Reading, Teaching, Learning

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Slice of Life - Golden Shovel Poem

        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for giving us a writing community to join each week.

One Last Word Cover

     I finished this fabulous book of book of poetry by Nikki Grimes, who gathered her favorite Harlem Renaissance poems and composed original poems from them using the "Golden Shovel" technique.  Grimes defines it like this: The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original. I was fascinated by this poetic form and was inspired to try it out.  I want to challenge my students to try it, also.  Here is my attempt:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

What direction will my life take? Only time will tell.
I can try to choose the paths, but ultimately, who controls me?
Do I make my own plans, no matter what?
My future - do I determine what it is?
Or fate? Or does some higher power make it?
Is that higher power created by me and you?
Or is It/He/She part of a grand, cosmic plan?
Do I believe like the teachers at Sunday School told me to?
An Alpha and Omega showing me what to do
if I commune with, meditate with, and pray with...
Is that higher power my Father, my Friend,  your
Savior, the only One?
Oh, these thoughts, so rebellious, hopeful, and wild!
After all these questions and the pondering and
the doubts, ultimately faith comes in, and it's precious.
This path or that, left or right, chosen by me AND You... life.

--Holly Mueller

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Slice of Life - The Goose Patrol

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for giving us a writing community to join each week.

     I started out this week in a funk.  This is unusual as I'm ordinarily cheerful and positive.  I couldn't put my finger on exactly why I was feeling a little depressed, but alas, there it was.  Maybe because there are three more days of testing this week, and I miss my regular schedule with the kids?  Or that the weekend was so fun, and I wasn't ready for Monday? I don't know. Shortly after I arrived at school, I got this text from my husband: "Sorry, but I am going to make your funk worse.  Goose patrol just walked by nest..."  There's more, but I'm going to spare you the details.  However, I'll give you some background on the Goose Patrol.

     As many of you know, we moved into our lakeside condo a year ago this April.  It's a wonderful place.  We love the shade trees that bloom in the spring, the blue herons and bald eagle that soar over the lake, the skidding landings of the ducks in the water, the incredible colors of the sunrises and sunsets, and yes, even the constant honking of the geese.  One of the first experiences in our new condo was spotting a nesting goose right at the edge of our back yard, on the edge of the lake, her fiercely protective gander floating by her side.  I snapped the photo above, and eagerly watched her faithful nesting, waiting for her goslings to one day appear.

     Much to my dismay, however, a group of men came by one day while I was at school (Ed was at home, showing some friends our newly moved-into place) bearing rakes and screwdrivers and wearing brightly colored vests.  Their mission?  To destroy goose eggs around the lake.  This is not an easy task - if you know geese, they are vicious when protecting their eggs and young.  "My" goose was discovered, and her eggs were smashed.  Our friends witnessed the deed, not entirely realizing what was going on until afterward, and were horrified.  Ed didn't tell me for a while because he knew I'd be sad.  He finally caved after a couple days because I was posting updates on the nesting on Facebook and he couldn't take it anymore.  One of the saddest things is that the geese keep on nesting for a while because they don't realize the eggs won't ever hatch.

     Now understand this.  I grew up a country girl.  I'm pragmatic when it comes to animals (although, I do admit I become very attached to most animals).  I was even a bird hunter.  We investigated and learned that this is a sanctioned practice - the Goose Patrol has permission to do this, so no need to protest too much.  I know that some people hate geese.  I know they are messy and problematic.  I know they are pests. I know their poop is disgusting and can cause diseases.  I know they are loud and obnoxious. I know all that, and I understand the need to keep the goose population down. Animal overpopulation is bad - they end up competing for resources and interfere with humans.  But dang it, I wanted to see those goslings hatch!

     Fast forward to yesterday.  Our front landscaping has a tiered wall that leads down to the grass below since we're on a hill.  I discovered a goose nesting just down from our main landscaping and on the mulched area on the wall below.  It's several feet up from the grass beside the lake.  A perfect spot!  She was hidden from above AND below.  Her only give-away was the gander floating on the edge of the lake below.  Well, that and her loud hissing whenever you came near.  That's how I discovered her as I was checking out the emerging perennials.  I smiled, thinking that we were co-conspirators - she may just "stick it to the man" nesting there!  I silently willed her to keep quiet and wished her good luck.  Meanwhile, I saw a couple other goose families that got by the Goose Patrol.  Yay!  I hoping for this one.

    It wasn't to be.  When Ed started his text that way, I knew they found her.  He felt really bad about it because he knew I was rooting for her (he's actually not a fan of geese, but knows I am, so sympathizes). Apparently, they almost walked by her, and even the gander had stepped away for a few, which helped in not drawing attention to a potential nest, but one of the guys got too close, and she hissed and spread her wings, giving away her position.  They moved in for the kill. Unfortunately, she hasn't figured this out yet and is still sitting there.  My mood has barely improved...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

DigiLit Sunday - Digital Poetry - Where I'm From

It's DigiLit Sunday!  Thank you, Margaret, for this week's topic, Digital Poetry.

     I've written about this before, but each year, I start with 6th graders writing "Where I'm From" poems, modeled on George Ella Lyon's beautiful mentor text.  We then make them into Animoto videos.  I haven't had a chance to share this year's creations, so during this National Poetry Month and Margaret's perfect topic, now's the time!  Here are a few!








Thursday, April 6, 2017

#MustReadin2017 Update!

It's time for an update on my #MustReadin2017 list! Thank you, Carrie Gelson, for encouraging us to make reading plans!
1. Salt to the Sea Cover
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

This was one of my Junior High Girls' Book Club picks.  I'm embarrassed to say I didn't finish it in time for our meeting. :-(  I'm still struggling through it.  I know everyone loves it, but I'm finding it a slow read.  Ugh!

Lily and Dunkin Cover
READ 1/10/17
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
I'm listening to the audio of this book and am captivated by the endearing main characters

The Girl Who Drank the Moon Cover
READ 1/14/17
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
We read this for a staff book club pick, and I'm so excited it won the 2017 Newbery Award!

The Inquisitor's Tale Cover
READ 1/19/2017
The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz
Our staff book club also read this one, and so we were thrilled when we learned that it won a 2017 Newbery Honor!!


The Lie Tree Cover
Still haven't gotten to it.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Snow White Cover
READ 1/24/17
Snow White by Matt Phelan
An interesting historical retelling of Snow White.  In order for kids to fully grasp it, they would need background knowledge of the 1920s/30s and would need to do a lot of inferring - it's not an easy graphic novel!


Cloud and Wallfish Cover

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

Not yet - still want to read it!


Full of Beans Cover

READ 2/15/17
Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
This was such a unique historical fiction novel for middle graders since it was set in Key West during the Depression Era.  I loved being immersed in that setting.


Some Kind of Happiness Cover

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Not yet.
I saw Claire on a panel at NCTE and loved what she had to say.  I look forward to this book!


Falling Over Sideways Cover

It's sitting on my night stand!

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

I got this title from the 2016 Young Adult Fiction Nerdies.  I've loved every Sonnenblick novel I've read, so I'm sure this will be no exception.


Still a Work in Progress Cover

Not yet.

I bought this a while ago and haven't gotten to it yet.  The subject matter in this book hits close to home, so I want to be sure to get to this soon!


Throne of Glass Cover

Still waiting to read...

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I've been wanting to get to the series for a while now.  We picked as one of our books for my Junior High Girls Book Club in the spring.  My daughter, Libby, loved it and has gone on to read the rest of the series.


Moo Cover
READ 2/15/17

Moo by Sharon Creech
Aw, this brought me back to my 4-H and Warren County Fair days.  Loved this simple story of a city girl moving to Maine and discovering the magic of taking care of farm animals and showing them at the local fair.  Charming.

The Sound of Gravel Cover
READ 1/29/17
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner

My book club picked this one for January. It was kind of icky, I have to say.


Born to Run Cover

Got 15 hours in on our way back from Florida after Christmas break - LOVED it so far (and so did my husband - he finished it), but haven't I finished it. :-(

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen


Presenting Buffalo Bill Cover
Not yet.

I love Candace Fleming books!  I got to see her at NCTE in a round table session, and she talked about this book.  


The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary Cover
Not yet. 

I read a Colby Sharp post and a Donalyn Miller post about this book - how can you resist after those two rave about a book?


Finding Perfect Cover
Nope, not yet, but several of my students have read it, and they loved it!

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

This is a 2016 Middle Grade Nerdy winner.  It looks great!


Scar Island Cover

LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Some Kind of Courage, and Dan Gemeinhart Skyped with us after I finished Some Kind of Courage as a 5th grade read aloud.  I've yet to get to Scar Island, but many of my students have read it and liked it!

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart


What Elephants Know Cover
Not yet.

What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein

I accidentally bought TWO copies of this book - I must have loved the cover!  It's about time I read it!


Upstream Cover
Still need to get it back from Libby!  Ha.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

I love Oliver's poetry, and I know I'll love these essays.  I lent it out to my daughter, Libby, though, so I need to get it back!


Flying Lessons & Other Stories Cover
I've read the first two stories and love it so far!

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh

I'm excited about a book of short stories for middle graders!

Just a few more - these are books that aren't published yet that I can't wait to read!


Short Cover
READ 2/21/17 I like it a lot!

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Orphan Island Cover

Requested from the library!

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder


The Inexplicable Logic of My Life Cover

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Oh boy - only 8 out of 25 so far.  That's okay!  There's still lots of reading to be done in 2017!!  The year is young...

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Slice of Life - Why Are We Doing This? (The March SOLSC and the SOLCC)

     Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for providing space for us to write Slices of Life each week.  This week, I couldn't post in time for DigiLit Sunday, hosted by Margaret Simon because I was traveling, but I'm glad I waited because I read my students' final March Classroom Challenge Slices of Life on the way home, which perfectly answered Margaret's question of the week: Why Are We Doing This?

     This was my fourth year participating in the March SOLSC myself, and the fourth year for my students to participate in the Classroom Challenge.  Each year poses its own challenges and rewards, and this year was no exception, and I think it was the best yet for my students. Part of that is my experience in presenting the challenge - after 3 years, I've done a lot of trouble-shooting! I also think I got better about providing ideas, using mentor texts to encourage good writing, and reading as many of their posts and commenting on them (I have 53 students this year - most of whom participated to some extent) as I could while trying to keep up with my own participation (I didn't make it to all 31 Slices - I wrote 26).  It was A LOT of reading, writing, and commenting!  I was so impressed, though, with my students' comments to each other and their quality of writing this year.  I did a couple mini-lessons just on commenting, and I think it paid off.  They built quite a writing community among themselves.

     I create levels and prizes so that those who write all 31 days and comment on three other Slices daily are aptly rewarded (although several wrote that even though the treats enticed them, the sheer act of writing and responding/getting responses is what drove them).  Even if they don't make it to Level 5, which is every day, there are treats for other levels as well.  I want to give them the freedom to miss a few, especially since our spring break falls during March, but still particpate.  Tomorrow I'll get their charts to see how many achieved each level.  They're also writing reflections on the experience, also due tomorrow.  I always look forward to reading those!

     When Margaret asked the question this past week, Why Are We Doing This? (I ask myself this every year - ha), I had a feeling my students would answer it, and indeed, they did.  Check out this post from one of my 5th graders, Leo.  Another 5th grader, Grace, wrote about her "Why" in this post.  Katelyn wrote about the struggle and the journey here.   Braden, a 6th grader, also wrote about the journey and his accomplishments.  I couldn't express the "Why We Do This" any better than they.  I'm always amazed by how the March Challenge transforms us all into a close community, provides a forum where we can express ideas and tell stories, and develops us into better writers.  THAT'S why we do this!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - The March SOLSC in Six Word Memoirs

It's the March Slice of Life Story Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Image may contain: cloud, sky, train and outdoor Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, sky, cloud and outdoor
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios

     Spring break is coming to an end.  We're finishing up at my mom and dad's in the Tampa area after a week at the Disney parks and Universal.  Ed and I had such fun being big kids in such magical places, but after 77, 308 steps (37.57 miles) and very sore feet, we were definitely done.  

     It's also the end of the March SOLSC. I didn't write all 31 days, but I loved participating in the extent that I could, and I am amazed by the Slices of Life my students wrote and the community they built during the SOL Classroom Challenge. I enjoyed being connected to all of you and to my students throughout the month and during break through writing.  The Challenge is so hard, and yet so rewarding.  I'm going to borrow Angela Faulhaber's idea to write in six word memoirs.  She summed up her spring break that way; I'm going to sum up the March Challenge.

Beginning of March, making writing goals.

Kids excited, ready to blog daily.

Ideas flowing, waking me up nightly.

Paying attention to details, conversations, moments.

Using metaphors, personification, similes, sensory details.

Teaching leads, mentor texts, catchy titles.

Two hundred fifty words, writing stamina.

Missed Slices, disappointment, but starting again.

Positive, encouraging, specific comments equals community.

Seeing each other through words, priceless.

Blogging keeps us connected while apart.

End of month, relieved but sad.

Until next year, there are Tuesdays.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Book Bonding Over the Hibachi

It's the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, food and indoor

     "Do you like to read?" I asked the Japanese boy sitting beside us at Teppan Edo in Epcot's World Showcase.  We spoke to his parents who told us they were from Tokyo and were vacationing in Orlando and would spend some days in NYC at the end of the week.  If you read my Slice of Life from last Friday, you know my husband, Ed, and I are vacationing at Disney and Universal without kids this week.

     He looked at me, tilted his head, and looked at his mom, since he didn't speak English, but his parents did. They explained to us that he was 12 and would start taking English this year in school.  I gestured a book to him, and she translated for me: "She's asking you if you like to read."

     His eyes lit up, and he nodded enthusiastically.  "Harry Potter?" I asked.  That needed no translation. Again, he responded excitedly and vigorously nodded.  His parents laughed.  They told me he loved to read.

     Across the table was a family from Alabama with twin 7th graders, a boy and a girl.  They heard us talking about Harry Potter, and we launched into a discussion about books they were reading. They both loved Harry Potter, too, and then the Twilight series came up.  Their dad and my husband sheepishly confessed that they had read the whole series, loved the movies, and we all laughed about whether we were Team Jacob or Team Edward.  

     We enjoyed the hibachi chef and his tricks with food - a volcanic onion tower, slicing and dicing, and spearing a lemon he had tossed up in the air.  With his great humor, the delicious food, and more talking among the families, we had a terrific time.  I must say, though, my favorite part was that we had a bonding moment across states and countries over books!  


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Slice of Life Story Challenge - Gallery Tour of my Children's Illustrators Collection

It's the March Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers!

This Is Not My Hat Cover

     I have an extensive picture book collection.  I wish I knew how many I have, but I haven't cataloged them.  Someday!  They are organized in crates by theme topics, content, writing craft, and reading skills.  I reorganize them once in a while, depending on how I want to use them each year.  I consider each and every one works of art.  Where else can you have a whole art gallery at your fingertips?  I love picture books.

     Even though I can enjoy amazing works of art in the books, I also started getting interested in collecting prints and original art by children's illustrators when I fell in love with Jon Klassen's Hat Trilogy.  I LOVED I Want My Hat Back and enjoyed kids' reactions when I read it aloud.  Then came This Is Not My Hat, which did not disappoint.  It may have been even funnier.  I missed the dark humor a little, but loved the satisfying ending of We Found a Hat, published last year.  I was so sad to see the trilogy end, but I'll enjoy sharing all three with my students for years to come.  They love them as much as I do.  My husband bought me my first print, which started my collection, from This Is Not My Hat.  It hangs proudly above a bookshelf in my classroom.  All my framed prints and originals hang on my classroom walls.  It's fun when I read a picture book for the first time, and the kids realize there is a picture on the wall from it!

     Speaking of trilogies, my next item came from another favorite trilogy, Aaron Becker's Journey books.  I am a HUGE fan of these beautiful, wordless books.  Aaron made a wonderful video for my kids, answering our questions, and I got to meet him at NCTE and get my book signed.  He signed 2 out of the 3 prints (he was in Spain when my husband bought me the 2nd), but only two are framed.  I got the third one for my birthday, and I still need to take it in to my favorite framing place.  They are BEAUTIFUL!

When I get the third one framed, I'll rearrange them so they'll hang in order.
The third one (Return):
No automatic alt text available.

Aaron Becker answers a fifth grade teachers' classes questions about "Journey" from Aaron Becker on Vimeo.

     I'm not quite sure what order the following prints/originals came into my life, but I love them all!

     I am a huge fan of Matthew Cordell's.  This wonderful watercolor painting was from his book, hello! hello!  It's about a young girl, Lydia, who is frustrated that her family is caught up in electronics, and she wants to enjoy the big, beautiful world.

hello! Cover

     Matthew offered these originals on Facebook if you bought a certain number of his books, if I remember correctly.  You're going to send me an original painting?  Um....count me in!  An amazing follow-up story is that, when I brought it in to be framed, there was a leak in the storage part of the frame shop, and ruined the painting.  My framer felt SO badly.  I took a shot and told the story to Matthew, and he said, "No problem!" and made me another.  Just another reason to be a fan of his!! This watercolor reminds me to enjoy this one and only life we have!

     This next original came from Jarrett J. Krosoczka's The Frog Who Croaked, the first installment of his hilarious and fun Platypus Police Squad. series.

The Frog Who Croaked Cover

     I bid on this awesome original in a charity auction that Jarrett set up.  I believe it was for the Joe and Shirl Krosoczka Memorial Youth Scholarship at the Worcester Art Museum, which provides tuition to underprivileged children.  I've had the pleasure of hearing Jarrett speak at literacy conferences, and he is one of the nicest, inspiring people you'll ever meet.  This painting makes me smile.
     Next, is a print from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. I just love this story about a tiger who is searching for his true identity.  The colors and beautiful foliage in this book are amazing.  My students love this one.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild Cover

     I was convinced this book was going to win a Caldecott Award or Honor that year, but alas, it didn't (there were amazing books that did, however, including an Honor for Journey).  However, it's gotten plenty of other accolades, and I love this print from it.  It hangs above the pencil sharpener, so the kids see it often!

Lion, Lion Cover     These next two originals came from Nerd Camp 2015.  I love this story and wrote about it here.  I won the lion painting in the Nerd Camp art raffle, which raises money to buy books for kids at Nerd Camp Jr. The lion original is by Larry Day and comes from the book, Lion Lion by Miriam Busch, and the sketch of Miriam Busch and I is by Ruth McNally Barshaw. These hang side by side behind my desk. I'm not sure you can see the dialogue between the lion and the boy.  The lion is asking, "Where are you going?" and the boy answers, "I'm going to Nerd Camp. What about you?" These two works of art remind me how kind and fun children's authors and illustrators are.

     Have you heard of The Yarn?  Since I just mentioned Nerd Camp, I should mention the amazing children's literature guru and 3rd grade teacher, Colby Sharp.  He and Travis Jonker created this podcast series interviewing children's lit writers and illustrators.  Since I contributed a certain amount to this project, they sent me original sketches from Jennifer and Matt Holm's excellent and honest graphic novel, Sunny Side Up. As an added bonus, Colby included a print by Loren Long, from his book Little Tree.  I love both Loren Long and that book!  Loren is from Cincinnati, so I've met him several times, and he incredibly kind and generous.  So are Matt and Jenni!

Little Tree Cover  Sunny Side Up


Nana in the City Cover
     This next print is by Lauren Castillo, from her sweet book, Nana and the City.  I was a big fan of that book, and I read it every year as a paired text with Matt de la Pena's Last Stop on Market Street.  I met Lauren at an NCTE Nerdy Book Club party, and she is just wonderful!  Do you see a trend here?  Children's authors and illustrators are an amazing group of people!  Nana and the City won a Caldecott Honor Award, which was much deserved!  I love looking at this print, full of happy people on a beautiful fall day in Central Park!

   Last, but not least, I was flabbergasted by Pam Zagarenski's generosity when I saw this beautiful painting on her Instagram and told her I loved it.  She immediately sent me a signed print!  Unbelievable!  I loved it because I was currently reading PAX aloud to my 5th graders, so the fox appealed to me, and my favorite poet is Robert Frost, so the line "Whose woods these are I think I know" melted my heart.  I have yet to get this framed, but I can't wait for it to hang on my classroom wall!  I have several beautiful picture books by Pam, including her 2013 Caldecott Honor winner, Sleep Like a Tiger.

Well, that concludes the tour!  Of course, I'd love to add to my collection.  Some illustrators I'd like to still collect include Erin Stead, Molly Idle, Christian Robinson, Sophie Blackall, Bryan Collier, and more.  Stay tuned!