Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mentor Text Series: Week of January 8


Though I have been away from writing for awhile, I haven't stopped thinking about what works for kids as learners. In fact, this fall, I began collecting my thoughts about how primary classrooms can begin to embed and embrace digital reading and writing for primary learners. Tony Keefer and I shared some of our thinking at NCTE and I am excited to dig deeper in January with some amazing leaders and thinkers in the tech and workshop arena. Beginning the week of Jan.8th, I will be blogging alongside:

Bill Bass at Mr. Bass Online
Troy Hicks at Digital Writing, Digital Teaching
Kevin Hodgson at Kevin's Meandering Mind
Tony Keefer at Atychiphobia and
Franki Sibberson at A Year of Reading

We are excited to initiate conversations around mentor texts in the digital writing workshop. We hope you will join us by reading, commenting and sharing your thinking. We are all smarter together. Looking forward to learning with all of you!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Traditions

A friend of mine noticed that I haven't blogged since August. With the move to a new home over the summer and fall, I have to tell you it was hard to keep up. Blogging has taken a back seat to keeping up with organizing a new home space, taking care of my family and my students. I didn't realize how much I have missed it until my husband and I began talking about the changes that our family has undergone in the last 6 months. We reflected on the pros and cons of our life. My biggest complaint was the time I have lost writing and thinking with others through blogging. So, I am excited but a little anxious (hoping I can keep up with my personal goals for writing 3x a month) about coming back to writing, reading and learning with you.

I thought today, I would share some of the beautiful representations of tradition made by my first graders this year. After reading books like Every Friday, The Relatives Came, My Forever Dress and The Hat that Clara B. Wore my students were able to think about what tradition means in the character's lives as well as in their own lives. We had much discussion about tradition and
I invited students (and their parents) to post pictures of their family traditions in a google presentation doc.
This google doc allowed me to introduce students to a new tool for technology, allowed students to collaborate and witness a document being built over time and also allowed them to easily share and explain their traditions visually to one another using our projector.

After sharing and talking about our traditions, I asked students to think of a (picture) symbol that would represent a tradition that was meaningful to them. For example, Surabhi created a traditional Indian dress to represent her tradition of dressing up on special occasions, Jason choose a tray of cookies to represent his tradition of making cookies for Santa, and Tiya chose a diya (clay lamp filled with oil) to represent lighting lamps on Diwali. All of their symbols uniquely representing the special tradition celebrated with their family.

I modeled how to sketch and plan their symbol on paper and then introduced them to embossing on heavy gauge foil (an idea I grabbed from Family Fun magazine) with wooden pencil like rods. The students later colored their embossed symbols in with colored sharpies and then wrapped them up as a gift for their family.

I think you might agree that their creations were amazing. My class this year has embraced opportunities for showing what they know by drawing, building and creating. I have found myself looking for new ways to meet their needs as writers, readers, mathematicians and scientists where they can use their ideas and their hands to create. It is challenging me to build new traditions for the students in my classroom.

Monday, August 8, 2011

August 10 for 10 Picture Books


I haven’t had as much time as I would like to blog this summer but I wouldn’t miss August 10 for 10!! So, thanks to Cathy and Mandy for hosting this great event.

This summer I thought I would share 10 books I am adding to my own classroom library and think a little about why they will work for my primary kids.

Here goes:

Brownie and Pearl Take a Dip by Cynthia Rylant

Brownie and Pearl Take a Dip is the fourth in Cynthia Rylant’s series for early readers. In this third book, Brownie (an adorable little girl about the same age as primary kids) and Pearl (her brown and orange pet cat) prepare for a swim in the small blue pool. Brownie gets her suit, Pearl gets her beach ball and they both put on their sunglasses. Brownie takes a dip and so does Pearl but she doesn’t last long.

These two characters are perfect for first graders. Last year I noticed a number of girls wanting to hold on to this series in their book bins. The text on each page is short and a bit repetitive. This book and many others in the series like: Brownie and Pearl Step Out and Brownie and Pearl Get Dolled Up, Brownie and Pearl See the Sights make up one of my newer baskets of series picture books in the classroom library. And coming in Sept: Brownie and Pearl Hit the Hay.


Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett



I love this book because it has so much versatility. It could be a color book, a label book (that tells a story), or even a book about finding a friend. It is one of those books to read at the beginning of the year because everyone could read it after read aloud. It is also a book you could easily pull out and study pattern and repetition in as writers. And, I would pull this out later in the year to discuss what the book is really about. Emily Gravett is a genius.


A Rainbow of Animals by Melissa Stewart



I am always on the lookout for strong non-fiction titles for primary readers. I often am looking at the pictures/photographs, the amount of text, the organization of the book when deciding on whether it would be a beneficial primary read. This book of animals organized by their colors according to the rainbow. It has crisp colorful photographs with just the right amount of text for emergent and transitional readers. I love it!



The Adventures of Max and Pinky : Superheroes by Maxwell Eaton III


The notion of bravery in first grade drives much of what we do throughout the year and especially in the in first month of school. So, I am looking for “superhero” stories everywhere I go. (I happen to find this book while surfing the shelves at half price books.) In their superhero adventures, Max and Pinky transform into superheroes after trying many superhero outfits. Mighty Max and his stubby sidekick (Pinky is so confused about what a stubby sidekick is) save whales, battle snow monsters until, yep, Pinky is upset with his title and quits. Will their superhero friendship survive? This book of course embraces kids being able to do anything but also made me think about how often upset feelings happen in the classroom. Pinky and Max can help model how friendships do overcome.

No One But You by Douglas Wood



I loved this book the moment I read the first page which reads:

There are so many things in the world,

So many important things

To be taught

To be shown.

But the best things,

The most important ones of all

Are the ones no one can teach you

Or show you

Or explain.

No one can discover them

But you.

The book places you (the reader) in many places and moments where noticing and wondering are of the essence: dangling your toes into a pond, blowing the seeds of a dandelion, and embracing the softness of a puppy. I love how it enables you to feel truly in charge of your learning when so much of student learning is often controlled by what we as teachers do or have to do in the classroom.

A Ball For Daisy by Chris Raschka

One of the first studies we think about as readers and writers in the classroom is a study about pictures. It is crucial that young readers and writers really take time to think about how pictures help us understand a story and about how we as writers create pictures can help the reader understand our thinking. I have used titles like The Zoo by Suzy Lee and How to Heal a Broken Wing to help us study pictures.

A Ball of For Daisy by Chris Raschka is a wordless picture book that I enjoyed reading this summer. It is about a dog and her ball. It has lots of opportunities for predicting and thinking solely using the pictures. Chris also uses multiple frames on a page to show the passing of time thus allowing us to help kids think about how they could do the same.




I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs



My students love I Spy books. They also love the Spot 7 series books. I think it is because of the simplicity in these finding books. We as teachers feel guilty when kids want to sit with these for hours but really we have to make sure they get time to do just that: sit and be with a book they enjoy. We can balance with our objectives and curriculum and expectations but I also think they should sit and be with books they love, even books that they may not be reading continuous text. We want them to think and enjoy reading. This book: I Spy with My Little Eye is a perfect primary think and read. It is repetitive and very predictable: both great things for our early readers and even the readers we think should be doing more. I think it will make all kids happy.



Sparkle and Spin : A Book About Words by Ann and Paul Rand

Ok, this book was a book given to me in my district’s word study curriculum. It is very old but so great for introducing kids to thinking about the power of words and what they are. I am thinking it would be a great read before asking kids to think about their favorite word. A great way to start the year with thinking about the importance of words in many contexts.



The Little Hummingbird by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Last fall I heard Ann Marie Corgill share this title during our NCTE presentation and I am just getting to purchasing it. It is the story (based on a South American tale) of a little humming bird bravely carrying water droplets attempting to douse a forest fire while her animal friends run from the raging fire. It sends the message to all kids that there is strength and dignity in bravely standing up for what you know is right.


Fish Wish by Bob Barner

Lastly, I read Fish Wish this summer and realized it might have some possibilities in our study of patterned text during writing workshop. As writers, we look hard at pattern books for ideas, structure, endings, beginnings and craft. I am thinking kids might love to begin their pattern books like Barner, “ If I were a ________.” And then imagine and share why. This book has a structure that kids can emulate in their own writing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

School Shopping 2: Word Play and Practice

I was unpacking lots of goodies today that I purchased from Resources for Reading and Really Good Stuff.

First the blue cylindar shaped supply bin (of which I bought five for the tables around the room) will hold the pencils, scissors, glue sticks and colored pencils for each table. The white trays, tactile letters, large letter stencils and blue polymer molding stuff are all for word play. I always need sturdy industrial strength magnets (yellow) and I bought 3 bags of colored magnetic counters because the kids always love to sort, pour, pretend with little trinkets. Lastly, I am trying the Ticonderoga triangular shaped first write pencils for students who may still need help with their pencil grip (seem to always have a few).

Last year I purchased letters and strings for my word play and practice. I often find myself looking for fun things that kids can use when playing with letters and exploring words. I also have tried to set up some areas designated for play and exploration with words.

I used this stand with magetic white board last year. This year, I found a small tray with dry erase capability. I like it because it has a little depth to the tray top so it can contain plastic letters, polymer sand, playdough, etc. It also folds up nicely to fit under my white table.






















I am thinking about placing a basket of books at the end of the table that engage kids in word play. I like How to Build An A and Animal Soup. I think a few alphabet books would be great and Ook the Book for later on when we think about rhyme and notice patterns in words. I will also have our name chart (student's pics and names) close by or possibly handy so kids can make and talk about each other's names.

For now, let the thinking continue for room set up and new ideas.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea


Last week I sat down with my science curriculum to map out some science units. My goal was to come up with 3 big ideas that will encompass the more specific targets that are laid out in earth, space, life, physical and technology strands of science. I came up with 3 themes for these that I think will help kids understand that curriciulum targets aren't just a one day learned in isolation kind of thing. ( I think I've struggled with this for years thinking I had to do magnets for 2 days and then matter for 3 days, etc.)

The first idea we will be exploring will be change. I want to introduce kids to wondering about changes inside and outside ourclassroom. As I begin to map out some paths we might take, I am beginning to collect picture books that will help us think about change. One that I love for primary kids is called Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea.

Why? It is filled with pattern and ryhme . It teaches kids about living things that change and grow and then asks if non-living items (like cars, watches and cupcakes) can grow. It has lift the flaps and great pictures. It is a great science read aloud and will fit in nicely with our pattern book study we dive into at the beginning of first grade.

Other great reviews about this book can be found at :


If you have books to share that work for science read alouds, feel free to share!








Saturday, July 9, 2011

School Shopping: Blank Books

Fourth of July has come and gone which means that the summer is about half gone. My writing life feels the same. So I decided to jump start myself with some quick posts about books, ideas and changes I want to make in my own classroom for next year.
After attending the All Write Consortium this summer in Indiana, I have some ideas for organizing reading and writing assessments that I have always felt messy about. I found these blank books at Star Beacon here in Columbus yesterday and I think they may help me and my kids keep track of student goals and my conferring notes. Listening to Ann Marie Corgill and Debbie Miller at All Write, I was reminded of how important it is to document student process. I think these little blank books will be perfect for jotting conferring notes and setting goals for kids. In the past, I kept my notes with me in a single notebook, but I really like the idea of each student having their own journey of learning and goal setting in their own hands( how nice to be able to have the kids reread the notes or a few words we set in a goal together because they have their little blank book with them). I know they are small enough to fit in a folder and a book bin (and they were very reasonable 17.95 for 20 blank books). These are also the kind of books you could just make yourself if you had the time.

On to more thinking about the classroom, books and our new home. Hoping to close next week and pictures to follow. Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Time of Change


I have taken a break from frequent postings over the past couple months as my family slowly packed and moved out of our home. We are blessed to be staying with family (my sister, brother in law, neices and nephew) as we patiently wait for news about our next home. "Camp DiCesare" is what our living situation has been termed by a neighbor and I think the name fits. Needless to say, you can imagine the change we are all bravely (and some generously) experiencing.

So I started thinking about the way each one of us feels about change. Reaction to change seems to depend on so many possible variables. Some of us dive into new places, circumstance and situations unafraid. While others need some support, time or comfort when something is new. We all have different comfort levels for change in our lives and even in the classroom. Next year, I will not be changing grade levels (staying with first) but I will be thinking about the many changes I will adopt in my teaching.

Some of the changes I am thinking about are subtle, like changing my room set up and the size of my whole group space on the floor. I want to condense it so I can use the whole space more wisely. Other subtle changes include switching book baskets that aren't as loved and replacing them with newer books or series.

Larger changes that I am thinking about are the "bigger picture changes" that reflect my beliefs and the messages I want to send in the classroom and home to parents. One of these bigger changes is fine tuning my curriculum night presentation so that I can effectively share with next year's parents what is most important for young learners: (using pictures of students) working together, listening to each other, sharing, noticing the world around them and teaching them how to ask questions and search for answers. Sending these messages helps the families understand what I believe in and what will be most valued in the classroom. Another change I am thinking about is modeling and providing more opportunities for kids during reading workshop share. This time is trickier for me than writing workshop share. With writing workshop share, I can often find and ask kids to share writing that demonstrates an idea introduced during minilesson (while engrossed in a unit of study). Kids are excited to share and take turns well as I keep track of who and what is shared in my assessment notebook. With reading workshop share (I am a little less organized) I find myslef asking for volunteers to show how they've tried a strategy or reflected on some reading behavior or choice but I am less able to make my way around the room because I often grab a group of kids for guided reading, a book share or a student for aconference. I find often it is the same kids volunteering. This winter I read a great post called Share Time written by Katie Keier and Pat Johnson on their blog: Catching Readers Before They Fall (also the name of their book) about ideas they use for student sharing during reading workshop. They talk about the three structures they use for young readers during share: selected students, partner shares, or "whip around the circle" shares. I am hoping to use their ideas to help me think about and change up my reading workshop share next year.

For me, change is what pushes me to grow and search for answers. When I am frusterated by change, reflecting on what I'm supposed to learn or how the change will help me, brings me closer to accepting and embracing change as an opportunity.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On the List for the Weekend


Happy Mother's Day!!
I hope all you mothers do something for yourselves today.

My first graders and I finished a poetry unit this week and will celebrate our poetry during our spring family night this week. With the craziness of life (in and out of the classroom), I began to question myself towards the end of this poetry unit. I started to wonder, did I teach them anything? Did my conferring help kids dig deeper? Did I use mentor texts that were simple enough for kids to begin to enjoy and find ideas for their own poetry? Were my mini lessons on track with what most kids needed from day to day? (I could go on with the questions.) Feeling frantic, I opened their workshop folders and began to read and dig deeper into the creating they had done over the past few weeks and then... I began to smile. Really, they had, and most of their best work as poets came when I wasn't hovering over them worried about what they were or weren't getting. Their best pieces came when I let them go.

Maeve found inspiration from a poem in a collection of poetry edited by Georgia Heard called Falling Down the Page. The poem Maeve connected with was called On the Menu for School Today. She wrote a poem called On the List For the Weekend and I think I am hoping you get a chance to read it and do something you want to do today!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Today

I have been spending the last couple weekends beginning to sort through clothes, books and kitchen non-essentials. There seem to be three options as I sort: give away for reuse, throw away or pack. Yes, pack. Just recently we sold our home. We feel very blessed to have buyers who feel they can make our space their own but of course are feeling the sadness of saying goodbye and stress of preparing for what next. I can easily get caught up on the worries and obsession of "what next." This omgosh feeling of what next only takes me down the path of being less present to my students and my family. I begin to concentrate way too much on me (which I feel I uncomfortable with but know there needs to be balance with all aspects of my life).
Today, as I was cleaning out our book room, I found a book of meditations from my mom that I read years ago. As I flipped through, I came to a page marked by a small picture of my goddaughter when she was in second grade. On this page I began to read,

Do not be in such a hurry to move on.
Relax, breathe deeply. Be. Be in harmony today . There is purpose and meaning in today.
There is importance in today-not so much in what happens to us, but how we respond.
Let today happen. We learn lessons. We work things out, we change in a simple fashion: by living our life fully today.

I am taking these words to heart as my family prepares to move and I prepare end of the year activities with my students. I want to be present so that I can remember what is most important: today.








Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Connected Learning Instead of Homework

MaryLee and Franki are hosting a literacy event this Thursday in honor of Share a Story Shape a Future 2011 Event : Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy.
I'm sharing my thoughts about how to connect learning from school to home (doesn't connected learning sound better than homework).

What is homework? I think when we stop to really think about the words separately: home work or mixed around: work at home, the terms feel, well a little uninviting. Who wants to do work at home? When I get home, I want to relax (though I don't most the time ), laugh with my family, unwind and talk about my day with them. I want my student students to do the same and (because they are primary kiddos) share a book they have been loving in the classroom. I also know the realities of after school activities, sports, music lessons, etc.. These take up time for kids (and parents). So as a parent and a teacher I am often thinking about (1)what is realistic for kids to do at home, (2)what will they be motivated to do do at home after a long day at school, (3) how can I help them discover or further discover what they love and (4) how can I help connect their learning at school with what they explore at home. I came up with some short story examples of what I am noticing to be effective ways to provide connected learning (my new word for homework) for my own kids at home and classroom.

As a parent I find the best way I can support connected learning begins after I have conversations with my kids: Just last week, I was chatting with my 5th grader about his day and the next thing I knew he was on you tube exploring the visiting musician, Baba Jubal who had inspired him that day. He couldn't stop talking about the rhythms he was learning with other 5th graders for a school program where he would play a drum he created in art class. He wanted to know more about Baba Jubal and googled him finding another school's performance and music created by him. This was fascinating to me that from this brief, "What did you do today?" exploded into the 5th grader teaching me everything he was excited to be learning about with Baba Jubal.

What did you read today? led to a great conversation with my 4th grader about how much he enjoys the newest issues of Sports Illustrated for Kids. He explained to me how the magazine has changed since our subscription at home ended. He asked me what happened to our subscription (it ran out and I just renewed) because he had been missing getting his favorite reading at home. Fortunately, he has not missed out in the classroom as many of the other kids bring in their magazines in for all to enjoy. This was an opportunity for me to think about how I could keep him satisfied at home with these same resources he is enjoying in the classroom. My 5th grader joined in and began talking about how he reads SI for kids online every so often during reading workshop. So we hopped online and found the SI Kids Blog and other new options for reading that matched his interests.

What are you writing about? led my youngest son taking me to his class blog where I had an opportunity to see the piece he has been working on about a toy boat. His told about the boat he made of legos that he was inspired to create after reading Randall de Seve and Loren Long's Toy Boat. He writes to his readers:

My toy boat is awesome because it is made out of legos. I tied a rope around my toy boat. when I got the rope. I got the rope on the day befor chrisrtmas eve. I pulled it around the house.I got the idea from the book, Toy Boat by Randall de Seve. My rope is 5 feet long and my toy boat is one and a hafe feet long.

After reading this with him, I realized that his is inspired by books. He loves creating things at home after being inspired, and then has opportunities to write about his ideas and share them with others (including me).

As a teacher I want to find ways to connect students (and parents) with our learning at school:
Connecting Readers:
Reading Bags:I often tell parents who ask about homework that the best "homework" they can do with their kids is to read and talk with them about learning. To support reading at home, students bring home a book of their choice each night. Kids often take books out of my hands after I read them aloud and place them in their reading bag for the evening. I'll be honest and tell you that I don't use a formal reading log with such young readers. Instead I just want them concentrating on sharing and loving the book in their bag.
Reading Online: Many of the books I share and read in class, I am beginning to find online in one way shape or form. So as I introduce the kids to a book trailer or youtube video of a story, I link it to our class web page (which I have modeled and used in class throughout the year) so kids can access learning at home. Many of my students share how much they get online and read these at home. They are now in the habit of making sure anything I show up on the projector is linked to our web page because they know they can go home and think about it again.
Connecting Writers:
Blogs : Our class blog works as a way encourage students to continue their ideas for writing at home because their posts are accessible online with their username and password. One way I support kids independence with learning is to share posts by other kids who are finding ideas and writing at home. I think we have to show and share with our kids at school about how learning is a ongoing and lifelong. One student started to post at home about the books he checked out of the library, another student shared what she loved about her sister, both inspiring new ideas for writers to think about at home and school.


Connecting Visuals of Our Own Class Learning:

Kids love to see pictures and video of all the creations, celebrations and happenings in the classroom. This
this year, I have been using posterous host all of our small group play performances, pictures of kids
enjoying activities in math and content areas and communicating to parents about what is happening at
school. This has been yet another place for kids to read, watch and talk with their parents about the
learning in our classroom. It doesn't feel like a traditional place for homework but rather a fun place to
connect conversation about our classroom to home.
Ultimately, I want my own children and students to begin to understand how to seek out what they love. My
wish is that they begin find books they want to read and they write about topics that interest them. I hope I
can provide conversations and connections that help kids become lifelong learners.







Monday, February 21, 2011

What have you been reading and writing?


It has been awhile since I have had time to breathe and more importantly, blog. February is a great month but always busy with quite a few family b-days, snow days and our annual Dublin Lit Conference. I have to admit that I get a little down because of the cold weather here in Ohio that often lingers through March. To help myself stay out of the dumps, I decided to join Franki's e-reader challenge and have a good book to look forward to as well as think about the pros and cons of reading digitally. I have Across the Universe on my iPad and I am LOVING IT. Today I just joined the e book club on good reads.

To keep upbeat in the classroom, my students and I have been studying authors as mentors this month and I choose someone this year that I love: Bob Shea. I was a little leary of picking a picture book author who has mainly published fiction because I think fiction is hard to teach young kids to write but I let go of those fears knowing my purpose for this study was for kids to really look at Bob's craft as a writer. I was happily surprised as my kids noticed so many interesting crafts like repetitive language that we also studied in our pattern book study at the beginning of the year and new observations like how Bob uses different colors for different character talk in Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime. Thinking about the decisions Bob makes in his books and naming these has helped my own students think purposefully about the decisions they are making in their own stories. I showed my students Bob Shea as he shares who and why he wrote Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime in this youtube video. This video had many kids thinking about why they were writing their stories and who they were writing them for.

During the last days of the study, we studied Race You to Bed for the purposes of thinking about (what I call "wow" words) precise language or words that help he reader experience the story and the writer share exactly what he feels. My students and I have been talking all year about how we learn new words in conversations, listening to stories, reading together and reading on our own. We have a nice list of words that we have caught during these times throughout the year (like when Ava helped us think about the word blended as she shared a story about how her dog Buckeye blended into the darkness of her bedroom). We also have words that students have tried in their own writing that have "wowed" us. Long story short, after kids noticed words like zip, splash and how sometimes words like "scratch an itchy rash to bed" really work together to make us feel the story, I invited kids to try writing "wow" words in their own pieces. Just noticing words helped their own awareness and begin to understand how they can strengthen their writing.

Now that it is the end of the month, I am honestly, still feeling too busy and unsettled. But, I have a book to look forward to along with satisfaction and peace that blogging brings to me when I can. I miss writing and sharing when I can't. I think that is a good thing.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Characters Outside of Our Classroom

Who are your favorite characters?

My first graders have been reading books about their favorites and last week I promised we would paint our most loved friends. It wasn't surprising that Elephant and Piggie made it up to the bulletin board. It is one of the baskets of books that is always empty because kids always want these in their own book bins. I am very excited for the newest in this series, I Broke My Trunk, out next week !
Bossy Bear is another favorite of many of the boys. He is an overly bossy character who demands things his way but is challenged to change after making a friend, turtle. Turtle tells Bossy Bear that he is bossy but he doesn't have to be!

You may be able to make out Fancy Nancy at the end of the bulletin board. She is loved by some of my girls. They enjoy hearing the picture books in her series and often check out the little paperback (I can read) readers from our library.

Also featured under Nancy, is the Gingerbread Girl. Before a small group of students performed the Gingerbread Man play for the class, we read just about every version we could find ( The Gingerbread Boy, Gingerbread Baby, Gingerbread Friends as well as watched the movie on Speakaboos. The kids have become very familiar with the characters in these stories and many of the girls have loved the spunky phrase repeated by the Gingerbread Girl:" Run, run with a leap and a twirl, you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Girl!"

Amelia Bedelia's picture book stories have been the favorite of one of my transitional readers. She often will sit and read aloud to a small group of kids (pretending to be teacher) at recess or free choice time. I have yet to read one of these as a read aloud because I know at the beginning of the year, many of my kids would need some scaffolding and talking through some of Bedelia's confusions. Ameila Bedelia's First Valentine will likely be read next week as the holiday approaches and we begin to know more about other student's favorite characters.

The last character that has made it up to our bulletin board thus far is Mouse from I Miss You Mouse by Greg Foley. Mouse is a kind friend and character in Foley's picture book series. This series is another perfect for first graders. It is a small amount of text with pictures and flaps that grab the reader. Once read aloud, these books also live in kid hands.

These are not all of our favorites but are certainly a strong representation. What characters are your kids loving?


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cat Secrets by Jeff Czekaj



It seems like sometime since I have posted about a new favorite book that has grabbed my readers and my writers. So today I want to tell you about a book that Franki told me about. This book is called Cat Secrets by Jeff Czekaj.

When I purchased it, I noticed that Jeff Czekaj had written another book I blogged about last year called Hip and Hop Don't Stop, another fun book about friendship. Check out his website and blog!

Cat Secrets is a fun and interactive book ONLY for cats. So, you can imagine the laughter that erupts after reading aloud "Stop! Stop reading right now. This book is for CATS only!" And then you can imagine the meows as you read, "Okay, if you are really a cat, let's hear you meow." Hopefully you are beginning to understand how this book hooks readers. I noticed too, after reading it during a writing workshop lesson, that it inspired lots of writers with ideas for their own book of secrets. We have many versions of Dog Secrets in process. Don't leave without checking out the trailer for the book. I can't wait to show it to my kids tomorrow!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy 100th Day!



Yesterday, we celebrated the 100th day of school. This is such a an exciting day for us because we have shared 100 days together as learners.

It is a day for reading about characters like Jake from Jake's 100th Day of School who learns about and receives compassion from his principal when he leaves his 100th day collection at home.

It is a day when we can ask kids to think about 100 and how to build, count and create 100.

It is a day that each of us has special ways we like to join with our students in sharing in the excitement of learning.

This year, we decided to read to 100 people for the 100th day of school. It seemed like perfect timing as we had recently finished publishing stories in writer's workshop and needed to have a share celebration. Just asking my students about how as a class we could read to 100 people was great thinking. After discussing (and physically counting 5 bears for each of the 20 students in our class) how to read to 100 people, we were off to read with third grade, second grade and K classes in the building. Some students were nervous to read (and just talk) with someone new, so we talked through their fears. Afterwards, I heard one student say, "Mrs. DiCesare, I am not shy anymore!" I was amazed at how different children took away different learning in this simple act of sharing a story.

Hoping you'll share some 100th day favorites and that you have an exciting 100th when your day comes!


Monday, January 17, 2011

iPad Apps for Kids in the Classroom

video

My sister and her family came home with an iPad this weekend. So, when she mentioned that my 9 month old nephew loved playing the piano app, I had to see how little Brody interacted with it. Today when he came to visit, we handed him the iPad and he started playing and singing. I think it is pretty amazing after having interacted with it for just a day.

This had me thinking about adding apps to my iPad and iTouch for my kids at school. My students have different needs and interests so I have found a few that I am thinking will help kids with specifics they need to practice. I have also found some universal apps that work for young kids in general.

Fine Motor Needs: I have a few students who are still mastering the fine motor capabilities needed to form letters correctly. I like the app iwritewords. It is an app that truly focuses on letter formation (handwriting). It has uppercase letters, lowercase letters, number or word options for kids to practice. Once an option is chosen, a small crab appears on the screen with a series of bubbles following that prompt the student to touch the screen and follow the path of the letter. The letter name is announced and some type of praise (not a huge fan b/c gets a little annoying hearing "good job" and "that's great" over and over again) After tracing the path of the letter, it becomes a little square that you can help dance to the bottom right of the screen before another letter appears. Here is a video of a kiddo playing with the word option. I think teaching kids to draw and write about things that happen to them is best practice for emergent writers, this app is an option for my kids who need fine motor practice.

Word Practice: ABC Magnetic Alphabet: This app is like a small blackboard that you can drag magnetic looking letters onto. My fifth grader can't get enough of it as I am typing. He has written silly notes to his brothers and is using the picture icons to write silly sentences. I am thinking of using this as an option for practicing the high frequency words we have in our study.


Letter Play and Learning: Interactive Alphabet I think is my favorite. It has entertained everyone in my family (young and old). My first impression was that it was just a bunch of abc flash cards but to me it feels more like a game. You can begin with any letter and each letter has something for you to play with on the screen. The music is upbeat and inviting and each page is read to you. For example: "N is for Noodles, /N/ Noodles."
Then, you can touch the chopsticks on the screen and move the noodles up and down. Once you play with one letter, you want to know what you will find with the next one.

Stories:
Really, great stories (at a good price) would be the most universal and loved app for young readers in the classroom. Stories with pictures and narration support the literacy needs of all our kids. Here are a few options I have found...

Tales2Go: This app allows kids access to many categories of audiobooks. It is filled with classics including The Gingerbread Man, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and Caps for Sale. I am using it as an option for my students as they come in to read in the morning. Having the fairytales at their fingertips has been a great as small groups of my students are performing fairytale plays for one another this month. They can re-listen to the tales their friends have performed .

Josh and Emma Go To the Beach: This app is the story of two kids who spend time finding treasures at the beach. The story is filled with questions that guide the reader to play with the pictures on the pages. At the end of the story, the reader can touch the treasures and count them back into the bucket. The book has an auto-play and speech option.

Wheels on the Bus: This app has probably been the most popular with the kids who have picked up the iPad this week. It can be sung to you in many languages and also has the option for you to record yourself singing or reading it. I think the interactive part of this app is most inviting. You actually use your finger to make the bus move, open the doors, move the wipers an touch the people to move up and down.

Kids are interested in new, fun and interactive learning. The iPad is all that and more. I have been bringing my family iPad in to share with my students and they are loving it. Wouldn't it be nice if every classroom could own at least one?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Trying to Know Ourselves


I've been thinking about how important it is to know yourself. Or maybe, it is more the importance of being able to think and reflect about why we do the things we do. Then I started thinking, why am I having these thoughts? Maybe it is because I have some people pleasing flaws that steer my mind to obsess over if what I said or did in a situation. I sometimes overly worry, was I too harsh or hurtful? Most of the time my words/actions aren't overly anything because I am often harder on myself than I need to be. Maybe it is because of a conversation I had today with a friend who is trying to figure out how to be more balanced. As she shared her thinking, I thought about how I am often stopping to evaluate my priorities to feel more balanced. I have to weigh what I need with what my family needs with what my students need with, yeah, the list goes on... Or, maybe it is because I am trying to write about word learning in the classroom and I can't stop thinking about how important it is to share assessment data with kids. Sharing what I find out about my students from assessments even in the context of a simple conversation can help my kids become more aware of what they know (or need to know). All of these thoughts (I am hoping) connect to the story I want to share next.

Last night we visited old friends who have younger children, a little boy (Jonah, 4) and a little girl (Reese, 5). Before walking in their home, I reminded my two boys (one son was at soccer) who are 8 and 11, about how big they might seem to the younger kids. I asked them to give the younger kids some of their time and to play with them. After hearing a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos finish up, I decided to see how it was going in the play room. As I was walked in, I saw little Reese look up at my oldest son, who is towered over this petite Kindergartner and say with the sweetest voice, "Can you read?" I watched my son's eyes connect with mine first confused (because the 11 yr old was thinking, duh, of course I can read) then as I smiled he got it. He looked back at her and at the twinkle in her eye able to wisely smile back appreciating her amazement. "Yeah, I can." he said. In that moment I was amazed at little Reese and her appreciation for reading. She knows its possibilities and that she wants to be a reader. I know this because I could hear the wonderment in her voice and knew she understood the magnitude of reading just in the mere fact that she asked this deep question.

This little one is beginning to ask smart questions that will help her know herself and what a good habit to be in. She reminded me of how important it is to keep asking questions of myself and of others when it comes to trying to know myself each day. In first grade, we also have been in the habit of trying to know ourselves. We end the day with time to think and elaborate (if time) on a question that you might want to reflect about. "What went well for you today?"

(photo from Creative Commons by Ken Bosma)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Game Night



Over the holiday, we spent lots of time playing games. Our new favorite is Quirkle. I think it fits our family because the kids and adults can play independently (this is nice because in the past our second grader has had to team up when he isn't understanding a game). While it is a game of pattern building with either color or shape, to win it requires lots of strategy to acquire the most points. It takes a little under an hour to finish the game. I also like the game because we are not sitting on the laptop, touches or ipad all night. Don't get me wrong, I love to be on line reading and the kids love their music and apps but this is helping to keep us talking, thinking and laughing with each other too.