Buy Books Here!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Making Connections - It Sounds So Easy...

I have a little speech I say to kids when we talk about making connections while reading:

Mrs. D:     We are thinking all the time.  When you are reading you are thinking.  Reading IS Thinking!  You are thinking the plot is awesome, or boring.  You are relating in some way to the characters.  Maybe they are like you, maybe they are your complete opposite.  You are thinking that the setting is well described or you are struggling to picture it in your head.  You think that the dialogue is funny or interesting or bizarre - whatever!  Are these not all connections?

Student response:     Sure they are!  Absolutely!  As we read, we are constantly making connections!

Ok, maybe they don't respond this way, but I try and make the point that if they are not having these thoughts as they read, then the book is too hard or they are daydreaming.  It's virtually impossible to read a book and not have some sort of connection, because otherwise, why are we reading it?  We don't want to read about things we can't relate to at all.  Even the most fantasical of fantasy books have characters and situations we can connect to in some way.

Little kids shout out their connections during read alouds, but then as older students, they struggle to make connections.  Why?

I think teaching connecting is something that needs to grow with the reader.  You may have made friends based on your favourite colour when you were little but that doesn't cut it as you get older ("You like pink?  I like pink!  Let's be best friends).  More mature readers struggle to make good connections as they read.  I believe they are making these connections (see dialogue above) so why aren't they able to express them?

It's important that students make connections to self, text and world.  I would however start with text to self connections.  If they can master these, move on.  If they are struggling to make simple connections, there's no sense expecting them to connect to other texts AND the world.  They need to make meaningful text to self connections before the others.

Here are a few hints to help students make 'good' connections:

1.     Start the year off with lots of 'connectable' texts.  Do you like how I just make up words? ;)  One book I enjoy reading in September is 'The Relatives Came' by Cynthia Rylant.  Summer vacation is done, but many kids will have spent some time in a car OR had family visit OR had a BBQ, picnic...There are so many things that students can connect to in this book.  They may be surface connections (my family visited from wherever, just like in the book), but you can use these surface connections to dig deeper.  Have the students help each other, ask questions and try to make those connections more meaningful.  How do you feel when you have to share your space?  This could be with another family member in the house, not just a relative that comes to visit.  Have you ever had a relative or a friend break something of yours by accident?  How did you feel, for real?  How do you feel about long car trips?  Like them?  Hate them?  Would you rather be the relative that hosts or the relative that visits?  The talking may lead to more meaningful connections.

2.     Don't accept lame-o connections.  I talk about what makes a good connection and a lame connection.  If there is a dog in the story and they have a dog, this is a lame connection.  Think again!  Did they have the same feelings as the dog owner in the story?  Do they yearn for a dog, but can't have one?  Can they discuss their feelings as being the same as the character who does have a dog in the story?  Surface connections don't cut it, dig deeper!!!!

3.     Give students a stack of stickies while they read.  Stickies are magic, students for some reason have no problem writing on a sticky.  Maybe because they are small???  Have them write at least one connection per page.  They write them on a sticky and stick it on the page.  When they are done reading for the day, they review their connections and pick one really good one to write about.  Only rule? No lame connections!

4.     Read the books your students are reading and conference!  If you can't read everything (and who can, really?) make sure you are still conferencing.  You can usually drag something (a connection) out of student orally if you can't get it in writing.  If they make connections as you conference, write them down.  At least you can report that they can make connections, but struggle to express them in writing.  Students who does struggle to connect, need more conferencing!

Don't rush through Making Connections!  Do it well, Do it often!

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians - Jackie Mims Hopkins

I've been a Teacher-Librarian for 4 years.  If it was my 40th year in the library, I'm sure I would still be reading this book to kids of all ages.  It's an important lesson that I truly believe in as a reading mentor.  It's important for student and teachers to hear and practice.

For one thing, this book is a parody of a old classic - Goldilocks and the 3 Bears.  If you are studying Fairy Tales and discussing fractured Fairy Tales, this is a good one.  It also has good jokes and puns and I love to see what students 'get' the jokes.  I love it when one kid laughs out loud.  Librarians are very much like stand up comedians.  We are looking and waiting for a laugh!

I read this book mainly for it's reading lesson.  I firmly believe that reading is a very personal activity.  Students often feel like they need to be reading a certain kind of book.  A big book, a non fiction, a novel, a long book, a book with no pictures...  I stress during this lesson that they MUST look for a book that is just right for them.  I tell students what books I don't enjoy reading, but I also tell them that there are some books that are just too hard for me.

There is a very simple activity that I do with this book.  It is the 5 - finger test that Goldisocks talks about in the book.  Sometimes a book is too easy.  This is not ideal.  Readers become better readers by challenging themselves with harder text and words that they don't know.  If it's too easy, they won't become a better reader.

Sometimes a book is too hard.  If there is too many words in the book that a reader doesn't know, the book will not make any sense and will be hard to comprehend.  If they don't understand it, they won't enjoy it and will eventually abandon the book. Simple.  Young readers have to get over the fact that they may not be able to read the books that others are reading.  Another life lesson.

So when readers look for a 'Just Right' books they need to think like Goldisocks (and Goldilocks too).  She couldn't eat the porridge that is too hot, can't sleep in a bed that is too hard and can't sit in a chair that is too small.  The book has to be just right - not too hard and not too easy.  A couple words that are new on each page is ok, but the text has to be understandable.  The test is done on one random page in a novel or a couple of pages in a small picture book.  They hold up one fist.  Each word they don't know or can't pronounce means a finger goes up.  Five or more fingers and it's too hard, no fingers up and it's too easy.  A 'Just Right' book has 2-3 (at the very most) hard or new words.

During this lesson we also discuss that 'Just Right' books are meant to make them a stronger reader.  Does this mean that you should never again read a too easy book?  No way!  I make sure I tell students that revisiting those old favourites is so important and so much fun.  I still pull out my 'Little House' books, even though I can practically recite them by memory.  It's the easy books that give us comfort and confidence.  BUT when we want to improve our reading, we look for those 'Just Right' books.

Librarians!  Make sure you are teaching kids HOW to find a 'Just Right' Book!!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Conversation with Abby

The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore By: William Joyce

I can't remember when I first learned about this beautiful, magical AND important book.  I do know that I learned about the short film before I read the book.  I was so happy that it won the Academy Award for Animated Short because usually I can't understand any of the films that are nominated each year!  There's so much to discuss in this story.  Good for all ages.  The things I discuss below can be simple or complex, depending on the group.  Your discussion can be as simple as the following conversation I had with my daughter after we read the book and while we watched the short film:

Me: Do you see how the people are black and white when they come to him and once they get their books, they turn to colour?
Abby: It's magic, the storm made everything black and white and the books are magic!

Books are most definitely magic.  This is what I try to show kids everyday in the library.  So if all else fails, this is a celebration of reading, books (real books that fall apart, become weathered and start to smell), LIBRARIES and LIBRARIANS!!!

Mr. Morris Lessmore makes books come alive but here are some other connections you can make and things you can discuss with this work of art:

-The story reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, UP, Mr. Holland's Opus, Our Town (Willy Loman), It's a Wonderful Life, The English Patient - discuss!
-There's a sadness to this story, a nod to times gone by, the good ol' days
-why the repetition of the music 'Pop Goes the Weasel'?
-Use of colour and lack of colour
-why the Tornado?
-why is the setting New Orleans-esque?
-Discuss the name Mr. Morris Lessmore
-What's the importance of Humpty Dumpty as a main character?
-Is his cane and hat important?
-why do we feel the need to tell our story?
-is the girl with the 'balloon books' a ghost?  Does Morris Lessmore become a ghost?
-Discuss 'sometimes Morris would become lost in a book and scarcely emerge for days'
-Discuss 'Everyone's story matters'
-Isn't it wonderful that 'the books never changed. Their stories stayed the same.'

Another connection I made is to a Robert Service poem, 'Dolls'. In the book we read, "Then one day he filled the last page in his book.  He looked up and said with a bittersweet sigh, 'I guess it's time for me to move on.'"  Read the poem, "Dolls" and discuss the similarities and differences of the idea of being 'bittersweet'.  How is 'Flying Books' bittersweet?  What is bittersweet about Service's poem?

 Again, just enjoy this book, let the kids' conversation guide your teaching.  They can get so much from it, but the beautiful magic of reading is enough :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Wordless Books are a Language Dream Come True!

Who can spend a whole week teaching from a wordless book?  Me! Me!
There are endless opportunities for language in a wordless book.  It's safe because the text is whatever and however a reader interprets the pictures.  In it's simplest way a wordless book can be the starting place for a story.  A reluctant writer doesn't have to come up with an idea, the story is started for them.  The writer just has to inject his/her voice into the pictures.  I'm just sitting here thinking, what a great opportunity for really reluctant writers to 'speak' their thoughts as they go through the book.  Teachers could record their 'thoughts' as the students works out what is happening in their story as they flip through the pages.  Once they've gone through all the pages, they can listen to their thoughts and perhaps come up with their story on their own.  OR they could use their recording as the story.  See?  The possibilities are endless!

Today's wordless book is Journey - By Aaron Becker.  A wordless book needs spectacular illustrations and this one does not disappoint!  Each page could be a story on it's own.  You could assign a page to each kid and have them each write a chapter.  Or they could take inspiration from all the pictures and write their own story.  Again, endless.  No student can complain that they don't know what to write about!  Who wouldn't want to write about the adventures depicted in the illustrations?

What about a conversation about loneliness?  This little girl feels ignored and retreats to her room to occupy her day.  Can students make connections to how she is feeling?  What about connections to other books?  I'm thinking 'Where the Wild Things Are' or 'Harold and the Purple Crayon'.  Ask students to make and explain their connections.

Visual Art extension - Give students a white piece of art paper with one of the red shapes on the page somewhere.  What picture can they come up with?  Can they write a story based on their picture or another classmate's picture.  It could go on and on!

I know I've been using the word poignant too much...

But what a great word it is! Poignant.

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood made me a little sad and wistful.  What looks like a bedtime storybook for the very young (and it totally could be) can be used in many ways in the classroom.  Again, the illustrations are beautifully tied to the simplistic text!  This book will conjure up lots of memories and conversations.

How would Mrs. D use this book?

Reading strategy - Inference - My newly coined acronym WCB? WCA? is appropriate with the pictures in this book.  I can't believe I've come up with an acronym.  Please let me know if this is already out there.  I'm totally claiming it as my own until I hear otherwise!  Simply asking students, What came before this picture? and What came after this picture? is a great way to highlight what it means to make an inference.  There can not be a wrong answer, but there can be a great inference!  See what they come up with and let them choose the picture they discuss.

Reading Strategy - Connecting - This is such a basic strategy but actually hard for students to demonstrate well.  As readers, we are connecting all the time.  We don't realize the thinking we are constantly doing while reading.  I tell kids all the time, if they are not connecting in some way to the book (characters, setting, theme, plot) then they are either daydreaming or the book is too difficult.  Connecting are all the thoughts that are going through your head as you read.  What does the setting description remind you of?  What have you read before that reminds you of the theme? The plot?  I will allow a student to say that they dislike a book if they can prove to me that they can't connect with it in some way.

     For The Quiet Book, students will find a part that reminds them of something that has happened to them at some point.  There's their connection!  Was it a happy time?  What happened to them?  How was it different or the same from what 'seems' to be happening in the book?  The one page that resonated with me was, 'Top of the rollercoaster quiet'.  Who hasn't experienced that?  Can a student tell you about a rollercoaster experience?  How did it begin?  How did it end?

     After reading this book I'm convinced that there a numerous types of quiet!

Writing Form - Who wants to write a class book?  You may choose to do a Quiet Book or perhaps a Sad, Happy or Mad book.  Each student could pick an emotion and describe a few moments when that emotion feels different.  A great opportunity for students to practice paragraph writing!  Introduce the emotion in an introduction sentence, give a few examples and write a concluding sentence. Done.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Procedural Writing & Inference - together, it can be done!

Yawn.  Teaching writing forms in isolation can be such a bore.  This month reports, next procedures, after that you review recounts. Blah, blah, blah.  I think writers become better writers by reading lots and writing lots.  What if a student doesn't want to write a procedure?  What if another is only excited by poetry? Yes, exposure to all forms of writing is important.  They should be taught at some point, reviewed and revisited throughout elementary school.  But if you want kids to be excited about writing, let them have some power when it comes to what they write!

     When you NEED to teach a writing form, it's best to 'look in a book'.  I enjoy reading a book to get students thinking about the form of writing we are studying.  Call it an icebreaker.  Students may use parts of the book in their writing or it may trigger an idea for their writing.

     I love the book How to -  by Julie Morstad.  It is beautifully simple and the illustrations are hauntingly poignant (how's that for flowery description?).  Each of the illustrations show a vulnerability of the characters and an innocence of youth.  At it's simplest level, this is a book that kids will relate to and adults will enjoy sharing.

     How would Mrs. D use this book?
Every one of the pictures in this book can be used to teach inferenceSuch a hard reading strategy to teach and learn!  When using pictures to teach inferring I use WCB? and WCA?  What came before the picture? and What came after the picture?  There can be no right or wrong answer but there can be great inferences made with the beautiful illustrations in this book.

     For writing instruction, this is a great book to introduce Procedural Writing.  As I mentioned before, this can be a dry form of writing to teach and produce.  With this book you will leave the recipes and game instructions behind - wahoooo!  These are not your run-of-the-mill procedures.  Students may choose to write the procedures that are introduced in the book.  By doing this, they will be given the opportunity to make a much more creative procedure than if they were to write about how to make a ham sandwich!  Here are some of my favs: 'How to go slow' or 'How to see the wind'.  Then there's 'How to be a mermaid', which made me instantly think of my daughter who is famous for lengthy, luxurious baths.  Again, the pictures are what truly makes this book shine.  You must see for yourself, the pictures for 'How to make new friends', 'How to wash your face' AND 'How to wash your socks'. so.great. This is a lovely book to share.  Almost a shame to use it for introducing procedures!  You won't be sorry though and I bet the procedures your student produce will be creative and heart felt!

Mommy, am I Pretty? By Margot Denomme

I have the privilege of being able to raise a daughter.  Am I scared of the world she is entering?  Yes!  Do I worry that one day she will experience the cruel expectations that society places on females?  Most definitely!  Would I change any of it? Never!  I will accept the challenge of raising a young girl to be a responsible, kind and confident woman.  I also accept the challenge to make sure my son appreciates women with these qualities.  Conversations about societal roles are important.  We need to have these conversations as parents and as educators as well.

     Here is a lovely book which addresses a young girl's questions about what it means to be pretty.  What her very thoughtful mother responds with are all the 'right' answers.  It's nicely laid out with effective illustrations.  What do we mean when we tell girls that it's important to be pretty on the inside as well, because what's on the inside it what really counts?  This book is a good place to start.