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!
My 104-year-old grandmother died on Valentine’s Day. That’s why this post is a few days late. This month’s 20 in 2020 is dedicated to you. As my friend said, you’ll always be my forever Valentine.
20. Smile-People talk about smiles lighting up the room. My grandmother’s smile lit up the universe. My mother and aunt chose a sparkly dress for her burial gown, and they couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate final outfit for her. My aunt’s husband said, “It reminds me of starlight.” On my pre-dawn hikes and runs when shooting stars streak across the sky, I’ll think of her.
19. Loyalty- Many people give lip service to loyalty, but few people embody loyalty. My grandmother did. Her husband died forty-three years ago this April. She never went on a single date. My cousin’s husband said she waited till Valentine’s Day to die so that she could kiss her husband on Valentine’s day almost forty-three years later.
But in order to represent a trait, it can’t just be in one area of life. She was fiercely loyal to her town Hazel Crest, Illinois. Countless people tried to get her to leave her neighborhood and the house that she moved into February of 1957 and stayed in till December 2019. People wanted her to move because her neighbors no longer shared the same skin color as her. She didn’t budge. It was her neighborhood. She was staying thank you very much.
Lastly, she attended church at St. Anne’s Parish for sixty-two years. My grandmother was as much a fixture of that church as the cross on the wall and the lectern on the altar. Her church along with four other churches in the south suburbs of Chicago have to combine themselves into one parish due to low attendance. I think my grandma had to leave this world before that happened.
18. Six-Pack Cereal-When my brother and I were young and stayed overnight at my grandma’s house, she bought us six-packs of cereal. Not a box of Cheerios among them. Nope. Each one of these boxes brimmed with sugar. My brother and I alternated who picked first. Then one-by-one we divvied up the boxes so that we could eat them as fast as we could, slurping up the colored milk in the bowl between servings.
17. Playing Cards-It was hard to know where to put this one. Playing cards with grandma was as much a part of spending the night at her house as that sugary cereal and just as sweet. She was fiercely competitive. With us as kids, war was her game of choice. The amazing thing is she didn’t just play war with my brother and I, she played cards with both my sons. The picture below is from three years ago. She’s playing war with my youngest son, Corbin. What you can’t hear, is the laughter. She was saying comments like, “I got you now,” and the two of them giggled away.
The next year, I visited her with my older son. By this time, her cognitive abilities had begun to fail. She wanted to teach us a card game neither of us had played before, but she couldn’t really remember the rules. So, she decided the rule was everything I did was wrong, and everything my older son did was correct. My older son would play a certain card or a certain suit, and I tried to do the exact same thing. “No, Katie,” she said. “You can’t do that.” It turns out I couldn’t play any of my cards, but Anders could play any card he wanted. This happened every round. Anders and I locked eyes and burst into uncontrollable laughter. She started to laugh, too, even though she didn’t understand why we were laughing. It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing cards, yet it was the worst card game in my life.
16. Prayer-My grandmother prayed every night, and she often prayed for other people. This practice is an important reminder that we are not running the show, and that our prayers should be directed toward helping others. I'm so grateful that all the roses people sent to the funeral home will be turned into rosaries her daughters can keep.
15. Service-But we need to focus on helping others in our every day lives, too, not just in our prayer lives. At 100, my grandmother sang in “The Three Marys Choir” and ministered the Eucharist at her church.
14. Independence-My grandmother was fiercely independent. If something could be done herself, she did it. She took out the garbage and shoveled the snow, thank you very much. She didn’t need help. The world would be a different place if everyone did everything they could by themselves.
13. Driving-It’s never too late to learn something new. When my grandmother moved out of Chicago to a southern suburb in 1955, at the age of forty, there were no suburban buses. So, she had to learn how to drive. She did, she drove till she was ninety-five and she was proud of it. Celebrate your successes.
12. Exercise-You can’t live to be more than 100 without it. She attended exercise class three times a week and walked the neighborhood a couple of times a week well into her nineties.
11. Bowling-In her eighties, she bowled a 199. I’ve never bowled anywhere close to a 199. It goes to show that if you persevere and practice something your whole life, you will refine your craft.
10. Toffee Squares-By now, you know I’m in love with the number ten and the base-ten number system. So, something special had to go in the number ten slot. No one would say my grandma was a cook, including my grandma. But, her toffee square recipe is unforgettable. One of my running partners calls my grandma’s toffee squares liquid crack. When I place forty-eight squares in the teacher’s lounge, there are hardly any left by the third lunch period.
9. Flexibility-Many people wouldn’t use this word to describe my grandma, but the truth was she became more and more flexible as her life progressed. Not only did she accept the changes in her neighborhood, she made an effort to know her new neighbors. She attended exercise class with her new neighbors, played Texas Hold ‘Em with her new neighbors and welcomed them into her house. Her neighbor, Sharon Robinson, watched over my grandma with a love as fierce as any family member. Who can you talk to today who you view as somehow different from you in some way? What newcomers can you welcome into your community, into your home?
8. Cards in the Mail-My grandma always sent cards in the mail for people’s birthdays. When the youngest, as of now, great grandchild was born in late September of 2019, she sent my cousin a card. But she didn’t send it until she had practiced writing the baby’s name, Finnegan, and her name several times and was convinced they were legible.
7. Stamps-The first night I fell asleep knowing my grandmother had moved on, I told my husband I wondered what small, unexpected things would make me think of my grandmother. I received one of my answers the next morning when I retrieved my mail from my mailbox. Stamps! My grandmother loved decorative stamps. She always bought her stamps at the grocery store, and they only had American flag Forever stamps. So, when she received mail from me with multicolored hearts or nature scenes, she delighted in their artistry. For years, I sent her decorative stamps on Valentine’s Day.
6. Perseverance-When you look up perseverance in the dictionary, it should say Mary Elizabeth Rogers Annweiler. She persevered in every way. As my aunt said in her remembrance speech, my grandmother lived through the Great Depression and turned her paycheck over to her father to help pay the bills. But, I remember how she persevered later in life. She lived through the
death of her husband, all of her siblings, many nieces and nephews, and countless friends. I’m not saying she handled each of these situations with grace and compassion that the people around her needed, but in the end, she used each of these losses to strengthen her gratitude for life. Each day that each one of us gets to spend on Earth is a gift, yet it is a gift that most of us often take for granted.
5. Dancing-My grandmother danced. She danced with family and friends. In her eighties, she and her dancing partner hosted local sock hops to teach others how to dance. Dancing was my grandma’s heaven on earth. But don’t take my word for it. At my wedding, she tore up the dance floor. Check it out!
4. Self-care-I already talked about exercise and prayer, but my grandmother knew that diet was important, too. So, she ate only what she needed to eat. She knew over indulgence would not enrich her life in any way.
In addition to eating well, she knew she had to take care of her dry skin. She had eczema, and as she aged her skin cracked a lot. I have my grandma’ skin. So, I started sending her Windrift Hill’s body butter. It’s the only cream I’ve found that keeps my skin from cracking. The cream worked for her, too. Every morning when I put their product on my skin, I will think of her.
3. Family-Family was my grandmother’s life. She wasn’t in any way warm, fuzzy or cozy. But, family was what she lived for. Be it visits, phone calls, cards or gatherings, we brought her joy and she brought us joy and hope by being a fixture at family gatherings for as long as anyone can remember.
Fast forward to July of 2018. We had come to Chicago to launch my book and for my sons to volunteer at Camp Hope. But what I love besides the absolute joy in these photos, is that my grandma is wearing her dragonfly broche in both shots. As you may know, I am crazy about dragonflies and write about them often. So, I love seeing one alight on her.
2. 2801-Throughout life we call many places home. My grandmother lived at 2801 for my whole life, and I called her house home. When we drove cross country to see her every summer, we stayed at her house. I made her photo memory boards for her wake in her house. My mother warned me that it would feel different because everything was packed up. But, when I was on my knees surrounded by pictures of here, I felt a tremendous peace. I felt like I was home.
1. Wave-This one is the hardest for me to write. Perhaps because it came as a surprise. Whenever I left my grandmother, she stood outside or in the front window and waved till we had pulled out of the driveway. But I had forgotten this ritual until I left my grandmother’s house for the last time this past weekend. My aunt came outside to hug us goodbye before she headed back into the house. Then, my mother came and she stood outside and waved goodbye. My heart broke, and I wanted to scream. I’ll never see my grandmother wave goodbye again. Her final wave to me was this past August. She knew it, and I knew it, too.
This is my final wave to you, Grandma. As my cousin said, Godspeed!
Reading and writing reflect one another. So, after seeing how successful our book walks have been this year, I wondered what would happen if we had a writing walk.
Half of the class sat with their writer’s workshop notebooks, while the other class rotated around the room. Each student spent five minutes reading a certain peer’s writing. At three minutes, I told the rotating students they had two minutes left to finish reading and leave feedback.
For feedback, the critiquers wrote one I like sticky and one I wonder sticky. The I like sticky was an aspect that the critiquer felt the writer had done well. The I wonder sticky was an aspect that the critiquer felt the writer could do better.
When the five-minute timer sounded, the critiquers handed their sticky notes to the writers. The writers placed the sticky notes into a T-chart in their writer’s workshop notebooks to be able to refer to later.
While the students rotated, I also rotated around the room with a specific student and gave each writer two sticky notes. When we were done with the activity, I realized that I should have also been keeping a messy sheet to note my observations. Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan taught me about messy sheets. Here’s one I wish I would have had as I rotated around to each student’s writing:
If I had the messy sheet with me while I rotated through, I could have marked each person down in one area after I wrote my sticky note. As I type this, I’m realizing that I can look in each writer’s notebook and add students to each area based on the sticky notes I wrote. Still, it would have been much more efficient to have the messy sheet with me as I rotated through each station.
This week students are typing their drafts and one dashed over to me to show me how he had used the feedback to revise his writing. Here’s how the conversation went down:
“Look what I did! One of my critiquers wanted to know who Brandon was. So, I added all this information to my sticky note, and now I’m typing it in.” At the time, I couldn’t delve into what he was saying because I was in between conferences.
But today, I had some time to look at his before and after. When I talked about his revision today he told me that he’d also received feedback that he needed more action. A part of his writing excerpt is below. It’s unedited. So, there are lots of errors. The underlined portion is the information he added as a result of his feedback.
Derek was 10 years old and was no ordinary fourth grader. It was five minutes before the school bell rang derek was already halfway out the door. He was excited for his big soccer game.“ring.” in the blink of an eye derek dashed down the hall before he knew it he was already at the stairs then at the bottom of the stairs. The doors outside were visible to him. But it quickly changed. A small recognizable figure standing in front of the door it's Brandon. He slowed down and tried to hide but Brandon saw him clearly and started towards Derek then closer but brandon stopped and slowly backed up mr. A was walking by and saw the whole thing from the beginning. Brandon saw Mr. A, too, which explains why Brandon backed off derek thought. It was not like mr. A to not know what was going on, he knew and was writing it down on a sticky note. After Mr. A handed Brandon the note and told him to give it to his mom.
“Ugh’’Brandon sighed but on his way out Brandon whispered “you got lucky but tomorrow you won't be so lucky. Soon the stampede of kids to get on the bus.
Considering often times students think revising consists of adding punctuation and capitalization, I'm pretty pleased to see how much work this student did. There’s definitely more action, and now we know Brandon is the antagonist. More importantly, the student was excited to revise and could see the difference between his writing before the writing walk and after the writing walk. Of course, there’s definitely plenty more to critique. Maybe it’s time to take another walk!
Funny how the mind works. I sat down to write today’s post about writing walks and thought, I better reread my post on book walks before I start to write my post on writing walks.
Then I scrolled through all of my fall and winter posts and realized I never wrote a post about book walks. So, today’s post will be about book walks, and I’ll save the writing walks post for next time.
First off, I learned about book walks from the amazing Karina Hirschhorn on Twitter. She’s an elementary school librarian in Maryland. Since I love reading and writing books and I love to walk, I had to find out more information. I reached out to her directly and asked how she used book walks in her library. Then, I thought about how I could modify her process to incorporate book walks into my classroom.
Now, on the last Friday of each month, we have a book walk. During my prep, I put aside twelve piles of five books. If we’re in a realistic fiction unit, the books are realistic fiction. If we’re in a nonfiction unit, the books are nonfiction. The books are a mix of books from my classroom and books from our bookroom. If you're looking for a great resource to help you organize your classroom library or your school's bookroom, be sure to check out It's All About the Books by Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan.
I include a variety of reading levels and book lengths in each stack. In addition, if I have multiple books by one author, I make sure each pile only has one book by that author. Finally, some books look more appealing than others because they’re either newer or they haven’t been read as much. Too bad I don’t have unlimited funds to constantly restock my classroom library with new books! Anyway, each stack has a mixture of new, slightly used and heavily used books.
Before I go any further, I should tell you each child in my class has a number. This tip comes from The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher and it is the glue that holds my classroom together.
So, depending on whose turn it is all the even numbers or all the odd numbered students get to pick a stack of books. I decide who picks their stack first by birthday order. So, this month the February even birthdays will pick first. The even numbers take their stack of books to their reading spots.
Then, I assign each odd-numbered student to sit with an even-numbered student. The students get five minutes to look through that stack of books before they rotate to the next student. The students who picked the stack of books, let the visiting student choose which of the five books they want to read together. This is where the magic starts to happen.
After a few rounds, the student who picked the original stack of five books begins to hand sell one particular book to each student who rotates through. The sitting student gets more and more excited about a book and tells the visiting student that the book is funny or that it’s about basketball or that it’s written by one of their favorite authors.
Meanwhile, the students who are rotating through read ten different books by the end of the walk. They’ve heard why their classmates are excited about certain books, and they’ve had the opportunity to form opinions of their own.
When the fifty minutes are up, I take the one or two stacks of books that wasn’t chosen and make one or two rows of five books on our meeting rug. Each of the students who chose a stack of books, makes a row with their books, too. By the time all the books are on the rug, we have a five-by-twelve array of books. Then, I pull sticks to decide who will get to choose a new book for their book bag first.
Students bounce up and down hoping that their stick will be pulled. They call out in agony as their peers choose the book they wanted. This means they’ll have to go for their second or third or fourth choice. But in the end, twenty-one books are chosen and thirty-nine books remain on the rug. This means that everyone has plenty of options to choose from.
Over the years, I’ve tried various ways to get students interested in books such as a recommendation wall where students display their book of choice in a basket and recommendation binders where students write book recommendations after finishing a book.
Book walks beat these other methods hands-down. There’s no work on the teacher’s side (like proofreading and printing writing) other than creating the book stacks, which for me is tons of fun. More importantly, the students’ excitement is palpable.
If you’ve never tried a book walk, try it. Leave a comment and let me know how it goes.
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.