Cybils!

This year I am extremely excited to be a member of the middle grades panel for the Cybil Awards.  Are you ready for the awards?!

 

Cybils Nominations Open October 1st: How Can You Participate?

Nominations for the third annual Children’ s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (the Cybils) will be open Wednesday, October 1st through Wednesday, October 15th. The goal of the Cybils team (some 100 bloggers) is to highlight books that are high in both literary quality and kid appeal . The Cybils were founded by
Anne BolesLevy and KellyHerold.

This year, awards will be given in nine categories (Easy Readers, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Novels, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Young Adult Novels). Anyone can nominate books in these categories (one nomination per person per category). Nominated titles must be published between January 1st and October 15th of this year, and the books must be in English (or bilingual, where one of the languages is English). To nominate titles, visit the Cybils blog between October 1st and 15th . A separate post will be available for each category – simply nominate by commenting on those individual posts. If you are not sure which category to choose for a particular book, a questions thread will also be available.

Between October 16th and January 1st, Cybils panelists (children’s and young adult bloggers) will winnow the nominations down to a 5-7 book short list for each category. A second set of panelists will then select the  winning titles for the different categories. The winners will be announced on February 14th, 2009.

The Cybils lists, from long lists to short lists to the lists of winners, offer a wonderful resource to anyone looking for high-quality, kid-friendly books. The Cybils team has worked hard to balance democracy (anyone can nominate titles) with quality control (two rounds of panel judging by people who focus on children’s books every day). We do this work because we consider it vital to get great books into the hands of children and young adults.

How Can You Participate?

We think that the Cybils nominations will be of interest to parents, teachers, librarians, writers, and teens. If you have a blog or an email list or belong to a newsgroup that serves one of these populations, and you
feel that your readers would be interested, please consider distributing this announcement (you are welcome to copy it). The Cybils team would very much appreciate your help in spreading the word. And if you, or the children that you know, have any titles to suggest, we would love to see your
nominations at the Cybils blog, starting on Wednesday. Thanks for your help, and stay tuned for further
news!

Jen Robinson
Literacy
Evangelist for the 2008 Cybils

Metacognition in Reading Workshop

Assessment in Reading Workshop is always difficult, especially in an education culture that begs for grades at every turn.  I always struggle with how to assess my readers without cramming quizzes and tests down their throat at every turn.  I do test their basic comprehension when we read class novels- a necessary habit/evil that they must practice in order to be able to do it in middle and high school.  Plus, I love our class novels!  And they should be easy grades for every student, as long as they pay attention to our class discussions.

Assessing independent novel reading is a struggle for me.  I firmly believe in the Atwell school of thought which states that independent reading is pleasure reading.  Therefore, testing or grading that reading is counter-productive because it only makes reading a chore.  But of course, we need to give grades.  I think I finally have an assessment I am happy with this year.  It isn’t the be-all-end-all of my grading, but it does provide me with more data about my students as readers while also giving me a quick 5 points/week in our semester grade.

After reading Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak I decided to implement a weekly in-class reading log.  I used a basic reading log last year which just asked the students to fill in the title, author, number of pages read, and the date. It served its purpose but I wasn’t getting anything from it.  This year I implemented Franki and Karen’s weekly reading long instead.  This log asks for the title, author, genre, and pages read.  But it also asks for a comment on that day’s reading.  So we read for 20-30 minutes and when we stop the kids fill in their comment.  Sometimes I shape their comment by asking them to use our daily mini-lesson.  For example, we were working on thick vs. thin questions this week so I asked them to write a thick or thin question after their reading.  At the end of the week they also fill out one thing they learned about themselves as readers that week and a goal for the next week.

I have now collected the weekly logs twice and I am thrilled with them!  They give me a great picture of my kids and their reading.  The comments have been getting better with each day and I love seeing how they think about their thinking at the end of each week.  Thank you Franki and Karen for the awesome idea!  

(For grading, I use a point system and divide the number of points earned by the total points for the marking period for each student.  The weekly reading logs are worth 5 points and the only reason a student doesn’t get full credit is if they don’t fill out the log or hand it in incomplete.)

Walking to School by Eve Bunting

Very few of my students are familiar with the situation in Northern Ireland over the course of their lifetime.  However, this contemporary situation is one that should be taught.  Before I read Eve Bunting’s newest offering, Walking to School, I wasn’t really sure how to do it.  Now, I know I will share this story with my students as a read-aloud (and a perfect example of a small moment story/personal narrative).  

 

Allison has just started at a new school in Belfast.  In fact, she has just started school at the same girl’s primary school that her mother attended at her age.  Instead of being excited, though, Allison is dreading school by the second day.  Not because of her teacher or classmates or the work.  No…she dreads the walk to school because on her first day, Protestants lined the main street and spat the children while yelling and cursing.  She is terrified to walk to school again.  Her mother enlists her uncle to walk with them, but Allison can’t tell her that she is also scared of Uncle Frank.  See, she knows a secret about her uncle that her mother doesn’t even know.  And because of that she is afraid of him and this makes walking to school even worse.

Of course, Allison’s mother makes her go to school.  While the walk is terrifying and even worse than the day before, a momentary connection between Allison and a young Protestant girl changes everything for her.

This is a deep story and one I plan to use as a mentor text for personal narrative.  I can also see using Walking to School as a picture book for advanced readers because there are so many layers to the story.  The possibilities for discussion are almost endless.  Eve Bunting has done it again!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book by Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney is a godsend for reluctant readers.  His Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is my go-to for students who hate reading.  Everytime, within only a few pages of Greg Heffley’s “diary” they are laughing and telling their friends what a great book it is.  I can’t tell you how many of my students over the past two years list Kinney’s books as their favorites.  Jeff Kinney has truly written “gateway books”.  My kids start with the middle school adventures of Greg Heffley and then move into other novels, exploring new genres and authors, thanks to Diary of a Wimpy Kid!  

Now, Jeff Kinney is looking to do the same for reluctant writers. His latest venture is Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book. Designed just like the other Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, this hardcover (orange!) book includes original art, writing prompts, and do-it-yourself comics.  Greg leads the writer/reader through a variety of silly and funny writing ideas.  Some of my favorites include rules for your family, the baddest thing you ever did as a little kid, and a few questions from Rowley (Greg’s best friend).  The entire book is written in Greg’s authentic middle schooler voice, and the book reads like a conversation.  I found myself laughing out loud more than once!  

This language arts teacher was even more excited to discover that the second half of the book contains entirely blank pages- to be filled in by the author!  And Greg reminds you to keep the completed book in a safe place, because it will be worth a ton of money when you get famous someday!  :)

I really enjoyed this book.  It is available in the October Scholastic catalog and a few of my students already mentioned they can’t wait to order it.  If Jeff can hook kids into reading as well as he hooks them into writing, I will love him even more!  

 

 

Miscellaneous Thoughts-  I love the orange color of the cover! I also love that Amulet printed this as a hardback instead of a paperback.  Kids are going to love the idea that their book truly is a Wimpy Kid book and not just a lame knockoff, because it is a real hardcover, too.  Small details like that are so important when you are trying to get kids to enjoy writing.

Houdini: The Amazing Caterpillar by Janet Pedersen

I am the crazy butterfly lady, no doubt about it. If a book so much as even mentions monarch butterflies I must have it for my classroom collection. Imagine my excitement when I received a review copy of Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar from Clarion Books this week!

Houdini is a monarch caterpillar who lives in a classroom. He is always the center of attention due to his amazing tricks, like eating milkweed leaves really fast and shedding his skin. The kids love him! But one day, they start paying attention to other animals in the classroom, like their pet turtle. Houdini is not thrilled with this new development (especially since he thinks the turtle is B-O-R-I-N-G). He tries to perform new, more amazing tricks but nothing holds their attention.

Until the big day.

The day that Houdini decides to pull out all the stops and shed his skin on last fabulous time. This time? He becomes a chrysalis! The students are in awe after viewing this last transformation and Houdini is one more the center of attention. He goes two weeks without moving, eating, or doing any other tricks! Finally, after 10-12 days he opens his eyes and emerges from the chrysalis. This amazing feat stuns the children, who are thrilled with their friend, Houdini! Now that he is a beautiful monarch butterfly, they hold a butterfly release and let him go.

This is a very cute book and one that rings very true for me. We just did our last monarch release a week ago and even my 6th graders are excited about the metamorphosis of the monarch butterfly. The book is very accurate and includes all the stages of the life cycle. The illustrations, watercolors done my Janet Pedersen, are gorgeous. The only small issue I have is that Houdini is more white/yellow striped than black/white/yellow striped. However, this is my only quibble with the book.

Janet Pedersen was inspired to write Houdini the Amazing Caterpillar after attending her son’s kindergarten butterfly release. How cool is that?! I hope that kindergarten teacher is as excited as I am! Pedersen also includes a page of monarch facts in the back, which makes me happy.
This is a great book for any classroom that raises monarchs. It is also great for teachers and parents who don’t have monarchs of their own but want to share these magical creatures with their children. I highly recommend it!

Jogtheweb

I spent  little bit of time tonight playing with Jogtheweb.  Jogtheweb allows you to create tracks, or trails, on the internet.  Tracks lead readers from one sight to the next.  You can set up any type of track you can imagine and I can see this being a great resource for research or web quests.

 

I set up my first track tonight.  My topic?  Author blogs and websites, of course.  I chose 11 websites/blogs run by middle grade authors and set them up in alphabetical order.  I then posted the track to my class blog, where I hope the kids will take a few minutes to get exposed to the “real” writers out there.  I think it is so important for them to see that writers struggle with writing, post funny pictures, and have lives outside of writing.  Hopefully it inspires them that they can also be “real writers”.  And even better?  It might inspire them to pick up a book that author wrote or recommended!

My Author Track can be found here.

National Punctuation Day!

Thanks to Jen for the link to National Punctuation Day!

 

From the press release:

 

Why is punctuation important Jeff Rubin the Punctuation Man and founder of National Punctuation Day explains that without punctuation you would not be able to express your feelings in writing not to mention know when to pause or stop or ask a question or yell at someone and without punctuation you would not be able to separate independent clauses and show an example of how a business lost millions because of an errant comma so dont forget the most important punctuation mark $$$$$$ OK so a dollar signs isnt a punctuation mark but its important dont you agree

 

I think I am going to change my plans for tomorrow and have some fun with punctuation!  I plan on printing (part of) the press release for our do-now and asking the students to add some of the missing punctuation. And I imagine showing some of the incorrectly punctuated signs could start some great conversations.

Wordle in the Classrom

Today I used Wordle in the classroom for the first time.  I loved it!  More importantly, the kids loved it!

We have been working on thinking about our reading in reading workshop and today’s mini-lesson was about using our thinking to write a paragraph explaining our thoughts.  We were reading Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven” (one of my personal favorites) and the kids were going to jot their thoughts while we read.

 However, I decided to Wordle the story first and presented it my class under the document camera.  I explained how Wordle worked and then we talked about the words that seemed most prominent.  My students then used that thinking to make some predictions about the plot of the story and the direction it would take.  It prompted some really great ideas and the visual really kept the kids interested.  I can definitely foresee using this a lot this year!

Monarch Emergence and Document Camera

Wow! This past week both of my classes were witness to one of nature’s miracles- the emergence of a monarch butterfly from its chrysalis. I have never managed to have both classes view this miracle as monarch usually emerge early in the morning, before we arrive at school. This year, I remembered to move their cage into the air-conditioned (and dark) supply closet overnight. When I removed them in the morning, both chrysalids were dark. I assumed that they would both emerge that morning. Well, lucky us- one held off until after lunch!

What made this experience even better was the fact that I hooked up the document camera and placed it only a few inches from the chrysalis. Then, I hooked up the document camera to the TV. Well, watching the monarch emerge, close-up, on the TV was amazing! (And it allowed me to keep the kids away from the cage so they didn’t inadvertently knock into it). Well, you could hear a pin drop as we watched our two boys crawl out of their chrysalis, flip upside-down, and slowly begin pumping their wings.

I love my document camera!!!

Our Monarch Release

Below is a brief slideshow of the monarch release our team held earlier this week.  All of the pictures were taken by our “class paparazzi” who did a great job!

Click to play Monarch Release
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