Margin Notes

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BOOKS

Jun
17

It’s All About the Books is the dream “how-to” book for organizing a school’s world of books in a way that gets the right book in the right place at the right time….in the hands of a student ready to learn!

Authors Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan have been coworkers for 24 years, with the last fifteen years spent developing systems that will create bookrooms and classroom libraries that encourage student choice and support teaching goals for both ELA and content area teachers. It had never occurred to me that there would be professionals tasked with this job, but it makes perfect sense that there are experts in this precise and essential field. Luckily, they share their expertise in an accessible manner for educators everywhere.

Anyone who has had any responsibility for managing bookrooms or a classroom library will love how this book brings to mind practically EVERY question that could ever be asked or considered when designing book collections in an effective way: How do we make purchasing decisions when we frequently don’t know what we already have? How many schools have you been in that have a clear and up to date inventory of their book collection? How do we organize the book bins in our classrooms? Could students be organizing bins based on thematic patterns they are noticing? Could we improve reading instructions by improving our organizational strategies?

The answers to all these questions are found in this clearly-organized book. Carefully curating a collection demands a great deal of effort and time, and the expertise shared by two professionals with a combined background of 30 years in doing this work takes the guess work from the reader offering a clear how-to.

Teacher Takeaways:

  • Every move in this book is intentional and the intention is to get the right book in the right hands to keep students engaged as learners.
  • It gives an answer to all the questions you might consider, and many that you probably haven’t, when designing a library in your classroom.
  • You will learn how to do an inventory of resources.
  • There are many tips and tricks about how to get the most bang for your budget dollars.
  • The book is full of useful photographs showing exemplars of libraries.
  • It demonstrates both how to get more books and how to organize them to support readers’ choice and agency.
  • You’ll find tips to get your students involved in library upkeep.
  • You’ll learn how to find and organize digital resources.
  • Online resources include forms for taking inventory, lists of vendors, lists of tried and true favorite books, and more.
  • Resources are provided to assist in creating book collections to honour the diversity in classrooms.
  • The authors share very creative ideas for encouraging summer reading.
  • All author royalties from the sale of this book are being donated to the Book Love Foundation to get more books in the hands of readers.

The authors suggest that having a whole-school focus on the books available to support instruction and enrich readers is a valuable exercise in professional development. Reading this book as a school team and following its incredibly detailed step-by-step advice on how to organize book collections and to prepare for and budget for purchasing would be a worthwhile focus for any school staff. It is the needed template for a carefully planned approach to spending over the long term.

Is it time for a serious look at your school’s book supply? It’s All about the Books is a complete guide. Get everyone involved in one of the main pillars of our education system – a wealth of well-organized texts to support and hook growing readers.

Elizabeth Ann Walker is a life-long educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. She served as vice chair for Pride in Education and was one of the first diversity leads in the province.

 

 

ENGAGING LITERATE MINDS BY PETER JOHNSTON ET AL.

Jun
10

When I started reading Engaging Literate Minds: Developing Children’s Social, Emotional and Intellectual Lives, K-3 by Peter Johnston, Kathy Champeau, Andrea Hartwig, Sarah Helmer, Merry Komar, Tara Krueger, Laurie McCarthy, I knew I was in for a treat when, at the very beginning of Chapter 1, the authors say:

“We’ve come to believe that in intellectually healthy classrooms children should be: meaningful engaged (not merely complying), inquiring/ questioning, theorizing, seeking evidence, productively disagreeing, helping each other and seeking help when necessary, collaborating and expecting and engaging in different perspectives. We should not expect children to be held in place by intellectual hierarchies.-p. 1”

 

This quote is from the first paragraph of the book! And the rest of the book beautifully lays out a way to make those beliefs a reality in classrooms.

This book was born out of a desire for change. The co-authors (who wrote this book along with Peter Johnston) are all teachers.They were teaching in the same school and read Peter Johnston’s book Choice Words as a whole staff book study. Over the last 10 years, Peter Johnston has been working with, and observing and documenting the changes taking place in these teachers classrooms. Since beginning this journey, the teachers have all moved to different parts of the US but their collaboration has not ended. They have all been intrinsically motivated to improve their practice through collaboration and continued professional learning.

I really think that makes this book unique.

I love the dedication in this book, and I think it says it all.

“To all the teachers and their students searching for ways to value thinking together to build a more engaging, just and humane world.”

You can find a free preview about the book and learn more about the authors here. 

NO MORE HOW LONG DOES IT HAVE TO BE

May
13

With a target audience of Grades 3–8 teachers, Jennifer Jacobson, a former elementary school teacher and the author of fourteen children’s books, has drawn upon a treasure trove of experience in writer’s workshop to create No More How Long Does It Have to Be: Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3-8 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019).

 A useful compilation of strategies to implement in order to engage and support writers in the classroom, this manual begins with sections on planning for independence, routines to support independent writers (minilessons, building stamina, conferring, and author’s chair), and moves into explicit lesson plans when exploring units on the narrative, informative, and persuasive writing. The final section is a chapter on assessment, standardized testing, and publication.

Each chapter contains useful tips and ideas that can be put into use right away. One such gem is the fun suggestion to approach the focused editing of conventions by using a designated crayon or pen color for each target (use a blue crayon for capitalization errors, green for punctuation, and purple for spelling).

Jacobson’s section on what to do during writing conferences is explicit and valuable. The focus, she writes, should: 1) be on the student’s writing goal (ex. adding voice), 2) use “mirroring” when the teacher retells what they heard to increase the sense of audience for the student and create value for the student’s writing, and 3) give the opportunity for the student to extend the subject matter while experiencing the writing in a fresh way, and 4) teach one new skill.

The lesson plans offered in units for teaching narrative, informative, and persuasive writing are brief and easy to read. Organized into approximately five days of lessons, they include exploring mentor texts, brainstorming, think aloud possibilities, rubrics and activities that encourage metacognition of the writing process. A five-minute quick write activity she suggests, for instance, is “What will readers gain from reading your story?” Each unit also incorporates suggestions for additional lessons related to the teaching focus.

This book is another teaching resource worthy of a look-see for its discerning focus on writing in today’s classroom.

Elizabeth Ann Walker is a bilingual educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.

 

 

 

WISHES, LIES AND DREAMS BY KENNETH KOCH

Apr
27

 

Kenneth Koch was a professor of English at Columbia University and a celebrated poet. He is the author of numerous books of poetry and other published writings. His book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry, was originally published in 1970. This book, which is co-authored by the students of P.S. 61 in New York City, documents his journey teaching students to write poetry.

I really enjoyed reading this book and, despite the fact that this book is 51 years old, it is charming and sweet. It would be a great mentor text to use with students. There are so many poems in this book!

His ideas for teaching students poetry certainly hold up in the present day. In fact, Anne Elliot and Mary Lynch, authors of Cultivating Readers, use his “I used to…Now I…” formula for an activity on p. 117 of their book.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams is full of great, quick lessons that would be easy to replicate in today’s classroom. I would recommend this book if you are a teacher who is always looking for new ways to incorporate poetry. I can guarantee that you’ll be inspired!

Find out more about the book here.

 

KEEP GOING BY AUSTIN KLEON

Feb
02

You may be familiar with Austin Kleon from his previous books, Steal Like an Artist, The Steal Like an Artist Journal, and Show Your Work. If you know Kleon’s work, you already know that his writing is a fantastic resource for the workshop classroom. He encourages writers and creators to surround themselves with inspiration and share their ideas with others.

In the introduction to his most recent book, Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad, Kleon tells readers. “I wrote this book because I needed to read it.” He describes it as a list of 10 principles that have helped him sustain his creativity, many of which he has stolen (borrowed?) from others.

Don’t Stop is organized into 10 chapters with each one highlighting a strategy for finding, maintaining, and even jumpstarting the creative spark:

  1. Every Day is Groundhog Day.
  2. Build a Bliss Station.
  3. Forget the Noun, Do the Verb.
  4. Make Gifts.
  5. The Ordinary + Extra Attention= The Extraordinary.
  6. Slay the Art Monsters.
  7. You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind.
  8. When in Doubt, Tidy Up.
  9. Demons Hate Fresh Air.
  10. Plant Your Garden.

The chapters are filled with advice and encouragement to help readers discover (or rediscover) their passion. The suggestions range from simple: “Airplane mode can be a way of life,” and, “Keep your tools tidy and your materials messy,” to complex: “Your real work is play,” and “Leave things better than you found them.”

Keep Going is a quick read that invites deep and lingering reflection and would be a terrific addition to a secondary classroom library. It is also a resource I’d recommend for writing teachers because it’s filled with quickwrite possibilities and can be used as a mentor text for multimodal composition.

COMPREHENSION: THE SKILL, WILL, AND THRILL OF READING

Jan
21

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey are the authors of many of my favourite books about teaching literacy. They are the authors of many of the “Visible Learning” books (with co-author John Hattie). In my opinion, their book “Developing Assessment Capable Visible Learners K-12” is one of the best books written about formative assessment and feedback. The reason I enjoy their books so much is that they mesh the research with practicality. Plus, they always challenge and expand my thinking!

Their latest book, Comprehension: The Skill, Will, and Thrill of Reading (with co-author Nancy Law), is no exception.

In this book, the authors lay out their case for why reading instruction needs to move beyond teaching the skills of reading – to also include the explicit teaching of the will and thrill of reading comprehension.

If you are a teacher of literacy who is looking for ideas on how to…

…get students excited about reading.

…teach critical literacy.

…increase student talk.

…have students question any text they are reading.

…encourage students to take action through reading and understanding.

I would highly encourage you to read this book!

Fisher, Frey and Law’s research-based ideas about cultivating the thrill of reading in our students rests with them being able to answer one simple question:

“What does this text inspire me to do?”

Well, I pondered this question and was inspired to write this review!

Learn more about Fisher and Frey here.

Here, Nancy Frey is speaking about reading comprehension at the South Australia Literacy Conference in February 2020:

https://youtu.be/qwfyXO-VLZU

If you are interested in more resources about teaching reading and viewing, may I also encourage you to check out the ASD-W Margin Notes Literacy K-12 SharePoint – Reading/Viewing Page.

Happy learning!

WRITING, REDEFINED BY SHAWNA COPPOLA

Nov
03

I have been a Shawna Coppola fan for a while now. I found her on twitter a few years ago. Her tweets about teaching writing have really made me reflect on my own notions and biases of what “counts” as writing. I’ve also enjoyed reading her zines and seeing her watercolour paintings on Facebook.  Also, her dog is adorable.

Her new book is Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose (Stenhouse Publishers, 2020).

I feel all writing teachers should read this book!

Shawna brilliantly, and with a great deal of humour, shows us how our print-heavy writing workshop is damaging to our students’ writing lives and identities. She argues that we are missing out on some pretty amazing writing opportunities when we only “allow” pencil and paper as tools in our writer’s workshop. 

Shawna explains why other modes and forms of composition (visual, aural, etc.) should be part of our writer’s workshop. She equips us with the language to explain why we are teaching those forms and modes (to folks who might look at us quizzically) and the confidence that we are still teaching to the writing standards if we incorporate zines, podcasts, videos, picture books, infographics, etc. In Chapter 2, she lays out the “elements of inquiry” that we can use to introduce different forms and modes (no matter the age of the group).

Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose” by Shawna Coppola is a book that our students need us to read.

Learn more about Shawna Coppola here.

BUILDING BIGGER IDEAS: A PROCESS FOR TEACHING PURPOSEFUL TALK BY MARIA NICHOLS

Sep
24

“If learning, particularly that which takes place in a classroom, floats on a sea of talk, what kind of talk? And, what kind of learning?” ~ Simpson and Mercer

Bigger IdeasIn Building Bigger Ideas Maria Nichols defines talk as purposeful when it honors constructive intent, harnesses the power of varied perspectives, and engages participants over expanded time and space. Purposeful talk thrives in a dialogic space, “the shared dynamic space of meaning that opens up between or among participants in a dialogue. It forms as we immerse fully with thoughts that compel us, wrestle with the tug of varied perspectives, and construct unexpected new ideas with others.”

According to Nichols, two critical conditions for cultivating dialogic spaces are supporting children as they engage with each other and supporting children as they engage with ideas. In this context, “learning communities put talk to work, and the work of talk creates social bonds that continually strengthen the community.”

We can teach purposeful talk by teaching about talk as our students make meaning through talk. Building Bigger Ideas offers a responsive three-step framework:

  • focus children on aspects of purposeful talk behaviors,
  • facilitate as children engage with ideas and each other, and
  • offer feedback that links purposeful talk behaviors to the process of constructing meaning.

Using this framework, we can teach students to hear all voices, grow ideas, and negotiate meaning. The goal is to establish an environment where students use talk with independence to collaborate and build community. Purposeful talk, in the words of IDEO’s David Kelley, helps “you get to a place you just can’t get to in one mind.”

Building Bigger Ideas may be targeted to Kindergarten to Grade 5, but it will support teachers of all grades and levels in establishing purposeful talk in the classroom. This resource is a terrific complement to professional resource libraries that include Teaching Talk by Kara Pranikoff and Choice Words by Peter Johnston.

Book Recommendation: Made To Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

May
14

Our literacy team recently finished a book study on Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This book is filled with strategies for creating and communicating ideas that will be “sticky” with an audience. Although not specifically directed toward educators, we found lots of applications to our work with teachers and students.

The Heath brothers define ideas that stick as those that are understood and remembered and that have a lasting impact on the audience by changing opinions or behavior. After studying countless examples of ideas that fit this definition, including everything from marketing campaigns to urban legends, they identified six principles of stickiness:

1. Simple

“It’s hard to make ideas stick in a noisy, unpredictable, chaotic environment. If we’re to succeed, the first step is this: Be simple. Not simple in terms of ‘dumbing down’ or ‘sound bites.’ You don’t have to speak in monosyllables to be simple. What we mean by ‘simple’ is finding the core of the idea. ‘Finding the core’ means stripping an idea down to its most critical essence (p 27).”

2. Unexpected

“Unexpected ideas are more likely to stick because surprises make us pay attention and think. The extra attention and thinking sears unexpected events into our memories. Surprise gets our attention. Sometimes the attention is fleeting, but in other cases surprise can lead to enduring attention. Surprise can prompt us to hunt for underlying causes, to imagine other possibilities, to figure out how to avoid surprises in the future (p. 68).”

3. Concrete

“This is how concreteness helps us understand—it helps us construct higher, more abstract insights on the building blocks of our existing knowledge and perceptions. Abstraction demands some concrete foundation. Trying to teach an abstract principle without concrete foundations is like trying to start a house by building a roof in the air (p. 106).”

4. Credible

“We don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have ‘internal credibility (p. 106).”

5. Emotional

“How can we make people care about ideas? We get them to take off their Analytical Hats. We create empathy for specific individuals. We show how our ideas are associated with things that people already care about. We appeal to their self-interest, but we also appeal to their identities—not only to the people they are right now but also the people they would like to be (p. 203).”

6. Stories

“Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and inspire. And most of the time we don’t even have to use much creativity to harness these powers—we just need to be ready to spot the good ones that life generates every day. (p. 237).”

One of the ideas that stuck with me as I read and discussed this book (see what I did there?) was the concept of the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we can’t unlearn it. The more expertise we develop in an area, the more challenging it is to remember what it’s like not to know. Our knowledge and understanding make it difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the learner, which is critical if we want our ideas to stick.

Made to Stick is an interesting and engaging read for anyone who wants their ideas to impact their audience, whether it is one person in a conversation, a class of students, or colleagues in a presentation. It offers practical and actionable wisdom that is illustrated by stories from many contexts where sticky ideas matter

Hacking The Writing Workshop

Mar
28

Angela Stockman defines future-ready writers as “courageous explorers who know how to sit with discomfort.  They’re other-centered and attuned to inequity and privilege.  They’re committed to learning more about those who are different from them and experiences they’ve never had, to create things that change the way people think and feel and live.  They consider the consequences of only writing about what they know.  They consider whose voices are missing, whose stories need to be told, and who is disenfranchised.  They write for the world, not for themselves or the small audiences they find inside of their classrooms, homes, and local communities.”  In Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesigning with Making in Mind, Angela Stockman outlines ten hacks for creating environments where these writers develop:

  • Hack 1: Designing a Future-Ready Workshop
  • Hack 2: Recognize and Engage the Maker in Your Midst
  • Hack 3: Renovate Your Space
  • Hack 4: Create a Writer-Centered Workshop
  • Hack 5: Build a Better Notebook
  • Hack 6: Co-Create a Just-Right Curriculum
  • Hack 7: Make Room for Serious Play
  • Hack 8: Tinker Through the Process
  • Hack 9: Uncover and Share Learning Stories
  • Hack 10: Frame Better Feedback

(more…)