Saturday, December 20, 2014

Poetry Inspiration

Naomi Shihab Nye!!

Click HERE to hear her recite a poem which is just a collection of things her son said.

She reminds us to LIVE LIKE A POET, always looking and listening for the words because
she reminds us that "we are ALL poets when we are little. Some of us just try to keep up the habit."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

NCTE CONFERENCE - my first but not my last!!

What an amazing weekend! I am fortunate to live in the Washington Metropolitan area so it was very easy to attend the NCTE conference as it was held nearby at the Gaylord at Harbor Place, 20 minutes from my house. My main draw was to go hear Ellin Keene speak on Saturday at 9:30am. I met Ellin when my daughter Bridgit began college. Bridgit became best friends with her hall mate, Elizabeth Keene, on the first day of college at Barnard. Once I met Elizabeth's mom, Ellin, at Parent's Weekend, we became friends, both around being Barnard moms and both around our love of literacy.

So as I drove very early to the Gaylord on Saturday morning, I had ONE brilliant person to see. Who knew the two days would be FILLED with such rich discussion by so many brilliant educators around my favorite topic - strong literacy instruction.

Some of my take-aways (in order of hearing them!):
LUCY CALKINS with Amanda and Alex: After hearing Lucy's description of what is involved on a conference, I realize I need to work on my conferences. I know the architecture of a conference but I am NOT doing it. Lucy reminded me of  the WHY of conferring and the HOW of conferring. Now I just need to NOT just plan the daily mini-lesson but to also plan my daily/weekly conferences!

ELLIN with Linda Hoyt and Seymore Simon:
Ellin pondered why curious kinders seem to lose their natural curiosity as they continue in school. She questioned who is in charge of the engagement? She had us think of a time when we were so engaged and motivated to learn. She reminded us that this feeling is what we want for our students. She suggested that when the following is present, we are engaged, will stay curious and are motivated to learn:
* intellectual urgency - we have a topic we MUST know about
*emotional commitment - we have a topic we care about and want our heart, as well as, our mind to know more about it
* perspective bending - we have a topic that changes our mind
* aesthetics - we have a topic where we can find a deep sense of beauty

Both Ellin and Linda Hoyt suggested reading this book:
so I did and then I went to hear him speak. He presented with a HS teacher who suggested that the oldest way of reading was the reading of animal tracks. She showed us a photo she took that looked like raccoon tracks in the snow. She simply asked us: WHAT DO YOU SEE HERE? and WHAT IS IT TELLING YOU? She shared how it is these 2 simple questions that guides her students to find patterns, motifs, images, and surprising details so they can comprehend any reading passage.

MARY EHRENHERT, Vicki Vinton and Katherine Boomer
Mary is the master of having her audience "read" videos. She had us watch three different New York City Public Service Announcements. She told us to come to this text with the understanding that it is about more than one thing. We need to read nonfiction closely. We need to talk back to it. We need to not be victims of nonfiction but actively analyze it, aware that a hidden agenda could be present. Mary reminded us that we don't teach kids how to read nonfiction to pass a test. We teach them how to read nonfiction for the lives they will live.

KRISTI and MARGORIE with Zoe - Chartchum ladies!!
Kristi is an amazing presenter! I will admit that I thought of charts as the cute thing to make. Kristi presented it as a way to organize information for thinkers who solve problems. So when a problem arises in a classroom, a routine chart can be created to solve the problem. To help kids be flexible and realize they can try many ways to solve a problem, a repertoire chart can be co-constructred. Now the flexible thinker can see his choices. Thinkers also need to be strategic, so step-by-step charts can be made. Thinkers also look to mentors and models for examples so exemplar charts are made. I get it NOW!! Charts are NOT just information. Charts are thinking. Charts give us the tools to overcome. Charts are tools to make us feel independent and powerful!! (Personally, I need to work on how I use charts. So glad I could be reminded by the chartchum ladies today!!)

RALPH FLETCHER skyping with two teachers
WOW!! What a great last session!! A teacher in Alaska and a teacher in Boston used kidblog to match each kid up with a student in the others class. Both classes were reading aloud Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher. Then one class created questions around chapters 1-4 of the book and the other around chapters 5-8. The students were tasked with writing a friendly letter to their partner and respond to the posted questions. The blog posting shared were amazing! One teacher said he reminded the kids that "their words were their face so be sure to represent yourself well in writing." The teachers checked the letters and would not send it until it was following all the expected written conventions of 4th grade. I was amazed at the exchanges around a shared book. Then to skype with Ralph was just icing on the cake!! My daughter is working in a school in France right now. I think I want to try something like this with her school. In preparation, I am going to investigate kidblog and The Bread Loaf Teacher Network, two resources used by these two teachers.

Thank you NCTE for coming to The Gaylord!! I can't promise I'll attend next year in Minnesota (seems  far away and cold!) but I WILL attend again and I'm so glad I attended this year!!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Take-Aways - TCRWP's 10-18-14 Saturday Reunion

My Take-Aways
from the October 18, 2014 TCRWP Saturday Reunion

Since the next unit of study I’ll be teaching with my 5th graders is Research-based Argument Essay, I attended the Keynote by Kelly Boland Hohne, “Debate Can Engine Higher Level Thinking and Reading.” Then Lucy’s talk, “From Boot Camp to Revision: An Overview of a Unit on Essay Writing.” Then a talk by Meghan Hargrave, “Structure, Elaboration, and Analysis are New Ambitions: Raising the Stakes for Fourth and Fifth Grade Opinion Writers. What a perfect set of talks to get me fired up and prepared to teach this next unit of study well!

·      Lucy explained the WHY behind the boot camp model and it makes perfect sense to me to spend two days guiding the class to write an essay together so they see right from the start the structure of an essay. I like ________ because of _____, because of ________. And most of all, because of ________.
·      She explained how to develop each reason by either telling a small story, writing a list divided into subcategories, or asking and answering a question.
·      Once the class together has written in the air, an essay (our topic was I like ice cream), then she said to have the class flash draft the essay.
·      Now the teacher can read the flash drafts and see who gets this structure. She suggested looking to see if it is divided into paragraphs and if each section is a separate paragraph and if each paragraph has a topic sentence. If not, this can be taught on Day 2. Also on Day 2, she said an elaboration lesson can be shared using prompts to get the essayists to write more.
o   Elaboration Prompts – In other words, I realize that, This is important because, For example, This shows, Some people might think __ but I think, Therefore, from this day forward…

Lucy also noted that essay writing can be practiced by having a debate which Kelly Boland Hohne demonstrated so well during her keynote. She suggested an easy way to get debate going in your classroom is to embed a few specific prompts into the regular read-aloud. She shared 2 kinds -  prompts to argue about a text and prompts to argue inside the text. She demonstrated using the picture book, Fox by Margaret Wild.

Debates we had:
1.     She stopped at the part when Magpie is about to tell Dog why not to trust Fox and she said, “It seems Dog and Magpie are about to have an argument. Partner 1, you be Magpie. Partner 2, you be Dog. Now have that argument. Be the character and talk as the character. Role play it now!
2.     She stopped at the part when Magpie leaves Dog and goes with Fox. She asked: Who is responsible for Magpie leaving Dog. Partner 1 – I take the position that Magpie is responsible. Here’s why. Partner 2 – I take the position that Fox is more responsible. Here’s why.
3.     She also suggested that another debate could be the internal argument that Magpie was having. Partner 1 – I should stay with dog. Partner 2 – I should really go with fox.

Then Kelly said, “We needed to put this work into kids’ hands because teachers can’t be the keeper of the questions.” We tried this with the Spring chapter in Frog and Toad!

In her teacher voice she said, “I shouldn’t be the only ones to ask questions. Today let’s have an inquiry read-aloud. As you listen, think about WHAT COULD WE DEBATE? A tip is that debates related to a text usually happen when: the reader has a wondering, the reader notices different emotions, and when something is upset in the text. As I read, be thinking: WHAT’S THE QUESTION I REALLY WANT TO ARGUE? Once done, ask for questions and chart them. Pick one and have the debate. If it is messy and doesn’t go so well, reflect as a class on that. Why didn’t this question work well? What makes for a good question? Try it again and again, all year long!!

She gave us a handout of an anchor chart:
·      Is this character strong or weak?
·      Should the character have made that choice or not?
·      The story teachers us ____ or ____?
·      Which character is more to blame?
·      Did the ___ represent __ or ___?

She ended by saying: Debate is not a thing. Debate is a culture. It is a way to be critical. We want to encourage kids to ASK, to ARGUE as a way of being!

Clearly these two talks have me fired up to get my 5th graders debating and writing argument essays. Then I heard Meghan Hargrave talk. She described her ideas as the next layer to Lucy’s Boot Camp talk, a way to take opinion writing to the next level.

She grew Lucy’s boxes and bullets structure :

(Thesis statement) because (reason 1), (reason 2), and most of all, because (reason 3).
·      One reason that (thesis statement) is that (reason 1). For example (evidence a), (evidence b) and (evidence c).
·      Another reason that (thesis statement) is that (reason 2). For example (evidence a), (evidence b) and (evidence c).
·      The most important reason that (thesis statement) is that (reason 3). For example (evidence a), (evidence b) and (evidence c).

She suggested, like Lucy, to start the unit off with explicitly saying, “Here’s how to write an essay. Fill it all in! The teacher can use it during conferring time to remind kids who are having trouble with the structure.

She suggested making the structure tactile – use index cards. Write down the big idea and the bullets. Move them around. Add transition word cards. Play around with it to get the essay in the order that works.

She suggested that instead of having a long list of transition words, group them:
Words that give example -  for example, another, for instance, also, as you can see
Words that connect – also, and, in addition
Words that analyze evidence – this shows, the important thing is, so
Words that make evidence seem stronger – specifically, more than, in particular, exactly

She shared how in narrative, writers stretch out the heart of the story. This same idea can be done by essay writers. She showed an anchor chart that read: Bring out the heart of the essay. ASK Why does this matter? Why am I choosing to write about THIS topic? What do I want readers to think, feel, and know?

To Elaborate, she also suggested using prompts to push writers’ thinking. The prompts are language that gets writers to say more. She suggested charting the kinds of evidence: mini-story, facts, statistics, definitions, quote from a source. When a student lacks evidence, ask them to reread and see WHERE one of these could be added. She also showed how to use the Gr 6-8 Technique and Goal Picture Cards that were shared with me this summer and that are in the 6-8 Units of Study for Teaching Writing kits.
Ex) The writer’s goal is to elaborate. What will they do? They can back up each reason with evidence. HOW? I will include ____ (use the picture cards). Now a very clear goal is written and pictured for the essay writer!

Finally she shared some moves to help writers analyze. When a writer has picked evidence, ask them SO WHAT? And have them talk/write back to answer it. This talking back is the analysis. How do you know?
What do you mean? What makes this quote/fact/mini-story/etc so important?

Now I feel more than ready to guide my 5th graders to write a research-based argument essay!!

I also listen to Mary Ehrenworth speak about ways to teach grammar.
And Emily Smith speak about goal setting, checklists and Feedback.
And I got inspired by Carl Anderson’s final keynote.

WHAT an amazing Saturday of learning!
I’m so looking forward to going to work tomorrow and using all the great ideas I heard as I teach this year.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Writing Poem

Yesterday, two amazing 7th graders visited and assisted me in my writing classroom. Their school district had the day off from school and they chose to spend the day with me. We had met as a "writing club"over the summer a few times and I was happy to have them visit.

They really made my day when they presented me with a gift to thank me for spending time with them. Along with a journal, a gorgeous handmade card and a B&N gift card, they presented me with this amazing poem:

If there's one thing that's true about writing
It's the simple fact that it's hard.
To come up with an idea,
And write it down,
And keep persevering
Through ups and through downs
To revise and edit
And edit some more,
It stops being fun 
And ends up a chore.
But if you have a lot of time,
And a natural tendency
To phrase and write and rhyme
And a big old computer
And a whole lot of ink,
This should be enough.
It should, don't you think?
But wait a second,
You can't start just yet,
You need something more - the most important
But the hardest to get.
A mentor to help you
Through bad times and good,
To compliment or critique you
For what you shouldn't do and should,
To recommend resources
To help you on your way...
Thank you, Mrs. Donnelly,
For being this every day.

written by Caitlin
Grade 7, McLean, VA

As I reread this poem, I thought how I am only able to help Caitlin and other students to write because TCRWP became MY MENTOR when I attended my first Writing Institute during the Summer of 2008. In 18 days I'll be back in NYC to attend their October Reunion Saturday and I can't wait to learn even more from the smartest writing teachers ever. 

Thank you, TCRWP,
For being this, my mentor, every day.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 National Book Festival Highlights

As I headed to the new inside venue for the National Book Festival on Saturday, I knew I was there when I saw this very large sign on the side of the Convention Center in DC!!

Here are some of my highlight:
KATE DICAMILLA: Her tips for budding-authors include spending lots of time reading, making a deal about how to do the work of a writer (for her, the deal was to write 2 pages a day), and to pay attention to everything. Notice the world and write down what you see in a notebook.

BILLY COLLINS: I knew Billy Collins was our Nations Poet Laureate and I thought he mostly wrote for adults so I went to listen to him in the Children's Room and found out he has a children's picture book! A panel of people spoke  - Billy, the head of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, the illustrator and the book publishers. It was explained that on the 25th Anniversary of the Center for the Book, Billy wrote an 18 line poem about a boy, a boat, and a book. Then it was suggested that this poem should be a picture book. Now it is, called Voyage! The poem points out the magic of transformation that occurs when we read. Billy reminded us that Emily DIckenson said it best: "There is no frigate like a book." If you don't know Billy Collins' work, I recommend his TED talk. I also love his poem about turning 70, called Cheerios.

Rita Williams-Garcia: She is known for her HF YA novel called One Crazy Summer. She started out by saying she learned at an early age the importance of letters because her mom sang her the ABCs in such a way that the letters seems to jump. Tanks to illustrators, she could "read" books at age 2. During her childhood, she loved making up stories. She would write 500 words/day and pay her older sister $.25 to use the typewriter to type up her stories. "It never occurred to me to become an author - I was one! she said she thought growing up. Her newest novel, Gone Crazy comes out in October.

Jack Gantos - I learned SO much from him!! He handwrites all his stories. He spends lots of time sketching out the places where his stories occur and then writes about what he sketches. After hearing him speak, I really want to read his Joey series.

Tim Tingle - I learned SO much from this author, as well! He is a Choctaw Indian and a storyteller. He now devotes his time to gathering Indian stories and sharing them. I bought 2 of his books: How I Became a Ghost and Walking the Choctaw Road. He said the two things you need to be an author are 1) to READ lots and 2) to know Shakespeare! (He reminded me that I really need to spend time reading and understanding Shakespeare because I never really have done this). He ended by saying you can tell a person traveling is a book lover if they have 2 books with them - the one they are reading and one to read when that is done - because their worst nightmare is to not have a book to read!

Jacqueline Woodson - I had pre-ordered Brown Girl Dreamer and it arrived at my house on Thursday and I finished it Friday night and brought it to see if she'd sign it. She was sitting 3 rows in front of me just before starting her talk so I went and asked and she kindly signed the book for me saving me from waiting in line! She explained that after her grandmother dies and then her mother died suddenly after that, she wanted to write a memoir. She felt there would be a point where there would be no one to ask about earlier times. She talked to her aunt in Ohio and her cousins in SC. Her memoir includes "all my details that made me Jacqueline WOodson, the writer. Her tips for being a writer: Follow Katherine Paterson's advise and spend BIC time - butt in the chair time! Spend time reading the genre you are writing. It helps her to read her writing out loud.

Judith Viorst - She said she started writing poems in the 2nd grade, using sharpened pencils and sending them into magazines but only got rejections. FInally, in her 30s, she got published! Now, at age 83, she has two new books out - an Alexander book and another called Two Boys Boo. She told the audience all about the movie coming out in October based on Alexander. Jennifer Garner plays her in the movie! Her advise for writers is: Be serious about writing and write every day. Read lots to know all the different ways a story can go and all the topics that stories can be. An audience member called her one of the Wise Woman of our Culture and asked her what helps her be wise. She humbly thanked this audience member and said: Books help me, Poetry helps me, my group of women I regularly have met with for the past 30 years help me. "Everything I bump into in my life helps me be wise."

Eric Litwin - author and singer of the Pete the Cat books had the room moving and singing during his session, the last I attended! His website is a must see! Go to view all his books, especially his newest about the nut family! And also to hear his songs!! Great for any age! I try to follow Pete's motto when something goes wrong - not to cry and instead, keep singing along because it is "all good"!!!

If you missed the Book Festival, check soon at to see videos from the day, as all the presentations were filmed and many will be posted to the Library of Congress website.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

2014 TCRWP August Writing Institute - Day 5

Annie - Argument Work, today with Nonfiction!
Annie pointed out that Bend 3 of this Unit has a student choose a topic. She pointed out that the hardest part is having kids find resources. She suggested their choice lead to small groups so together they can share resources. OR if resources seem scarce, she suggested we teach a student how to create and give a survey and how to carry out an interview OR tell them to choose another topic.

Then Annie lead our advance class in one more argument using the text Oh, Rats! by Albert Marrin.
Round 1:
"Rats is a topic that is hotly debated now in NYC, especially after Hurricane Sandy brought many rats out into the open. Some find rats to be DANGEROUS. Some find rats to be HELPFUL. I am going to read-aloud info about rats. Take a minute and set up your notebook to take notes while you listen."

Annie read, I took notes, and then I picked a side. In a small group, 3 of us explained orally how helpful rats are, while three of us strongly shared how dangerous rats are!

Round 2:
"I'm not sure if it is that rats are so dangerous. Let's change the question. Are rats dangerous OR are they just a nuisence? Again, take a moment and get your notebook set up to take notes."

Annie reread some info about rats and then read some new parts. Again, in small groups, we picked a side and shared our debate points. This round really helped me to think about HOW to use evidence to spin or match my position.

Round 3 option:
"Give a group an audience that their debate must convince. For example, tell them to coinvince doctors OR to convince chefs OR members of the World Health Organization. Kids or teachers can role-play to be the audience.

Round 4:
"Albert Marrin is a very convincing author. He uses lots of craft moves to do this. Two pop out to me. He uses structure and he uses word choice. Which move it more powerful? Again, set up for notebook to take notes as I read and reread parts of his book."

Annie reminded us of how to approach argumentation.
1. start with a simplistic difference
2. refine it by changing the question to define the argument more precisely
3. refine it more by debating the craft moves of the author

By living this debate work with Annie for a week, I am READY to try it often with my 5th grade wrtiers this school year! I'll be sure to check back on this blog to see how they do orally and in writing.

Colleen - Mentor Text
Colleen reminded us that the goal is to get students to be talking about who THEIR mentor is and why they choose that mentor text. The goal is for students to independently choose and use mentor text.  "When you write, find a mentor text. See how that author did it and now you try it."

Writing Resources
1. Writing Center in the classroom
Access to pens, different kinds of paper, envelops, post-its, highlighters, dictionaries, bi-language dictionaries, different kinds of dictionaries (Websters, picture...) grammar books, etc.
2. Mentor Text Files
Have hanging folders of a variety of genres. Inside have xerox examples of that kind of writing at different levels of reading ready to use and share.
3. Library
Have Mentor text baskets, former student writing baskets, current student writing baskets, Menotr Author baskets, etc.
4. Charts - be sure to have one where you are annotating the text to learn from it as a mentor
5. Technology - links to authors!
6. Post those in the room who are EXPERTS on _____. Let kids advertise this or create Help Wanted signs. Kids can lead seminars!

We ended with a very powerful CELEBRATION!
"Think back across the week and find a line from a mentor text or something said during the week related to mentor texts. Be sure what you pick is 13 words or less. Thumbs up when you have it."

Then Colleen began by saying: A Mentor Text Poem by the Advanced Section and one by one, we shared our line...our section was large - 40+. Together we created a moving poem to remind us the importance of Mentor text!!

Again, by living Mentor Text with Colleen all week, I can't wait to set up my library using this lens and being sure that I am using mentor text during all the units I teach to my 5th graders. I also plan to use her clebration format sometime during the year!

As I end the week, I return to Lucy's words from Day 1 - We bring who we are - our life's theme - to all we do. All week long, each staff developer and guest author did this so well. Kate Roberts, a new parent, did this. Seymour Simon, a scientist, did this. Carl Anderson, a dad and a writing teacher, did this. I am still reflecting on what my life theme really is. I know it involves books as I constantly read, especially children's literature. It involves being positive because I try to persevere and remain positive when so much stuff isn't so positive. It involves being helpful because I get lots of energy out of encouraging others and helping others to shine brightly. I'll continue to reflect but I know as this school year begins, I want to be transparent to my students and parents. When I share ME, they will get honest teaching!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 TCRWP August Writing Institute - Day 4

Annie - Argument Essay
A suggested classroom visual to have during this unit: 3 posters (for/against/undecided).
As he unit topic is first shared, ask students to place a sticky with their name on it on one of the 3 posters. Then as they do research, check back and move it is hey change their mind. Remind the class that we all have opinions. For this unit, the challenge is to stay open to all aspects of a topic (which is a great life-skill) and know that their name sticky note can move at any time based on the evidence they learn through research.

The TCRWP website has MANY text-sets already created to do this work.

They also have performance assessment in reading NF that could be used as an assessment or as texts to read to write an argument:

During Round 2, the topic stays the same. Now you are teaching how to write a stronger essay.
* Teach how to analyze the writer of a source of information.
* Do with articles by having readers question what the research article and info-graphics say/show
* Start noticing the moves that are one in the text set and apply this craft to writing

Possible lace to find a topic is the local paper an hen use the local paper's articles as a text set.

A well-written article uses many techniques (see grade 6-8 list) to reach many goals (see handout of gr 6-8 goals) To notice this, we watched an amazing speech by Severn Cullins-Suzuki given in 1992 at the UN Global Summit - Watch and be ready to be speechless after she completes her argument (just as the members of the UN were!)
Then we named the techniques Severn used and the goals she was able to achieve while listening to her speech. The same kind of work can be done with the essay arguments that our students write. The worksheets shared from the MS Units of Study is a VERY useful tool!

Colleen - Mentor Text
Thee books Colleen shared today are:

All could be used to teach many, many writing lessons! 
We were to bring a mentor text we plan to use this year in WW and plan out a mini-lesson in just 7 minutes! I used:

It was useful to plan purposeful work using a mentor text in a short amount of time!

Finally Colleen stated "A happy teacher is one that has a conferring toolkit" (which I have started to make!) and she listed those things to include in it:
* One familiar whole class mentor text, marked up with post-its, pointing out how all the ways different parts of the text can be used as a model for students' writing
* More mentor texts at various levels, maybe typed up to leave a copy with a stuent after a conference
*Student work samples - can use the nes in the Writing Pathways book
* A typed up version of my charted class demo writing 
* Checklists
* My Writing notebook
* My conference notes
* post-its
* highlighters
* gel pens
* plastic pocket to mark up a piece of writing and then it can be wiped off to use again

Workshop - Carl Anderson on Mentor Text
Carl reinforced ALL that Colleen has said all week long!
He emined me that another possible small moment mentor text to use is Ralph Fletcher's Marshfield Dreams:

I want to reread this and add some of the excepts to my toolkit!!

Keynote: Seymour Simon
As Cornelius brilliantly and enthusiastically introduced this amazing nonfiction children's author, he reminded me of why we need to read NF. "We cannot fix the world if we cannot describe the problems of the world." By reading Seymour's books, we come to understand the world and can then write about it. He also reminded the audience that if the 1,200 Institute participants were placed in book clubs of four people each, each group could be given a different Seymour Simon book to read and no repeating of titles would be necessary. That is a lot of books!!
Then while Seymour talked, he shared that when he writes NF, he tries to:
* write it as an exciting story
* use vivid language and action verbs
* use comparisons ("Just the tongue of the whale weighs as much as an elephant.")
* asks questions
* uses photos and diagrams

His website is amazing:

He also posts a prompt each Wednesday to encourage student writing. Here's the link:
Maybe this can be a place to visit on Wednesdays!!