Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Making Learning Whole - "Light" Summer Reading

David Perkins is the co-director of Harvard's Project Zero*.  In Making Learning Whole, he introduces seven principals of teaching that take a revised look at wise practice.  Building the book around a baseball metaphor, Dr. Perkins offers a compelling look at what we can do to enhance learning.  Thank you to my friend and colleague, Missy Matthews, for recommending it at our last "Friday Freaks" get-together.
    This is not a "how to" book, it's not filled with easy answers that provide a step-by-step notion of teaching.  BUT, if you're interesting in taking your philosophy to new depth--to rethink how you look at learning and to reflect thoughtfully on your own practice--this is a terrific read.  It's fodder for thought!
     Dr. Perkins develops a framework for teaching that is both practical and research-oriented.  And since it's a framework, it's not explicitly developed as a "do this" type of text, but more of a "think about this" guide.  His seven principles for making learning whole include:
  • Play the whole game
  • Make the game worth playing
  • Work on the hard parts
  • Play out of town
  • Uncover the hidden game
  • Learn from the team... and the other teams
  • Learn the game of learning
     Dr. Perkins talks about approaching the complexity of learning with wonder and placing a focus on understanding.  He ends each chapter with a one-page "Wonders of Learning" synthesis related to the seven concepts he espouses.  He talks about motivation and the importance of sustaining learning.  He talks about the importance of knowing and emphasizing sustained learning.  He talks about how to develop self-managed learners.  I think Making Learning Whole is a perfect cousin text to Ellin Keene's To Understand.  
     If you're like me, you plan on spending some time reflecting on your practice over the summer.  If you're like me, you're always looking for research-oriented support for your deeply held beliefs as a teacher and learner.  If you're like me, you're looking for "real-world" applications of learning and trying to identify the needs of the 21st Century learner.
     Some of my favorite quotes from the book are:  
  • "Do not read this book too carefully.  By all means look through it, but if you discover ideas that seem provocative, try something soon." 
  • "The problem of content is simple:  Teach today what learners will need to understand and act on tomorrow.  Unfortunately, both as individuals living our personal lives and in a larger social sense we only know roughly from trends and guesses what tomorrow ill be like.  Tomorrow is a moving target."
  • "Good work on the hard parts is one of the fundamental structural challenges of teaching and learning."
  • If much of what we taught highlighted understandings of wide scope, with enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility in the foreground, there is every reason to think that youngsters would retain more, understand more, and use more of what they learned."
  • Here is a simple but surprisingly revealing plan for such a dig: 1) What is one thing you understand really well?  2) How did you come to understand it?  3)  How do you know you understand it?
     I can imagine reading Making Learning Whole with a small group of colleagues and having rich conversation about the purpose and practice of wise teaching... any takers?  I can't wait to dig deeper into this book!  It may just nudge my thinking in a new direction. 
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*Ron Ritchhart also works as a researcher at Project Zero.  His research focuses on understanding how to develop, nurture, and sustain thoughtful learning environments.  He is the author of Intellectual Character:  What it is, Why it matters, and How to get it.  Check it out if you haven't read it!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Katherine Hannigan... and Her Plans to Enrich our Reading Lives

Don't you love Katherine Hannigan?  Ida B. is one of my favorite books for children.  And with True (Sort of...) she's added a compelling new book to my growing list of "must haves."  I secretly love the covers of her books, books that are as beautiful between the pages as they are on the outside!
     There's something endearing about Delly, the main character of this book.  She's got a rough edge about her and makes decisions to change.  She forms special relationship with Ferris Boyd, her little brother Brud, and RB which creates for us, the reader, something special.  Together, the four characters teach us so much about compassion and caring... and by the end we grow to love them.  Four friends who eventually help each other deal with life.
     I love that Ms. Hannigan writes about teachers with such honest light.  Lionel Terwilliger is the teacher in this book.  I read that Ms. Hannigan says about the teachers in her books, "I focus on the wonderful ones, though, because that's what I'd wish for every kid every day!"  Perhaps that's why I find her books so intriguing, because she finds those of us in our profession so intriguing! 
     When you read a book by Katherine Hannigan, you leave for the better.  You leave with a little more compassion.  You leave with a little more insight about childhood.  You leave with an understanding of smart writing craft.  You leave with some laughter.  Most importantly, you leave knowing that her next book can't help but be beautifully written.
     In Ida B. . . and Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possible) Save the World, Katherine wrote:  "I closed my eyes, put my right hand on top of the book, and passed it lightly across the cover. It was cool and smooth like a stone from the bottom of the brook, and it stilled me. A whole other world is inside there, I thought to myself, and that's where I want to be."  That's exactly what I did when I picked up True (Sort of...).  I knew I wanted to be in her book as soon as possible!  It's a great find.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Around the World... Matt Phelan

Matt Phelan has a wonderful blog, have you seen it?  If not, check it out by clicking on his name.  He's become one of my favorite illustrators.    
     Of course, when I saw his latest graphic novel at IRA, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it.  It's a whimsical journey about three adventurers--Thomas Stevens, Joshua Slocum, and Nellie Bly.  Thomas Stevens traveled in 1884 from San Francisco to Boston on a 50-inch bicycle.  Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail solo around the world in 1895.  Nellie Bly was a pioneer journalist who traveled around the world to beat the record of Phileas Fogg in 1889.  In typical Matt Phelan detail, he captures their adventures in graphic form.  It's beautifully drawn (as was his previous graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn) and he captures each tale in the spirit in which each adventurer must have lived.  He weaves an exciting story of three historical characters who whose bold endurance and stamina go beyond bravery.  Their willingness to focus on tasks some thought were unattainable paved the way for others who dared to dream!  The first line... It all began, as many great adventures begin, with a story... is perfect!
     I have the Advance Reading Copy from Candlewick Press and I can't wait to see the full color copy (coming October 2011).  If you're like me, you'll fall in love with his artwork.  Brilliant!
     I can see using parts of this book during a study of inferring.  But, mostly, I think it will help learners see how important it is to have a dream... and to go for it!
And thank you to Candlewick Press for the copy of the book! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Passing it Down...

Passing the Music Down by Sarah Sullivan is a wonderful book published by Candlewick Press.  As I was perusing the display at the Candlewick Press booth at IRA in Orlando, this text caught my eye.  I knew immediately it was a picture book I needed (even before I opened to the first page I knew I had to have it... Ironically, I read a quote this week that said, "You can only judge a book by its cover until you open it up and read it.")!  Sarah Sullivan's lyrical words, combined with Barry Root's illustrations portray a lovely relationship between two musicians and describes a tie that binds them together... their love of music!
     The author based the book on the true story of Melvin Wine and Jake Krack, who performed together and became friends (although they were 75 years apart in age).  The author's note in the back of the book describes their relationship and their musical journey together.  Jake first met Melvin when Jake was nine-years-old and Melvin was 86-years-old.  Together they played fiddle tunes... Melvin taught Jake what he knew so he could carry on the "old tunes"... and since Melvin's death, his legacy continues because of Jake's love for the fiddle (and his parents support of his musical interest)!
     Like a katydid in spring, the boy's heart dances.  "Will you teach me all your tunes?" he asks with a gulp.  "Will you show me how they go?  I want to play like you."  And so he did.
     Passing the Music Down made me think about legacy.  It pays homage to the kind of skills that can only be passed down from generation to generation, person to person, mentor to "mentoree."  It reminds me of what we do in our classrooms every day, the things we pass on to the learners in our care.  Things that can't be measured, documented, or collected.  The things that children leave with tucked in their hearts that they'll carry on long after they leave our classroom.  And, I thought... "What are the things my students are leaving with this year?"  That's a question I'm going to explore in my notebook!
     I have book on my personal writing shelf called Legacy:  A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Personal History by Linda Spence.  It's a guide to capturing memories by writing in response to open-ended questions.  Though meant for adults, I've used parts of it with children to get them writing in their notebooks, planting seeds for future writing projects.  
     Passing the Music Down reminded me that as writers we need to explore our legacies on a regular basis.  Perhaps it will be the perfect text to inspire children to write about something that they've learned from someone else... perhaps legacy writing will be a genre I'll have to remember as I think about next year's plan for writer's workshop.  I may have to couple these texts.
     In the meantime, I'm going to reread Passing the Music Down.  It's a great metaphor for our teaching.  It's a great picture book.  It's a beautifully written story.  
     The fiddler lifts his bow and plays the old-time tune.  There's an echo in his heart as he saws out a rrrrip!  He hears the old man's voice in a memory deep inside.  Play that fiddle, son.  You got to pass the music down. 
And thank you to Candlewick Press for the copy of the book! 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

From a Friend...

I have a group of ten colleagues (we call ourselves the "Friday Freaks") that gathers on the first Friday of nearly every month (for the past ten years) to share books, writing, thinking... and friendship!  One of our rituals is to bring "new finds" that inspire our lives and our teaching.  Our friend, Missy, brought The Book That Changed My Life:  71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them to our last gathering.  It's edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen.  I immediately ordered it!
     In the book, 71 influential literary professionals share their thinking about the most influential books in their lives.  It's an amazingly rich and diverse collection of contributors.  And, it's a grand collection of books that each person lists as they describe how it "influenced" their lives.  From The Little Engine That Could to Atlas Shrugged to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to The Bible, each contributors describes how his or her reading and writing life has been changed because of one book.  Roxanne J. Coady ends her introduction by saying, "Apart from the sheer beauty of the essays, they are a dramatic reminder that everywhere, every day, someone is changed, perhaps even saved, by words and stories."  It's so true.
     I think I'm going to be using this one as a launching point for my students as readers next year.  Mentor text to guide them to write about the books that have shaped who they are becoming as readers.  I shared it with my fourth graders today and we talked about the "books we must read before we leave fourth grade."  Given the fact that we have only five weeks left, we've decided that we need to refocus, reconnect, and revitalize our reading lives as we finish the year.  I think this book will provide a springboard for our continued growth.
     What's the book that has most influenced your reading life?  Why?  It's a wonderful question!  And, it's worth exploring...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Like, um, Pickle Juice...

"I had a bad August.
A very bad August.
As bad as pickle juice on a cookie.
As bad as a spider web on your leg.
As bad as the black parts on a banana.
I hope your August was better.
I really do."
      So starts Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg.  There's something pleasantly sweet and enduring about this little novel.  It's the perfect example of a writer taking childhood moments and expanding them in to a rich and well-woven story.  I may be reading it aloud to my sixth grader at home.  Why?  Because I think it's exactly the kind of "chapter book" that a sixth grader could write, if he or she wanted to write one!
     There's a sense of warmth and gentleness and humor woven throughout this tale.  And, I think it's a text that young readers and writers can connect to... simple, well-written, free verse.  Young readers will find the text accessible.  Young writers will say, "I think I can write something similar!"  It's charming. 
     I chose it because "pickle juice" is a favorite term used around our house.  You're so full of pickle juice!  You smell like pickle juice!  What's it in this chicken that makes it taste so good... um, pickle juice!   And while I solely chose it for the title... within its pages I found a delightful novel.  A great read aloud for young readers too.   I think it captures the spirit of childhood perfectly.