Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let the Hibernation Begin!!!

 It is thought that hibernation was once a shared characteristic among all mammals, and then we humans lost the ability to hibernate,- but it still might be in our genes.  Steven Swoap

I despise the cold!  For one who has lived in Ohio their entire life, I ask you, "How did this vile contempt for the cold begin?"  I believe it stems from a hypothermia incident while white-water rafting in Wyoming in my early days of teaching.  That incident forever changed my internal heating system, and I now dress in multiple layers from November until late April.  I am considerate in that I don't make everyone bow to my warmth issues, but I tend to come home from school and stay indoors for the rest of the evening.

I've found that the winter does provide one benefit...I read tons during the winter.  Reading is a part of our household.  Our anthem is "READERS ARE LEADERS!"  We have a family reading time from 7-7:30 nightly.  Books are plentiful, along with weekly trips to the library.  My favorite genre is non-fiction, because I can read a chapter or two, marinate, and come back to it.  A side benefit is that non-fiction is a genre my husband and I can share together.

But, the holiday breaks are great for reading fiction.  Once the busiest of the season is over, I lay on the couch with my blanket, coffee, a blazing fireplace, and get totally lost in my book.  This vacation has opened my eyes to the possibilities of reading fiction more.

During the drive down to North Carolina, I was completely absorbed in the book Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  Next, my aunt loves mysteries and her shelves were filled with them.  I picked up Honeymoon by James Patterson, read it completely on Christmas Day. (Major rain storm knocked out their tv/cell phone service, and I realized at the end I had already read it.)  She also had a book on Queen Elizabeth/Princess Di comparisons.  While it was pretty dry, that topic continues to fascinate.  I finished that in one day.  The drive home was awful because of no reading material.

What I've noticed about myself is that when I begin reading fiction, nothing else matters except reading that book. I could be organizing my kids' rooms, my room, putting the Christmas decorations away, and more.  But, my winter hibernation has begun.  Tuesday, I made myself a goal.  I needed to get caught up on some emails, and begin some school projects that I'm putting off before I could "have" my reward...READ.  It worked!  I accomplished so much and was able to finish my book.  I'm going to be on the look for some good fiction to read in 2010.  Happy Hibernating!!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Great Joy!

I love Kate DiCamillo! I "met" her many years ago when I read Because of Winn Dixie. Winn Dixie and Opal warmed my heart in such a way that I can still "see" Winn Dixie's doggy smile when think of him. After my first experience with Kate's book, I actively sought out her other works. She has been busy...She has a wonderful beginning chapter book series about a lovable pig named Mercy Watson that transitional readers can really enjoy.

This year I read The Tiger Rising with a small group "promising" fourth grade students. The book was the catalyst for the best book discussion with young students I have ever had. The students experience with the book was so real, so authentic, so joyful that they would come running in from recess all red-faced and winded to discuss the latest development in the story. Sistine, Rob, and Willie May became friends of ours for whom we cared deeply.

Like avid readers, when we finished The Tiger Rising, this group wanted more! Next we wanted to read, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. I had not read the book before, so I asked my colleagues what they thought of the book. I heard from them that the book was challenging because of the vocabulary and the story's circular framework over time. Tigger, my youngest son, and I love to listen to books on CD. I checked Edward Tulane out from the library and we listened to the amazing story in the car every day. We loved it and I knew my promising readers would as well....if they listened to it as they "read" it. I felt that we needed to keep the momentum going. I wanted to continue to give them the strong message that reading is fun, engaging...JOYFUL! They listened to the CD in their classroom during their reading workshop and we discussed, sketched, and recorded important information in our journals during our brief 30 minute lessons. It was magical!

Two weeks before Winter Break, I found another gem by Kate DiCamillo, Great Joy. This moving picture book is a wonderful story about a little girl who spots a homeless accordion player and his monkey on the street corner. She worries about them and eventually invites them to see her Christmas play performance. The man and his monkey come and stay for the reception following. It is a heartwarming story that is beautifully illustrated by the same man who did the artwork for Edward Tulane. This gem also included the book on CD and...drum roll please...a incredible interview with the author, my new BFF, Kate DiCamillo.

I shared this book with all of my promising readers as well as Shelly's fourth grade class. We carefully listened to and discussed the interview over 3 days. It was powerful. The students and their teacher took her message to heart. In order to be a writer you need to do two things: read all the time and write every day. I have the wonderful opportunity to go into this classroom every day and that is exactly what they are doing...reading and writing every day. Simple, but powerful stuff.

In thinking about my latest experience with Kate DiCamillo's books, I can't help but feel validated. As a Reading Specialist, I feel strongly that our focus needs to be on create joyful experiences with books. So many remedial reading programs focus on the skills, strategies, and levels that young readers need to have in order to read. In our efforts to "tool" them up, we forget what made us "real" readers...the Joy! Thanks Kate for creating books that bring JOY to us all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Poetry Friday

Merry Christmas!
There's nothing like the wonder and excitement of Christmas morning as children rush from their beds to the Christmas tree. One can't describe the tales and stories they weave as they try to figure out Santa's path around the globe and how he came down the chimney. Enjoy this time with your friends and family today and this week.
Celebrate those special moments, those special times.

Family Joys

Christmas is filled with special joys,
And the very best of all
Is contemplating those dear to us,
And the memories we recall.
We often think at Christmas time
Of people, affectionately,
And we realize how blessed we are
To have you in our family.

By: Joanna Kunchs

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry Saturday?

Santa came last night to the Archer household, bringing a trip instead of toys. We're heading to the Carolinas Monday(have you seen how much snow they've received!!!?) to go tubing, the Biltmore Estate, and visit relatives. Since we couldn't pack until Santa came(which I should be doing while everyone is outside making a snowman!), my husband crafted a poem to help Santa explain the trip. Addyson found it early this morning(before 7am on a Saturday!!!!!), and read it to us.

Twas the week before Christmas, and wouldn't you know
The tree was all lit, and it had started to snow.

The elves were all working away on their toys,
while Santa checked his list of good girls and boys.

A couple of kids soon caught his attention.
The ones his elf Ellie had happened to mention.

Addyson and Austin were the names of this pair,
And Santa had sent Ellie to keep an eye on them there.

At their home in Powell, on Watson Way.
Santa hoped they could stay nice until Christmas Day.

But he had reasons to worry, reasons to fret.
After all, Christmas was a week away yet.

Austin was already bored, with no school, nothing to do.
Santa heard Addyson exclaim "I'm bored too!"

Santa and Ellie worked for hours together,
to make this the kids' best Christmas ever.

A family adventure, the two had agreed,
was the perfect solution for this Christmas need.

So Austin and Addy, with parents in tow
would head out on Monday for some fun in the snow.

Some skiing, some tubing, some skating, who knows?
depends on how cold, and how the wind blows.

Or maybe some mini-golf, or bowling or wall-climbing?
Boy, Santa sure was getting tired of rhyming.

Then off to a castle, fit for a queen.
All lit up for Christmas, like nothing they've seen.

"But what about family, and time spent together?"
Ellie wondered out loud, as she checked the weather.

"So spend time with Aunt Dot," Santa was quick to suggest.
"And Uncle Steve and the horses, that would be best!"

"And bring Grandma and Grandpa Archer too."
Santa proclaimed, "That's the thing to do."

So Santa packed his sleigh early, and took to the skies.
To deliver and early Christmas surprise.

With Ellie's help, and his reindeer, all eight,
he set his plan in motion to make their Christmas great.

He left presents beneath Addyson and Austin's tree,
But the best gift of all couldn't be wrapped, you see.

For fun times together, don't need ribbon and bows,
And can't be delivered by Rudolph, with his shiny nose.

So pack your bags, kids, dress warm and get ready to roll!
On an adventure from Santa and all his elves at the North Pole.

Have fun, be safe on the snow and the ice.
And remember Ellie and Santa are watching,

Merry Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone.

Archer Accountability Plan Update: I haven't made as much progress in the book Sent as I would have liked. I'm taking it with me on vacation. However, I do have the article written, edited, and hope to send it off in January. So... I'm 50/50 on my accountability plan.
Thanks for checking!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Of Primary Importance for Intermediate Treasures

Throughout the past year, I've been reading blog posts referencing Ann Marie Corgill and her book, Or Primary Importance. While at NCTE, I was fortunate to listen to her speak about an author's apprentice and mentor texts in the writing workshop. She recently moved from teaching primary to sixth graders and I embraced the one line she spoke towards the end: "I have found that whether I am teaching first graders or sixth graders, both age groups need similar structures and strategy lessons. All we as teachers need to do is "bump" it up to the appropriate level."

I went to the library, read her book, and have purchased my own to mark it up. She speaks with sincerity, as she tries to create purposeful writing experiences in her classrooms. While I am currently teaching fourth grade, I am going to use her studies as a GPS for my writing themes in the new year.

Mary Lee, from A Year of Reading, has been sharing her ideas for Literary Essay thinking. Since we both are in the same district, I've been marinating on the Literary Essay study in writing, also. I'm going to approach it through a poetry focus in 2010, while incorporating visual arts and technology. I want poetry to be a genre they are choosing to read and write throughout the year, not during poetry month. We've been studying words: how they sound, how they look, how they mean, and how they feel when we say them. Using this schema, my goal is for them to find words and themes to use in their writing. Ann Marie recommends front-loading and previewing the genre before we write, so my treasures have been sharing favorite poems. We've been using an Elmo machine to project the poems. I'm amazed at how engaged they seem when they are doing the sharing.

The first two weeks back, I'm going to share mentor texts that depict various types of poems and have them try them in their independent time. I want these texts to be touch points for my treasures to reference as they begin to craft their ideas and mold their poetry thoughts. I'm also thinking of ways to use different media as a mode of expressing their craft. Fourth graders still want to use paint, clay, and other art medium, so I want to tap into that intelligence. The technology component is the area I'm working on. Our computer time has been limited, so I'm problem-solving some ways to include this component, also. Thanks, Mary Lee, for sparking my thinking! You always do!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Magic of Elves

As a teacher, I vowed I was not going to get caught up in the elf mania when my kids got to that age. But, oh how one's mindset changes, when it's your own child asking for an elf. A has never been one to ask for any toys. She plays with the small little items, but not any specific toy. Until the Monday after Thanksgiving...

She came home spinning all these stories that her friends were telling her about the elf. As all parents do, I thought this would pass. It did not. Instead, daily she would come home from school with another way to get an elf to come. She logged onto to and wrote a letter to Santa for an elf. She prayed at night for an elf.
Wednesday, she said, "Mama, this kid at Latchkey said for me to put my letter by the chimney so Santa may check for elf letters."

I must admit...I caved. However, I used it to my advantage. Her elf wrote her a letter giving specific instructions: cleaning her room, eating all her dinner, etc... A and her elf have been together non-stop. It has even become an authentic writing experience. She has written letters to her elf asking questions and her elf replies.

Sunday at Scramblers, she turned her placemat over, drew her elf, and then described her. "Ellie Elizabeth Archer is my elf. This is what she ate yesterday a milky way and a starbust." Authentic writing at its best. Perhaps this elf thing has some learning opportunities after all.
A little magic never hurt anyone. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


Eleven days ago, I returned from Philly. After hosting 22 people at my house for Thanksgiving, completing progress reports, and dealing with a raging sinus infection, my head is still spinning, but my hopes and dreams for my students are so vibrant, so clear, I can taste them. While I was there, I experienced the best professional development I have ever been a part of in my 23 years in education...I attended the NCTE conference for the first time.

One of the most rewarding parts for me at the conference was the opportunity to network with other colleagues, teachers, authors, professional writers, and poets from around the United States and beyond. My friend, Shelly, and I chose to go to this particular conference way back in May after talking to colleagues who have been attending for years. The travel time allowed for us to have an opportunity to discuss best literacy practices for our "treasures" at school. When we arrived, we immediately broadened our circle and sought out several other teachers from our district. As the conference proceeded, our circle widened once again. We went to sessions that were being presented by two colleagues from our district. After the energizing session, our network grew once again. We met authors and bloggers that we love and respect so much that we consider them dear friends (see photos). Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, our circle grew once more. We met and talked to Ralph Fletcher, Julie Andrews (Yes, my favorite movie star of all time from the Sound of Music), Lester Laminack, The Sisters, Katie Wood-Ray, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Georgia Heard and John Selznick just to name a few. I was part of "The Literacy Club." This conference celebrated literacy and learning by inviting the best in the field. It allowed me to confirm, refine, and stretch my thinking and learning with others in a unique way that I will forever treasure. The conference is in Orlando in 2010...Is it too early to pack my bags now?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Putting Myself Out There

I shared with my class today how I couldn't remember what was happening in my book Sent. They brainstormed reasons why I wasn't very far when I clearly enjoy this author...not interested, sick, read at school, a lot of home stuff to do, and more. I asked them for help to keep me accountable. I promised to read a chapter every night, post-it my thinking, and share the next day.

I also did this with an article I've been meaning to write since September. Using the Elmo, I shared my thinking and notes, where I quickly write everything that comes to mind. Next, I organize it into a sequence that the reader will understand. As I was sharing my thinking, they were getting the analogy that I was trying to make. Tomorrow, I'm going to begin a shared writing experience.

My goal is for my treasures to understand that authentic writing takes time. Authentic writing is messy. Authentic writing needs an audience.

Day One: of the Mrs. Archer Accountability Action Plan. We'll see where it takes us.