Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Snapshot of my Reading Life

As part of Litworld's blogging challenge for World Read Aloud Day I decided to share a snapshot of my second grade reading workshop this week.  I take my inspiration from Read Write Reflect blog, where @katsok shared a video of her family's reading life.  My voice is a bit hoarse and the video is a bit shaky but I hope you enjoy seeing what the kids are reading this time of year.

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day on March 6th!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Here's what I have been reading this past week.  Thank you to Teach Mentor Text Blog for their weekly inspiration.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

I finished this book last week, but continued to think about the story and the characters, Jack and Early, all week long.  It is an adventure story, set in Maine, shortly after World War II, but it is also a growing up, coming of age story, and a story about dealing with grief. The story of Jack and Early is slowly revealed through the eyes of Jack, who narrates the story. Clare Vanderpool does such a wonderful job creating the voice of Jack and helping the reader see the world through his 13 year old eyes. Early is a quirky and unusual boy that we are drawn to and want to know more about.  Early sees the world of numbers and math differently than most.  For Early numbers are colors and stories.  Early's fairy tale-ish story of Pi is told in between Jack's narrative. and often appears to be paralleling or predicting their own adventure.  The story of Pi gives this book an almost fantasy like quality at times, and I think it mirrors that time in a 13 year old's life - sort of between childhood and growing up.  (The book brought back memories of the short story I read many years ago by Stephen King, and was later made into a movie called Stand by Me, recently mentioned in a Nerdy Book Club post.)
When you read a wonderful book you often think about who you will recommend the book to, who would it be perfect for?  This week I found myself daydreaming about which of my students past and present, would love this book. I love teaching second grade, but books like Navigating Early are one reason I would consider moving to an upper grade! It's meant to be read, shared and discussed. I checked my copy out from the library, but I definitely need to purchase my own copy on my next bookstore visit.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This is the current adult novel that I finished. I couldn't put this one down. It is set in the 80's on a reservation in North Dakota, and narrated by Joe, the 13 year old main character. The story starts with a brutal crime having been committed. The story is a little bit mystery, but mostly it's about how the family and community come to grips with everything that has happened. There is also a little bit of historical information weaved in about Native Americans.

This is an unusual reading week for me - no new children's books! But I received a new box of books in the mail yesterday, so I will have some picture book reading to do! I also just started Capture the Flag by Kate Messner.

Hmm... I just realized these 2 books featured a young teenage-boy written by a female writer.  Interesting.

 What have you been reading?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Classroom Library Thoughts

Next week I will be moving into a non-fiction unit for reading workshop. so that got me thinking about my classroom library.  So, I thought I would share how my classroom library is organized, and how it changes as the year progresses.

The upcoming non-fiction study will mean my classroom shelves have to undergo some major changes. Some baskets, like Song books and Abc books will be moved into storage to make room for more non-fiction. Some series books like Biscuit, Fly Guy and Clifford will go back in my storage closet too.  I often wonder if I would keep everything out all year long if I had the room in my library!

The second grade class library needs to be very diverse in terms of reading levels. It's not only that second graders progress through several reading levels through the year, but is also the fact that the characteristics of the books change more than other grades. Second graders rely heavily on pictures early in the year and still need shorter reads to maintain comprehension. And you need a lot of these early transitional readers because they are shorter.  By the end of the year most can read longer chapter books without pictures and have the stamina to maintain their comprehension over more than 100 pages. But of course not all of them progress at the same pace. So that means both Fly Guy and Magic Tree House books are called second grade books in my classroom, and we respect and honor the children who are reading these books. Don't get me wrong, my students know that some children can read "harder" books, they aren't dummies!  But there are always clusters of students reading the same types of books so they can talk about their reading and make recommendations to each other.  No one is left out of the reading "club".  I currently don't have leveled baskets, but prefer to group books by series and categories in my class library. I could write a whole post about leveled books, but suffice to say that while I do benchmark my students according to Fountas & Pinnell, the information I get from these running records, such as guided reading level are a teaching tool and I do not label students publicly as a Level J reader. We spend lots of time learning about choosing good fit, or just right books. It's an ongoing topic throughout the year, both in whole group and individually. I set aside a few mornings a week for students to shop, or select books from the class library when they first arrive at school. During this time I am available to help my little "shoppers" and they are required to check in with my so I can "approve" their selections. I work very hard to spread the idea that the books in our class library are ALL "second grade" books.

Growing Readers and Reading for Real by Kathy Collins, More Than Guided Reading by Cathy Mere and Beyond Leveled Books by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak are books that have really helped guide me in my thinking about my class library.  I have also found information from Teachers College Reading & Writing Project extremely helpful as well.  They now share resources on their website.

By January I have almost all of my fiction displayed in the class library, but I don't start the year that way. I have made curtains that I attach with Velcro, so I can open and close parts of the library as necessary. I still need to work on how I introduce different baskets to my students. Sometimes it's like Black Friday, and I have 25 kids attacking one or two baskets all at the same time! Not a good idea.

My students know our class library very well, but it can get a bit messy and books often find their way into the wrong basket.  (As you can see there is an Eric Carle book in the Song Book basket.)  Books are backwards and upside down too, which drives me crazy. So, this last Friday we took some time to clean out and organize the baskets. It's great to sit back and watch them work, and take ownership of the class library.  There are always a few oohs and aahs when a student notices an interesting book they never noticed before - and then library organizing becomes shopping for books time.

Here's some pictures from the beginning of the school year.  I am certainly not a interior decorator!  The shelves are mismatched and I am always going to the dollar store for replacement baskets, which rarely match.

And here are some photos of what the library looks like now, in February.  I will share more about how I change my library for our non-fiction unit next week.  I will try to take better photographs!

How do you organize your classroom library?  What do you think about leveling your class library? Care to share your thoughts, pictures or blog?

Friday, February 22, 2013

World Read Aloud Day "Read it Forward" Blogging Challenge

Now and Then

As part of the World Read Aloud Day blogging challenge, Lit World asks us to answer some questions 2 ways. First, as our 10 year old self and second, as our present self.

1. My much younger self would think everyone should read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? by Judy Blume or the World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft books that my parents purchased and stored in the shelf above my dad's desk.

My current grown-up self thinks everyone in the world should read Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

2. If I could listen to anyone in the world read aloud to me it would be my 2 children. I would be able to travel back in time whenever I want, to when they were in elementary school and they were just learning to read back in first grade. They are grown now, but I can still hear their little voices reading aloud from a favorite book.

When I was 10 years old I wish that my teachers would have read aloud to me. I am sorry to say my only memory I have of a teacher reading aloud to me is in first or second grade during lunch. She read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I loved it! My favorite chapter was called "The Radish Seed Cure".

3. I have many favorite characters to impersonate when I am reading aloud to my class of second graders, so I will list a few here!

  • the robot voice in Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman. "Affirmative".
  • When I read Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant, I love doing the voice of Murray the Bat. Murray provides the comic relief in the story.
  • I also enjoy doing the Cajun accents in the Little Red Riding Hood tale called Petite Rouge by Mike Artell.
  • And most recently I have enjoyed doing the voice of Lulu in Judith Viorst's books, Lulu and the Brontosaurus and Lulu Walks the Dogs. I am particularly fond of the way I sing her annoying songs.

Although my mom has told me often that I was always very dramatic, I don't remember impersonating any storybook characters!  I can remember gobbling up every Nancy Drew book that I got my hands on. I wanted to be Nancy, with her fashionable clothes and convertible car. I thought she was so smart.

4. The genre that takes up the most room on my classroom bookshelves right now are series books like Mercy Watson and Babymouse.  Picture books are both my personal and professional obsession.  So I have them at home and in my classroom. Young adult Dystopian novels are the genre taking up my e-reader book shelf.

I don't remember having a book shelf as a ten year old, but I do remember riding my very cool golden colored bicycle with the banana seat and monkey handlebars to my neighborhood library. It was a tiny building, no larger than a one car garage and it smelled old and musty inside. My favorite shelves were the encyclopedias! I loved that there were many different ones. I would open the books to a random page to see what I could learn. I also liked looking up different countries and states. The human body and other science topics were of interest too.

5. The last book I read that I wish I wrote was The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

When I was 10 I loved to draw, so I think I would have preferred to be an illustrator of any well loved picture book.

Well, that was very fun and very challenging to try any go back more that 4 decades to remember myself as a young reader!

Don't forget to celebrate World Read Aloud Day on March 6th!

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I have had a very prolific reading week.  It must have been the snow days!  Here are some of the highlights of my reading week.  Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts blog for the weekly inspiration!

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Lane Smith

This is the story of Lulu, a little girl unaccustomed to hearing the word no. When her parents tell her no, she can not have a pet brontosaurus for her birthday, Lulu runs away to find the dinosaur for herself.  Along the way Lulu is unkind and cruel to the forest creatures. When Lulu finally finds her brontosaurus, Mr. B., the situation is turned, as Mr. B. decides to keep Lulu as the pet. The clever and persistent Lulu is able to escape and return home, wiser and a little bit kinder.

I love the narrator's voice! She often speaks directly to the reader and has a rather spunky personality. It's almost as if the narrator is a character in the story. In the end, the narrator provides 3 possible endings too.

I read this chapter book to my class last week. They absolutely loved the sassy narrator and the very bossy Lulu. And they were as annoyed as the creatures in the forest when I sang Lulu's song, "I'm gonna get a bronto bronto brontosaurus!" I loved the shocking comments and giggles from my students when the narrator says Lulu was a "real pain in the butt!" and when Lulu throws a tantrum and tells her parents, "foo on you". "  Here's some of their comments: "She is going to get in trouble!" "She is so rude". "She is spoiled". "Her parents should be more strict with her."

I used the book for lessons on character traits, using text evidence to support your opinion, and to introduce the concept of how characters change from the beginning to the end of a story.

We are currently reading the sequel, Lulu Walks the Dogs. While Lulu has learned to say please and thank you, and she is no longer throwing tantrums, she still has a lot to learn about friendship, cooperation, and kindness. But we love Lulu - because we know there is a little Lulu in all of us. (Pssst... I read on Kirkus Reviews that  Judith Viorst is writing a third Lulu book and there is a Lulu musical in the works too!)

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

A very simple, yet creative picture book about a little exclamation mark who doesn't feel like he fits in with all the other periods. After encountering a very inquisitive question mark the little explanation mark finally finds his inner self and is able to "make his mark".  A great little read that lends itself to great discussions about fitting in, being yourself, or the journey to find ones self.  I think my second graders will have no problem seeing the greater theme of this book, but I also think it might make a nice gift for someone struggling to find their own identity in the world.

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares

This picture book biography tells the story of young George Herman Ruth, before he became the famous Babe Ruth.  It tells the story of young George, who at 7 years old, is sent to a boys reform school.  It is while at St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys that young George learns the game of baseball and is "discovered".  This is a wonderfully inspiring story about a baseball legend and where he came from, how hard he worked and how he always remembered and honored his past.  A great read for baseball fans and non-baseball fans alike!

What have you been reading?

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

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

Lunch Lady and the Field Trip Fiasco by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hilarious graphic novel series about a lunch lady who secretly fights crime with her assistant Betty and a group of students known as the Breakfast Bunch. In this installment, Lunch Lady catches a group of art thieves while chaperoning a field trip. I love all the gadgets used to fight crime - the carrot stick flash drive, the cookie camera and the spork phone! This series is very reminiscent of the Batman and Get Smart series (television, not movie) from the 60's and 70's which I loved.
I only have the first book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, and would love to have more in my classroom library! I have been checking them out of the public library. The book is very popular with many of my second grade boys. In terms of reading level, I believe most second graders can read the book independently by the middle of second grade.

Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith

This book is part of a great group of graphic/comic style books called Toon Books written specifically for beginner/early readers. In this book, Little Mouse is excited to get dressed to go to the barn with his family. The story goes through the process of Little Mouse getting dressed only to realize in the end that mice don't wear clothes. A cute book for first or second grade readers. I have several other Toon Books in my class library that my students enjoy. Check out the publishers website because there are lesson ideas and a list of books with reading levels.

Bird & Squirrel on the Run by James Burks

Another great graphic novel book in full color.  In this story you have two very opposite characters and unlikely friends. Squirrel is afraid of everything, while Bird has more of an adventurous spirit. This of course leads to hilarious adventures as they travel south for the winter while the single-minded Cat chases them along the way!  Even with all the slapstick humor, at it's heart, this is a book about friendship and accepting each others flaws.  I absolutely love the illustrations - Bird, with his goggles and Squirrel with his acorn-cap helmet.  I hope there are more adventures for Bird & Squirrel planned.

I got my copy of this book from the public library and hope to purchase a copy for my class library soon.  I think most second graders will be able to read the book independently by mid-year.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Inspiration from Debbie Miller & Choice Literacy

This morning I woke up to a ton of snow and my Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy in my email inbox.  This article by Debbie Miller really hit home for me. I have been struggling this year to fit in all the stuff that has been added to my plate as a teacher. Actually, it feels as if it has been dumped, or plowed right through my classroom door!

In her article, Debbie talked about the "luscious feeling of endless time" and I knew exactly what she meant because just last week I finally had that feeling. Finally. For the first time this year. It was during writing workshop while conferring. But it really doesn't matter when it happened, just that it did happen. It was a rather nostalgic moment, both happy and sad. How had this happened? How did I allow my second grade class to become a place where I mentally checked off each lesson or activity as completed, or cut out important time for thinking and doing? I realized the joy had been sucked out of my teaching, and I needed to get it back!

As I walked my students to their special that day, and later as I drove home, I reminded myself of what was important in teaching and learning. As Debbie writes, "determine what is essential, and teach those things deeply and well".

As I read Debbie's article, it was as if a colleague was sitting next to me in the faculty room, supporting me and encouraging me - telling me that I am doing the right thing. That I am not alone in my beliefs. From one Debbie to another, thank you.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

World Read Aloud Day

March 6th is World Read Aloud Day! Celebrate the power of words and help create a community of readers. Did you know, according to  LitWorld, there are at least 793 million people in the world that are illiterate?  I can't imagine not being able to read. As my children were growing up we enjoyed reading together so much.  From bedtime stories to trips to story time at the local library, books have always been a huge part of our life. When each of my children learned to read it was like a right of passage, they were part of a club. But more than that, the ability to read opens doors to a better life for you and your family. So, join the global literacy movement because everyone has the right to learn how to read and write. It's easy to participate.  Just go on over to LitWorld and register.

Here's some ideas that I am thinking of doing on World Read Aloud Day.

  • Invite parents to come in to read aloud.
  • Set up a schedule for my second graders to read aloud to kindergartners.
  • Bring you toy or stuffed animal to read to.
  • Read to your pet. Bring in a picture.
  • Bring in photos of family reading together.
  • I would like to do a Skype read aloud, so I will have to figure that out!  Head over to Kate Messner's blog for a list of authors that will Skype for World Read Aloud Day.

What are your plans for World Read Aloud Day?