December 13, 2014

WCPM or Lexile Levels: The lesser of two evils?

Much time has passed.

This post has the potential to be draft one of a long-winded book about teaching, since I now teach a full-inclusion fourth grade class at a new school site, but I'll spare my plethora of readers (joke), and stay focused on the most pressing questions swimming around in my head:

Quantitative Speed vs. Quantitative Readability

I'm now teaching in a school district that doesn't base student worth (ahem, I mean ability) on the speed and accuracy of leveled reading passages. But it's a trade off for Lexile leveling- something my former reading teacher self had little knowledge about before entering a new district with different assessment priorities.  

My new district uses the Lexile Framework for Reading as a quantitative assessment of both students' reading levels and texts' complexity. Students receive a Lexile measure from certain reading tests. Books and other texts receive a Lexile measure from a software tool, the Lexile Analyzer, which evaluates word frequency and sentence length. Many schools use Lexile measures to assess students' reading levels and match students with appropriately rigorous reading material.

As a teacher, I find such information helpful when determining my students' reading ability and what books might fit them. What concerns me is that in many situations, Lexile measures become the primary factor in book choice and recommendation, and in my case, an important facet of measuring student ability on the report card. Lexile levels organize our school library, and many classroom shelves. Students in my school are encouraged to find books within their numbers. 

While identifying readability can be useful when evaluating textbooks, guided reading texts, or other teaching materials, selecting books for classroom instruction and recommending books for independent reading should stand alone.  Bottom line: Exclusive reliance on reading level systems limits readers. Bookstores, libraries, and home bookshelves aren't leveled. Is this practice valued because it's better for kids or just easier for adults? 

"Your Grace, I feel I've been remiss in my duties. I've given you meat and wine and music, but I haven’t shown you the hospitality you deserve."

-Lord Walder, Game of Thrones (1125L)

June 26, 2013

Bibliophile Summer Reading List Posted

2013 Summer Reads!
Read them all or choose any books from the descriptions below.  
Let's discuss in the comments section of this post.

At the Van Gogh Cafe, anything can happen. Clara's dad owns the cafe, and she's seen it all--from food that cooks by itself to poems that foretell the future. This award-winning collection of vignettes by Newbery medalist Cynthia Rylant is a treat to be relished. So bring your appetite for the unexpected, because at the Van Gogh Cafe, your order of tea and toast comes with a side of magic!

It's not easy for Danny Dragonbreath to be the sole mythical creature in a school for reptiles and amphibians?especially because he can't breathe fire like other dragons (as the school bully loves to remind him). But having a unique family comes in handy sometimes, like when his sea-serpent cousin takes Danny and his best iguana friend on a mindboggling underwater tour, complete with vomiting sea cucumbers and giant squid. It sure beats reading the encyclopedia to research his ocean report . . . Using a hybrid of comic-book panels and text, Ursula Vernon introduces an irresistible set of characters with a penchant for getting themselves into sticky situations. It's perfect for both the classroom and fans ofWimpy Kid and Bad Kitty.

One day, Abby Carnelia, ordinary sixth grader, realizes she has a magical power. Okay, it’s not a fancy one (she can make a hard-boiled egg spin by tugging on her ears). But it’s the only one she has, and it’s enough to launch her into an adventure where she meets a host of kids with similarly silly powers, becomes a potential guinea pig for a drug company, and hatches a daring plan for escape.

You will be dying to unearth their own magical powers after reading this whimsical first novel by David Pogue.

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

March 3, 2013

Struggling for Balance

It's been a long, cold silence here.

Entering the teaching profession, I was well warned about the lightning-speed pace at which the school year flies by.  As a result, I have taken a hiatus from writing about my teaching process as it unfolds.  Though I regret having documentation of the learning events that have taken place this year, I commend myself for resisting the temptation to spend even more time at my computer.

I may have a handle on teaching my students a thing or two about adding "dress-ups" to their writing, or how to make a prediction using text-based evidence, but I'm certainly a long way from mastering the art of BALANCE between my personal life and my professional life.

So far, every waking hour of my life is somewhat consumed by teaching.  During the school year, my house is filled with cluttered piles.  I look at mounds of dog hair piling up under the couch, and I just don't have the energy to get out the vacuum cleaner as often as I'd like.  My family gets less of me than they should too.  I keep telling my own 5-year-old project-based learner, "We'll have time to do projects like that in the summer."  Although my motivation is currently driven by my ideas for how to further engage my students, my heart still hurts with guilt knowing I am often prioritizing my students' learning over over my daughter's.

 It is now March and the past seven months have been bit of a roller coaster ride for me.  As a reading and language arts support teacher, I work with students from several grade levels teaching remedial instruction using a pull-out model. 

Working with students who have limited success in literacy is truly challenge and a treasure.  After a year and a half of doing this, I am positive about one thing- my love of teaching these children.  It's not their struggles that frustrate me, but rather, the limited freedom I have with time and curriculum.  I love helping my students become readers and deep thinkers. I love watching their pride when they can answer tough questions.  I love when they have their own ah-ha moments as they realize they do have a lot to say about what they are reading.    

I spend so much time thinking about different ways to teach specific skills that it just doesn't seem to be clear.  In addition to the multiple grade levels I work with daily, and the exceedingly binding time constraints, our school has faced some unexpected change.  Due to a teacher leaving mid-year, our reading teachers have absorbed several more remedial students into our classrooms, causing combined grade levels, curricular and an several inconvenient classroom shifts.

I have always been one to embrace change.  Change brings growth.  With less than two weeks to prepare, I accepted my duties, looking forward to growing into my new position.  Still, I had reservations about the affects on our students.  For many of them, school is the place where they feel safe.  School provides structure and order.  Our students know what to expect, and what is expected of them.  This is not to say that they don't challenge these restrictions (some more than other), but in general, boundaries remain constant.  Despite the many shortcomings our public schools offer students, they can still feel a sense of comfort knowing there is a place for them at school.  They have desks with their names on them, and a place to store their belongings. They have teachers who keeps extra supplies of granola bars in their classrooms, and know them well enough to help them find their just-right books.

It's only been two weeks of instruction with my new schedule, so it's early to say, but the challenges I've faced so far have just reinforced my feelings about the difficulties of my reading teacher position:

Multiple Teachers = Multiple Lessons:  I teach across several grade levels.  Each hour, I am teaching a different lesson for every group.  Because the learning goals for each group of students vary so greatly, it is rare that my classes are doing the same thing on the same day.  In order to fully engage students in each literacy lesson, quite a bit of preparation is required, but there is very little time between the classes, and it makes it difficult to switch gears so quickly.

Meshing Teaching Styles:  I work with teachers who couldn’t be more different in their teaching styles.  Every teacher is different.  Some teachers are much more relaxed and embrace a degree of chaos while others are very structured and don’t allow for a lot of “embrace the moment” within the classrooms.  The classroom teachers tend to fall all over this spectrum.  It’s challenging to work with students coming from all different teachers where the expectations and atmospheres are so different.  Because I work with so many people on a daily basis, I have to constantly adjust my instructional methods and materials to not only meet the needs of the students, but also the expectations of the teachers I work with. 

Deep-seated Connection:  I dream of having a core group of students that I can work with all day.  When you have a class for the whole day, your teaching doesn't stop.  You are not just teaching a subject, you are working with the whole child.  It comes from being with them all day, connecting on a deeper level, and having the ability to guide and teach in all aspects of the day. Now, I sometimes feel as if the impact I could have has been diluted by seeing my students only a period or two a day rather than being with them all day. 

Not Being the Decision Maker:  I can offer suggestions, but ultimately what happens with the students with is up to their homeroom teacher.  I may spend time developing lessons to teach something, but if the homeroom teacher doesn’t agree it isn’t going to happen.  If I were co-teaching with one teacher all day long, I am sure this would not be a problem.  In those situations, it is your (plural!) class.  You are truly co-teaching.   However, when you working with students from a classroom for a period here and there each day, you just don’t have the say.  My colleagues are great at doing all they can to make me feel valued, but ultimately I am working with their students, and I respect that.  Nevertheless, it can be frustrating at times. I would even say that the overall loss of control of what I do has been the hardest of all for me.

Being Tied to a Strict Schedule:  Since I see students for such short blocks of time, my mind wanders through my to-do lists constantly, so I can only imagine how the students feel!  I have a schedule that demands me to be prepared for a new group of students every hour.  There’s no room to extend a lesson because we are having a teachable moment. I can only plan lessons that can be done in a certain amount of time.  I long for more flexibility in my schedule. Nevertheless, come testing time, or should a sub fail to arrive for the day, my strict schedule and structured lessons are out the window since my classes are the first to be cancelled, so I can be called to duty.  Of course this is all understandable, and expected in a support position, but it remains a frustration of the job worth reflecting upon. 

Teaching All Subjects:  During my student teaching, I loved the variety in our days of learning together.  I enjoyed teaching all subjects. This position offers limited variety within my day and an overwhelming amount of restrictions for teaching extremely subjective concepts of language arts.  I love teaching reading and writing, and would love to do it all day long if I had more control over how I do it.  Nevertheless, I was surprised at how much I miss teaching all the subjects in the course of the day. One of the things I miss is being able to integrate subjects and do cross curricular projects.

The Bright Side

I'd like to end this reflection with a focus on the positive.  As with anything in life, my job is most successful when I simply focus on what I can control and what is going well.  My work with my  students continues to be the best part of my day despite all the constraints.  I am lucky to work with great teachers who do all they can to make me feel valued.

September 6, 2012

change before the change

Due to some structural changes at work, my co-worker and I were told today that we are no longer going to be teaching the same reading classes we thought we'd be starting next week.  During the early morning portion of my day, I was going to teach reading intervention to third grade only, serving 15 students total.  Now I will be adding first and second grades as well.  For more reasons than I care to go into, my initial feeling is frustration.  However, I know after a day or two, and a couple of sleeps I'll be just fine.  I quite enjoy first and second graders too.  I just really wanted a chance to try my best at something I've thought long and hard about, collected materials for and spent most of my summer months planning and preparing for.  Right now I feel defeated, but I also know I'm lucky just to have the chance to gain some experience.  

My best teachers were those who challenged their students while remaining active students in their own disciplines and of life in general. Those were the ones I tried to be most like because their behavior was what I most respected.  I have a lot of learning and growing to do.  

September 5, 2012

Bibliophile Update

Our young reader's book club blog is now open to anyone interested in reading and reviewing favorite books.  Readers tend to range in the 9-14 years of age club (with the exception of a couple of enthusiastic language arts teachers who seem to hoard large amounts of children's and YA literature.  Said teachers shall remain nameless for the sake of anonymity.  Bibliophile can be found HERE.

August 12, 2012

Good Morning Sunday

Here we are, a week before school starts, and I'm off to spend the day working in my classroom.  My big project right now is organizing books by genre.    In case you're feeling generous, feel free to peruse my classroom wish list.  

"Students will read if we give them the books, the time and the enthusiastic encouragement to do so." 

-Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer

July 31, 2012

favorites: graphic novels

I recently did a short presentation for the Sonoma State Summer Reading Academy- a two week literacy camp to develop confidence and joy in acts of reading and writing for elementary school students.  During graduate school I had the pleasure of teaching in the Summer Academy two summers in a row as part of my credits toward earning a MA degree in Reading and Language.  This year I was honored to be asked back as a presenter.   I decided to present on the use of graphic novels to teach Language Arts.  My professor and mentor asked me to write a little blurb about my favorite books.  After much thought, here's what I came up with:


Although my all-time favorite song will likely never change, my favorite books do. 

They change, as I grow older. 
They change with my moods and phases.
They change during times of camaraderie.
They changed during times of solitude.

My favorite books change with experience.

My current top 3 are all graphic novels. 
The first two are fit for adults, or older young adults.  The topics are real, pertaining to the horrors of war, very graphic and often heartbreaking. The third book is an autobiographical account of a girl entering middle school who falls and knocks out her two front teeth.  What follows are fours years of dental drama woven into the trials of growing up and discovering her truest passions, and her truest friends.

1. Maus- by Art Spiegelman
2. Persepolis- by Marjane Satrapi
3. Smile- by Reina Telgemeier

Like any high-quality picture book, graphic novels aid in the construction of meaning with highly detailed graphic cues.  But comic book and graphic novels specialize in this method of reading instruction.  Each panel contains an illustration for virtually every sentence in the written text.  Readers have the chance to read the story in different ways supported by text rather than dependent on text to make meaning.  Fortuitously, graphic novels tend to appeal to young readers, so getting them into their hands is rarely a challenge.  Professional cartoonists, who are also great writers, created all of the artwork in these three graphic novel selections. 

The other thing my three selections have in common is their Autobiographical nature, which puts them into the category of non-fiction. It’s true that when I look at the books on my shelves and the stack on my nightstand, fiction outnumbers nonfiction.  But the following are also true: I’m an avid fan of the science program Radiolab; I read all sorts of blogs and online digests and I don’t mind waits in doctors’ offices as long as I can read People magazine.

All this qualifies me as a reader of nonfiction, though, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about what I do as a nonfiction reader until this year with so much talk about Common Core, and the shift toward nonfiction.   Next year I plan to explore more nonfiction with my sixth graders using graphic novels as a frequent medium.


May 16, 2012

April 15, 2012

Celebration Time!

It is my honor and my pleasure to announce Literacy Roots has been featured on the shiny new Reading With Pictures Website.
 Reading With Pictures is the brainchild of Josh Elder, literacy superhero and award-winning graphic novel and manga author.  The mission behind the nonprofit organization, is to get
"comics into schools and schools into comics."

 It's important to note that RWP is not trying to replace books with comics, but rather, the organization is trying to get kids reading books via comics. I too believe comics can do anything traditional text can do to teach literacy elements in the classroom. Comics tell stories, engage readers, and spark imaginations. In fact, comics can potentially accomplish more than books because they offer the possibility of sneaking art education back into schools. Also, a lot of reluctant readers, and English language learners enjoy comics. Bottom line: Comics get them reading more.

The newest RWP project is The Graphic Textbook
"Aimed at grades 3-6, The Graphic Textbook features a dozen short stories (both fiction and non-fiction) that address topics in a variety of disciplines (Social Studies, Math, Language Arts, Science) drawn from the list of Common Core Standards used in classrooms countrywide. The accompanying Teacher’s Guide will include Standards-correlated lesson plans customized to each story, research-based justifications for using comics in the classroom, a guide to establishing best classroom practices and a comprehensive listing of additional educational resources.

The goal is to create an awesomeness-filled book of the highest artistic quality and literary merit that also meets all the criteria necessary to be accepted as classroom curriculum."  
Please help support the making and distribution of this superior literacy resource.   

March 23, 2012

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (language arts unit)

This photo was taken at the "Sadako Sasaki" Monument in Seattle Washington. The Thousand Paper Cranes legend tells that whenever one gets sick, if they make one thousand origami paper cranes, they will get better. Due to the effects of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima by USA in 1945 Sadako Sasaki was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of twelve.  Sadako believed in the legend of the paper cranes, but sadly she could only fold 644 before her death. Her friends folded the remaining 356 paper cranes and buried them with her.

A Photo of Sadako Sasaki

Scenes from Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima

A Graphic Introduction to Barefoot Gen and Hiroshima 
 Raina Telgemeier, author of graphic novel SMILE,  illustrated a comic portraying her first foray into graphic depictions of true events when she first read Barefoot Gen- a 10 volume graphic novel illustrating the horrors of Hiroshima. Read her comic HERE.

Here is an excerpt from the film (also extremely graphic):

March 13, 2012

Scholastic Webinar: Featuring Graphic Novels (and some of our favorite author/ illustrators!)

Last week's Scholastic Graphix webcast, WORDS ARE ONLY HALF THE STORY featured Jeff Smith (BONE) and Kazu Kibuishi (AMULET) and Raina Telgemier (SMILE).  The webcast was streamed live to classrooms across the country, and is now available to view online! I can’t embed the video, but you can watch it here:
 It’s 30 minutes long, and you get to see us them some stuff!

February 13, 2012

A Day of SMILE(S)!

While working as a student teacher, I remember wondering why teachers constantly complained about never getting to teach anything they really wanted to.  I couldn't understand how one could have 20-30 kids in a self-contained classroom for 9 months of the year without ever finding time to teach something of choice.

Well... I get it now.

It's not just the district-wide "program fidelity"policies that takes away from teaching choice topics.

It's not just the inordinately large quantities of time taken out of instructional days for testing and holidays and trainings.

It's also the short chunks of scheduling allotted to specific subjects, (i.e. 1.5 hours for language arts; .5 hours for ELD [English Language Development] or remedial reading instruction).  But within those short chunks, nearly .425 of that time is spent redirecting less than desirable behavior, and trying to keep kids engaged in relatively dry material.  On top of that, several reading, writing and language classes tend to get cancelled more often than anything else for additional testing time and other school events. 

As I approach the final third of the school year, I'm left wondering why I haven't done any self-selected, creative writing projects with my students.  I wonder why I haven't finished even one class novel with my Language Arts group.  Each day, I carry my bag of creative writing ideas and activities to work with me, but I've never used any of it.  Not even once.

My creative writing bag includes several lessons I've developed over the past few years.  The bag currently contains: a pouch of random objects for writers to weave into their stories; a stack of black and white photos depicting children all over the world during the 1930's and 40's; a small white board; several pads of paper; ballpoint pens; some oil pastels and an envelope stuffed with some of my favorite opening liners written on strips of paper.

Despite my challenges with some of the realities of the teaching profession, I did accomplish something I'm really proud of this year.  Here's the short-version back-story: 
  • Around Christmas time, I stumbled upon the graphic novel SMILE by Raina Telgemier and fell in love with the story.  
  • Over Christmas break, I devised a system for my classroom to try to encourage students to read more books.  
  • I called the system The Reading Challenge.  Basically, whoever reads the most books, and completes a brief book review card for each book read, wins a prize at the end of each month. 
  • I came back from break, and introduced the system by modeling how to write a simple book review using the most recent book I'd read: (Smile) -for my example.
  • The whole class freaked out and needed to see this book immediately.
  • We started reading it the next day using the overhead projector.  Shortly after that, my co-worker and literacy sidekick delivered a box to my classroom at lunch filled with an entire class set of Smile
  • We read our books together at the end of class whenever we could make time, and we loved it. 
  • We learned through the author's blog that she was coming to Santa Rosa in about a month!   
  • I made fliers for all of my students about the event, and I offered a free homework pass to anyone who could attend. (It was a Saturday after all). 
  • Last Saturday six of our students attended the event with their parents, dressed up and excited to be there.  Seeing Raina in person, hearing her talk about her experience as an author/ illustrator and watching my students' excitement while waiting in line to get their book signed was by far my best moment as a teacher thus far. 
Raina and her husband Dave Roman gave a FREE presentation about their work; how they came to be published authors; how they generate story ideas, and even how they met and eventually got married (excellent comics-inspired stories I might add).  One of my favorite parts was when Raina told the audience about her first self-publication called Take-Out that she used to sell for $.25 a piece. I happened to catch part of it on video. 
  A most compelling part in the book Smile is of course, the gore at the beginning when she knocks out her two front teeth and discovers a puddle of blood under her face.  During the presentation, Raina even showed us footage of her official dental records. Aaaak! The Real Deal!
I don't know how many of my students wrote: "I wonder if this is a true story?" in an assigned reading response to the book (even after we talked several times about it being an autobiographical account). 
Finally, proof.
After the presentation, we gathered in the lobby to get our books signed, deliver some words of admiration to the authors, and take some pictures of this very proud moment for all. 
Dave and Raina
Dave signing Loma's book.
Reading in line
Dave, Raina and Raina's proud dad
Raina and fans

My students with Raina and Charles Schultz smiling down on them in the background.

February 8, 2012

5th Grade Homonymn Sentences

It's amazing how much you can find out about your students and their language perceptions from a few  sentences.  Here are some of my favorites in which students were supposed to use homonyms together in the same sentence.  These are 5th grade language arts students in a remedial class made up of primarily English language learners. 

I have a buteful eye
I dont know what no means
my granma died but before she died she dyed her hair.
I like to be my self but I am scared of bees.

February 5, 2012

Guest Post: Learning to Read, American-Style

Learning to Read, American Style
by Jaime Jones

My daughter brought home a list of "Instant Words" from her Kindergarten teacher yesterday. An unassuming four pages of the 500 most common words in English, ranked in frequency order. You know: "the, of, and, to, in, is, that" and so on. Innocent enough, right?  Not quite.  I read throug the first 100 words, thinking proudly about how well my Kindergartener can read. Then the word "oil" popped out at me.

Oil: word number 88, among other benign words like "we, your, can, said, day, now, find, make" and such. It sticks out like a sore thumb. I've asked three other people to look at the list and pick out the word that doesn't belong and they all spotted it, too. These first hundred words make up about half of all printed material. But I can't think of one book I've read to my kids that has the word "oil" in it, so think about how frequently it must be printed in newspapers and adults' books. Is this crazy to anyone else?

Let's take a closer look at the rest of the list, shall we?

The word "boy" is number 141, "girl" is way down at 288.

"No" made the top 100, coming in at 77, but you don't find "yes" until the bottom of the fourth page at number 471, four words before "government."

Both "man" (124) and "men" (168) are there, but neither "woman" nor "women" made the top 500 at all.

"Take" (104) comes before "give" (114), but at least these two are close.

Thankfully, though, "tree" (215) comes before "building" (431). "Make" and "made" are both in the top 100, and "buy" isn't on the list. "Scientists" (438) is the only profession on the list, "Indian" (283) is the only nationality, and "English" (402) is the only language.

Public school is a system, it's true, but thankfully parenting isn't. 
Nothing excites me more than the potential of my girls. They were born into a crowded land, and will have to carry forward the legacy of our complicated history. But their reality is brand new, and that brings me the responsibility -- the opportunity -- to help them see what's most important in life. Words that aren't in the top 500, like compassion, respect, understanding, peace, and love.

And (ahem) women. 

Jaime Jones is a preschool teacher with a quirky knack for memorizing pop songs she heard once on the radio.  She spends her free-time singing folksy tunes with people she loves, keeping her kids stylish with unconventional haircuts and handmade clothes, and making the best darn tortilla soup in the galaxy.  She lives with her husband and two daughters in the rugged hills of northern California.
Learning to Read, American Style was written in 2009. 

February 4, 2012

Creative Writing

Activity  Five: Openers

You can tell a lot about a story from its first sentence. A good first sentence "hooks" you, pulling you into the story with a quick jolt of action or mystery. But a great first sentence does way more than that - it establishes a tone (or feeling), it sticks in your mind, and it can even blow your mind. Select one of the following opening liners and use it to jumpstart a story idea.

I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Monday morning when I answered the door there were twenty-one gorillas there, all in horrible polyester gold jackets.

At six forty-five one summer morning, a green and white Golden Gate Transit bus was crossing The Golden Gate Bridge. The bus and its passengers were never found. It was the first of the Time Tornadoes.

I come from a family with a lot of dead people.

Wemberly worried about everything.

Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do.

When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news.

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

Someone was standing by his bed, a person completely unlike anyone Tendai had ever seen.

I never used to pay attention to the phases of the moon.

You see, I had this spacesuit.

I myself had two separate encounters with witches before I was eight years old.

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

Coraline discovered the door a little after they moved into the house.

Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, lived in an underground house in the vegetable garden of a farmer named Mr. Fitzgibbon.

Can you identify any of the above first-liners? 

January 16, 2012

Artist in Residence

Something to Smile About!

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11 10am–12noon
Special Hands-On Workshop for Aspiring Cartoonists at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.

Join San Francisco native Raina Telgemeier, creator of the graphic novel Smile, to explore the art of making comics and writing stories. Participants will learn about thumbnails, layouts, balloon placement, panel variation and the mechanics of sequential art, and they will have a chance to create their own 4–8 page short comic. Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Smile, recently won the Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Teen Audience.

Recommended for children 10 and up.
Cost: $35 for members; $40 for non-members

Cartoonist Meet & Greet, 1pm-3pm (No registration required)

*Students in Mrs. Henry's 5th grade Language Arts class will receive a free homework pass for attending the Meet & Greet!

kinder tours

I am currently knee-deep in kinder-considerations right now, as my 4.75 year old (her precise calculations, not mine) is rapidly approaching school age.  It's a grim reality out there, knowing many precocious young minds will soon become a statistic of test scores in our nations public schools... but I digress.

The point of this post is to commend a kindergarten classroom I visited in which a poster listing several steps to raise a reader hung in the front window.  Unfortunately, I only read them, and silently congratulated the busy teacher on her efforts to provide useful information for parents of young children.   Later, I wished I had written them down to post in my classroom window, so I finally sat down and made my own version in English and Spanish.  Both can be downloaded here.

As firm believer in the use of graphic images to support understanding, I was pleased to find this sweet comic strip created by Mr. Fitz, a brilliant middle school teacher and comic strip creator stationed in Florida.  Here they are together:

10 Ways to Raise a Reader
  1. Read to your child every day. It's never too early to start---even newborns respond to
    hearing you read.
  2. Continue reading together even after your child learns to read. Older children still
    enjoy listening to others read.
  3. Make stories come alive for your child when you read. Be animated and use different
  4. Be patient---let your child read aloud at his or her own pace. Offer help only when
  5. Discuss what you read together. Ask questions, and listen attentively to your child's
  6. Make reading time special. Cuddle up in a quiet, comfortable spot. Your child will
    associate reading with feeling secure, relaxed, and loved.
  7. Encourage your child to read at least 15 minutes a day, either to you or independently.
  8. Take along your child's favorite books wherever you go. Read on the bus, in line at the
    store, or in waiting rooms.
  9. Take your child to the library often and check out a variety of age-appropriate reading
    10. Be a role model---read on your own. By seeing how much you enjoy reading, your child 
         will learn that it's a great source for information and fun. 
Comic Strip source

January 14, 2012

Donors Choose

In my first year of teaching, I've already had two projects successfully funded by Donors Choose.   If you aren't already familiar, it's a nonprofit site designed for teachers to create projects and list the resources needed to enhance student success. Donors can choose which projects they would like support. 

My latest project arrived recently- an exciting box, filled with book sets!  Here is my impact letter:

Dear Anonymous Donors,

Thank you kindly for your generous donations to my classroom. With your support, I have added five new sets of high-interest, high-quality literature circle books to my primary reading groups.  I believe struggling readers need exposure to quality literature. With guidance and support, young readers can surprise themselves as they learn to make deep connections to their lives, and other stories and events of familiarity through text. But in order to make that happen, as my project title stated: A book club definitely needs books.

Your contributions to my literature circles have helped my students fall in love with the story.  Young readers bound into my room each morning, eager to discover the adventures that lie ahead for our weekly protagonists.   

With gratitude,
Mrs. Henry

Should you feel so inspired, my ever-growing literacy resource wishlist can be found in the right-hand sidebar of this blog.  Or you can simply click here.  And thanks for being here!  If you're reading this, I know I already have your support.

December 29, 2011

Reading Questionnaire and Data Collection

Recently I created a reading questionnaire as a tool to get to know my students as readers. Using some of the questions from the Burke Reading Inventory and other inquiries of my own, this questionnaire examines student attitudes toward reading environments, access to text,  reading strategies they know and use, and genres/ mediums of personal interest.  Over break, I finally sat down to create a data table to record the information gathered from the questionnaire.  My plan is to hold a discussion group with my students upon our return to discuss our findings and make plans for improving negative feelings/ attitudes toward reading, expanding our knowledge and use of reading strategies, and increasing access to high interest text. 
The reading questionnaire can be downloaded hereand the data table here 

There are many conclusions that can be gleaned from the data collections I have compiled, including a topic of high interest to me right now which involves the use of comics and graphic novels in the classroom to discuss important literary elements and enhance comprehension (more on this topic later).  

Reading Attitudes
The questionnaire focuses on how students feel when they are reading by themselves, and with a group of other students.  Looking at the word choices they used, here are the negative, neutral and positive feelings my students reported about reading both alone and in the company of others:

 Negative Feelings        Neutral Feelings                      Positive Feeling
lonely                          kind of half and half                     fun 
bored                          okay                                             happy
uncomfortable                                                                relaxed
distracted                                                                       good
not relaxed
don't like it

Results show the students in my class expressed more than twice as many negative feelings about reading than positive feelings. 

Genres/ Mediums
In looking at the types of text my students are interested in reading, 90% of my students reported comics/ graphic novels as a medium they currently enjoy or  have interest in exploring.  In my quest to gain more knowledge about the use of comics and graphic novels in a classroom setting, I'm reading a highly recommended book called: Adventures in Graphica by Terry Thompson, a K-5 literacy coach near Houston, Texas.  Since ten of the twelve students in my 5th grade reading intervention class speak a language other than English at home, I appreciate the rationale Thompson offers for the use of graphica* to support second language learners.  

*Graphica noun A medium of literature that integrates pictures and word and arranges them cumulatively to tell a story or convey information; often presented in comic strip, periodical, or book form; also know as comics (2008, 6).
Graphica offers a text to visual cue relationship that is visually stimulating while supporting the reader at their own pace as the story unfolds.  Though the artistic images offer an enticing hook, particularly for younger and "struggling" or "reluctant" readers, they also offer assistance to such readers in need of additional support as they travel through the text.  This can increase motivation, engagement, and comprehension while being less daunting than an imageless page of challenging text. In addition, because conversations in graphica are more authentic using tangible dialogue and thought bubbles to demonstrate characterization, etc., readers can experience real, everyday discourse in English as opposed to the more contrived language found in many basal readers and ELL materials (2008, 18).    Furthermore, since comics and graphic novels tend to be more engaging than more traditional forms of text, they often spark interest in more passive readers while offering the experience of what it feels like to be an active participant in the reading process- a feeling that regrettable many of my students have not yet experienced.   

I am currently working to build my comic/ graphic novel collection in my classroom while familiarizing myself with several high-interest and high quality titles.  Most of my selections come highly recommended from the aforementioned Graphic Classroom website.

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