Monday, November 23, 2015

Making Book Trailers and a flash freebie!

Tired of reading logs?

I've been tired of them for years.  I know there are better ways to get kids to show you what they've been reading than to write a sentence or chapter summary every night.  I'm so glad no teacher ever made me do that.  It would have taken all the fun out of reading for me.

I'm always on the lookout for ways for kids to show me about what they're reading.  Talking to my students a week or two ago, I wondered out loud about projects they'd like to create to show me what they're reading.   They mentioned dioramas and puppet shows.  When I asked what they thought about making book trailers, the grins on their faces (and for some of them, their inability to stay seated) told me all I needed to know!

I created this project and I'll share it with my students tomorrow.  I'll try to remember to take pictures as they get to work creating!

Stop by my TPT store if you're interested.  This product will be free for 24 hours only!  And please rate it if you do download.  Comments are always appreciated!

Have a great (short) week and a happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Excellent Books about Sensitive Subjects

I've just finished reading two excellent books for the middle grades, both of which would make thoughtful read-alouds.

Crenshaw deals with homelessness, Absolutely Almost is about struggling in school.  The protagonists in both stories are boys.  Each book is written with a gentle touch that makes your heart go out to the main character, and while the authors' portrayals of their struggles are real, there's a spirit of hopefulness that pervades each book.

In Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff, Albie isn't good at any subjects in school.  He struggles to get more than four words right on his spelling tests, goes to Math Club instead of having math with his class, and he'd rather read Captain Underpants than the books his mother thinks he should read.  He's the new kid at a public school and gets bullied by one student in particular, a "cool" kid.  But Albie is also a great kid who wants to find his way in this difficult-to-find-your-way-and-make-friends world. And he does.

He gets a new babysitter, Calista, who's come to New York City to get a graduate degree in Art.  She treats Albie kindly, rewarding him with donuts from the bodega downstairs.  He shows her around New York, and she shows him how to draw.

The chapters in this book are very short, making them perfect for for reluctant readers or kids with less stamina.  I suspect there are a number of kids in our classes who could connect with Albie on some level, who might develop a better understanding of their self-worth, just like Albie did,

Jackson, in Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, has this sense that his family is about to become homeless again.  But he can't get his parents to tell him the truth, although he sees that there's little food to eat and that some of their furniture is being sold.  That makes him angry, because he likes to be very scientific about everything, preferring lists and plans, as opposed to his parents' attempts to make everything sound like a new adventure.

Into this difficult situation appears a 7-foot tall talking cat.  Jackson first sees him taking a bubble bath in his bathroom, and it shocks him because, although he recognizes Crenshaw from his past, he hasn't seen him for four years.  He wonders if he's going crazy.  After all, he's too old for an imaginary friend.  Over time, he comes to appreciate that Crenshaw has come into his life at just the right time.

There was something a little fanciful about this novel, and I mean that in the best way.  Applegate takes on a very serious issue, but the book is hopeful, funny, and very serious.  Children will come away with an appreciation for the challenges of homelessness, for parents who try hard to do their best and still don't succeed, and for resilience.  Personally, I thought the ending was a little too tidy for me, but I think it's perfectly appropriate for the audience it's intended for.

I also was very touched to learn that Applegate interviewed homeless students at a school in San Diego as part of her research.  I don't have the name of the school (I left the book at school) but I was under the impression that this school was specifically designed to meet the needs of these students.

Grab a copy of either of these books.  I promise they'll be hard to put down!

I thought I'd link up with Brynn Allison at The Literary Maven to share these books.  It's worth spreading the word!

Have a great Sunday!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When learning sticks!

Something happened at school that made me smile and I just had to share.

We've been reading and discussing some rather dense material about democracy for a few days now.  The kids have struggled with understanding where Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero stood on  this issue.  This is hard stuff for sixth graders!

Yesterday, we started a conversation about whether they should have a say in what happens to them at school.  Most thought they should, and identified with a student who said, "School is our 'world.'  We spend 12 or 13 years here and we should have a say in how things are run."  But others recognized that students don't always make the best decisions, and that they don't always think about the future. Two hours of recess might not benefit them all (although some days, I think it might!)  And then we talked about how these ancient philosophers had had similar misgivings about people, and those thoughts shaped their beliefs about democracy.  And ultimately, those beliefs impacted our country's founders.

Today, as we were heading out to the buses, four boys came up to me and announced, "We've formed our own country!"  They proceeded to explain that they had elected a president, a judge, one senator and one representative; Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches was taken care of!  Weekly elections  would give everyone a turn in office.

I was smiling at their enthusiasm, but marveling that they'd gotten this idea of "government by the people," picking away at this concept until it made sense to their 11- and 12-year old minds.

I didn't plan these lessons because it was Election Day today, that happened by coincidence.  But how cool is that?

I hope you exercised your rights as a citizen and voted this week.  Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's November and time for Currently

I need every month to start on a weekend.  Why, you ask?  So that I can remember to link up with Farley for the latest Currently, of course.+
Listening - My husband's watching a football game in the other room.  I'm guessing it's the Steelers-Bengals game, but I could be wrong.  Just glad that he's sitting still long enough to enjoy it.  That man is working way too hard these days.

Loving - When you have an idea for a project, does it bug you until you get it done?  It does me.  I've created a new novel study for True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle because I need something to enrich my stronger readers.  I want a lot of their thinking to be guided by them, but I need some kind of guidelines for when I'm working with other students.  It's ready for them, and should be ready for TpT soon.

Thinking - Yeah.  Too many ideas and not enough time.  'Nuff said,

Wanting - I would love to have a pair of brown boots.  Not a big deal, but I just can't seem to get out shopping for them.  Too many other things have gotten in the way.  All those years of running have given me one slightly larger calf than the other, and sometimes boots are too tight in the calf.  That's why I can't order them online.  Just in case you were wondering why I was whining.

Needing - sleep?  Always.  Other than that, life is good.

Yummy - Quinoa Fiesta Enchilada casserole.  It was really good!  Found it on a great blog -
Have a great start to your November!

Monday, October 12, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm linking up with two blogs: Jen at Teach Mentor Texts, and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to share books that I've finished this past week.  

For the past few weeks, while I've been working with some students around comprehension issues during out WIN time, the rest of the students on our team have been reading about water.  They've read expository text about the water cycle, unequal access to water around the globe, and the cleanliness of water.  They've analyzed water around the United States, watched a short video about accessing water in third world countries, determined what they would do for their town if their water source was compromised, and even done math computations around, you guessed it, water.

So when, quite by accident, I saw that Linda Sue Park had written this book, I knew I needed to buy it.  Park has outdone herself again.  She takes two children living in South Sudan about twenty years apart, and weaves their stories back and forth in a way that makes this book hard to put down.  Nya, the girl who walks four hours twice a day to bring water for her family (does it make sense why she can't go to school?!) is made up from stories Park heard.  Salva, the boy who runs away when his village is attacked and becomes one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" is real.  I won't tell you how his story intertwines with Nya's because that would give too much away, but let me tell you that I was tearing up at the end of the book.

I understand why Rick Riordan has such a strong fan base in the preteen crowd, and I'm very impressed with how excited students are about Greek mythology because of reading his books.  When I sat down to read Magnus Chase, what struck me the most was the humor.  The chapter titles alone will make you chuckle!  Now mind you, I only got to chapter 9 before the book got taken from me by a very eager student, but I hope to finish it some time soon.

What have you been reading?  If you haven't had much time to read, stop over at these two blogs to read reviews from other teachers and librarians.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

What was the name of that book I wanted to read?

I'm linking up with Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching because her blog post got me thinking about what I do to get kids excited about reading.  Take a look at her post because it's chock full of good ideas!

One of my favorite things to do is help match kids up with good books.  I talk about books a lot and in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes I haven't read the book but I'm familiar with the author, so I make that connection, or connect to another book I know the kids are familiar with.  Sometimes I talk about the topic and connect to things students are familiar with, or the similarities between the new book and one they know.  Sometimes I read the first few lines (or paragraphs) in the book because I know that will grab the students.  And sometimes, I pretend to be the main character and talk about what's going on in my life.

Kids get jazzed up about books when you're excited about them.  But, since I talk about books a lot, I don't always remember which ones students are referring to when they say something like this.  "Do you remember that book you were talking about two weeks ago.  You know, the really good one!"  (Blank look on my face.) So I ask, "Do you remember the title, or the author, or what it was about?"  "No, I just remember that it sounded really good and like I'd want to read it."


Enter my solution.  Is it fancy?  Nope.  Kids keep it in their binders and whenever we talk about books, they take it out and write down the necessary information.  And then, when they ask me for help in picking a new book, we start here.  If you'd like a copy of these, you can find it here.

It's a Win-Win!  And who doesn't like that?!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Linking up with Five for Friday

I keep trying to link up with DoodleBugs Teaching, but somehow Fridays just get by me. The best-laid plans.....Yup.  You understand.

This is the coolest stack of books EVER!  Wanna know why?  Because two people who didn't know what to do with their gift cards to Barnes&Noble offered them to me!  I was like a kid at Christmas.  And the look on my students' faces when I showed them the books?  Priceless.
Worked with my students on how to prepare a top-notch response to an open-ended question.  Kids worked hard in groups to put together responses.  I was really pleased with the thought they put into not only citing evidence, but explaining why they picked that evidence as their example.

Now that they've worked on it together, they should have a good foundation for doing this on their own.

 Last week was Open House and I got to meet a lot of our team's parents.  I think they heard me when I explained why their students needed to read for 30 minutes every day.  I don't care whether they do it all in one sitting, or in smaller blocks.  Don't care what it looks like as long as it gets done.  Here's one of the slides I made for them based on the books kids read last year.

Scholastic is sponsoring two cool contests right now.  The first one has kids write an original myth about something in nature.  About a third of my students have decided to enter.  Rick Riordan, of Percy Jackson fame, has done an excellent job of getting kids excited about mythology.  He and Scholastic have paired up for this one.

The second one is with Linda Sue Park, author of A Single Shard and A Long Walk to Water, among others.  She challenges kids to write a a great first sentence.  She will take the winning entry and create a short story from that sentence.  How cool is that?!
Last weekend I participated in a "Walk Out of the Darkness" for a good friend whose daughter took her life last March.  It was both humbling and wonderful to surround her in this way.  At one point, I linked arms with her, and then, just like that, we all linked arms.  Someone behind us took this picture.  These women have been my friends for more than 30 years and I'd walk to the ends of the earth with them.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!