Saturday, October 31, 2015

Celebration Saturday

I love linking up to a wonderful celebratory community, inspired by Ruth Ayres, every Saturday!
     I realized the last time I wrote a Celebration Saturday post was in August!!  I need to get back to celebrating the good stuff because sometimes the negative can take over, and that's not good!  There are a lot of wonderful things happening.  Here are some things to celebrate:
     1.  Monday night I hosted a Parent/Student Book Club over our 5th grade common read, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper with the help of my assistant principal, another ELA colleague, and our elementary curriculum director.  It was wonderful to have their support!  We started the book club in September with blog discussions, and then culminated the conversations at the face-to-face meeting.  We had 18 parents and students come.  At first, I was a little disappointed with the turnout, but then I realized how many things are going on with sports, homework, activities, etc. and realized 18 was a good number.  I loved how insightful the 5th graders' comments were and how parents and kids interacted - so positive!  I also loved that parents said they enjoyed reading and discussing the book as a family.   They were ready to read another one together right away!  Books, families, and great conversations - it doesn't get better than that!
     2.  I got three new students this week in one of my 6th grade classes.  They're awesome, and I've been so impressed at how seamlessly they transitioned. 
     3.  After a rainy day on Wednesday, I was a little grumpy.  Plus it was Halloween dress up day for staff - yes, that would be a celebration for most people, but for me it's torture.   Read why in this Slice of Life I wrote last year.  Anyway, I was on my way to Wednesday night church, and this amazing rainbow appeared - I pulled over in my neighborhood and took a picture!
     4.  Last weekend we attended a Chi Omega Parent Tailgate event at Ohio State University to fundraise for the sorority's charity, Make-a-Wish.  My daughter, Katie, loves her sorority and was involved in the planning of the event.  We had a great time getting a behind-the-scenes look at The Shoe (the OSU stadium), eating a yummy tailgate dinner, participating in raffles, and spending time with Katie and our other daughter, Libby, and our son-in-law Jamie.  Libby and Jamie are both living in Columbus now, too, so it's fun to spend time with all three of them when we go up there.  Libby works at Nationwide Insurance and Jamie goes to the OSU law school. 
Standing on the stadium field and making candles at The Candle Lab.
     5.  I received an ARC of The Seventh Wish from Kate Messner and Bloomsbury Publishing and finished it this week.  Wow - what a powerful story.  It's such a privilege to get to receive these books early so I can celebrate great children's literature!  My Halloween treat to my classes was to give them the full class time to read.  I love that they respond to that gift with cheers!  I read along with them, and that's when I finished this amazing book.  Interestingly enough, it was Red Ribbon Week at my school and just when I got to the end, a member of the National Guard's Counter Drug Program came into my class to pass out red ribbons to my students.  I was able to share a little about this book while he was passing them out.  Great timing!
The Seventh Wish
It feels good to celebrate again!!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - He Calls You Beloved

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
This week's theme is HE CALLS YOU BELOVED.

     This theme topic idea came to me when I heard a spot on our local Christian radio station by Bob Goff.  I have the MP3 sound bite - the radio station's Director of Programming sent it to me - but I don't know how to embed it on this blog.  I'll have to paraphrase it.  Bob says that Jesus whispers over your shoulder, and He calls you "Beloved," and if you're hearing names being whispered over your shoulder, and it's not "Beloved," then it ain't Jesus.  I loved that.  We sometimes get critical or down on ourselves, maybe hearing negative things about the goals we're trying to accomplish or dreams we're trying to reach, but those aren't the voices we need to be listening to. 

     Then, as often happens when I choose a theme topic, another message came my way.  This time it was through Facebook.  I follow Donald Miller , and he posted this encouragement.

     Today, listen to God's voice when determining who you are!  What other names, besides beloved, does He call you?  I enjoyed this post by Judy Douglass on The Names God Calls Me.

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you...
- 1 Thessalonians 1:4

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Slice of Life - In December

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.
I've been using mentor texts with my 6th graders to help give them new ideas for Slices and writing craft.  Last week, we read In November by Cynthia Rylant.  What we noticed:

Repetitive phrase (In December)
Quite tone/mood
Sensory details
 I told them they could write about their favorite month.  I tried it out, too.  My favorite month is December.

IN DECEMBER (inspired by In November by Cynthia Rylant)

In December, twinkling lights
pirouette around evergreen boughs
and spill over rooftops,
filling passersby with cheer.

In December,
scarlet cardinals and black-capped chickadees
swoop from nearby trees
to birdfeeders full of seeds.
They argue and flutter,
competing for the best places to perch 
and dine.

In December,
we break the ice in water troughs
for the horses,
their coats thick with winter fur.
Ice crystals form around their soft muzzles
as they lean in together to keep warm.

In December,
a campfire blazes on the shore of the frozen pond,
above it a swinging cauldron of hot chocolate,
steaming and sweet,
waiting for us when we come off the black ice,
breathless and cold,
our mittens making it difficult to unlace our skates.

In December,
cookies bake in the oven,
and the smell of peppermint and sugar
wafts through the air.
Candy canes and popcorn garlands
adorn the tree,
along with handmade ornaments
from elementary school.

In December,
we put on our Sunday best on Christmas Eve
and gather in the church,
holding our candles.
The sweet notes of "Silent Night" fill the sanctuary,
as the lights dim and the instruments quiet.
Only the congregation's voices and the flicker of gentle flames
as we imagine that stable long ago.

And in December,
after the family gatherings 
and celebrations,
the opening of presents
and Santa's visit,
a year comes to an end
with confetti, poppers, and the shiny drop
of the Times Square ball.
Friends and family sway arm and arm, and sing
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

Monday, October 26, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.
The Running Dream

This is one of those books in my classroom library that I hadn't read, but kids raved about and recommended. I finally got around to listening to it on audio. I can see now why they loved it so much. Jessica, a track star at her school, loses her leg in a bus accident and thinks she will never run again. When she returns to school, her teacher seats her next to Rosa, a girl in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy whom everyone seemed to ignore. Jessica realizes she's wicked smart in math and fun to be around. They pass notes back and forth, and Rosa tutors Jessica to help save her math grade. Eventually they become friends. The two of them make an unlikely running team, but they end up surprising and inspiring everyone. This is a great follow up to our 5th grade common read, OUT OF MY MIND.

The Seventh Most Important Thing
This book grabbed me at the first paragraph and never let go. I'm not quite sure what it was, but this story made me teary throughout the whole thing. Maybe it was Arthur's obvious pain, or the Junk Man's compassion, or that beautiful things can be made from ugly things, or that everything changes when you know someone's story, or that I love stories of redemption and spiritual thinking, or any number of qualities that make this book special. Whatever it was, it moved me. It reminded me of Nickel Bay Nick and Lost in the Sun.  I just started it as a read aloud with my sixth graders to complement our Social Responsibility and Leaving a Legacy theme topic this quarter.
The Hired Girl
The Seventh Wish

Sunday, October 25, 2015

DigiLit Sunday - Public Service Announcement Storyboards


I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.
     Last year was the first year I tried out Public Service Announcements with my 6th graders during our Social Injustice unit.  Here are the two posts from last year that highlighted my thinking and our work: 
     I did what I said I would this year - instead of using historical topics, my students researched current social injustices.  They watched "Water is Everything" during our read aloud of A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, and we mapped out characteristics of a PSA (introduces topic, states problem, cites facts about problem, ends with a call to action). 
     After their research, my intention was to have them plan out their PSAs on an online storyboard maker,, and then make the videos again.  However, they got so involved with the storyboards, I decided to make those their final products.  Unfortunately, is not free.  They offer a 14 day free trial, but then you have to pay.  I did decide to pay the minimum amount because I think we'll use it again this year.  I hope you'll be able to read these.  They did a great job!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Doubt

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
This week's topic is DOUBT.
     This week's topic was inspired by this post by my daughter, Libby.  I loved her honesty and the beauty of Mary Oliver's poem.  It made me ponder doubt and how its presence has affected my spiritual journey.  I'm tempted to say that doubt doesn't play a big part anymore in my life, and that faith has won out by leaps and bounds.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized doubt still lurks in the shadows of worry, restlessness, insecurity, and hundreds of other petty and energy-sapping emotions.  Those emotions emerge from doubt and distraction.  My husband, Ed, and I were talking about doubt, and he said "Doubt is really about control."  So true!  We doubt God's plan and power.  We doubt His wisdom and promises.  We doubt His truth and grace.  We try to snatch back control - make our own destinies, our own pathways, our own timelines, our own truths...and oh, what a mess we make of things when we do!  We are truly unmoored when we set out on our own.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1: 5-8

   Doubt is a part of my journey.  However, when I'm in a sea of doubt, I'm uneasy and anxious.  Tossed by the wind.  Faith equals peace, balance, and confidence.  When we focus on faith and stay near to Him, everything seems right.

     I love this paragraph in Libby's post: "But ultimately I keep coming back to Faith, and the reason is this: I see a glimmer of Something More in everything on earth, something too massive for Doubt to tackle…I sense my own weakness, my own utter confusion. And I feel – even in the midst of sorrow, even while seeing the pain that is in this world – an unshakable love, and there is no greater love than what was written about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the swarming multitudes of people who turned their backs on him."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Digilit Sunday - Short Bursts of Research


I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.
     In September, I attended an Ohio Writing Project conference, and loved Angela Faulhaber's presentation on research.  One of the things that stuck with me was that research should be done all year round in our classrooms instead of waiting until that one big research project.  Now I'm trying to find frequent opportunities to ask big questions about topics that show up in our reading, answer those questions using online websites and articles, and share our learning with each other - all in a short amount of time.  This may seem like a simple concept, and it is.  It's one of those "Duh!" moments - why haven't I been doing this?!
     The first opportunity that arose was with my sixth graders with our read aloud, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  In it, two tribes are mentioned: The Dinka and the Nuer.  The conflict between the two is important to the story.  I split the class into two groups, assigning a tribe to each one.  Together, they generated 5 big questions about the tribe, split into pairs to research one question apiece, and then charged them to collaborate on a Google Slides presentation to show the other group.  We worked on it for about 15 minutes for three days, along with working on other things.  At one point, one of my sixth graders proclaimed, "This is fun!"
     The second opportunity arose with my fifth graders.  We are at the tail end of our Empathy unit, and small groups read A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass, Rules by Cynthia Lord, and Wonder by R.J. Palacio while I read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper aloud.  Each group took the condition the characters struggled with in their books and researched it.  They were fascinated, and we learned a lot about synesthesia, autism, and craniofacial disorders.  I will do a presentation on cerebral palsy.
     The kids loved collaborating, and I even saw evidence of them commenting on each other's slides from home (that was not required) on Google.  I missed the opportunity to require a bibliography slide with the sixth graders, but I did with the fifth graders.  I was also able to talk about reliable websites, cross-checking information, and working in groups. Were they perfect?  No.  There was not a lot of time to revise, edit, and verify information. I couldn't be sure they were using the best sources even though I circulated the room and helped when they need it.  However, I believe my students will understand research as fun, interesting, and part of daily life.  Information is at their fingertips.  They need to know how to use it reliably, effectively, and quickly.  I'm hoping that these short bursts of research will be a common part of our learning in class, and there will be no groans when I say it's time to research something!  Best of all, I didn't grade it!  A lot of times, especially with gifted kids, students are offended if I don't grade something.  They didn't even bat an eye this time when I told them I just wanted us to learn; I wasn't going to evaluate the final projects.
Fifth graders presenting on autism
Sixth graders researching their topic 
Here are links to some of the Google Presentations:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Redemption

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
This week's theme is REDEMPTION.
The Seventh Most Important Thing
     Some of my favorite stories are about redemption and transformation.  I love the idea of second chances, hearing someone's backstory and feeling empathetic, making something beautiful out of something ugly or discarded, etc.  That is why I loved The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall.  I read it on the plane in one sitting on the way to visit my in-laws in Florida.  From Goodreads:
 It was a bitterly cold day when Arthur T. Owens grabbed a brick and hurled it at the trash picker. Arthur had his reasons, and the brick hit the Junk Man in the arm, not the head. But none of that matters to the judge—he is ready to send Arthur to juvie for the foreseeable future. Amazingly, it’s the Junk Man himself who offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service . . . working for him.

Arthur is given a rickety shopping cart and a list of the Seven Most Important Things: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. He can’t believe it—is he really supposed to rummage through people’s trash? But it isn’t long before Arthur realizes there’s more to the Junk Man than meets the eye, and the “trash” he’s collecting is being transformed into something more precious than anyone could imagine. . . .
     I won't give away what the Junk Man had up his sleeve, or exactly how Arthur's anger dissolved into forgiveness and a sense of purpose - I'll let you discover those things.  What I will tell you is that this book will make you feel hopeful and inspired.
       Of course, this brings me to the ultimate story of redemption and second chances.  We have been redeemed through Jesus Christ who somehow, some way loved us with enough compassion and ferocity in all our imperfections and shortcomings that He gave us all a second chance.  A hope for a purposeful, fulfilling, everlasting life with Him.  Thank you, Lord, for taking the broken, discarded, junky pieces of our lives and transforming them into a shiny masterpiece.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Nonfiction Wednesday

  Join Alyson and others at Kid Lit Frenzy for a nonfiction picture book bonanza each week!
Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution
Who knew that the outcome of the American Revolution could have been influenced by a baker?! Food sure can be a powerful weapon, though, when you're hungry. Christopher Ludwick was a German-American who was well-known for baking delicious gingerbread. He was also patriotic and wanted to help the Revolution. However, he wasn't exactly in the right shape to serve as a soldier. George Washington trusted him, though. When Ludwick saw the hungry enemy armies, he fed them, and many switched sides! The Author's Note is interesting, and I loved that the illustrator, Vincent X. Kirsch was inspired by his visual food stylist background and designed the illustrations to resemble gingerbread cookies.
Trombone Shorty

Troy Andrews (aka "Trombone Shorty") tells the story of his inspirational neighborhood in New Orleans and his musical family and how they set the stage for his own music. At first, he had to make his own instruments, but then found a broken trombone. He was ready to play! Bryan Collier's explanation of his beautiful illustrations and the Author's Note about his humble upbringing and success add to this lively and inspirational story.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Slice of Life - My Dad Has a Country Heart

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about using the mentor text, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart, in my classroom.  I wrote my own as my students tried out the form.  However, I only got as far as spring at first.  This week, I'm sharing the rest with you.   
My Dad Has a Country Heart
And in summer
the sunlight
dapple-dotted the pond,
and the once fuzzball ducklings
grew to be
sleek and white,
cruising silently through the water,
leaving rippled Vs
behind them.
We'd ride bareback
bounce-jouncing to the rhythm
of "Splish-splash
I was taking a bath
long about a Saturday night..."
Dad's strong sinewy arms
wrapped around me,
holding the reins.
And in fall
when the tree-line turned
from green to gold
and hay bales
were ready to be thrown-stacked
into the musty barn,
We'd gather the dogs,
put our boots
and camouflage on,
and sleep-step into
the truck.
Sugar, our English Setter
would whine-tremble in her spot
on the truck bed floor,
ready to go pheasant hunting
on Thanksgiving morning.
And in winter
the snow piled up high,
drifting against the skeletons
of hedge bushes,
the coats of the horses
thick with fur,
We'd head out
early in the morning
to feed the animals,
knocking ice out of water buckets,
our breath curl-steaming
in the icy air.
On the way inside,
we'd pile firewood
into leather carriers,
anxious to feel the warmth
of the stove.
Today, my dad still
smiles his James Dean smile
and has strong hands and lanky legs,
and we love to reminisce
about my growing up days,
our horseback-riding,
country days.
My dad has a country heartand he shared that heart with me.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - Mercy

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
This week's theme is MERCY.
     I was struggling coming up with a theme topic this week, and then I read Katherine Sokolowski's post.  Yes!  We need mercy and forgiveness in our lives so badly.  We are constantly falling short of expectations - our own, others', God's.   In our Bible study of Mark, there have been so many merciful things Jesus said, even when those around Him didn't deserve it.  He loved them.  He loves us.  We don't deserve His love and mercy, but we get it anyway.
      In Mark, chapter 10, Bartimaeus called out to Jesus as He passed by the blind man in Jericho.  He shouts, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  The people around him rebuked him.  We talked in class about how they were probably thinking Bartimaeus was disruptive, embarrassing, and improper.  They just wanted him to be quiet.  Instead of ignoring or scolding him, Jesus calls him over and says "What do you want me to do for you?"  When the blind man asked for his sight, Jesus gave it to him, and Bartimaeus followed him along the road.
     Yesterday, I had a student who was having a rough time.  He was disrupting class, and it was tough to remain composed.  I could feel the frustration mounting, and I could feel the discomfort of my class, but then, with a lot of Divine help,  I looked at him with mercy.  I took a deep breath and asked, "What do you need?  What can I do for you?"  The pressure that was mounting in him obviously dissipated.  He looked at me, sighed, and answered, "I don't know.  I'm having a rough day."  We were able to regroup, and even though it didn't go perfectly after that, he got somewhat back on track and was able to think through some of the research he needed to do for his project.  
     In our world today, we need more mercy.  Thank you, God, for showing us the power of mercy.  Give us the strength to receive it.  Give us the grace to give it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nonfiction Wednesday

  Join Alyson and others at Kid Lit Frenzy for a nonfiction picture book bonanza each week!
Leaflets Three, Let It Be!: The Story of Poison Ivy
Kids will be interested to know that poison ivy isn't all bad - it can make a good support for nests, provide shade, nectar for bees, food for insects, white berries for hungry birds in the winter, and more. The oily chemical, urushiol, which gives approximately 85% of us a nasty rash, isn't harmful to animal who depend on it. I loved the painted paper illustrations, given a 3-D effect by layering and photographing the result.
Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
Kids are going to love learning about Robert Miller, aka "Count Victor Lustig," a swindler, con artist, and schemer. I loved Greg Pizzoli's illustrations done in pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop. Interesting sidebars are included throughout the book on prohibition, the Eiffel Tower and its critics, Hotel de Crillon in Paris, counterfeiting, and Alcatraz. This book would pair perfectly with Al Capone Does My Shirts. I'll be purchasing this one for my classroom library.

Monday, October 5, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.
Bear and Duck
Bear and Duck by Katy Hudson

I chuckled all the way through this story of a bear who wants to be a duck. The illustrations are just too cute! Who can resist the illustration on the next to the last page: "And you make a really good bear..."
Coming Home
Coming Home by Greg Ruth
A boy tugs at your heartstrings while he looks desperately through the crowds of soldiers returning home. He sees reunions going on all around him. Finally, he spots his mother! The illustrations and story are so full of emotion. Beautiful!
In a Village by the Sea
In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu
This is such an interesting picture book. I read through it several times. I'm thinking it would make a great mentor text for writing about looking at things closer or following a pet or baby to see what he/she sees. The dog in this story is just delightful. Love the illustrations! Reminds me a little of Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg.
The Moon is Going to Addy's House
The cut-paper collages in this book are just captivating and steal the story. When I read that Ida Pearle has a background in figurative drawing, it all made sense - the pictures were such a study in movement and form. I read this the week of the Supermoon Lunar Eclipse!
 Ballet Cat The Totally Secret Secret


Sparkles has a hard time telling Ballet Cat what he really thinks of ALWAYS playing ballet. Fortunately, Ballet Cat values her friend and is willing to compromise. I love how Bob Shea can express such clear emotions through simple changes in characters' eyes.


Like The and Only Ivan, Crenshaw takes you on an emotional journey and exploration of friendship, home, family, and hope. I loved the premise of this book - Crenshaw, Jackson's imaginary friend (a large cat), shows up when Jackson needs him. And boy, does Jackson need him - his family is going through hard times. The short chapters and poignant moments reminded me a lot of The One and Only Ivan. Several books come to mind that could accompany Crenshaw: Beekle, Marilyn's Monster, Yard Sale, and How to Steal a Dog. 
  The Paris Architect
It amazes me that authors can still write about the Holocaust in a completely unique way. This story was fascinating. It was about a gifted architect who was asked to design hiding places for Jews during the Nazi occupation in Paris. Lucien Bernard wrestles with pride, fear, and his conscience throughout the story. I was constantly on edge while listening to the audio - convinced he would be captured and killed! This novel has everything - suspense, love, heroism, tragedy, and heart.

The Marvels
The Running Dream