Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blue Chameleon

I was thrilled to find another new book by Emily Gravett this weekend and I know my students will be too.  She is a favorite author right now during our book look time each day.  One of my little girls on T/Th walks around all morning with Apple Orange Pear Bear and reads it loud and clear.  I think Blue Chameleon will also provide her the confidence and success she needs as an emerging reader. 

I found myself right away feeling empathy for Blue Chameleon, the first thing he says in his speech bubble is, "I'm lonely."  As we know chameleons do, he changes color and arranges his body to try and fit in.  He tries to make friends with a banana, a cockatoo, a snail, a boot, a sock, a ball, a fish, a grasshopper, a rock, and a page with no success.  He actually gives up.  As we know, when we least expect it something good can happen and Blue Chameleon is no longer feeling blue.  The speech bubbles continue on each page using a variety of ways to say hello.  As Emily Gravett is known for in her writing style, one word phrases per page tell this story making it accessible and enjoyable for young readers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Jump! by Scott M. Fisher was a great find this past weekend from our local bookstore, Cover to Cover.  I love when I go to a conference and great books are right there for my viewing.  I'm always looking for books my emerging readers can use as a shared reading and easily participate in.  This book encourages oral language participation and participation through movement.    My students will love to read JUMP! with energy and physically jump as each animal does in reaction to something that would scare them.  For example, it starts like this...

I'm a bug. 
I'm a bug.
I'm a snug little bug,
and I'm sleeping on a jug.
Unitl I see a frog,
and I...
(turn the page)

You just have to pick pick up this book to see the other animals that jump in response to seeing a bigger animal.  I can't wait to share this book later today with my students.  I know they will be identifying rhymes with enthusiasm and enjoyment. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview with Franki Sibberson

I recently had the opportunity to do professional development within my district using the text, Day to Day Assessments in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak.  I was intruiged for two reasons.  When I jumped up to teaching third grade for 5 years, this text was the foundation of my classroom and I knew the ideas within this book were important for early literacy.  Since I knew the text, I felt I could reread it with a new lens and I was interested how someone would bring it down to support K-2 teachers.  I would like to thank our instructor Tracy for taking the time to help primary teachers with additional research to support the ideas written by Franki and Karen related to early literacy.  As our class was thinking and discovering this text, I started hearing thoughtful questions and asked my friend Franki if we could submit a few to her  to answer.  Thanks for stopping by today Franki, and for always being willing to help others.

 What are your favorite online resources? (blogs, etc…)
I have soooo many favorite online resources. We are lucky to have lots of local bloggers as well as other bloggers who write about children and literacy. Some of the blogs I read regularly include:

All-en A Day’s Work

AM Literacy Learning Log

Carol’s Corner

Creative Literacy

My World-Mi Mundo

The Book Whisperer

Jen Robinson’s Book Page

Refect and Refine

The Boy Reader

Two Writing Teachers

Watch. Connect. Read.

Lit for Kids


Kevin’s Meandering Mind

I am sure I have left some out. These just popped up in my mind right away. There are so many great people who are sharing their learning and teaching. The ones I listed are mostly connected to books and elementary classrooms. I also love resources like Choice Literacy, Goodreads, and Twitter.

Are there particular mini-lessons that you do prior to book clubs to support book club conversations?
So many mini-lessons and experiences lead up to book club conversations. First and foremost, our read aloud time each day helps students learn to talk and create thinking that is collaborative. They learn in read aloud that our collective thinking is bigger and better than our individual thinking. I also do many mini-lessons that help kids practice building on each other’s thinking, getting ready to talk, changing your thinking as you read, changing your thinking as you talk, etc. My goal for book clubs is for kids to grow in their thinking because of what others say so I have to teach them to talk in ways that is more than taking turns.

How often are your read alouds purely for enjoyment?

Do your read alouds always have an instructional focus using the reader’s notebooks?
My read alouds always have an instructional focus in terms of I have chosen the book intentionally. But my goal is for the kids to participate in the conversation for enjoyment. Read Aloud is by far a favorite time in our day and I want it to stay like that. The teaching comes through natural conversations that the book chosen invites. I don’t have mandates for the reading notebook. My only requirement for read aloud is that the talk and writing somehow impacts their understanding and they have lots of ways to show me that it does. For some kids, talk is more important. For others, writing becomes more important. Read aloud offers an opportunity for them to try these things and to see the power of collective thinking and conversation. So, I would say all of my read alouds are for enjoyment but each of the books I chose is chosen intentionally knowing that it will invite certain types of conversations. I can’t justify spending ½ hour a day without being intentional about book choice. But, as I said, the kids don’t feel like there is an instructional focus. They are very in charge of the conversation and their own thinking. For them it is a powerful book talk every day. It is a big community builder too.

When brainstorming topics/lessons that the students would like to focus on for student-initiated small groups, how do you prompt or promote needed skills that you see in your assessments?
I don’t really have to prompt or promote needed skills for this. First of all, I want it to be authentic in terms of what students feel they need. I have learned over and over again that often, students have a need that I don’t really know about. My job, once they choose their group, is to then tie in the skills I know that they need. For example, if they need support in retelling and have signed up for a group trying to read and stick with more nonfiction, I may conference with the child to work on retellings. Or I may work the retellings into the nonfiction group by asking students to summarize book recommendations to others. I have found that after the first round of student chosen groups, students do a better job than I do of determining their need if this is part of the culture of the classroom. Then it is my job to fill in with the things I see that they haven’t identified. It isn’t an either or. I want to meet the needs that are important to them as well as those that I see. Since all groups are not student-initiated, this is not difficult to do. The student initiated process gives students the message that these groups are to help them grow as readers. So, when I initiate a group, they come to the group with the same attitude that they do the student-initiate groups because they understand the purpose. I am very honest with them about what I am seeing in their growth as readers.

Student choice and ownership is a big message throughout your book.
Do you think its possible for emerging readers to be successful with choice and ownership?
Absolutely! I think all readers can be successful with choice and ownership. I think the key is teaching them how to own their own reading and be thoughtful as readers. I think it also means expanding our own definitions of what we expect as readers. I believe strongly that kids need to read books at their level, but I also believe that they need opportunities to read books that are a bit easy and a bit difficult. I think there are many ways to grow as readers. I want all students finding favorite authors, rereading favorite books, knowing what to do when they are confused. For school reading to be authentic, I think it is critical that kids have choice and ownership at all ages.

You mention… ”We don’t meet with equal size groups on certain days of the week and don’t require every child to participate.” What are your thoughts about how this quote would resonate in a primary classroom?
I believe that the purpose of small group instruction is to meet the needs of students in the classroom. Years ago, in my work with small groups, I found that I spent so much time worrying about the management piece—how to fit this student into a group, how to make sure each group had the same number of children, how to make sure each group met the same number of times, etc. that I had little energy left for planning what would happen in the group. Once I freed myself of the expectations to meet in small groups with every child for the same amount of time, I found I was better able to meet the needs of students. Some students have needs that are very unique and for those students, I have more conferring time. Some skills invite small group instruction while others are better addressed individually. If I have four students who require one skill and 2 who require another, trying to even up groups gets in the way of teaching. And depending on the skill, some students need to meet daily and others need time between group meetings to practice the skills. For me, small groups and individual conferences are two structures in place to meet student need. I try to use those structures with flexibility so that the focus is on the instruction rather than the management.

How do you help lower readers choose just right books that interest them?
I think all readers deserve depth in their reading and all deserve to be interested in the books they are reading. For readers who struggle with text, there is often more scaffolding that needs done. I may conference more with that child to make sure he/she has good fit books. I also think it is important that as a classroom, we value the “easier” books. I make it a point to read aloud some books that are easier than grade level so that they become popular choices. I also think it is okay for kids to spend a little bit of time each day reading books that are difficult as long as part of their day involves books at their level. There is much to be learned from all of these experiences. I do quite a few book talks as part of mini-lesson work so if I have students who struggle with choosing books because of their reading level, I make sure to include many books in my book talks that are more at that level. I want all of my readers, no matter what level, to develop tastes as readers so I want to give them lots of choice. This often takes more work on my part in terms of embedding good choices into the classroom in various ways.

How do you manage the overlapping that can occur when book clubs and student-initiated groups are going on at the same time?
When the groups start overlapping, we have a large calendar hanging on the wall. When groups set up their times to meet they must add it to the calendar. I also add groups to calendar so students can see if there is an overlap. I do not sit in on every group so as long as kids don’t have two groups meeting at the same time, the calendar works for us, as a class to use as a guide.

How and when in your workshop do you provide strong, explicit instruction on decoding skills for your struggling readers?
In the intermediate grades, explicit word instruction happens in our word study time. I use a lot of the ideas from Max Brand (see Word Savvy: Integrating Vocabulary, Spelling, and Wordy Study, Grades 3-6) for whole class work in word study. I also pull small groups and work with individual students who have needs in decoding. For most intermediate students, decoding is not an issue. For struggling students, much of my conference time and guided writing time focuses on this explicit instruction in decoding. It is based on individual student need.

Can you give some suggestions on mini-lessons/opportunities that could support and guide students to be more metacognitive in the classroom?
I begin every year with a reading interview—asking lots of questions about each student as a reader. I do this individually and in person. I find that this initial conversation gives the students a message that I value their thinking about their reading lives. Even though those first conversations are often quick and students often answer “I don’t know.” for many of the questions, the interview plants the seeds for metacognitive work. I think opportunities are embedded throughout the workshop. If I share a skill or strategy in a minilesson, asking students if it worked for them puts value on metacognitive thinking. Share time also provides a great structure to place value on metacognitive thinking. Instead of sharing books, we use share time to really think about how we’ve changed or grown as readers. I also make sure to take time in each individual conference to learn from students. Asking them what they’ve noticed about their reading, sharing my observations, etc. helps. The student-initiated small groups and book clubs add to this metacognitive environment because students begin to anticipate these opportunities and pay attention to their own strengths and needs.

It's been a pleasure to host my colleagues' questions for Franki and I hope this helps everyone continue their own thinking and journey with literacy instruction.  Remember you can always hear more from Franki at A Year of Reading.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Another day with Debbie Miller!

Debbie Miller not only makes students think, she also makes teachers think!  Listening to Debbie Miller is soothing and guiding.  She began our day by guiding and encouraging teachers to know their beliefs and have them written down to help our thinking and practices.  When planning, she wants teachers to introduce something new with time.  Spread it out over days in small chunks, be responsible for the reading, students responsible for the thinking.  She shared three lessons for different grade levels that were intentional and students were engaged.  Each lesson she guided students with their thinking, made their thinking visible, and assessed understandings.  It was interesting to listen to her talk about teaching K, 2, and 5.  Many of her supports were the same within organization and guiding sucess.  She also leaves room for big idea thinking, even for K.  Listening to Debbie made me think if we don't give them opportunities, how do we know what they can do.  Also, within her lessons the there was always a range of thinking from the concrete, connect to me to some insightful higher level thinking.  If we can create work that allows a range of children to succeed than we are working smarter as teachers.  She encourages us to plan thoroughly and allow the students to be part of the discovery, which requires a balance and we all know balance can be a challenge.  She also guides us to have children thinking during the reading, real time and not worksheets after the reading.  "There's power in giving children responsiblity to do things."  She touched on the importance of choice.  Choice elevates work, motivation, and quality.  I know there will be more post and note sharing from some of my friends; Karen, Franki, and Deb.  These are just a few of my thoughts that are sticking with me tonight.  Thank you to the Literacy Connection for organizing this event, I know I'll be back next year.  I love being part of this community.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Debbie Miller, in person!

What a great way to spend Friday!, renewing, thinking and observing a master teacher! Her visit is the culuminating study for our local group, The Literacy Connection.  Debbie said so many smart things today as we watched her work with children and took time to debrief her work with us.  I find myself reflecting about the number of times Debbie refers to the act of thinking and phrases she uses to encourage students to think.

-My thinking now...
-Now when we think about that...
-Oh, think out loud.
-Who has something different with their thinking?
-Does someone have something to add to what we are thinking about?
-That was thinking.
-What were you thinking?
-Thinking about what we already know?

Here's a perfect example of being intentional.  "I want you to talk like this, I use to think and now I'm thinking..."  I can't wait to think more with Debbie Miller tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Must Have Bobo!

I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal is a new release for 2011 and just delightful.  Bobo is a sock monkey and a little boys best friend.  Bobo helps the little boy every day.  Together they explore, inquire, color, play, and overcome fears.  Then the reader discovers how much this little boy needs Bobo because he panics when he can't find him.  Earl the cat is cuddling Bobo.  Twice more Earl the cat takes Bobo and each time it takes longer for the little boy to find him.  In the end, the three characters find a solution to work out who gets Bobo that is charming.  I think young children will easily connect to this text.  I also think they would love to share their must have object that helps, guides, and soothes them. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blue Sky Bluebird

Blue Sky Bluebird by Rick Chrustowski is a great narrative nonfiction text to introduce and launch our bluebird monitoring.  My student's interest was peaked today when we read it to end our day.  The book tells the lifecycle of bluebirds, beginning with bluebirds finding their summer home.  While reading this text students are introduced to important bluebird monitoring vocabulary;  nesting box, clutch, egg tooth, nestlings, thrum, and fledging.  Blue Sky Bluebird does a great job showing readers how mother bluebirds and father bluebirds help their eggs hatch and care for them afterwards.  I can't wait to show them our nesting boxes, how to monitor the boxes for bluebird nests and chasing house sparrows away!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Fox and the Springtime Blossoms

The Fox and the Springtime Blossoms by Julia Rawlinson was a great way to start our day earlier this week.  My first read aloud of the day could be about anything we are studying or a great book I've found for kindergarten students.  The students were really excited after spring break the seasons had changed.  Spring stories have seemed just right for us and this book opened a great comprehension door for us.

Fletcher, the fox is strolling through the woods using his sense to enjoy the spring season.  As he enters the sunny orchard he is surprised to see such a late snow in spring.  He is very worried about the animals he knows and hurries to tell them all about the snow; birds, Porcupine, Squirrel, and rabbits.  Each time he is concerned for his friends.  They won't be able to find food and they won't be warm.  The animals are all traveling to the orchard to see this late spring snow only to discover BLOSSOMS.  Blossoms from the orchard trees are blowing in the wind creating a shower of white.  Hands down, we all predicted the animals were going to see the snow only to engage in a richer conversation about spring and trees.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Lifetimes - The beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen is a graceful book I think everyone needs; young, old, family, single, couples.  The first page sets the tone for the entire book.

"There is a beginning
and an ending for everything
that is alive.
In between is living."

This books explains many aspects of death and living.  The book reminds us plants, animals, people and more are all living.  It reminds us living things get ill or sick, it's sad and sometimes they die.  The middle of the book describes the special lifetimes for trees, rabbits and mice, flowers and vegetables, butterflies, birds, fish, and people.  I list everything that is discussed before people to help you see how broad the topic of death is within this book.  I found reading about death and thinking about lifetimes as a cycle for other things in our world made reading and thinking about people easier.  I feel this book brings peace to such a sensitive topic for everyone and helps our youngest friends and loved ones understand a difficult aspect of life.

I'm so thankful for a friend who recommended this book to me about ten years ago.  I found it very helpful over spring break with B when her pet guinea pig stopped eating and drinking.  He passed away two days later at 4.5 years old.  Reading this book was hard, watching her sadness was hard, reading this book was comforting to the both of us.  This book will help your soul, I promise.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Diary of a Killer Cat

The Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine was a book B picked up for her spring break reading.  B is in second grade and wants to read on her own but her Mama still savors reading together.  She's really grown as a reader this year, as beginning transitional readers do.  She is decoding multisyllable words with more ease.  She wants to read chapter books on her own.  She wants to be read to.  She wants to read like her fifth grade sister and consistently checks out very hard chapter books from the school library, ugh.  So, when we left school for spring break we went directly to the library and shopped for just right books for her.

The Diary of a Killer Cat was one of her picks.  It had many things she was looking for; chapters, a funny title, a title that raised questions instantly, and a layout that seemed manageable for her.  She liked the chapters were named by the days of the week.  I liked that it was a reasonable volume of pages and something she could accomplish easily and feel success in completing a book.

The story is told by Tuffy, a cat's point of view.  Tuffy brings his family a bird and then a mouse in the house.  Both times his family is not thrilled at all with his treasures and they become quite upset.  Things get much worst for Tuffy when he brings in muddy Thumper, the neighbors pet bunny, dead.  Tuffy's family returns Thumper to his cage and not without some funny things happening along the way and the reader discovering what you expect to be true is not.  B really enjoyed this book and it's fun to share an early chapter book with you for a change.