Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bananas in My Ears

Michael Rosen.  We all know him from We're Going on A Bear Hunt, This is Our House, and Michael Rosen's Sad Book.  Or any of his other 140+ books!

One of my new favorites is Bananas in My Ears.  It's illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake, the very first British Children's Laureate.  They've collaborated on many titles over the years.  Bananas in My Ears is published by Candlewick Press.  

This books is a collection of silly rhymes, stories, and poems.  And what a grand collaboration it is between two brilliant artists.  One supplies the words.  One supplies the illustrations to support the words. 

Sometimes it's fun to run across a text that's just, well, silly!  And, of course, it's fun to read aloud, use for inferring, use for writing nudges.  But above all else, it's just a fun book.  

My favorite bits in the book are the "Nat and Anna" stories.  Mainly because they remind me of my own children.  

  • Nat, trying to get Anna's attention.  Anna pretending Nate is invisible.  Hilarious.
  • Nat following on the beach, afraid of jellyfish. 
  • Nat and Anna having breakfast!  Enter mom!

I think that if you gave this book to two fourth graders (or first, or second, or tenth) and had them read... they'd laugh, they'd want to write, they'd talk.  It's a simple book full of silly stuff!  And, sometimes, we gotta have a little silly in our lives.

Thank you to my friends at Candlewick Press !

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Lost Art of Mixing - A Must Read

She dragged a chair across the kitchen to the counter and clambered up, stabilizing herself with a hand on the cabinets.  She reached up for the first bulb in the string of recessed fixtures and gave it two quick, firm twists.  On the third turn, the heat from the bulb met her fingers and she jerked back, the bulb falling through her hands, cracking on the tile floor in loud, spectacular pieces.
     She looked down, shocked.  The house seem to shimmer in the aftermath of the noise.  The edges of the broken bulb winked up at her, bright and sparkling, seductive as diamonds.  Slowly, Louise smiled.
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Tom stood looking at the hunks of wood—a half-cord, easily, he figured, although the logs he had chopped in his teenage years had been clean, consistent lengths, redolent with the smells of alder and maple, their bright surfaces almost begging to be cut.  He remembered the joy of his growing muscles, the loft of the axe as it swung up in an endless arc and then came slamming down.  The complete and utter satisfaction of a smooth surface cleaving into air as the pieces went flying to either side of him.
     This was not going to be like that, he could tell, looking at the haphazard jumble of gnarled stumps and logs, half of it wet and rotting, the other portion hard and glistening and green.  This was wood that defied the axe, a living lesson that when it came to heat, sometimes it was better to use man’s other inventions—electricity, gas, propane.
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As a reader, who can't read these words from Erica Bauermeister’s novel The Lost Art of Mixing and not create an image that sucks you into the writing?

The Lost Art of Mixing is the sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients.  Both books were recommended to me by my friend, Mimi Brown.  Mimi is a literacy virtuoso who works in the Issaquah School District.  Whenever we chat on the telephone, it always includes a discussion of books (new titles, old titles, no matter).  

If you are a foodie, you will love both books (although there's less of a food focus in the sequel).  Erica Bauermeister is a character crackerjack.  When you read one of her books, you leave the last page knowing (sometimes becoming) one of the characters.  The prose-like nature of her words creates ripples of texture, emotion, and images that, as a reader, suck you into the story gracefully.  Her words mix the power of food, the power of love, the power of "being" with another person together in the most artful way. 

Not to sound cliche`, well okay, to sound cliche`... there's a deliciousness that permeates her writing.  Each chapter of this book focuses on a specific character's life... and as I read, I was drawn in to the smells, the tastes, the feelings of each character's being.  In this book, you read about the familiar characters you grew to love (or not love) from The School of Essential Ingredients and you grow to love (or not) new characters that she brings on board in her second book.

When I talk to my students about evoking, or creating, sensory images, we come to know the importance of being "drawn in" of "knowing" how those images help us understand, help us remember, help us extend meaning, or help us make our reading experiences memorable (see Conferring the Keystone of Reader's Workshop, page 25).  As Amanda noted in her reader's notebook during our study of sensory images this year, "I think that sensory images help me by comparing what I got a sense of to what really is... I can see something, taste something, hear something, feel something, or smell something.  It can connect my connections because it makes the details come alive!"

So, as a reader, I'm always on the search for text that helps me revisit and revision my own use of "thinking strategies."  If I'm helping my students come to rely on a strategy more explicitly as a tool, I too must learn how it helps me.  As an adult, the idea of "evoking sensory images" seems clearcut, something "we automatically do because we're proficient readers," but is it?  With each close read, with each nuance, with each "How the heck did she do that?" I think I become a little better at using and noticing this strategy as a reader, as a thinker.  My awareness of what's going on "inside" nudges me to better understand how to express my thoughts to those who sit "outside" my thinking processes.

It's the same with my students.  When we've experimenting enough with a strategy... as a whole group, during small groups, one-on-one, alonewe come to understand how the "behavior" of creating an image (or any other comprehension strategy) brings power and fortitude to our understanding.  We dig around a bit, figure things out, toss out ideas, play... and that can only be done in text that's meaningful to us as readers.

The Lost Art of Mixing is such a book for me.  You should give it a go as a reader.  In her Acknowledgments, the author writes:  Words need ears to hear them and eyes to read them long before they can every be considered a book.  Now that it's a book... oh such words!  Try focusing on the sensory images you're creating and how they are helping you understand Erica Bauermeister as a writer.  Ms. Bauermeister's writing style is powerful... joyous... intriguing.  Often she throws in a word, a sentence, a paragraph that makes me stop in my tracks.  I pause.  I consider.  I reflect.  Briefly.  Then, I move on as not to lose the image created for me as a reader.

Imagine you're Louise wandering in to this bookstore... The bookstore was small and elegant, its books carefully chosen to appeal to both the casual tourist and those who stayed through the long and stormy winters.  A mix of bright and subtle covers, rough-edged pages and slippery paperbacks.  A flurry of handwritten notes hung from the bottom of the shelves, offering recommendations and brief synopses, inviting hands to open the books above.

Now run to your independent bookseller (or library) and get The Lost Art of Mixing.  Then head to the beach (you'll know why I wrote this after you read it).

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I also wrote a blog about Joy for Beginnersanother of her books.  Click on the title to the blog it!  Also recommended by Mimi!  

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Schema - A Guest Post

The following is a "guest post*" from my friend and colleague, Lori Conrad.  Lori is co-author of Put Thinking to The Test (along with Cheryl Zimmerman, Missy Matthews, and me).  Lori has been an educator for nearly 30 years and has spent the past few years teaching fifth grade in a suburban school in the Denver Metropolitan area.  

I invited her to share a bit of her thinking with us... enjoy!

I Still Teach My Students About Schema  by Lori L. Conrad 

Yes, I admit it.  I spent the last month and a half talking with my fifth graders about background knowledge.  I know the Common Core doesn’t mention accessing prior knowledge or connecting to relevant schema.  I know that many colleagues across the nation have been told they “can’t teach BK any more.”  And I know that David Coleman, one of the authors of the Common Core, in a presentation to educators, stated that “as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a **** about what you feel or think.” 

But I also know what the research says about how successful thinkers make sense.  It is clear that what thinkers know, what they bring to the act of learning, makes a huge difference in their capacity to understand.  It’s the mental files thinkers open, add to, rearrange, revise, and even empty out, that often determine how we add, integrate and use new ideas and information.  Because of this, teaching students about proficient use of their schema has to be a part of my yearlong instructional plan. 

This year, our study of how thinkers strategically make use of their background knowledge started with a question two students shared as we were winding down our exploration of inferring.  We’d been using a simple equation, text + background knowledge = inference, to illustrate how thinkers take specifics from any given experience, combine details with what they already know, to figure out things that the experience implies.  After working our way through a trio of picture books about the Civil Rights Movement, Merich and Jordan asked a very profound question: 

“What happens if our background knowledge lets us down?” 

They realized that we are able to think inferentially only when we bring something to the experience.  And what happens if we show up to that experience only to find that our pockets are empty, so to speak.  

With this question as the starting point, we spent the last six weeks really puzzling our way through schema theory.  We figured out that: 
  1. When what we are learning/reading matches our schema, what we already knois confirmed.  This feeling of “I knew that . . . “ helped us build confidence, and gave us a ‘foothold’ into a complex learning experience.  Too many of these “I knew that . . . “ might also signal that what we’re doing, the book we’re reading for example, might not be providing the challenge we need to push us as learners
  2. When what we are learning/reading is new to us, we have a responsibility to build our background knowledge.  We have to determine what’s most important in this new information, and decide where we want to file it away for easy access later on.  The kids really saw this as something akin to the way Google links different webpages and websites together so a search pulls up the most meaningful/useful information first.  This new, revised schema also led us to more sophisticated inferences and questions.  For example, as they built our background knowledge about early colonization, students began wondering about how the initial drive for religious freedom turned into religious intolerance in places like the Plymouth Colony.
  3. When what we are learning/reading contradicts what we already have stored in our prior knowledge, it forces us to delete errors and revise initial ideas.  These challenges to what they thought they knew nudges students to ask the sorts of clarifying questions researchers ponder when they run into a dead end.  Students recorded their confusions on post-it notes and in response entries.  These questions became the starting point for many of their conversations with me and with their classmates.  That “wait just a minute, that’s not what I thought” also helped students reread, recheck, and wonder about the validity of their own and others’ long-held beliefs.   
Our study of schema even helped us expand our definition of what background knowledge might actually include.  As readers, we realized that BK includes everything from the content, format and language of what we were reading to information about the author who composed it.  As writers, we make use of our schema about text structure, purpose, audience, and even specifics of English spelling and punctuation.  As mathematicians, knowing about multiplication and division of whole numbers gave us a leg up in our exploration of multiplying and dividing fractions, but we had some serious revisions to make in terms of our belief that multiplying always results in a larger number while dividing leads us to a smaller one.  As historians, building background knowledge about people, places and events, helped us draw conclusions about how the goals of European Explores like Christopher Columbus and Francis Drake actually set the stage for how American colonists lived hundreds of years later.  And as test takers, we looked at released items not as something to practice, but as an opportunity to name which schema files a specific test question or task demanded we access. 

It was a wondrous six weeks of learning.   

I can only guess at why exploring the ways a student’s background knowledge impacts her learning has lost instructional favor.  Wmight blamed it on: 

•  the hundreds of incipit ‘text-to-text, text-to-me, text-to-the word’ lessons that have cropped up in commercially produced comprehension strategy materials since those labels were first coined by Keene and Zimmerman in their first edition of Mosaic of Thought.
•  all the times teachers have let readers off the hook with simple responses like “I have a dog, too” without any sort of follow-up as to how that connection helped the readers better understand the story.
•  the fact that the authors of CCSS really do believe that everything there is to know about a text actually resides within the four corners of the page.   
• how little respect some educators have for what learners can bring to their school experiences.   

Regardless, I’ll continue to use the strategy of activating, building and revising background knowledge as one of the pillars of my instruction.  I want students to know that they have a responsibility to bring something to every learning experience and that they should walk away from each of these events changed.  

*Thanks, Lori, for sharing a glimpse into your classroom with us.  Your expertise and opinion always gives us fodder for thinking about our own practices!
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The thoughts expressed in guest's blogs are the intellectual property of the guest blogger.  The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the blog owner.