Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Class Library for the beginning of the year - and why I don't level my books

I have been in my classroom rearranging and reorganizing my class library for the upcoming school year.  My class library is the center of my teaching and our life in second grade.  How I arrange and present the books is crucial to a successful reading workshop.  So, each August (and at various times of the year)  I tweak it a bit.  My collection of books continues to grow, which is a good thing, but also presents the challenge of storage and book shelf space!  My fiction section is primarily sorted by series.  I have found this the best way to hook my young readers.  The familiarity with characters and setting helps them build stamina and fluency.

In the past each series had it's own basket, with a label and collection of books.  Since I am running out of room on my shelves I decided to combine several series in one basket.  I tried very hard to choose series that would "go together" - they were a similar reading level and similar interest.  For instance, I put the Biscuit  and Tiny the Dog series in the same basket.  Andy Shane and Little Bill books are displayed together as well.

My Thoughts on Leveling Books

There seems to be a lot of opinions out there on leveling books - so I thought I would add my 2 cents.  Here's what I think.  It disturbs me to see public librarians and school librarians being asked to put together lists of books according to reading levels such as Fountas and Pinnell or Lexile.  And now it seems publishers are getting in on the leveling craze and using it as a marketing tool.  What adult would go to a book store or library and select books based on a reading level?  And children are no different.  If we want our children to become readers we need to help them find books they will enjoy reading.  I'm afraid this leveling craze is due to parents requesting a list of books that are on their child's reading level.  So, how did they get so wrapped up in their child's guided reading level?  Us.  Their child's teachers.  So many of my colleagues report the reading level to parents at conferences, and some school districts require that it be on the report card.  I think this is a big mistake.  Guided reading levels are meant to be used as a teaching tool - one piece of the assessment puzzle we use in teaching reading.

Please don't get me wrong - I use Fountas and Pinnell guided reading levels as part of my assessment.  And book levels can be helpful when selecting books for my class library and helping students select books to read.  But I don't label books with levels and I certainly don't label students with a level!   I have also found that my students' reading levels are not hard and true - depending on their interest and background knowledge I have found individual students often fall into a range of reading levels.   And more than once a student has proven me wrong and was able to read a book that I thought was too challenging, but the student wanted to read it bad enough they did!  But what is more important for us as teachers, is understanding the characteristics of the different levels of books and knowing what readers will have to know how to do to successful read and understand a particular level of book. Once a teacher understands this, you can look at most books and know if it is a good fit for your reader.  What is most important for young readers is that we teach them how to find books they can read independently and will enjoy.  And that is part of the art of teaching reading!

Be sure to read Pernille Ripp's  and Professor Nana's posts regarding the recent craze on leveling books!

Favorite Series for Second Grade

 I also have collections of reading series such as Scholastic Readers, Hello Readers and I Can Read Series.  My students often have a hard time re-shelving these books and they end up in the wrong basket.  So this year I decided to color code the collections.  For example, the Scholastic Reader books will get a red sticker so students will know which basket to return the book.

Here's what my class library looks like in the beginning of the year.  I have mostly transitional, early fiction series out.  Longer chapter books will be available later as my students get better at selecting books.  I have a few baskets of non-fiction out as well, including animal books, plant books and some easy biography.  I curtain off parts of the library because my second graders get overwhelmed if I put out too much too soon.  The red, blue, green and yellow baskets are my students' "book baskets"- where they keep all of their independent reading materials and reading folder.  I also like to put out familiar books from first grade - like song books, ABC books, Eric Carle and Mo Willems.  This year I also put out my Peter Brown books since he visited our school last year.

Under the curtain
Non-Fiction Shelves

What does your class library look like?  Do you level your books?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

August Picture Book 10 for 10 - 2013

It's August 10th and time for the 4th annual Picture Book 10 for 10, or #pb10for10.  Cathy Mere from Reflect and Refine and Mandy Robek from Enjoy and Embrace Learning invite us to share our top 10 picture books.  Please be sure to check out their blogs for the links to the event.

As I began planning for my 3rd year participating in this event I knew it would be a challenge.  First, I did a quick write - listing the books that popped into my head.  Then I reviewed my goodreads list and looked through my past lesson plans to see if I had missed anything.  I couldn't decide if I should choose 10 completely new books that weren't on my past lists or if I should make a top ten that has something old and something new.  Such problems!

After some thinking I decided to create a Top Ten "New" Picture Books list.  "New" meaning they were new to me in the last year, not necessarily newly published.  These are some of my favorite picture books that I have read in the past year and think they will continue to be favorites in the future.

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown

This past school year will always be very memorable for me because along with a group of dedicated teachers and parents I was able to organize our first author visit.  And guess who it was?  Newly awarded Caldecott Honor recipient, Peter Brown!  I have been a huge fan of Peter Brown and look forward to his new book coming out this fall, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.  Click on the book to watch the book trailer for Creepy Carrots!

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

I featured this wordless book a while back for #IMWAYR and still think it's one of my favorites of 2013 so far!  I actually have not read it to my class yet, so I am looking forward to doing that this fall.  (I kept lending the book to colleagues and friends.) Click on the book to watch the book trailer.

This is Not My Hat  by Jon Klassen

This little gem won the 2013 Caldecott Medal.  No matter what age you are you will enjoy this book!  Last fall, while visiting a bookstore with my daughter and her girlfriend, I pulled the book off a shelf and insisted they sit down and read the book.  (I do this kind of thing often - I'm sure it is annoying.)  Anyway, I loved watching them read it, especially when they came to the end!  Sometimes adult reactions are the best!  I quickly found a copy of I Want My Hat Back and insisted they read that one too!  Click the book to watch the book trailer.

The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freedman

I featured this book on #IMWAYR also.  Totally can't wait to read it to my class this fall!  I'm definitely thinking it will be part of our Mock Caldecott.  Visit Mr. Schu's blog Watch Connect Read to read an interview with Deborah Freedman and watch some videos.

On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

I featured this book on my Non-Fiction Wednesday post and still need to purchase another copy since I gave away the first copy I bought!  Beautiful non-fiction.  Shows the value of just sitting, thinking and daydreaming.

Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Many of my young students have actually heard of the term infinity.  Maybe it's Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear and his phrase, "To infinity and beyond" but students are always curious about this word!  In this story, the little girl, Uma, looks up to the sky and stars and begins wondering about the concept of infinity.  She asks different people, from friends to adults,  to explain infinity to her.  Along the way she starts figuring out how infinity relates to her, personally.  This is definitely not a book that explains infinity in a mathematical, facts only way.  Kate Hosford handles it more as a thinking exercise.  The illustrations are unique and beautiful.  Kate Hosford also has a curriculum guide to go along with the book.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

I featured this book on a #IMWAYR post recently.  Again, I can't wait to read the book to my students!  Oliver Jeffers' illustrations are brilliant.  I use his book, The Book Eating Boy, each fall to help build our reading identities.  We even create a collage in the same style as the book.  Also check out the book, Stuck.

Ocean Sunlight: How tiny plants feed the sea by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

I featured this book on a Non-Fiction Wednesday post.  It is the 3rd book in a series she and her scientist friend have written on how sunlight effects the earth.  This is the only one I have read and I can't wait to get the other 2 from my library.  My class absolutely loved the book!

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Jane Chapman

This is the story of the life of a sea turtle - from the moment it hatches on a beach, to living in the Sargasso Sea, the coral reefs and then returning to the beach that it was born on to lay eggs.  The text reads like poetry!  My class loved this book!  Make sure you check out more of Nicola's books.  Her picture books are perfect for my second grade.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Face your fears!  Isn't everyone a little afraid of the dark?  I know my second graders will enjoy this book.  another book I can't wait to share with my class!  Click on the  book to watch the book trailer.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Thanks to Jen at TeachMentorText  and Kellee at UnleashingReaders for the weekly meme highlighting children's literature - picture books to young adult.  Don't forget to visit their sites so you can see what everyone else is reading this week!

My reading has slowed down a bit over the last couple of weeks.  I have been busying sewing curtains for my living room and trying my hand at some painting.  Trying to get my artsy crafty activities in before summer is over!  Here's some of my reading highlights from the past week.

 Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes

This is the third book about the little mouse, Penny, and I am totally in love with this series.  I think this book is the best so far.  Penny finds a blue marble in her neighbor's yard.  "It was as blue as the sky." But Penny is soon consumed with guilt as she worries she has taken something that may not belong to her.  Kevin Henkes has such a wonderful way of writing about realistic problems that matter to young children.  And he has a real knack for writing meaningful and smart books for beginning readers.  I hope we see more of Penny.
 The Center of Everything by Linda Urban

This is the second book that I have read from Linda Urban.  The first book was Hound Dog True.  All I can say is she really captures the voice of those middle grade/pre-adolescent kids and seems to know what matters to them.  How Linda Urban is able to weave in the setting and the town's obsession with donuts is just awesome!  In this story, young Ruby has recently lost her grandma, the center of her life.  Ruby struggles to come to terms with her loss and be able to express her feelings.  A great story of friendship, love and family.
 Doll Bones by Holly Black

This book is a combination of a growing up story with a little bit of scary horror thrown in - when I was in 4th or 5th grade I would have absolutely loved it.  The 3 main characters - Zach, Poppy and Alice - love playing pretend and have continued with their fantasy game as they have grown into middle school students.  When Zach's dad decides to throw out all of his action figures Zach is too embarrassed to tell his friends, and instead explains he doesn't want to play anymore.  In an effort to pull her friends back into the game Poppy tells the creepy story about the Queen Doll and her past.  The 3 friends are soon drawn into the story and take off on an adventure.  Is the story true? Does the doll ghost really exist or is Poppy just making it up?  But what about the dreams and the creepy things that keep happening?

It's important to say this book is not just a horror story - at the core it is about friendship, acceptance and growing up.  Each character is struggling with wanting to be more grown up, yet still yearns to play the same childhood games.  They are starting to have different interests and each one is developing their own identity separate from the group.  For Poppy, she worries that her friends are changing and pulling away from her.  Both Zach and Alice struggle for acceptance with their families as well.  Zach's father doesn't understand him and would prefer he only play sports.  Alice's grandma doesn't understand her interest in the drama club and need for more independence.  All these struggles play out subtly as the 3 friends embark on their adventure.

As I read this book I was reminded of my younger 12 year old self playing a variety of adventure games with my neighborhood friends all through the summer.  We had such vivid imaginations and seemed to be able to easily "become" a character and get lost in the adventure.  Those pretend characters helped us grow up and change - they allowed us to try on different identities and practice being grown up.   Zack, Alice and Poppy's alter egos are part of their true selves - pretending and creating their fantasy games helps them to bridge the gap between adolescence and teenager.  I hope I have done justice to this book and have convinced you to read it!

AUGUST 10 FOR 10 is coming soon!

Select your top 10 picture books!  Hop on over to Reflect & Refine with Cathy Mere to learn more about this fabulous event you don't want to miss.

What are you reading this week?