Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Funny Thing Happend When a Friend Recommended Big Nate: The Power of Peer Book Recommendations

     My eight year old son has loved graphic novels, particularly the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, since he was six.  He devoured what he could of the text and pictures, laughing, sharing, enjoying.  He even started writing his own ‘Diary of a Wimpy Max’ books, emulating Kinney’s style.
     Being the avid reading advocate I am, I naturally noted his interest and brought him to the library to check out other graphic novels.  He read the Flying Beaver Brother series by Maxwell Eaton III,   Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, El Deafo by Cece Bell, The Bird and Squirrel series by James Burkes and many others.  He pretty much loved them all, reading several of them more than once.  (I silently curse my own poor parenting when he’s up at 10:00PM on a school night and I can’t get him to close a book.)
     Near the beginning of this school year, I brought home several of the books from the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce.  Students at my school like them, so I figured Max would, too.  I talked to him a bit about them and showed him the covers, but for some reason, he didn’t pick them up.  Over the course of a week, I mentioned them several times, but nothing sparked his interest.  I collected the books and took them back to school.  

Then, a funny thing happened.

     A few weeks ago Max asked me about Big Nate.  I replied, “Remember, I brought home several of the books from the series, but you weren’t interested.”
     “Well, I’m interested now.”
     I wanted to check some out from the library, but he insisted he wanted his own copies.  Strange…how did we go from no interest to “I’ll die if I don’t have my own copies?”  Come to find out, a student in Max’s second grade class gave a book talk on one of the Big Nate books.  The teacher has a simple routine: every student has a day of the week for “Share a Book.”  They give quick book talks, sharing favorite parts, reading a bit aloud, etc.  Max’s classmate shared a few funny parts from Big Nate and OH!  From that point forward, Max was convinced he had to get his hands on these books.
     Since the books arrived from Amazon, Max has been furiously reading.  He can’t put them down.  In fact, I just spoke with his teacher today and he’s been in a tad bit of trouble for trying to read them while his teacher is teaching.  In trouble for reading!  Ha, imagine that.
     The point of this post is this:  REVERE THE POWER STUDENTS HAVE IN THEIR HANDS!  They can be extremely influential in the reading lives of their peers.  Imagine, me, full-time teacher, writer of books, book-talk extraordinaire, unable to convince Max to pick up a book, but a classmate did the job with little to no effort.  A few questions you might consider:  Do you take advantage of the power of peer-to-peer book recommendations?  Do you have any simple routines in place that allow for student book-sharing or informal talk about books?  I presented on this topic at the IRA annual convention in 2014 and wrote a post with some suggestions you might find useful.  You can find it here:  I’d love to hear your stories and ideas, as well.

Happy reading (and, we’re going to bed early tonight—books closed, lights out!)!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Perfect Timing for Some Purposeful Writing: Thank-Yous for a Winter Holiday Gift

My second-grade son is working on his letters now!
Hi there,
     I hope you've had a wonderful holiday!  Just a quick idea for some purposeful writing as we go back to school tomorrow following the break.  Our students undoubtedly received some type of winter holiday gift while away.  Wouldn't it be nice to have them write a thank-you and send it off ?  We can teach the conventions of letter writing, transitions, voice, description and more with this authentic assignment.  More significantly, we're teaching the importance of  expressing appreciation.  Many teachers invite children to bring in one gift they received to show to the class or to a small group.  This is perfect for working on speaking and listening standards and, having the object in front of students as they write their thank-yous will help them with description and to recall details related to the gift.  Students' motivation soars when we make writing purposeful!
    Having students talk prior to writing is one of the best scaffolds we can provide them for success.  Even if they don't bring in an object to share, allow them time to talk to peers about a gift and what they might write in a thank-you before they write.  Share some examples aloud with the class and discuss them--this will go a long way toward promoting success for everyone and diminish "I don't know what to write!" or the two sentence 'Thank you for the ___________. I really like it.' problems!
    One of the themes in my newest book from Corwin Literacy is purposeful writing.  I can't emphasize enough the difference this makes in the effectiveness for student learning and in the writing climates of our classrooms.  Another theme of the book is integration:  integrating standards to save time AND help students use literacy in authentic ways.  In the simple assignment above, we can integrate writing standards, language convention standards and speaking and listening standards (and more:  Consider the letter recipient's point of view, for example.  What might s/he like to know in the letter?  Why do you think this?)
   Here's wishing you a great week!  Thanks for stopping by.  Happy reading/writing/thinking!
Click the picture to check it out.  Corwin is offering it at a great discount.

 P.S. Thanks to Krista, from Creative Clips, for the fun clip art.  Max and I used her sets to create some personalized stationary!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Poetry Friday: Boy Of Eight Year's Time

Hello!  It's Poetry Friday!
Still in draft form...needs something (suggestions welcomed!) :

Boy of Eight Year's Time
Nose to nose
that boy
he grows,
eight years old.
Skinny boy
Drama boy
Stubborn boy
Humor boy
Boy of mess-making.
The house,
an unlimited playground.

an airline,
from living room to
dining room to
Little cardboard planes
flew to exotic destinations,
like Phoenix.
a mine of gems,
rubies and emeralds,
from beneath the couch.
The brown berber carpet
holds a paradise of promise
for this
boy of imagination.
Boy of eight year’s time.

© Janiel Wagstaff

For the life of me, I can't find where he put Phoenix!

Visit more poetry links:
Poetry Friday

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Notebooks Galore! (Or...'Oh, How I Need to Write!')

     I must apologize for the limited time I have to devote to blogging.  I have so much to think about and I love to think through writing, but somehow most of what I write doesn't end up here.  Maybe I'm too picky?  In any event, I thought I'd share something joyful from this week.

     I was in the of my favorite places, and naturally, a notebook was by my side.  I wasn't writing in it; it was just sitting there on the floor as I was leaned back, eyes closed, soaking in steam...relaxing.  In barges my son, Max.  Upon seeing the notebook (it was an old one, from several years ago), he blurts out, "Oh, I want a notebook like that one."
    "You have a gillion notebooks.  Didn't you just get three new ones in your Christmas stocking?"
    "Yes, but none like that, with a bird on the cover.  I want to write about birds!"

     How interesting that this eight year old is motivated to write by the cover of a journal.  I guess the clever one I picked up at the dollar store for Christmas ("Brilliant Ideas") had lost its luster or Max had run smack out of brilliant ideas at the moment.  When I emerged from the bath, we looked around for several of his notebooks and perused some of his writing.  The time it takes to give a look, share a bit of response, laugh or question is minimal, yet, those moments of bonding over a child's writing, really listening, are so key to the making of a passionate writer.  Of course, the modeling he sees from me and the myriad of notebooks at the ready, spread throughout the house, do their part, as well. 
Max read his poem "Holidays" at our family's Thanksgiving table. 

     Moral:  Materials matter!  If you're trying to encourage writers, make a wide range of materials available in as many places as possible.  You never know what will strike a writer's fancy and motivate him/her to pick up a pencil.
   And, of course, response, genuine response, matters more than just about anything!
Best to you and your readers & writers!
-Janiel (and Max)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Reading and Writing in a Winter Wonderland

Hello!  I'm so happy to join this fine group of educators to share the love of winter reading.  If you know anything about me, you know I can't talk about reading without talking about writing.  In this post, I'll briefly demonstrate how to use poetry as a context for: engaging repeated readings (a new, exciting, multi-modal strategy), inspiring poetry writing, and teaching grammar.  The strategies are universal and can be used with any poetry you love.  Today, I'm using Douglas Florian's Winter Eyes as a mentor text.

 I love Douglas Florian's poetry. Winter Eyes  contains forty delightful poems covering varied winter topics students will easily relate to.  For example, examine "What I Love About Winter" and contrast it with "What I Hate About Winter."  Florian's amazing ability to spin a rhyme coupled with his charming watercolors will keep students' interest levels high.  

It's fascinating to realize the range of topics, big and small, one might explore all around the theme of 'winter.'  Poems like "Winter Borrows" teach about a variety of hibernating animals: 
 'Beneath the pond a sleeping frog
Recalls she was a polliwog
Once wiggling wild beside a log...'

Ever thought about "The Winter Sun?"  Florian has:
'The winter sun's a grumpy guy.
He scarcely gets to see the sky.
He doesn't speak.  His rays are weak...'

Popular, more typical topics are also included:
'First you budge 
and slowly trudge
your sled to the top and then
you speed 
you sail
you whiz
you wail
and start 
all over again." 
What fun to read the words as they climb a hill then sail down again in Florian's painting! 
I've created a packet outlining how to use Florian's enchanting poems (or any poems) to accomplish the three goals mentioned above.  Each strategy is explained in greater detail there, but I'll summarize below.  Please note:  This product will only be FREE to download for one week from today (11/27-12/4/15).  

First, as I'm sure you know, multiple rereadings of poetry has been proven by research to increase students' fluency.  How about a new way to engage students in these rereadings?  Try "Poetic Mini-Dramas:"

Students use their upper bodies, arms and hands, facial expressions, and voice to ‘act out’ a poem we’ve enjoyed through shared reading (we decide on the movements we’ll use to act out the poem together). The children receive their own copies which they put in their laps if they're seated on the floor or on their desks if seated there.  The students LOVE this kinesthetic approach to rereading poetry.

To get a better idea of this strategy, you can watch a 14 second video of a second grader doing a very short poetic mini-drama here!  Do note the JOY on this kiddo's face!
Here is an example from Winter Eyes:
‘Figure 8’   (Page 45)

“In wintertime (action: cross arms across chest, shiver as if very cold)

I love to skate (action:  make heart symbol by cupping fingers & thumbs to make a heart)

a great gigantic figure eight.”  (action:  put hands together flat and move them in a figure eight)

Poetic Mini-Dramas are not only great fun, but they are excellent vocabulary builders since students act out a variety of new and interesting words.  Additionally, if you have students perform a few along with reading poetry they've written, you have a simple, yet entertaining, program for families to enjoy!

Second, inspire students to write their own poetry by lifting a line, a sentence (or two) or a phrase from a poem.  Students simply write 'off of' this starting point.  Of course, this works best if you model it several times first while thinking aloud about your process.  An additional scaffold is to write several such poems together as a class.
Here is a student-written example from Winter Eyes:
‘What I Hate About Winter’   (Page 12)

Borrowed phrase:  “Sloppy slush”

Third, teach simple grammar by engaging in a variety of sentence play using lines or phrases from poetry.  You can always make up the language pieces you want students to use, rather than lifting them from a context, but I find it very meaningful and engaging for students to compare their sentences with the language the original author used in a poem.  I engage my students in: sentence completion, sentence rearranging, sentence mash-ups, and sentence expansion.  I model, then we take on these sentence challenges together as a class or with buddies.  The work is very interactive.

Here is an example of just one of these (sentence completion) from Winter Eyes:
From page 24:  “Freshly fallen snow _________________"  

Possible student response:

· “Freshly fallen snow covers the rooftops.” 

Possible Feedback:  “Yes, the noun ‘snow’ and the verb ‘covers’ work.  We couldn’t say ’Freshly fallen snow cover the rooftops,’ could we?  That doesn’t sound right.  Snow is one thing, so the verb needs the letter ’s’ if we’re talking about something happening right now in the present.  Like, a sled slides (one sled is sliding right now), a snowball flies, etc.  (Note: as you read, you could collect additional examples of this on a poster or in a notebook).  Now, let’s read to see how Douglas Florian used the phrase ‘freshly fallen snow’ in the poem ‘Winter Tracks!’  
 (Note:  If appropriate for your students, you can look for examples in the poem of the teaching point you made during the sentence completion exercise.  For example, the last line of this poem reads, “Inside a cubbyhole they spill.”  Point out how ‘they’ is more than one so the verb ‘spill’ does not have the ‘s.’  “Inside a cubbyhole they spills.” wouldn’t sound right, would it?  Additionally, if you’re working with older students or you’ve covered parts of speech with your kiddos, you could also ask them to read the poem again and determine what noun the pronoun ‘they’ represents.)
Students have a great time, AND, they're learning grammar without torture!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  It's 1:00 AM my time, and I'm worn out.  I do so love thinking about reading, writing and teaching with poetry, though.  I hope you find these ideas exciting and helpful.  By the way, I was supposed to use a 'mystery word' in my post--it's not a mystery, but here it is: scarf.  Stay warm & have fun checking out the other great posts and products!  -Janiel
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