Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What are you reading?

Here's what I have been reading this past week.

Ellray Jakes Walks the Plank by Sally Warner.

Ellray is a smart, but sometimes forgetful third grader who often finds himself in trouble, or as he would say, "messing up". The book begins during Ellray's spring vacation and he has volunteered to take home the class goldfish, only to have it die on his watch. This leads to a series of events as Ellray has to learn real life lessons about his reputation. I think Ellray is a very realistic character that 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade boys will really like. Ellray's personality really comes through since he is the narrator. It is humorous, yet touching at times - but not too mushy for its intended audience. I love the relationship he has with his younger 4 year old sister. At this point in the year most of my second graders would have a difficult time reading the book independently, but I still plan on adding a few of the Ellray Jakes books to my classroom library for when they are ready. I would love to find a early transitional series with a character like Ellray!

Marty McGuire Digs Worms by Kate Messner

This is the second Marty McGuire book. Kate Messner has created a wonderful female character who does not fit the typical stereotypical third grade girl mold. Marty does not like dolls or dresses and is comfortable in her own unique skin. Hurray! In this story all the children in Marty's class are asked to participate in an environmental awareness contest in which they create a project. With Marty's grandma's help she builds a worm composting box. I thought that the book had just the right mix of science and drama, as Marty impatiently waits for the worms to do their job she over feeds them and has to deal with a pile of escaped worms. I am planning on reading this book to my class as a read aloud. I consider the book an early chapter book and too difficult for most second graders at this time, although I do have one reader in my class reading the first Marty McGuire book. I have often considered having a worm box in my class... we will see.

Pearl and Wagner, One Funny Day by Kate McMullen

In my never ending search for quality, high interest transitional chapter books with interesting characters I think I found one in this book. I am often turned off by animals with clothes talking and acting like humans, but as a second grade teacher I sometimes have to get over that! I mean, why can't the characters just be human kids?  I would prefer the characters look and act like diverse children, instead of a variety of animals. In this book Wagner, a mouse is not enjoying the April Fools Day, while his friend Pearl, the rabbit is having a great day. In the end, Wagner plays an April Fools joke on his classmates. The story is more about bouncing back after a hard day or difficulty - it is definitely not about playing jokes on classmates. I plan on checking out more Pearl and Wagner books in the future. I hope I find a series worthy of adding to my classroom library.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Caldecott Medal 2013

Today was the BEST day EVER!  I want to write this down while it is fresh in my mind.

Today the Caldecott Medal would be announced.  Our second graders had participated in a Mock Caldecott Medal and today we planned on watching the event live which would start at 11am our time, right after gym.  So, when we got back to the room I logged onto the website where the American Library Association Youth Media Awards would be streamed.  I kept the sound off and didn't turn on the projector because I knew it would be a long wait for my second graders before the Caldecott would be announced.  I planned on doing Writing Workshop while we waited, but I was so nervous I couldn't concentrate on settling myself down to start conferring!  So, I took my ipad out and started following #alayma on twitter.  I couldn't wait any longer and like an impatient child waiting for their birthday party to begin I called my colleagues and told them it was time to come down to my room for the Caldecott announcements.  There was a buzz in the air as I announced our Mock Caldecott Winners.  I explained that there was a very good chance that our choices would not win, and in fact we may have not even read the winning books.  However, I assured them if this was the case we would have new books to read!

We got warmed up when Each Kindness was announced as a Coretta Scott King Honor book.  There was surprised applause all around.  When it was announced that there were 5 Caldecott Honor books you could hear everyone OOOHHHH!  The cheers and applause were deafening as students heard the names of books that we had read together and that they loved so very much.  I was jumping up and down I was so excited.  When Jon Klassen's This Is Not My Hat was announced I couldn't believe it!  More cheers and applause.  I was near tears to see how excited my students were and how excited my colleagues were - it was incredible.  It felt like we were at a rock concert and we were cheering our favorite rock stars.  And I thought, this is how it should be, our authors and illustrators should be celebrities to these kids!

As we listened to the Newbery Award be announced and I heard the words, The One and Only Ivan, I cheered so loud you would have thought I wrote the book!  As I looked around the room and saw the delighted surprise on the faces of all the second graders tears welled up in my eyes.  We had read Ivan earlier in the year as part of the Global Read Aloud, but our focus on the awards had been the Caldecott.  After all, Newbery books are not often read in second grade classrooms.  I had fell in love with the book over the summer and followed all the twitter chatter about this glorious book, but I knew there were probably many other Newbery contenders that I had not read.

Today was an incredible and amazing day.  With all the focus lately on budget cuts, testing and teacher evaluations it has been difficult at times to keep my "eyes on the prize" as they say.  I am so glad I had the honor and privilege to share these books with my students and colleagues, and I am so very thankful for my inspiring Twitter PLN.  I can go back to school tomorrow energized, with my new bag of books from the bookstore, and continue helping my young readers fall in love with reading and books.

Congratulations to all the book award recipients.   You truly are rock stars!

You can view a list of the award winning books here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bookstore Love

I love visiting a bookstore with a well stocked children's section.  And if I find a salesperson that is knowledgeable about children's books I can stay in the store forever.  My husband and I took a trip out to the east end of Long Island this summer for a day full of wine tasting, hiking and fun.  When we stopped in Mattituck for a bite to eat I noticed a bookstore on the corner, so of course we had to stop in and check out the place.  BookHampton is smaller place, but the children's section is well stocked and the salesperson was eager to talk about the books with me.  I left with a bag full of books including Tad Hills' Rocket Writes a Story and Mo Willems' Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.  I know I will definitely stop at BookHampton whenever I am in the area.

There is also a discount bookstore nearby called Best Bargain books.  This store is hit or miss when it comes to finding exactly what is on my reading list, but I always leave with a bag full of books that I didn't know I was looking for.  One time I was able to find 15 different Gail Gibbons book at a very good price.

My best bookstore memory has to be when my children were very young.  I think they were in early elementary grades.  We were at a local discount book store, (which has since gone out of business) and my son, who was carrying a stack of books, looked up at me and asked, "Mommy, is this a place that we check out the books or buy the books?"

A couple of times a year I drive to the Book Revue in Huntington.  It's about 45-60 minutes away, depending on the traffic.  I always go once during the summer and once during a winter vacation day.  Today is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday so after bringing the dog to the vet I drove to the Book Revue. (The vet bill was higher than expected, so I had concerns about my book budget.)  I have a list of books that I keep on my Goodreads app, but I also just love looking through the shelves to see what I can find.  I have to be honest, over the last several years the Book Revue's children's department seems to have dwindled, and many shelves have been replaced with toys.  I really wanted to find a copy of Fifty Cents and a Dream, but no such luck.  Here's what I purchased;

New titles that I haven't read - hope they might be good additions to our class library.

Always looking for duplicate copies of popular books.

Books from my "To Read" list.
All of these bookstores give a teacher a nice discount, which is greatly appreciated since I purchase most of the books for my classroom library and class read alouds.  If you ever visit Long Island be sure to shop at these bookstores! Do you have a favorite bookstore?  What books have you purchased recently?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Mock Caldecott Update and Book Giveaway

The Mock Caldecott that I organized with my fellow second grade colleagues and their classes is up and running.  We are scheduled to finish the book ratings at the end of this week, so that I can tally the points and announce a winner on the morning of January 28th, right before the announcement of the official Caldecott.  Here's some problems that I have encountered;

  • Some teachers got behind with their reading.  This was inevitable because I organized the books into boxes of 3-4, and only gave each class 3 days to read and rate.  Next time I will make sure they have a week to rate each box of books.  That means I have to start earlier!
  • Rating the books has been a challenge because the whole class needs to come to some consensus about the rating.  This is impossible!  I've tried using a estimated average on the spot, but now am using majority rules after discussing the problem with another teacher.
  • I really was hoping that I could get at least one of my colleagues to post on my class blog as a guest with a set of videos from their class.  So far, no one has taken me up on that offer - and I don't want to be too pushy.  Me, pushy?  Never.
In honor of our Mock Caldecott Medal I am giving away a copy of Each Kindness written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mock Caldecott 2013 - Part 1

I love picture books.  I read at least 2 to my class of second graders on most days.  I use them to model all sorts of reading strategies and writing craft.  They are wonderful for teaching valuable lessons and to help solve many a problem that occur with a group of 7 year olds.  And sometimes I read them just because they make me laugh or cry, or they have touched me in some way.  And I think, I can't wait to read this book to my class!

This year I decided to hold a Mock Caldecott Award.  I first got the idea while reading Mr. Schu's blog,  Watch. Connect. Read.  He and Colby Sharp had joined forces to hold a Mock Caldecott together.  They both are full of information, energy and book love.  Travis Jonker, author of 100 Scope Notes was also kind enough to share documents he used to create his Mock Caldecott project.  I was able to change them a bit to meet my needs easily.

Choosing the books was extremely difficult for many reasons.  First, I needed to create a manageable number of titles so I decided that about 20 titles would be a good number.  (I ended up with 18.)  When deciding which titles to include I made sure that I liked them a lot and that other readers in my PLN also agreed with me.  I also tried to include a variety of different types of illustrations and stories.  There is a wordless book, an alphabet book and even a book that uses photographs.  Then I also had to either own a copy or be able to check one out at the library.  This is where I had some difficulty.  Some of the books were not available at the library for check out this month - someone else had checked them out.

Of course I know there are books I left out simply because I have not read them yet.  I wish I had a book store that was very close and I could visit weekly to purchase newly published books, but I don't.  It is so nice to look inside them before purchasing.  My public library will always order books I request but they can take months to arrive. (Note to self: buy more books.)

All 5 second grade classes at my school are participating so that will be lots of fun.  I arranged the books in groups of 3 or 4 and these groups will rotate through the classrooms until everyone has rated the books.  Each class will rate the book on a scale of 1-5 for the story and for the illustrations.  The illustration ratings will count for double I decided.

My class began rating several of the books last week.  The conversations were very passionate and students had strong opinions about each book.  Although I explained over and over that the award was for the best illustrations, students often had a hard time separating the two, which isn't surprising because they are so connected.  We have talked a lot about the style of illustrations that each artist used and I was delighted and impressed when students noticed the choices made regarding the use of color.  One student was so passionate about the illustrations in One Cool Friend I thought she would start to cry when she couldn't get the rest of the class to agree that the artist was clever to use color so sparingly.  I thought it was interesting that many of my students said they didn't like the story, Each Kindness that much because it was sad.  But they gave the illustrations high marks because they said they looked so real.

On Friday my class was so excited about the Mock Caldecott Award that I decided to let them videotape their opinions for our class blog.  They were done very quickly, and I provided only general guidelines.  As with everything in teaching, they are very informative about what my students understand!   (But they are cute.)

What books do you think I left out that should have been included?

What book do you think will win the Caldecott Medal?
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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Counting Collections Reflections

It's about this time of year that I start getting nervous and wonder if I am doing the right thing by spending so much time developing number sense and place value with my students. Why, you ask? Well, my fellow second grade teachers, who I admire and respect very much, are far ahead of me in the math textbook. While we count objects and practice strategies for using mental math in my classroom, my colleagues are teaching their students how to add and subtract with regrouping!  Yikes!  I feel so behind!

And here's another little secret about me. I don't always use the math textbook and often don't follow the lessons or chapters in order. I skip around. And I don't do all the pages in the book!  I know! I am such a rebel. But, as I said before, I always get a bit worried or nervous or guilty around January or February because I am not keeping up with my colleagues.

But here's what I tell myself during these times of doubt.

Place value can be such a difficult concept to understand and I believe one way to build that understanding is to provide lots of opportunities counting objects.

Observing students as they group and count objects helps me identify their understanding and misunderstandings about place value and number sense.  I think many of our math textbooks and worksheets mislead us into thinking our students understand place value because they can identify the tens and hundreds place, tell you what a digit is worth or even build a number with place value blocks.  But ask these same students to organize and count large numbers of objects and you quickly see that they can't count transfer their knowledge of place value blocks to objects that aren't already grouped for them.

When I give my students time to organize and count larger quantities I see first hand how they begin to internalize our place value system and see the patterns. I can tell them there are 10 ones in a ten or 10 tens in a hundred until the cows come home, but when they notice it themselves and share it with a peer or their teacher it sticks! Watching a student who preferred to count her objects by ones begin to group objects by tens, and then to move on to grouping those tens into hundreds shows me how that student is  building a strong understanding of place value.

On the days we count collections it's a bit loud and messy. Groups of students are laying or sitting on the floor, cups and bowls for organizing are out and there's always lots of excitement. My job is to facilitate. I move around the room observing and asking questions like, "How are you counting." "What are you noticing when you count?" In the beginning I sometimes have to help students communicate with each other. Working cooperatively is very new to most of them.  I also stop and share with the class when I notice a group using an efficient counting strategy or when a group has what I call their "Ah Ha!" moment. Since our collections are large with more than 200 objects to count it forces students to become more efficient with their counting methods. When one group becomes overwhelmed while counting by ones I can ask, "Is there another way to count so you don't get confused." Or I can share what another group is doing. "Look at what Katie's group is doing? They are organizing in groups of ten. Do you think that might be helpful?"

I love the math conversations I hear while we are counting collections.  All students are engaged and motivated.  Everyone, whether they struggle with math or excel are challenged and successful during this time.

I will continue to doubt myself and my methods periodically but that is probably good because it forces me to reflect on my practice and fine tune my lessons and activities.

You can visit my class blog to see counting collections in action.

Do you use Counting Collections in your classroom?
What are your thoughts regarding how students develop place value?