Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 6

As the granddaughter, daughter, and daughter-in-law of women who themselves sewed love into quilts that have kept generations of our family warm, I love The Keeping Quilt, and find it one of Patricia Polacco's most memorable books. It's been called her signature piece with good reason, winning the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries in 1988, when it was first published.

From the dust jacket of the second edition: "When Patricia's Great-Gramma Anna came to America as a child, the only things she brought along from Russia were her dress and the babushka she liked to throw up into the air when she was dancing. Soon enough, though, Anna outgrew the dress and her mother decided to incorporate it and the babushka into a quilt. 'It will be like having the family in backhome Russia dance around us at night,' she said. And so it was. Together with her Uncle Vladimir's shirt, Aunt Havalah's nightdress, and an apron of Aunt Natasha's, Anna's mother made a quilt that would be passed down through their family for almost a century. From one generation to the next, the quilt was used as a Sabbath tablecloth, a wedding canopy, and a blanket to welcome each new child into the world." A unique family heirloom, indeed.

Multicultural books like Patricia Polacco's are invaluable tools for broadening our students' worlds, enriching their vocabulary, and giving them a greater understanding and appreciation of people who aren't just like them.

 Read this beautiful book with your kiddos, and then:
  • create an "I Have; Who Has?" game or a card sort for vocabulary
  • sequence the generations of Patricia's family
  • compare and contrast the weddings through the years
  • make a class collage of the varied uses of the quilt (in color, of course, just as in the book!)
  • let them write about a tradition in their own family
And something that was a favorite of my students? A bookmark, with some of Patricia's fabulous artwork, as a reward after completing the book study!
Such a lovely little way to remember a jewel of a book, while letting it help cure those Common Core blues!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 5

I'm a bit behind on this series because our son, daughter-in-law, and grandbabies who live in Tanzania arrived in the states last week for a visit. Oh, and we had a booth selling crafts made there by Holly and her Tanzanian friend Suzy at the local Arts and Craft Fair for three days...a busy and joyful week!
Today I want to share a book by one of my favorite authors, Leo Lionni. Having taught high school for 25 years, I came late to his wonderful writing, learning to love it during the 7 years I taught elementary ESL. 
Inch by Inch was the first of Lionni's books to win the Caldecott Honor, with three more following. It's a fantastic book for integrating measurement skills; Scholastic has a lesson plan on this page. Not only is the prose wonderful; his illustrations are as well. The iconic Horn Book Magazine praises the book's “...lovely definition of cutouts against white space...rhythm of the composition...simplicity of the whole...” 

Weston Woods produced an animated version of the book in 2006, which costs $59.95, but ArtsEdge has a story performance, by Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia, online and FREE!

You and your young friends can read more about Leo on Random House's website, which provides tons of information for an author study - seven short chapters and an essay written by his granddaughter Annie Lionni. Your students can also 
  • watch him explain why he writes books about animals in a short video,
  • see how he makes a paper mouse(and try one themselves) here,
  • learn about his childhood and his imagination in this video,
  • see many pictures, including one of him playing his accordion!
I have other favorite Lionni books (he wrote 40!) that I'll share later, but in the meantime, please let Inch by Inch and Leo's personal story help cure your Common Core blues.

I hope you're having a happy Thanksgiving week; many blessings from my family to yours! 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Common Core Practice | Bad Reviews, Elite Schools and Facebook Fakes

Do all of your students understand different types of questions? Is their questioning effective? Would you like to have a tool that would help them understand rhetorical questioning as a device for proving a point?

If so, one of this week's Common Core Practice writing tasks at The Learning Network is tailor-made for you! Sarah Gross and Jonathan Olsen's students loved Pete Wells’s less-than-stellar review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, with one of them declaring, "This is the best article we've read this year."
The task that references this article asks students to write a letter expressing annoyance or disappointment through a series of rhetorical questions.

The second task is argumentative: students are asked to read an editorial about admissions procedures at a group of highly-selective high schools in New York City. "After reading the editorial, answer the following two questions in a paragraph each. Try to connect the two paragraphs using transitions. A) How should highly selective high schools select students? B) What do you think are the most accurate predictors of high school success?"
This week's final task, also argumentative, refers to people who set up fake Facebook accounts in order to hide their identity, and asks the question: "Do you think it is ethical for high school and college students to create a Facebook profile using a pseudonym, despite the fact the company expressly prohibits it in their Terms of Service? Explain your opinion in one paragraph."

Thanks again to Sarah Gross, Jonathan Olsen, and their students, for these great writing tasks connected to articles in the New York Times!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Reading Strategies and Bookmarks - Great Idea!

Today we revisit a site from a previous post, Great Resources From Ireland's NBSSto look at some very cool bookmarks - but not just any bookmarks. These have purpose...wait, make that six purposes!

I visualize teaching a strategy, making a great anchor chart using the bookmark as a starter for organizing it, and giving each student a bookmark to keep in the books you are using to practice the strategy. Click on the image below to go to the pdf document and print it. There are three bookmarks per page, which you can print on card stock or mount on colored paper and laminate. 
(See if your kiddos notice the different spelling, using "s" rather than "z".) 
Addressing "key comprehension strategies - making connections, self-questioning, visualising, inferring, determining importance, summarising/synthesising and self-monitoring comprehension - can help students become more purposeful, active readers and learners."  

We all need to be more purposeful, active readers and learners. Enjoy this great tool!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Common Core Resources: RAFT Writing Strategy

"The more often students write, the more proficient they become as writers." 

Not only is this true, but writing with proficiency and sophistication is demanded in the Common Core State Standards.

From the CCSS Writing Standards K-5 and 6-12: "Each year in their writing, students should demonstrate increasing sophistication in all aspects of language use, from vocabulary and syntax to the development and organization of ideas, and they should address increasingly demanding content and sources."

If you teach writing and aren't already a fan, hustle over to the website, a joint venture of three great organizations:


One of the many resources you'll find there is a guide to using the RAFT Writing Strategy, which is designed to help a student understand his role and effectively communicate his ideas, and to focus on his audience, format, and topic.

Deborah Dean's book Strategic Writing is referenced, as is Project CRISS: Creating Independence through Student-owned Strategies, by Santa, Havens, and Valdes.   

So, what does RAFT represent?

R stands for “Role” – What is the writer’s role? (Ex: news reporter)
A stands for “Audience” - Who is the writer’s audience? (Ex: people in the community)
F stands for “Format” - How should the writer present the information? (Ex: news article)
T stands for “Topic” - What is the author writing about? (Ex: recent election)

ReadWriteThink offers several examples of the strategy in practice; here are two favorites of mine:
  • Decide on an area of study currently taking place in your classroom for which you could collaborate with the students and write a class RAFT. Discuss with your students the basic premise of the content for which you’d like to write, but allow students to help you pick the role, audience, format, and topic to write about. 
  • Have a class think-aloud to come up with ideas for the piece of writing that you will create as a group. Model on a whiteboard, overhead projector, or chart paper how you would write in response to the prompt. Allow student input and creativity as you craft your piece of writing.

Modeling is invaluable for teaching in any discipline; I am convinced that it builds confidence that many students need before they can even begin to write effectively.

There are seven lesson plans provided, from grades 3 - 12. I especially like the Raft Writing Template, a graphic organizer, to use as a starting point:

Enjoy using the RAFT strategy, as you work with your kiddos to help them become not just proficient, but great writers!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

November is Picture Book Month!

You KNOW I love picture books, and I'm delighted that this month is the second November that has been designated as a special time to celebrate them!

Go to and read what the 2012 Picture Book Month Champions, such as Chris Raschka, Doreen Cronin, and Peter H. Reynolds, have to say about why picture books are important.

In Jackie French's words, "picture books are magic. In a picture book, turning every page is a new adventure. Every page is a smile."

Grab your child or borrow someone's and enjoy the magic!

Saturday, 10 November 2012

New Discovery: Teacher Support Force

Thanks to Pinterest and my friend Melissa McCormick Roysdon, a Tennessee ESL teacher in DeKalb County, I have a wonderful new discovery to share with you!

Pat Jones, a teacher for almost 30 years in Georgia & North Carolina, writes a blog that is part of an amazing website called Teacher Support Force.


The site is divided into sections: 
  • Aesthetics, which includes strategies using drama, art, dance, and music
  • Learning Environment, including cooperative learning, creative grouping, motivation, time management, and lowering stress
  • Reading, with coordination, vocabulary, Dolch sight words, reading fluency, and comprehension sections
  • Math, addressing the language of math, math word walls and centers, math and art, engaging the senses, and integer rules
  • Games & Strategies, including word walls, focus games, memory activities, and free games
  • The Early Years, featuring early childhood, parents, car games, benefits of play, reading together, and focus problems
The "pin" that grabbed my attention and took me to Pat's site was this one:

Citing the brain research of Dr. Fritz Mengert, she explains using a red dot in the center of a word to help kids focus on the middle of a word and not just the beginning (to stop guessing), as well as Using a Red Dot to Improve Fluency

I'll be letting Pat know that I linked to her site today; I can't wait to share it with the teachers at the school where I'm working as an Academic Specialist. I hope you'll find the site useful and that you'll let her know if you do! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Cures for the Common Core Blues: BOOKS, Vol. 4

Today's fabulous book for your Common Core blues? Pat Mora's Tomás and the Library Lady, one of my favorite picture books of all time!

"One summer in 1940s Iowa, a librarian welcomed a migrant worker child who found the wider world—and his future—in books. This powerful story is based on the boyhood of Tomás Rivera, who would...become Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside."Smithsonian Magazine, where it was included in Notable Books for Children, 1997

Inclusive Classrooms Project has activities including discussion questions and writing activities for Mora's book about this amazing man.

You and your students can watch Pat Mora talk about Tomás in this video from Colorín Colorado, where you will also find her biography, more videos, and an annotated list of some of her other books.
Mora is the founder of El día de los niños/El día de los libros, Children's Day/Book Day, which is celebrated in April. More about that in the spring! 

In the meantime, grab a copy of this wonderful book and read it to your kiddos. Create a vocabulary card sort. Make an I Have; Who Has? activity for sequencing the story. Lead your students through a research activity about Tomás Rivera

And let his inspiring story help cure your Common Core blues!