The Teachers College Reading & Writing Project: August Writing Institute

 

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Teachers College: Columbia University

This week I participated in the August Institute on the teaching of Writing at Teachers College at Columbia University. Upon registering, we were given tote bags with the Teachers College logo, several books and a notebook where we would be practicing and developing our own writing skills during the course of the week. As an educator who loves everything about literacy and writing, I was thrilled to be here.

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We were welcomed by Lucy Calkins, the founding director of The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). She shared a very personal story about her father. I thought of my own father and how on my to do list there is a huge need for me to listen and understand his story.  Lucy’s words rang true because writing for me has always been a deeply personal and spiritual affair. It also occurred to me that I don’t always honor this personal connection of writing with my students. Unfortunately, in the game of testing, standards and rubrics, I have sometimes been more concerned with the final product than the personal connection of the story or the writing process.

Every day we broke out into small groups. In these small group sessions, we experienced what a writer’s workshop could look and feel like as a student. Our presenter guided us through mini lessons, whole group and small group instructions. She modeled different writing styles: personal narratives, small moments, non fiction, writing reviews, how to and all about books.

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After she gave a mini lesson, we were sent to draw a picture/sketch to help develop our writing. This I found interesting because some schools frown upon drawing because they think it is not academic in nature. I myself have been told that the drawing portion of my interactive big books were not in line with the curriculum. As a veteran teacher, I have observed time and time again how eager kids are to share what they have drawn. And as we learned, drawing is equally important as the written word because its purpose is to tell a story, share an insight or convey a message. The presenter modeled how teachers can confer with students (individually or in a small group) and how crucial it is to take notes on what the student is doing independently, observe where they get stuck, and how to scaffold support so they use their “writing tools”.

 

While I am in the habit of conferring/conferencing with my students in writing, I have mostly focused on the rubric. I am sad to say that yes, I did mark up their papers, I did point out missing periods and misspelled words.  In our morning group I asked the presenter, “So if I’m not helping them edit and revise and I’m not marking their paper, what exactly should I do?” She said, “Focus on one writing point: structure, development, conventions or processThis will help the student better understand the writing process. The focus is on understanding the process of writing so that they eventually transfer these skills in their independent writing.”  “So they don’t publish a final copy?” I asked. She smiled,”No. They are 5, 6 and 7 years old. They can fancy up a writing piece by adding a cover and coloring a picture. How many times have you asked your students to publish a piece to include all of the revisions you’ve helped them with, and they still copy some, if not most of it incorrectly. What’s more important, the final draft or internalizing the writing process?”  I didn’t answer her because I was having an AHA moment. This was paramount! 

We were asked to write in our notebooks everyday. We wrote a lot. Sometimes I really understood the lesson and went for it. Other times I was at a loss. “What’s a small moment?” I asked. “It’s writing with focus, detail and dialogue.” “What?” I asked again and again. As much as the presenter explained it to me, my colleagues at my table gave examples, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. But after writing several small moments throughout the week, I understand how necessary it is to put myself in the role of the student in order to help them navigate the process of writing.

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Our final day together, we gathered for a closing celebration. I was exhausted, hot and consumed with rushing back to the hotel to pack and head back home. I sat on the steps of the aisle since there weren’t anymore seats available. But as five brave teachers shared their “small moment” writing pieces I leaned in, wanting to hear their stories. My heart pounded and broke, I wiped tears from my eyes and held my breath. While I couldn’t see any of the speakers, I could hear their words, I could feel their pain and was instantly taken to that small moment in their lives. Their stories were brutally honest and I wondered how they didn’t lose it as they shared to a crowd of over 1300 people.

 

I have lots of ideas brewing in my mind and I know how lucky I was to be part of the amazing TCRWP group. I also need to get my father a notebook so he can share some family stories with me.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it separates the meaningless and the trivial from what is really important. – Donald Graves

 

 

Writing Summer Camp For Young Children

e4c96e7f-5d6a-49ff-967a-d03b9a8645da.jpgThis week I taught a writing class at a summer camp to incoming first and second graders. We read several picture books where we discussed and wrote about them. We also had daily shared writing activities where each student gave their input and ideas as I scribed their words. We explored “juicy words” or expanded vocabulary like epic, wonderful and melancholy and encouraged each other to use “brave spelling” or invented spelling.

One of the stories we read was I Feel a Foot! written by Maranke Rinck and illustrated by Martijn Van Der Linden.

i-feel-a-foot.jpgBetween two trees, high above grass and ground, Turtle, Bat, Octopus, Bird and Buck are sleeping in a hammock. Suddenly, Turtle opens his eyes. “Hey,” he whispers. “Do you hear what I hear?”  Each animal’s imagination runs wild with what wild creature may be making the sound they all hear. Is it a giant turtle? Or a bird with a giant beak? Perhaps it is Bat-Tur-Octo-Bird- Buck. Luckily for the small animals, it isn’t any of these creatures. It is just their old friend Elephant who was out wandering around. The animals invite him to join them in the hammock and soon the wild imaginings about the night noises begin all over again.

The illustrations are magnificent with gorgeous black backgrounds and a collage type feel. The look of the illustrations was the inspiration for our final writing project. Our little writers watercolored the scenes of their stories, which were then pasted on black construction paper. Their stories included mermaids, Pokemon, a lost octopus, family, cycles, bad guys, destruction and American flags in the jungle! It was a pleasure to work with these little writers. They were an incredibly talented group with lots of enthusiasm and wild imaginations.

in the rainforest

In the Rainforest

in the desert

In the Desert

the search

The Search

eevee vs the bad guys

Eevee Vs. the Bad Guys

the great day at the beach

The Great Day at the Beach

in the field

In the Field

the lovely night at the beach

The Lovely Night at the Beach

 

 

 

 

 

Funny Things Kids Say & Write in School

The school year has come to an end. As we wrap things up before heading off for summer vacation, we still giggle as we remember some of the funny things our little ones have written and said. Enjoy!

 

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Peanuts Movie: Snoopy

 

Teacher: Does no mean no at your house?

Student: No, because I’m so cute.

 

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I like the shower because I can take a steam shower.

 

Student 1: Do you believe in Jesus Christ?

Student 2: I do.

Student 3: We don’t because we’re Jewish, even though I think we’re gonna get a tree.

 

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When I grow older I will drink wine.

 

Teacher: I thought you said you weren’t feeling well? You sure were running all over the yard!

Student: I only get a headache when I’m inside.

 

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Basket of phones used for writing. It helps isolate the sounds when they are “brave spelling”.

Teacher: Don’t ask me how to spell a word. Use your resources, call your brain.

Student: What if no one’s home?

 

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Farty Pig – Watch out!

 

And for those who teach kindergarten or first grade, guess what this says…

BRAVE SPELLING at its best.

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Congratulations!

 

 

2016 Purple Dragonfly Book Award:Monster Slayer!

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Monster Slayer/ Exterminadora de monstruos has been awarded a Purple DragonFly Book Award in two categories: Family Matters & Cultural Diversity – Honorable Mention.

The Purple Dragonfly Book Awards are geared toward stories that appeal to children of all ages. We are looking for stories that inspire, inform, teach or entertain. A Purple Dragonfly Book Awards seal on your book’s cover tells parents, grandparents, educators and caregivers they are giving children the very best in reading excellence.

Monster Slayer is a story based on my childhood. Growing up, I was not very kind to my little sister. As life presented me with challenges, my little sister was always there to save the day and I don’t know what I would do without her. I think it’s fitting that this bilingual picture book (English & Spanish) is being recognized as a book that helps teach siblings the importance of family and celebrates the richness of cultural diversity.

Here are some of my favorite Monster Slayer illustrations so beautifully done by the very talented Lina Safar.

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Congratulations to all the 2016 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Winners!

Dragonflies are reminders that we are light and can reflect the light in powerful ways if we choose to do so.

 

 

Shine A Light On Modern Day Slavery: 5th Grade Project

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Shine A Light On Modern Day Slavery Installation

Social Justice was an integral part of my formal education at the University of San Francisco and Loyola Marymount University. From my vantage point, the role of an educator is to not simply teach reading, writing and math, but to provide students the opportunities to think critically, think outside the box and to be agents of change. Today, I witnessed how powerful teaching can be when educators go beyond the basics and truly delve into subjects that some might think are too difficult for students to grasp. Our little ones were given a tour by the 5th graders showcasing their research/art project: Shine A Light On Modern Day Slavery. They were knowledgeable and passionate as they shared what they had learned about modern day slavery. I took some pictures and I hope they convey how amazing and important the 5th graders’ work is.

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How Design Thinking, Making & Systems Thinking Give 5th graders Agency Over a Social Injustice.

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Help Slaves Be Free

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Fair Trade Certified

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Freedom

 

The 5th graders also handed out a pamphlet providing ways we can help stop modern day slavery.

  • Be a conscientious consumer! Find out where and how products that you buy are made.
  • Reach out to your elected representatives to let them know that fighting slavery is important to you.
  • Join or support organizations that are committed t ending modern-day slavery.
  • Donate funds or needed items to an anti-trafficking organization to in your area.
  • Stay informed, ask questions and be aware!

 

It surprises people that there’s actually a very large number of slaves in the world today—our best estimate is 27 million. And that is defining a slave in a very narrow way; we’re not talking about sweatshop workers or people who are just poor, we’re talking about people who are controlled by violence, who cannot walk away, who are being held against their will, who are being paid nothing. 

– Kevin Bales

 

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. 

-Mother Teresa

Alma Flor Ada: Author Study

alma floor booksOur little ones have been learning about Alma Flor Ada for our author study. Alma Flor Ada is an award winning author of notable children’s books of poetry, narrative, folklore and non fiction. As an educator, I am a huge fan of her work, especially of her work in promoting immigrant students and parents to recognize how powerful their family stories truly are. Alma Flor Ada, Professor Emerita at the University of San Francisco, has devoted her life to advocacy for peace by promoting a pedagogy oriented to personal realization and social jus­tice.

We began our author study by watching parts of this video. After getting a visual of what Alma Flor Ada looks like and sounds like, my little ones had a host of questions. One of them was, “Is she a grandma?” To which another student answered,”Yah, because she has white hair.”

Since Alma Flor has written over 200 books, we narrowed them down to the following:

After the Storm, How the Rainbow Came to Be, The Kite,  In the Cow’s Backyard,

Friend Frog, Jordi’s Star, The Rooser Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding,

The Unicorn of the West, The Three Golden Oranges

I had never read Jordi’s Star, and my heart just fell in love with this story. During our book discussions I asked what had transpired in the story. A student said,”Jordi didn’t notice things (his environment) but when he started to do things just because he started to notice how beautiful things were around him.” What a wonderful book to use to emphasize how important it is to do things with love and to be present and mindful of NOW.

We also did a Reader’s Theater based on the book, After the Storm.

With the help of the Sun and the cooperation of Wind, Clouds, and Rain, a little seed grows up to be a beautiful plant. This story about the cycle of growth also lends itself to discussions of cooperation and interconnectedness.

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We performed for our third grade buddies and we will perform for our families our last week of school. The students also made animal masks using left over material from the visual arts room (keep your should pads!). Every student had a line and with much support, they were able to retell this beautiful story. The students noted that Alma Flor Ada’s books had many “juicy words” and her books were often about nature and magical stuff.

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The students also got inspired by Alma Flor Ada’s books. This little kinder blew our minds when she wrote this story. This student even wrote on the top – INSPIRED BY ALMA FLOR ADA – How special is this!

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We have enjoyed the magic of Alma Flor Ada’s stories.  Again, the hope is for students to see the magic of words, pictures and the sense of belonging to something bigger.

Alma Flor Ada, thank you for your stories. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magical Day: Book Review

the magical dayThe over arching K/1 social studies theme in class this school year is the World of Work, an investigation of how different community systems work together to keep them thriving. Since we have been discussing and investigating at length, the essential components necessary to maintain a thriving community, I was eager to read The Magical Day, by Sandra Elaine Scott and Illustrated by Jasmine Mills.

Prior to reading this beginner chapter book, we have read several books that lend themselves to discussing the concept of community. Students listed what they believed to be important factors in having a well run community.  They noted that shelter, health, education, safety, water and food were important components of a thriving community.

When I read, The Magical Day, my little ones quickly made many types of connections. In this story, 8 year old Donovan visits his cousin in the US and spends a day connecting with several community members who teach him various life skills. Donovan, an 8 year old who is multi-ethnic, curious and independent visits with a firefighter, a soldier, a graffiti artist, an athlete, a nun, a librarian, and a gardener.

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As I read the book, my students made the connection with the firefighter since we had recently visited the fireboat station. Another student said, “This reminds me of the book, Pink Fire Trucks. It’s about being brave!” When we read the chapter of the little girl in a wheelchair who was practicing to be in the Olympics – my students said the little girl had grit. And what I found most amazing was what they had to say about the gardener. In previous book discussions we learned that some communities don’t have access to healthy fruits and vegetables, also known as food deserts. Students said that food deserts are a broken system and that they would like to do something to remedy the problem. They are now doing odd jobs at home and earning money to support SoLa Food Co-op (South Los Angeles Food Co-op).

We watched this video and 5th graders even did some research on food deserts. The students compiled a powerpoint and shared their findings to our little ones. It was a wonderful and organic example of community, and how we are all interrelated and dependent on each other.

The Magical Day was a great addition to our study, the World of Work. It sparked great conversations, connections and motivated our students to be agents of change. I really liked the last page where students were able to use the diagram provided to retell the story. This resource is especially beneficial for struggling readers since the chart provides some support in retelling the main ideas of the story. I also really appreciated that the characters in the story showed varied and diverse members in our communities.