Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Poetry Stretch - Natural Forces

In the last week Virginia has experienced an earthquake and a hurricane. It's hard for me to look at these events and NOT be amazed by the power of the natural world.

We were very lucky in both instances. I may be complaining about lack of power, but while others in our neighborhood lost trees and sustained damage to their homes and cars, we came out quite unscathed.

So, I'm thinking this is a good time to write about the power of nature, whether it be earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or just a good old-fashioned rain storm. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, August 26, 2011

STEM Friday - What's for Dinner?

Over at my new blog, Bookish Ways in Math and Science, you'll find an annotated bibliography on food chains. I wrote it as a sample for my students, who will soon be creating their own bibliographies for a range of topics in math and science. (If you want to the see the math sample, check out the post on ordinal numbers.) I hope you'll visit often and check out their work.

In reviewing books for inclusion in the food chain post, I decided not to focus on nonfiction works about the food chain, but rather picture books and poetry. I was particularly taken with What's for Dinner?: Quirky, Squirmy Poems from the Animal World, written by Katherine B. Hauth and illustrated by David Clark.

While the title may not indicate that this is a book of poems about organisms and where they fit in a food chain, one need only look at the cover to see fly--frog--big, nasty predator. Before even reading the poems you could engage students in a discussion of the partial food chain in this illustration. What kind of ecosystem is this? What are the likely producers? What do flies eat? What kind of animal might eat a frog? 

Inside readers will find 29 poems about a range of food chain topics. The introductory poem, "What's for Dinner," explains why animals must find food. What follows are humorous, graphic, scientific, inventive and just downright fun poems. Accompanied by equally graphic and humorous illustrations, the perfect pairing of word and art gives us a book that readers will love.

In the poem entitled "Waste Management," a rather haughty-looking vulture pulls at a strand of the innards of a carcass while standing on the exposed ribs. Here is the poem that accompanies it.
No dainty vegetarian,
the vulture rips up carrion.
It likes to feast before the worms,
which saves us all from stink and germs.
While most of the poems are about animals, the last entry, "Eating Words," uses poetry and word roots to define insectivore, carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore.

The back matter includes a section entitled More Words About the Poems, which explains a bit more of the science and further explains vocabulary terms such as symbiosis, parasitism, mutualism, commensalism, and more. More Words About  the Animals provides background information for each of the poems. Here's the text that expands on the poem "Waste Management."
Turkey vultures don't have strong beaks and feet. They can't tear into tough hide and muscle until it's been "tenderized" by decay. A turkey vulture's featherless head and neck may look strange, but skin is easier to clean than feathers after the bird plunges its head into a rotting carcass.
The final page of the book provides some additional titles for learning more about the animals in the book.

Overall, this is a fine book for readers interested in predators and prey. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

For more information about the book and its author, download the file Author Spotlight with Katherine B. Hauth.

This post was written for STEM Friday. Today's round up is being hosted by Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day. Do stop by and see the great books being shared for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Poetry Stretch - Postcards from Summer

Last week I wrote about the project sponsored by the Academy of American Poets in which they supplied poets with blank postcards and asked them to fill them in, in any way that struck their fancy, and mail them back. (You can see the results at Poets Via Post.)

This got me wondering about what my postcard from summer would look like. So, that's your challenge. Write a poem, "find" a poem, draw a picture, or stretch in some other way, but share with us your poetic postcard from summer. Leave me a note about your work and I'll post the results here later this week.

100 New Book Lists from Scholastic

Scholastic has just posted links to a series of more than 100 new book lists. Created by teachers for teachers, these lists range from preK through grade 8 (though a few lists extend through grade 12) and are organized into the following categories:
  • Animals
  • Biographies and Memoirs
  • Families and Social Issues
  • Folktales, Myths and Legends
  • History and Historical Fiction
  • Holidays and Celebrations
  • Read Alouds
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy
Within these categories you'll find topical lists by grade level. The book lists can be downloaded in Excel or .csv format and include basic information as well as interest level, reading level (grade equivalent), lexile framework, and more. The web page for each book list often includes links to teaching resources for particular titles. 

Once you're done exploring the 100 highlighted lists, you can check out Scholastic’s List Exchange, which features thousands of shared Book Lists. You can  even create your own book lists.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Best Vocab Lesson Ever!

Hats off to The Atlantic for their piece 24 Songs The Prematurely Expanded Our Vocabularies. Here's how it begins.
Lyrics in popular music have been blamed for social ills ranging from drug use to the London riots. But as back-to-school season approaches, it's worth pointing out how Top 40 radio can make people smarter—by teaching them new words. 
Check out the article for songs, lyrics, and video clips. You'll find the Beatles, Blink 182, Nine Inch Nails, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Liz Phair, Rihanna, and more. What fun!

Poets Via Post

What happens when a poet receives a blank postcard and is asked to fill it in, in any way, and mail it back? The Academy of American Poets asked this very thing in June and the postcards are trickling in. Check out the results at Poets Via Post.

I was struck by the number of poets who chose to use pictures instead of words. Given the time of year, I'm quite drawn to E. Ethelbert Miller's baseball poem.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inspiration for Neverland to Become Center for Children's Literature

Have you seen the article Peter Pan's Neverland could become forever-land? Here's an excerpt.
For the teenager James Matthew Barrie, the sloping, terraced garden overlooking a gentle river was an enchanted land where he and his friends became pirates, clambered over walls, built hideouts and scaled trees in the sunshine.

But the back garden of Moat Brae, a late Georgian villa in the rural town of Dumfries, became more than a playground for the aspiring novelist and playwright. Thirty years later, it inspired Neverland, the magical kingdom where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell flew into battle against Captain Hook, an adventure that captured the imaginations of millions of real-life children.

Now, nearly 140 years after JM Barrie played there as a boy, the mansion and gardens are to be transformed into a national centre for children's literature, after the derelict and decaying building and its garden were saved from demolition by a local trust.
Read the article in its entirety at The Guardian.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Poetry's Most Poignant Lines

The writers at Stylist Magazine has selected what they believe are the 50 most poignant lines of poetry ever written. The lines are connected to images. The first image is a bird. Can you guess the line? Here's a hint, it's Dickinson. You may not agree with all the choices, but it is an interesting read. I also had a bit of fun trying to guess the lines based on viewing the images.

Why Science Is Important


Favorite quote: "If there is a basketball court in every single elementary school, then there needs to be science programs. It needs to be a priority. It needs to be mandatory."

Monday, August 15, 2011

For All You Seuss Fans

Did you hear that Random House will be publishing a collection of seven tales by Seuss that were originally published in Redbook between 1950 and 1951? Come September you can find them for the first time in book format. 

Nonfiction Monday - Fastest and Slowest

Author:  Camilla De la Bédoyère
Publisher: Firefly Books
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-4

Quick! Before you peak at the cover to the left, what animals come to mind when you think about speed? Which ones stand out as slow?

When my son handed me this book and I saw the cheetah and sloth on the cover, I didn't think there would be much new ground to cover. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the organization of the book and the variety of animals described.

This title in the Animal Opposites series is divided into a series two-page informational sections. It begins with On the Move which provides a brief introduction to types of animal movement. The next section, A Need for Speed, explains why speed is often key to a species survival, whether it be to catch prey or avoid becoming a meal for someone else. Go Slow further explains that some animals use lack of speed for survival as well, moving so slowly that they are more easily camouflaged. Additional sections focus on swimmers, flyers, runners, diggers/burrowers, climbers, slitherers, mini-movers, weird walkers, energy savers, and growers.

The double page spreads are filled with vivid photographs and sidebars that describe animal record breakers or show others in actual size (ruler-included). To get a feel for the book's layout, take a look at these sample pages. While the topics are covered with more breadth than depth, there is an amazing wealth of information and odd factoids that many students will find engaging.
 Here are some of the interesting things I learned while reading this book.
  • Gentoo penguins are the fastest underwater birds, reaching a speed of 22 miles (36 km) per hour in short bursts.
  • One mole can dig 65 feet (20 meters) of tunnel in a single day.
  • The Potoo bird spends all day motionless where it positions itself in a tree and mimics a branch.
The book contains a table of contents, glossary of terms, index, and activity suggestions for parents and teachers.

Overall, this book will appeal to reluctant readers, as well as kids with an interest in animals.

This book was written for Nonfiction Monday. Today's host is Amy O'Quinn. Do stop by and check out the titles being shared this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Three Letter Words

Every so often I revisit the articles written by James Fenton for his poetry masterclass. In the article To villanelle and back, Fenton looks at a variety of forms and the challenges they pose. I was particularly taken with this excerpt.
John Fuller, in response to a competition challenge, set out to write a poem consisting only of three-letter words. And in order to add to the interest, he decided on a form in which there were three three-letter words per line, and the lines came in groups of three.
What an interesting idea! Here is how the resulting poem begins.
The Kiss
by John Fuller

Who are you
You who may
Die one day

Who saw the
Fat bee and
The owl fly

Read the poem in its entirety.
This amazing poem has me wondering what kind of poems can be crafted using only three-letter words. That is your challenge. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lev Grossman on Writing

If you liked Lev Grossman's book The Magicians (I know I did) and are looking forward to reading the sequel, The Magician King, then you'll enjoy this article. In Writing the Magician King, Grossman describes the process of writing the novel. It's an interesting story, with some nice insights into the life of a writer. Here's an excerpt.
There’s a reason they don’t have reality shows about writers: it’s not visual. There’s nothing to see and not much to tell. When you’re really getting stuff done, you’re just sitting in a chair with a laptop and trying to type fast enough to keep up with the movie in your brain. That’s the glamorous life of the writer for you.
To learn more about the book, check out Upping the Ante: A Review of Lev Grossman's The Magician King.

Poetry Friday - On the Beach at Night, Alone

I spent the afternoon at the pool with a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass. My reading inspired me to share this poem.
On the Beach at Night, Alone
by Walt Whitman

On the beach at night alone,   
As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky song,   
As I watch the bright stars shining—I think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future.   
A vast similitude  interlocks all,   
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets, comets, asteroids,            
All the substances of the same, and all that is spiritual upon the same,
All distances of place, however wide,   
All distances of time—all inanimate forms,   
All Souls—all living bodies, though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,   
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes—the fishes, the brutes,
All men and women—me also;   
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages;   
All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe, or any globe;   
All lives and deaths—all of the past, present, future;   
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d, and shall forever span them, and compactly hold them, and enclose them.
The round up is being hosted by Karen Edmisten. Do stop by and take in all the wonderful poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday all!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Discouraging News on Reading and Math

The National Center for Education Statistics just released the report Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales: Variation and Change in State Standards for Reading and Mathematics, 2005-2009. This report compares the standards that states use in reporting 4th- and 8th- grade reading and mathematics proficiency using NAEP as a common metric. 

Here's the gist of the report and why I use the word discouraging in the title of this post.

There is wide variation among state proficiency standards.
  • In 2009, using NAEP as common metric, standards for proficient performance in reading and mathematics varied across states in terms of the levels of achievement required. For example, for grade 4 reading, the difference in the level required for proficient performance between the five states with the highest standards and the five with the lowest standards was comparable to the difference between Basic and Proficient performance on NAEP.
Most states’ proficiency standards are at or below NAEP’s definition of Basic performance.
  • In grade 4 reading, 35 of the 50 states included in the analysis set standards for proficiency (as measured on the NAEP scale) that were lower than the scale score for Basic performance on NAEP and another 15 were in the NAEP Basic range. 
  • In grade 4 mathematics, 7 of the 50 states included in the analysis set standards for proficiency (as measured on the NAEP scale) that were lower than the Basic performance on NAEP, 42 were in the NAEP Basic range, and one in the Proficient range.

Are you interested in seeing where your state fell in this mix? Here are some graphics of the fourth grade results to help you better understand. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bloom's Digital Taxonomy Pyramid

We use the revised version of Bloom's taxonomy in teaching our candidates how to write objectives and plan for instruction and assessment. As they plan, we also want them to think about all the tools appropriate for instruction, including technology. The Bloom's Digital Taxonomy Pyramid makes thinking about technology tools in this context a breeze. For each level, direct links to a number of web applications that can be used to support instruction are included.
(The above work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Author: Samantha Penney,

Even if you don't teach, you'll find something here of interest. As a word lover I'm crazy about Visuwords, Wordnik, and Ninjawords. The visual learner in me loves Creately and Gliffy.

How about you? What are some of your favorites?

New Blog on Books in the Elementary Classrom

As I prepare for fall classes, I find that the WordPress blog my students were using has lost much of its appeal. Because of the problems we experienced last year, we barely used it. So, I have given up on Open Wide, Look Inside and have started a new blog for my classes. (Don't fret, as the content from OWLI will still be available!)

I hope you'll join us over at Bookish Ways in Math and Science. The blog will be devoted to using children's books in teaching elementary math and science, though I have no doubt some books for social studies will make an appearance. Case in point is my first post on books for going back to school.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thinking About Graphic Novels

I've been pondering a recent post on graphic novels and following the comments with interest. The post, Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels takes a rather short view of the genre. Here is an excerpt.
I can hear graphic novel enthusiasts everywhere groaning as I type—and I’m all-too-familiar with the argument that graphic novels require students to make meaning from pictures, drawing subtle inferences based on what they’re seeing.

But is that REALLY true?

Let’s be honest, y’all: Graphic novels ALREADY take away the need for students to visualize anything while they are reading.

. . .

Will students who are hooked on graphic novels ever be terribly excited about picking up a text where they’ve got to do the imagining on their own again?

Think about it: Can YOU imagine trying to imagine—or wanting to imagine, or seeing a need to imagine—after discovering an entire genre where imagining just isn’t necessary?

Interestingly enough, when I taught a course on Content Area Reading for middle and secondary teachers a number of years ago, I included Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History and a few of Larry Gonick's Cartoon history books. Mind you, this was before the explosion of graphic novels, so the pickings were slim. However, there are so many terrific books today.

Do I agree with Bill Ferriter? HECK NO!

First, let me give you a personal response. I have a ten-year old who spent all of fourth grade reading through the Percy Jackson books. It ignited an interest in all things mythological. He's since read a number of mythology books, most recently Mary Pope Osborne's Favorite Greek Myths and Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1 and Part 2. In the mix of books you'll find the first three titles in George O'Connor's Olympians series. (You can read more about George and his work at Seven Imp.) These graphic novels distill the stories of each Olympian into 80 vibrant, action-packed pages. They have been read and re-read by my son. And honestly, they leave him wanting more, not less.

Okay, now for a more academic response. The graphic novels being published today demand readers engage in the same kinds of skills needed to make sense of more "traditional" literary works. The notion that "real reading" doesn't occur while students interact with the text of a graphic novel is simply false. Sometimes this genre may even require more finely honed skills, as readers are required to make sense of a range of literary devices (think about the complexity of narrative structures in a graphic novel) and vocabulary that can be more advanced than other books written for students of the same age.

Check out the article The Case for Graphic Novels in Education that responds to this issue much more eloquently than I have.

If you are interested in learning more about graphic novels in the classroom, check out these links.

So, what do you think of graphic novels? Leave me a note here or head over to Wondering (Worrying?) About Graphic Novels and leave your thoughts there.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Tritina

I have been grappling with the sestina as of late. My attempts have been less than successful, so I've decided to step back and try a simpler form, the tritina.

Helen Frost has a number of worksheets on poetic form on her web site. She suggests starting with the tritina since the sestina is a more difficult form. What a great idea! Here are the nuts and bolts of the form.

10-line poem made of three, 3-line stanzas and a 1-line envoi

There is no rhyme scheme but rather an end word scheme. It is:




A, B, and C (all in the last line/envoi)
So, your challenge is to write a tritina. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll post the results here later this week. Have fun!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Poetry Friday - W.S. Merwin

I have been reading Merwin for some time now. A book of his poetry accompanied me on our recent trip to Mexico. The poems somehow seemed fitting of the place.

He is quite an interesting man. Here's an excerpt from The Poet's View in which he recounts meeting Ezra Pound, describes how his poetry is a reflection of how he lives, and reads a poem he wrote for his wife.
Merwin's nature poetry is what first drew me to his work. He still writes about nature and is a strong advocate for conservation. In fact, he recently gave the keynote address at this year's Hawaii Conservation Conference. You can read more about it in the article entitled US Poet Laureate Says Humans Failing Themselves.

The round up is being hosted by Libby at A Year of Literacy Coaching. Do stop by and take in all the great poetry being shared this week. Happy poetry Friday all!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

What Math Skills in Early Years Are Key to Later Success?

Here's some interesting news on the research front that has tremendous implications for teachers of young children.
Psychologists at the University of Missouri monitoring a group of 177 elementary students from 12 different elementary schools since kindergarten have identified the math skills students should have in the first grade to have success by the fifth grade. After factoring out intelligence, working memory and other abilities, researchers were able to determine the most critical beginning-of-school math skills.

Researchers found that beginning first-graders that understand numbers, the quantities those numbers represent, and low-level arithmetic will have better success in learning mathematics through the end of fifth-grade. They also found that first-graders who understood the number line, how to place numbers on the line, and those with some knowledge of basic facts showed faster growth in math skills than their peers during the next five years.
The results of the study will be published later this year in the journal Developmental Psychology. Look for the paper entitled “Cognitive Predictors of Achievement Growth in Mathematics: A Five Year Longitudinal Study.”

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Reading and ASL

Every so often I have a student looking for reading ideas that incorporate American Sign Language. I am thrilled to report that the Illinois Service Resource Center has made available ASL Literacy Packets based on seven popular children's books. Each packet includes three literacy activities, a list of vocabulary words in which each word is defined and the sign is described, photographs showing the proper way to make each sign, and all reproducibles needed for the activities. Each packet can be viewed as an e-book or download as a PDF.

Literacy packets are available for the following titles:
  • A Fine Fine School by Sharon Creech
  • I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Mary Ann Hoberman
  • The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams
  • Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland
  • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
  • Read All About It by Laura & Jenna Bush
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
These look like useful resources. Check them out at ASL Literacy Packets.

Children's Literature Conference in Virginia

I am thrilled to report that the amazingly talented Denise Johnson, author of The Joy of Children's Literature and professor of reading, language and literacy at the College of William & Mary, will be hosting a new children's literature conference this fall. Here are the details!
  • The conference will be held Saturday, October 15th from 8:00 - 5:00 at he College of William & Mary.
  • The cost of the full conference is $100 (breakfast and lunch included).
  • The deadline for registration is October 3, 2011 or until the conference is full.
The lineup for this one-day event is terrific. Presenters include:
If you are in Virginia or somewhere close by, I hope you take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. I know I will! Please visit the Joy of Children's Literature Conference site for a registration form and more information.

Back to Life, Back to Reality ...

We had a wonderful break. Lots to tell, but this picture just about says it all.
I know we'll look back on our time away with great fondness. While William gets to enjoy what's left of summer, I'm back at work and preparing for fall. Faculty return on the 15th and classes begin the 22nd. I regret to admit that my summer is officially over. While this makes me sad, I'm thrilled to be back with you.