Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2015 Slice of Life Story Challenge Hosted by Two Writing Teachers

This month, I'll be participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by another blog that I coauthor with Tara, Stacey, Anna, Dana, and Besty: Two Writing Teachers.

Every day, for the month of March, teachers from all over the world are sharing stories from their lives. 

You can find my slice of life stories here:

Join us!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Favorite Books to Launch the School Year

Hi Everybody!
I've been very busy visiting all my schools helping people get ready for the new school year. Everywhere I go I bring my suitcase full of my favorite books to read during the first month of school. 

I'm a little bit picky when it comes to these books. Just because it's a book about the first day of school, or it has kids reading and writing in it, it doesn't necessarily make it onto my list. Only my favorite books that I have read aloud to kids are on this list. There are lots of other wonderful books I could have added--I just haven't had a chance to read them to kids yet!

These books are arranged loosely in order of difficulty/maturity. Having said that, upper grade teachers and parents, don't be afraid to use the picture books! You might be surprised at the conversation that goes on!

Kindness and Friendship Picture Books:
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau
My Teacher is A Monster (No I Am Not!) by Peter Brown
Don’t Laugh At Me by Steve Seskin & Allen Shamblin
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill
My Best Friend by Mary Ann Rodman
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
One Green Apple by Eve Bunting
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Kindness and Friendship Chapter Books:
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Counting by 7s by Hollly Goldberg Sloan
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

Overcoming Fear/Building Agency and Resilience Picture Books
Big Plans by Bob Shea
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
Ish by Peter Reynolds
The Dot by Peter Reyndolds
Courage by Bernard Waber

The Writerly Life:
Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon
David’s Drawings by Cathryn Falwell
Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills
The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli
Little Red Writing by Joan Holub
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
Max’s Words by Kate Banks
Nothing Every Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter
The Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk
I’m in Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor

Building a Reading Life:
Wild About Books by Marc Brown
We Are in A Book! By Mo Willems
How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
How to Teach a Slug to Read by Susan Pearson
If I Were A Book by Jose Jorge Letria and Andre Letria
Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Doctor's Office

When Little L. was a baby she used to scream and cry the moment we walked into the building. Her baby six-sense must have told her that something painful was coming. It was the really bad kind of cry too, the kind that rips right through your ear drums. As a mom, a new mom, it was so painful to hear her cry that way that sometimes I cried along with her a tiny bit.

Baby J. is much more laid back at the doctor's office. He loves the attention and coos and smiles at the nurses who all tell me how he's just the cutest little thing--and I agree. Where Little L. used to stiffen in terror, Baby J. playfully bats at the stethoscope and looks into the Dr.'s eyes and smiles. Despite Baby J.'s big smiles I still think about the way Baby L. used to cry. I still have a big knot in my throat the whole time we're at the doctor's office.

Yesterday, when it was time for Baby J. to get his shots, the nurse walked right in and asked me to lay Baby J. on his back and hold his little fists out of the way. She was quick--super quick. Bam, bam, bam, three shots. Three big loud screams from Baby J. "Okay, we're done here," she said cheerfully and walked just as quickly out. Baby J.'s happy, smiley little face had crumpled into the saddest thing I'd ever seen. Maybe it's even worse that he doesn't cry the whole time, I thought. With Little L., I was kind of used to her crying… this is worse…definitely worse…

As soon as I picked up Baby J. and hugged him close, he cooed and smiled. Even with tears still in his eyes he smiled through those tears and clung to me tightly.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reading With My Two Tiny Readers

Sitting on the Couch Reading a Book

A kid is snuggled up to me on one side
A baby is in my lap

A kid holds the book
The baby drools on the pages

A kid turns the pages
The baby swats at them

A kid laughs at the funny parts
The baby laughs at the kid laughing

Now the kid
laughs at the baby
who is laughing at the kid
who is laughing at the baby.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 31 SoL Story Challenge: A Look Back

It's been a very busy month around here. A new baby. A four year old. Going back to work.

Blogging every single night for a month was a pretty big goal for me. Honestly, I didn't think I could do it. I figured I'd give it a try, and probably after a week or so of posting every night, I'd use the "just had a baby" excuse (it's legit!) to justify writing less often.

But then week one flew by. Little L was thrilled to be helping me out with a project, and she was handing me stories left and right.

Then came week two. By then we were on a roll, and though it was tricky to find time to write, I didn't want to break the streak.

Now, week three was probably the most challenging. The initial excitement had worn off. Little L was starting to think of storytelling as a chore rather than a fun project, and we both were running out of steam.

Then without even realizing it, week four was here and we were nearly finished. Then, we were.

Here are some highlights from my month of storytelling with the best coauthor I've ever had, my daughter:

1. Near the beginning of the challenge, I learned an important lesson about storytelling with little kids, when I asked Little L to tell me about her school day, in this post titled "How Was School Today?" I learned to let L tell the stories she wanted to tell, instead of trying to push her to tell the stories I wanted to hear.

2. Not long after that, L surprised me when she created "The Hello Box Poem." I knew that she loved to sing and loved poems, but I had never actually asked her to make a poem. Turns out, she could make a poem up just as easily as making a story up. Reflecting on it now, I realize that I supposed that poems would be harder than stories somehow. But now I see that for a little kid, both are playful and creative. There's no reason to think a poem would be any harder to make than a story, (especially if you've been immersed in both since birth like Little L). Lesson learned: just because it's hard for some grown-ups, doesn't mean it's hard for little kids.

3. In the middle of the month, just when we were starting to run out of ideas, the Lego Movie sparked L to make her own Lego movie, captured in this post, "Little L Makes Her Own Lego Movie." Using drama to tell stories was so much fun, that a few days later, we attempted a puppet show. "A Failed Attempt at A Puppet Show." Telling stories with puppets and Legos as props brought me back to my own childhood and reminded me how much I used to love to make up scripts and plays. I realized that Little L had never actually played with her puppets until that post, and that we could be having so much fun making our own movies and shows more often.

4. And the most popular post this month, was "Why We Don't Write On Kids Work," in which I explain, well, why I don't write on children's work. What I learned from writing this post was that I could be sharing more about my convictions as a teacher. 

I also want to say thank you to my coauthors on Two Writing Teachers. Stacey, Tara, Betsy, Dana, and Anna.  You are all amazing to work with and I feel so lucky to be a part of such a smart team of writers and teachers and moms.  The behind-the-scenes work that went into this month's challenge was incredible (and I'm not bragging, because I didn't do any of it -- I was on maternity leave). This was my first year participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge and I am blown away by what a moving experience it's been. I've grown as a writer. Writing every day has been a gift to myself, and to my daughter.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 30 SoL Story Challenge: Oral Storytelling and Revision

Join hundreds of students and teachers as we share stories every day in March!
For the past week or so, Little L has figured out that I cannot resist letting her stay up a few extra minutes to record a story before bedtime. It's becoming a new bedtime routine! (Not sure yet if it's one I really want to keep… we'll see…)

L surprised me tonight. For weeks her stories have revolved around chipmunks, squirrels, bunnies, and other woodland critters in different fantastical, magical settings and situations. Tonight she told a much more realistic story, with dogs as the main characters, a throwback to her her "younger" days. (I know, she's four, how much younger can you really get! But the three year old Little L used to exclusively tell stories about our dog and dogs in general).

Doggy Runs Away

Once upon a time there was a little puppy and its mother was a golden retriever, and it was a polka dot… it was a silver polka dotted golden retriever, and they lived together in a dog house. And their owner… and the mom person was Goldie, and the little one was Jamie, and the dad was Richard, and the dog… and those were the two pets. And one day the doggies decided that they wanted to… um… run away… so the two dogs ran away. And the next morning when the owners woke up they didn't' see the dogs in the doghouse. Then they looked and looked and looked and looked and LOOKED and LOOKED and LOOKED but they could not find the dogs. So they went to dog proovenary (???) shows. And they found the dogs and brought them home and put a fence around their doghouse so they wouldn't run away again. The… and they got to go to dog races training, and the end. And the dog race training, you get... dogs get to be trained how to do human stuff. The end.

Just after I put the camera down, Little L said, "I know why the dogs wanted to run away."

"Oh, really?" I asked.

"Yeah, they really wanted to go to dog race training school."

"Well, you could tell the story again and put that in there. You could have them talk to each other, so that it shows what they're thinking. You know, about sneaking off to go to dog race training school."

"Can I stay up and do it over?" L asked excitedly.

I sighed. "Sure, why not?"

Once upon a time there was two dogs. And Lucy, and… Once upon a time there was a little girl and her name was Carrie, uh… Carrager… no… yeah, and her name was Lucy… and Lucy, um, REALLY wanted a puppy golden retriever and a mom golden retriever and her mom said, "No… No Lucy we can't, cuz theyll… cuz cuz they won't stay at home." 

"Aw, don't worry. Golden retrievers puppies and moms are the best at staying. Kids, dads, they run away. That's all it is," said Lucy. 

"Come on Lucy" 

So… finally, finally her mom letted her get a puppy golden retriever and a mom golden retriever, and then the, the first night they got them one  said, "Lets go to dog training race school" 

But the other one said "No, cause our owners won't let them." 

THen the other, then the puppy said, "Hey I know, let's sneak OUT now."  So they snuck out… ooop. 

Today race, the dog race, the dog, the animal race training school. 

And then the next morning they woke up, and then the golden retrievers were missing. Then they looked and looked and looked and looked and looked and looked and looked but they couldn't find the golden retrievers. So they decided to look at the animal race training school. And they were there. And finally they figured out. They should bring them back home, put  them in the doghouse and put a fence around so they should never ever escape again.

The end. 

Little L sat for a few seconds in thought. I was putting my camera down and about to tuck her in to bed when she said, "And the moral of the story is…" I scrambled for my camera! How could I miss this!

"Wait! Do it again!"

"And the moral of the story is… if you ever lose your pet, go look for it. The end. Done. The end."

Notes: I have no idea when we read a story that a moral of the story ending--maybe she heard one at school. I also have no idea where the names Lucy, Jamie, Carrie, and Richard come from, they seem more like names from my generation than hers! The golden retriever thing sort of makes sense because she asks me constantly to tell stories about my dog, Bob, a golden retriever that I grew up with.

In the classroom, when I'm working with young kids, I often give time for kids to tell their stories aloud many times to their writing partner to rehearse before they write. This encourages them to revise their story again and again before they even put their pen on the page. Some prompts I often use to encourage revision in oral storytelling include:

* Put in what you were saying. "I said…"
* Describewhat things looked like. "I saw…"
* Describe what things felt like. "I felt…"
* Put in what you were thinking. "I thought…"
* Say exactly what you were doing. "I was…"
* Try using expression in your voice so it's very exciting, or scary, or calm like it's a bedtime story, or fancy like it's a fairy tale.
* Try using gestures or drama to act out your story as you tell it.

A little prompting goes a long, long way. I usually just pick one and give kids time to play around with it. Like with L. Just prompting for a little dialogue transformed the second version of her doggy story!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 29 SoL Story Challenge: A Mash-Up

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You know that phenomenon where once you learn about something, you start to see it everywhere?  Well, a few years ago, it seemed like  everywhere I turned, "mash-ups" were coming up. I'm a fan of the show Glee, where mash-ups were in vogue on the show for a while, and maybe they still are. Friends kept posting mash-ups to their Facebook "walls," and even in my doctoral program courses colleagues were taking on the concept of the mash-up as a tool for researching student identity and culture.

Here's an example of a mash-up, in case you're not familiar. DJ Danger Mouse mixes The Beatles with Jay Z to create this mash-up:
Mash-ups are so interesting to me because they often bring together elements of style, culture, and identity that might at first seem disparate, but when juxtaposed or mixed, the common threads pop out. The Beatles are larger than life, Jay-Z is larger than life (if you're a New Yorker especially), and there's a demographic that is attracted to both. The mash-up demonstrates how some of the same people who love the Beatles can also love Jay-Z. I find it very cool.

Anyway, I hadn't thought about mash-ups in a while. Then, tonight Little L. did this:
Go Little L., mixin' it up. Why let the limitations of one genre get in your way, when you can mash them up into a Poem/Song/Story combined?

What I love about L.'s mashup is that she's included her classic go-to's for each genre. She starts with a poem that goes "I am a wish box…" Earlier this month L. made up a similar poem about a "hello box." I loved it so much, that she repeats variations of it often--in the car, at the dinner table, while playing...  Next she moves into ABC's… classic. Finally, a chipmunk story. If you've been following Little L. and I this month, then you know she loves a good chipmunk story. All in all, her mash-up does a nice job summarizing the recurrent themes in her body of work to date!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 27 SoL Story Challenge: The What Is It Poem

Slice of Life Day 7.  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.
Join hundreds of teachers and students as we we share stories each day in March!

Join the Poetry Friday Round up at Rogue Anthropologist
It's also Poetry Friday! Join us!

Once again, Little L. knows that Mommy cannot resist allowing her to stay up a little bit past bedtime to tell stories, or in this case a poem.

What Is It

What is a bag? 
A bag is something you carry something in.

What is a person?
I am a person.

What is an eyeball?
It is on you.

What is a baby?
It is a kid when it is not grown up yet.

What is hair?
It is on your head is this.

What is a nose?
The nose is what you smell with.


UPDATE: Wow, so I later realized that it is actually only Thursday, so Little L and I are a little early for Poetry Friday. But doesn't it feel like Friday?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 26 SoL Story Challenge: The Story of Crafty Bear

Join hundreds of students and teachers as we share stories every day in March!
I sat on the couch with Baby J. in my lap while Little L. built a submarine out of Legos for "Crafty Bear" and "all the chipmunks" on the coffee table. Crafty Bear is the star of a story that Little L. and my husband have been making up for the past day or two. The story basically goes like this:

Once there was a bear named Crafty Bear. He has a friend, Chipmunk, and they find a book that some campers left that was a book of the world with a map of the world. They saw some pictures of a kangaroo and they decided they wanted to see the kangaroo. Crafty Bear happens to be a genius engineer and they decide to build a submarine. His bear friends help him build the submarine, but the bears are too scared to go into the submarine-- except for Crafty Bear. His chipmunk friends are wild and crazy, and they're ready for adventure. So, Crafty Bear designs this amazing submarine that has lots of windows and is the shape of a shark to fool the sharks. It has a big metal tree inside in the shape of a den for chipmunks, so the chipmunks just moved all their stuff in…They go on adventures-- the Marianas Trench, and down in the trench they discover treasure that has four crystals that tell you where the lost city of Atlantis is.

At school, Little L. drew this with Crafty Bear in mind:
"This is the map. There is a red lava pit and a magical blue lake. You have to follow the green trail, then the red trail, then the purple trail, then this trail."

"You follow all the right trails and it leads your o the room full of magic keys. See, there are lots of them."

There's much, much, much more where this came from. Little L. will ask, "Can you tell some more Crafty Bear?" and  my husband will say a sentence or two, and after a few lines, Little L. will take over the storytelling.

I watched while Little L. worked on her Lego submarine. "L., can I videotape the Crafty Bear story?"

"Argh! Let me just tell you. Don't videotape it!"

So… no video tonight. But now you know all about Crafty Bear and his band of adventurous chipmunk friends.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day 25 SoL Story Challenge: Fairyland Part Two

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So… we almost didn't have a story from Little L for tonight. Between school and work, grocery shopping and dinner, and diaper changes and feedings, the day just sort of blew past us. All of a sudden it was bedtime and I hadn't even thought about what to write today, and I hadn't asked Little L for any ideas.

But then, at bedtime, when I least expected it, Little L. must have realized that she just might get to stay up a few minutes longer if she offered to tell a story. She was in her pajamas, and hadn't brushed her hair yet, but I couldn't resist saying yes to the offer of a story.

It's not the first time during this challenge that Little L has told a fairy story. Little L's love of all things fairy-related has inspired many stories, drawings, and dramatic performances in our house. Today's story was partly inspired by this library book, which she brought home from preschool last week:
The book was fresh on L's mind because today was supposed to be library day. Her whole class got bundled up in snow pants, boots, mittens, and hats, to trudge through the ice and snow to go next door to the library. (It's still very cold where we live in VT. The high was 17F today.) But when they got to the gate in the picket fence that separates the school playground from the library path, it was iced shut! The teachers kicked and scraped at the ice, but the restless three, four, and five year olds were ready to go back inside where it was warm. So, they turned around and made their way back through the ice-slicked playground to go back inside. The good news is, L got to keep her fairy book for another week!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 24 SoL Story Challenge: A Planned Story

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The four of us sat around the kitchen table for dinner. Little L sat in her "special chair," a chair that can be adjusted in height so that she can reach the table, and three month old Baby J sat in the highchair for the first time.

"So L, what should we write about tonight?" I asked. Little L has been helping me create my posts for this blog each day, mostly by telling stories that I videotape.

For a moment I wasn't sure if L would cooperate. More than once during the SOLSC I've had to do dome cajoling to get a story. 

"I want to tell you a story about a run-away, then find, then lost kind of a story." I knew what she meant. She had a plan for her story; it was just a bit jumbled.

I resisted the temptation to immediately correct her by restating  it. Instead I said, "Wait, I'm confused. It really happens in that order?" Little L just looked back at me blankly. It occurred to me that she perhaps had never heard that phrase: "in that order."

So I asked, "Does your story end with being lost?"

"No!" Little L laughed like that was just plain silly, to end a story that way. "It goes like...first there's getting hidden or running off, then there's being lost, then there's getting found." 

"Oh! That makes a lit more sense to me," I said, proud that she was able to revise her plan to have the sequence make more sense. "May I record your story now?"

"I want to tell it at bedtime," L said.

So later in the evening, after dinner and more storytelling, and cleaning up, and baths, and putting on pajamas, and brushing teeth, and bedtime stories, just before getting tucked in L asked if she could record her story.

Here it is, just as she had planned:

"Illustrated" by Little L. "Asked" by Little L.'s mommy.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 23 SoL Story Challenge: Fairyland

Join hundreds of students and teachers as we share stories every day in March!

In kindergarten classrooms all across the country, many teachers are in the midst of teaching "All About Books." During this unit of study in writing workshop, we ask kiddos to talk and draw and write about topics that they are passion about, topics that they are mini-experts in. It's one of my favorite units because I always learn so much about kids. When kids are allowed to explore topics that they are genuinely interested in (rather than assigned) we find out who has an obsession with My Little Pony, and who loves scooters, and who is a Yankees fan, and who knows all about puppies because she has one at home.

I asked Little L. to list some of the things she's an expert on and she had no trouble naming off half a dozen topics.

1. Dinosaurs
2. Skiing
3. Baby Brothers
4. Bike Riding
5. School
6. Fairies

Little L. knows ALL ABOUT fairies, actually. Starting with last spring, we went to a fairy garden workshop, and when we got home, I set aside a little bit of space in my vegetable garden for L. to build this:

L. spent hours upon hours in this spot, creating elaborate narratives involving magic and mystery.

Then, when the weather got cold. we got this for L.'s birthday:
And this book:
And last week L. brought home this book from the library:
And then just the other day she made this (and many others like it); I added the labels:
And today, she worked on this treehouse for her fairies:
When it's time for Little L. to write an All About Book in kindergarten, she'll be ready!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 22 SoL Story Challenge: Why We Don't Write On Kids' Work

My four year old daughter will be the first to tell you that she does not like it when adults write on her work.

"Mommy, I don't like it when somebody else writes on my story."

"Mommy, [insert name of well intentioned adult] keeps on writing on my stories and I don't like it."

Or my favorite, overheard while drawing with an older cousin: "How would you feel if I wrote on your work?"

Don't get me wrong, some kids have no problem stepping aside and allowing someone to swoop in and write the words for them. I experience this often when I work in pre-k and kindergarten classrooms. I can see them, staring at me with puppy dog eyes from across the classroom. Their eyes speak to me. Come to me. I'm just a little kindergartener. Puhleeez do my writing for me… At least just sit with me and give me attention. I like it when you sit with me. Puhleeez?  However, when it comes to independent writing and drawing, I know better than to lay a finger on their work.  Kids are very, very, VERY smart. I know that if I give in even just one little time, then they will hope and expect for someone to swoop in every time and write or spell some words, or even draw for them. It's the same thing with zipping up jackets, or putting on boots, or wiping their noses. Consistency fosters independence--as long as your expectations for what children can do on their own is appropriate for their ages and stages.

I was so happy when I saw this come home from L.'s preschool the other day:

I have a very strong feeling that had Little L.'s teacher written this ON L.'s picture instead of separately, LittlebL. would have either A) thrown a fit, or B) said very little, dictating slowly to the teacher something like "This…is…a…tree." or C) decided not to draw with so much detail if she sensed the teacher was really looking for words on the page. I've witnessed these reactions again and again in early childhood settings.

When I confer with very young writers, I usually say something like, "Tell me all about this!" or "Tell me about your picture," or "How does your story go?" Then as they talk, I discreetly jot down notes, verbatim as much as possible. I always have a clipboard with me when I confer (see this older post about conferring notes on TWT), and I just use a piece of blank paper to take a dictation instead of a conferring form. If kids ask what I'm doing, I just tell them, "I'm just taking notes so I don't forget all this great work you're doing!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

Day 21 SoL Story Challenge: Combining Storytelling and Singing in Dramatic Play

Little L. was busy this afternoon creating an elaborate story using plastic toy dinosaurs and her dollhouse. The gist of her story is that the dinosaurs discover "treasure" in the dollhouse that lead them to believe that their grandparents are "out there" somewhere. The treasure then becomes clues that lead the dinosaurs on a search for their missing grandparents. As Little L. tells the story and plays, she mixes dramatic play with singing.

Here's a clip of the singing (I was having trouble editing with YouTube, so if the clip is longer than 45 seconds, than the singing is at 2:30):

I'm constantly amazed at how children appropriate material from all sources when it comes to dramatic play. Here's a list of  just a few sources that I think L. was drawing from as she constructed her dinosaur narrative:

1. Her love of dinosaurs is an obvious source of inspiration here. She's been a dinosaur kid practically since birth. and it just so happened that at her preschool they are studying dinosaurs and paleontology, and her teacher gave each kid a little plastic dinosaur to take home today.

2. Building on the paleo/archaeology theme, my husband has been doing some oral storytelling with Little L. At every bath time, meal, and bedtime, Little L. wants to hear a bit more of the story of Indiana Jones. She's obsessed now, and her dramatic play now includes a bit more mystery and intrigue that I think comes from the Indiana Jones storytelling. (BTW I'm amazed at the level of detail my husband can recall from those movies!)

3. Little L.'s all time favorite show (one of the handful of television programs she's ever even seen) is Wonder Pets, and as you may already know, the Wonder Pets sing throughout every episode. It's like opera for little kids.