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A Book a Week #29

I know, I have fallen off the back on the NY resolution… somewhere between all the grade level planning days and GLEE starting up again- time spent reading has been pushed to the side a bit.

But this week I got back on track and finished Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick.  It’s a wonderful book about an unlikely friendship.  One boy is small, disabled and wise beyond his years.  The other is freakishly large, and his intellectual and emotional capacity was stunted by a traumatic event in his past.  All is revealed as the story unfolds and you can’t help but feel a deep compassion for the characters.

I know several Grade 5 classes use this book- it would be a fantastic interactive read aloud at that age, offering many opportunities for thinking about ourselves through the characters’ experiences.

On the web:

Rodman Philbrick’s website

Clips from the movie


Ralph Fletcher is Coming!

Next February, we will have the honor of hosting Ralph Fletcher as our visiting author.  He’s written both children’s books and professional books on teaching writing.  I plan on reading more of his work this summer in preparation for his visit.  This is not a complete list of his work- just a taste!

Children’s Books

Fig Pudding

Going Solo

Marshfield Dreams

The One O’Clock Chop

The Sandman

Professional Books

Writing Workshop

Craft Lessons

Non Fiction Craft Lessons

Boy Writers

Pyrotechnics on the Page

Web Resources

Interview with Patrick Allen

Non Fiction Monday:  Ralph Fletcher

Three Great Writing Books by Ralph Fletcher

Chinese Guest Teachers in America

This article makes me ache for America.

A Book A Week #28

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder


I read this book because it appeared on this poll which is from a blog that a librarian writes.  I really like the blog and I had never heard of this book before.

The book is about six kids who invent a complex imagination game about Egypt, but it has multiple problems in the story.  It was originally published in 1967 and was dated in some parts-like the  use of the word negro, for example.

The book does a great job of taking you into the mind of a child’s imagination, but I don’t know how relvant it would be for kids today. What child in our classes could imagine living in an urban area and being allowed to run free from the after school hour until 5:30 every day?

Still, I really enjoyed the book- it’s well written and does a nice job with the character arc of the main character, April.  It could be used to teach plot structure and internal/external action as well.  But there are other books out there that could do this too, so I am not sure this is one that would get a lot of play in a classroom these days.

Now that I have started with the list of 100 books, I feel compelled to read all 100 of them.  Anyone care to join me?

iPad. WOW.

I haven’t given too much thought to the iPad and its implications for the classroom, until I saw this:

Alice for the iPad

And now I think reading may look very different in a few years time.

Academic Vocabulary

I really like reading The Answer Sheet.  The author, Valerie Strauss, posts every day on current topics in US education.  She also has guest authors contribute frequently.  The goal of the blog is to “-help parents get themselves and their children through their formal education–while staying sane.”

While I worry about why our education system is now one that parents have to work to stay sane in, I do like the broad range of topics she covers.

Today she put up this post on Academic Vocabulary and how the state of Tennessee is tackling vocabulary instruction.  There are several interesting links on her post, but you can click here to go right to the list of words by grade level.

These words seem to be ones that we probably think the students know, but in actual fact, they don’t.

I’m thinking of a conversation I had with a Grade 1 teacher today about a student saying they did not know what the word ‘cottage’ meant at the end of a fairy tale unit.  “How many times had they heard the word cottage during our unit and not know what it meant?”  Her guess:  many!

Tennessee provides an overview of what is considered best practice for teaching words like these here.

Readers, I know you are out there!  I’d love to hear from you.

  • What do you think of a list like this?
  • How do you teach these words in your classroom?

October is Here!

Six Words

Call for submissions…  and you only need to come up with six little words.  This week I was reading the Horn Book Magazine– one of my favorite magazines- and sprinkled throughout were the wittiest little six word memoirs written from the perspective of characters in famous books.

“Learned to write.  Saved the bacon” by Charlotte

Six words- talk about choosing just the right word!  Writing six word memoirs could have many interesting uses in the classroom.  Or, they could be a fun style for you to experiment with in your own writer’s notebook.

My six word memoir for this week:

“It’s not time to panic, yet.”

Send me yours and I’ll post it here!

Up and Down the Stairs


Last year Amanda Jacob led a book study group on the book Knee to Knee, Eye to Eye.  Though the members of this group finished the book last year, their conversation continues as they meet on a regular basis to talk about how the use of these strategies is going in their classroom.  We have 20 copies of this book on the way.  Anyone interested in getting together to read this book in smaller discussion groups?

Grade 5 is thinking about their process implementing accountable talk strategies in a different way.  They have created a g-doc where all members of the team can contribute insights, things they have tried, and A-Ha moments with each other.  In the end, it should be a good record of their journey through their process.

The LA committee will be talking next week about how to carry the PD around accountable talk forward and how to keep the professional conversation alive around our goal.  Any suggestions?  Please send them to me or your local LA committee member!

Food for Thought

Reading Workshop… it’s something we are all thinking and re-thinking this year as we begin to write reading units that resemble writing units.  What happens to guided reading?  What happens to literature circles?  How do I fit it all in?  Of course, there is no easy answer to these questions- but that’s ok.  Thoughtfully designing a reading program means constantly asking “What is the best teaching strategy to meet the needs of my readers at this time?”

The Reader’s Workshop follows exactly the same format as Writer’s Workshop.  This predictable structure will help students know exactly what to expect: mini lesson with practice in the meeting area, independent work time, sharing at the end.  With this routine firmly in place, you can teach specific reading skills and strategies to the whole class.  Then, you can use the independent work time to have guided reading groups meet with you, or you can have individual conferences with students, or you can have students meet in partnerships or book clubs, etc…  Flexibility within the structure is the key to getting it all in- use the right strategy at the right time.  That’s what makes teaching a craft!

Kathy Collins recent post about Independent Reading Workshop outlines the various models of managing independent reading time and makes a strong case for the RW approach.

Love. The. Web.

What caught my eye this week…

  • Check out this great post on Teaching Non Fiction in Reader’s Workshop
  • One of my (weird, teacher-like) obsessions is with Mo Willems.  I am trying to convince Jack and Eli that they should dress up like Elephant and Piggie for Halloween.  But so far, they are both thinking scary vampire. Why won’t they bend to my will?  You may be inspired by this blog post as you think ahead to your own Halloween costume.
  • The Exquisite Corpse.  I can’t even explain this- you just have to go here and see it.  I promise it won’t scare you.

Have a great weekend!