's specifically designed for teachers to use with students. You can control comments and settings, which I feel is very important. 

The assignment for this blogging session was created by our Tech Integration Teacher (so lucky to have one!). We discussed the importance of choosing truths that were very unique and outrageous to match an outrageous lie, or picking a lie that sounded believable enough to be true and fit in with more "normal" truths. The kids did a great job! 

The kicker was that when they finished their own post, they then had to comment on at least five other blog posts. In their comments, students were told to single out the false statement and explain why they thought it wasn't true using thoughtful reasoning. 

Here are some of my favorite posts:



I joined in on the fun, too! Here is a screen shot of my post:


Not to brag, but I got the most comments! :) Once the kids get five or more comments on their posts, they are allowed to reveal the "falsehood" (yay vocabulary!). Can you guess which one was mine?