Thursday, December 20, 2012

Exploring Characterization with Pinterest + Fan Fiction

Our post-Outsiders work with characters was hugely inspired by some resources in my learning network.  At NCTE, I had the pleasure of hearing author Lindsey Leavitt speak about her character creation process.  She mentioned using Pinterest to develop rich ideas for characters, so I thought that, as a wrap-up, my kids and I could go into that idea backward, pinning some of the things we wanted to remember about Ponyboy.  I started with a few pins to introduce them to the idea of Pinterest (moms, I think you are well familiar with it ... sixth graders, not so much :)), and then each class added to the board; students had to justify each pin they wanted me to add.

We also reviewed -- again, courtesy of some mental prompting from Lindsey Leavitt's
NCTE presentation -- ways authors reveal characters

Why did we do this?

Stolen idea #2: fan fiction.  After I read this Nerdy Book Club post, I decided that our waning days before winter break should be used to reinvigorate our appreciation for books, both our whole class novel (The Outsiders) and our independent reads.

We used Pinterest to talk about Ponyboy, because I wanted to emphasize to my students the importance of getting to the heart of a character we wanted to use in fan fiction.

Students could choose their narrator and their story line, but the spirit of their characters had to reflect SE Hinton's original gang.  I wonder if this might be an engaging way to prep kids for the next generation of Common Core assessments -- for Ohio, the PARCC narrative writing tasks, which are, of course, text dependent ;)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Points of Pride: Our Class Word Jars

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the need to re-invent word study in my classroom.  As with all Language Arts teachers, when it comes to word study, I'm balancing many different curricular and student needs, but the one commonality in my word study programming is that I need to help my students find -- or keep -- an interest in the power of words.

Fortunately, my friend and mentor Maria Caplin (you can find her @WonderLeadMaria and/or over at Teaching in the 21st Century) is one of my district's word study gurus, so I've been able to steal her ideas pick her brain this year.

One new idea to which I've been most consistently committed is the Word Jar.  Maria has had a lot of success with individual students collecting words in word jars; students find these words in their reading and all over the place.  It gives them an awesome awareness that fun words really are everywhere!

I decided to try out the Word Jar idea on a class level.  In September, each of my three blocks took a great deal of pride decorating its Word Jar during Study Center time.

3/4 loves its mascot -- on top -- "The Fuzz" (new nickname courtesy of The Outsiders).
5/7 is big on duct tape, and 8/9 could NOT get enough glitter on theirs.
We started collecting interesting words in our notebooks back when we were enjoying Wonder as our class read aloud.  Students drew mini Word Jars in their readers notebooks and collected as we read, and then we chose a few words from most chapters to add to the jar.

A peek into the 8/9 jar.  I'm told that the jars still smell vaguely
of frosted animal crackers.
Every few nights during our Outsiders unit, for homework, I survey students about their reading.  One consistency is that I ask students to identify for me a sentence with an interesting or unfamiliar word that they would like to go over as a class.  Based on survey results, we choose three to four words every other chapter and spend 15-20 minutes talking about meaning, practicing application, and talking through in detail how readers could use the text to try to figure out the meanings of those words on their own.

This had made much more meaningful -- and lasting -- our vocabulary study for the book.  There's a crazy amount of rich and tricky vocabulary in The Outsiders that I could drill (and, ahem, have in the past drilled) in to them 100+ words and drag the unit out for weeks on end ... but instead, we've been much more successful with a smaller word list and a heavier emphasis on how to use context clue strategies to figure out the other words.
"The Fuzz" says, "We heart our Word Jar, Mrs. Caplin!"

Next step: I'm now trying most Fridays to open up our Word Jars and revisit the fun new words we've been collecting over the last few months.  My goal by the end of the year will be for all students to be able to use all words flexibly -- meaning they could change the part of speech of the word -- in new contexts.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Problem Solving Words

Check out the answers you gave when I asked, What you do when you come across an unfamiliar word?

What do you think about these answers?

Now, let's break down this answer a little bit more: "What do you mean when you talk about using context clues?"  I plugged your answers in to Wordle, which shows us what some of the most common responses were.

Sample answer 1: Using words around the word you don't understand to understand the word you don't understand.  Example: if you don't know what ajar means: The door was left ajar and a little bit of light poked through.  You would know it wasn't all the way closed because a little bit of light poked through but it's probably not all the way open if a little bit of light pokes through because it's only a little bit so I would be able to figure out that ajar means opened only a little bit.

Sample answer 2: To continue reading to see if you can figure out a word means just by the sentence or paragraph it is in.

What do you think of these sample answers?

Now, check out some specific context clue strategies that we'll practice (and have already been practicing, actually!) over and over again, not just with The Outsiders, but with all texts we read and with your own independent reading, as well.

Friday, November 30, 2012

How Do We Handle Reading a Tough Novel?

I've been thinking a lot this year about how to get more feedback from students to make our time together more effective.  Today, our fourth day working through the tough classic The Outsiders, I wanted to know how students were handling the layers of reading they need to do -- the literal comprehension, the interpretation, the reflection, and oh, right, the enjoyment!

Students let me know how they were annotating the text and how it was going.  A few notes, as you can see above:

  • Some students are going to painstaking effort to show their thinking -- emphasis on the pain. This is no good.
  • Some students want to listen to me read aloud or listen to the fun voice on the CD, but they can't figure out the best way to listen, read along, and record their questions and other thoughts
  • Students are doing a lot of questioning in the book and marking more questions than any other group I've had -- this has actually taken the place of more traditional predictions in our room, because we're focused on idea that come directly from the text and we anticipate will be answered by the text. (Ditto connections -- our emphasis is connecting ideas within the book) I'm pleased that our KNOW/WONDER emphasis has carried over from Wonder, which was an easier book to understand
So, we used this feedback to create the following guide/anchor chart:

Yeah... it's super messy. Thinking is that way sometimes.

We decided it was important for us to discuss three things, as we reflected on our reading processes with rigorous texts:

  • Reviewed the purpose of annotating (it's a process to help us, not a product for them to show me)
  • Reviewed other phrases past teachers have used to describe annotating
  • Reflected on the benefits of recording our thinking

We also came up with a better game plan for next week.  Students in all classes are nearly evenly divided by how they think they can most effectively read and think about the text.  We decided that they can pick from these three in-class reading options:

  • Reading silently and checking in with a peer or me
  • Having me read aloud to them in a small group (a few in block 3/4 helpfully suggested I attend play practice to pick up some new reading techniques ;))
  • Listening to the CD in a small group and deciding as they go when they should stop it to talk and record their thoughts.  Block 5/7 suggested the best places to stop might be the places where SE Hinton made an extra block of space, because it looks like that is where scenes or big ideas change.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's Important? An Annotation Intervention


Block 1 came to a screeching halt today about three conferences in to my Outsiders check-ins.  The previous night's homework had been to finish reading and annotating Chapter 1 and to submit a Google Drive form with points of confusion (things Mrs. Taylor needs to clear up) and WONDERs (things we think the book will answer... we hope!).

Careful Preparation ... but for the Right Things?
We'd prepared yesterday by:

  • starting our reading together -- it's tough being dropped right into a new setting!
  • thinking aloud and walking through some annotations together on the ELMO
  • talking about the purpose of annotating (to help us interact with a text, NOT to create a new product) 
  • discussing what we could do in our texts to show our thinking: marking questions, identifying exclamations, circling interesting/unfamiliar words, jotting down reactions and things we want to remember, and underlining important ideas.

Great preparation, right?


What did I see, y'all, when I came around to check in on your reading and to address your points of confusion?

Either 1. a whole lotta nothing underlined or 2. a whole lotta everything underlined.  When I mentioned my observation, I asked how people know what to underline or highlight in a text: "You underline what's important, Mrs. Taylor."

It was time for an annotation intervention.

What's Really Important?
We've talked quite a bit about identifying important ideas in non-fiction, but it didn't occur to me to frame the following question in the context of fiction: "How do we know something's  important in a piece of fiction?"

Check out our findings:

Many students snapped photos of our anchor chart, so they could refer to it during their next chunks of reading.  Thanks all of you for your thinking!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sasquatch Survey Results: SUPER Helpful!

Thanks so much, everyone, for taking the time to fill out the "Sasquatch" survey so thoughtfully!  The feedback you give me is just as important as the feedback I give you. You're really helping me make sure I make the most out of our class time together.

Two other purposes of the survey were for you to think about what you know and what you weren't sure about (always good skills to develop!) and to be able to use that information to tell me what you need.

Here's what the results look like when I get them.  Thanks, eighth/ninth period kids, for discovering and using in such a productive manner the "boss" blank column. Your notes made me laugh :)

Here are the "biggies" that came up on the survey results.

Point of View
Most people listed at least one point of view that confused them.  After our point of view lesson, do you feel like you have a better grasp on point of view?

Remember what we talked about:
1. How authors, narrators, and characters are related (author is over all)
2. Signal words for each narration point of view (do you remember the signal words? I, you, they, etc.)
3. The role of each kind of narrator (for which points of view is the narrator in the story?)
4. The "powers" that each kind of narrator has (how creepy? :))

Many people mentioned that you "learned about" mood last year.  What did you learn about mood?

Two points of confusion with this question:
1. What does the word "tense" mean?
2. What section is the beginning of the story?

We will talk about those in class.

Again, I read many responses that said you "learned about" theme last year.  What did you learn about theme?

This seemed to be the toughest question for people to think about.

1. What does this theme mean? "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."
2.  Even if people felt like they understood that theme, people had a hard time tying that theme to the text.  One student wrote something really thoughtful -- she wrote that it was hard to tie the theme to the text because those exact lines weren't in the text.  That is definitely a challenging leap to make!

We'll go over this theme question together, for sure.

Chronological Order of Events
95% of you put the events in the correct order.  What strategies did you use to put the events in the correct order?

The word "resolution" tripped people up.  The resolution is how the problem is solved/comes to a conclusion.  In order to identify the resolution, you had to be able to identify the problem in the story first.

Most commonly identified vocab words: Rugged, bemused, intently, cannoned, pondered, philosophically

We'll add those to our class word jars :)

Now, please comment below on any and all of the italicized questions in the post ... it'll help your classmates and make our class discussion more interesting and productive!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Using Sasquatch to Monitor Our Comprehension ... of Questions, too!

Please take the following survey to tell me more about the questions you answered for the short story "Sasquatch: A California Ghost Story."

Remember, we're working on identifying when we "get it" and when we don't "get it."  Self-monitoring is a very important skill for readers!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Exploring Close Reading with Wonder

I recently read a fabulous, Franki Sibberson-recommended book called What Readers Really Do (by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton).  We're thinking a lot about how real readers do things like attend to minor details to understand characters, settings, and themes; one phrase you might hear a lot in our room is, "I'm noticing that ______ really did a close reading to make that connection!"

In those conversations, we're emphasizing the importance of making within-text connections. We try to put ourselves in author RJ Palacio's shoes to think about why she might include certain details, we're working on noticing details that might be important (the more you read, the more experience you have with stories, and the better you become at figuring out what might be important!), and then we're using our KNOW/WONDER charts to develop "wonders" (text-based questions) based on those details.

Our KNOW/WONDER Charts are Growing
Our KNOW/WONDER charts are starting to have a lot of arrows between our columns.  We're starting to naturally connect ideas within the text!

Here's my messy, messy chart.  You'll notice that we're also filling up our notebook word jars (/word pumpkins/word cans/word ghosts/word aquariums/etc).  Thanks, Mrs. Caplin at Bailey for inspiring us!

Within-text Connections
Today, we had a big "aha!" moment, which is reflected in many of our readers notebooks.  We have decided that, if we're making text-based wonders and writing down text-based KNOWS, then we should see connections between our KNOW/WONDER columns.

Check out our "aha!" that started out as a new KNOW:

When Auggie's and Via's parents found out that Via hadn't told them about the play, we had wondered if she would tell them WHY she'd kept it secret.   We found out later that she had kept it secret because she didn't want her new school to know about Auggie. We figured out here that she DID end up telling Mom. KNOW!
Here's more info about our KNOW. Then we decided we needed to read back (we read forward and then sometimes read back) to figure out when Via told her mom.; we didn't know for sure, because at this point in the book, Auggie was the narrator.  We had a hunch that the quiet part, when Auggie couldn't hear what Mom and Via were discussing, must have been when Via decided to be honest with her mom.

What's Important in a Text?
With our attention to details, we've discussed and tried to sort out which details are important details now and which details might be important later.

Here's one section of the text we really wondered about:
Yesterday, we put in our WONDER columns that we wondered why the author gave this much space in the book to talking about Miranda's family.  We also WONDERED if this might explain some of Miranda's behavior changes.

We were excited to see in today's reading a new KNOW that came from this WONDER.
Our within-text connections continue!

Photos and text from RJ Palacio's Wonder, Knopf Books, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wonder: Practice Post

Look back at your readers notebook (or just picture it in your mind if you don't have it with you). In the comment section below, share one "know" from our reading of Wonder.  Then tell me what that "know" makes you wonder.  Sign your comment with your first name and your class period.

Follow the guidelines for good commenting that we learned in class today.

***Note: under "profile" choose Anonymous

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hunger Games Hysteria: How do we know a book is a good fit for us?

I take notes whenever I go through student work/assessments.  I take note of things I'd like to work on with individual students, and I also take note of patterns I notice across big groups of students.  This is how I came up with our spelling list for this Friday; I noticed a common set of misspelled words and decided that we all needed to be able to spell them correctly when we're writing about our reading.

Another pattern I noticed is that many, many sixth graders are reading or have read recently The Hunger Games.  I'm personally a big Hunger Games fan, but I wondered, based on my experiences with and knowledge of the book (basically: it's a tough read!) whether it might be a good time for us to talk some more about how we know books are good fits for us.

Here's what we talked about together in class:

Why do people choose certain books?

  • Recommendations from friends, family (especially siblings and parents), teacher, librarian
  • Look at bestseller lists
  • Type in a genre they like
  • There's a movie out (example: The Hunger Games)
  • Read/hear reviews

After you choose a book, how do you know it's a good fit? (for independent reading)

Thanks, R, for sharing your table's work!

  • Start out with the good ol' five finger rule.  Each student, and then each group, identified all of the words on page four of The Hunger Games that sixth graders might not understand.  We defined "understand" as "able to explain the word meaning to someone else and then use the word in a new sentence." All groups found at least five tough words on this page; by this rule, Hunger Games is pretty hard.
  • You need to be able to re-tell what you read
  • Make sure you can imagine/visualize what's going on
  • You should be able to read it smoothly/fluently out loud
  • You should be able to make logical predictions
  • You should be able to ask logical questions beyond "What is going on?!?!"
  • You should be able to make notes off to the side or on a sticky
  • If you're trying really hard to understand (like using context clues to understand confusing words), and you're getting frustrated, you should try something else

What do we do if we think it's not a good fit after all?

  • Try listening to it on CD
  • Get an adult to read it to you and talk to you about it
  • Buddy read/check comprehension
  • Read a summary of the book, so you know more about it, but then choose a different independent book
  • Wait a few months/year and try again 
  • Ask someone for books that are similar
    • Hunger Games examples: The Line, The Maze Runner (this one is tough, too!), The City of Ember

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Rivalry: a book talk by Josh P.

Check out this super-professional looking book talk that Josh made! Please leave him some specific, positive feedback :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

WONDER-ing Through Our New Read

FINALLY: It's Wonder day #1!  What a thrill to 1. be finished with our big -- and important, but tiring -- round of assessments and 2. get to share this amazing book.

We started out with a very brief preview of the book cover; I decided not to do very many previewing activities, because I'm coming around to the idea that previewing may be more for book selection.  When we're picking out books, we'll read the cover, the blurb, maybe the first chapter, and check out other features to see if it's a book that suits us.  In this case, the other sixth grade teachers and I have already selected the book.

In "real world reading," we also don't have a teacher to guide us through pre-reading activities and discussions ... so today, in an effort to practice doing things the "real" way, we kept it simple.  We just checked out the cover.

We talked about the differences between observations and inferences  (Mrs. Siegfried, are you listening!? We're being all science-y! Woo hoo!)  We observed, for example, that the eye on the cover is bright blue, a big contrast from the rest of the picture.  This led us to wonder why that particular feature was so different.  Later, in the chapter about Auggie's birth story, we had a big AHA! moment that led us to infer why Auggie might want the eye to look different.

Everyone did a lot of thinking in their readers notebooks today! So much thinking on our papers!

Remember our big take-aways? Not just about the book?
1.  Readers ALWAYS have questions.  (It's a "misperception" that good reading means you know all of the answers) Readers wonder.
2. Readers store those questions in their brains and have the patience to wait and look for answers.
3. Readers pay attention to details that help them answer the big and little questions.

Challenge: Do you remember our conversation about Via? Why did we infer in the first chapter that she was Auggie's sister? What later information helped us know for SURE that she is?

Here's my WONDER-ing from block #1 ... what else do you have in your notebook?

Nerd note: I'm currently reading this great teacher book called What Readers Really Do.   Yes, kids, for fun. I embrace my inner nerd... and I'm enjoying trying out some new ideas on you. Bwahaha. :)

Let me know: what do you think of the book so far?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reading rec: Son of Neptune

Check out this awesome summer reading project from one of your peers, K.  What a neat way to share a recommendation for Son of Neptune.

Leave her some positive feedback below! Way to go, K.!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Feedback: Summer reading discussions

While you're working on your baseline diagnostic tests, I'm going through the reflections you completed about yesterday's group work.  Here's what I found:

  • Almost every person commented that their group did well on the ABC activity (90% of you listed that as an accomplishment).  What was it about that activity that made you do so well with it?
  • Six people wrote that their groups did not need to improve on anything. Consider that all groups (and all people, really!) have room for growth.
  • About 25% of you wrote that your group needed to work on not goofing off/laughing/joking around so much.  Having fun is okay sometimes, but I think you all are noting that maybe you were playing around when it was time to focus.  During what part of the group work did you find yourself most distracted?  During the summer reading questions discussion?  I wonder at what times you're most likely to be off task.

Thanks so much for your helpful feedback! I'd love to read comments about the questions I've raised here :)

Monday, September 10, 2012

How do we have good book discussions?

I like having a plan in place -- a suggestion about how to start the conversation.

Otherwise, one of two things happen:
1. Awkward silence + awkward staring
2. Talking about random topics (such as the Steelers game, nails, some random YouTube video, anything BUT the book)

Here are our tips for high quality group discussions:

  • Commit to actually talking about the book.
  • Listen to the other people in your group; this is an important sign of respect. Don't be that person who zones out and then repeats a big point three minutes after it's been made.
  • Share your own thoughts instead of just sitting there -- we want to hear what you have to say.
  • Decide what you need to get done by the end of the discussion.
  • Go back to the book/evidence so you know what you're talking about. Don't fake it.

Here's OUR plan to get our conversations started, before we get in to discussing our summer reading questions.

Start with "Alphabet Soup" (an activity I took from the Litlovers website). First think as a group how you want to divide up the task!

Here are two processes we tried for this task in first block :
1. Find a starting point (like start at "A") and then be ready to change course if you start to think of other things
2. Fill in the most obvious letters first, then once your brain is warmed up, go back and fill in the others

Friday, September 7, 2012

Weekend Reading Plan

This weekend, everyone (including me!) is responsible for reading at least an hour, total.

What are some of the things that we have going on this busy weekend?
Soccer games, volleyball games, piano recitals, football games (playing and watching), visiting with relatives, pool parties, going out of town, babysitting, spending time with family, spending time with friends, sleeping, playing video games, going to the mall, baseball games, sleepovers/slumber parties (I'm told that there is a difference), cleaning instruments, acting classes, Japanese/Hebrew/Korean school, church, running, golfing, homework, going downtown, thinking about Halloween

We are busy people!

What and when are we going to read this weekend?
Big Nate Strikes Back (E.) --> going to read in the morning
Out of my Mind (J.) --> going to read in the morning
Merits of Mischief (T.) --> going to read to and from his soccer game
Flush (R.) --> going to read during free time on Saturday
The Hunger Games (D.) --> going to read during free time, especially in the morning
Catching Fire & Holes (C.) --> going to read one hour before bed each night for each book
The Maze Runner (R.) --> going to read in the morning
The Hunt for the Seventh (P.) --> going to read in the morning
Wonder (B.) --> going to read before bed
Flush (A.) --> going to read before bed
Artemis Fowl (J.) --> going to read after lunch
Johnny Tremain (N.) --> going to read when Dad tells him to
The Lemonade War (W.) --> going to read before dinner
Taking Liberty (L.) --> going to read before bed each night
Graphic novel (S.) --> going to read in the morning
The North American Guide to Lighthouses (T.) --> split the time - 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening each day
Super Human (C.) --> going to read each night
Matched (A.) --> going to read in the evenings
Catching Fire (C.) --> going to read whenever she gets the chance (in the car, etc.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

"What's her life like?"

By Cali Gall
Dublin Coffman High School, class of 2016

For anyone who's ever looked at someone in a weelchair and wondered, "What's their life like?"
Well, I can tell you first hand: It's not easy. 

Hi, I'm Cali Gall. I'm just like any other 15 year old girl who's just started her freshman year at Dublin Coffman High School. I love the Hunger Games, hanging out with my friends, and doing everything teenage girls love to do. To me, Saturday night wouldn't be Saturday night without Saturday Night Live, and like many of you, I sat every day in Mrs. Taylor's room as a 6th grader. 

So why would I know about life in a weelchair? 

Simple, I'm in one. 

My story began in June 1997. But it wasn't supposed to start until September 1997. I weighed in at 1 lb. 11 oz. I was the smallest baby most people, still to this day, have ever heard of. I was in the intensive care nursery until I was three months old (that's a long time, most kids get to go home at a few days old.) 

Flash forward to just before my 1st birthday. My parents had noticed I wasn't walking yet, and just sitting up was a monumental struggle. So they took me to the doctor, where it was discovered after a brain scan, that I had Cerebral Palsy. 

It turns out that I'm luckier then most. Only my legs and left hand are affected. Many people with CP can't talk, feed themselves, or are unable to be potty trained. But even though I'm thankful for being so high functioning, does that mean having CP still doesn't suck sometimes?  Nope, still sucks sometimes. 

Can I go over to my friends houses? Nope. They're not accessible. 

Can I spend the night alone somewhere? Nope. Can't take myself to the bathroom. 

Did it suck not being able to try out for the tennis team at school even though I desperately wanted (and still want) to? You bet. 

So how can I still have a positive outlook? I owe that to my parents who have taught me that being different is not a bad thing but actually a good thing. They have chosen not to sugarcoat my disability, but rather work around it the best we can. 

So, what do the kids that can't communicate, don't have parents like mine, what do they do? Well my friends, that is just what Mrs. Taylor and I want to fix. But we need YOU, so please, if you'd like to help, contact Mrs. Taylor with any questions you may have. Remember, we can only pull this off if we ALL work together. 


Mrs. Taylor's note: Cali is one of the brightest, funniest, most thoughtful students I've ever had.  She is passionate about advocating for other students who have disabilities but who can't share their stories like she can share hers.  Please email me at if you'd like to become an expert in a disability facing kids just like you; together, we can help Cali realize her dream of a Disabilities Fair and a kinder world for everyone.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Commitment: How Readers are like Olympians

We started class Friday by reading about Olympians and thinking about how their journeys might be similar to readers' reading journeys.  Remember that your task was to highlight or circle words or phrases that were written about athletes but could also apply to the reading process. I walked around and noted on a sticky the most common highlights I saw:

The biggest word on the Wordle -- and therefore, the word that came up most often on your papers -- is commitment.  It's an appropriate choice, given that we then focused our talk on committing to reading goals.  As M. pointed out, it's easy to put off reading, but if you commit, then you have to fulfill a commitment.

Everyone should have his/her first reading goal ready to roll.  We'll add them to your planners for September, and at the end of the month, we'll work together to figure out what worked, how you need support (help with your schedule, book recommendations, a reading buddy, etc.), and what a revised October goal should be.

In the meantime, if your biggest obstacle is finding the time to read (this is the most common obstacle I hear), check out your tips for COMMITTING time to reading:

  • Read on the bus home from school (if you're on a quiet bus!)
  • Read on the bus on the way to school (ditto)
  • Read for a half hour after school
  • Read in the car on the way to tournaments
  • If you get carsick, listen to a book on CD/iPod
  • Go up to bed a half hour early and read
  • Read during Study Center (my Study Center is always quiet)
  • Have a friend, family member, or teacher to check in with -- tell them how many pages you'll read a certain night or week, and have them follow up with you
  • Partner up with a friend to read the same book -- the mini-book club will hold you responsible for reading
  • Cut back on TV or video games. Notice that I didn't say to cut them out completely (depending on your household rules!), but reconsider your use of time.  I compare it to eating chocolate cake.  Boy would I LOVE to eat a whole chocolate cake -- it would taste great at the time, but then afterward, I know that I wouldn't feel great (and if I did it all the time, it would be bad for my health!).  I'm sure it's fun to play four hours of video games, but I also bet afterwards, you feel groggy and out of it.  All cake and screen time in moderation.  Do something good for your brain, too (read) :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

100 Things About Me as a Reader (or Writer)

(Idea taken from Franki Sibberson :))

  1. I love to read series books -- I get really attached to characters, and I love to see how their stories continue.
  2. When I was younger, I bought every single Babysitters Club book as soon as it came out.
  3. I read to my daughter every night that I can.
  4. I have to set reading goals for myself, or I don't finish books.
  5. The best book I read last year was Wonder.
  6. I am terrible at summarizing.
  7. I love to read magazines -- I subscribe to about eight of them (Time, Working Mother, Parents, Parenting -- yes, those are two different ones, Reader's Digest, Experience Life, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic Kids ... and gosh, I'm sure there are more)
  8. When I was little, I read the newspaper every morning while I ate my cereal.
  9. If the newspaper delivery was late, I read the cereal box instead.
  10. I always used to read shampoo bottles in the shower and would try to read the words that are in French.
  11. I think I am not a great creative writer, but I'm working on it.
  12. I read to my daughter when I was pregnant with her.
  13. I love love love the public library.  I always used to check out 10-20 books at a time -- including picture books -- when I was growing up.
  14. I did not like most of the books that my teachers assigned me to read in high school.  I had to take a lot of notes to remember when I read, because I had a hard time paying attention to the books.
  15. I write articles for a literacy site for teachers.
  1. My daughter's current favorite book is If You Give a Cat a Cupcake.  We read it four times last night, and I admit that I skipped a few pages the last time I read it.
  2. Her other favorite book is Goodnight Gorilla; it makes my day when we get to the page where there are surprises... she raises her arms and says, "WHAT?!" 
  3. When I write emails, they're way too long.  I'm working on getting to the point.
  4. I enjoy writing and sending cards to people.
  5. I have a stack of 25-30 books I want to read.  Half are young adult, and the rest are either books about teaching or adult books. I have a hard time picking the order of books to read.
  6. My mornings are rushed now, so I don't have time to read when I eat my breakfast; that makes me a little sad.
  7. I can't stand books about animals. Too sad. 
  8. I did read The One and Only Ivan, though, because my colleagues Mrs. Caplin and several students told me I had to read it.  I'm glad I did.
  9. We had to memorize poetry in school, and it was really hard for me.
  10. I got a Kindle for my birthday in July, but I've not yet read a book on it.  I'm so traditional about my reading materials!
  11. I just sent in my daughter's first Scholastic book order yesterday, and it warmed my heart.
  12. I love to read blogs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Liveblog: Reflections on the Marshmallow Challenge

Language Arts relies heavily on students' abilities to interact positively, honestly, and in a focused way. We need to be able to have powerful discussions in reading groups, give helpful writing feedback, and collaborate on literacy activities that take us to the next level.  Today's Marshmallow Challenge gave us the chance to refresh our group skills and reflect on how we work together to accomplish big tasks.  We liveblogged below during our class debriefing.

Check out the TED Talk Marshmallow Challenge

Reflections from Period 3/4 (Block 1)

The winning group (sorry, I didn't remember to write down the names... and I can't yet recognize you by your shoes!): 28"!

Builders found that they were less successful when they didn't plan ahead.  Many groups just started to put things together, because they wanted to finish quickly; they felt time pressure and they felt that they needed to rush.  They especially found that they built their bases too quickly, so the bases weren't sturdy enough to support the rest of the tower.  If they built again, they'd take the time to have a better understanding of their materials they were working with ("using our tools wisely").

"We found that we were just doing random stuff," one student mentioned.  His assessment is that that didn't work out so well. :)

Our builders also reflected that groups work best when everyone is pitching in for the same cause (like, everyone is working together on the base), everyone has a part and has ideas, and group members are positive and optimistic (they don't keep saying, "It's not going to work.").

Period 5/7 (Block 2)

The winning group: Y, R, W, T ... 31"!

The winning group's biggest tip for their success was that all of their group members listened to each other; everyone had different ideas, but they talked about the ideas before applying them, so when it came time to work, everyone was working collaboratively on the same task.  Other builders chimed in and agreed that, when everyone worked on their own ideas, the project did not come together smoothly.

One group shared -- and many other groups agreed -- that their biggest mistake was building without making a plan.

J. said,  "We lost four noodles before we even we got started... by the end, we were down to 40 seconds (and had to throw together the structure!), and we were down to four full sized noodles."

This class had a LOT of broken noodles... and not because there was a phantom knocking things over during lunch time ;)

This class also noted that they needed to re-start before they found a successful formula. They kept trying new ideas, and many builders were confident that, had they had more time, they would have been able to build a taller tower.  Sometimes, things don't work out how we originally planned, but we re-do our work, and we can find success.

Period 8/9 (Block 3)

Winner of the day: 37"!  P, G, K, J, K. WOW!

The groups that identified themselves as less successful reflected that they struggled because they dove right into their ideas without first stopping and thinking things through.  They were impatient and wanted to get started.  Next time, they said they would plan the first few minutes, and then get to work on the structure.

The top group of the day gave us some really interesting information.  Get this: at the end, they had only one broken noodle.  Unheard of!  I observed that, in this group, everyone took turns being a leader.  They started off using J's expertise, having previously done this activity.  After a few minutes, they'd easily put together about a 10" structure. They looked around, and K told them that they should try to keep building, because other groups around them were building still-taller structures.  How did it turn out?  With the tallest structure ALL DAY.  The lesson: have high expectations for yourself.

One more lesson: several builders observed that, if they did this again, they'd use some of the ideas that the successful groups used.  There's a lot of power in observing and trying to apply what's effective.

I wonder ... what does this process teach us about reading and writing? Highlight some connections that you see about the reading and writing processes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Welcome to the Year!

What an exciting first day we had today!  I saw many smiles and no tears, and I'm hopeful that everyone went home feeling like Sells will be an amazing place for them.  I'm positive that it will be.

Today, I'm kicking off my new blog.  The blog my students and I used last year is based on aging technology, so the tech folks tell me that I need to move to something new.  I'm bummed that you probably won't get to see my former students' work, but I'm looking forward to everything you'll have to offer! Let's take a few minutes to think back on today, and for me to answer some of your burning questions.


On our first day, we took care of many "housekeeping" tasks (tour, checking schedules, going through the handbook, filling out planners for the first time), and we also had our first chance to get to know each other.  I've really enjoyed reading your "Most Important Fact About Me," and I'm laughing out loud at some of the questions you've asked me.  Here are a few of the most common/most laugh-worthy:

My Cats
Oh man, y'all are super interested in my cats.  I get the sense that we have a lot of animal lovers in our classes -- hurrah! So, as you could see, I have three cats: Ellie, Newman, and Ruby.  Newman and Ellie are both eight years old, and Ruby is three years old.

Ellie came to us first, from my then-boyfriend's (now he's my husband) parents' farm in Xenia.  I was fresh out of college (2004 -- how old you were you? Three?), and I wanted my first cat.  The timing was perfect, because my husband's mom had been taking care of the sweetest little farm kitty -- itty bitty, fuzzy, and very chatty.  There was something special about this cat, and sadly, the cat's mother abandoned her, so I took her in when she was just a few weeks old.  We spent many late nights together, as I moved her from canned milk to regular food, and a year later, Ellie moved with me to Columbus.

So, I had one cat.  In March of my first year of teaching, another Sells teacher was getting married, and his fiancee' was allergic to cats.  He sent an email with pictures of two cats, I went over and met Newman, and his "love me love me love me" personality won me over.

Now, I had two cats.

Several years later, we were browsing Petfinder, ooh-ing and aah-ing at all of the cute adoptables.  I honestly don't remember what inspired the next step, but for some reason, we just had to (had to!) take a look at a sweet dark gray cat named Susan.  (You're confused here. It's okay. Stay with me.)  My husband called up the shelter, found out that "Susan" was still adoptable, and decided to pay her a visit.  Just to look, of course.  When he showed up, he said that he was there to see "Susan," and lo and behold, they pulled out ... Ruby.

Not a dark gray cat. Not the one we were looking at all. But how could he say no to this purring, kissing, darling kitten?

Then, we had three cats. I love all of them equally.

I've been running since 2008, when I trained for my first half marathon through a program called Team in Training.  TNT is an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which fights cancer.  I had never, ever run a complete mile, instead spending my childhood and high school years on swim teams.

Turns out, I really prefer running.  I suspect it's because I can socialize while I train, unlike in swim practices, when I would have to stare for hours at a black line at the bottom of the pool. Now, I usually train for half marathons, but I've also done the Warrior Dash, a handful of 5Ks, a few 10Ks, and -- get this -- a 5K stroller race with Zoe.

I run just about every morning before school (which means I have to get up around 4:45 ... I am a morning person!), and it really is fun and a great stress reliever.  When I was pregnant with Zoe, I was able to run right up until the end of my pregnancy, and I am hopeful that I'll be able to do the same this time around.

I hadn't been out of the country until my honeymoon, so for those of you who haven't done much traveling, don't fret -- you have the rest of your life to travel. I hardly traveled as a child, so I was really excited to find that my husband and I both enjoyed it.  When we went to Europe, we traveled to England (London), France (Paris), Germany (Munich, including some castles! Super cool), Austria (Salzburg, including the Sound of Music tour. Amazing!), and Italy (Rome, Florence, and Venice).  We saw as much as we could, ate a lot of cheap food, did laundry in bathtubs and sinks, and really enjoyed our time together.  We've traveled to North Carolina and Michigan with Zoe (and we often travel to Cincinnati to see my family, too), but I think most of our traveling will be finished for a few years!

New York is my favorite city, partly because one of my best friends lives there, and partly because I just love spending a few days in a place that's so different from what I'm used to.  I could never take the pace of big city life full-time, but for small portions, I love the craziness of the subway, the abundance of ethnic foods, the huge buildings, and the sights that you can only see in New York City.

Odds and Ends
Zoe's age: 18 months

My husband's name: Brett. Mr. Taylor. :)

My husband's job: He used to be a lawyer; now he is a full-time sports writer and editor, focusing on the Chicago Cubs. I love baseball, and I also enjoy college football.

The new baby: We do know if we're having a boy or girl, but we aren't telling anyone until we have our next ultrasound in October.

My favorite book: Hm, I can't pick a favorite of all time, so I'll pick recent favorites.   Realistic fiction: Wonder or Okay for Now.  Science fiction: The Line.   Humor: Fake Mustache.  Historical fiction: Weedflower


We'll talk soon about opportunities for you to be guest bloggers and to participate through comments.  If you'd like to comment, you'll need to do it via your parents, either on their email address or with their permission.