Thursday, December 13, 2007

7 Things Meme

A year of reading tagged me this week and I am just getting to the meme. In fact, I am realizing this is my first post in DECEMBER!! I am living day to day these days and can't seem to get ahead of the game. I have been a bit on the stressed side, questioning my teaching and really trying to figure out how to differentiate in the classroom. Today was one of the first days I had a moment to blog. I was so happy to just check other posts and think about blogging. I am amazed at the serenity I feel when I do what I want (read and write). So here goes...

7 things about me as a reader

1. I grew up thinking I was learner rather than "reader." What I mean is that I read because I liked to learn. I didn't really know how much I loved reading until I was an adult. I grew up reading because I was assigned books. I had limited learning experiences talking about fun reads and sharing books.

2. I power read over summer and holiday breaks. I love spending uninterrupted days with a book. It is hard to keep up with my own personal reading when working full time and caring for my family during the school year. I put professional books first on my stack during the school year. I know...boring.

3. I am inching my way through A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and looking forward to finishing it over Christmas!!!

4. My childhood favorites were the Betsy-Tacy series, A Wrinkle in Time and Bridge to Terabithia (I have no interest in seeing the movie).

5. I could spend hours exploring and reading blogs!

6. I love to read with my kids...Larry (8yrs) insisted on buying Clementine at the book fair
( he has been laughing out loud as he read it this week). Mo (6) loves non-fiction and Mo Willems. Curly (4) loves Skippy Jon Jones (I think he loves the way his teacher puts on his spanish accent and animates the antics of the cat wanna be chihuahua).

7. I am a picture book reader. Beth, a helpful book lover who works at Cover to Cover bookstore helped me find two of my favorites new additions to my room. Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard and New Socks by Bob Shea.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007!

I was thinking about how my 4-year old has been interested in words. He asks me to sit down at night and help him write words in his notebook (just a spiral that we picked up for cents). He spells and writes his name (sometimes with the letters stacked upon one another...then the teacher in me has to jump in with a directionality lesson). I am also talking to him about family names...pop, nana, mom, dad. These words are perfect for him to remember because they are patterned. He remembers these names and can write them. We take time to go back and read them. I was thinking about how he knows he can spell some words independently and that one of my goals for word study is for my first grade students to know and be aware of themselves as spellers. I want them to spell familiar names, high frequency words and learn word patterns that will help them spell bigger words. What I feel stuck on is how to assess the knowledge of high frequency words in the context of student you have a system set up for this? I have assessed the spelling of these words in isolation but I am wondering how other classrooms/ schools handle the issue of high frequency words in authentic writing. Any thoughts would help...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Are you thinking about giving books this holiday? Well, my local paper The Columbus Dispatch featured an article today called The top 20 of 'o7 which details favorite picture books including poetry, graphic novels, y-a novels, realistic fiction, biographies and new holiday releases.

My first question was who did decide on these picks(I was a little skeptical)? A panel of 24 teachers, librarians, authors, scholars and booksellers decided on the winners (I felt better after this but am still curious about who exactly the panel members were). I found a few of these best picks I am using in my classroom. I know the kids would agree with picks like I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by one of their favorite authors...Mo Willems. I also found my son was ecstatic to find Judy Moody and Stink and the Holly Joliday on the Target bookshelves. A 3/4 multiage classroom in my building read aloud The Invention of Hugo Cabret and loved 17 Things I'm not allowed to do anymore. So I began thinking... I love that there is excitement for these newest and most loved books. I know bloggers, teachers, friends who I can talk to about these books but I also think it is important to share this excitement in the classroom. I love to share new books but tomorrow I think I am going to share this article. I am interested to hear the students reactions. Will they make connections to some of the books in our room? Will they realize writers write about books? What kind of conversations and questions will surface after just discussing the article? I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

When all else fails...poetry

We were having one of those days. It was a struggle for the kids to even sit next to one another. Hurt feelings, arguments, fidgeting bodies, kids playing with staples stuck in the carpet...I knew it was time for a break. They didn't need more lecturing or more conversation about working through problems, just a break from one another. So, why not escape everything through poetry. I pulled out a new book of poetry called When Gorilla Goes Walking I purchased a week ago. The kids were glued to the pictures and began thinking, processing and envisioning the antics of this curious cat named Gorilla . What a riot...a cat named Gorilla. We spent time thinking about her name, her moves, and her relationship with Cecilia (the little girl who owns her). I know when all else fails...poetry is often the answer in my room.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Isn't sharing what it is all about? The awesome people I work with everyday have been meeting one evening a month after school to think, share and discuss ideas surrounding reading and writing workshop. Sharing was the topic for our monthly get together this evening. I am amazed at the ideas and questions that come from just gabbing with other teachers on staff. The basis for our conversation came from an excerpt from a book called Don't Forget To Share by Leah Mermelstein. I briefly read through this book before school began this year and I am sooo glad I did. Before reading the book, I felt like my share portion of the workshop was semi-productive. A couple students shared aloud, comments were made and then kids would turn and read their writing to a partner. After reading about kinds of share (process, content, progress and craft) and management techniques Leah uses, I began experimenting with some of her ideas. Now I feel like I am more aware and purposeful with share time. Last year, I really noticed I invited kids to share about craft. This year, I am trying to balance kids sharing content, process and progress. I feel a difference in what kids are noticing in each others writing. My next step is to figure out how to lift the level of the comments and questions they have for one another. This week I am thinking about a mini lesson on questions we can use to help each other as writers.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Grumpy Bird

As I was shopping at the local bookstore last weekend, a helpful associate noticed how much I enjoyed Bossy Bear ( I was commenting on how I was purchasing my second copy). She too is a fan and excitedly suggested a new picture book written by Jeremy Tankard called Grumpy Bird.
I grabbed it and loved it! Grumpy Bird is perfect for first graders. My students loved has great pictures, characters (animals) they can relate to (we all have grumpy days), repetition and not too many words on a page.

Grumpy Bird starts his day in a bad mood. He is so grumpy he doesn't even want to fly. He is walking and his friends ask to join him along his grouchy stroll.
"What are you doing?" his animal friends each ask happily.
Grouchy bird hardly has a kind response. My favorite is when he answers, "Let me give you a do it by placing one foot in front of the other ."
His bad mood doesn't last very long once he realizes the fun he is having as the center of attention.

Grumpy Bird is a must have and a great break from the smaller leveled books. Just today I had a boy pick it up to read independently. For all you teachers out there who think levels. My buddy J (who is reading around a Fountas and Pinnell G/ RR 11-12 ) picked up this book to enjoy independently. I understand the need for levels but don't live by them. Enjoying good books is something I feel each student has a right to experience without being forced to read at a certain level each time they pick up a book.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Books with voice

Melanie Watt held the trophy for the kid's favorite picture book last year. Yes, Scaredy Squirrel never remained in the Melanie Watt basket of books for long. "Where is Scaredy Squirrel Mrs. DiCesare?" little L would always say. L and I would make a general announcement as to its whereabouts and the borrowing from one another would begin. Why can't schools provide 5 copies of new favorite picture books (I usually buy 1 for the classroom) instead of 5 copies of leveled books. My kids always want the new, brightly colored, full- of- voice and humor picture book. Ok, back to the purpose of the post. This year, the book that is in sought out daily is a book I found last spring by David Horvath titled Bossy Bear. David is also the co-creator of uglydolls. I knew I had spotted these ugly creatures around town. My own boys love Bossy Bear and would be thrilled to have an uglydoll (Christmas is around the corner). My favorite is Moxy. David also blogs at UGLYBLOG. Check him out!

When I first read Bossy Bear this spring, I laughed out loud and immediately jumped into character pretending to be the little blue tyrant. Just looking at Bossy Bear, I felt his selfishness...the spotlight, his gold crown and cape and the word "mine" coming from his head. He is all about what he wants and that is why I think this book hits home with many of my kiddos.
Bossy Bear's favorite word is GIMMIE! He demands things to go his way, yells at others when he has to wait, and he orders others around. As you can imagine, he doesn't have many friends. When a little pig and dog do ask him to play, it is his way or the highway. And that is when Bossy Bear realizes the pain of lonliness. The pain is short lived as he orders someone new ( a turtle) to hand over his balloon. Surprisingly, the turtle does and Bossy Bear questions, "you don't think I am bossy?"
"You are bossy," said the turtle.
"But you don't have to be."
Turtle's acceptance and honesty is the beginning to a new friendship and the ending of the book.

Just this past week K asked me... "Where is Bossy Bear Mrs. DiCesare?" This weekend I purchased my 2nd copy for the classroom!! Kids love to read and reread books with voice. I can't wait to tie this one into writing workshop too!!

Friday, October 26, 2007


Friday's Post:
You know during the course of a day when the lightbulb goes off and you have those little ah ha's. I find myself are more aware an emotion, a behavior or sometimes I notice something brand new. Sometimes the ah ha happens during a conversation with someone or as I observe my students interacting with each other or another adult. It is when that stepping back and watching happens when I feel like I can reflect on how I can better meet the needs of others students, my own kids, my family or friends.

Today I had a few of those moments in the classroom. I thought about a moment I had with a writer when I jumped in to comment too soon. Later, I realized how I could have been patient enough to let that child lead a little more. I thought about a kiddo conversing with an adult and the time this adult took to really share and listen. This ah ha made me aware of how I need to be patient with conversation. Then I thought about when I was listening to a student read and I jumped in too soon with a prompt. I could have been more patient. Each one of my students deserves patience from me. Some days it is easier to give than others. I find when I slow myself down and practice patience with my self, I begin to breathe patience in the classroom. Usually if I feel I have had a patient day at school, I am not so patient when things get hairy at home and vice versa...patient, listening at home not so much as I'd like at school. There's that struggle with balance again.

Saturday's post:

On a lighter note...
Today I took a Cover to Cover break! I love the goodies I purchased (my goal was to spend under $100..didn't happen) and have filled my school bag with for Monday. I also love feeling like Santa at Christmas when I come in with new books. They will be fighting over them! I will share a few of my favs this week.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Are you groovin?

I was reading a bit about how Sarah at Amick's Articles uses music to help with management and routines during reading workshop. I love to sing and incorporate music in the classroom. I am wondering if and how primary and intermediate teachers incorporate it into their rooms? Is it just a fun thing? Do teachers use it in purposeful ways? Here are 2 of my favs. Do you use music?

The Good Green Earth by James K.
This song from the album Good Morning Sun Good Evening Night. It is a class favorite and one that I learned to sign last year as I was blessed with an interpreter and hearing impaired kiddo. I use this as a break between workshops as my students are building stamina. The song is close to 6mins long and we sing about days of the week, months of the year and seasons. As we sing and move, I invite the kids to jump for the day of the week we are on and squat down for their birthday month. We sign some of the song too! It is all move, sing and just have a little fun together.

Curious Geroge Soundtrack
by Jack Johnson

3 R's is my favorite and I love to crank it up during our recycling unit. I turn the refrain into a poster that I use for shared reading and the kids love reading and singing the words. We talk about the ideas Jack Johnson sings about taking care of the earth.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hand Written Treasures

An odd thought came to me after I wrote a reflection in a book I read daily called Sacred Space. For some reason, I remembered a happy thought of organized note taking in high school. I loved to take notes (I feel a little strange admitting it to you). I loved to use a blue, ball point pen on crisp lined notebook paper. I still like to write with those pens but it seems I am writing less on paper and typing more on the computer. I mention this because at church today the priest mentioned that technology has evolved so much in the last 30 years that he feels that he rarely writes handwritten notes or letters anymore. He mentioned that he has started to write letters again (you know the handwritten kind) just to shock people! I think he has a bit of a point. What is better than a hand written letter or card on a special paper that the writer intended for you? I have a friend who sends me thank yous and little gifts through snail mail and her hand written words are treasure. I have saved each letter she has sent me. I won't ever empty the trash on her mail.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Aaaarrrgghh! Spider!

I was drawn to a couple books at Borders this weekend. I wanted to purchase 10 but limited myself to two. I knew llama llama mad at mama was a must have after reading about it at A Year of Reading. My class loved the first book llama llama red pajama and I can't wait to read Mad at Mama tomorrow.

I also purchased a book called Aaaarrgghh! Spider! I was drawn to the cover which has a glittery web from which a spider, the main character in the story, hangs. I opened the book up immediately was happy to find the story is told by the spider. I also loved the pictures and so did my own children. We found ourselves looking for the "real" pictures within the cartoon type drawings. It reminded me a bit of the illustrating techniques used by Doreen Cronin (Bounce) and Mo Willems (Knufflebunny). The first page spread appears upside down as the spider sits on the ceiling explaining how he wants to be a real family pet. The spider tries what he thinks are clever ways to demonstrate he would make a great family pet. Each time he appears in a new part of the house, the family screams "Aaaarrgghh! Spider! Out you go!" The little girl in the story finally notices the sparkly webs the spider resorts to making in the backyard and the family adopts him for a pet. This is where I felt the story lost me a bit. The spider becomes a real pet and goes everywhere with the family. I did come back to enjoy the ending when the spider feels such a part of the family he invites in all his friends inside and the story ends similarly to how it begins with "Aaaarrgghh! Spiders!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It has been awhile

It has been too long since I have had time to even think about what I want to think about. My first night of conferences is behind me. Interims (our first report card) have gone home and my assessment folders are off to a good start. I can breathe a little more again. I am anxious to get back to writing.

Here's what I have been thinking about:
Word Study: It is a hot topic at our literacy meetings as many of our tricky kids aren't really transferring what they are learning and noticing about words to their writing. I am thinking about how word study happens all day and trying to document ways it is supported in ww, shared writing, shared reading and through anchor charts.

Writing Workshop: Turning standards into " I can..." statements for kids
This month my team and I looked at the big ideas we practiced during writing workshop (these first 6 weeks) and the kids took ownership and evaluated themselves according to these " I can" statements. Here is what we saw kids needing:
I can think and write about ideas I have on my own (writer identity)
I can stretch and write words (word study/spelling strategies)
I can read my writing (revision strategy)
I can use spaces (organization)

Of course each of these targets are just tidbits of all the discussion we had about how and where writers get ideas, are brave about writing and stretching words, reread and fix when writing doesn't look right, sound right or make sense, and how writers organize writing on pages.
I also know that these "I can's" are practice and will be built upon throughout the entire year.
I am liking how the kids are understanding and responding to these "I can statements." I am anxious to see how they will unfold into our punctuation, nonfiction, poetry and small moment studies.

Reading Workshop: My kids love to read and have books they love. One kiddo goes back to Bad Kitty everyday for our initial read anything time. Another is addicted to a hot wheels book he chose and purchased through scholastic. Today we read Charlie Chick and it was a hit. (the kids love this is a noise making pop up book but what loved that they noticed was that is has repetition and just a few words on a page). I also copied the cover of this book and it became one of the anchor charts I use for the diagraphs. I will model how to refer to it during writing workshop when they stretch words with the "ch" sound. I know I need more time with interactive read alouds and comprehension talk but Sept/October has really been about tools for reading new words and noticing everything we can about books (from I wonder's to what basket can sort this book).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Books I have borrowed

Our curriculum support specialists (CST'S) shared some incredible ideas for organization and assessment with our staff today. I came away with some borrowed books about science notebooks. Here is what am reading this weekend. Great for inquiry!

Science Notebooks by Brian Campbell and Lori fulton

Science Workshop by Wendy Saul

Saturday, September 22, 2007

How do you find balance?

It is Saturday and my brain woke me up around 5:30am. My body was telling me to stay in bed but one thought stood out among the zillions dancing in my brain:

I haven't exercised in days.

Believe it or not I purposely have been allowing myself to sleep in and slow down this week. Life has been too busy and I felt the need to listen to my heart and turn it down a notch. It has worked (in some ways). I haven't been as rushed with my own children in the morning. My have approached my classroom with a "slow it down" attitude instead of a "we have to get it all done" attitude. BUT... I haven't been sleeping. My nights are restless and I wake up early with what I am thinking is stress. No exercise= no way for me to release stress. AHHHHH!

I thought about a conversation I had this week with a friend who was battling with BALANCE. I am too. It feels like September is one of the hardest months. What would I do without the weekend? I get to read a little, write a little, clean a little and rethink how I will try to juggle and balance life for the week ahead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Poetry Friday

Found a poem that amazed me today as I was reading a newsletter sent to my husband and I. The poem was written by a 12 year old boy named Jason Meyer. It touched me and I wanted to share it with you.


My life is a book,
Each chapter unfolding as I go.
The chapters each give an outlook.

In the first chapter I cry over a lost toy,
the next chapter I am filled with joy,
I 'm making a friend the next,
And the friend leaves after a few more.
Even after losing a friend, I'm never alone.
For thou art always with me.
The one who plays a big part.

I have been taught many things,
But there is one I will never forget.
There is always someone there for me.
Whether my parents are gone or they are there.
God and them both will always be there for me.

This is all a conclusion
To one part of my life and beginning to another.
When some thing new starts a new chapter begins.
Each lesson is a paragraph and when this life is over,
I will have a cover and a title.

Jason Meyer, 12 years old

Sunday, September 9, 2007

New back to school books

I know school has started for most of us but I didn't want to forget about those newer books I've added to my back to school collection. I reserved these at the library after reading about them in a link provided by Big A little a in her weekend review earlier this month. Here they are:

The Bus Stop by Janet Morgan Stoeke
I love the pictures in this happy , rhyming story. It feels like one of those books you want to read again and again. Short amount of text on each page and new characters to meet all on their way to the bus stop! If you enjoy books by this Minerva Louise author, your sure to enjoy this catchy find.

Lissy's Friends by Grace Lin
Learn how to fold a paper crane, learn how it feels to be new, learn how to make a new friend...Grace Lin gives us so many lessons in this beautifully illustrated book. Lissy is a likable new girl who is a little shy and finds comfort in her craft for creating origami creatures. Her mom, of course, encourages her to go outside with the other kids to play after school. She ventures out with her paper companions until they fly away with a strong wind. It is then that she meets Paige, who brings back her paper crane and their friendship unfolds.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dog Books

What is it about dogs? Many of the teachers I work with have dogs and adore their pets. I admit I am not a dog fanatic (sorry...I will pet dogs, hug them and talk to them but have no desire to own one). Along with loving dogs, I've noticed the appeal for dog stories among the primary teachers as well as the kids. I am hoping the kids will help me create a basket of dog stories for our classroom library. I am thinking my dog and animal lovers will really enjoy this basket! Here are a few I have in mind. What am I missing?

Bad Dog Marley by John Grogan
Unloveable by Dan Yaccarino
Let's Get a Pup! Said Kate By Bob Graham
Bark George! By Jules Feiffer
Why Do I have to eat off the floor? By Chris Hornsey
Polly Molly Woof Woof By David Llyod
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Good Dog Carl By Alexandra Day

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Knowing where to start with word study

One of the best ways to initiate conversation about words is to actually read about them. I can't help but teach with picture books when noticing words, thinking about words and beginning conversation about words. After spending a week getting to know my students, I feel like I have a better feel for where we need to begin with word study. Here are a few of my favorite books I will be pulling for word study this month:

the alphabet tree by Leo Leo
This story reinforces the understandings of letters, words and sentences. Leo's characters explain that the little leaves of the alphabet tree each have a special letter. The wind comes to blow and the leaves begin to stick together (making words) and soon the words begin to learn (from a friendly caterpillar) that they have the job of coming together to express important things like...peace on earth and goodwill towards men. This book invites kids to think about the words they already can spell. I am thinking I will talk with the students about how we might create an alphabet tree in our classroom. I will be looking for what words my students can spell quickly and easily on their own leaves. I anticipate moving forward and exploring the kinds of words the kids created (names, high frequency, colors, familiar places, numbers, etc.)

The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian, Ann Seidler and Richard Martin
I remember reading about this oldie but goodie in The Reading Teacher. I was lucky enough to buy it at a second hand kid's clothing store in their used book section. What a find! I love this book as much as the kids do. The story, about a town trying to feed a hungry monster who they can't understand, invites kids to solve rhyming riddles throughout the book. The invented rhymes and repetition allow the students to truly take part in this humorous story. It is filled with opportunities to solve and read rhyming words together. I think this book begins our journey with rhyme because I don't want to forget to really ask my students what rhyming words look like and sound like. This thinking will help us gather rhyming words from many texts so that we can brainstorm our findings about rhyme.

Q is for Duck by Michael Folsom
This alphabet book challenges my students to make simple inferences about how a letter and word are related. Can you guess why Q is for duck? Ok, think about what you know about a duck (kids say..."a duck is white, it waddles, swims in a pond, says quack"). Now think about how the text tells us Q should connect some way with what we know about a duck. Quack begins with q. Maybe q is for duck because ducks quack? I love to read this book aloud and begin to experiment with inferences.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What kind of reading do you do?

The energy of 20 first graders is exciting, comical and often overwhelming. The first two days of school have been busy and crazier than normal. Despite the craziness, I am feeling like my job everyday is to show them a love for reading so they love to read. I am determined to alter the thoughts of some of my kids who do not yet see themselves as readers. I have already had two students say to me..."I can't read." Can't we start labelling kids as readers in pre-school when they read a story according to the pictures? Or even before that? I would call my 2-year old niece a reader because she loves books and reads them with my sister and then in her own way to my sister. This phrase (I can't read) feels like kids don't see themselves as readers.

My mission for the past day and now for the rest of the week is to help my students redefine and rediscover what reading is for themselves. Today we read Baby Bears Books by Jane Yolen. We then thought about all the kinds of reading Baby Bear experienced throughout the day. He was read to, picture read(you know...browsed the pictures), read books he already knew the words to, read with his brother and read by himself. This thinking helped us think about the reading we like to do with books. What kind of reading do you like to do? (I asked) Here is what I heard..."I like to look at the pictures and tell the story in my head, I look at the words and the pictures when I read, I look at the pictures when I read and I look at the sounds in words and then I read." I feel like this is a good start to understanding reading. We needed to have this conversation.

We each searched for our first book to place in our personal book bins and then shared what kind of reading we would be doing with that book. The choices varied and the kinds of reading varied but we were all on one playing ground...reading (and liking it)! I think it was wonderful to establish a sense of respect for each other as readers and learners. We all are in different places and that is ok!

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I woke this morning around 3:00am to my son yelling out in his sleep. His fearful scream half woke him up to tears. It was just a bad dream. My husband and I comforted him quickly and slipped back into bed. With school starting soon, Larry's bad dream was just what kept me from falling back asleep. Stress took over and my thoughts drove my mind. My eyes were closed but I was awake thinking of anything but sleep. I eventually forced myself up and out of bed at 6am and read my daily reflection from a book called Sacred Space.

The big question I took from the reflection was...Can I avoid the trap of receiving too much and take gifts for granted without any real change in my life? So I started to reflect on changes that I truly felt I have made in my heart, soul and person.

I thought about a morning run this past spring where I was moved by a song by Bethany Dillon called "You Change Me." I listened to the lyrics and began to cry happily, almost a feeling empowerment and freedom. I think I felt a freedom from fears that were holding me back in my profession. This past year I stepped out of my own little comfort zone after 8 or so years of part and full time teaching in a place where I was unhappy. I finally listened and have been truly blessed. I am even attempting to write (this blog) and a little more. For me it was took awhile but I listened. I wish I could do that better(that is listen). (thank you God)

I also thought about the changes I have made as a parent. I think these changes I pray for everyday. I can be a maniac, try to make everything perfect mom to boys. I have issues but I think I am aware of myself and am trying not to change my kids and overstep my bounds. I am trying to become more conscious of their thoughts, questions and their reactions. God, it is hard. Please help me listen.

Finally, the area that I am challenging myself to change...remembering the little things that matter to others. I am trying to think each day about how I help someone else. I am horrible at helping people, thanking people for little things. Jack Johnson and Ben Harper sing a song called "My Own Two Hands." It will serve as a reminder to me and hopefully my students that, "I can change the world with my own two hands. Make it a better place with my own two hands. Make it a kinder place with my own two hands, with my own, with my own, two hands." They are my source for learning and change. Simple acts. It's simple...change.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Our last day

Today was the last day of summer at our house. I start back at school for two work days and my kids are off with the grandparents (it is so nice to have family close). We slept in, laid around the house and then ran the last minute back to school errands. School shoes were purchased (I let them choose and I had to hold my tongue about the bulky- loud sketchers they each chose). Then we were off to Sam's Club for a few items. We ate lunch and then I promised to get them home to hang with the neighbors. They were elated to just be home on their last day. They adventured in their forest of forts, raced down the sidewalk on bikes and were sucked into the neighbor's wii. At dinner we shared mad-sad-glad (a conversation game we play on a rare evening when we eat together). Larry, Mo and Curly quite simply were glad to ride bikes, to be with friends and be with each other. I was so happy they were happy. I will long for days like today when the rat race begins. So long summer...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Can your kids pour their own milk?

It has been sometime since I've posted. Guilt lingered for a bit and then I began to think about all the work I had ahead of me in my own classroom, with my kids (back to school stuff and transitioning to a new school) and the house. (I am so tired of cleaning and anticipating showings...yes we are trying to sell in this frustrating market.) I feeling a bit more organized but I don't think I'll ever feel completely ready to get back into the classroom...I never do. I think I can get caught up thinking too much.

Speaking of thinking, my neighbor caught my attention the other day when he said, " You know you have it made when your kids can pour their own milk." I thought about how my own children can't pour from a full gallon but can pour if the milk is half full. Then I began to think about how pouring the milk is something I want my school kids to be taught all year. That is, I want them to know strategies and tools for becoming independent. I want them to feel they are independent in the classroom. When I think about these "tools" many thoughts come to mind. Kids need tools for taking care of the room, taking care of each other and tools for learning and knowing themselves as learners. Really, everything I do as a teacher is revealing(arranging for the students to figure out something independently without full awareness of it) tools and strategies that the kids themselves will use. Even though they may not always pour from a full gallon, I want them to know, understand and practice trying.

I remember using questioning quite a bit last year to get my kids thinking about how they could cooperatively design a wall sized map of our city. I supplied cardboard box fronts, paper towel tubes, markers, crayons, small boxes and a story called It's My City by April Pulley Sayre. The students went to town (hee hee...pun here) and created a 3-d city with their homes, streets, our river, local stores, restaurants, trees, name it. The students loved creating and thinking about our city but I think most enjoyed the fact that it was truly their creation. I just provided the tools. I wish I would have taken a picture.

By the way, Peter Johnson writes about "revealing" in his book Choice Words.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Song Books

A favorite basket in my classroom library is the song basket. I think introducing and reading/singing song books attract readers for many reasons. Stronger readers pay attention to the text and (I've noticed) lead small groups of friends in song. Struggling readers feel safe reading song books because the words to the story are already in their head. I think song books support readers but often kids don't feel like they are reading! For our younger readers (who are developing stamina), song baskets provide a "break" or easy reading during reading workshop.

As a teacher, I use song books to support fluency and word study. When my students and I have mastered a song or poem (mastering it allows us to have enjoyed the piece and given us background), I often post it up for us to read together(shared reading). Then, I invite students to notice sounds, words(high frequency, patterned words), word endings, and vocabulary.

Here are two new song books I am adding to my library after talking with our music teacher who incorporates children's literature and music on a daily basis. She has these in her collection so I know the kids will be teaching me a few things about singing them...

a-tisket a-tasket by Ella Fitzgerald
This is a classic written by a class act!

Cumbayah by Floyd Cooper
Who doesn't enjoy Floyd Cooper creations? Lots of repetition and great for the beginning of the year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Back to school find

I have already spent too much money on "things" for my classroom. I am not including books as things because books are timeless. I am talking about furniture (including a small wipe-able 2 seater couch for little bodies and a plant stand that I have converted into a stand for books), book bins, durable take home bags for kids to take to and from school and other miscellaneous stuff. This leads me to my favorite back to school purchase. Drum roll please...MAGNETIC BOOK CHANNELS!

These channels seem very durable and strong...I know I can layer picture books on them. I can't wait to display new book finds on these. I have a great spot in mind for them and I will let you know how they work.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Picture books about books

Ok...I have been thinking about some books about books that will help me begin discussion on various topics during reading workshop. It is late so
I will be brief about a few books and how they will support first grade conversation on reading...

Baby Bear's Books by Jane Yolen

I am hoping for kids to connect with all the different types of reading little bear does throughout the day. He reads the pictures- not words, he read books he already knows the words to and his family reads to him. I love all the different kinds of reading he experiences and I especially love that he recognizes the kinds of reading he is doing. I think this invites kids to think about what kind of reading they are most comfortable with at home and in the classroom. This book also has great pictures, rhythm and rhyme. I love Jane Yolen books!

Book by Kristine O'Connell George

I loved this book first because it has a short amount of text per page and the pictures support that text. This makes it easy for kids to come back to after hearing it a few times aloud. I like it for reading workshop because the little boy "plays" with his new book all day. He takes it for a ride in his wagon, puts it on his head...all things a 3-4yr would do. I picture myself asking my own students what it looks like to care for books as first graders. What will it look like when we play with books, put books away and share with others?

Reading Makes You Feel Good by Todd Parr

I think this story will make a great companion to conversations we have with partners about why we read. We can look at our thoughts for why reading is so special and compare it to Todd's. If first graders are expected to be able to read by the end of the year, shouldn't we talk about why it is so important? Todd is just the author to begin positive reading vibes because he feels (and so do I) that reading makes you feel good!

These are just some quick thoughts and ideas I had. I am looking for other picture books that are about reading. Do you have a favorite?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Summer Reads

This summer I feel like I have read more than I have in a long time. I began thinking about why I have been able to read more than I feel I ever have in the course of a summer. Is it because my kids are more independent (8, 6, and 4yrs old) and I can steal some time while they are off playing? Am I purposely making more time for myself to read? Maybe getting rid of one of the two TVs we had on the first floor has helped. Is it because I read more of what I wanted to read instead of what I thought I should be reading...more of my choices were for pleasure this summer. Whatever the answer I have enjoyed every bit of summer reading.
Here's what I've read: (in order from June up to today and this doesn't include picture books of which I have read quite a few)

Choice Words Peter Johnston
Part of Study Driven Katie Wood Ray
The Tale of Despereaux Kate DiCamillo
Water for Elephants Sara Gruen--------this was my favorite (page turning!)
Reread/listened to Harry Potter 5 and 6 and then devoured 7
Don't Forget to Share Leah Meremelstein
Just started The Alchemist Paulo Coelho

I also love Prevention magazine and always catch up with other magazines while waiting to get my hair done or waiting in line at the grocery.

In my stack waiting to be read is: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a suggestion from my mom and a book club read for school)

What next?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Picture books about motion

The days are numbered until school begins. You know, now that it is August 1. Some of us have already made our ways back to the classroom. I have already gone in and arranged tables, cubbies and bookshelves. I need to get a feel for how the room will best meet my needs and the needs of the kids. I need time to just look at the room and think. I also need this "think time" when it comes to books.

I love how the summer gives me time to think about books. During my last library visit, I took time to check out a number of picture books about motion. Motion is a first grade science standard in Ohio and I know my students will want to get their hands on books about the topic once we explore it this year. I know we will add baskets to our library throughout the year and why not add it as we explore science.
Here's what I found:

Motion: Push and Pull, Fast and Slow

This was my one read-aloud for motion last year because it was in at the public library( I always end up at the public library for ss and science topics. I guess I like variety). It has a table of contents, fun facts on each page and experiment ideas towards the end of the book. Each page spread addresses a different topic related to motion (speed, direction, friction,inertia,gravity etc) The short amount of text on each page is appropriate for first grade but some of the topics are beyond (I feel)first grade. I will still check it out and use some of the pages for read aloud. I know I can personally suggest it to my stronger readers.

And Everyone Shouted, "Pull!"

I like this book about motion because I think first graders will be able to read it especially after hearing it. This is a story of how the animals on a farm help a farmer deliver his goods to a local market. The animals (who have conversation through word bubbles...reminds me of Mo Willems books) discuss pushing, pulling and force throughout the story. They run into some trouble when the wheels of the cart get stuck in some mud and when everybody pulls they are able to move. It seems like a great story to begin talking about motion. I can see kids coming back to it because it has word bubbles along with a short storyline on each page. I may suggest kids pretending to be characters and reading the word bubbles as they "play" with this book.

Energy in Motion

I like this book for a few reasons. It helps me connect the energy and motion(both topics addressed in first grade curriculum). It makes connections to objects in motion that kids understand and already know about. I have a feeling my students will want to explore swinging, somersaults, kicking and flinging rubber bands like all the kids inside this rookie reader book. Along with the first two books, it has a short amount of text per page and is a book some first graders can come back to on their own.

Monday, July 30, 2007


I've been tagged by Literacy Teacher and A Year of Reading!!

Here goes for this teaching meme...

I am a good teacher because...I love to learn! I love thinking about my students learning and what will challenge them as a class and then individually.

If I weren't a teacher I would be a ...a writer of some sort or a librarian. I love to write my thoughts and I love books.

My teaching style is unique...I know every one's style is their own but I guess I like to think I approach the classroom with ideas from professionals I've read and learned from: I use ideas from Debbie Miller(she has helped me think about putting kids first), Kathy Collins(she has helped me add humor and let little issues go), Lisa Cleveland (Katie W Ray)(they have helped me notice the importance of inquiry stance), Georgia Heard(she helps me remember the importance of authenticity of kid work), Patricia Cunningham(she has helped me figure out how to notice words throughout the day), Lucy Calkins (helped me understand the workings of literacy) and Peter Johnson(he has helped me realize how powerful words are in the simplest of conversations during the day).

My classroom is...inviting, comfortable and crafted by the kids and me.

My lesson plans are... I have to say first that I just really don't like writing organized step by step plans. I do a bunch of thinking, jotting notes and visualizing myself teaching. I write down my thoughts on daily post-its that stick to the kid's lit I am teaching from for the day and these books become "my stack" or my plans for the day. I admit, probably need to be more organized

One of my teaching goals is... to talk to my kids about what they know about themselves as writers more this year. Last year I felt like my students were able to look back and talk about their growth over the course of a year. This year I am determined to use partner work and assessment before and after studying crafts/genres etc. to help my students become of aware of themselves as learners/ writers throughout the year.

The toughest part of teaching is...realizing that there isn't time for everything. I am learning to approach my teaching with fewer goals (yet addressing them deeply). These words I remember hearing from Sharon Taberski.

The thing I most love about teaching is...everything. I love the work, the people (kids and adults), the creating and you can't beat the schedule (I love knowing the summer is time my own 3 boys and I can go, relax or explore).

A common misconception about teaching is that the school year ends in June and picks up in August. Don't you feel like some of your best thoughts and work are done in the summer months?!

The most important thing I've learned since I started teaching is... let go and let the kids.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Connecting with Kids

Last night was the second of two nights I set up to casually "catch up" with my students from last year. I have always written a letter to my students over the summer but this year I decided to invite them to "run into me" at the library on one of two Monday nights in July. My purpose was to keep connected with my students. I wanted to hear about their adventures and their lives (first grade teachers do hear it all). I wanted, of course, to hear about their summer reading and writing plans and be a resource for those who might be stuck with what to read. After thinking it through and sending the letters, I started to second guess myself. Was this too much? I didn't want families to feel pressured or to come across over doing things. I would just have to wait and see...

Fortunately, both Mondays were a success. I feel like the 5 families who dropped by appreciated the meeting time. Here is a general sense of what I felt the meeting times provided:

1. Time to reconnect and share summer stories. Not only did I get a chance to hang with the kids but I think the moms enjoyed it too (me too moms)!

2. Time to get some summer homework accomplished (this summer we(Chapman Elementary) are inviting the kids to bring in a picture of themselves reading for the first weeks of school...what a great way to begin talking about reader identity...great idea Franki).

3. Time to talk to my students about what they are reading, listen to what have been their favorite reads and finally...REMIND KIDS THAT THERE IS NO NEED TO RUSH INTO JUST CHAPTER BOOK READING.

This is all I have time for today but I am thinking about how important it is to be able for our primary kids to PICTURE READ even if they can already read words in the text. More about my observations of a student able to read Henry and Mudge but not yet really picture reading! Any thoughts? What is picture reading to you?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Taking a Break

I am off to Lake Cumberland for an annual boat trip with my husband's side of the family. This is our 30th year anniversary but I have only truly been boating for 10 years with the women in his family. It is a memorable, spiritual and anticipated event each summer. I will only be enjoying 3 days on the boat while the rest of the crew will spend a week(yes, can you believe no kids). Needless to say I won't be blogging but will be catching up on Harry Potter. I have read them all but need to come back to book 5 (for the movie) and 6 (it has soooo much and I don't remember;I feel I need to reread to everything I can about the horcruxes to feel ready for 7). I am a fan and have been listening to The Order of the Phoenix all summer in and out of the car to review. I just downloaded The Half Blood Prince and will try to get in as much as I can in the car. What is it about Harry Potter that I love? Is it the characters? Or, is it that I have always loved fantasy? One of my favorites as a kid was A Wrinkle in Time.

See you sometime later this week...

Monday, July 9, 2007


My husband and I were relaxing in the living room last night (he was surfing and I was reading Water for Elephants...can't put it down). Curly, our four year old, came in and sat down to a puzzle of the alphabet we haven't pulled out in awhile. I thought nothing of it and dove back into my book until I noticed him singing the alphabet song to help him figure out where to put the letter K. After hearing him sing, I had to stop and watch him. He was using song as a strategy to help him solve a problem(that makes me so happy). Then, I watched him play with the M and the W (we have talked about how each flips to make the other). He pulled the M from its place, flipped it and tried to fit it in the W's place (it didn't work) and then tried to do the same with W. He then finished the puzzle. It felt like he was playing with the puzzle.

I can tell you that we sat down to that puzzle many a morning this year spending time together for 5 mins or so before we both left for school. We piled the letters up after dumping them, talked about family member's names that begin with certain letters and even matched them to an abc poster. It was our time. Not so much of a teaching time but more of an exploring time. I tried to let Curly take the lead and have him decide how to "play " with the letters (there were of course those days when I was hurrying him through the play so I could get to all the things I had to do at work that day).

Nonetheless, this made me think about play in my classroom. What exactly is play? What does it look like in the classroom? I started thinking about my own room. The only kind of (structured) play going on is "play with books." The kids settle in and then find books to read, explore or talk about with friends (this happens for the first 25 mins of the day). It ends up looking like "play." I mean if someone walked into the room he or she might think the kids were goofing around or "off task," but I actually set this time aside purposely so they can "play" with books. This year, I noticed one student would go right to her favorite bean bag and find books to read alone. Another student would wait until his buddies arrived and then they (a group of 4 or so boys) would sit around the non-fiction baskets and talk and read then talk, laugh and read. Another student would go back to the same book (National Geographic's World Atlas) and sit browsing continents and countries. There was always a group of girls singing song books like The Lady with the Alligator Purse. And then there was the student who was trying to get everyone off task. I would often sit with this student and read with him.
Now that I am looking back, it seems like he just needed to be taught how to play. Just like Curly used strategies to play with the puzzle, I think some kids need strategies for playing with books. I am anxious to talk to my students about different ways they "play" with books. I know they will have many ideas for one another and maybe it will open doors for those not sure about how to play.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Blue Manatee Escape

This past Monday finally felt like summer vacation for me. I wasn't chauffeuring kids to swim lessons, hosting the 4th like I did yesterday (hello stress)and I wasn't even on a breezy beach enjoying the sun. No, the feeling of true "summer vacation," to me, is when I can spend as much time as I desire finding books that I want to experiment with in my room next year (I feel a little weird admitting it to you). So, on Monday I enjoyed 2 1/2 hours at a children's bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In fact, Blue Manatee Children's Book Store is a place I could escape to for days. The warmth of the store, the people and the space captured my attention as soon I walked inside. The store connects to a "decafe"( doesn't decafe sound like a place where you can unwind) similar to a Starbucks or Caribou where you can sit down to your favorite drink and treat after finding your favorite books (and of course it is catered toward kids)!

Blue Manatee has a wonderful website ( with featured authors, newsletters and events. They even sell book gift baskets!

I found many books that I wanted to add to my classroom library and home library but limited myself to four. Here's one that I dug out of the poetry section. It is called Ook the Book and Other Silly Rhymes. Maybe you are familiar with this one but it was new to me and caught my attention for several reasons. Here goes:

1. I teach from a stack of children's books daily and loved how this one will support spelling and word study. It rhymes, incorporates word families(rimes), word endings (ing, y) and does so in the context of mini poetry-like stories!

2. Each page comes alive with a character named for a word family or is a pet and ing is a thing. I think by personifying the parts of words it will help kids come back to them. I can envision teaching them how to come back to this book as a resource for spelling. I can hear myself saying... " you remember ake from the silly rhymes book."

3. It leaves the readers with so many possibilities for noticing things...detailed pictures, memorable characters (In the twin and his pig Lin who is not so thin), word beginnings (onsets, digraphs, blends), and word endings (ing and in fly and goodbye...we can notice y sounds like i but our crazy language has us spelling the sound many ways)!

4. Finally, it is interactive. The author often asks the reader to find characters and answer
questions. This part of the book I found appealed to my 4 year old. I am anxious to see what my first graders think of it next year!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Conversations inspire poetry

Poetry Friday has me thinking about how as a mom and a teacher I can subtly help my kids notice and begin feeling poetry in the world around them. I think children begin to create understanding when they are having conversations and asking questions. So, I decided to just talk about poetry with my oldest son Mo (8) this summer. Here are some of our conversations that I am hoping will help him begin to create his own understandings about poetry (I hope I have given you enough background). Just an observations are written in italics.

Early June...
"I am a good poet mom."
"I agree Mo, what makes you feel like you are a good poet?"
" My teacher said I was."

(Teachers: Don't you feel like we (our words) are such a big part of the identity piece for our primary kids and Peter Johnson, author of Choice Words, helped me recognize this in myself and refers to this as labeling)

Mid June...
Knowing he felt like he is a good poet, I suggested he write a poem after we visited the beach on vacation. He does enjoy writing and sat on his own one evening a few days after the beach and recorded this in his notebook we picked up at Dollar General(I love to buy notebooks and notepads there and my kids are following suit). He wrote:

Big fish
Anosemons (enormous)
Antcoves (anchovies)
(If you notice, this is an acrostic poem(Bonita Beach). I was happy he knew this particular form for poetry but I wanted more for him. (He was writing words that went with the beach but some of the words didn't have anything to do with his own experience at the beach.) I wanted him to know poetry sings, that it tells our stories, that it helps us look at things in new ways, that is everywhere. So I am on a quest to help him discover poetry can be different than a form. I have to keep in mind that Mo is my son, and my goal is to observe times that we can talk about poetry take advantages of conversations without teacher pressure.

Late June...
Mo picked up a small stack of books to read at home one morning (the same morning we decided to turn off the video games). In his stack, he choose, Peter's Chair, Tippy- Tippy -Tippy,Hide!, DW Flips and I love you as much. (I thought his selections were so interesting...I love you as much is an old board book we've had for years) He read them in my room and was even practicing somersaults as he read Marc Brown's directions in DW Flips.

I asked him afterward which story felt most like poetry and why.

He said, " I love you as much because each page starts with said and that doesn't make sense."
I said, "Do you mean it doesn't sound like a sentence?"
"Ya, you know said the mother horse to her child' and said the mother goose to her child and the ocean is deep and endless blue sky are poetry too."
I said, "Don't you love how the whole book feels like poetry."

Here is some of what the author writes in I love you as much:

Said the mother goose to her child,
"I love you as much as the endless blue sky."

Said the mother whale to her child,
" I love you as much as the ocean is deep."

He recognizes the language in books and has a sense that poetry can be written differently. How can I get him to transfer this? How can I get my students to transfer?

Later June
After a morning of berry picking at a local farm, the boys and I were sampling the goodies at home. We ate right through 2 pints of strawberries and I asked them what we could write in a poem about these strawberries...
Mo immediately said some phrases that he felt sounded like poetry:
"yummy in my tummy"
"tongue in heaven"
"sweet like candy"
" Wow!" I said. You really sound like the author of I love you as much!

He had a feel for language and could easily talk to me about what it would sound like in a poem. He also had experienced the strawberry's taste and therefore, I think was successful brainstorming. ( I'll have to have this conversation about what I noticed with him). I will be looking for opportunities to talk some more with him in July (and maybe even get his thoughts to paper). I'll let you know how it goes.

Any thoughts? Talk to you about this again at the end of July!!!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Will he ever love books and love to read?

Here I am...completely excited but at the same time nervous about the idea of blogging. Excited because I am an addicted blog reader ready to give writing a try. Nervous because I want to write but feel like it has to be perfect (sounds like a student you've had doesn't it). This is my chance to let it go, share experiences I am having in the classroom and at home.

Two weeks into summer and I am ready to throw away the Nintendo DS's that both of my sons have in their hands. So, this morning we (this includes me and my son's...Mo (8), Larry (6) and Curly(4)) agreed to turn off all the electronics and read. The boys were off to choose from our collection of books as well as the stack we recently borrowed from the Northwest Library (my favorite around town).

Larry easily picked out an old and safe favorite that I have read aloud at home many times. He moved around the upstairs as he read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. After reading it he proudly walked into my room to show me his accomplishment. He looked spent but
I wanted to understand how he was feeling. I asked, "What did you love about the book?"
He said, "I didn't love it. It took too long to read all the flaps." I was thinking the flaps were one of the best parts of the book because they are interactive. Then I had to let go of my thoughts and really think about him. He didn't enjoy reading it. It was too long. He was only reading it because we had set aside time to read but he was proud. So as I would do in the classroom, I shared all the things I noticed about him as a reader. We agreed to start our next quiet time with me reading to him (letting him pick his favorites) and I would help him look for some shorter stories he can read alone because we have read them together many times (books like I went Walking, School Bus and Not a Box). I am also going to slip them in the pocket close to his seat in our van.

I would love to share Mo and Curly's story but I am out of time...another post.

I often feel responsible for helping Larry love reading. I feel like letting go of what I want and thinking about him is big and often hard for me. Note to is his reading identity.