Monday, April 14, 2014

Math and Literature

Most things are made better by a good picture book.  I recently learned of another way of thinking about using books in Math class.  Jeffery Shih and Cyndi Giorgis, a Math education professor and a Children's literature scholar respectively,  have a framework that I appreciate. 

The first level consists of books mostly about math, with very little story.  Their purpose seems to be, and often is, just to teach math. Some titles new to me are:

Mice Mischief

A Million Dots

The second level includes books with the mathematics embedded AND the qualities we love about picture books.  They have an engaging plot, endearing characters, language that delights us or illustrations that captivate. An understanding of the mathematics will enhance the understanding of the story. Giorgis and Shih say that it is important for students to experience math within a context. A context that matters. That has quality picture books written all over it. Books I can't wait to get a closer look at:

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie
Have You Seen My Dragon?

The Rabbit Problem

The Boy Who Loved Math

The final category was described as books with the potential for mathematics in them.  As Dr. Giorgis said, this could include almost anything.  Both professors stressed enjoying all books for themselves (especially categories 1 and 2) and not jumping to the math too quickly.  

Some of their suggestions in this category that were new to me included:

Building Our House


Stay tuned for the full bibliography from each category.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013


What did you learn at SAGE this year?

Some of you have already shared your learning with me, but I would really like to hear from more of you. Add a comment below and tell us what you took away from the session you attended or presented. You can learn in either situation. I always do. I learn something everywhere I go. I make a point of it.

This year I co-presented at MeLit, Manitoba Early Literacy Intervention Teachers, with Krista Bracken and Tom Code from Harold Hatcher. Our topic was Kindergarten: What is Possible? with a focus on writing in Kindergarten.

I learned many things and was reminded of things I know but do not think of often enough:

Collaborating with people who are passionate about what they do is wonderful.

Passion and excitement are infectious.

Great books are always a good place to start.

Kindergarteners can do BIG things.

Beginning writing can be joyful.

In the beginning, when writing can look look like focussing on conventions, it is up to us as teachers to keep the focus on the message and the reader. (first learned from Nancy McLean, associate of Regie Routman, in a K writing residency at John de Graff School, RETSD)

It is very fine for the principal to know what goes on in Kindergarten... good for the principal and good for Kindergarten!

When the principal is an instructional leader, great things happen in a school.

When we work on writing, we are also working on reading.

Sharing our practice as teachers enhances the practice of others and our own. It is WIN WIN.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Internet Research Made Simpler

Lifelong learners.

Professional Learning Communities.


Teacher ownership of professional learning.


Teachers teaching teachers.

These are phrases that we hear and say all the time. Last week I was involved with a group that provided a powerful example of it in action. This has happened many times before, the difference being that this time, I have a few moments to write about it.

I was at Radisson School working with the Grade 3-5 PLC. We were discussing the approach Regie Routman takes toward classroom libraries, as many of you have over the past couple of years. After viewing the video clips of Regie talking with teachers about setting their classroom libraries up in a way that supports and encourages students to take ownership and use the library independently, we got to talking about Richard Allington and his research that speaks to students needing access all day long to material they CAN read. And this led to the problem of accessing non-fiction text that kids can understand, especially online.

At this point, one of the teachers shared something she had learned through her use of Twitter as a means of professional learning. It was a revelation to me and some of the others in the group. So much so, that I was compelled to share it with you, just in case you had not come across this either.

You can search on Google, looking for text written at a basic reading level.

Type in your topic. Let's try polar bears.

On the results page, click on Search Tools, then on All results and then on Reading level.

Now choose Basic and you will get a list of sites written for kids, in language and format they can more easily understand.

Thank you to Laura Steinhoff (Follow her on Twitter @L_Steinhoff or read her blog ) for this invaluable tip.

Access to non-fiction text suitable for research into Science, Social Studies or Health topics just got easier.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Passionate about Picture Books

Seventeen of us came together for the inaugural meeting of the Passionate about Picture Books Club.  Others expressed interest and will always be welcome.  So far we are a group of elementary educators, with K- 5 represented by classroom teachers and K-6 by teacher librarians.  In bold font below, you will find the books shared at that first meeting:

Katz, Karen. The Colors of Us. New York: H. Holt and, 2012. 
         Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin for Children, 2009.
Parr, Todd. FEELINGS FLASH CARDS: A Great Way for Kids to Share and Learn About All Kinds of Emotions. Chronicle Llc, 2010. 
Jeffers, Oliver. Stuck. London: HarperCollins Children's, 2012. 
Beaty, Andrea, and Pascal Lemaître. Dr. Ted. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 2008. 

Tullet, Hervé, and Christopher Franceschelli. Press Here. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2011.  
Daywalt, Drew, and Oliver Jeffers. The Day the Crayons Quit. 2013
Polacco, Patricia. The Bee Tree. New York: Philomel, 1993. 
Fleischman, Paul, and Bagram Ibatoulline. The Matchbox Diary. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2013. 
Highway, Tomson, and John Rombough. Caribou Song. Markham, Ont.: Fifth House, 2013. 
Manceau, Édouard, and Sarah Quinn. Windblown. Toronto, Ontario: Owlkids, 2013. 
Berne, Jennifer, and Vladimir Radunsky. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
Prats, Joan De Déu., and Francesc Rovira. Sebastian's Roller Skates. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller, 2005. 
Base, Graeme. Jungle Drums. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004. 
Ternovetsky, Pat, and Zane Belton. Who Wants This Puppy? Winnipeg: Peanut Butter, 2008. 
Belloni, Giulia, and Marco Trevisan. Anything Is Possible
Hout, Mies Van. Happy. New York: Lemniscaat, 2012. 
Button, Lana, and Tania Howells. Willow Finds a Way. Toronto, ON: Kids Can, 2013. 
Dodd, Lynley. Slinky Malinki. Mallinson Rendel, 1992. 
Willems, Mo. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. Toronto: Scholastic, 2004. 

The bibliography was created by Easy bib, an app that scans the bar code of a book and gathers the bibliographical data.  There is no app that I know of that could recreate the magic of the hour and a half that followed.  Book-loving teachers sharing a favourite picture book and how they like to introduce it to students.

For me, it doesn't get any better than that.

Wait, yes it does.

We are going to repeat the experience. :)

4:30 - 6:00 p.m. at the ERC.

 Thursdays on:

December 5

February 6

April 10

June 5

Choose a picture book (or a stack!) and come to chat.  All picture book lovers welcome...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A New Year

Welcome back!  I know we have been back awhile but I am still getting into the swing of things.  Like you, I am establishing my routines and building up my stamina.  One of the routines I am trying to build in is following a couple of blogs and keeping my knowledge of kid's books current.

One I really love is is The Nerdy Book Club.  The people who write it love books as much as I do.  I learned about this blog from a couple of teachers in our division who I talk books with every chance I get.  Both of them (see you on Thursday Georgette and Sylvia!) will be at the:

Passionate About Picture Books Book Club 

on Thursday, October 3:  4:30 p.m. at the ERC.

A flyer has been sent out but this is a big school division and there is a great deal of information on the move at any given time.  I wanted to make sure you know about this so I am using every avenue available.

If you are interested in attending... just come on Thursday and bring a picture book to share.  The sharing will be informal, the conversation will be all about books AND there will be snacks.  What could be better?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...?

But what if the picture is of words? Words carefully chosen by young writers in our schools. The first photo is a shared write from Joseph Teres. The book This + That by Amy Krause Rosenthal was the inspiration and the purpose was to make the Winnipeg Jets player coming for I Love to Read feel welcome. The audience was teachers and students in the school because the writing was posted in the hallway.

The next photos are from Harold Hatcher School. Check out these restaurant reviews. Even though I am a bit of a foodie, these writers just might make me give McDonald's another chance.

Notice the sticky notes. These were strategically placed on the board by the teacher with an invitation to respond to the writing. It was hard to tell who was more excited, the writers of the stickies or the receivers. Win win.

Notice the additional opportunity for shared writing in the description of the pieces. Think of your hallways as a place to publish, a place to find audience.

Notice the great paper. On your behalf, I asked... it comes from Dollarama.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Editing : The Final Frontier

If you don't have a quality piece of writing, who cares if the punctuation is just right?

Nancy McLean made this statement to us as teachers, just before going into the Grade 4 classroom to demonstrate working on editing.  It is a strong statement for Nancy, an educator who never misses an opportunity to lift up a learner, be they student or teacher. She said it in her gentle, celebratory way with her beautiful southern accent ensuring that it could never sound harsh or critical.  But she said it very intentionally and explicitly so that we as teachers would remember and share with students that writing is about the message first and the conventions later.

Nancy went on to say that:

Editing can be approached with joy.

You can respectfully turn it back to the writer.

In the classroom, Nancy began by having the students collectively write "I can statements".  She told them that they were doing this because they were getting to be such good writers that she wanted to create a list to remind them of the good writing they could do all the time.  To reiterate that the message is the most important part of writing, she asked for things they could do to make their message just right for their reader.

The list created by the students began in this way:

What Good Writers Do in Grade 4

I can write a hook to get the reader interested.
I can reread to make sure it makes sense for the reader.
I can use descriptive words so the reader can: feel my emotions, get a picture in his/her head.
I can cross out instead of erasing because it shows my thinking over time.
I can use details to make my writing more interesting to the reader.

Nancy told the students and classroom teacher that they would add to this list as they continued to grow as writers.

She then brought them back to thinking about the letters they were writing.  After reminding them that these letters were going to be a gift for their intended reader, Nancy talked about how they would copy the letters on pretty paper in their very best handwriting.  She said that once we have our very best writing, we edit.  We edit out of care and respect for our reader.  Editing is not about the message, it is about the conventions.  "Conventions" means that there are certain ways we do things when we are making our writing public.

Working with the editing criteria already established by the classroom teacher, Nancy told the students that they were going to work on editing for punctuation and capitalization only, that we would save spelling for the next time.  She explained that she would model how to do this with one student to teach everyone how to do it and then they would do it on their own.  We would not be helping them, she said, because they were old enough and good enough writers to do this on their own.

You get to do this by yourself.  

You get to be your own teacher.

Nancy worked with one student, showing how to take a coloured pencil to make the necessary changes. After modelling how to read line by line looking for punctuation at the end of each sentence and a capital following it, Nancy broke the process down into steps:

1. Reread one last time to make sure it makes sense.
2. Reread line by line looking for where punctuation needs to end a sentence.
3. Reread line by line putting in capital letters.
4. After you reread 3-4 times and think you are done, put it on the corner of your desk for the teacher to  see.

She then set a high standard, saying that they were expected to find all of the places where punctuation and capitals should go. This was softened a bit by the addition of the notion that they would be given one freebie.  All students got immediately down to editing, just as they had done with writing.  They knew what to do.

The next day, after reviewing the papers that night, Nancy began with celebration.

  • I noticed you using your editing pencil many times.
  • I saw that many of you added capitals and periods. 
  • Thank you for making it clear to your reader.
  • The reason I am handing this responsibility over to you is that we have discovered we teachers have been doing it for you.  That isn't giving you enough credit.  You can do this.  It is time for you to take care of this.
With the classroom teacher, Nancy had noticed that the students rarely capitalized "I".  Together they reviewed the editing chart that described how "I" is always capitalized.  Students were given their letters and the responsibility of editing for the word "I". When they returned to the carpet, Nancy told them that this would be the one and only time they would edit for "I"  and that now that they were taking responsibility for their own editing, they should always just write it with a capital letter the first time.  

Editing for spelling came next.  Nancy again connected the purpose for this back to respect for the reader, saying that spelling errors are very distracting for the reader.  They take away from the power of your message.  Students were told that they were responsible for "Grade 4 words", words we should reasonably expect you to be able to spell or words that you could find in the classroom.

This post is a description of two editing lessons in a Grade 4 classroom.  Stay tuned for some conclusions Nancy helped us draw about editing, her recommendations on what to do when writers come back with their editing only partially done and some of my recent experiences with this part of the process.