Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History

We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History by Phillip Hoose. This book is my go-to resource for teaching students about United States history, and it is one that I returned to again and again throughout the year when I taught fourth grade. Students often begged for "just one more" story from the book, and several chose to read the book themselves during independent reading time.

We Were There, Too! is a collection of biographies about children throughout the course of the history of the United States. Each biography provides a brief historical overview of the period and the child, and then the story is told of a specific event or events through the eyes of that child (third person limited). Many stories conclude with a "What Happened To" section that provides a quick summation of the rest of their life. The chapters also provide additional information about the time period in the form of text boxes, maps, illustrations, and photographs.

This book is important because it shows the impact of individuals in history and how history impacted those individuals. It also appeals to children, because they are learning about other children, rather than experiencing history through the eyes of adults or white men with power. We Were There, Too! gives voice to the Taino visited by Columbus, to young spies in the Revolutionary War, to sweatshop girls and suffragists, and to young Civil Rights leaders. No matter the US history unit, you will find something of value in this book.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday Challenge is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and is a weekly roundup of educator blogs that are sharing nonfiction picture books. Though We Were There, Too! is quite a bit longer than your standard picture book, I thought it would be a good fit for those seeking valuable nonfiction resources for students.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from pictures books through YA by Jen of Teacher Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

I guess this was my week to be highly skeptical and a bit critical of some of the selections that I read, but an honest review is always the goal, right? (Or skip the criticism and jump down to my glowing account of Poetry Friday for a pick me up.)

Picture Books

Laundry Day by Maurie J. Manning. Do you ever have a book that you have heard about and gotten excited about because you think it might be a perfect fit only to be disappointed when you actually read the book? That, in a nutshell, was Laundry Day for me. The story of a lonely shoeshine boy in New York City sounded like a potential fit for our unit on Immigration and Ellis Island, perhaps as a companion to the incomparable Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone and illustrated by Ted Lewin. Instead, this graphic-novel-inspired picture book presents just mere stereotypical sketches of the different peoples and cultures of the tenement building tied in to a minimal plot. I would be curious if others had similar feelings about the simplicity of this book.

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. I really liked the message of this book - that innovation comes from failure and that "The only true failure can come if you quit," but I had a hard time getting past the canned Seuss-ian rhyme scheme and outrageous-ness of the inventions. I think I will keep looking for a companion to The Most Magnificent Thing (reviewed here).

Middle Grade

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (Newbury Honor Book). This book was suggested to me by Elisabeth at The Dirigible Plum after my earlier post about The Ascendance Trilogy a few weeks back. They are very similar books in broad strokes - medieval setting, similarly-aged hardluck boy protagonists, and royal intrigue. I found this one took much longer to grab my attention, and I was not as interested in the main character. The violence and drama is a little more tame in this book as well, making it perhaps geared a little younger like grades 4-6.

Teaching Resources

Poetry Friday is one the best additions I have ever made to my classroom week. The Poetry Friday Anthology is a collection of poems for each week of the school year that are tailored to each grade level from Kindergarten through fifth grade. (There is a middle school 6-8 book now as well.) This is a great resource if you are looking to start Poetry Friday in your classroom or are looking for great poems to share with kids. Read my full post about the Power of Poetry Friday in the Classroom here.

Professional Books

This week was the third week of #CyberPD of Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild. Chapter 5 was all about readers and reader preferences, as well as a peek inside some of the note-taking forms and charts Donalyn uses that are included in the appendix. You can read my thoughts and reflection about Chapter 5 here (and see my Reading in the Wild diorama).

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Power of Poetry Friday in the Classroom

What do you value? Where and how we allocate the precious class time that we have shows a lot about what we, as teachers, value. Two years ago I made the decision to schedule time every week for poetry. Poetry Friday made an immediate and lasting impact on my students, our classroom culture, and even me. It makes me smile to remember the groans and moans that accompanied the news of an approaching long weekend and the fact that our school week would dare to skip a Friday. (More than one Poetry Thursday snuck in there to cover the gaps.)

What is Poetry Friday?

Poetry Friday is a commitment to weekly time for poetry, and teachers around the country have implemented that plan in their own way. I first found out about the idea of Poetry Friday from Franki and Mary Lee over at A Year of Reading, as they post different poems every Friday, which are curated by a rotating collection of blogs (the full list of Poetry Friday round ups is available here at KidLitosphere Central).

Just as I was making the commitment to implement Poetry Friday in my own classroom, I found out about the publication of The Poetry Friday Anthology by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. (The Anthology even has its own web site: The Poetry Friday Anthology.) The Anthology contains a full school year's set of suggested poems (36) for each grade level K-5. (A second version of the Anthology is now available for 6-8th grades.) Each poem is accompanied by a "Take 5" of five suggestions for curricular links, connections, and performance tips. There are a great jumping off point for those wondering how to go about launching Poetry Friday, but you should not feel confined to sticking to these suggestions.

A Typical Poetry Friday

In my third grade classroom, Poetry Friday happens as soon as our weekly spelling or grammar test has wrapped up and lasts around 20-25 minutes. We start by gathering on the rug to share a poem projected on the SmartBoard, so that we can all see and discuss it. I generally begin by reading the poem out loud, and then we spend a few quiet moments thinking and noticing things about the poem before we discuss it. Poems are chosen for a wide variety of reasons, and many link in to curriculum or concepts we have been studying.

Our poetry discussions are wide-ranging and student-driven. We cover academic aspects of poetry like rhyme, meter, and literary devices, but we also spend time paying attention to words, images, and questions we have about the poem or the poet. Most of the poems that I choose early in the year are those without clear rhyme schemes or forms, so that we can delve deeply into the question of "What is Poetry?" and get away from the idea that all poems have to rhyme.


The rest of the remaining time is for poetry exploration. Students are free to choose whether to read or write poetry, either individually or in small groups. Mary Ann Hoberman's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series of partner poems are perennial favorites, and you will often hear a joyful cacophony of characters and their distinct voices ringing out around the room.

Students often choose to write their own poems either in their Writing Notebooks or, later on in the year, on the laptops. Last year's class in particular opened my eyes to the potential of PowerPoint for poetry - especially the use of different slides for each stanza. PowerPoint helped my students develop a much more immediate understanding of the use of line breaks and stanzas for meaning and dramatic emphasis. Even transitions and backgrounds were incorporated into the meaning of their poems (see Sam's poem, below).

PowerPoint poem saved as animated GIF

If we have enough time, we usually spend the last 3-5 minutes for sharing and presenting poems. Students often volunteer to share poems they have been writing or perform favorite poems by others. We began to have so much interest in sharing, that Poetry Friday soon overtook our normal end-of-day homeroom time. Now we rush to clean our lockers and pack our bags so that we can sneak in another 5-10 minutes of sharing poems as a group.

Why Poetry Friday?

Poetry Friday is a commitment to poetry. My students know that I love and value poetry, and they learn to love and value it as well. Poetry became a way for students to express themselves as well as to share and have fun with their friends and classmates. We learned to express appreciation for each other in a supportive community and even to offer advice and suggestions when a classmate presents an incomplete poem. From the squeaky voices of Ms. Muffet and the spider to a verbal duel between Opera and Disco written and performed by a pair of students, anything goes for Poetry Friday.

By the time our poetry unit rolled around during writing time in January, students were in awe of the idea that we could spend every day with poetry. And when the end of that unit concluded with a Poetry Celebration and giant poetry slide show, we consoled ourselves that at least we still had Poetry Friday to look forward to each week.

How do you celebrate and use poetry in your classroom?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild, Ch. 5

This week, the teachers of #cyberPD are reading and discussing Chapter 5 and the Appendices of Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley's Reading in the Wild. You can read my thoughts about Chapters 3-4 here. This #cyberPD is being hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect and Refine, Laura Komos of Ruminate and Invigorate, and Michelle Nero of Literacy Learning Zone.

"After all, most wild readers ... certainly don't build dioramas ..." (pg. 100)
But sometimes we do! I had a sudden urge to rekindle my diorama-building skills
and to share a book reflection diorama-style too.

Chapter 5 and Appendices of Reading in the Wild

Chapter 5, Wild Readers Show Preferences, could easily have been titled All Readers Show Preferences. I have found that those who often do not think of themselves as readers tend to have the strongest preferences at all and be the most resistant to stretching themselves or trying different books and genres.

The chapter lays out some of the types of preferences common to the authors' middle school students, along with specific student examples for each one. I especially appreciated the aside about the reading benefits of both graphic novels and rereading favorite books. I think both of these behaviors can be misinterpreted, especially by parents who wonder when their child is going to stop reading graphic novels and start reading "real" books.

I really enjoyed the kid-driven perspective of the section on "Genre Avoidance," especially the characterization of nonfiction as "all about dead presidents and whales" (Ashley, pg. 178). I agree that this perception is less common in elementary school and middle grade classrooms, especially as my students are commonly introduced to nonfiction books in many of their classes, including subjects like Math Adventure and Science and Literature. I love being able to rely on the public library to borrow big stacks of relevant nonfiction books for each of our continent-based Social Studies units, which also keeps the books fresh as they rotate in-and-out through the year.

The final piece of the book gets back to the nitty-gritty of conferring and all of the example forms provided in the Appendices. (Have I mentioned how much the organized part of me loves forms?) I appreciated the insights into the specific categories used on the Reading Habits Conference Chart and plan to incorporate some of these into my own conferring forms. I also like the inclusion of the "rate this book" with five empty stars for when students finish a book. I think this would be a great, reflective addition to student read book lists.

Question for Discussion

  • Do you use a specific book challenge with your students?
I was personally perplexed by the fact that the following sentence - "We should never compare book tallies between children or create competitive conditions among them" (pg. 186) - was followed four pages later by a brief discussion of the 40 Book Challenge from The Book Whisperer. How is having students track their reading by genre with the stated goal of reading 40 books during the course of the year not both a book tally and a competition? Even if you do not publicize student progress on a bulletin board in the room, it hardly sounds like the type of information students would be likely to keep to themselves. I am very curious about the experiences of other teachers with these types of challenges.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from pictures books through YA by Jen of Teacher Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Picture Books

5 Positive Picture Books for Ramadan | The Logonauts

This week I reviewed 5 Positive Picture Books for Ramadan. These five stories (three realistic fiction, one poetry, and one folktale) introduce their readers to the holy month of Ramadan and its significance in Islam through approachable texts and characters. Several of the books are set either in America or in an unidentified country, which increases their worldwide applicability. Read the full review here: 5 Positive Picture Books for Ramadan.

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown. This one has definitely been making the rounds of "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" and I got off the library wait list for it this past week. I am looking forward to sharing this book with my students in the spring when we study "Perspective and Point-of-View." The story is told purely from Bobby's POV, and I think discussing the teacher's POV and her changing perspective about Bobby during the story could provoke some lively conversation. (* Update: here's a link to an article by Peter Brown called Regarding Monster Teachers about his experiences that led to this book.)

Middle Grade

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd. This charming novel follows the story of Felicity Juniper Pickle as her wandering family returns to her mother's hometown that once had a history of everyday magic. The story contains echoes of both the Litmus Lozenge from Because of Winn-Dixie and the unexpected talents of Savvy and the Quirks but holds its own as Felicity learns about the past and how it still impacts the present. I love the idea of "seeing" words and how Felicity's word collecting helps her write poetry. I will be keeping an eye out to add this one to the classroom library. (HT Book Egg.)

Professional Books

I joined in for the second week of #CyberPD of Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild. I really enjoyed her first book, The Book Whisperer, and have taken a lot of her ideas and suggestions to heart. You can read my thoughts about Chapters 3-4 of Reading in the Wild here.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 18, 2014

5 Positive Picture Books for Ramadan

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is coming to an end soon, as the full moon is already waning its way towards next week's new moon. Why not take a moment during this time to think about adding some Ramadan books to your school or classroom library? These five fictional tales will help introduce students to some of the traditions and meaning of Ramadan.
5 Positive Picture Books for Ramadan | The Logonauts

Books about the Month of Ramadan

Night of the Moon: a Muslim holiday story by Hena Khan and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Night of the Moon tells the story of the month of Ramadan through the eyes of seven-year-old Yasmeen (though her age and background as a Pakastani-American are directly referenced only on the book jacket, not within the story). Yasmeen's journey through the month and her questions provide background knowledge for the reader while still keeping the story interesting. 

Julie Paschkis used Islamic tiles as her inspiration for the designs and patterns behind the main illustrations, and her use of color gives the book a unified feel. I particularly appreciate the diversity of students pictured in Yasmeen's class and at the Night of the Moon celebration, as the illustrations reinforce the point that this is a story for everyone. 

Moon Watchers: Shirin's Ramadan Miracle by Reza Jalali and illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien follows in a very similar vein but with a slightly older protagonist, nine-year-old Shirin. (Again, it is only explicit in the jacket cover that the story takes place in America.) This book also follows Shirin's full month of Ramadan but with a stronger focus on some of the important practices like fasting, prayer, and good deeds. The realistic style of the illustrations may make it easier for younger readers to connect these characters to real people around them.

Under the Ramadan Moon by Sylvia Whitman is a lovely poem of a picture book about Ramadan. I generally love poetic picture books, but the level of repetition in this one could become tedious for somewhat older students. This would probably make a better one-on-one read than a whole class read aloud. The author concludes with a page-long note providing additional background about Ramadan.

Books about Eid

Samira's Eid by Nasreen Aktar and illustrated by Enebor Attard is a bilingual book available in ten different dual language editions: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Farsi, French, Gujurati, Panjabi, Somali, Turkish, and Urdu (the Arabic cover is pictured). This realistic fiction picture book focuses on the celebration of Eid at the conclusion of the month of Ramadan and follows Samira and her brother Hassan as they prepare. The setting is never explicit in this story, allowing the readers to infer their own connections between the location and the languages of the story.

Nabeel's New Pants: an Eid Tale retold by Fawzia Gilani-Williams and illustrated by Proiti Roy. This fun folktale was one of the books I picked up during my summer in Jordan, and it is a humorous take on Eid. As everyone hurries to get ready, Nabeel asks different family members to help him hem his pants. They each independently decide to help him secretly with predictably disastrous results!

Want more? Check out More Great Picture Books about Ramadans and Muslim Culture. Do you have a favorite Ramadan picture book that I have missed? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reading in the Wild, Ch. 3-4

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer which came out during my first year of teaching, so I was excited to learn out that a group of teachers were doing an online book club of her newest book, Reading in the Wild. Though I am a week behind in finding out about the discussions, I was excited to get my library copy recently and catch up. This #cyberPD is being hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect and Refine, Laura Komos of Ruminate and Invigorate, and Michelle Nero of Literacy Learning Zone.

Chapters 3-4 of Reading in the Wild

Chapter 3 is titled Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers, and Chapter 4 is Wild Readers Have Reading Plans. My favorite sections of these two chapters are the examples Donalyn gives for how to make reading and reading lives visible in the classroom and school communities. I am looking forward to having some additional bulletin board and wall space in my room this year, and these suggestions have sparked some ideas for how best to utilize them.

  • Reading Graffiti Wall - a place for students and teachers to share favorite quotes from a book. This became a touchstone place for Donalyn's class and a way for students to share their love of books and characters with each other. 
  • Reading Doors (or Reading Displays) - what started as teachers displaying covers of favorite books (recently read and from the past) morphed into a place for groups of students to cooperate on building theme-based displays of favorite books and recommendations. A great way for students to take ownership over the book recommendation process.
  • Student-driven reading goals or reading resolutions - this matches a lot of what I do with having students design and evaluate quarterly reading goals, but I liked the public emphasis on students posting and sharing their resolutions (which also serves to remind themselves too, I am sure). I may incorporate some of her suggestions for different types of reading goals and challenges (pages 143-150) into the sheet my students use when choosing their own goals.
Finally, as always, I appreciate hearing how other teachers run the conferring aspect of their Reading Workshops and always like the reassurance that I am not the only one who finds conferring (and especially keeping track of conferring) complicated. I would much rather focus on having quality conversations with students about their reading and learning than worrying about which form goes where, but I like the idea of using pre-printed labels help ensure that you are meeting regularly with all students.

Wondering about the possibility of using technology (maybe Padlet) to create online versions of some of the types of displays mentioned in the book as well. Interested to hear if other teachers have used technology in that way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The First Days of School

The weeks are flying towards the first day of school. Every year as those hectic first days approach I find time to pull out my worn and bookmarked copy of The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong. I have the older edition of the book, pictured below, from 1998, while the current fourth edition from 2009 no doubt has more updated pictures and cultural references (and an accompanying DVD).

Regardless of where you are in your teaching career, you will find valuable tips and common sense reminders about best practices for the beginning of the school year. I have bought and lent this book to everyone from first year teachers to veterans returning to the classroom to colleagues looking to start the year off right. So many of the hints and reminders in this book make me sit back and think, "Of course!" and remind me of all the little things that can make a big difference in the classroom.

Some Favorite Highlights from The First Days of School

Chapter 12: How to Have Your Classroom Ready

Before the school year starts, I always come back to the comprehensive checklists in this chapter. I love the methodical nature behind each list from prepare the floor space to prepare the student area to prepare the wall space, bookcases, and more. I enjoy starting off each year with this challenge to rethink and reconsider my classroom space.

Chapter 13: How to Introduce Yourself to Your Class

I love the example introductory speech included at the end of this chapter. I teach at a smaller school, so I have already had lots of opportunities to get to know and interact with my future students from previous years, but I forget that they may not always know a lot about me as a person or as a teacher or about what our year together is going to be like. I get so excited about jumping into the "doing" of the beginning of the school year that I always use this chapter as reminder of how best to start the "knowing" before the "doing." I appreciate the reminder to think forward, to get students excited about and interested in the year ahead, and to start building our community right from the get-go.

Chapter 20: How to Have Students Follow Classroom Procedures

I have learned that procedures are the secret engine running behind any successful classroom. Helping my students know what to expect and how to proceed through our day together is always a strong focus of the beginning of the year. Procedures keep our classroom running smoothly and help us all feel comfortable knowing what is expected for any given time or activity. The ideas and examples in this chapter also challenge me to rethink and reaffirm or change what I have done in the past.

Case in point: yea or nay to keeping small pencil sharpeners at each table. Pros: keeps kids from getting up constantly to sharpen or get new pencils and eliminates the 'broken pencil' excuse for not working. Cons: incessant and unnecessary sharpening of pencils and the increased likelihood of impromptu pencil sharpener explosions of pencil shavings. A first days of school conundrum.

Book Recommendation for Back to School: The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong | The Logonauts

Ready for Your First Days of School?

How do you prepare for the first days of school? Have another favorite book or resource to recommend? Share your thought in the comments below!

Monday, July 14, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? was started by Sheila at Book Journey and was adapted for children's books from pictures books through YA by Jen of Teacher Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers. You can visit either site for a round up of blogs sharing their weekly readings and thoughts or search Twitter for #IMWAYR.

Picture Books

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This fabulous new (2014) picture book by Ashley Spires, the author of the Binky the Space Cat graphic novels, chronicles the trials and tribulations of the nameless main character as she attempts to build the most magnificent thing. I am looking forward to using this book to further class conversations about creativity, frustration, and perfectionism. I love the combination of styles in the illustrations and think this book will spur lots of conversation in our Mock Caldecott discussions as well.

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen. This collection of poetry and nonfiction is a Newbery Honor Book from 2010. Each two-page spread has an original poem on the left-hand page and a detailed paragraph of matching information on the right-hand page. I appreciate the different styles and forms of the poems, including those both with and without rhyme schemes. This would also be a great book to use for Science integration about nocturnal animals, communities, or predator-prey relationships.

Young Adult

The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I finished Book One: The False Prince last week and Book Two: The Runaway King this week. (I am eagerly in the hold line for Book Three: The Shadow Throne from the library.) I found out about this book from Pernille Ripp's 10 Chapter Books My Students Say You Need post from her fifth graders. There were several books that were new to me on that list, as well as some old favorites.

The False Prince is a gripping adventure tale of a group of orphans selected for their similarities to the missing and presumed dead Prince Jaron. The story is immediately interesting and engaging, drawing on a long history of medieval-style imaginary kingdoms. The book is aimed towards readers in grades 5-8 and does contain violence and scary situations that might be inappropriate for younger readers.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

About Me

As the grammatically inaccurate panda from Eats, Shoots, and Leaves for Halloween

Katie is currently in her seventh year of teaching language arts, social studies, and drama to enthusiastic third (and in previous years fourth) grade students. She is a life-long reader and enjoys ensnaring others in the web of life-long reading. As a traveler, photographer, and former archaeologist, she has visited four continents, numerous countries, and 41 of the 50 US States. She loves introducing her students to the wider world and fostering their excitement about other countries and cultures.

Logonaut was a word invented by Katie and three of her pre-service teacher colleagues while creating a unit on vocabulary-building and word roots. It has as its roots logo (Greek for word) and naut (Greek for ship or nautae, Latin for sailor): word sailor. In our estimation then, a logonaut is someone who sails on the sea of words and shares an appreciation and love of the power of words and language.

Connect with Katie and catch all the latest posts and news from The Logonauts:


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Wednesday, July 9, 2014


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