Monday, December 9, 2013

The Center of Everything

The Center of Everything
The best things in life have a delicious center:  cream filled doughnuts, Reese's Cups, Oreos, King Dons (oh, I miss them).  It seemed to make sense to begin my #nerdlution with a book I've been hearing so much about from my book-loving friends, The Center of Everything by Linda Urban, which is a finalist for this year' Nerdy Book Award.

Urban's character, Ruby Pepperdine, has made a mess of things.  Her best friend, Lucy, is no longer speaking to her.  She's not sure Nero will ever be her friend after what she has done.  In a few moments she'll be reading her essay that won this year's Bunning Essay Contest in front of the entire town.  Nothings been right for Ruby since her grandma died.  Ruby makes a wish to make things right again, but "greedy wishers always have things backfire on them."  Hopefully her wish will come true and she'll be able to make everything right.

"There are two schools of thought about the secrecy of wishes.  One is that you should always tell, because you never know who might be able to help you get what you wished for. [...] The other school holds the birthday candle philosophy:  to tell a wish is to ruin its chances of happening."                                                           -Linda Urban, Center of Everything (p. 121)

This story which centers around a friendship, a broken heart, and a wish is delightful.  Linda Urban had me thinking a lot about wishes in her beautiful story that moves effortlessly back and forth in time.  Being a "grandma girl" like Ruby, made the story even better for me.  If you haven't read The Center of Everything yet, what are you waiting for?

More About Center of Everything
Nerdy Book Club:  The Center of Everything by Linda Urban, A Not-Quite-a-Review by Kate Messner

Teach Mentor Texts:  The Center of Everything and Poetry Friday

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Maybe Balance is Found in a #Nerdlution

I'm sure you've heard about it.  There's a #nerdlution happening on Twitter.  Beginning in December everyone committed to making some kind of change for the next 50 days.  I was a little hesitant to take on a challenge at first during such a busy month, but I fell to positive peer pressure and jumped in.  Of course, I chose a goal that would bring me joy for 50 days.

It's December.  I didn't choose healthy eating.  It's Christmas cookie season.  I didn't commit to exercise.  I never keep those commitments.  I didn't commit to writing time.  I've gotten much better at squeezing that into my week.  Instead I chose reading fiction.  It seems the perfect goal to allow me to rest and relax each evening.  With one week down I've been reading 50 minutes or more of fiction each night.  Tough goal, huh!?  My friends were quick to offer many new suggestions for my reading so my shelf is quite full now.

Enjoy the theme songs for each section (please share other suggestions).
If I've missed your #nerdlution tweet, please
share the tweet url so I can add it.

As I started my #nerdlution goal this week, there were some things I expected to happen and many more than surprised me.

Here's what I expected:
  • to be reminded of how much I enjoy reading fiction.
  • to enjoy relaxing with a good book each evening.  
  • to be motivated and supported by the community.
Here's what I didn't expect:
  • to realize that sometimes carving time out for something I enjoy would actually give me more energy in the classroom.
  • to actually get to the gym to exercise.
  • to surprisingly find more time to write.
  • for the community to continually evolve and grow the challenge.
  • to laugh so many times!
  • to find such JOY.
Somehow through carving time out for something I enjoy, I've managed to find time to do all the things I should do. It's a little surprising to find balance in this commitment for more time each day.  

Thanks to everyone who is participating for the motivation and support.  I'm enjoying following your journeys and seeing so many people do what makes them happy.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What? There's a #NERDLUTION Happening?

I honestly tried to ignore the tweets as I read them between basting turkey and mashing potatoes.  I noticed the conversation between Franki Sibberson, Colby Sharp, Katherine Sokolowski, and Bill Bass grow as others joined.  I still tried to ignore it.   I added whip cream to my pumpkin pie and tried to pretend it wasn't happening.

Let's face it, the next few months are busy with extra commitments and preparation.  To add to that, it's winter here in Ohio and the hours of daylight are severely limited.  When I saw this tweet I clicked out of my Twitter feed and started humming a jaunty tune to distract myself:

For days, I pretended not to notice the conversation, but the conversation was growing and I knew my friends were right as usual;  I really needed to try to get some balance in my life.  It would be crazy to make this kind of commitment I thought, as I continued to "sort of" watch the tweets about the upcoming #nerdlution commitment.

Soon the blog posts started rolling into the #nerdlution feed....and maybe I read a few, but still I tried to pretend this wasn't something I needed to do.

  • Franki Sibberson is writing for 30 and running/walking for 20.  
  • Colby Sharp is committing to writing every day for 50 days.
  • Katherine Sokolowski is committing to writing and walking each day.  
  • Amy Rudd might be committing to 30 minutes of exercise and 20 of writing at The Rudder....and she is getting up crazy early in the morning to do it.
  • Joy Kerr will be reading.  
  • Cindy Minnich has made several goals for the next 50 days.  Stop by to cheer her on.

...and the list goes on and on.

Peer Pressure
So maybe I've started to fall to the pressure, but what will my goal be?  I have a million things I wish I would do better:  write daily, stay committed to my favorite blogging events (Poetry Friday, Slice of Life, Celebrations), read more fiction, stay caught up on the reading of blogs, comment on more of the blogs I visit, exercise, keep up with my friends....oh, the list goes on and on.


Trying to resist....



Read Fiction
I read a ton of things across my day:  blogs, nonfiction, professional books, news articles, and poetry.  I tend to read it short little pockets of time and choose reading I won't have trouble putting down.  Let's face it, it's hard to put down a fiction book when you are caught up in the story.  School keeps me busy and I have a hard time drawing a line between my personal time and the work I love.  So....I'm committing to reading fiction 50 minutes each day.  I know, you are all jealous of my goal.  I'm thinking finding this time will help me to relax during this busy time of year....and will help me develop a side of my reading life I need to grow.

Raising Our Words: (Re) Inventing the Future of English #ncte13

"Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals..."  Martin Luther King at Oberlin College Commencement via the King Center
It seems quite common these days for people to speak out against public education.  Politicians, business owners, and even some educators vocally demand change.  Tighter accountability, common standards across the United States, testing mandates, and greater government control are constantly changing the landscape of the work we do.  In all of the noise it is easy to lose sight of the real work we do.

Taking the time to attend the NCTE conference each year reminds me of the significance of the work we do in pubic education daily and helps me to stay focused on what matters most - children.  This year's conferences was titled (Re)Inventing the Future of English.  As I've taken time to reflect on the time in Boston with so many educators I respect and admire, I took some time to try to weave the numerous thought provoking snippets into a story:

To Me (Re)Inventing the Future of English Means:  

Collaborate beyond our classrooms:  Teaching no longer is about what happens within our walls, but instead about how we collaborate and learn with others beyond our classrooms and around the world.  This year I lived this as our six session presenters from a variety of locations worked across Google Hangouts, Google docs, and Twitter to plan and collaborate for this event.   I was so excited to finally meet Susan Dee and Mary Bellavance as we joined Karen Terlecky, Deb Frazier, and Katie Keier to share round table discussions:  Kidwatching in a Digital World.

Get connected:  The future of English requires that we connect with others to learn and grow in literacy.  At NCTE I was fortunate to meet many of the educators, authors, and literacy leaders who inspire me to learn and grow.  The Choice Literacy dinner, #nerdybookclub gathering, Stenhouse gathering, as well as moving from session to session gave me time to chat with countless colleagues I learn from each day.  We are fortunate to be able to bring authors right into our classroom, to learn alongside them at conferences, and to share their work with our students.  We are able to connect as educators to improve our practice, advocate for change, and push our profession to grow and change.  We can now connect our classrooms with other classrooms around the world.  The greatest highlight of NCTE for me was meeting and talking with educators I learn from across the year.  The significance of these connections is apparent in viewing the hashtag #ncte13.

Dig for meaning:  Stephanie Harvey, in a Doubling Down on Strategic Reading and Thinking with Anne Goudvis, Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris, reminded us, "We teach kids to think so they can acquire and use knowledge."  She added, "Complex text demands the reader's recognition and thoughtful consideration of many of facets of an idea, issue or problem."  Students now have opportunities to use a variety of resources to learn more about their world.  Jo Ellen McCarthy talked about providing students with an invitation to notice, resources to discover, and a notebook to use as a place to capture their thinking (Inquiry Notebooks with Marissa Moss and Erica Pecorale)

Allow time and choice for students to develop their reading/writing lives:  From the start of the conference when Jarrett Krosoczka, children's author, shared his beginning days as a reader/writer, speakers continually talked about the importance of finding time for students to develop their lives in literacy.

Be a reader and writer:  Some things remain consistent in the future of English.  One is that we, as educators, build our own reading and writing lives to more effectively help young learners in their journey.

Provide opportunities to compose in different ways using a variety of tools:  In (Re)Imagining Literacy Workshop in a Digital Age Bill Bass asked, "What does it mean to be literate in a time when things change constantly - when tools change constantly?"  He, Franki Sibberson, and Ann Marie Corgill reminded us that the ways we read, learn, collaborate, and share are constantly changing.  As teachers of English, we have to keep up with these changes and provide these opportunities for our young learners.

Audience and purpose matter:  In the above mentioned session, Franki Sibberson reminded us that these new possibilities "invite intentionality."

Utilize new ways to capture the journeys of learners:  New tools such as Evernote, EduCreations, Google docs, and VoiceThread allow us to (re)vision the way we collect the journeys of the learners in our classroom.  (See our Kidwatching in a Digital World Smore for links.)

Together we build forward:  In the tweets shared by attendees throughout NCTE 2013, educators celebrated the work of Donald Graves and shared the ways Lucy Calkins, Nancy Atwell and other educators have changed the work we do in our workshops.  As I synthesized these tweets I realized that "(re)-inventing the future" might also mean building up from the strong foundation built by the thoughtful work of other literacy educators.

Put children first:  As I listened to sessions sharing ways students now own the learning in our classrooms I wondered:  "What does it mean for us in the field of education as kids lead the learning in our classrooms?  How does it change our role as educators?"  Ann Marie Corgill (in Re-Imagining Literacy Workshop) reminded us, "Small voices need to be heard."  As educators we also have a responsibility to advocate for strong policy and practice.

Shared by Pernille Ripp in her recent post:
Why I Will Not Refuse to Give Standardized Tests
"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."  Martin Luther King, Jr.  
We need public education to strengthen our society and nurture young literacy learners.  Yes, schools should be places where students continue to grow.  As educators we can utilize opportunities to amplify the voices of our students and speak up for change.  As I listened in sessions I realized the changes are being made every day by the "persistent work of [the] dedicated individuals" who walk into their classrooms every day to make a difference.  I'm just thankful they are willing to share all they do so I can also make changes that matter.  Let's raise our words and (re)invent the future of English together.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Joy of Discovery: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I guess you could say it all started one day with a Spoon.

Sometimes it's so hard to just wait for students to discover something.  However, when the moment finally arrives and students authentically come to this new realization, discovery, or understanding it is all worth it!  Such was the case last week when I read Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (@missamykr) to my class to talk about the author's message.  My class loved this book in which poor Spoon just isn't happy with his life.  Knife and Fork have it so much better.  In the end, of course, Spoon decides maybe he does have it pretty good.  The conversation that followed was full of possibilities for what the author wanted us to know.  

When I saw how much they loved Spoon I knew I needed to share another book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  After lunch that day I decided to read Exclamation Mark.  I had been waiting for just the right moment to bring out this book and thought this might just be it.  I'm not joking when I say the kids actually broke out in applause as I closed that book.  I then said, "You know, Amy Krouse Rosenthal has written a few other books that we've read this year."  I reached near my easel and pulled out Yes Day.  My students loved this book when we read it earlier in the year.  What kid doesn't wish every day was Yes Day?  They applauded yet again.  I paused like I was really trying to think and added, "She also wrote the OK Book."  One of the students raced up to grab it.  The excitement was building as students tried to puzzle out what other books she might have written.  

"We should make a basket for her books," Paige quickly added.  The students all nodded in agreement.  "Let's see what else she has written," I said I as pulled up Shelfari and typed in her name.  At this point, I just couldn't keep up with them.  There were shouts of books we'd read that students were realizing had been written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  "She wrote Little Oink and Little Hoot," they chimed.  Then of course there were conversations of those we should definitely read.  We added a few "PLAN TO READ" titles to our shelf including:  Chopsticks (they'd seen Chopsticks in Spoon), It's Not Fair, Little Pea, and Wumbers.  

Had I just placed Amy Krouse Rosenthal's titles in our basket at the beginning of the year they likely still would have learned who she was as an author, but the joy behind this discovery and the excited conversation of our community has likely created an appreciation for Rosenthal's work that will stay with them.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

True Confessions: I Use Reading Logs **gasp**

Truth is: I use reading logs.  Honestly, "Do you use reading logs?", is not a question I want to have to answer yes or no to in conversation because we do record books, but I don't advocate a system that bogs down reading or makes it a chore to be done.  I teach first grade and writing is still a bit of work for the young learners in my classroom, but even if I taught 5th or 8th or 12th I would likely follow a similar system.

What has me thinking about reading logs?  This morning I ran across this tweet by Amy Rudd (@aruddteacher100) which took me to this article, Recording Your Reading History, from the DAILY CAFE.  It made me think once again about reading logs.  Is it something I do because I have done it?  Or is it something that students truly benefit from taking the time to do?

What Reading Logs Are Not
Often reading logs are required because we want to be sure students are reading X number of minutes, or completing X number of books, or writing about reading X number of days.  I hope students will read because they want to read.  I trust them to find the time.  I don't require students to painstakingly record the minutes they have read.  I don't require them to write about their reading so many times each week.  Honestly, if keeping our log was bothering someone I wouldn't even require them to use it.

In our first grade classroom, recording every book you read would be an overwhelming task.  Readers read a multitude of titles by the time we have been through our morning independently reading from  baskets of books on our tables, reading during time embedded within our reader's workshop, and the little minutes book lovers in my class manage to find across their day.  Being required to write about books would also be a little cumbersome for many emerging readers.

Reading Logs Are 
In our classroom I do ask students to record the title of the book they are taking home each evening.  I'll be honest, the primary purpose of this is to help us find books when they come up missing.  It makes it much easier for first graders to recall the title we are searching for if they know the title and our book recovery rate is near 100%.  Each day students record the date and title of the book.  They are sometimes asked to record their perceived difficulty of the book.  Space is left for a comment which is sometimes filled in by parents or students because they have something they want to share about the book, but may also be left unused.

Though the primary use for our log is to not lose books (I have to be able to keep my public library card), I've found it does provide other benefits even though it is so simply kept.  The log helps us locate books, but it also provides information for me at a glance about the kinds of reading students are doing at home.  Do students read particular genres?  Do they like to read certain authors?  Do they take home a variety of books?  Do they usually choose books that are helping them to grow as readers?  Do they like to pick the books we read together as a class?  Are they developing their own likes as readers?

Like waiting to open a present, the best part of the log really doesn't come until the very end of the year when I return them to students.  The expressions on their faces as they look back through some of the titles they have loved across the year is worth keeping them stored and organized until I can return them.  The conversation they have as they look through pages of titles they've recorded and begin to realize all of the books they've read is one full of excitement.  When we discuss what a small part of the reading they have done this log represents, they are even more amazed.  Some families enjoy writing comments about the books they've read together and love seeing these once again.  I'm quite sure these logs become keepsakes full of treasured memories.  As we are reminded by Joan and Gail, "By keeping track of the the books we read, we create a history of our journey as a reader."  Having the first steps of our journey as readers seems like time well spent.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stenhouse Blog Tour: Celebrating Writers with Ruth Ayres

"Celebration ought to wrap around many moments in writing workshop - not just the final product."                                  - Ruth Ayres 
Bring out the streamers.  Blow up the balloons.  Set out the party food.  Celebrate!  I feel like my blog needs to flash, throw confetti, and make sounds of cheers for this new - and much needed - book by Ruth Ayres:  Celebrating Writers:  From Possibilities Through Publication.  Schools need celebration.  Children should be celebrated.  Their stories should be captured and their "tiny steps toward a writing life (p. 4)" should be noticed and rejoiced.  In her book Ruth reminds us this doesn't always mean punch and cookies, but instead "Celebration is is so much more.  Celebration ought to wrap around many moments in writing workshop - not just the final product. (p.5)."

When Ruth Ayres visited Ohio in October I was so excited to hear about her new book.  She came to talk with the members of the Literacy Connections about celebrating young writers in our workshops.  Her talk was energizing, inspiring, and positive.  After listening to her speak I could hardly wait to get started reading it.  When I received my copy I couldn't put it down.  I was thrilled to be asked to join the Stenhouse blog tour for her new book:  Celebrating Writers.  No matter your grade level, if you are a teacher working alongside writers, you'll want to read this book.  Ruth's book had me taking notes and planning changes for our workshop - changes to bring joy into the time we work as writers.

Today I'm so excited to have Ruth stop by Reflect and Refine to answer a few questions about Celebrating Writers.

Me:  How does your work as a writer carry into the way you celebrate the work of young writers in classrooms?
Ruth:  It is this – writing myself—that has had the biggest impact on my craft of teaching. Even when working with preschool writers, my own writing life helps me be a better teacher. I understand the importance of individualizing the process, as well as the importance of having specific direction. It’s this balance of choice and structure that I’m able to provide because I write myself.

Me:  You share with readers how your thinking has changed about celebration, and talk about celebrating the small steps along the way. What do you try to notice and celebrate in the daily process of writing?
Ruth:  Risks. I try to notice and acknowledge the risk it takes to put words on the page. I’m always looking for what a writer is almost (but not quite doing). Then I celebrate this small thing. Recently, my seven year old son shared a story with me. He is an experienced second grade writer, but as I read his writing, I realized his capital letters were out of control. The only place he used them accurately and predictably was with proper nouns. Character names, towns, months, and street names were all capitalized in his writing. However, there were a lot of other capital letters loitering in the middle of sentences and the middle of words. They were also missing at the start of sentences. So we celebrated what he knew and I nudged him to expand his use of capitals. This is the perfect kind of daily celebration. Building on what you almost know is a great way to grow as a writer.

Me:  I’ve always wanted to take the steps to teach primary writers how to confer with one another. In your book you share many suggestions for creating partnerships and helping students learn to give helpful feedback. What considerations or suggestions do you have for those working with youngest of writers to create meaningful partnerships?
Ruth:  This is a great question. I’ve spent a lot of time working with a kindergarten and first grade teacher in supporting their students to build strong partnerships. We do our best to make the process concrete. One way we do this is with checklists. The check list shows a picture of each of the steps. We start simple with these four steps:
  1. Sit side-by-side so both people can read the book.
  2. Read the book aloud.
  3. Make sure the book is finished with words and illustrations on every page.
  4. Tell your writing buddy something you value about the book.
Then we add things like this:
  • Touch the main topic on each page. Is it the same for the entire book?
  • Check that the words and illustrations both help tell the story.
  • Look for Word Wall words.
  • Help your writing buddy think of something to do next as a writer.
By making the work of partnerships concrete, we’ve found our youngest writers are often the best writing buddies.

Me:  What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Ruth:  I hope they feel energy for writing workshop and are inspired to teach with joy and purpose.

Other blog tour stops:
November 11th:  A Year of Reading
November 12th:  Kate Messner's Blog
November 13th:  HERE!
November 14th:  Read, Write, Reflect
November 15th:  Nerdy Book Club 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Classroom Twitter Accounts? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Personally, I know the benefits of learning with a larger community which consists of many different types of experts, causes you to think and rethink your understandings, and which supports your next steps.  After listening to Sheryl Nussbaum Beach speak at our Ohio Innovative Learning Conference I knew I needed to make a commitment to connecting students to learners from a variety of places.    However, I hadn't really opened my door completely to this type of connecting for our classroom.  Last year, I started a class Twitter account, but used it in a very limited way.  Our lack of access at our school created logistic challenges and also made it hard to make these connections authentic.

This year I committed to connecting our classroom and it has really pushed the learning in our community.  Our classroom Twitter page, @snowleopards1M, has been busy this year.   During our morning and afternoon meetings, as well as across our day.

Here are just some of the benefits:

Connecting with Parents:  Our Twitter account allows me to share links to news updates, Shelfari changes, important dates and reminders with parents.  Best of all, it allows me to share work children are doing across the day with parents.

Share events and information with parents.

Share learning.

Sharing Our Learning:  Twitter has been the perfect place to share quotes from students, stories written during writer's workshop, solving during math and much more across our day with classrooms around the world.

Connecting with the World:  Through Twitter we have been able to connect to other classrooms in events and conversations.  These extended conversations grow our thinking and extend our learning as we work to connect new ideas to our learning, rethink our ideas based upon new learning, and share in common conversations.  We have joined the Global Read Aloud, #DotDay, participated in math conversations, and shared in learning experiences.

Global Read Aloud:  Eric Carle


Math Collaborative Conversations

Connecting with Classrooms in Our Building:  Students are inspired by the learning taking place in their friends' classrooms.  They are interested in the stories they share, the work they are doing as mathematicians, and the learning they share across the day.

Learning about Current Events:  We follow Wonderopolis, Time for Kids, National Geographic Kids,  Sports Illustrated Kids and local places such as our zoo to keep on current events.  This week we were excited to learn about a new baby kangaroo born at The Columbus Zoo.  We had just read about how small baby kangaroos were in the book Why?  by Lila Prap.  Imagine our excitement to find this tweet:

Following Favorite Authors:  Kudos to the many authors who share their lives, tweet about writing, and respond to classrooms on Twitter.  We follow a variety of authors students love including Peter Reynolds, Louise Borden, Todd Parr, Loren Long Ame Dyckman, and Lynn Plourde.

Classrooms to Follow
I'm still learning to use Twitter in the classroom.  There are a few accounts that really help me to think more about ways to use Twitter with my students and push the learning in our classroom:

Mrs. Wideen's Class:  @Mrs.WideensClass tweets much of their learning.   Following this class gives me ideas for using images in my tweets, ways to show learning, applications to consider for use, and so much more.  Additionally, Mrs. Wideen's Class will post questions they are studying.  My students like to think about these too.

Mrs. Cassidy's Class:  @mscassidysclass shares a lot of their learning too.  I find many conversations we can link to our learning here.

First Grade:  @frazier1st is right across the hall from us, but we continually learn from their tweets.  This class works collaboratively with classrooms around the globe.  They share their learning in a variety of ways across the day.

Ms. DeGroot's Class:  @mrsdegrootclass shares much of their learning too.  One of the things I like is that this class often asks questions or shares work to start a conversation.  Like this:

Ms. Jill's Crew:  @msjillscrew has done a lot of collaborative study comparing where they live with classrooms in other places.  I've enjoyed following these conversations and will be using some of her ideas for using Twitter as we move into our life science and global study learning.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Scary? Not Really

Every year students seem to find a new twist in books they’re interested to read in the classroom.  Last year was no exception as my class fell in love with books that seem scary, but really aren’t.  As our calendar turns to October it seems the perfect time to bring these books out again and see if this class feels the same way about them.

These books led to interesting writing, sincere conversations about things that scare us, discussions about bravery, and of course more books that seem scary. I think students will love these books to read and reread as well as use as mentors for writing.

My Current Top Ten Favorites
Stop by the Scary? Not Really Pinterest board to view my growing list of titles.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket (author) and Jon Glassen (illustrator)

Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta (author) and Ed Young (illustrator)

Open Very Carefully:  A Book with a Bite by Nick Bromley (author) and Nicola O’Byrne (illustrator)

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll (author) and Howard McWilliam (illustrator)

The Spooky Box by Mark Gonyea

Do Not Open This Book! by Joy Cowley (author) and David Lund (illustrator)

A Beasty Story by Bill Martin Jr. (author) and Steven Kellogg (illustrator)

What’s Under the Bed by Joe Fenton

Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rossof (author) and Sophie Blackall (illustrator)

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds (author) and Peter Brown (illustrator)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Shelfari: Curating Our Love of Books

Our class shelf on Shelfari is already up and running.  I began the year adding books we had read together across the day to our shelf during our afternoon meeting.  My first graders were hooked from the beginning.  When we started our shelf they wouldn't let me end a day without adding our books.  It wasn't long until we realized we needed someone to be in charge of our Shelfari shelf each week so it is now a job in our classroom.  Each morning our Shelfari friend adds the books we read together the previous day so we can share them with the world.

Families love seeing the books we are reading.  It gives parents something to talk about when students get home from school, helps them find books at the library, and can be a resource when finding that perfect book for a gift.  I've gotten many comments from families so I wasn't surprised when my students, with the help of their parents, started their own Shelfari shelves.  

Our Shelf

Why I Love Shelfari
  1. It's Visual:  Students can easily see the books being read in our classroom.  The book covers on the shelf help young readers to easily recognize titles and books.  
  2. Curation:  Shelfari allows us to collect titles we have read and share them with others. 
  3. We Can Connect:  Shelfari allows us to follow other classrooms and find friends.  We can view their bookshelves and place books we'd like to read on our "plan to read" shelf.
  4. Knowing Readers:  When students and their families start their own shelves I learn a lot about the books they enjoy reading.  This can help me in the classroom with instruction and often requires me to rethink the books in my classroom library.  
  5. Energizing:  Shelfari energizes readers and our workshop.  
  6. Room to Grow:  As we move along in our year we will be able to rate and review books together.

Generating Interest
  1. Twitter:  I often tweet book shelves on our class Twitter account so families can take a look at updates or see new families joining the conversation.  
  2. Class News:  I try to update information from shelves on our class news page to generate interest.
  3. Borrowing Books:  All four of our first grade classes have Shelfari shelves and we often borrow books we noticed on shelves from one another to build interest.  
  4. Mystery Shelf:  Several times each week I project a "mystery shelf" on the large screen in our classroom.  Students try to guess who the shelf belongs to before I show them.  We can then discuss what we know about the person (or group) as a reader.
There are other possibilities for curating books with your classroom including Goodreads and Biblionasium, but I really like the ease and visual appeal of Shelfari.  

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Literacy Connection: Celebrating with Ruth Ayres

"It's a journey we are on.  We are always taking steps, backing up, starting again."  Ruth Ayres

Celebrate!  It's a word one can easily get behind.  Ruth Ayres came to Central Ohio's Literacy Connection to share her thinking about celebrations in writing.  (My "Celebrations" Storify collection of tweets is here.)  Ruth reminded us that celebration is the very thing that ties us all together.  In her example, she talked about the stitches on a quilt.  These stitches keep the quilt together much like celebrations hold the work we do as writers together.  Ruth shared five important messages about celebration:

  • The writer is more important than the writing.
  • Writers celebrate throughout the process.
  • Learning, growing writers are the goal.
  • Personalize writing process is important to writers.
  • Everyone has a story to share.  

Celebrating Process
It seems that one of the advantages of celebration is the opportunity for implicit teaching.  In these early days of workshop it is not possible to "teach" everything young writers need to know.  However, if we celebrate the small steps of writers, students may begin to see the way authors work.  This is also helpful as writers don't always have the same process, and young writers need to know this.

Ruth reminded us to "honor growth" by finding the little steps along the way.  She asked, how do we honor the growth of writers in different parts of their journey?  When you have two pieces of writing sitting side by side from two writers in very different parts of their journey, how do we honor each?  This really made me pause to remember to not just celebrate the writing that matches the strategies we are learning or the pieces that look just like first grade pieces should, but also to honor and celebrate the next steps of writers in earlier stages of their journey.

Most of all, celebrations help us to shift our thinking toward what children can do.  Celebrations help us to look at next steps and begin to see the places where young writers are trying to step into new understandings.

Ruth talked a lot about partnerships.  As I listened I realized much of her thinking about partnerships also is true about our time sharing and talking about our writing.  For me, share time is essential to our workshop.  There isn't a day that we do not take time to share at the end of our work together.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful places to create a common language about writing, to share next steps, to learn to work like a writer.  However, it is also the part of the workshop that I struggle to improve.  How do I help students to give other writers supportive feedback?  How do we move beyond "I like" language to "I noticed you..." language?  How does ownership remain with the community and not just through my orchestration of this time together?

Share Should (adapted for share from Ruth's thinking about partnerships):

  • Give specific feedback 
  • There's energy there 
  • They lift each other up
  • The writing being lifted up 

Students need to know, "We are a community that talks about this.."  I'm thinking this focus on celebrating writing may help to make these changes.

Ways We Currently Celebrate
Listening to Ruth I realized I do more celebrating of product than process.  (Yes, surprised me a bit.)

Changing Celebrations
These are a few ways I want to change celebrations so they are more about steps in the process.  

  • Celebrating Writers:  celebration the steps of all writers --- moving beyond steps of first grade writers to steps of each writer across the process.
  • Graffiti Wall:  Stella suggested a wall where great lines and words from student writers are collected
  • Tweeting Writing Process Tips:  taking words of student writers as we confer and tweeting their smart thinking about the writing the process
  • Celebrating Self:  not really sure how this goes exactly, but Louise Borden reminded me that writers celebrate their own small steps in lots of ways.  How can I help students to find their own celebrations?  

How do you CELEBRATE young writers?  

Thanks to Ruth Ayres for an inspiring and energizing day of learning.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Finding the Power of Twitter

Recently I had lunch with a friend who asked, "How do you manage Twitter?  How do you keep up?" I hear this question a lot from people who have a hard time understanding what everyone loves about Twitter.  I'm sure when people ask me the question they are really asking, "Why are you so crazy?"

Twitter takes time to learn and love.  I'd consider myself a Twitter addict but, even though I love it, I find it hard to get back into the flow after being away for a few weeks.  It takes time to get back into the conversations.

Twitter Threads
Twitter runs in threads, but the threads are all intermixed.  When I first started using Twitter I worked hard to find the threads.  I made Twitter lists of people who often tweet about the same topics.  When viewing your Twitter feed it is not uncommon to have a tweet about literacy beside a tweet about technology under a news tweet.  You know what I mean.

Grouping like accounts under a topic and then reading in a list view can help conversations to connect a bit more.  I also learned to use the "conversation button."  This button lets me view a tweet and the other tweets in the conversation.  Twitter has also started using a blue line to show you conversation connections.  I'm not sure what I think of this yet, but it all helps tweets to make a bit more sense.

Managing Twitter
How do I keep up with Twitter?  I really don't.  I doubt anyone truly does.  There's too much happening and I just don't let myself worry about it.  I catch what I can and know that if something is truly amazing it will come back through the feed again.  It always does.

Here are a few tips that help me love Twitter:
  • Make Twitter lists.  This helps you manage your feed.  When I'm really busy I just go to the lists I know I don't want to miss.  (You can also follow the lists other people create.)
  • Take advantage of wait time.  I spend a lot of time waiting.  Waiting at games.  Waiting in lines.  Waiting for kids after events.  Wait time is the perfect time to check Twitter.  
  • Follow hashtags.  More and more I find myself following hashtag conversations.  These are usually groups of people interested in a common topic.  You can view the conversation whether you are following everyone or not.  Some of my favorite hashtags right now are:  #poetryfriday #1stchat - there's #2ndchat #4thchat...etc. - #edchat #PublicEd #nerdybookclub #slice2013 #rechat.
  • Make your own conversations.  Remember Twitter is about learning.  You will enjoy it more if you comment on tweets people share, if you start conversations, if you ask questions, if you interact with others.  
  • Don't let Twitter own you.  Don't worry if you don't get there every night.  Don't worry if you have missed hundreds of tweets.  There will be plenty more amazing conversations.  
What do you love about Twitter?  What tips do you have for managing it?  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Using Evernote for Forms and Templates

You know I could go on and on about my love for Evernote.  Evernote has made keeping records and staying organized so much easier for me.  It's the best thing that has happened to my personal organization since I forced myself to get rid of my teacher's desk many many years ago. (I've been collecting helpful Evernote articles here.  Evernote:  Capturing Student Learning Journeys)

Thankfully, there are many colleagues working with Evernote now so I'm constantly rethinking its use and learning new tricks.  It seems the eternal question for Evernote comes back to using forms.  How can you make a form in Evernote?  Well, as far as I've been able to figure out in conversations with other Evernote users, you just can't.  Typically I prefer a blank piece of paper to a form anyway as I can shape the note in the way that works for my message, but there are times when a form might just be the perfect thing.  For those times, here are a few possibilities.

Using Forms
Here are a few ways I've learned to create forms and organize with Evernote:

Checklists:  If you can make a check list work, Evernote will allow you to create one inside a note.  This is the only way I have discovered to make a form directly in Evernote.  (Well, you can also make a note with set questions and use it as a template.)  I just create the checklist template and then copy it into individual notes for students.

Google Forms:  I have found Google Forms to be my favorite "go to" form creator.  I can easily create forms for parents, for conferring with students, and for recording data in a user friendly format.  Google Forms will take my information and place it in a spreadsheet where I can move it around and work with it.  Here a quick how-to by Susan Dee.

I typically create a form and then insert the form link into Evernote.  Then as I move around the classroom I can easily click into the form to add information.  After the form is complete I go to the created spreadsheet, highlight important parts of the information, sort it if needed, and then take a screenshot of the completed spreadsheet.  I then place the screenshot in Evernote with appropriate tags.  Often I add it into the note with the original form link.  I'm then able to click on the note during the day directly in Evernote without leaving to go to my Google drive.

Ghostwriter Notes:  Ghostwriter Notes is another app I use for using forms with Evernote.  Ghostwriter allows you to create different types of notebooks for recording information.  With Ghostwriter you can choose your own paper for you notes or use custom paper you create.  When using Ghostwrite I create a note in Word and then take a picture of it.  I then insert this picture as custom paper.  After I have the paper created I can type or write on the notes.  As you turn the page a new page is created and dated.  When finished with the note you can send it to Evernote using your Evernote email account address which is located in the setting of your account.  Ghostwriter pages can be emailed to parents and other collaborators in one easy click.

Noteshelf:  Noteshelf works almost exactly like Ghostwriter, but it allows you to use tags on each page.  This would make Noteshelf a better choice if you wanted to just keep your forms in a notebook without sending them to Evernote.  I find Noteshelf to work with a little more ease than Ghostwriter as Ghostwriter has its glitchy days (though I don't find them enough to keep me from using it).  I also prefer the pen selection in Noteshelf to that of Ghostwriter.  While Noteshelf allows you to create notebooks, make custom paper, and use tags, emailing from Noteshelf to your Evernote account requires a few more clicks.

KustomNote:  Katherine Sokolowski wrote at Read, Write, Reflect about KustomNote in Stumbling Through Evernote.  I had a hard time using KustomNote, but it does allow you to create forms and may work better for others.

If you have solutions to the eternal Evernote form question, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Getting Started with Reader's Workshop

Shaping a Reading Community
The calendar turned to August and in a snap my mind began racing with thinking about school.  I’ve started making lists of things to do, items to purchase, arrangements to consider, ideas for learning, books to request, and ways to grow our learning community.  This part of the year always finds me a bit uneasy.  Though I am excited, I always worry a bit too.  Will our classroom become a place where students feel safe, are willing to take risks, and are interested in the learning taking place.  Will my new students be eager to be at school every day?  Will this group of first graders be able to grow a community that supports one another in learning?  Will I be able to help them to grow as readers and learners?

Last year, as March and April rolled around, I remember moments of looking at our learning community during Reader’s Workshop and smiling with pride.  I could have walked out of the classroom and students wouldn’t have noticed.  There were students engaged in a variety of types of learning.  I noticed a small group working together on a study of pets.  They had books collected on their tables, notebooks out, and were reading to discover the answers to questions they had asked.  There was a group circled on the floor with a collection of planet books talking about discoveries.  There were students blogging about book favorites on the computer.  There were pairs reading together, individuals snuggled in spots with a good book, and a variety of books being read in the classroom.  They had come to rely on one another.  The quiet hum of thinking, learning, reading, and collaborating could be heard around the room.  

Now it is August.  Uneasiness settles in as I wonder, how do I get back there?  Will we be able to accomplish this as a new community?  How will we determine the way we organize our library, the way we use our time, the volume we are comfortable with during the workshop?  How will we create a common language to use to talk about books and share our thinking?  Will we be able to learn to listen to one another, consider the ideas being shared, and add to them or even disagree politely with them?   

Getting Started
When making decisions about setting up our workshop and planning our first days together I try to step back to think about my beliefs about reading instruction.  What do we need to thrive as reading community?  What do young readers need to own their learning?  I want to start our workshop on the very first day of school.  I want students to know Reader’s Workshop is a place where we read books and my hope is they will look forward to this time each and every day.  As I get the room ready I try to think about:
  • Time:  Readers will need plenty of time to enjoy books independently.  I try to be especially mindful of students receiving support in reading as often they end up with the least amount of time to enjoy books, yet they need the most.  Time reading provides authentic opportunities to use new strategies and come to greater understanding.  
  • Choice:  The choice of books, reading goals, and ways to share thinking should belong to my readers.  Introducing possibilities, keeping an eye on new discoveries made by students, focus lessons and community conversations about developing our reading lives will help to grow the choices readers make during our workshop.  
  • Space:  The classroom should have a variety of types of spaces for readers.  As I look around my room, I hope to create spaces for whole group conversations, small groups working together, pairs reading together, as well as individuals who prefer a little nook to quietly curl into as they read.  I also want to consider the location of books, tools, and technology for readers.  
  • Strong Library:  Across the year our library will grow and change as it is shaped by the reading lives of the students in our classroom.  I like our library to surround us as we work together across the day.  I consider the placement of books, wanting to have books within reach no matter where students choose to sit during Reader’s Workshop.  Books will rest across the main shelves of our library, but they will also sit on our math tool shelves, near the reading nook created, on tables, in the center of the classroom, near our wonder area, and anywhere I think I can squeeze a few baskets.  
  • Conversation:  Each year, our community seems to have readers who like the room quiet, readers who love to laugh over books with friends, and readers who like to think in small groups about topics of study.  This can be tricky to balance in small spaces and will be shaped in conversations across our first days.  However, I know I want to provide time, space, and opportunity for readers to talk about books.  For many, conversation and social interaction will be what brings them into books.  

First Steps
What will the first days of our workshop look like?  During the first days I will try to be mindful of the choices readers are making, notice the smart decisions they are making, consider the books they seem to revisit, and have conversations to discover who they are as readers.  In the first weeks I’ll try to consider where we are, but also keep an eye toward where we are going.  

First Days
Moving Toward
Reader’s Workshop is a place where we read books.
Reader’s Workshop is a place where
we read books, share our thinking,
and discover new learning.  
Discover who we are as readers.  
Grow our reading lives.  
We talk about books.  
We grow our thinking by talking, writing,
and creating new understandings
with books.  
Books to begin our workshop.  
Growing our library to support our
reading lives and topics of study.  
Discovering new genres, authors,
and topics of interest.  
My responsibility as a reader.  
Student responsibility for the other
readers in our classroom.  
Reading with partners.  
Talking and growing our
thinking with learning partnerships.  
Having a plan for Reader’s Workshop.
Setting goals for growing as a reader.  

Getting Ready
Somehow the gathering of a few baskets of popular book collections to place around the room starts to put me at ease.  I try to think of collections I think students may have enjoyed in kindergarten, as well as books to help us with beginning community conversations.  Baskets of picture books about vehicles, pets, friends, reading, numbers, as well as song books are some of the collections I have started.  I only want enough books to get us started.  There are many empty baskets filling the shelves too.  This new community will decide what we need to add to the shelves that surround us.  I’ve requested many new titles from the library, created Evernote folders to document the reading journeys of these new young learners, and started to plan the structures to support our learning as the year begins.  I’m feeling a little better now.  I remind myself to trust the process and the new students who will soon share this space with me.  I’m looking forward to beginning a new journey.