Monday, December 3, 2012

Notable Children's Books

The New York Times came out with their list of 2012 Notable Children's Books. A quick description can be found  at

Young Adult:
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh
Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
Son by Lois Lowry

Middle Grade:
Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Raplpaport
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Hand In Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis
The Hero's Guide To Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford
See You At Harry's by Jo Knowles
Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
Who Could That Be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket
Wonder By R. J. Palacio

Picture Books:
Brothers AT Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team by Audrey Vernick and Steven Salerno
The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri
A Gold Star for Zog by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Hello! Hello! by Matthew Cordell
I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi
King Arthur' Very Great Grandson by Kenneth Kraegel
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Friday, November 2, 2012

Motivation and Learning

I know, I know, I've written several times about motivation and learning. But having spent most of my teaching with remedial students, I've seen first-hand how motivation impacts a child's ability to learn and improve. Professor Sue Gambrell in Reading Rockets writes a strong article that states just this. To give her key points (and I'm copying straight from the article here), she advocates the following:

..Students' self-concepts and the value they place on reading are critical to their success 

..Choice is widely acknowledged as a method for enhancing motivation.

..Read-aloud and discussion are effective ways to engage in mastery modeling. 

..Providing balanced book collections at all grade levels is vital to engagement. 

..Many schools, teachers and parent organizations use rewards in their reading programs (and it doesn't harm the child -- if given correctly).

But you knew these already, right?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Books For Advanced Readers

Nurturing strong readers is critical. Many, so many advanced students thrive on good books that challenge their intellect and curiosity -- some immerse themselves into one genre while others thrive on the wide range. So parents, here's a list of books Hoagies' Gifted Page pulled together for your child. Hopefully, you and your child can use this as one of your guides as you navigate the reading world.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Good Explanation of Dyslexia

Are you worried that your child suffers from dyslexia? Reading Rockets offers a good, detailed description that may help. The article is long but is organized in such a way that you can pick out pertinent paragraphs that interest you. It begins with the basics: boys and girls are equally identified with dyslexia, reversals of letters is very common and not a sign of dyslexia, etc. But it quickly moves into the neurological basis of the learning difficulty.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interviews With 100 Children's Writers

Seeing an author up close and personal can be quite thrilling for a child (and you!), but here's a link to online interviews with over 100 children's authors. Do you or your child recognize any of these names? Any new people you want to hear about? Enjoy, and a hearty thanks to Reading Rockets.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Having Fun With Vocabulary With Your Child

I have had a vocabulary incentive in my room for years, and it's amazing how motivated the students are to use it. It has various ins and outs, but basically, if my students see one of our vocabulary words in print -- or they can get their parents or teacher to slip in some of the words into their conversation and the student identifies it -- they earn points from me. What is so interesting is that every time I do this activity, the students are very eager to find the words, to have their points recorded, yet never ask me what they will "earn" for those points. For example, this year some students have already earned 50 points, yet no one has asked me what they will receive as their prize. Not one. We all just enjoy using and playing with the words, that's all. I just read an article about a high school teacher who gives students stickers on a chart each time they use a vocabulary word in their writing. Stickers -- for high schoolers? Parents, that's all it takes -- some fun, some challenge -- and our children are eager to learn.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Assessing Students' Oral Responses

I caught an interesting article on Education Week Teacher, a teacher wondering if and how teachers can assess oral contributions made by her students. Her musings began as she wondered why her own daughter who apparently offered strong insight into classroom discussions did not earn points for doing so. Is there a way to form a rubric for such students?

When my son participated in Odyssey of the Mind, one activity was for students to sit around in a circle, passing around an object. When the object reached each student, she was to verbally turn the object into something else. A shoe, as it landed into different hands, became a boat, a hat, cockpit, a corset. If the student made her object somehow tie to the object just before hers, she received an extra point. A boat became a paddle, a corset became a straight jacket.

Discussions in class could have a similar, yet dissimilar, rubric. Just as some rubrics for essays reward points when the writer hits upon certain, key, topics covered in class, general discussion rubrics could award points for tying in key topic in class, connecting to the speaker just before her, even the use of complex sentences.

It would take some doing. But in a world where the spoken word is just as valuable as the written word -- and, in some cases, far more valuable -- such a rubric seems to have found its time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

     Here is an informative article on how to motivate students to write. However, I've found the best way a teacher can engage students in writing is -- is to be a writer himself. When I show my students some of my work, when I then ask them to create their own and we will work on it together to polish their work -- I find the most motivated students.
     Teachers who are writers also far better understand exactly what they are teaching. How often I've heard students come to me from their regular classrooms, giving me the classic definition of "metaphor." Their own teachers did their best, I'm sure, when they armed their students with a definition to explain this wonderful writing tool. But did they tell their students how metaphors liven up writing, how they allows the reader to see an image in the environment they themselves live in, how the ordinary sentence become extraordinary in the hands of a metaphor? A writer would tell students this -- and more.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Teachers and Technology


 those of us who know technology in the classroom is the way to go -- but have much to learn ourselves -- here's an excellent article on just that topic. Perhaps the next generation of teachers will simply enter the classroom and do it all. For the rest of us, these articles help guide us.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Reading Nonfiction Gives Major Boost In Reading Development

     I cheered when I saw this New York Times article, a study that seemed to show -- at least, for a first examination -- that helping children read nonfiction has a far lasting impact on their reading achievement. I've suspected this for some time. Quality literature is a must for a literate society, and it opens the reader to other lifestyles, other personalities, other human desires and thoughts. But too much of the reading textbooks are filled today with mediocre fiction. Why waste the children's time, this study suggests, when instead they could be adding to their prior knowledge through nonfiction?
    It will be interesting to find out if this is some statistical error or, in fact, nonfiction reading has much more to offer our students than once thought.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Story Pirates and Writing

     In New Jersey a group of very talented improvisation actors inspire school children to write their own plays, encourage students to submit their own plays to their troupe, and they return later in the year to put on some of those very plays. Definitely, most definitely, this will inspire students to see a purpose for their writing, a direction for themselves. Surely many towns have such actors who can do the same. Though I love when various groups visit our school -- or our students visit the children's theater here -- how valuable would such an activity be in our own schools. The actors get a paycheck, the teachers get direction and inspiration for their writing, and the children -- the children write and write and write.
     What a delightful idea all around.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Charting Who Will Fail, Who Will Not - And Acting On It

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina is tracking how their students are doing, looking for early signs that may lead to school failure. They have a "risk-factor scorecard,"and as they see signs that hint at later failure, the school moves in. Monitoring begins in elementary school. Very proactive, a wonderful idea. Most schools I've worked in have child study teams of some sort, but if I read this correctly, this district doesn't wait until the child is heading toward special education but rather just a child who needs monitoring, extra observing, a cautious eye. Great idea.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

For Teachers: Project-Based Link

It seems as if we are all huge fans of project-based learning, and when given the chance, we find our students blossom. Here's a link to masses of project-based ideas.

Okay, right after testing...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Great Source for Quick Photo Searches

I just ran across this great photo searcher, Photo Pin. The best part about it is it searches the Creative Commons section of Flickr, so the photos it finds for you are fine for use (just as long as you aren't using them for profit). I won't be using it right now, but the photos I pulled up (at least the ones I found) look quite professional.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Websites for Children

Many teachers and parents already use for reading activities for beginning readers. I just  ran across and (knowledge bears) that seem to engage children, as well.

I must say I am still disappointed I can't find anything that I feel would justify using it in the classroom -- I'm all about making the most out of whatever time we have, and the internet programs I find seem to spend too much time getting to the purpose of their activities. But the best way to tell, of course, is to use these sites with children, and that I haven't done, yet. More later...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Standards-based Classrooms

I am a huge advocate for the upcoming Common Core -- at least what I know of it -- and along with that, the standards-based classrooms. I realize change is difficult, but if politics doesn't destroy a good concept (as often happens, especially in an election year), I think we teachers will have more freedom to involve our students in project-based and interdisciplinary work that will inspire our rooms. I know I'm doing quite a bit of it already -- setting up the learning objectives with students, testing each to show him/her visible progress made to date, making lessons relevant -- but I want to continue, of course.

And that is why I entered education to begin with -- the promise of very real, very relevant school days for students, one that they leave with solid skills to use in their lives. Barbara P. Benson has an intriguing book that others have written about and I plan to pick up, How To Meet Standards, Motivate Students, and Still Enjoy Teaching.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gap Widens, But Not Between Black and White

Interesting research coming out from Stanford, Michigan, and other research bodies now indicate that the educational divide is not so much between white and blacks but between the wealthy and the poor. As blacks enter the middle class, that only makes sense. We all knew it was the function of economics, not race, that often kept educational success from reaching our children. Whether it's the stress of low income living or, at times, a difference in chosen life paths, it is one's economics that divides our educational worlds from our youngest Americans.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wikispace Site Up and Running

I've talked about putting my CADERS (readers and assessment) on line. As always, everything takes longer than I expect, especially when I'm learning technology. But I now have a wiki site set up and have just now begun loading the early readers. I illustrated the first two, but the remaining I'm leaving open for students to illustrate on blank booklets that can be downloaded. I'm sure I'll illustrate more of the ones online, but not now, not with so many projects to work on. The booklets will be divided according to skill taught. Instructions on the opening page explain how to run off the booklets so they become an 8-page, 2-sheet book for the students.

Come visit us:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Common Core -- Coming Soon

Well, I for one, have great hopes for the Common Core that is soon arriving in the Kansas City area. I just spent a day, examining how to link ELL/ESOL standards to Common Core, and I have to say, there's much promise in its format. Unlike the No Child Left Behind that stressed scores and little else, Common Core seems to focus on curriculum, involved reasoning strategies, and a cohesive strategy for involving our students on a much higher plane than our past curriculum has (and Kansas has strong standards). A article in Education Week goes into some early detail as to how the framers of Common Core developed their set of ideas from the best teaching practices both abroad and here. I entered teaching, full of inspiration; I have a full jolt of it again.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Picture Book: Hill's "Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave"

I am mesmerized by "Dave the Potter." It's story -- that of a Southern slave who became a master potter -- is intriguing enough by itself. Add the luscious illustrations, the poetry by both author and Dave, and we are granted a wonderful addition to children's picture books.

I want to share it tomorrow with my students. Let's see -- which age? (I teach K-6). Okay, maybe I could knock off the kindergarten and first graders. The rest, yes -- despite preparation for testing and everything else. My students need "Dave the Potter."And then all the teachers...

Study: Elementary/Middle School Teachers Making Huge Impact on Young Children's Futures

In the same article I cited in yesterday's post, findings in a recent study show that children who had strong teachers in grades 3-8, as judged through value added performance, outperformed their peers later in life -- in the colleges they attended, in their lower numbers of teen pregnancies, in their salaries. I always knew it. It does make sense that students whose early years are on solid footing, who increase their skills substantially each year, will, in fact, do better as the years progress. But it's better, of course, when we move forward on proven results, not merely gut impulses.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Value-Added Approach to Teacher Assessment

Anyone who has followed the teacher assessment debate knows the complexity of the issue. Students who live in wealthier areas tend to do better than children from impoverished. Teachers who have special needs children assigned to their rooms have far more challenges to their skills and time than those who don't. Evaluation itself is a very inaccurate science.

But there's hope. An article in Slate tells about value-added approach to teacher evaluation. This looks at the growth children make over the course of a year; it also may look at successive years of a teacher's record. This tends to allow years when teachers have a more difficult class (and we've all had them) to be averaged in with more manageable years. The value-added approach doesn't expect all children to reach one single benchmark (the bane of NCLB) but rather grow in their own abilities.

It's certainly worth looking into. I'm eager to see where this might lead. I do think we need some type of assessment that helps guide teachers and administrators in an honest direction.