Monday, September 26, 2011

Reading more than books

One of the benefits of teaching students with special needs is getting to work with small groups.  This can also be a problem when most of the group is absent, and a whole-group lesson was on the schedule.  Such was the case last week, when three out of five students in my afternoon class were otherwise engaged in library time and a readers' theater production. 

I had planned on reviewing the why and wherefore of reading anyway, so that's how the discussion started.  I was focusing on reading outside of school, and was disheartened to find out that neither of my students read books at home.  We then talked about other avenues of reading:  computer use, video games, cereal boxes.  I brought up magazines, and remembered that I had purchased one that morning at the grocery store on the way to work.  Aha!  Instant environmental print lesson for two!

A visual literacy lesson came next.  "What do you see on the cover?"  "Cookies."  "Good!  Where is the word 'cookies'?"  "What colors do you see?  When do we usually put those colors together?  Find the word Christmas!"  My students learned that the "p." in "p.6" stood for "page."  We perused the table of contents, discussed reading ingredients and instructions in recipes, and found lots of compound words:  cutout, shortbread, gingersnap, butterscotch, peanuts, thumbprints, gingerbread, cheesecake, checkerboards, and snowflake, to name a few.  One of my students told us about seeing ginger for the first time in a grocery store with his mom, and was able to point out the cookies that looked like they had ginger in them.  Cookie and candy likes and dislikes were exclaimed, as well as wishes for the baking season to hurry up and arrive.

Alas, we ran out of time before we could discuss the usefulness of the index, or the importance of the sequence of instructions for making sugar cookies.  Maybe I'll just keep the magazine at school for awhile, just in case I have another sparsely populated class some afternoon.  :-)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teaching reading--a personal history

My career in education has been a twisty road with sharp turns.  When I graduated from college in 1987, I landed a dream job teaching in a special education resource classroom.  I say "dream job" because that first year, there were three resource teachers on campus; we each had two grade levels, and my assignment was K-1.  I started off with four students and an assistant!  By the end of the year, I was up to ten in my caseload, but I was still able to truly give them the individualized attention they needed and deserved.

Fast forward four years:  my fifth year of teaching, and I was the only special education teacher on campus.  My caseload was up around sixteen students, teaching thirty-five subject-levels, and running a content mastery center with an assistant.  To call me frazzled was an understatement.  I made it through year six only because they hired a wonderful teacher to partner with me, and we became good friends in our shared classroom--and we're friends to this day.

I used many reading strategies during those years; with students receiving special education services, you find what fits!  Books on tape (a few of which I recorded!), recorded vocabulary words (does anyone remember those machines that read sentence strips embedded with recording tape?), Stevenson, multisensory (shaving cream, salt, AlphaBits cereal), read-alouds, music, magnetic letters and words, trade books, whole language, phonics, highlighting, pre-teaching, basal readers...we did a lot of literacy instruction in that room.

Then I quit teaching to be a mom.  Well, to be a mom AND a tutor, and then a mom AND a neonatal unit assistant/desk clerk.  (Told you there were sharp turns.)  And when I finally went back to education, it was as an ARD facilitator.  (For those readers outside of Texas, an ARD stands for Admission, Review, and Dismissal meetings, otherwise known as IEP Team meetings in your neck of the woods.)  I enjoyed facilitating ARDs, so much so that I did that job for eleven years....until my job went away.  I was put in the district surplus pool, and rescued by my children's elementary alma mater, where I currently teach.

After seventeen years outside the classroom, I'm having to familiarize myself with the latest professional reading vocabulary.  Guided reading, reading workshop, Daily 5, read to self, independent reading, levelled readers, making connections.  Sure, a lot of it is the same:  inference, comprehension, cause and effect, fact and opinion, sequence of events, characters, plot, setting.  But even in my second year back behind the horseshoe table, I welcome any help I can get in navigating these new literacy waters.  So when I come across a website like Rachel Lamb's Reading Resources, I'll take it!  Our school is currently using the Reading Workshop model, but a lot of the strategies and skills are common.  I'm still going to try some Stevenson and Edmark programs with my students, and I'll keep learning from my colleagues, inservices, and websites to get me up to speed.  After all, as a librarian wannabee, literacy is pretty much my focus!

Here are a few links I like that have to do with reading, books, authors, illustrators....just like the piles of books in my house, there is so much great stuff out there in cyberspace, and not enough time to browse them all !

Readers are Made On the Lap of a Parent                            

Cynthia Leitich Smith


Children's Book Almanac

David Wiesner

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My first chapter book read-aloud of the year....and book debt

The Ghost's GraveI've already mentioned my afternoon man-cave:  my all-boy class that keeps me searching for just the right book to share.  I think I've found one, courtesy of one of my students, who checked it out from our library and asked me to read it aloud.  I knew it would be a hit from the first chapter, since it opens with a boy's first night at his aunt's house, in which she shoots a bat in the kitchen with a shotgun.  Young male main character, wild animals, guns, and blood; what more do you need to hook pre-adolescent boys?   Once my schedule settles down, we will be settling into this book!

We had the good fortune to spend two hours in a Barnes & Noble this weekend, with nothing else to do but browse...yeah, right.  Like I can ever just browse at a book store.  First,I had to go buy a paperback copy of The Ghost's Grave for the classroom. Then I bought two required books for my YA Lit class:  It's Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians:  The Lightning Thief graphic novel by Rick Riordan.  I bought both, rather than borrowing them, for their personal usefulness.  With teens in the house, health education is paramount, so the former will stay at home.  The latter will be a welcome addition to my classroom library, especially with my male caseload.  I also had to get the 'baby version' of Lane Smith's It's a Book, one of my all-time favorite picture books (though I hesitate to bring it to school, due to the use of the word "jackass"!).  The board book is called It's a Little Book, and it's worth checking out the links on both just for the book trailers alone.  I also got Carl Hiaasen's Hoot, which my son insisted on my reading and had to be added to my owl book collection.  And finally, because I can never say no to book requests from my children, my son added to the basket Pokemon Adventures:  Volume 3, Disney:  Epic Mickey, and Brain Jack, which he's reading for an independent book choice, and I'm waiting to read it when he's done!  My daughter declined any additions; her AP English Lit and birthday book are enough reading fodder for her right now.  Needless to say, Barnes & Noble got a chunk of my paycheck this weekend--but it was money well spent.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A different kind of remembering...

So a friend reminded me about Phillipe Petit, the man who walked a tightwire between the Two Towers...which then reminded me of the picture book I added to my classroom library last year:  The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.
The Man Who Walked Between The TowersFor little ones who don't remember the events of 9/11, or are too young to experience more documentary-type books about that day, this is a way to connect them to that place in a less traumatic fashion.

14 Cows for America

For more mature children, those who are able to make emotional connections with people and events beyond their home communities, I recommend 14 Cows for America.  This truly speaks to the worldwide impact of September 11th, 2001, as well as to the sympathy and generosity of a tribe halfway around the world.  This book reminds me that 9/11 may have started off as an ugly act against humanity by humans, but it evoked so many more  acts of kindness, compassion, and bravery--and who doesn't like to be reminded of the better, more beautiful side of our species?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Another birthday, another book! And a look at our home's "stacks"

How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend
Number one child had her second "almost 18" celebration tonight (her real birthday is tomorrow), and of course, there was a book among her gifts.  I've been holding on to it for two months already, can't wait to hear her reviews for How I Stole Johnny Depp's Alien Girlfriend.  She is a huge Johnny Depp fan, and a reader like her mother, so I'm hoping this book is a "good fit". 

Books are pretty customary gifts in our family.  Santa brings a new holiday book every Christmas, occasionally Seamus the Leprechaun does the same on St. Patty's Day, and there's usually a book among the birthday gifts--or a gift card to a nearby book store.  I am thankful both of my children are happy to spend hours looking at and shopping for books.  We've got "print-rich environment" covered in spades in this house!
When my husband had these shelves built, he
 thought it would take years to fill them. 
Yeah, right!

Coffee table in living room

Daughter's Nancy Drew collection;
she prefers the pre-1980 editions

My bedside reading


Floor next to bed

As you can probably guess, I'm a "scanner reader".  I tend to start a lot of books, and sometimes manage to finish a few in the process.  I'm also likely to skim a book and even read the end if it seems to be going slowly, to see if it's worth reading all the way through.  That famous "Rights of a Reader" poster validates my reading style!

Does your family receive books as gifts?  What kind of reading styles do your readers exhibit?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Books about fires and firefighting

At this very moment, we have wildfires being fought to the west, north, southwest, and southeast of Austin.  I can smell the smoke in the air when I step outside, though it's lessening a bit--hope that means we can avoid an evacuation.  Texas Storm Chasers is predicting a bad day for fires tomorrow as well, thanks to the dry conditions and the winds being stirred up by the "cold front" and Hurricane Lee. 

My children are old enough to talk through this situation, but if you have young ones who are asking questions about the fires, Los Angeles Public Library has a page of books that might provide that information: .  Worth checking out!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another day, another Amazon box!

There are so many good reads out there (and so little time), that I sometimes forget what I've ordered.  (Is that when book collecting becomes addiction?)  After attending a face-to-face meeting in San Antonio for a Library Science class, I came home to ANOTHER box from Amazon!  What present might await in this brown cardboard container of all things good?

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's BookA copy of Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book, edited by Anita Silvey--who just happens to be celebrating her birthday today!  (I found that out on Twitter, another tentative step into the digital age for me .)  So I started to browse the pages, and was delighted to find contributions from people renowned for their pursuits in the arts, technology, sports, science, literature, and even a bookseller.  They each write about a childhood book that inspired, motivated, entertained, or taught them something.  Excerpts from the books are included, and would make for great read-aloud teasers.

Ms. Silvey also includes short bios of the contributors, other books they recommend, and then goes one step further in organizing the recommended books by genre, subject, and reading/age levels.  I can use this book to introduce authors, stories, and help students make the connection between books and future success in adulthood.  I see my classroom library growing from the book recommendation list (and my wallet shrinking a bit!).  It may be an addiction, but is it really so bad?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Yippee! Another box from Amazon!

And just in time, too!  I joke about having my "man-cave" in the afternoons, my group of boys who test my choices of read-alouds and the contents of my classroom library (since I am of the female persuasion, and tend to pick books from that perspective).  Note the inclusion of I Stink in the list of books I've read more than twice....getting the picture?

So I was rummaging through my classroom books, trying to come up with a read-aloud choice to stretch the listening ears of my testosterone-heavy afternoon classes, and pretty much coming up empty-handed.  We settled on a mini-chapter-picture book, and I was able to elicit some responses on character identification and rhyming words before the bell rang.  After crosswalk duty, a team meeting, some desk clearing and prepping for tomorrow morning, I came home to:

Hey! Listen to This: Stories to Read Aloudand        The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition

waiting on my table!  Well, that and another book that I can't divulge just yet as the gift recipients may be reading this blog....But I'm so excited about these books!  I have The Read-Aloud Handbook from my undergrad literacy class (read:  Dark Ages), so I thought it was time for a newer edition.  And Hey!  Listen to This is going to work so well in my classroom, with its background information on authors, short stories and chapters from classics, and related-reading suggestions following each entry.  I may even be able to entice my teens at home into a bit of read-aloud time before the lights go out tonight!

I also need to remember to visit this website more often:  Guys Read, at .  I just love the way they categorize their reading suggestions at the bottom of the home page:  "Outer space, but with aliens"; "At least one explosion"; "Outer space, but without aliens"; "How to build stuff".  With all these resources at my disposal, I should be able to come up with some good-fit books for my men-in-training.

P.S.  For you non-teacher/librarian types-with-children reading this post, The Read-Aloud Handbook is worth getting for the "Treasury" contents alone.  Jim Trelease provides an annotated bibliography of hundreds of books, as well as lists of hundreds more, by category, and includes their "listening levels" (which are often higher than children's reading levels).  The holidays are almost upon us, and what child doesn't like a new book being read to them by mom or dad?  (Insert Hallmark/ Kodak moment for family photo album here.)