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 change...it 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 play...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, grass...you 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.