Wednesday, 28 October 2009

A Big WOW!

Oh, I love days like today! This morning, a small group of 4th and 5th graders met with Mary Amato for our first Skype An Author visit. It was beyond fantastic! Let's just say it's 2 hours later, and I'm still on a high from how incredibly powerful the experience was.

Skype an Author is a program where authors donate time to talk to students. Mary donated 15 minutes of her time to meet with us and talk about her book called Please Write in This Book. The group of kids had met with me to generate questions ahead of time, and we were very organized and ready to go. I liked that Mary had sent me guidelines ahead of time so we could easily follow her expectations.

Mary was so gracious and warm. Even when we lost electricity (aagggh!) in the middle of our time with her, we all gathered around the laptop in the dark and she loved it, saying it looked like we were gathering around a campfire to talk to her. We even got to see a sneak peek of her newest book, Invisible Lines, which was very cool. But most exciting for me was the energy in the room--it was the coolest buzz from the kids and me about the fact that we had just talked to the person who wrote the book we love. A 5 star authentic experience for us all, and we can't thank Mary enough for meeting with us!

Feedback from the kids is the best way to sum it up:

*I never knew that she made a lot more books.

*I never would have thought it took 6 years to write a book.

*She was nice.

*You know when you are reading a book and you have questions for the author. We always put post-its in the books, but we got to actually ask her the questions. (this one really hit home with me!)

*It was cool when the lights went out.

*Writing takes time...actually, good writing takes time.

*Even if you don't like writing like Ms. Amato didn't like writing, if you keep writing and writing, you can learn to be very good.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Wordle and Books = Groovy Stuff!

I love the idea of leaving kids with one "cool tool" each time they visit me. During my second session with the grade 3-5 students, I modified an idea I found on Chad Lehman's website using Wordle. In a nutshell, Wordle creates a word cloud out of the text your provide. The more frequently a word is used, the bigger it becomes in the cloud. We began our Wordle lesson by modeling the process, and I had kids quickly brainstorm reasons we love Thailand. Yes, the beaches truly are amazing here, but I did cheat a bit when we made this. When one kid said 'beach,' I asked who else liked the beach and then added a bunch more to give them the idea.We then broke into small groups and listed 6 favorite book titles or series, which I then input into the program to create our Wordle. (It is always cute to hear the 'oohs' and 'aahs' of kids viewing the Wordle). Going one step further, I talked about how our Wordle is actually providing us with data about our class as readers, and we tried to extract the data we could find.

I put them together in a Voicethreadand found myself very interested to see how readers matured greatly from grade 3 to grade 4. There was a leap from mostly predictable series in grade 3 to more individual, meatier books in grade 4. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was overall the most popular, and our friend Garfield was found to be king at all levels.

Thursday, 8 October 2009


One of the best investments our school has made for our greater community is buying a site license for Tumblebooks. The concept is simple: quality titles read to kids with illustrations using a tiny bit of movement. It's magic, and it is becoming a wonderful tool for parents to use at home. I believe the cost for a school is about $1000.00, but it's so worth it if your budget can handle it! We are finding it especially motivating for the ELL population as it allows students to hear English at home.

Free trials as well.

Easy, cheesy tech tip: To do a screen capture (photo of a website you are on) like I did of this photo attached, simply click shift + command + 4 on a Mac. Drag the crosshairs over the area you want to take a picture of and let go. An automatic picture!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Keeping Current

Keeping current with technology is fairly easy: read a lot of blogs that tech-savvy folks are writing, watch your tweetdeck for new cool tools and spend a lot of time with techies. But keeping current with reading strategies and pedagogy is not as easy, in my opinion. Sure, I read book blogs (almost obsessively), but I've been out of the classroom for a few years now, and I simply don't want to lose touch with current ideas on how to use mentor texts and how to implement good, solid strategies when I'm meeting with kids.

For that reason, I put some of my yearly PD money to good use. And Amazon kindly delivered these awesome new books in just under a week's time. Certainly not bad at all for being all the way over here in Thailand. I can say I'm already so pleased with my well-researched choices. Lots and lots of deeper understanding already on my part about choosing and using mentor texts.

The Revision Toolbox by Georgia Heard
Non-Fiction Mentor Texts by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli
Wondrous Words by Katie Wood Ray
Mentor Texts by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli
Teaching With Intention by Debbie Miller