Writing “Small Moments” in a K/1 Class

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As we continue to explore and discuss our year long social studies theme, Families & Homes, many conversations around Holiday traditions are coming up. In writing, we have been focusing on “small moments”, writing with focus, detail and dialogue. Since I attended the Teacher’s College Writing Institute in the summer, I’ve been keen on implementing the new writing tools I learned.

This is the abbreviated version of the “small moment” piece I modeled.

It was raining cats and dogs and I could barely see the road.

I gripped the steering wheel and I felt my heart pounding all

the way to my fingertips.  I said to my sister, “Poka, I’m

really nervous driving in this rain. What should we do?” 

Finally it stopped raining cats and dogs. It was sprinkling now

and I could see the road ahead. I felt relieved. I even started

to get excited about the many adventures we were

going to have in San Francisco!

The kids laughed when I wrote “cats and dogs”. I told them it was a figure of speech and I plan on having a mini lesson on that sometime in the future. I explained that when writing a “small moment” we focus on just one event and expand on it. I told my students that I could write about all the things that I did in San Francisco: the car trip, Golden Gate Park, my aunt’s house, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, the different restaurants, visiting with my cousins…

However, I was only writing about the moment when it rained hard as I drove to San Francisco. The kids asked, “How long was that?”  I said, “It rained for twenty minutes but it felt like an eternity for me because I was so nervous.”

Most of my students wrote about a small moment during the Thanksgiving break. As I sip my coffee on this Saturday morning while reading their writing pieces I am all smiles. Each and every student is making progress.

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This kinder friend told me how he was jumping so high on the trampoline his hair was escaping him. “My mom kept telling me to stop jumping on the trampoline because she was scared I was going to fall but I didn’t.”

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This first grader asked how to spell Thanksgiving. “Use your brave spelling. Say the word slowly and write the sounds you hear.”  FAXGIVEN – fantastic!

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This kinder friend surprised me! “I went to my grandma’s hotel.”

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This first grader added many details in her small moment writing piece. On her way back from New York, they had to wait in the airplane for two hours. Prior to writing I asked my students to tell me about their pictures. She shared that it was really boring but she kept herself busy by reading and drawing. She asked me, “What do you call the person who fixes airplanes?” I suggested, “Airplane mechanic and aircraft technician.” It was great to see that when she wrote she used  “airplane mkanik” – brave spelling at its best! She also incorporated “I felt relieved” from the writing piece I modeled.

Our little writers have become very comfortable and confident as they write. I wish I could video them to show how focused they are during writer’s workshop. After all these years teaching, observing their writing progress always feels like magic!

 

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. ― Roald Dahl

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Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards 2016

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Wonderful news…Monster Slayer / Exterminadora de monstruos has received a bronze medal for Best Spanish Language Picture Book. A huge thank you to Lina Safar – your illustrations are amazing. Also to Liliana Consentino, whose Spanish translations truly captured the sentiment of the book. I’m honored and proud of the picture book that together, we created. I think I shall go outside and celebrate with my family by doing handstands!

Congratulations to all the Moonbeam medalists! As an educator, I love everything about picture books. I see how they positively impact my students’ understanding of their world, community and relationships.

About the Awards

The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to celebrate children’s books and life-long reading. 

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!

 

 

Visualization Activity: Drawing to Enhance Reading Comprehension

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One of the perks of being a teacher is that I get to share my story ideas with my students. I’ve been working on this particular story since the fall. I’ve gone to several critique groups through SCBWI and used their feedback to revise and edit.  This week I shared the newly revised story and asked my students to visualize it in their minds. I explained that active readers/listeners are able to create a movie with pictures or scenes in their brains as they read, to fully grasp the depth of a story.

I read the story and asked a few questions to make sure they were following the storyline. I then asked them to draw an image or scene from the story. I have to say, I got really emotional when I looked at their drawings. Some of them were so sophisticated and moving…and to think that my little ones are between the ages of 5-7.

These beautiful drawings also confirmed how important visual cues are for readers, particularly struggling readers. It saddens me that in some educational structures, taking the time to draw and color are no longer viable methods for checking understanding. Little people come with so much to express. It’s important that we educators take the time to really get to know our students and their strengths, not just their stretches.  If I were to solely base their academic abilities on standardized tests, I would never be able to see and appreciate their soul. I hope you enjoy their drawings. Granted, I am not providing the story text -their beautiful and creative images tell a story of their own.

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“This story reminds me of the olden days.”

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“I felt the grass with my hands when you were reading.”

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“The girl was really mad at her grandpa.”

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“It’s a far away place.”

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“Did you see the designs I used in my drawing?”

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“My grandfather died.”

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I wanted to make the water really blue.

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“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau

 

A Community of Picture Book Writers

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Yesterday, Barbara Lieberman celebrated her new children’s book, Ben’s Little Acorn A handful of children’s authors came to support and celebrate with Barbara at Sandpiper Books, a local bookstore. I thought this was a kind and generous gesture because as she said, “My book might not be the perfect book for a child, but there might be another that could be the right fit.” Barbara’s comment reminded me of a saying we tell the little ones in class, “Are you doing ME thinking, or WE thinking?”

During my time with Barbara I experienced several wonderful “gifts”. The first was that my new picture book, Monster Slayer was the name of her MS group. We also got a chance to talk about the need for picture books to show the myriad of ways children, adults, families, and communities experience life. She shared this was the driving reason behind  Ben’s Little Acorn not having an illustration of a little boy. This way, the reader could have the opportunity to visualize themselves in the story.

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As we talked about the issue of diversity and the lack of picture books portraying people who are out of the “norm” box, Barbara shared a tender moment in her children’s life. I saw the lightbulb go off and gave her a hug saying, “Oh my stars, we just had a moment of inspiration!” I look forward to reading this story because as an educator, these stories are not being told and children are asking, “What about me and my family?

Barbara handed children an acorn of their own (a plastic version) and had them write their dreams or wishes. I wish Barbara and the other children’s writers lots of success, health, inspiration and prosperity. Barbara – thank you for your spirit. The world needs more like you.