"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Saturday, May 30, 2015

ReedALOUD: if: a mind-bending new way of looking at big ideas and numbers

Significant and often difficult concepts are scaled down and re-imagined so that readers can better comprehend them and their magnitude. The book starts in the milky way and narrows the scope: galaxy-solar system-planet-continents-resources-people. I focused much of our time on these four pages. 

I had the students think about how they spend the hours in the school day and how much time those activities spend. After they made estimations, I showed them a pie chart of the time allocations for each school week. This activity helped them make a connection to the concepts in the book as well as appreciate how time has different value.

Seeing that the same amount of time is spent packing up as in Art was shocking to the students. They talked about all they learned and produced in the fifty minutes in art versus the time collecting homework and filling backpacks. 

These two other pages provoked a significant amount of conversation. 

I think they are the most compelling in the book and stimulated ideas for research and social action. Unfortunately there is not enough time left in this school year. We'll see what next year brings!

*DAVID J. SMITH is a classroom teacher with over 25 years' experience teaching English, Geography, and Social Studies in grade levels from 4 to 12. He achieved recognition for his unique method of teaching seventh graders to draw maps of the entire world from memory, now published by Fablevision as a highly successful curriculum, "Mapping The World By Heart"."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Please don't stop the stories...

After last week's fabulous collaborative storytelling experience inspired by Deborah Freedman's By Mouse and Frog, I wanted to give the first graders another opportunity to flex their creative muscles. It also seemed like a good time to see what the second graders would do with the same lesson but adding additional storytelling tools. Along with the Explain Everything app, the second graders could choose to use Rory's Story Cubes (Voyages and Actions packs) and eeboo Story Cards (Robot's Mission  and Mystery in the Forest).

Here are two first graders caught telling their stories followed by their story:

Here are a few of the first and second grade stories:

Junie B. Jones and the Girls Restroom

I love when students create stories inspired by the ones they are reading. These two readers sat down and started to write this one in the library yesterday. One thing that I know happens is a huge bubble bath party in Lucille's grandmother's bathroom.  I can't wait to read how it turns out.  

Third Grade Storytellers

This afternoon, the third graders engaged in collaborative storytelling. Their visits to the library were part of the Thursday Afternoon Program and therefore fall outside my traditional curriculum. It's often a time to try something new. I have been having so much fun with the storytelling being done by the first and second graders that I decided to give the third graders an opportunity to flex their storytelling muscles. I used the same Rory's Story Cubes and eeBoo Create a Story card sets as the younger classes, but I brought in a different technology tool for these students. They used Storybird, a digital storytelling tool that provides art as inspiration for stories. 
It was interesting to watch the students choose their storytelling tools.  The technology was not always the main draw. In one class only eight students chose the laptops. My only parameters were that it had to be collaborative, no more than three students in a group, and that no one be left out.  It all worked smoothly!

Here's a snapshot of the afternoon:

Here are some of the students' Storybird stories. They still need to work on grammar and punctuation, but I wanted to keep reading. What about you?

Here are first pages from stories that hold real promise:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wherein the lunch bunch book group visits with Anne Ursu via Skype

The 5th grade lunch bunch book group had an engaging and dynamic time reading The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. Each week, this exuberant bunch would arrive spilling through the door with questions and statements.  It was a great way to begin our discussion.  

Today, these readers visited with Anne Ursu and had a few of their burning questions answered (they could have gone on much longer, but needed to get back to class).  Anne was wonderful. She answered each question thoughtfully and succinctly and left these readers satisfied.  She also imparted strategies for writing - I am eager to see how this knowledge impacts them.  

Here's information from an earlier post on the lunch bunch book group:

The Lunch Bunch Book Group has been reading The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. Each week we gather to reflect on the book, share events that surprised us, and share theories and predictions. It is often this last part that gets the students so excited. Along with discussions, the students have been using pen and paper and technology tools to express themselves.  Here are some of their projects.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ReedALOUD: Echo

After reading Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan I wanted to find the harmonica I was given as a child.  I wanted to exhale through the small holes and make music like that described in the book. I wanted to look at it closely. I wanted it to be the harmonica in this book.  So impressively has Pam Muñoz Ryan crafted a story blending fairy tale magic and history and populating the two with stories and characters that tug at our hearts that I wanted it to be real.

"Lost and alone in the forbidden Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. How their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

Richly imagined and structurally innovative, Echo pushes the boundaries of form and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories." ~From the Scholastic website

At ALA Midwinter, I heard Pam perform a reader's theatre script of an excerpt from the book. That she was reading with Sarah Weeks and Dan Gemeinhart made it even better. I was hooked. 
When time allowed and I sat down to read Echo. I didn't stop. Each page turn carries weight in this emotionally suspenseful book. I wanted to know what would happen with the characters in each story, but I also knew that I would have to let them go once I did.  I was vested in the lives of Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy. No spoiler alerts here, but know that I had to reread the ending twice, wanting to savor each moment as it passed.

Set during World War II, the stories in the book explore the effects of the war in three distinct and powerful experiences. I hope that this book inspires students to read more books on the subjects covered in EchoI read two books with my students in the last two weeks that connect with the third story in the book, Ivy's story. The books are Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss and Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.  The conversations with students around these two events (internment camps and segregation) always give me hope --armed with knowledge this next generation will make better decisions.

I am planning to put together a list of companion texts for students that are reading Echo. What texts might you add to this list?
Maybe your interest goes more in the direction of the music?  The Hohner website has a link to the German Harmonica Museum in Trossingen as well as great photos and information. Harmonicazation has some great tips on choosing and playing harmonicas.  Anyone up for some summer lessons?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ReedALOUD: By Mouse and Frog: let the stories be told!

Today, my first graders and I read by Mouse and Frog by Deborah FreedmanWe had so much fun! (You can read my review of the book on this post.)  This is a fun book to read aloud! The students loved Frog's exuberance and easily identified with Mouse's exasperation at the story being hi-jacked by Frog's ideas. After reading the book, I gave the students two options to create stories together just like Mouse and Frog.

Some used the Explain Everything App to illustrate and narrate stories together. 

Some chose to write stories together:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In the book stacks with two resident experts


I happened across two kindergarten students standing in front of the space section of the Wonder Wall discussing planets. I grabbed my iPad and asked the boys if they would share what they were talking about. I had to do some prompting, but its pretty close to what I overheard.

This is just one of many moments that make each day memorable.

ReedALOUD: Last Stop on Market Street

Today, the third graders and I read Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson.

Here's a description of the book from Matt's website: "Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them."

I love this book! The hush that occurred over three classes confirmed the power of a well-told story. Poetic verse and vibrant illustrations elevate Last Stop on Market Street to the experiential level. It feels authentic.  Having grown up in the inner city it feels familiar to me, but it presents a world not often seen by readers, some of my students included. There is much discussion about books as windows and mirrors - a window into another person's world and a mirror of one's own. This book provided both experiences for the students that I worked with today.

There is far too much to mention and still have you get to the good part of this post - the student reactions - so I will choose two things.

I appreciate how Matt wove into the story the strong sense of values and how the grandmother was passing them along in both straight-forward and subtle ways. Certainly serving others is a wonderful value, but so too are friendlessness, kindness, politeness, and generosity. The students and I had an interesting discussion about this topic.

I am in awe of the city, the people, and the beauty in both that Christian has created. The art is light yet carries depth. Each spread is a story in itself.

As I have mentioned before, this group of students are well-versed in close reading having been participants in a Mock Caldecott Committee for the last three years. They also happen to be a thoughtful and introspective group of children who are willing to share their feelings, ideas, and connections to stories. This makes them ideal partners in reading!

The students had five ways to reflect on and connect with the book. 

Using the Tellagami App, the students talked about why their connections to the story. 

Using pen and paper, the students answered three different questions: 

How have you helped others? 

 What values are your grandparents passing along to you? 

 What activities do you do with your grandparents?

See more answers here:

The last tool the students used was FlipGrid. They talked about why they think the story is important.
The password is "mrlibrary."

How have your students connected and reflected on the story?

Friday, May 15, 2015

ReedALOUD: The Case for Loving

The fourth graders and I read The Case for Loving, written by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. 

"This is the story of one brave family: Mildred Loving, Richard Perry Loving, and their three children. It is the story of how Mildred and Richard fell in love, and got married in Washington, D.C. But when they moved back to their hometown in Virginia, they were arrested (in dramatic fashion) for violating that state's laws against interracial marriage. The Lovings refused to allow their children to get the message that their parents' love was wrong and so they fought the unfair law, taking their case all the way to the Supreme Court and won!"

The Case for Loving is a well-written and empowering story made more powerful by beautiful and engaging illustrations. This books has many interesting layers -- Selina Alko and Sean Qualls are an interracial couple themselves and they collaborated on the art making it a marriage of a different kind. It's well worth it to read the notes at the end explaining their story and the marriage of their art. They also note that we are still fighting for marriage equality for all, which my students brought up before even reading the notes. The fight goes on!

Here is a peak at some of my favorite pages.
The occasional use of bold red type emphasizes important moments in the Lovings' story.

Alko's description of the community in which the Lovings grew up (Central Point, Virginia) captures its diversity in a way that the students could relate - "where people of every shade from the color of chamomile tea to summer midnight made their homes." 
The joy that Mildred felt is evident here.  

Selina and Sean have captured so much in body language, attire, and expression here.

Light, shadow, color, and expressions make this scene resonate.

The detail on the dresser is very cool, but also effectivly draws the eye toward Mildred's expression.

Again, effective use of color and style of print to emphasize the key ideas.

The diversity of the crowd protesting is important. The times they were a-changin'.

The story comes to a close where it began, with the Lovings happily back home in Virginia.

We had a powerful discussion after reading the story. The fourth graders are in the midst of a unit on the Civil Rights Movement, so this was a particularly fitting time to share this book. Part of the students' work is to put the events into a timeline and into a broader historical perspective. Last week we read Separate is Never Equal. Both of the books help the students to see how individual people can effect change as well as how individual states were slowly changing laws before the country as a whole.