Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Watch out! I've got my spy book!"

I love when everything goes right! This week, after over 9 months of planning, children's author, professional writer and unofficial comedian, Lester Laminack came to our school for 2 whole days. As the chair of the Literacy Committee, I helped organize this amazing event for our students and staff. This was a new, scary experience for me, but I am so glad that I took the plunge.

In preparation for his visits, our teachers decorated the hallways like Christmas was a comin'. There were beautiful displays! Little "first grade" snowmen adorn with the kids' photos were tacked up all along the main corridor to welcome our new friend, Lester. There were displays of interesting collections of 100 that included snowflake chains, 100 ways to say "Hello!", equations that equal 100 and much more. Upstairs, there was poetry written by children, life stories inspired by the author, precious "doily" snowmen and even podcasts that were done on student laptops. The school climate was electric!

Lester is a pro! During his time with our Pinney students, he established his expectations right from the start. He crouched down in front of them and looked every student directly in the eye and said with his thick, serious southern drawl, "While I am here, you will be kind to one another. That means you will not be rude! You will not try to talk over someone. You will not prevent someone else from participating. I will not tolerate rudeness!" With eyes as big as saucers, the kids, big and small, nodded that they got the message! Then, as if he had been stung by a bee, he then propelled himself into ACTION. For eight 45 minutes sessions over two days, he preformed. Sometimes he stood on one leg in a yoga pose. Other times his thin legs were turned in pigeon toed and he would sway back and forth like a young child, while he shared, entertained, acted, explained and inspired our students and staff to write!

Although it is difficult to explain his sessions, because most of the time his thinking was like his body, a blur of motion. (He explained to the children that his brain is wired differently. He has A.D.D.). One common theme was carefully, artfully woven throughout his presentations...You can write and I am going to show you how. With all the drama one man can muster up, he whispered to the children that he was going to let them in on a little secret....He's a spy and he has a spy notebook! He showed them how he keeps it in his back pocket and everyone thinks it is his wallet. In his spy notebook with his carefully concealed spy pen, he records real observations about real people. He proceeded to show us all how his spy notes allow him to record observations that he can use later to weave amazing stories.

Watch out! Our students and staff now have Lester Laminack inspired "spy notebooks and pens" (aka $.25 pads from Big Lots and Bic pens)in our pockets. But, more importantly, we have Lester's messages and memories of his visit carefully etched in our hearts.

PS He also did a hour and one half professional development session after school. I will blog about that at a later date. Of course, all I have to do is look at the notes in my "spy notebook."

Friday, January 29, 2010

All Things At Once

Previously, I wrote about my avid interest in news and news media.  I wake up every morning early enough to catch a hour of my favorite news show, Morning Joe on MSNBC.  Since we only subscribe to the newspaper on the weekends, this is how I keep up with the current news and  political viewpoints on all issues.  Mika Brzezinski is one of the cohosts, so I wanted to read her new book she wrote about working moms and choices we make.  While we strive to have All Things At Once, it's difficult to balance.

She writes about choices she has made and how they are right for her family.  She tried staying home for a while, but her family was miserable. She cannot cook, clean, or fold laundry very well.   She shares her struggles at being a woman in the media and trying to always prove herself worthy of every story, every promotion, and describes her constant feelings of self-doubt.  The one line I remember when she was describing her climb and fall up the journalistic ladder was..."Keep your head down and let your work speak for itself."  Her daughters realized being a journalist is who their mom is.  They understand that the news stories complete her.  Her daughters are seeing a strong women compete in the media world and succeed.

As a mother myself, I am constantly fighting that working mom guilt.  I try to be balanced all the time between work and school, but one always wins.  I even tried to make jello jigglers in the letter A for my daughter's birthday treat instead of the quick Kroger ones.  A week of nightly jello making, 10 pans wasted, and we ended up buying the cutout bears at Kroger, which she wanted in the first place.  The kitchen may never be where I succeed in life, yet it's not for lack of trying.

BUT, my children will see a woman leave for school everyday with books in her bag.  My children will have a love for learning because they see me researching online.  My children will learn from experimenting because I try my school ideas on them first.  My children will have a passion for reading because their mother is always reading, going to the library, and buying books.  My children will see someone who is excited for those one or two weekends where I can attend professional conferences to become better at my practice.  My children are loved and know that being a teacher is who I am.  While I am a wife and mother first, being a teacher is the other third that completes me.  For every woman out there, All Things At Once is a motivational book to read, to think, and to celebrate your choice and place in this world. 

The more you praise and celebrate your life, 
the more there is in life to celebrate. 

Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Making Connections

Last night I finished a book that my friend gave me for Christmas. Cowboy & Wills by Monica Holloway, is a true love story about a boy and a dog. Sounds simple right? Well that is what I thought until about half way through the book. Wills, the boy, has autism and his constant companion, a golden retriever puppy, Cowboy, has doggy lupus. Can you see where this is heading? I did and I couldn't stop reading until I was finished.

It got ugly...not the book, ME! Big ugly sobs were flying vertically out of my eyes as the author described her own emotions of telling her precious son, Wills, about his beloved, Cowboy. This coupled with congestion that would put the Hoover Dam to shame, I was a hot mess and I loved every minute of it. At one point, it was down right comical. I was crying so hard that my glasses were actually fogging up, making it impossible for me to read. I tried taking them off, which helped clear the fog, but then the words on the page were so blurred I still couldn't read. I finally perfected a simple procedure of wipe, blow, wipe, etc. It reminded me of the time when I was a kid and my mom's windshield wiper broke. She had her balled-up jacket in one hand wiping the windshield as she steered with the other. Needless to say, we made it to our destination that day, and I finished the book.

This experience made me think about the powerful connections readers make with books and how important and motivating that connection is...As an educator that works with promising readers, kiddos who learning to read has not been easy, I strive to find books that children can connect with in their own lives. Many of my readers haven't had an experience with a book that compels them to laugh out loud, get mad or even, as in my case, get ugly!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Alvin Ho: Allergic To Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters

He CRACKS me up!!   Monday, after a delicious breakfast visit with my blogger friends, my family headed to the library.  While they were looking for their choices, I was thinking of my treasures as I perused the shelves.  I grabbed Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters on the way out.  (I, too, am allergic to camping!)

I began reading it that evening and was laughing hysterically.  My husband (an avid camper who does not read fiction) picked it up and finished it in one sitting. He, too, found humor in this quick read.   I've been raving about it to my class and will bring it to school tomorrow.

Alvin is like Scaredy Squirrel, Moxy Maxwell, and Clementine all rolled in one human form.  He makes lists, plans, and thinks of the worst possible scenarios on every adventure.  Alvin has an imagination that can take him to Mesopotamia during a dream, enlists his uncle for secret survival tips, and persuades his entire recess gang to go "camping" on the playground in their underwear.  I can definitely see my boys and girls laughing hysterical during reading workshop.  Because I think my treasures could identify with Alvin, my next read aloud may be  Alvin Ho:  Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things! 

I'm at the point where Alvin thinks he's in a tornado, when actually it's a thunderstorm.  Gotta go finish it before tomorrow!  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Iweb Wonder Adventure

  Iweb is an intranet site (I think...?) that can be viewed throughout our district and our tech specialist shared some of the possibilities with me.  So Monday, my treasures and I began what I am titling, "The Iweb Wonder Adventure."  She showed us what are some of the possibilities with the project, and off they went.  They have already figured out how to add video and podcasts to their page.

Since I had not created my own, I was learning with them. (After all, they need to see us take risks in our learning, too!)  They chose their theme, created a Welcome and About Me page, and then their own blog page.  My goal is for them to write their narrative as they go through the process on the blog page, and create other blog pages for different purposes.  This will be the place where their poetic literary essay will be published.

Some of the things we learned:
1.  Some themes will only type in all caps.  That's an issue once we begin composing and publishing authentic writing works.
2.  We had some difficulty linking everyone's site together, so that will need to be worked out.

Tomorrow, I'm going to let them play and figure some things out on their own.  They are definitely tech savy!  Has anyone used this application?  Any hints, comments, suggestions would be appreciated!

Friday, January 8, 2010

I am the Weather Goddess!

Today is our very first Snow Day of the season!!  They are becoming few and far between because of new state guidelines, but this was not a normal storm.  Others doubted my prediction that we would have at the very least a 2 hour delay and emailed me last night that they would see me tomorrow.  (I'm not naming any names, but you know who you are!)  I am very in tune with the national weather, see what is heading our way, and knew that we would get a huge hit.  Even when it began yesterday with early dismissals, a delay or cancellation was in our forecast.  Beginning at 5:15am, I began checking online and by 5:30am, I knew that we would have a snow day!!   I AM THE WEATHER GODDESS!!!

As we began our first week, my class and I started looking at recurring themes in our reading and writing.  Our school will be hosting Lester Laminack at the end of the month, so I used his Snow Day picture book as a mentor text for our poetry study.  We looked at various forms of poetry and began writing some of our own with a snow theme. 

 Our literacy committee would like for each classroom to have a display, where they used Lester's thinking for read alouds or his picture books as mentor texts.  During my drives on vacation, I thought of an artistic expression piece that interweaves reading and writing.  Using marbles and white paint, each student "rolled" a snow scene on blue background.  Next week, they will sketch the scene with markers and use that picture as inspiration for writing poetry.  So far, they have enjoyed using a theme as inspiration for their writing. 

For everyone in Central Ohio off from school,  enjoy your hibernation day!!  I've graded some papers, put some jigsaw puzzles together, and am off to read a book.  Happy Snow Day one and all!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tribute to Jon Scieszka

A Year of Reading is kicking off a celebration to Jon Scieszka for his work as the First Children's Ambassador.

As a primary teacher, I fell in love with his take on fairy tales. From The Stinky Cheese Man to the True Story of the Three Little Pigs, the point of view he took as he crafted his fairy tales was often the one that we overlooked. I mean, seriously, did we ever think about the wolf before he wrote about him? As I moved into more intermediate grade levels, I marveled at Science Verse and Math Curse. His use of math and science concepts in a language and story form most would understand was remarkable.

But, what I most admire him about was the creation of the website, Guys Read. When I began teaching third and fourth grade, my boys were not as engaged in reading as I would have hoped. I was given some professional reading on boys and literacy to help me think through some strategies for my treasures. Through those books, I came across a website he created. It validated my boys and their interests. I understand their need for graphics, action, and a quick moving read. Jon Scieszka created a website for teachers, parents, and treasures to find books that will meet their needs. It validates graphic novels. It validates those who enjoy science fiction. It validates them.

Thanks Jon, for your work as the first Children's Literature Ambassador.