A Handful of Stars Book Vine

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I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to read Cynthia Lord’s upcoming book A Handful of Stars this weekend. Due out in May from Scholastic, this book encompasses everything we’ve come to know and love about Cynthia Lord. In this simply told story, she weaves themes of acceptance, friendship, and bravery into a novel that also celebrates the beauty of nature and the richness that animal companions bring to our lives.

A Handful of Stars is about an unlikely bond that forms between a small town girl, Lily, and a migrant worker named Salma, who moves with the passing of each growing season.  The girls discover that they have more in common than anyone would think. Drawing them even closer is the shared determination to save Lily’s dog, Lucky, from going completely blind.

Cynthia was kind enough to tell me a little about her new book and share some photos she took that inspired the story’s setting, the blueberry fields of Maine.  She finished three sentences for me. Her words are in blue.

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I first started thinking about this story when….I did my first school visit in Washington County, Maine. It’s a beautiful corner of Maine, with miles of wild blueberry barrens.  The first time I saw those barrens was in the autumn when the leaves turn bright red. It’s a stunning and unexpected sight–like a scarlet ocean.

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I also saw a line of blue cabins for the migrant workers and their families who rake those blueberries every summer.

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 My writing process for this book was . . . new for me. I’d never sold a novel to my publisher with a proposal. Authors often describe themselves as “plungers” who dive in and discover a story as they write or “plotters” who plan it out first and then write it. I suspect most writers are a combination of both. I had mostly “plunged” through my first three books, but a proposal means creating a whole book in outline first. When I began, I wondered if that would take the fun out of writing for me, but it didn’t. I really liked having a plan. It saved me a lot of detours and dead ends, and it let me discover a different side of myself as a writer.

I hope that readers of A Handful of Stars will… have their hearts touched by the characters, discover some new truths about bravery, allow themselves to think and care about difficult things like prejudice and migrant farm families, AND crave some homemade blueberry pie.

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From Cynthia’s desk.

The only bad news is that this book isn’t due out until May! If you are a Cynthia Lord fan like I am, then that might be too long to wait.  So, I’d love to share this book now as part of a book vine project, connecting readers. I was involved in my first book vine for Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s new title A Fish in a Tree due out next month.   I’m stealing the idea (that’s completely encouraged among teachers) from Melissa Guerrette, and I hope that you’ll join me in enjoying this wonderful new book.

This is how it works:

1. Just complete the form below with your information if you’d like to be a part of our vine.

2. I will mail the book to the first person on the list.  I’ll send you an email letting you know it’s on the way. Be sure to confirm via email that you have received the book.

3. Please read the book as soon as you can. When finished, you will mail it to the next reader. I will email you the address that you need.  If you participate in the vine, I ask that when you receive the book, it moves to the top of your reading list. I want as many people to enjoy the book as much as possible.  I’m estimating that people will hold onto the book for about a week each, so please keep that in mind.

4.  Finally… tweet about, rave about it on Goodreads, update your Facebook status, and please blog about it. If you don’t have your own blog, you can post your review on my blog.  Although the primary purpose of the book vine is to connect with other readers, we want to share and celebrate the title so other readers know about it as well.

Please sign your name in the front cover of the book with the date that you finished it. Also, feel free to jot some notations as you read: parts that inspire you, lines you love, or teachable sections.

I can’t wait to share this story! I know you will love it as much as I do.

Please visit Cynthia Lord’s website for a look at all of her books.

Book Vine Blog Posts:

Darla: At the Heart of Literacy

Susan: The Book Is in Your Court

Happy Reading!

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A Little Bit of Everything to Start the New Year

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The start of the new year is one of my favorite times to be on Twitter. I love the #OLW and #Nerdlution posts. I love the “best of” book lists and the new reading goals being set for the year. Even if you aren’t a blogger, I’m sure you’ve been participating in all of this resolution making from the privacy of your own living room or reading corner. Fresh starts are a wonderful thing, right?

My OLW for 2014 was listen, and although I haven’t necessarily perfected the art of listening, it served me well. As someone who is quick to jump in with what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, I was constantly reminded to pause and hear my family, friends, and colleagues with more intention and purpose.

I have a couple of words that I thought would be my OLW for 2015. Yesterday, I was sure I finally had it; a word that was inspiring, about goals and pursuits. But a quiet voice spoke to me during a conversation with a friend early this morning. It whispered my word to me.

And I said no.

I don’t have time for that word.  I’m no good at that word.  That word will be a lot. of. work.

But, here I am about ten hours later, getting ready to accept my word, my challenge for 2015.

Encourage. 

Such a simple word, a small act, yet something I don’t do nearly enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I encourage my students all the time.  It comes so easy, so naturally. But outside of the classroom. With colleagues. With friends. Even with my family. Ummm.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I have serious tunnel vision during the week. When I’m walking in the halls, I’m on a mission.  As soon as I leave school, it’s off to the races with this sport or that music lesson. When I get home, it’s dinner and dishes and homework and reading. (There has to be reading!) I think I don’t have time, but my one little word is telling me that I should be making the time.

How often have I walked through the halls of my school and seen a really thoughtful display on the walls, only to smile and then keep walking without saying anything to the teacher who designed it?  When a colleague undertakes a project to better the school, how many times have I taken a minute to send an email or stop by to thank them? Not nearly enough.

My friends know I’m busy, right? If I don’t text them for a week, two weeks…they’ll understand. We’re all running our kids from here to there. I don’t do high maintenance friendships. Actually, I have the tendency to have no maintenance friendships.  I may have been telling myself that works for me, but I think the wonderful people I call my friends deserve a little more than that.

And my family. I want the world for my family. Unfortunately, many times that translates into pushing instead of encouraging. I push hard, because I want them to be the best they can be. Sometimes a push might be needed, but most of the time, an encouraging word or action will go so much further.

So, there it is. My OLW for 2015. It also happens to be the springboard for my Nerdlution.

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Image by Kristine Mraz

For the next fifty days, I commit to an act of encouragement each day.  A note, a conversation, a text, or an email for my colleagues, friends and family. So many of you have encouraged me, and I have appreciated your words or acts on days when I needed them most. I hope that my OLW will become a permanent fixture in my life, but nerdlution is going to get me started in the right direction.

I also hope that everyone else is having great success with their nerdlutions so far, and if you haven’t chosen your one little word for 2015, there’s still plenty of time to think about the kind of year you want to have.  Or maybe your little word will choose you.  One little word can have big possibilities for you and the people in your life.

So with that in mind, let me encourage (see what I did there?) you to read some of these great books that I read in the first few days of the new year:

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All three are perfect for MG readers.

What I’m reading now:

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And what I’m reading next:

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Happy New Year, and Happy Reading!

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NCTE 14: The Story of a First-Timer

So, I did it! I finally went to NCTE, and it. was. amazing. My kids survived without me for two days. The house was still standing when I returned home. And I would say that my first trip away from my family in thirteen years went off without any major hitches.

Well, that’s if you don’t count me leaving my Ipad at home, my phone dying first thing in the morning, and oh, wait…leaving my charger behind as well. So, some small hitches I guess. I felt a little disconnected, not being able to tweet during sessions or use the convention app with my intricately planned itinerary.  But, none of that really mattered, because I MET:

 

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The wonderful Rules author, Cynthia Lord

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National Book Award winner, Jacqueline Woodson

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GRA 14 author, Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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It’s Kylene Beers! Kylene Beers, people!

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Author of Rump, The True Story of Rumplestiltskin, Liesl Shurtliff

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Crazy Mac Barnett (and Twitter friend, Jamie Palmer)

 

 

And… Book Whisperer author, the lovely Donalyn Miller. But, sadly I have crazy fan eyes in that picture, and I can’t post it.

Incidently, a friend of mine was poking fun of my photos on Facebook, saying I looked so excited…like I was meeting movie stars. Well, umm…yes. Actually, much better. And, I’m pretty sure that Tom Cruise could have walked into the exhibit hall, and NO ONE would have moved an inch from their spot in line to meet Jackie Woodson. That’s just how we book nerds roll.

Speaking of book nerds, it was so fun to see lots of Nerdy Book Club members over the weekend.  More than anything, it was surreal to pass all the faces of people I “know” from Twitter in the hallway.  Everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming, and it didn’t matter that we hadn’t met before, because our love of books, and teaching, and students provided all the common ground we needed to jump into conversation after conversation.

Ok, so, there is no way that I can post about every session and every bit of genius that came from all of the presenters this weekend.  I’m thinking one sentence summaries for just a few of my workshops, but many many future posts are brewing as I reflect on NCTE 14.

Revising the Story: Reluctant Readers Overcoming Shame

Teachers: our words and actions have unbelievable power in the stories of our students’ lives.

Thanks to Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Liesl Shurtliff for sharing their stories of shame and the teachers who gave them hope. 

The Nerdy Book Club: Shaping Reading Identity through Community, Story, and Choice

Had to go. They were preaching to the choir here. Nerdies unite. Awesome Sauce.

(PS: Jonathan Auxier is TALL)

It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiousity, Openess, Creativity, and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading

Vicki Vinton chaired a wonderful panel of educators who shared some of their journeys as educators. I have to say more than one sentence here. I was happy I got to see this session, because a Twitter friend of mine, Julieanne Harmatz was part of the panel. She shared her ongoing wondering about the role of read aloud with her students. I always feel like she and I are following the same threads in our classrooms, and read aloud is something that I have been devoting a lot of thought to as well.  I love that she has devoted so much time to interviewing her students on the subject, which will really ground her teaching decisions in authentic student data.

Stories of Reading: Rethinking Instruction in a Digital Age

As teachers, we need to understand what it means to be a reader in today’s digital world, and then teach into that reality, helping our students encounter, evaluate, and engage with success.

Apps I’m looking into this month:

Pixie, Flipboard, and Pocket

Engagement: Taking an Active Stance with Informational Text

“Engagement: The need to know is so deep, they can’t help themselves.”  ~ Ellin Keene (Please rush to her next workshop)

Book I now need to read:

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Minds Made for Stories by Tom Newkirk

~

So many more great sessions with smart, smart people.

Oh, and, this kind of happened along the way…

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What? You still want to see my Donalyn Miller picture? Really? Ok, well… who doesn’t have crazy fan eyes when they meet Donalyn for the first time?

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And really, she had the perfect words to sum it all up with this tweet:

Thanks NCTE 14 for an unforgettable experience!

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The View’s a Little Different Down Here

After teaching fourth grade for the past twelve years, I took a new position in my building this year as the Teacher of Media. I would definitely classify this as my dream job. Ordering books, talking about books, reading books, watching students discover books…dream job.

New is never without some challenges, though, and mine come in bunches of twenty at a time. Twenty of the cutest, sweetest, wide-eyed kindergartners you’ll ever meet. And I meet them about ten times during my six day cycle. Now, they are perfect. I love them. What’s challenging is this mind shift from fourth grade to kindergarten. From ten year olds reading Rules, Bud Not Buddy, and Doll Bones to five year olds discovering their first books.  Everything is different. Almost.

So, when I headed to TCRWP’s 87th Saturday Reunion at Columbia University this weekend, I planned, for the first time, to attend all K-2 workshops.

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Thousands of teachers getting ready for the keynote at Riverside Church, NYC.

I was excited to see the lovely Amanda Hartman finally, and she gave us some practical ways to lead our youngest students toward independence.  One effective way to do this is by using checklists. I loved her idea of cutting up a writing checklist and having students sort each item into three categories: Nope, I don’t do that, I did that a little or one time, and Yes! I did that a lot! Then, even our youngest students have a concrete sense of what goals they can work towards during writing.

Mary Ehrenworth discussed the ways that we can use read aloud in the classroom, providing plenty of opportunities for transfer and agency. As educators we know that read aloud is one of our most crucial instruction times of the day.  The packed and overflowing room spoke to the weight of this subject. And all the heads in the room shook with a collective YES as she described the type of high level work that students seem to do on the carpet, but then have trouble trying on their own in a different text. Her suggestion? Read alouds are not just about the teacher modeling the thinking. Create a predictable structure for read alouds:

* Questioning

* Prompting

* Feedback

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Mary reminded us that the teacher shouldn’t be the hardest working one in the room.  We need to ask ourselves during read aloud, Who’s doing all the work? It should be the students.  With the right structure and feedback, they can!

Kathy Collin’s workshop, I AM Reading! Teaching into the Bounty of Children’sReading Before They’re Reading Conventionally, explored some strategies for building comprehension in our youngest readers. I came a little late to her workshop, but I thought she referenced a new book that she and Matt Glover are working on??? Anyone catch the title of that?

Love love loved Ellen Ellis’s session on Ten New Books to Support the Primary Writing Workshop.  Between tweeting out all the titles to my #nerdybookclub friends in another session, and adding them to my next library order, I’d call it a very busy and worthwhile fifty minutes.

A few of the titles shared:

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Also, I was happy to hear that the book we had chosen for our whole school read aloud The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is now completely sold out and on back order everywhere.  We purchased this book for all of our early childhood teachers this summer. We knew it was great, and I’m so happy that everyone else knows it too!

I can’t forget to mention the two keynote speakers. David Booth and Carl Anderson both reminded us to keep the joy alive in our classrooms. In this testing-crazed era of education, they spoke about the importance of meaningful conversations, creativity, and compassion.

In the beginning I said that everything about reading was different for me now. Almost. No, I won’t be sharing some of my favorite middle grade titles any more. I won’t be having complex conversations about the theme of a book. I might not even make it a page into a book before having to stop and get someone a band aide or tie a shoe. BUT. There will be books. Lots of wonderful books. There will be conversations. I can sit next to a kindergartner and still say, How’s it going?(Thanks Carl Anderson). And most of all there will be joy.

I always leave the Saturday Reunions with a smile on my face and a little skip in my step. I’m looking forward to seeing my kindergartners tomorrow morning, knowing that I have a little brilliance from Amanda, Mary, Kathy, and so many more.

Thanks TCRWP.

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Fish In A Tree

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Classes around the world are currently enjoying Lynda Mullaly Hunt‘s One For the Murphys as they take part in the Global Read Aloud 2014.  Like many other readers, I fell in love with the story of Carley and her foster family, the Murphys.  After enjoying Hunt’s first novel so thoroughly, I eagerly waited for what was next. I wasn’t disappointed.

Fish In A Tree, scheduled for release on February 5, 2015,  rose right to the top of my new favorite books list.  The main character, Ally Nickerson, struggles against dyslexia, the low expectations of teachers, bullies, and her own insecurities in this brilliantly written novel.  The storyline is heartbreaking at times and laugh out loud funny at others. Readers will undoubtedly read from start to finish, devouring the wonderful plot, but hopefully return to Hunt’s words again and again, recognizing the artful craft of her writing.

After spending many years being passed from teacher to teacher and school to school, Ally knows that she’s different. She doesn’t learn like everyone else in her class. In fact, she’s sure that she isn’t smart at all. Labeled a behavior problem, she has become very good at getting out of school work and meeting everyone’s low expectations.  The new substitute teacher in her class, Mr. Daniels, suspects that there is something more to Ally Nickerson than failing grades and visits to the principal’s office.  And Ally is surprised by his persistance, kindness, and genuine interest; qualities she’s never seen in her teachers before now.

Thank You, Mr. Falker has always been one of my favorite picture books, and Fish In A Tree is chapters and chapters of Mr. Falker goodness.  I can think of countless students to whom I could recommend this book. But, what I really hope is that many many teachers and parents read this wonderfully written story that highlights the struggles that are true to life for so many boys and girls.

Thank you to Melissa Guerrette who sent me her copy of Fish In A Tree as part of her book vine!  You can check out her post on FIAT here.

And thank you Ms. Hunt for bringing the struggles of dyslexia to life with your story of Ally.  You leave your readers with hope. Always.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

~ Albert Einstein

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Books that Make a Place for All Students in Your Classroom

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There’s a story I like to tell about my little brother.  After school one day, I was following my teacher mom through the halls of our school.  I must have been nine or ten years old. As we were passing my brother’s classroom, his second grade teacher popped her head out of the door, and said with a giggle, “I just have to tell you this.”  She continued to explain that she had asked the boys and girls to share who they wanted to be when they grew up.  I can assume that most students offered idols like Michael Jordon, Debbie Gibson, Mary Lou Retton, or maybe even President Reagan.

“And do you know what your son said?” She could barely contain her glee. “Gene Kelly!”

At the time this didn’t seem like such an odd choice to me. My mom was on a never-ending old movie kick, and we were well-versed in musicals, black and whites, and even the hi-jinks of Buster Keaton. However, looking back, I see what an unexpected answer this must have been. Delightful to the teacher, no doubt, but probably unacceptable to the other seven year olds that my brother had to play with later at recess.

I think about this story often with fondness, but there’s a note of sad in it as well. I wonder how many Gene Kellys are alone in a class of Mike Schmidts.   And I wonder if we, as teachers, are careful to make a place for all students in our classroom.

I read two lovely books this morning that I will be recommending to teachers this fall that may help with just that.

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I finally got to enjoy this wonderful book that has been recommended to me by many. The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock follows young Vasya Kandinsky into adulthood as he struggles against convention.  Powerful messages make this a worthwhile read aloud for every child.  But the real treasure in this book is the story of a boy who did not see himself in the life that everyone else embraced.  As I read this book, countless faces from past years came to mind, and I wished that The Noisy Paint Box had been in my classroom to share with all of them.

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After enjoying the life of Kandinsky, I decided to reread a favorite of mine from last year, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant.  Similarly, this book follows Pippin from childhood to adulthood.  I am in love with Melissa Sweet’s illustrations, and readers will eagerly return again and again to this book to enjoy her stunning artwork. I love the idea of a passion that chased Horace his entire life, never letting him go. I hope as teachers we can encourage our students to take hold of what moves them, making our classrooms a place for passions to flourish.

With important ideas for all readers, A Splash of Red and The Noisy Paintbox will help secure a special place in your room for students who may feel they are struggling against the status quo of what’s expected by their peers. These books will help you celebrate the unique talents that often aren’t praised or supported in ways that academics and athleticism are.  Every student should be able to find themselves in a book, and I’m sure that you will have at least one or two that may see themselves in the young lives of Pippin and Kandinsky.

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A New Chapter and An Old Favorite

After teaching fourth grade for the past twelve years I have accepted the K-5 Teacher of Media and Library position at my school.  Yes. I did. Deep breaths.

This new chapter that is about to start has me doing spontaneous happy dances around my kitchen each day for several reasons:

1. I love books.  I read them. I write about them. I talk about them. I share them. All the time.

2.  This is most certainly my dream job.

3. The library program at our school is making a comeback, and I get to be a big part of that.

4. I am anticipating all of these moments of matching the perfect book with its perfect reader ( picture student lovingly holding book with harp music playing in the background).

HOWEVER

This new chapter of my life also has me breathing into a paper bag with my head between my knees (not more than once a week), because…

1. I know how to teach fourth grade.  I was a good fourth grade teacher. My reputation as a librarian is, well, non-existent and unproven.

2. This is most definitely my dream job. What if I’m no good at my dream job!? That would stink as far as dream jobs go.

3. The library program needs to make a comeback, and I have to be the one to do it (see what I did there?)!

Well, the excitement definitely outweighs the nervousness, and I have already jumped into more books than I can handle in preparation for my new position.  I currently have 26 check outs and nine holds at my library. I spent $100 in Barnes and Nobles gift cards in record breaking time a few weeks ago, and I have a dangerously full cart on my Amazon account right now.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite summer reads soon, most of which are 2014 releases.  But I wanted to honor one of my first favorites. A favorite I eagerly checked out again and again from my local library. A favorite that I shared with my four year old for the first time this week.  And when I was done reading, she simply opened back to the first page and said, Read it again.

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Here’s hoping that many many books that leave our school libraries have the same happy ending.

 

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Am I a Writer?

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I’m stuck. I haven’t written in a month. I wake up every morning thinking, Hey, I’m going to write today. And then I don’t. At first it was summer- the beach, art projects, gardening, sleepovers and playdates. Then it was morning after morning of sitting in front of a blank computer screen, not knowing where to start. At times it was everyone else’s productivity and progress that overwhelmed me, and it was easier to just put away the Ipad and go clean something.

I write a lot during the school year.  I post frequently on my blog, and this year I stepped out of my small circle and wrote about book clubs for Talks with Teachers and The Nerdy Book Club.  A colleague and I  started working on a series of articles surrounding some of the work in my classroom, and I even felt brave enough to send an article to an editor at Heinemann.

But I haven’t been feeling like a writer this summer. Don’t writers write every day? All the time? Even if it’s just a line or two in a notebook?  How could I go a month without writing a single word?

As I was sitting, staring once again at my keyboard this morning, I was thinking of all of the times I’ve had a student say, “I just don’t know what to write.” How many times have I watched the look of frustration as someone in my class picks up a pencil only to set it down without a mark on the page? I can’t count the times that students have told me, “I’m not a writer.” And how many times have I thought Come on, it’s not that hard. Just write something. Anything?

This month I’ve been reminded that it IS that hard sometimes.  All writers struggle and get stuck.  Today, as I am finally writing, I’m thinking about the reasons we get stuck, and the ways that I am supporting my students through those frustrating dry spells.

Our minds are sometimes so full, it’s hard to hold a place for writing.

While thoughts of summer plans with my three kids, a new job for the fall, and a to-do list crowd my brain, I remember that my students’ brains get crowded too. A play-off game, a dance recital, a sick pet or family member. Little minds get just as filled as ours, and while as adults we can often compartmentalize our thinking, our students have a trickier time putting aside important thoughts to focus on the writing project in front of them.

What might help?

* Morning meetings or partnerships are a great place to let those big thoughts out. Students who can talk through the thoughts that are on the forefront of their minds might have an easier time setting them aside when it’s time to write.

* Non-negotiable notebook time. I’m definitely guilty of nixing notebook time when my day becomes too full.  But, students need that time to write freely about what is on their minds or hearts.   In some ways this is just like reading, and the order in which we read.  I recently took A Fault in Our Stars and a history book titled American Creation out of the library. Both were important to me, but as many times as I started American Creation, I put it down to read more of the other. It wasn’t until I was finished with A Fault in Our Stars that I could give my full attention to the first. Did I enjoy both? Yes. Writing is much the same way with our students. It may be hard for a student to focus on their informational article, when he just HAS to write the next installment of his fantasy story Turkey Man in his notebook(true story).  Setting aside free-write notebook time each day is important for all students, but crucial for some.

Watching others be productive inspires some, but defeats others. 

Although the sight of students furiously putting words down on paper may inspire some students to get in gear, it causes others to shut down. I’ve felt this over the past month as I scroll through Twitter. Everyone is blogging up a storm, and I haven’t even clicked on my site.  Each post I read I think, Oooh…that was good. Why didn’t I write that? How does she find the time? I can’t write as well as that. The gloomy voices get louder, and I get further away from my goal. Just write something.  I know that some of my students feel exactly the same.

What might help?

* Placement in the room can be key. If a student is inspired by other writers, stick him in the middle of the action. If not, let him find a quiet spot where it’s not so glaringly obvious that he may be writing less than his classmates.

* Thoughtful partnerships are important. If a student visits with her writing partner only to feel like she could never catch up, the meeting will likely have a negative effect.  Always placing strong writers with weak ones doesn’t necessarily add up to  successful peer conferencing.  Sometimes it may help to meet with a partner who is experiencing the same difficulty, and then problem solving together. How can WE get over this hurdle?  What could be OUR next step?

Sometimes we just don’t know where to start. 

Just like me, my students know that the first few words of their piece are critically important. Sometimes this understanding freezes them.  The fear of not writing it perfectly can mean no writing at all.  As teachers we generally use the same vocabulary and encouragement to get these students going, but sometimes it’s not enough.

What might help?

* Don’t start at the very beginning. In my class we’ve started saving our beginning writing until our pieces are well underway. We may draft two scenes or three sections before coming back to the start of a piece.  By the time we are ready to write our openings, students have found a voice for their piece and find writing those first few words much less daunting.

* Remind students of their success. Having your students return to their portfolio or notebook to see the hard work that they’ve already accomplished can be a powerful motivator.  I combat the I can’t attitude with You already did proof.  This even worked for me this week!  Just when I was feeling like maybe I wasn’t a writer…

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 …a little You already did proof came in the mail.

I know that the next school year will bring a variety of writers to my classroom; some that get stuck more than others. I know that even my strongest writers will have days when the pencil barely makes it to the paper. I also know that all of the right words and encouragement won’t necessarily help get that pencil to paper every time. But I DO know that I will be able to sit next to my students and say, This happens. We can work through it. I know. I’m a writer too. 

 

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A Celebration of Summer Reading

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You can check out all of the Saturday Celebration posts on Ruth Ayers’ blog.

It’s summer! Actually, no. That’s the feeling in my classroom, though, despite the calendar reminding us that there are still two more weeks left in our school year. It’s no surprise that I am drowning in end of the year paper work. (Haven’t seen the actual surface of my desk in weeks.)  And teachers everywhere will give a knowing nod when I admit that I am in full-on dog and pony show mode to keep my students engaged and on task.  My June is the same as most  teachers’, so forgive me when I take a second to say WAAAAAAAA!

As you can imagine, writing this post is very important for me right now.  After a week like this one, and preparing for two more of the same, I need a little celebration to keep the pep in my step for the final stretch.

Paying it Forward

Thanks to many generous donations from individuals and families in our small community, our World Read Aloud Day book drive was a huge success. Back in March, we asked every student and faculty member to donate at least one book to promote literacy in our community. After weeks of organizing books, we were able to host a “shopping” day this week for students who might have difficulty affording or accessing summer reading materials. Students were thrilled with their selections and very surprised when they were told that they could actually keep the books they chose. An added bonus was the inclusion of $1000.00 dollars of brand new books purchased from Scholastic through the combined efforts of a student coin drive and our generous Home and School Association.

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Thanks to HH&SA for matching our coin drive funds to purchase $1000 dollars of new books for our students to read over the summer.

 

Setting Goals

Every year in early June our school has a summer reading goal setting day. Students confer with peers and teachers to set individual reading goals for the summer months.  Every teacher puts their own spin on the surrounding activities, but in the end, every students leaves with a reading plan.  This year, I decided to have my students spend the morning creating Animoto videos that showcased these goals. Seriously, so easy, so much fun, and so so worth our time.  After we were done, we sat back to take a look at some of our newly created masterpieces. And when I said we would have to watch the rest of the final videos on Monday due to time constraints, I had one angry mob on my hands.  The links to some of our videos are below.  I hope that you have had some time to think about your summer reading. If not, I’m sure my students would be happy to make some recommendations.

Summer Reading Video #1

Summer Reading Video #2

Summer Reading Video #3

 

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The Altar of Freedom

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I hadn’t considered posting this weekend.  I spent a while in my garden, cleaned out the closets for summer, and even went to the movies.  I haven’t really been on Twitter, or working on my lesson plans, or even preparing for an important meeting I have on Tuesday.  Well, that’s not completely true. I have been thinking about my lesson plans and how I can best honor Memorial Day and the men and women whom we celebrate.

Some years, I go to You Tube and find a video montage of patriotic photographs. Other years, we have read about the beginnings of Memorial Day or how different towns celebrate.  It’s always felt very token, unfortunately. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think about what has been sacrificed for my life to be what it is. Somehow, though, I have never translated those feelings into an effective time of rememberence in my classroom. This year, I’ve been thinking about how I can get my students to see the big picture, the multiple perspectives. Serving in the military is such a foreign thing to so many of them.  I’ve been wondering, what can I bring to my students that will really make an impact?

One of my favorite pieces of history is President Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby. There is some controversy over whether he in fact wrote this, or Secretary Hay wrote it in his place. Even amidst that uncertainty, I post this letter for my friends and family to read each Memorial Day, and this year, I will be sharing it with my students.  I am moved each time I read it, and I never tire of the unwavering message of devotion to country. I’m quite certain that I won’t be able to read it in its entirety without any emotion, but my students know my propensity to cry over the written word.

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Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,–
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln
 

I also plan to show portions of the video below, because I think that more than anything else we can read or watch, this will help them “get it.”  I’ll be the one in the back of the room sobbing, and that’s okay.  We can’t be separate from the emotion that moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters have felt for hundreds of years.

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They are America. We are America.

To all who have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom: Thank You. 

Soldiers Surprise Loved Ones Video

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How do you plan to celebrate with your students?

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