Interview with Brenda Maier, Author of The Little Red Fort, Peeping Beauty and The Little Blue Bridge and Talented and Gifted Elementary School Teacher
Thanks for listening to the second episode of Chalk and Ink, the podcast for teachers who write and writers who teach.
It was an absolute pleasure to talk with Brenda Maier, talented and gifted elementary teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the author of The Little Red Fort, Peeping Beauty and The Little Blue Bridge. If you've been procastinating when it comes to writing, you'll be inspired by Brenda because she manages to balance a full-time teaching job, writing and raising five kids.
In addition to inspiring listeners to prioritize their passions, Brenda shares ways to push students' critical thinking with perspective exercises and encourages people to read widely so that we can can increase kindness and empathy in our world.
Brenda recommends that all elementary school teachers have these four titles in their classrooms:
1) What If, a picture book about resilience written by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato.
2) Alma and How She Got Her Name, a picture book that encourages each child to tell their story by Juana Martinez-Neal.
3)The Wall in the Middle of the Book, a picture book about assumptions we make about characters by Jon Agee.
4) We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, a deceptively simple and lyrical picture book told from the perspective of a Cherokee Nation citizen, written by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frane Lessac.
Interview with Angela Shante, Author of The Noisy
Welcome to Chalk and Ink, the podcast for teachers who write and writers who teach. If you're looking to develop and deepen your writing and/or teaching practice, then this is the podcast for you! Special thanks to author and illustrator, Sarah Brannen, for the podcast art. Be sure to check out Sarah's new book A Perfect Day. It's the perfect summer read.
Without further ado, meet author and educational consultant, Angela Shante, in our first podcast episode. She explains how to use literacy to tiptoe into social emotional learning, tells listeners how to weave editing magic into their classrooms and leaves teachers with a fun, fantastic writing activity you can try with your class.
Angela wrote The Noisy Classroom. She also recommends that all teachers have a copy of First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg on hand to show that teachers have feelings and emotions, too.
Finally, check out the article Angela wrote called "Tips to Decolonize and Diversify Your Child's Library."
Summer is here. Well, it officially arrives tomorrow at 5:43 P.M. But for me, it started yesterday. I'm taking the rest of the week off. But when next week begins, I'll start my summer writing plan.
Having a summer writing plan is another gratitude I could have listed in my last post. When the stay-at-home order first began in Massachusetts, it wasn't clear the first two weeks what my teaching responsibilities were. So, I found myself with a ton of unstructured time. I was determined not to spend it writing. I found that setting the timer for two-hour chunks really made me poductive.
The funny thing is a friend of mine, who is a full-time writer, was also having trouble concentrating during the pandemic. I told her about the timer trick, and it worked for her, too.
Until I head back to the classroom (fingers crossed), I'm going to split my day into three two-hour chunks. Each chunk of time will be dedicated to one of three tasks.
The first task is to finish a sixty-four page nonfiction picture book draft that I'm working on. Think, Ick!, by Melissa Stewart or What a Waste by Jess French.
The second task is to finish a draft of a middle grade novel. Depending on how you look at it, this is a fifth draft or a first draft because this draft is completely different than the first four drafts.
Finally, I'm working on developing a podcast called Chalk and Ink-many thanks to Loree Griffin Burns for the name. Chalk and Ink will feature teachers who write and writers who teach. I'm looking forward to this new venture.
Have a wonderful summer, and I'll see you in the fall. Happy writing, reading and creating!
To say this spring has been a challenging time would be a gross understatement. Having said that, for me, the pandemic has presented me with many unexpected gifts. Here are twenty of them:
20. Seeing My Principal in a Metallica T-Shirt
There are poems about seeing one’s teacher in blue jeans at the grocery store. But how about the principal wearing a Metallica t-shirt during a Zoom meeting?
19. Learning New Technology
Teaching during this time has forced me to learn technology at a rapid rate. My favorite tool, Google MOTE. It allows me to leave voice comments for my students. Super fun!
18. Time with Buck
My dog Buck and I have always been close. Now, he’s literally my buddy. Wherever I go, he goes.
17. No More Brambles
Okay. That’s a lie. It’s not possible to clear our property of all the brambles. But hundreds of them are gone. Once again we can see what we affectionately call, “the big rock” behind our house.
16. House Projects
Sad to say I have clutter issues. However, bit-by-bit, I’m clearing out spaces. One closet taken care of, an unused bathroom to go!
15. Midday Author Visits
Normally, I could never take a writing seminar with another author or offer my own free author Skype visits in the middle of the day. Not so anymore! If I want to take a nonfiction webinar with Kate Messner or do a free Skype visit with another teacher's class, there’s nothing holding me back.
14. Fewer Meals to Cook
Why? Anders and Corbin are each cooking a meal a week. Not only is it less work, but it’s fun to watch them learn and build new skills in the kitchen.
13. Students Sending Love
My friend is an infectious disease epidemiologist for the state. She’s been working twelve-hour-plus days seven days a week. So, when she contacted me and asked me if I could start an organization so that hard-hit nursing homes in the state would receive encouraging letters from students, I banded together with April Jones Prince and Tammy Mulligan to start the organization. Want to send letters? Sign up here.
12. More Contact with Far Away Family and Friends
Funny to think I video conference more now with family than before. It’s not as if we suddenly live farther away from each other than before. But perhaps we realize it’s not a given that we will always be there for one another. Or, how about attending a college friend’s Zoom birthday party? Someone, I hadn’t interacted with in years. Super fun!
11. Helping Lost Women and Children
Mount Wachusett State Park surrounds my house. So, if I’m not at home, you can find me on the trails. You can also find most of Worcester County there as well. Twice in the past week, I’ve helped lost, exhausted women with young, lost, exhausted, hungry children make it back to their cars. It feels so good to help.
10. Online Yoga
My amazing friend Jen Faldetta offers live yoga classes through Facebook Live. I’ve always enjoyed attending her Saturday morning yoga classes, but now I can bask in her positive energy without leaving my house which is an amazing gift. Thank you, Jen!
9. Watching My Students Teach
I’ve seen my students teach other students before in the classroom. But, I don’t get to relish it because I’m always working with a different student noting that the teaching is happening on the side. With Google Meet, when one student asks a technology question, another student can answer it and I can sit back, learn something new and watch the students shine. Super fun!
8. Stronger Team
Our fourth grade team has always worked well together. So, I didn’t think it was possible for us to grow even closer. But that’s exactly what has happened. We support each other through the tears and come up with new ways to help one another out so that there are fewer tears the following week.
7. Midday Reading
If I want to read one of Diana Gabaldon’s novels for pleasure or take notes on Captain Charles Moore and Cassandra Phillips Plastic Ocean during the middle of the day, I can. Heaven!
6. Getting to Know My Students in Different Ways
Seeing inside my students’ homes is super fun. An author’s dream, really. Each one of them a different personality with decorations that reflect who they are. But not only that. Since we’re giving our students so many content and presentation choices, we’re learning so much about learning styles and reading preferences. It’s really eye opening.
5. More Time Outside
I can go outside whenever I want—an early morning walk, a midday stroll, an evening hike. I can also sit outside whenever I want to do that midday reading or just take a moment to give my eyes a break from the screen.
For those of you who know I’m often up by 4 AM in the morning, you may be laughing. But it’s true. Now, I can go back to bed after I write or take a midday nap if I’m falling asleep in front of my computer. Total luxury!
3. Not Commuting
This one is huge for me. I had no idea how huge either. On a good week, I spend nine-and-a-half hours in the car. It feels so good to spend that time in other ways. Plus, when I am in the car, there is hardly anyone on the road. So, it’s a much more pleasant experience to be in the car!
2. Writing Magic
Sometimes writing is magical. Time and the world falls away. Normally, the timer would go off, and I’d have to get ready to go to work. Now, if I’m in the groove, I don’t have to stop. I can ride the wave for as long as it lasts.
1. Time with Anders and Corbin
I stayed home when my boys were young. At times, it was tough, but I know now what an exquisite gift that was. I never thought I would have that much time with them again. Now, here we are. It’s amazing. Sure, they cook and do yard work. But, that’s not the fun stuff. The fun stuff is watching them interact with one another, and with Tom, in ways they’ve never interacted with one another before. And, the incredible opportunity to say "goodnight," "good morning," and "I love you," each and every day. What a gift!
The end of the school year is drawing near, but you still need to fit in more opinion writing activities. If you adhere to Common Core standards or teach in Massachusetts, opinion writing is our first writing standard:
Writing Standard Text #1
Text Types and Purposes
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Of course, a first-grader’s opinion writing looks very different from a fifth-grader’s opinion piece. But the purpose is the same-to express passion about a topic and convey to readers why that topic is important.
So head on over to www.studentssendinglove.com and sign up to have your students send their opinion writing to nursing homes telling the workers why they are heros.
I’m participating in an advanced picture book intensive with agent Sean McCarthy through Inked Voices. If you are a writer and don’t know about Inked Voices, I suggest you check out the organization. This is the fourth Inked Voices workshop I’ve participated in, and I’ve learned a lot from each one.
The format of the intensive workshop requires that you submit three picture book manuscripts. Then, revise one manuscript and submit it two more times for submission.
After the first round of submissions, most participants agreed that I should work on revising my manuscript, which was then called Chicks Rule, Dogs Drool. Sean McCarthy not only thought I should revise it, he thought I should start from scratch. He had various reasons such as the first format didn’t have high enough stakes, the story didn’t support the scientific concept I talked about in my back matter, and the main character wasn't clear.
After gnashing my teeth, I started over. I read a bunch of Aesop’s fables and stories that featured relationships between predator and prey such as The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright and Jim Field, which I love.
So, I rewrote my manuscript in the rhyming style of The Lion Inside. Besides the fact that I lacked consistent meter, the version didn’t work. As my critique group member Sarah Brannen said, “You’ve solved the problems the agent talked about, but created a host of new ones.” More people chimed in with various ways to strengthen the manuscript and someone said, “You need a Greek chorus, like The Little Red Hen.” Then, the critique group itself became a Greek chorus as they all heartily agreed.
If I was going to try writing my story with a Greek chorus like The Little Red Hen, I had to read various versions of The Little Red Hen. It was super fun, and I learned a lot. I thought I’d share my observations on each version of The Little Red Hen in case educators are looking to study The Little Red Hen.
Originally published in 1979, with a renewed 2001 copyright, Paul Galdone tells the classic tale. The Greek chorus is “Not I,” and the cat, dog, and mouse don’t get a single crumb of cake from the fed up hen. But they do learn their lesson, and always help out from that day forward. What I like about Galdone’s illustrations is that he showcases the secondary characters’ laziness one-by-one. The reader sees the cat sleeping on the couch, the dog napping in the hammock and the mouse snoozing in the chair.
I love Jerry Pinkney’s art. His illustrations are stunningly gorgeous. Like Paul Galdone’s version, the secondary characters, the goat, pig, dog and rat, get nothing. Their Greek chorus is also, “Not I.” Not only do the animals not receive any bread from the hen, but the reader doesn’t learn whether or not the secondary characters learned their lesson. One fun aspect of Pinkney’s version, is that all the animals have a color word in their name: the short brown dog, the tall black goat, the round pink pig and the thin gray rat. So, if you want to teach color words or focus in on adjectives, start with this book.
The Classic With A Twist
Full disclosure, before Philemon Sturges passed away he lived in my town. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but out local library had his books. My sons loved this book, and we frequently checked it out from the library. This book has the classic Greek chorus of “Not I,” and the usual cast of secondary animals—a duck, dog and cat. But instead of baking a cake or bread, this Little Red Hen bakes a pizza. So, if your family has a pizza night, pick up this version.
Twisted Tales Inspired By The Classics
If you’d like to teach your learners some Spanish vocabulary, pick up this book. Ann Whitford Paul uses the Spanish names for the days of the week and the southwestern characters featured in the story: el conejo (the rabbit), la culebra (the snake) and la tortuga (the tortoise). Unlike the classic tale, each of these characters has his or her own saying to refuse to help. Instead of baking something, the iguana is throwing a party and has to do all the preparations herself. What’s nice about this version is the secondary characters realize their mistake and are too embarrassed to enjoy the party. Then, they come up with an idea of how to be helpful. After that, Iguana invites them to enjoy the leftovers.
Linda Urban created a fantastic bedtime story. The human family has been treating Little Red Henry like a baby and he decides to assert his independence until it is time for bed. The Greek chorus in this version is “Let me!” because each family member wants to do tasks for Henry instead of letting him try to do it by himself.
I love Brenda Maier's STEM story. Ruby, the little sister, is determined to build a fort even though her three lazy older brothers refuse to help her. Not only do they refuse to help her, but they insult her and tell her she doesn’t know “how to build anything.” Ruby is not deterred. Unlike the classic tales, the secondary characters have a chance to redeem themselves. In addition, there’s excellent back matter on the history of the folktale The Little Red Hen. To top it off, there’s a fun page that shows readers all the different types of forts they can build at home.
Buildings are closed, but school is in session. In fact, in some ways learning communities are more vibrant than ever. Students Sending Love is part of that vibrancy. The movement intends to send artwork, supportive letters and poems to every one of the 388 nursing homes in the state of Massachusetts. In order to reach that goal, we need help from every educator who reads this blog.
Let's face it. We went into education because we love kids, and we want to make our communities better places. We know that children are our future.
But they're not just our future, they're are present, too. Together, educators and students can send love to nursing home workers and residents right now. Don't wait for tomorrow. Sign up today.
Hey, fellow elementary teachers! Next week my district is switching from optional distance learning to mandatory learning. For us, part of that switch means that instead of having an activity board, we're supposed to develop lessons for the week that connect to one another.
If you're a second, third or fourth grade teacher, here's a measurement lesson that you can split into a couple of days. Here are the second, third and fourth-grade Common Core Standards the lesson covers:
Besides covering standards, another reason to incorporate this lesson into your distance learning is that Suzanne Kaufman's art is gorgeous. Whether there's a nor'easter raging outside your window or if it's simply an overcast day, Suzanne's art will fill your students' days with color. In addition to colorful artwork, the measurement lines next to each insect makes measuring easy.
Not only are the insects easy to measure, the activity includes a t-chart for students to record each measurement.
Fourth graders can record the measurements on a line plot.
In addition to giving fourth graders the opportunity to create a line plot, the activity also introduces the concept of an outlier, a data point that is significantly different than the rest.
No worries! There are answer keys for both parts of the activity which makes it less overwhelming for the teacher and the parent as well.
Download this fun, Common Core activity here.
This month I’m doing something a little different for my 20 in 2020 post. Instead of featuring twenty different books, I’m sharing a list of forty-four nonfiction titles collated by the incredibly organized, creative, kind and intelligent elementary librarian and author, Lisa Rogers, and me.
We created this list for part of our presentation at the Massachusetts School Library Association’s Annual Conference which was supposed to occur on March 29th and 30th. We had planned to have all of the titles on the list available for the attendees to browse through and sort in three different ways. If you click this link, you can print out the three different recording sheets attendees were going to use to sort the books. But you don’t have to be at a conference to do this activity, you can do it in your classroom, whether that’s at school or at home.
The first way attendees could choose to sort the titles would have been through text structure. The five nonfiction text structures are: 1) Cause and Effect; 2) Chronological/Sequential 3) Compare and Contrast; 4) Main Idea and Detail/Description; and 5) Problem and Solution. If you are unfamiliar with these text structures, watch the super-fun video below. Then, grab some of the informational texts you have at home, or check out some of the titles we suggest on our list, and sort them by text structure. Sometimes authors use more than one text structure in a book like Jason Chin does in Grand Canyon.
The second way attendees could choose to sort the titles would have been using Melissa Stewart’s 5 Types of Nonfiction. She wrote an article about the 5 Types of Nonfiction in School Library Journal’s May 2018 edition. On her website, she also provides a detailed lesson plan describing how to teach students about the five types of nonfiction: 1) Traditional Nonfiction; 2) Browseable Nonfiction; 3) Narrative Nonfiction; 4) Expository Literature; and 5) Active Nonfiction. Please click on one of the links in the paragraph to dive deep into an explanation of each of these types of nonfiction. Then, grab some of the informational texts you have at home, or check out some of the titles we suggest on our list, and sort them by the five types of nonfiction.
Finally, we were going to encourage attendees to look for Robert Probst and Kylene Beer’s nonfiction signposts in the texts. The nonfiction signposts are: 1) Contrasts or Contradictions; 2) Extreme or Absolute Language; 3) Numbers and Stats; 4) Quoted Words; and 5) Word Gaps. For me, signposts are an extremely powerful teaching tool because you can usually find one, some or all of the signposts in each book no matter its structure or its type. If you’re unfamiliar with the nonfiction signposts, check out the short videos below. Then, use the nonfiction signpost recording page and note the signposts! Have fun!
I thought about changing the title and the subject of my post, but I find when I’m worried one of the best things I can do is to help other people. Whether you’re in the classroom or teaching online, I hope these books bring you and your students joy.
One of the tasks our fourth graders are supposed to be able to do on our state test, the MCAS, is to write a narrative from a different perspective. In the past, I’ve only used released MCAS test passages to practice this. Let’s face it. That’s so boring! Even if the test makers picked an interesting text, there are no pictures to accompany the words. Anyone who knows picture books understands that you can’t grasp the complete story arc of a picture book without the… you guessed it! Pictures!
So, here are some picture books I’ve used in the classroom, or plan on using whether that’s in person or through Flipgrid to teach perspective in a fun way.
Start off with Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Why? Because it’s fun. Has the illustrator drawn a duck or a rabbit on each page? There’s really no way to tell. But each student is sure they know the answer. The excitement bubbles and debate rages with each page turn. They’re sure their perspective is the correct one even until the final page turn when the book clearly wants the reader to change their point of view.
Keep the fun going with Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. This super fun book features a boy and his robot friend. The cover alone, of the two characters standing side-by-side is enough to hook readers in. The first half of the story is from the boy’s point of view, and the second half of the story is from the robot’s point of view. This book is an excellent way to teach your students about a narrative ladder structure as well. Boy does specific actions in the first half of the book, and then Bot repeats those same actions in the second half of the book.
Climb on! Read Alfie by Thyra Heder. This book also features a narrative ladder structure. In the first half of the book is told from Nia’s perspective. She shares how excited she was to get her pet turtle, Alfie, on her sixth birthday, and then the sad truth that bit-by-bit she loses interest in him over the year until he disappears on her seventh birthday. Then, we climb the ladder again and here all about their year together from Alfie’s perspective. I saw one of my students who dreams of having a cat for a pet someday sneak this book out of my writer’s workshop book basket when he thought I wasn’t looking. He made my day!
Dive deep with Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose, illustrated by Debbie Tilley. Truth is I’ve loved, since it came out in 1998. The fun thing is I taught Oye, Hormiguita! To my Spanish bilingual students back when I taught in Chelsea over twenty years ago. My beloved copy is still on my bookshelf, and I read it to Anders and Corbin when they were little. Twenty years later, kids still love this book. Everyone can relate to the power to choose whether or not to kill an insect. It’s an ethical decision we face every day. This book is an excellent way to get kids thinking about how one’s perspective is influenced by the amount of power each individual has.
Finally, share The Passover Mouse by Joy Nelkin Weider and Shahar Kober with your students. This book focuses on Rivka’s perspective. She’s a lonely widow preparing her house for Passover. She thinks she has cleared her house of chometz, leavened bread, when a mouse seizes a piece of bread in its mouth and dashes through her house out the door. What follows is a rollicking tale of how the village comes together to help Rivka once again clear her house of chometz for Passover. But what does the mouse think about all this? Ask your students to write the story from the mouse’s perspective for some Friday fun. Beats reading and writing about another photocopied MCAS passage!
Chalk and Ink
Chalk and Ink is a biweekly podcast that publishes on Fridays throughout the school year. Learn how teachers who write and writers who teach combine craft moves to create outstanding products for their students and readers. Download Chalk and Ink wherever you get your favorite podcasts.