Author Visit

Friday, a mom of a student I taught last year visited my middle school classroom. Kristyn Kusek Lewis. She is also a writer for adults and a freelance magazine writer. I’ve read both her books and recommend them if you are looking for a fun beach read!

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I enjoyed hearing about her work on her third novel which comes out in January. Just like Judy Bloom, she starts a new notebook for each new novel and jots ideas into it. If ever stuck, these ideas help. And she held up a flower covered notebook to show us hers.

She shared the cover that just got approved for her new book. A red door, ajar. A flower pot was added to the lower, right cover to make it appear more of a door of a house in the country, as this novel is set in central Virginia.

“This is my homework today” and she held up about 30 pages, each with the words formatted on the page like in a novel. “I need to reread to ensure it makes sense and no typos.” She explained how she recently fixed a scene where the couple was driving home. In an earlier draft, the husband was driving. Then she changed it be the wife driving. Yet, at the end of the scene, it still said “He pulled the key out of the ignition”. Oops. She caught the mistake and fixed the pronoun to make sense.

Along with doing the final edits for this 3rd novel, she just sent in a pitch to Washingtonian magazine. She explained that a pitch is a one page summary of a magazine idea. She hopes to get an affirmative reply and then will have a deadline to write so many words for the article. Fingers crossed!

She explained how she got the idea for this recent magazine pitch. She saw a photo on Instagram by the National Zoo. The zookeepers were making toys for the animals. She interviewed the zookeepers and has an interesting story now to share, hopefully in Washingtonian Magazine! She liked meeting the zookeeper so much that now she plans to have a character in her fourth novel be a zookeeper. All because she saw a photo on Instagram, proving writing ideas are everywhere!

She ended by giving the class these writing prompts and a writing assignment:

Writing Prompts – Pick one – then write, and be sure to describe using your 5 senses

  1. ONE INCH FRAME – think of something you could describe that fits into a 1-inch frame…write about it!
  2. Write a THANK YOU note to someone
  3. Write 3 questions you want to ask your Principal.
  4. Write about the things on your bedroom floor
  5. Write as many ch- words as you can think of. Pick one and write about it.

I set the timer for 10 minutes and we all WROTE!  I used my time to write a THANK YOU (#2) to Kristyn.

When the timer went off, I asked, “Who chose prompt #1? #2? #3? #4? #5?” I was amazed that in a class of 16, ALL 5 prompts got chosen. I always hated in school when the teacher assigned a prompt. But maybe because only 1 was offered. Having 5 to choose from got ALL in my classroom to write for 10 minutes!

Thanks for teaching my students and me, Kristyn!

 

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Kwame!

Google Maps indicated the Ashburn Barnes and Noble was 23 miles away from my house in Arlington and it would take me 41 minutes to drive there. Despite being exhausted all day on Monday, April 30th because over the weekend I helped with our Middle School play (helped meaning being at school on Friday until 5pm, Saturday from 10am -9:30pm and Sunday from 11am – 7:30pm while my students performed three shows of The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. ), I still wanted to go. So once school ended, I headed west.

After following the voice on my app, I found the Barnes and Noble. I sat in the second row of the chairs and saved a seat for my friend who was on her way. A little after 5pm, the BUS arrived!

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Then Kwame worked his magic!! As he talked to the crowd, I learned this was his last bus tour stop. For the last 30 days, he has been on this amazing bus that looked like the Rebound Book cover to promote his newest book. He lives just down the road in Reston so it made sense that he’d end here. So glad I made the trek!

Kwame read his poetry. Randy played background guitar music. Kids were called up to play a game – as Kwame read a poem, he’d leave out a word and the kids would fill in the blank. ALL won t-shirts! We learned he is working on a book about a character who plays tennis titled, Love.  He ended having us ALL repeat after him in song…

Be a star.
In your mind.
Day and night.
And let it shine!

Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot….SWISH!!

As I was outside the store about to head home, I noticed the boys who were sitting in front of me. They were being guided onto the bus. I was so jealous! I watched as his brother and mom stepped onto the bus and took a look. As they returned to the sidewalk, I went up to them and asked, “How did you get to go on the bus?”

The boy replied, “My mom made me bring my report on Kwame and when he saw it, he said we could get a look. I didn’t want to bring it but my mom made me,” he answered.

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I love meeting children’s authors!
They are rock stars in my book!!

 

Spying on MY reading

This year I am teaching Reading 6 in Middle School so naturally, I am spending my time reading and spying on myself as I read. This was a trick I learned first from Ellin Keene in Mosaic of Thought, Heinemann, 1997 (a life-changing book for me and for the literacy world) and then reinforced by the staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Armed with the Pathways Reading book and more specifically focused the learning progressions of four skills (character traits, characters’ response to change, predicting, and author’s craft), I spied on myself as a reader Friday night.

Friday during the school day, author Alan Gratz visited my school promoting his newest book, Ban This Book.

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As I was leaving school with an autographed copy of his book, I stopped at the supply table in the back of my classroom and took time to set myself up for reading this book AND recording my thinking about it. I grabbed some post-it notes and added one to the last page of each chapter. Now for  this particular book, some of the chapters were short and the book itself is 243 pages long. And I will admit that many minutes went by as I armed my book with end-of-chapter note-taking space. However, now the book was ready. As soon as I heated up some dinner, I was ready, too, with pen in one hand and book in the other.

Friday night I sat and read the whole book! It IS a page turner and fun school story about one of my favorite things – books! And I found as I got to the end of each chapter, with that blank yellow post-it staring at me, I had a thought about the book at that moment and I jotted it down quickly before beginning the next chapter. I jotted character traits about the main and minor characters. I jotted down my predictions of what would happen next. I jotted that moment when the main character acted out of character. I jotted about times when I felt just like a character. I jotted about moves the author made to keep me reading.

It looked like this:

Then Monday night, I removed all the post-its. As I did, I sorted them into piles. All the ones about Amy Anne in a pile. Another pile for Trey and a third for Trey’s mom. I had a prediction pile and an author-craft pile. I had two favorite scenes, so I put those together. It looked like this:

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During my many visits to Institutes at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the staff developers have encouraged the use of a Reading Notebook. Since the act of reading is so invisible, the notebook is the place to make one’s thinking while reading visible to themselves and others. It is the place to hold onto thoughts, review them, grow them, revise them, and have them close at hand during a book club discussion or in front when a literary essay is being drafted.

As I looked over all the piles on my dining room table, I asked myself, what are the big ideas? I decided I had enough thinking to make two double-pages. One would be devoted to characters, their traits, my connections to them and times they acted out of character. (These are all skills defined in TCRWP Pathways to Reading book.) It ended up looking like this:

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I then took the predictions I made, my author’s craft notes, my two favorite scene and fun things I learned while reading this book and added them to look like this:

 

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I can’t wait to teach my sixth graders today. My mini-lesson will be a reminder about how, when we read, we think. One way to make our thinking visible is to stop and jot it down. Then I’ll show them how I did it! First, I set myself up for success by having a book of my choice that I was motived to read. (Somehow meeting the author hours before at my school and holding a book, signed by the author is very motivating!). Then I took time to add post-its so I’d be reminded to stop and jot. Using post-its allowed me to sort thinking into piles. It allowed me to them organize my thinking into my notebook. At the end, I added some color for fun.

Now, I am on the lookout for others who read this book thoughtfully. With my notebook in hand, I’m ready for a book club discussion. Or maybe I’ll use these pages to write a literary essay. No matter what, I know I will have fun sharing my spying on my reading with my 6th graders today!

#17 – Jarrett!

It’s a great time to be a kid, with so many great children’s authors writing books.

In my classroom, we know some authors so well.
We watched Kate DiCamilla online celebrate Mercy Watson’s birthday.
We celebrated Dot Day by reading all of Peter Reynold’s books.
We laugh along with Elephant and Piggie and the Pigeon as we enjoy all books by Mo.
We cheered when watching the live announcement of the Newbery Honor award for Pam Munos Ryan’s book, Echo.

Then today an author visited my school – Jarrett Krosoczka.
You know his books – The Lunch Lady series – Punk FarmThe Playtpus Police Squad.
(If you don’t, take time to get his books, enjoy them and then share with kids!!)
So far, at age 38, he has written and illustrated 27 books, co-authored 2, illustrated 4 and he has one coming out on May 17th (yes, I’ll be at the bookstore buying it on the 17th – exactly in one month!!)

Favorite quotes from his presentation:
“I published a book in 3rd grade and all the lessons I learned to write that book, I still use today – I brainstorm, draft, revise and edit.”

“I love to use my imagination.”

“Even after LOTS of rejection letters from publishers, I did not give up. I did not quit.”

“It’s a wonderful thing to be bored. It is important to be bored.”

“What I hope you remember from meeting me today is that my career started in school and in my free time, I used it to do what I love – write and draw. I hope you use your free time to create.”

After hearing Jarrett’s story, seeing the process he follows to create books and even watching him effortlessly sketch a few of his characters on the easel, I returned to my classroom with my class. I told them to use their iPad and explore Jarrett’s website.  In minutes, kids were collaborating to create comics and sketching ideas for animal stories. Seeing how engaged they were, I thought about how I had lessons I had planned to teach for the rest for the day but all could be held and taught tomorrow. I decided instead, we needed to be like Jarrett today and have time to “be bored”!

By 3pm, we met in a Closing Circle and shared. One pair had drafted a dog and cat comic. Another a party favor comic. One group was creating an animal school. One was sketching a rock band. All enjoyed time to be “bored” so their imagination could work and they could create!

 

Ralph Fletcher – a great writing mentor!

The summer of 2013 I got to hear Ralph Fletcher speak at TC. That day he shared this poem with us:

The Good Old Times  by Ralph Fletcher
Sometimes I remember
the good old days,
sitting on the kitchen floor
with my brothers and sister,
each on our own square
of cool linoleum.
I’m fresh from the bath,
wearing baseball pajamas.
Mom gives us a cup of milk,
two cookies, a kiss goodnight,
I still can’t imagine

anything better than that.

Click HERE to go to my Notes about Ralph’s August 2013 Keynote

That day he told us to pick our own moment, one we remember well and write a poem about it. He suggested to get started, we use HIS first two lines and HIS last two lines.

Amazingly, that day, I wrote a poem quickly!! Since that day, I have shared his poetry writing tip every year with the teachers I help to teach writing and with the students I teach.

This year and days after Veteran’s Day, I was sharing Ralph’s poem with my 3rd graders. Afterwards, I was moved to wrote this poem:

Sometimes I remember
the good old days
Our guest arrived just before 3pm
to the Atmosphere Studio Classrooms
including Ryan’s dad in his official Navy uniform
On cue, we sang “Anchors Away”
and all the military songs with gusto.
So many moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas, and friends
came to celebrate with the 3rd graders
Honoring ALL the Veterans who keep us free
I still can’t imagine
anything better than that.
 
 
Thanks, Ralph Fletcher! You are a wonderful writing mentor!

March 15 – Fan Letter to Judith Viorst

I have another blog that I started back in 2011 – http://funwithreadingandwriting.blogspot.com/   where I post my thoughts about reading and writing.

Looking back through it, I have celebrated the many times I have heard authors speak. Living just outside Washington, D.C., I attend the Annual National Book Festival and I wrote about it here and here and here.

AND I celebrated new books by my favorite authors like here with Eric Carle and here with Sarah Weeks and here with Kathryn Erskine and here with Ralph Fletcher and here with Ralph and The One and Only Ivan and here with Candice Fleming.

AND I honored favorite authors who die like here – Maurice Sendak and here – E.L. Konigsburg.

To me, authors are like rock stars! I am amazed by their writing talent. They can place words in such order to transport me to other places, times, perspectives and they keep me thinking, questioning, pondering, and trying to live better. Writers change my world and as a writing teacher, I constantly am sharing authors’ writing as mentor text for my students. Today I wrote this letter as a fan letter to one of my favorite children’s writers and poets – Judith Viorst.

Dear Mrs. Viorst,
I am a new teacher at Janney ES but not new to teaching as I started teaching Kindergarten in 1986. Your first Alexander book came out 7 years before and it was one of the first books I bought for my classroom library. I’d read it aloud to my students, we’d all laugh, and then all easily wrote about their worst or best day, inspired by your writing. As a new teacher, I appreciated having you in my classroom through your books.

Seven years later, I took my daughters, age 6 and 3 to a free lecture at the Library of Congress while on my spring break in April. You were one of the speakers, as was Niki Grimes and student writers from DCPS. That day, as my littlest sat on my lap and her sister next to us in the beautiful Library of Congress building, we realize you as a poet. Our favorite poem you shared that day was Sad Underwear! A parent of one of my students worked at C-SPAN at the time and got me the VCR tape of the event. For the following 7 years, I showed you to my students each April as we celebrated National Poetry Month and you, again, inspired my students to write stunning poetry.

I began teaching 5th grade writing at Janney ES the week before the 2014 National Book Festival. I told my new students that I was attending this event and if they were free on Saturday, they should too. “So many great authors and poets will be there. I planned to go hear Judith Viorst.” When I said this, a child said, “That’s Isaac’s grandma.” “Really?” I replied. “Yes, and she’s my grandma’s friend,” Avey said. “Really?” I guess I knew you lived in Washington, D.C. and that your grandkids go to a school. I just never thought about where. As your fan, I love that I am teaching at the school where some of your grandkids attend school!

Last week, the 4th and 5th grade students at Janney participated in state testing and as teachers, we did not moderate our homeroom students but instead, switched. This switch gave me the the pleasure of meeting Isaac and being his 4th grade teacher last Wed – Fri and again this Monday and Tuesday. Last Firday was Idol Spirit Day at Janney. The kids came dressed as someone they look up to or idolize. During our Morning Meeting, Isaac mentioned his idol is a guitarist, a few kids dressed as their moms and dads, a few as sports fan for both soccer and baseball and I wore my t-shirt from Columbia’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I told the class I go there each summer to learn how to teach writing better. Later, after testing for the day ended and I was helping Isaac with a math problem, I told him, “You know, I could have dressed up as your grandma today. I do look up to her as she helps me to write poetry.” Hearing this, a big smile came across his face.

As I end my fan letter to you, I’d like to invite you to come to Janney ES to speak to the 4th and 5th grade writers. ANYTIME! I am not sure if your schedule allows for you to do school visits. However,  I know the time would be worthwhile to the students at Janney, just as sharing your books and poems have been for me these past twenty-some years as a teacher. Feel free to email me at sally.donnelly11@gmail.com or send a note back via Isaac.

Thank you for considering this invitation and thank you for mentoring me through your writing to be a better teacher.
Your fan,
Sally

Sally Donnelly
5th Grade Writing Teacher
Janney ES

I hope she is able to visit my school and speak to my students. But either way, I’m glad I took the time to write her a fan letter. Writers really are rock stars!!

March 2 – Dr. Seuss B-Day!!

For me, Fox in Socks is the Dr. Seuss book that comes to mind every March 2nd. It was requested over and over and over again by my daughters when they were little. At least, The Tweetle Beetle Battle always had to be read before lights out each night.

“Let’s have a little talk about tweetle beetles…
What do you know about tweetle beetles? Well…
When tweetle beetles fight, it’s called a tweetle beetle battle.
And when they battle in a puddle, it’s a tweetle beetle puddle battle.
AND when tweetle beetles battle with paddles in a puddle,
they call it a tweetle beetle puddle paddle battle.
AND
When beetles battle beetles in a puddle paddle battle and the beetle battle puddle is a puddle in a bottle…
…they call this a tweetle beetle bottle puddle paddle battle muddle.
AND…
When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles…
…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle.
AND… 
Now wait a minute, Mr. Socks Fox!
When a fox is in the bottle where the tweetle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle on a noodle-eating poodle, THIS is what they call…
 …a tweetle beetle noodle poodle bottled paddled muddled duddled fuddled wuddled fox in socks, sir!
Fox in socks, our game is done, sir.
Thank you for a lot of fun, sir.”

“Again,” they would chant as I finished that funny tongue twister and close the book. Most nights, I would agree. Other times, I was too tired. Sometimes I would purposefully let pages stick together so we’d get to the end of the book very quick.

But I could never skip any part of the Tweedle, Beetle Battle because they knew it by heart and it had to be heard in its entirety. How much fun it is to read nonsense words and hear rhyming words and have your tongue tied up!

Today, my oldest is in grad school in Chicago and my youngest is in France working as a teaching assistant. And I am a 5th grade teacher. I couldn’t find my very worn copy of Fox in Sock last night so I downloaded it to my kindle to share with my 5th graders today.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss.
You published Fox in Socks in 1965 (when I was just 2 years old).
Today you would be 111 years old.
And your words live on!!

What’s your Dr. Seuss memory?

March 18 – Reflections on hearing Tony Wagner

Tony Wagner
At 10am on Saturday during the NBPTS Teaching and Learning Conference at the Washington Convention Center, over 1,000 educators gathered to listen to this strong voice in education. Writer of many books, Tony has spent many hours interviewing top business leaders, asking them what skills they want their newly hired employees to have. From these interviews, he created a list of seven major skills that companies value most:
1. critical thinking
2. collaboration – in person and virtually
3. agility/adaptability
4. initiative/entrepenurial spirit
5. can communicate strongly both orally and in writing
6. ability to access information
7. curiosity and imagination

He then stressed to this audience of teachers that we can ensure that these skills are taught if teachers incorporate the 3Ps – play, passion, and purpose – into the school day. This got me thinking.

Do I allow my 4th graders time for the 3Ps?
PLAY – One plus of the many snow days we have had in VA this winter is that we’ve had lots of indoor recess which has given me the opportunity to watch my 10 years olds play. Mancala, paper airplanes, beanie babies and white board markers have been used the most. However, it is also play when I ask groups of four to work together in science to create an image and research interesting facts related to a planet. It is play when students read and jot down thoughts as they prepare for a book club discussion. It is also play when a fruit basket and a scale is set out and students in math class must weigh each piece in grams and pounds. My natural approach to teaching by having my students do, by having hands-on learning, is play!

PASSION – I know my students’ interests, their passions,  because they read and write about them. Reading and Writing Workshop are the perfect structures that allow a teacher to know the interests of a student. In Reading Workshop, I foster students’ interests by matching kids to books related to their passion. In Writing Workshop, I teach students how to write in a variety of genres while encouraging them to write about what they know and love. For this reason, I will only work in a school that allows me to teach using the Reading and Writing Workshop structure. I guess this is my passion!

PURPOSE – My students fluently read and learned many new vocabulary words by learning all the military songs which we performed for our families and friends at our Veterans Day celebration. They researched all there is to know about a plant or herb so they can create a marketable product to sell at the 4th grade Farmer’s Market in June. Through purposeful events, learning occurs. I have made it a habit to ask WHY as I plan. This helps me to ensure that purposeful work is being done by my students. I never want them, when asked why they are doing something, to say “I don’t know. The teacher said so.” I want them to know the purpose of why they are asked to do what they do at school.

By reflecting on the 3Ps, I still have room for improvement but I am incorporating play, passion, and purpose into my school day! The by-product is that my students are learning the skills they need to be college and career ready. My students are 10 years old. I can’t even image what jobs they will be applying for in 12 years. Yet, I am confident that they will have the skills they need!
How about you?

Tony ended his talk by sharing a 7 minute preview of a documentary he is making that shows strong 21st century teaching. Look for it soon at a neighborhood theater. To see video, click here.

More info can be found at his webpage.

March 17 – Doris Kearns Goodwin

My district paid for me to attend the NBPTS Teaching and Learning Conference on Saturday in Washington DC. As the alarm went off at 5:30am on Saturday morning, I thought about not going. Who would know?  But then I rolled out of bed and I’m so glad I did! I decided I’ll share some reflections I had from attending this conference as my slices this week.

I amost did not go to hear the afternoon keynote – Historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. I was thinking how she is not a voice in education. Her books are SO thick that I have never read one, though I did like the Lincoln movie that her book was based. So I joined the 1000s of educators in the big convention center ballroom as she sat to have a discussion led by Dennis Van Roekel, NEA President. At one point, she spoke about her newest book – Bully Pulpit.

The book jacket states:
“The gap between rich and poor has never been wider…legislative stalemate paralyzes the county…corporations resist federal regulations…spectacular mergers produce giant companies…the influence of money in politics deepens…bombs explode in crowded streets…small wars proliferate far from our shores…a dizzying array of inventions speeds the pace of daily life. These unnervingly familiar headlines serve as the backdrop for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s highly anticipated The Bully Pulpit – a dynamic history of the first decade of the Progressive era, that tumultuous time when the nation was coming unseamed and reform was in the air.

I was inspired by Doris to push myself to read her newest book. She said we can go forward by looking back. Doris’ book is about a time that matches so much of what our nation is dealing with now in 2014. I’m motived to see how Teddy and Taft solved the problems of their time. Doris said that people make the problems and people are needed to solve the problems. After Doris spoke, I bought a signed copy of this 8oo+ page book. I tend to challenge myself to read this long book.As a reader, Harry Potter was the last time I read such a long book. Instead, I tend to spend my reading time mostly reading picture books and YA novels. Bully Pulpit will be a harder read but then I can tell my students honestly how I felt when I was reading a hard book.

Doris Kearns Goodwin taught me Saturday the importance of historians. We must look back and record and reflect on the past. It is the only way to see clearly into the future! I hope I can accomplish my new reading goal…I plan to start the first Saturday of Spring Break!! Wish me luck.

March 13 – Katie DiCamillo!!

Last October, I heard Kate DiCamillo speak as the Keynote at TCRWP Saturday Reunion. She shared how her story of Flora & Ulysses came to be. As she spoke, I kept thinking that it really is SO important to gather our stories, only the stories we can tell, in our Writers Notebook. Her mother and her mother’s vacuum cleaner and that almost dead squirrel found on her front stoop were then used to create this new story. We must, as writers, be like Kate, and keep gathering our stories.Who knows when we might use them!!

After hearing the backstory of this newest book of hers, I immediately bought it on Sunday once I returned to VA and started reading it aloud to my class on Monday. My 4th graders LOVED it. Needless to say, we were excited when this book then won the 2014 Newbery Award and when Kate was named Ambassador of Children’s Literature by the Library of Congress.

I’m not sure if anything gathered on this blog over the past 12 days or next 18 days will ever become more than just words on this blog, but I am glad I am gathering my stories that only I can tell.

To view her speech given at the Library of Congress’ Ambassador of Children’s Literature ceremony where she states: This happened because of a story.This happened because of a story read out loud, a story read together. So what I want to say to you today is this, stories are a glass-bottom boat ride. We sit together and look together at this world and at the worlds hidden inside of this world and looking together, listening together, helps us to connect. We are able to see each other, we open up, we change.” CLICK HERE:  http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/2014/03/video-of-week-kate-dicamillo.html

To learn more about Kate: http://www.katedicamillo.com/