Friday, July 30, 2010

Re-energized by the Book Whisperer

In my last post, I mentioned that I was reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It is a book written by a fabulous 6th grade teacher that loves reading and has figured out how to share and foster that love with her middle school students. I shied away from the book when it first was released last year because I am a primary teacher. I have to tell you after reading it in about 2 days that I regret not reading it sooner. Donalyn has reminded me about what matters most for students right before the start of the school year. Much of what I am taking away from the book are the messages she whispers in her writing. I loved the straight forward, authentic voice she has as a writer. She shares her journey as a reader and a teacher and the changes she has made to help her students catch the reading bug. As I read, I made connections to her thinking even as a teacher of our youngest readers. I couldn’t help but think about how her ideas can help anyone who teaches reading.

I had to start writing my thoughts about how her ideas influenced my learning and thinking. Here’s what I can’t stop thinking about…

Reading is a journey. Donalyn shares many moments in her life as a reader as well as a teacher. She encourages us to share our struggles and successes in our journey with our students.

LISTENING has to be the most used strategy she uses to connect with her students. She listens to their conversations, reads their thoughts about books and asks them questions about their life in order to help her choose books they will love. (She is limited to two hours a day with a class but I have all day to listen.) In fact she says… ”I will continue today, tomorrow and everyday after until I have made preview stacks or pulled select titles for all of my students.” Now that is listening!

Validation. She recognizes every student as a reader and sets expectations that all students can adopt attitudes and behaviors of readers.

She embraces the classroom not just with a reading corner but as an entire reading space where students are surrounded by books.

She lets her students just READ. In fact, I love when she says, “No matter how long students spend engaged in direct reading instruction, without time to apply what they learn in the context of real reading events, students will never build capacity as readers.”

She has let go of many controls she had over kids reading like assigning the whole class to read a novel. I think as primary teachers we can over-rely on controlled reading like when we rely just on leveled books for teaching kids to read. Sharing great picture books and helping kids see the supports of picture book texts like repeating words, rhyme and using pictures to enjoy reading naturally exposes kids to understanding real reading.

My last and favorite is that she has said goodbye to worksheets and comprehension fill-out forms, filling her old morning warm-up time with free, voluntary reading! Gotta love books in the morning!

Donalyn also blogs at the Book Whisperer and has challenged herself to read a book a day this summer.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer Solutions for helping a Hesitant Reader

One of my sons is what I am calling a hesitant reader of books. He likes to read just not long books. Reading is not his first choice when he has down time. He is intimidated by texts that require stamina. But...1. he enjoys pictures with text 2. loves non-fiction. and 3. he likes to read short pieces of text like poetry and articles. So, rather than fight him all summer about finishing books, I have given into finding reading that meets his needs. A few books and things have worked to just keep him into reading this summer:

This book was filled with lots of information about the body. Did you know that along with the chimpanzee, you have over 2 milion sweat glands spread over your body? You think your molars came in late, well an elephant gets his last molars at the age of 40. Each page contains information about a particular body part, a freaky fact and a story about part.
Thanks to my friend Karen for sharing this book with us.

This magazine is something my middle son looks forward to reading because it is filled with what he loves...aticles about sports heros, current information about sports happenings (currently info about the NBA draft) and of course something to hang on the wall (each issue contains a pull out poster of a sport star).

Graphic Novels:
My son understood the basics of this story of a young boy undergoing hardships of the d
ust bowl of 1947. After reading the back of the book and flipping through it, there seems to be so much to talk about in terms of theme. A great book for him to read again and again to talk about new ideas and learning he is thinking about.

Reading in the Car
I have asked the kids to grab a book as we run errands or travel across town to see family and friends. This quiet time is like a trap. They can't go anywhere and other than the radio (which I turn off), they don't have any distractions. The short car rides have been just enough for the short stamina he has and during the longer car rides out of state, I decided to read aloud every couple hours or so ( I know books on tape would be the best but I am not that organized and have been on a budget this summer).

Reading aloud to him:
I hadn't read the book Savvy yet and I was dying to, so everyone heard it this summer on our long car rides. It was perfect for practicing conversation and comprehension that I worry about with him. We are still making our way through the book and liking it!

Choosing and finding books to read independently is tough for my son. So instead of pulling my hair out offering him tons of choices that I thought would work (while at the library) and having him shake his head no, I asked him to find books he loved to read during the school year. He picked out The Wonder Book and Rainbow Soup ( both poetry-riddle type fun reading). These kept him liking and feeling some independence with what he was reading when I asked him to read for 20 mins during the day.

We only have a few weeks of summer left but I feel like he has had some success with reading this summer. It hasn't been as painful for him in the past. I am off to finish The Book Whisperer to see if I can learn more tricks for hooking him ( but mostly kids in my own classroom) into loving to read.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wrapped in Love by Jan Johnston

I read ( then purchased) the book, Wrapped in Love by Jan Johnson this summer as I was thinking about the work we do in the classroom with writing stories. (I also can't help but pick up stories about dogs as I know kids love them.) This book is about a pup named Snoozer and and the fears he has in the dark, dark, middle of the night. He hears many sounds like coyotes, owls and thunder. His parents come to calm him, hold him and remind him that he is wrapped in their love. By the end of the night, snoozer begins to soothe himself, more confident that everything is ok eventually falling asleep. As I read this book I began deciding why it might work in my mentor basket for story writing. Here is what I thinking :

1. The book is about feeling scared in the middle of the night and I think the idea for the book itself will help kids connect to a time they were scared.

2. It is narrative with repetitive language. The author uses the words: Late, late, late in the middle of the dark, dark night, Snoozer hears a sound. This language is repeated three times as Snoozer is scared by 3 unfamiliar noises. Being able to help kids notice this language might work to scaffold their stories about when they were scared of different things in the middle of the night.

3. I've noticed again and again that sometimes primary writers just jump into stories with out any kind of beginning. So, we spend time noticing ways authors begin stories. The beginning to this book is quite simple and effective for young writers: It is bedtime. Here, I can show kids how some beginnings tell about when the story is happening.

4. The illustrations a dark (we can talk about why) but simply drawn so kids could imitate them. After reading Katie Wood Ray's book, In Pictures and In Words ( A book about planning and studying illustrations with primary kids), I realized that there are a few pages where the illustrator shows two sides of physical space. One is the page where the owl noises are frightening Snoozer. There we see the outside of the window where the owl is who-o-ing and we see Snoozer snuggled in his Mother's arms inside of the house. So, I know this book will also help my students study illustrations.

5. This book is simple yet also contains layers that will scaffold stronger writers. I am thinking about the few lines of dialogue the mother and father dog have to explain what the noise is outside. The ending: Snoozer listens for awhile, then falls asleep. Shhhh... uses an ellipsis and we could talk about why she decided on it and what it means.

This book along with others like Every Friday, The Green Line and Supersister that live in our story writing basket will help kids find ways to tell stories about their lives.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Benny and Penny in The Toy Breaker

I stopped by my mom's tonight and noticed she had purchased the newest in the primary graphic novel series: Benny and Penny. I was very excited to see the third in this series written by Geoffrey Hayes. Benny and Penny and the Big No- No ( the second in the series ) is reviewed here. The original Benny and Penny in Just Pretend is mentioned here in Mary Lee's post about graphic novels for our youngest readers.

In this third book, Benny and Penny are in the middle of searching for loot using their treasure map when their cousin Bo shows up. Both immediately hide as many toys as possible as they have him deemed as "toy breaker." In fact, they do everything possible to try not to include him in play and he does everything possible to ruin their pretend game. After breaking Penny's toy monkey, teasing and trying to jump into their hunt for treasure, Bo comes to realize on his own that Benny and Penny don't want him to play. He runs away getting stuck in the backyard fence where he needs help. Benny and Penny come to the rescue and Bo is thankful. The threesome end up resolving their frustrations (by using their words) and they all decide to just PLAY!

I love that the troubles Benny and Penny have are similar to what happens when kids play together outside in the backyard or in the basement. I also love that Geoffrey has a Benny and Penny Blog that you can visit and read and enjoy quick stories and illustrations of Benny and Penny weekly. Toon- books also has a Carton Maker where you can choose characters, props, text and backgrounds for creating a scene that includes your favorite toon characters. You can then email it or print it. Very fun for kids who love these characters. The new book and the site will keep the 7 year old busy tomorrow afternoon.