Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Like most of the world, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Nelson Mandela. Since the Metroplex was covered in ice on Friday, December 6th, we got the rare gift of a day off from school. As I sipped my coffee and watched Good Morning America, I saw this clip that got my brain fired up, even on an Ice Day.

According to this video, the world held "a candle light vigil" for Mandela via social media (5.4 million tweets?!) upon news of his death. It made me wonder if our students know the legacy that Mandela leaves behind? And of course, it made me think about this picture book and want to share it with students:

Nelson Mandela, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, is a beautiful biography about the life of this great leader. I had the privilege of sharing this book with 9 different classes at MHS over the last week--8 World Geography (Freshman level) and 1 Sophomore STAAR Writing (for repeat STAAR testers). Here is how the lesson went:

1. I asked students to write down 3 facts that they knew about Nelson Mandela. My suspicions were verified--they didn't know much.
2. I showed them the clip from GMA and asked them this question: "If the world responds with 5.4 million tweets about a man's death, don't you think you should know his legacy?"
3. I read the book to the class and they were ENGAGED. It's a beautiful thing to see a picture book capture the attention of high school students. And it CAN happen.
4. After I finished the book, I asked them: What is Nelson Mandela's legacy? What can you learn from his life? They wrote.
5. Students shared their writing. It was wonderful and made my English teacher heart sing.
6. I then shared 2 of my favorite quotes from Mandela, and we discussed them:

7. I then told the students that I received news of Mandela's death via my ESPN Sports Center app (duh-duh-duh). I asked them why ESPN would notify me of his death? Some students knew about the strong sports connection with Mandela. I showed them the trailer for Invictus because it powerfully portrays how Mandela used the World Cup to unify South Africa.

That's when most of the students said that they wanted to watch Invictus over Christmas break. 

Mission. Accomplished. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I Want my Hat Back

For 80 minutes today, I was in teacher heaven.

I had the privilege of visiting four different English I classrooms to read I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klasssen. And I did it in 80 minutes. And it ROCKED.

A few weeks ago, our English teachers went to a district staff development that touted the benefits of reading aloud to teens. When I heard this, my heart jumped with joy because I thought THIS was my "in" with the English department. I met with the English I teachers (I want to take on one grade level at a time and not stretch myself too thin. Our campus is a small city--seriously.) I talked about my crazy idea of coming into their classes to share a picture book. They loved the idea, and we discussed what skill their kids struggled with. Guess's the skill that kids from Kinder to 12th grade have been struggling with since the beginning of time...MAIN IDEA. I know this because I've taught Kinder through 12th graders (not since the beginning of time, however), and They. Still. Don't. Get. Main. Idea.

I knew the perfect book. THIS ONE. I read it to 5th & 6th graders last year, and it was a HUGE HIT. And let's face it--is there really that much difference between a sixth and a ninth grader? (Beside a few inches and maybe a smidgen of maturity) It's short, hilarious, and requires readers to make many inferences. And it's simple. The goal was for me to do this mini-lesson about main idea so that they could go back into Romeo and Juliet and find the main idea in the scenes that they are reading. Scaffolding at it's best.

I admit that I woke up a little nervous this morning. Facing a classroom of Freshman again takes guts, and I was bringing in a picture book to read to them. How would they respond? Would they think I was babying them? I dug into my inner-teacher and hoped for the best.


I did my quick schpeel about how picture books are for everyone. I read them the book, and they were hooked. Engaged. Laughing. Making inferences. Supporting them with text evidence. Learning. Having fun. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

Each lesson took about 20 minutes, and I rotated though four classrooms. The teachers knew ahead of time when I was coming, so they stopped the lesson and let me interrupt. The kids were all reading Act I of Romeo and Juliet, so I think they enjoyed the levity of the picture book.

Before I left, I had the kids "turn and talk" about the main idea of the book. In every class, I noticed  the kids going directly to theme--so I backed them up and reminded them what main idea is. (This is what happens when we assume...) I praised them for going to a higher level beyond main idea because really main idea is a step down from theme. Main idea is what the story is about in a few sentences. The bare bones of the story. The kids shared their main ideas with the large group, and they were right. I then opened an umbrella, and they freaked out:

A note about the tie: It was made by a student for me.
Isn't it wonderful ?

I said I was willing to risk the years of bad luck if it would help them answer this question:  If I represented the story, then how is the umbrella like the main idea? Every class got it right--the main idea COVERS the story, just like the umbrella covers me. The stick supports the umbrella just like the details support the main idea. You could hear the light bulbs go on. Really. "OOOOOHHHHH!!!"

(Side note about the Dora umbrella: It's the only one I had in my minivan when I was brainstorming this lesson on the way to work today. Don't judge.)

So I left them with this reminder:  When faced with more challenging texts and asked to find the main idea, think about the BASIC events that COVER the story--from beginning to end. Don't include details. Just the basics. That's your main idea.

(Another side note: I used the umbrella analogy last year when I taught main idea to Kinder through sixth graders as an elementary librarian...)

Will this change their lives forever when it comes to main idea? Will they never miss this question again on a standardized test? Here's hoping, but there was a moment in each of those classrooms when I felt that connection--that moment when it clicked. As educators, those are the moments that fuel us to keep going in this hard fight. Most importantly, Freshman had FUN with a piece of literature today and they extracted meaning from it. THAT'S why I'm still riding this teacher high...

I left a copy of the picture book with each teacher (I ILLed copies from my elementary librarian peeps) so that they can share it with their classes in the other periods. As much as I loved doing this lesson, I don't know if I could do it 20 more times.

I'm hoping this is the start of something big with these 9th graders. I look forward to going back into the classrooms again and experiencing 80 more minutes in teacher heaven.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inductive & Deductive Reasoning -- Geometry

I am way behind on this post!

I did a quick lesson in the geometry classes about Inductive and Deductive reasoning. We defined the two types and then I read Tedd Arnold's book, Parts, asking the students what type of reasoning the boy uses in the book to decide his body is falling apart. (The answer is Inductive, by the way, because he uses the pattern of what's happening to him to make his assumption.)

After the story, the students were given a 1/4 sheet of paper and an idiom. They had to draw a picture of what the idiom actually stated and then define what we really mean when we use the idiom. It wasn't as easy as you think it might have been. I realized that some idioms are not used by our students and others confuse them.

The kids love the book (I haven't found anyone who doesn't) and we had a good time with the small lesson.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Each Kindness

I was so excited to share Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson with our Ready, Set, Teach students. This is a class for aspiring  teachers, in which students are placed at our feeder elementary schools to observe, help, and teach lessons.

The instructor of this class came to the library to check out some picture books to share with her students as examples of emerging literacy. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to share a picture book, so I offered to visit the class to model a read-aloud and give these future teachers some tips. Reading aloud to elementary kids is harder than it looks; believe me, I learned this the hard way! When I first became an elementary librarian, I thought, "How hard is it to read to kids? I read to my own daughters all of the time." Well, I soon learned that reading aloud EFFECTIVELY to a group of children is much different than reading to your kids at bed time. To get children (and teens!) truly engaged in the story, there are some tricks to the trade.

I used Each Kindness with this class because it packs a powerful punch. I not only wanted these students to learn read-aloud tips, but I also wanted them to realize that picture books have intended audiences. For example, this book might not go over well with a class of Kinders because of its heavy theme of bullying and the way that the power of kindness is revealed through symbolism. But I knew that older audiences would "get it" it and truly connect with the story, and I was right. I stressed that you have to know your audience before you choose a read aloud, and you need to read it first with them in mind before you share it.

I passed out copies of Ten Tips for Reading Aloud by Matt Renwick, which I got from the Nerdy Book Club Blog. I love these tips because they come from an elementary principal who makes time to do read-alouds at his school. I thought it was important that our future teachers know that principals value read-alouds, as well they should.

The students LOVED this book, and we had a wonderful, thought-provoking discussion. They all agreed that picture books can "be DEEP" (their words) and aren't just for the little kids.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Professor Aesop's The Crow and the Pitcher

Last week, I used Professor Aesop's the Crow and the Pitcher by Stephanie Gwyn Brown to help an IPC (Integrated Physics and Chemistry) class review the steps in the Scientific Method.

They had been talking about the steps in class and were getting ready for the six weeks exams, so we used the story and activity for a simple, quick review that we hoped would stay with them in the weeks to come.

After reading the story, we completed the same experiment the crow did in the book, adding two more variables. The students recorded their information, drew conclusions and then wrote a paragraph about their experience.

It wasn't the best lesson (my feelings), but I'm also not a science teacher. Unfortunately for me, the teacher I had planned with, had to leave that day and I worked with her partner who had not been in on our planning. I think if the teacher had been there, it would have gone better because she knows the content, and I supplied the story. The students did seems to enjoy the exercise, so I hope the next time we do it, it will be a stronger lesson.

I have to remind myself they can't all go exactly like I want them to! :)

Friday, September 27, 2013

14 Cows for America

There are days that I REALLY miss teaching in the classroom. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my job as a librarian, but I miss that cool connection that you get with students in the classroom. So I was thrilled when Mrs. Williams asked me to come into her classroom to share 14 Cows for America, a moving, powerful picture book by Carmen Agra Deedy (978-1-56145-490-7). 

This lesson exemplifies the beauty of true collaboration and co-teaching. Mrs. Williams and I talked about some of the problems her struggling readers were having, and we identified that asking questions while reading was one of the areas that needed improvement. It's ironic that educators sometimes stifle the natural questioning ability in students. Think of any 3-5 year old you know, and I bet that kid asks a million questions. Will that same curious kid ask as many questions as he/she gets older? Probably not. Is it because school often programs students to ANSWER the questions rather than ASK them? That's my theory, and maybe the topic of another blog post... So we decided that we would model the kinds of questions that go through our heads while we read a text. 

Mrs. Williams started the class with a journal entry: "What do you know about 9-11, Africa, and cows?" This started their basic K-W-L chart, accessed their schema, and piqued their interest. It's a small victory when a group of teens WANTS you to read the book to them because they are curious. I then introduced the lesson and pointed out that good readers ask questions in their heads while they read. I shared the book, making sure to show the pictures and talk about "illustrator's purpose," which is a great way to scaffold kids into author's purpose. Mrs. Williams wrote the questions down under the "W" for things we wanted to know as I read, and we modeled these questions together. I just have to say that the kids were ENGAGED in the book, and they even threw out terms like "symbol" and "theme." It made my former English teacher heart happy.

There was a third teacher involved in this collaboration: Matt Nichols, the technology facilitator and iPad guru on our campus. He helped Mrs. Williams integrate the iPads into this lesson, and he took a pic and tweeted it while I was reading:

After we finished the book and students found out that this was a TRUE story, their questions became even more relevant: Where are these cows today? Why did the Maasai do this? Who are the Maasai? Students used the iPads to research one question that interested them. They used this website that is referred to in the back of the book: We used QR codes to help the students get to the website. It's a HUGE victory when teens WANT to research something that they are curious about, and it proves that picture books can be used as a springboard for research!

This is when the power of collaboration really kicked in: During the first class, we tried to have the student do too much with the iPads. We wanted them to make their KWL chart on "Tools for Students" app, then find three facts to answer their question, and create a Skitch to present their information. We did not have enough time to do this during the first class, so we decided to just have them make their KWL chart on the iPad and submit it to Edmodo for the other two classes. This worked MUCH better, and we will use Skitch in the future as the kids get used to using the iPads.

Even though the students weren't creating anything really "cool" in Skitch, they still were truly engaged in completing their KWL charts on the iPad. It just shows that using technology can turn something ordinary into something cool:

Using Skitch to present his 3 facts about the Maasai Tribe

Typing his KWL chart
Helping a fellow student submit to Edmodo

Overall, this lesson with three different classes was a great success because of our ability to monitor and adjust to make it work. It was fun to co-teach with these great educators, and I hope to do it again and again. This picture says it all:
You're never too old for a good picture book, especially when you get to use an iPad! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Gilded Age

My U.S. History teachers wanted my help getting students to understand the Gilded Age and specifically child labor and labor unions. In the past, students have had a difficult time understanding and making connections with these topics because they live in an age of governmental regulations in the job market. My goal was to find a book that spoke to one of these topics and could be used to connect to the next major topic as well.

My choice was Kid Blink Beats THE WORLD by Don Brown. This picture book tells the story of the newsies' strike in 1899 and their negotiations with the owners of two of the largest papers printed in New York City during that time period.

The students had just had an activity lesson on assembly lines and were about to begin the topic on child labor issues. After reading the book, the kids made a foldable T-Chart comparing and contrasting the working conditions of the assembly line workers and the newsies. Students had to infer their answers for the newsies because very little was explained in the book reading.

Once we had the charts filled out, we openly discussed their lists and made them justify their answers if the ones given were too vague. Then each table worked together to write down ways they could improve the conditions of each group. The teacher and I then discussed how being a part of an organization (like a teacher's organization) would work on behalf of it's members and negotiate for better work environments. Using the lists the students gave us, we showed how they could negotiate on behalf of the assembly line workers or newsies, and that they would be discussing child labor and labor unions in the classroom.

The teachers were happy with the lesson and students seemed to enjoy the book and activity.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Geometry and Angles

My geometry teachers came to me and wanted to try the picture books out on their classes. One of the teachers had used the math adventures of Sir Circumference by Cindy Neuschwander the year before on her own, but was looking for something simpler and faster that could be shared between teachers.

We looked at their topic schedule for the semester and came up with three ideas we wanted to use with the picture books (angles, reasoning, and triangles). Our first lesson was an introduction to angles, and I used Hamster Champs by Stuart J. Murphy.

This is a very silly, cheesy story about three hamsters that outsmart the family cat with car stunts and ramp angles. It was a quick, fun read and the students enjoyed it.

After the reading, we used a simple Angles Chart from Scholastic and had the students get up out of their seats and use pipe cleaners to find acute, obtuse and right angles within the classroom. It wasn't as easy as you might think...the obtuse angles were the most difficult to find. The entire activity took about 15-20 minutes and the students had a quick intro to the next week's lesson.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Press Here

As a former elementary librarian, one book was the HIT last year because it captivated all ages--squirmy kinders, apathetic sixth graders, and grown-up teachers alike. It doesn't matter the age, Press Here (ISBN 8857002527) is magical for everyone!

So I was curious to see how ninth graders would react to it. I told our reading teacher about this book and the inference lesson that I did with elementary students last year (Click here to read my elementary blog about it). Because her students are struggling with the process of making an inference in this class that is designed for freshmen who were not successful on the 8th grade reading STAAR, I thought a different approach might help them "get it." Rather than me go into her classroom to share the book, she wanted to try it on her own. Although I LOVE to go into classrooms and share books with students, I would never tell a teacher "NO, I have to be the one to do it." The fact that this teacher is already buying into the concept of using picture books with high school kids proves that half the battle is already won. So I checked the book out to her, and we collaborated about the lesson. A few days later, she sent me this email:

My A-Day reading classes LOVED the Press Here book. It took them a couple pages to get into it, but afterward, they wanted me to read it again. By the end, they were all saying the definition for inference. Thank you for the great idea!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Let me just say...I am TIRED! I forgot what it's like to teach six classes in a row (three one period)! It wears you out! was so GOOD!

So here's how it went -- The teachers introduced why the class was in the library and how I was going to connect their prior day's learning to what we did today. Then I took over and asked the kids to define "e pluribus unum" and then gave some examples. I told them that during the American Revolution, there were certain jobs and ideas that were kept from women, but that Mercy Otis Warren was not typical of her time.

I read the story (referenced in my earlier post) aloud while the students looked at photographs of the pages on the large screen. When I was done, the teacher reminded them of another topic they had discussed: the appeals of persuasion logos, ethos, and pathos. I explained that I had just learned these as well and asked the students to define them for me. We made some connections about the persuasive nature of war and political writings and then broke the students into groups to read excerpts from Mercy's writings (taken from the book).

Taken from Page 11 of Write On, Mercy! by Gretchen Woelfle
Each group had three minutes to read the quote, discuss and decide which persuasive appeal was used, and write down any vocabulary that helped them draw their conclusions. We explained that they might not understand the quotes as a whole because of the "proper English" of the time, but that they could use the vocabulary they DID know to work through the writings. After several rotations through the quotes, we returned to our large group setting and discussed aloud which appeals went with which quote. In most cases, the students were able to defend their choice of logos, ethos, and pathos even though the class as a whole might not have chosen the same appeal.

When we were finished, the teachers took the students back to the room to read and work with other types of American Revolutionary text before the students begin their persuasive papers later in the six week period. We reiterated that the students would be reading more texts like the ones Mercy wrote and to remember how we deciphered her appeals in the library.

The kids were engaged and seems to enjoy my reading to them! It's been awhile since my elementary library days of reading aloud over and over again. I'm going to have to get my sea legs back and practice my reading voice!
I've got five more classes tomorrow! Wish me luck! :)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I Have a Dream

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's speech, I shared I Have a Dream (ISBN 978-0-375-85887-1), which includes a CD with original audio from the amazing speech and Kadir Nelson's breathtaking illustrations to accompany the text.

Mesquite High School is starting a new initiative this year called IGNITE. This is an accelerated academic program in a non-traditional setting that targets sophomore and juniors who have not had much success in a traditional classroom (i.e. they are on the verge of dropping out). These 70 students will be able to do a self-paced credit recovery computer program that accompanies project-based learning with the help of four core-area teachers. My librarian partner, Mrs. Harman, and I look forward to working closely with this special group of teachers and students.

We were invited into the IGNITE classroom on Friday afternoon to share this book with all 70 students. Before we started, I did a quick schpeel to explain that picture books are NOT just for little kids; they are for EVERYONE. Before sharing picture books with secondary students, it's important to set a tone with them--to honor their maturity and intelligence. After this introduction, I asked the students for some synonyms of the word dream. They came up with vision, view, goal.  We listened to Dr. King's powerful voice as I showed the pictures. The majority of the students were fully engaged and took Dr. King's message very seriously. Mrs. Harman noticed that many of them mouthed the words as if they had them memorized.

We even got a shout-out via Twitter!
After the book was finished, I used these questions to guide our discussion:

1. What is the "American Dream?"
2. Why do you think Nelson drew doves on the last page? What do they stand for?
3. Do you think Dr. King's "dream" has come true? Are we better off today than we were in 1963?

This last question brought about an interesting response. I asked the students to THINK about their answers before they responded, which was hard for them to do. Even after asking them to think first and speak second, many of them still blurted out "No, we are not better off." Mrs. Harman was able to be a "primary source" since she remembers the 60s (but that doesn't make her "old"!) , and she was able to share her own personal experiences of growing up in this era to illustrate to students that things are better legally although racism still unfortunately exists today. I concluded the lesson by asking students to reflect on their own "dream."

Next time we share a book with this class, I would like for them to write before they speak to give everyone a chance to think about their responses before blurting them out. This will take some time to build up to because many of these students have a negative reaction to writing, but this is my goal--to eventually incorporate more writing into these lessons.

As we were leaving, a student named Andres came up to me and shared this:

Andres: "Miss, this wise old man told me this one time. There are three kinds of people in the world: people who make it happen; people who watch it happen; people who have no idea what's happening."

Me: "So which one are you?"

Andres: "I'm going to make it happen just like Dr. King."

And with the help of IGNITE, I have no doubt that Andres will do just that.

Overall, this lesson was a great success. Considering that these are not your "typical" high school kids, the fact that they were engaged in this lesson proves that picture books can work with ANYONE.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Write On, Mercy!

The first picture book I'm using this year is Write On, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren by Gretchen Woelfle (ISBN 978-1-59078-822-6). Our English 3 teachers are teaching American Revolution literature and persuasive writing this six weeks. Students will also learn the different appeals (logos, pathos, and ethos), audience, exigence and purpose.

I will read the story to the class and then work with the teacher to discuss different excerpts from Mercy's writings. I'm still working on the specifics, but will post when I've got more information and we've gone through it a couple of times!

New Year, New Ideas!

My librarian friend, Amianne, and I decided to embark on a NEW program this year at our two high schools. We are both former secondary English teachers who began our library careers in the elementary library. We thought this year we might use our knowledge and LOVE for picture books to bring a new twist to teaching in the secondary classroom. Our goal is to get out of the library and into the classrooms of as many different subject areas and disciplines as possible.

This blog is going to be a record of what we did, how we did it, our success and failures (hopefully few of those)!