Wednesday, March 4, 2015

World Read Aloud Day

Happy World Read Aloud Day! In the past I have celebrated by Skyping with authors and classrooms from all around our country. This year I didn’t plan ahead for any Skype visits. The date snuck up on me and I wasn’t sure what my schedule would hold during our two week PARCC testing window. So last week I looked at my plans with dismay – how to celebrate WRAD with no guests via Skype? And then, I laughed at myself. Who read to my class wasn’t as important as what we did – we needed a read aloud. And so, I did just that.

As I mentioned, we’re in the middle of PARCC testing. In my 4th/5th grade building we are testing grade levels on alternating days. So, in the next two weeks my class will test every other day. On the days that we test, we cannot switch for classes due to the alternating times of the test. That means I can only have class five times in ten days. As I planned ahead and debated what to teach, I decided to make the next two weeks about celebrating reading and writing. If we have to test, let’s make the rest of the time together about books and enjoyment. The best way I can think to do that is to read aloud.

Flipping through my picture book bins last week, I selected 10+ picture books to share over the course of the next ten days. For today, I picked two wonderful books: Red: A Crayon’s Story and The Day the Crayons Quit. I picked them because I wanted to review point of view, but also because I simply love them.

Red: A Crayon’s Story is a newer book in our classroom. I wasn’t sure what the kids would think about it, they loved it. After I finished in each class we talked about how it would have been different if told from the crayon’s point of view. When I asked each class what the story was about, they blew me away with their insights. These fifth graders shared ideas like:

It’s about being who you were meant to be.

It’s about the way we label others and how they can break free.

It’s about finding confidence, finding your story.

It’s about our tendency to put people into categories.

It’s about judgment and blindness.

It’s about feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Have I mentioned I love these kids?

Then I read The Day the Crayons Quit. I love this book. The kids pointed out the use of personification. They discussed how they felt bad for some crayons. How each one had a distinctive voice. They discussed how this book in first person would have been different if told in third. They were fascinating to listen to.

One thing I realized mid read during my third class is that my students are anything but quiet when I read many picture books. Some do stun them into silence, but often  these kids have a running conversation about what they notice as I’m reading. It doesn’t seem to detract from the read aloud, if anything it adds to it. I love listening to their thinking as I read; they always go in directions I could never anticipate.

I ended our day with my homeroom in a perfect way. We read from our current novel read aloud, Fish in a Tree. I picked this book because I adore Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Her book, One for the Murphys, is still one of my absolute favorites. I don’t think, no I know, that I didn’t realize how healing this book would be. Reading about Ally’s difficulties in school, the way she visualizes things, the way her art comes to her, the way she feels when she cannot read – it is powerful. I have many students who connect to Ally. When I read Fish in a Tree aloud, you could hear a pin drop. It isn’t that my students aren’t engaged here; it is that they are almost holding their breath, waiting to see how Mr. Daniels will help Ally. Waiting to learn how to help each other, and themselves.

I looked up at the clock and closed the book to a chorus of groans. Kids filed out of the room, shouts of “See you tomorrow, Mrs. S.!” and then, it was silent. I thought back to all of the books I shared with them today and realized, I can’t think of a better way to spend World Read Aloud Day than just the way we did. Perfection.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

An Unexpected Snow Day and Padlet

I rolled over at 6:15 am like usual and grabbed my phone to turn off the alarm. Squinting, I saw that there was a text message. My eyes widened as I saw that it was from our school district.

No school due to icy conditions.

What? My brain reeled.

I knew we were supposed to get freezing rain today, but I dismissed it as not likely when I had gone to bed last night. We’d had over eight inches of snow on Sunday. Surely we wouldn’t now have freezing rain on top of that, right? Welcome to Illinois in the winter.

After stumbling down the stairs and taking Rosie out for a morning walk around the yard (and slipping and sliding the entire time), I sat down at my computer. I knew my students would be waking and gleeful over a day spent at home. We were supposed to be taking our first PARCC test today. I wondered what they would be doing instead.

Grabbing the books I had next to my bed, I took a photo of them and posted it to Instagram sharing reading as my plan for the day. A few kids immediately posted back to me. I love chatting with them, but felt bad for the kids who weren’t on Instagram, how could I invite them into the conversation? And then I remembered, Padlet.

When I’ve been absent in the past and needed to communicate with my class, we have set a wall up on Padlet so they could ask me questions throughout the day. Now, if I was truly too sick to communicate, of course I wouldn’t do this. But I’ve done this with students when I’m home because I have a sick kiddo or I’ve been at a conference. It was a great way for us to stay in touch and for me to feel like I’m caught up on the classroom when I walk in on the next day. I knew Katharine Hale had recently used Padlet with her kids during a snow day. I wondered if mine would like to try. So, I set up the wall.

I shared the link to our wall on Instagram and through Twitter and Facebook. I also emailed the parents of my students and then, I waited. Did anyone want to share their plans for the day? They sure did! 

It has been a lot of fun watching the responses come in throughout the day. Students have shared, colleagues from around the globe, current and former students’ parents, colleagues from school, and our principal – all have posted a quick note on our page. I cannot wait to look these over with my students tomorrow and discuss our unexpected gift of a day at home and how they chose to spend their day.

If you’d like to join in our conversation on Padlet, please do by clicking HERE. Click on the screen twice. A white box will open up in the top left corner. Put your name on the top line, what you are doing today in the body of the text. Click out of the box to save your writing when you are finished.

An unexpected day at home can be the best possible type of day. Hope you all are having a fabulous day as well.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Special Delivery by Philip Stead and Matthew Cordell

When I found out that Philip Stead and Matthew Cordell were collaborating on a book, I was beyond excited. Either of these two creating a book is enough for me to purchase it. Both of them together? It would be a must buy. And then, I got an email. Would my class consider doing a pen pal activity with another class to celebrate Stead and Cordell’s new book, Special Delivery? I didn’t have to think twice. Absolutely.

A week or so ago, I received the large package from MacMillan. In it were envelopes to mail our post cards, postcards, books wrapped up in craft paper, and a red envelope. I put them on the shelf in my classroom closet and chose not to glance again until this week. I so badly wanted to read the book ahead of time, but I made myself wait.

Now, most classrooms that are reading Special Delivery are doing so tomorrow, on the book’s actual release date. However, since I had all three of my reading classes participating, I needed to go ahead with the activity today. Tomorrow my classes will all be PARCC testing and I won’t see any groups besides my homeroom.

With each class today I explained our project – to write pen pal letters to some classes, including my friend Mrs. McAllister’s class, in Maine. But what should we write about? Then I showed them a letter from Philip Stead.

They were a bit excited to see a letter from an author. Then I showed them the post cards; they thought those were pretty cool. And then, we opened the book.

First we had to smell the book in each class, a lesson my students have taken from Mr. Schu. Then we oohed and aahed over the cover that was under the cover.
J When we were satisfied that we had checked out the stamps featured on the cover enough, for now, we opened the book.

Special Delivery tells the tale of Sadie who wants to mail an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine because she is a bit lonely and could use the company. We follow her throughout the story as she calmly problem solves the correct way to ship an elephant. My students were highly entertained by Sadie’s plight, her problem solving skills, and the variety of animals that she encountered along the way. Listening to these big fifth graders chant, “Beans Beans Beans” as a reply when I read, “Choo Choo Choo” was the highlight of my day. Who says older kids don’t enjoy picture books? My kids sure do. But really, we fell in love with Sadie, her spirit of adventure, bravery, and kindness. I mean, if you are willing to write a letter to an alligator – and send him a stick of gum – there is not much you wouldn’t do for a friend.

Upon closing the book we brainstormed, what should we write our letters about? Some kids wanted to write about the best thing they ever got in the mail. Some wanted to write about the best thing they sent. And many wanted to write about what they would ship if they could. We all agreed that if I could ship anything in the world, I would ship a Starbucks store to myself. Then I could stop driving fifty miles round trip any time I wanted a Chai Latte.

Thanks to MacMillan for such an enjoyable day spent in our classroom. If you haven’t checked out Special Delivery yet, my students and I recommend you do. And then you can ask yourself – and your students – what would you ship to someone else (or yourself) if you could? The sky is the limit! Have fun!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Celebrate This Week

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

I’m jumping into Ruth’s Celebrate This Week posts a day late, but I’m here nonetheless! There has been so much to celebrate that I feel I absolutely must join in, but this post has to be written in the twenty minutes it is going to take my lasagna to be cooked so I can join my family for dinner. Ready, set, go!

Awesome Test Results
A week ago Thursday I had a mole removed from my arm. I have a family history of melanoma, so it isn’t something I take lightly. Also, I knew (even among the ridiculous amount of freckles I have) that it had changed over the past few months. My doctor was concerned, so off it came. It was a long week of waiting, but I got the terrific news that it was cells that could have become cancer, but hadn’t yet. WOO HOO!

Slice of Life
It is one of my most favorite blogging times of the year. Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life blogging community for the month of March. (Click HERE to learn more.) Slicers write each day on their blog – a short narrative of their day – and leave comments for other slicers. This is the first year I am not officially joining. I’m working on saying no to things that I don’t think I can handle; and one more item on my plate right now would threaten to topple it. That being said, I’m excited to cheer on my friends and see so much writing go off into the world.

Sweet Students
I love my students. Each year I worry a bit – can I possibly love these new kids as much as I did the year before? And, every year the same thing happens, my heart grows. I cannot possibly list all of the wonderful things they do for me on a daily basis, but seeing this Instagram post from my student, Cal, made my night Friday night. To know a child thinks enough of you to think of you outside of school, remembers you love sunsets, and is willing to post that on Social Media? Yep, I have the best job in the world.

I turned the big 4-1 on Friday. Birthdays aren’t a huge deal to me, and I prefer all things in life to be a bit on the low-key side. This one was, and it was perfect. I shared cookies with my students at school, had a quiet night at home. I felt a little under the weather so I retreated to my room, read, napped, read, and cuddled with Rosie. My boys visited me upstairs and I reflected on just how blessed I am.

Title Talk

Donalyn and Colby moved Title Talk to this week due to a conflict last week. Their topic is Bringing Back the Joy of Reading. Donalyn has, unfortunately, run into some angry travel gods and will not be able to host tonight. I’m excited to step in and co-host for her and I hope to see you there. What a fun topic and I think it will be exactly what I need to jump into another workweek.
My students experiencing the joy of being readers
when Lisa McMann tweeted them back. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Importance of Reading Aloud

World Read Aloud Day is upon us (info HERE) and I am once again reminded of the power of the read aloud. I grew up hearing books read aloud to me. My parents read aloud to us when we were young, and even as we grew. My teachers would read aloud to us in front of the class as the stories danced through my head. And I would, in turn, go home and read to my “class” of stuffed animals – practicing my read aloud voice, working on how to show a picture book so that I could read it and “they” could see the pictures at the same time. 

I’ve always known the importance of a read aloud.

As a grad student getting my degree in elementary education, I still remember my teacher, Barb Dress, reading Patricia MacLachlan’s Journey to us. I was mesmerized by her voice, MacLachlan’s story. At the age of twenty-two, that read aloud time was my favorite part of class.

Fast forward to my time as a teacher. I spend time each year deliberating what book will be our first read aloud of the year. And while I wish I could read novels to all three of my classes all year long, the time I’m given just doesn’t allow for it. Read aloud time in my other two classes consists of picture books, which are fabulous in their own right. Read aloud time for my homeroom is a mixture of picture books and novels. It is magical.

So far this year we’ve gone to school with Albie in Absolutely Almost, and had our heart broken and mended with him. We rode the train with Piper and Anna in Mark of the Dragonfly and watched a friendship grow in spite of all of the odds. We’ve laughed along with Jon Scieszka and his brothers in Knuckleheads and told stories of our own crazy exploits with our siblings. And we’ve met an amazing squirrel named Ulysses and an equally amazing girl named Flora and realized that friendship has no boundaries. Just this week we have learned about a girl named Ally and found the power of a good friend, and a good teacher. We can’t wait to learn more about her.

Read aloud time is sacred. It brings my class closer together and bonds us as a family through stories. I have even had a parent tell me this year that her child was in tears when he was sick because we were at a pivotal moment in Mark of the Dragonfly and he was going to miss it. (I read a picture book that day so he wouldn’t.) I’ve had students beg me not to have a substitute read the read aloud books because, “It just isn’t the same.” Reading aloud – I think it is the single most important thing you can do in your classroom. My year is not the same without it. But don’t take just my word for it, here’s the brilliant Kate DiCamillo with her thoughts on reading aloud.

Read Aloud. Every day. Every age. Just do it.  
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