Thursday, November 7, 2013

How To Set Up a Book Club in the Classroom

My Book Club Thinking Booklet

First came literature circles, then came book clubs. How do you set up a successful classroom book club that is engaging, authentic, and less work on the teacher?

Follow these steps to book club happiness:

1. Literature circles and book clubs have always been about choice. Gather three to five readers of similar reading levels, and provide them with at least three book choices (more if possible). I've collected baskets of with sets of books over the years, and arranged them by reading level.
2. Allow the students to preview the books, then choose one book that they will each read independently (the same book for every student in the book club).
3. Discuss how long it will take to read the book, and set a book club date. Students should read the whole book before their meeting (just like a grown up book club).
4. Give students a copy of the My Book Club
Thinking booklet to fill out as they read.

My Nonfiction Book Club

5. On the day of the book club meeting, students should bring their book and booklet. The booklet provides space for students to record talking points to discuss at their meeting.
6. Facilitate the book club meeting, but allow your students to do most of the talking. You might have to step in to keep the kids on track, or provide a thinking prompt on occasion.

In order to make the most of book clubs, I suggest that you spend time teaching accountable talk so that students learn how to engage in a respectful conversation. Book clubs are a great way to get students excited about reading and talking about books!

*I've changed my settings to moderate comments due to an unusual amount of inappropriate spam. Thank you for your patience!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Review of The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick

The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick

A coworker introduced me to The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick last year. She found a copy of this magical book in box of discarded library books.

Victor tries to escape from locked boxes and walk through walls just like the famous magician Houdini. After he is fortunate enough to meet his hero, Victor finds himself with a locked box. What will he discover if he opens it?

This book kept my fifth graders on the edge of their seats. There were multiple opportunities for students to question, predict, and infer.

You can also teach turning point to climax, and how some books leave off the resolution. This book provides rich characterization, allowing students to infer character's feelings, consider how the character changes, and to identify traits.

I spent three days with this book. The gasps and "a-ha's" were worth every moment.I discovered later that some of my students went home and looked Houdini up. They were quite fascinated. I give The Houdini Box five stars for engaging readers!

*I would love to hear your comments, but I had to change my settings to moderation due to a large amount of inappropriate spam. Thank you for understanding!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ugly Anchor Charts

I've noticed an interesting trend in education -beautiful, hand-drawn anchor charts in full color, including illustrations. I see pictures of the lovely works of art on Pinterest on a daily basis. I'm really quite jealous. I can barely draw decent stick figures, and my writing tends to slant without lines.

Prior to the great naming of charts created together by teachers and students, I filled my walls with my ugly charts. The work on depicted the great thinking that my students shared in a lesson. We referred to the charts as a point of reference: "Remember when we discussed XYZ?"

The whole point of an anchor chart is to record our student's thinking and learning. So unless you're an artist, I suspect your anchor charts will not look like a masterpiece of art, but instead, a masterpiece of thinking. Which is more important?

This is why I'm calling for an end to teacher created artwork in the form of anchor charts.I'm not advocating that you give up your colorful chart markers, abandon your doodles (if you're good at doodles), or write messy. I'm suggesting that you give yourself your life back. I know teachers who spend time before and after school making anchor charts (or recreating their ugly charts). Why? What value does it bring to your classroom? How does the beauty of your charts improve your student's learning and thinking?

Perhaps you just like beautiful charts, and that is fine, but remember that the purpose of the chart isn't the beauty of your artwork, but the beauty of your student's thinking.

*I'd love to hear your comments, but please note that I had to change my comments to moderation due to a large amount of inappropriate spam. Thank you for understanding!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Silence for Sandy Hook Elementary

Friday, December 7, 2012

WARNING: Copyrights & Trademarks

  As the Internet has exploded, so has the copyright and trademark violations. You would think teachers would know better, right? There seems to be a misconception that if something can be downloaded for free from the original source, or if you pay for a product that it's okay to post it online. Perhaps you've posted copyrighted worksheets on secure servers for students or parents. Did you know that these "secure" worksheets can be found through Google, and downloaded by just about anyone who is even partially text savvy?
  Here is the scoop on what is acceptable and what crosses the line:

  • If you find a free downloadable resource, you cannot post it on the Internet unless it is specifically stated in the terms of use. This includes posting it to your school website or district servers. You can provide a link to the original source. Please don't download a free resource from a site that doesn't have permission to post it. Just because it's free from the author and / or publisher, doesn't mean it's free to post online without permission! You can link, but you can't post.
  • If you purchase a resource, it's generally for classroom use only. Read the terms of use. You cannot give copies to your colleagues or post the product on the Internet without express written permission from the author and / or publisher.
  • If you want to brag about a product or book on your blog or website -go ahead! Post a link to the original source and give the author the credit, but don't post any of the pages without the author's (or publisher's) permission. Teacher-authors and children's authors are usually thrilled when other teachers brag about their work, so take a moment to contact them. They might even agree to guest blog!
  • You cannot post pages or texts of picture books or novels on the Internet. I've actually run across teacher websites with entire copies of picture books copied into PowerPoint slideshows. That is illegal! It's generally accepted that you can post the cover of a book if it links to a site that sells the book (like Amazon or Barnes and Noble). Side note: If you are a teacher-author or blogger, you can set up an associate account with Amazon. You can legally post book cover pictures that link to Amazon within your product, or from your website, blog, or electronic newsletter. This is the best way to get access to legal copies of book covers for your literature units.)
  • Yes, you can use short quotes from text. Cite your source!
  • If in doubt -write the author and / or publisher and ask for permission.
  • You cannot post graphics or clipart for free or in a commercial product unless you have rights (it's public domain, or you purchased rights of use or commercial rights). This is one of the reasons many teacher-authors sell their products as PDF files. They purchased the right to use the graphics in paid products, but only in a secure form!
  • Here is a sticky one: reader's theatre. You can write (to use, give away, or sell) an original reader's theatre, but you cannot write (to give away or sell) a reader's theatre that is a retelling of a story protected by copyright. A retelling of a story that is not in the public domain, and is still protected by copyright is considered a derivative work. Reader's theatre scripts that are retellings of a story are considered derivative forms. You don't have the right to post derivative works in print or online, for free or as a paid commercial product. That's essentially plagiarism! Only the copyright holder has the right to create a derivative work. You can use a public domain story (like a fairy tale) as a reader's theatre (which is really a play, but that's another blog post for another day). 
  • And a bigger sticky one: You cannot use anything that is trademarked without the express written permission of the trademark holder, including Daily Five, anything Dr. Seuss (even the word "Grinch" is trademarked), Disney, Pete the Cat, Rovio, Angry Birds, The Daily Cafe, and Thinking Maps. I think you get the picture. If it's under trademark, you can't create free or paid resources in association with it without permission. This includes making a hand drawn (or computer drawn) picture of the Grinch or Mickey Mouse to hang in your own classroom. I know...ouch!
  • You can create (to give away or sell) literature units (original materials based on the book), as long as you don't violate the copyright of the book (like copy large chunks of text, or include whole text in your materials). The exception is books with trademarked titles or characters (like Dr. Seuss and Pete the Cat).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Resources for Elementary Classrooms

50 TPT Teacher-Authors
50 Teaching Tips
100 FREE Classroom Resources
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Sugarplums are dancing in your student's heads, your shopping list is growing, and it's almost time for the class party. So much to do; so little time. I'm linking up all of my Christmas resources to help you along the way. Some cost a few dollars, but there are some great freebies in the mix as well.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Ballet of Writing

Teaching writing is a lot like teaching ballet. I've watched for years as my daughter has grown up in the ballet world, and there are some similarities in the finer points of teaching ballet that I can't help but compare to teaching children to write.

I'm somewhat disturbed with the "just get something on paper" trend with younger writers. It's a lot like let's "just learn a dance for the recital" mentality. For years, my daughter danced at a school that focused on preparing for two yearly recitals. As a mom, I had no idea that not all ballet instruction was created equal. It wasn't until my daughter expressed the desire to dance professionally that we sought out a pre pro ballet school. What a shocker!

In a true pre professional ballet school, children spend the majority of their time focusing on technique. It's not about putting on pretty tutus and dancing on the stage. It's about hard work and discipline. As a writing teacher, I've noticed that children who come to me in the upper grades with a strong foundation in skills knows how to put a piece of writing together -whether it's an essay or a fiction story. Just like dancers who focus on technique first can pick up on choreography, writers who focus on skills first can write.

One of the major things I noticed when my daughter changed schools was the difference in the quality of dancers the school turned out. The dancers were not only technically better, they also learned and remembered choreography quickly, and were able to choreograph quality pieces by themselves! The focus on technique isn't always fun, but the results are amazing.

How can a student write an essay if they can barely put two sentences together? We expect this of kids, but how much time has been devoted to building a strong foundation in writing? We certainly don't want to squash a child's imagination and creativity, but who is to say that a writer won't write simply because they were asked to write a complete sentence before they wrote a fiction story? My daughter's creativity and imagination as a choreographer has blossomed since she has focused on technique and put more dance tools in her toolbox. She has the tools required to choreograph a piece. Writers need to learn the tools first, so that they too can choreograph a piece of writing on their own. Writing is a ballet of words, an art form that is both imaginative and built on a foundation of skills. Let's not let our student's writing skills slip through an hour glass filled with sand.

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