Saturday, June 27, 2009

The joys of summer and my dvd watching

Well the school year is over and I must admit I felt somewhat lighter yesterday as I left the VSB, not that I have quite left yet. There is still more sorting and packing and a high school summer institute Thursday and Friday, but somehow my time now is my own and my time at the education centre is coming to a close and all the responsibilities. And next Saturday morning I will be on a road trip to the Rockies.
DVD watching was what I was doing Thursday evening and Friday morning. Jodi had ordered two new dvds from Choice Literacy, Intermediate Daily Five and Intermediate Cafe. Having introduced the Daily Five in quite a few intermediate classrooms this year it was really interesting to see this dvd. What did they do that was similar and what was different? One difference was the idea of having goals from the cafe menu. Now having used R5 with intermediate students one can see some overlap there with the cafe menu.
Many teachers tell me that it is so much easier to understand when they actually see what they have read when they are able to see what something looks like and these dvd's really do that. I am just reading the Cafe book so that it was especially helpful to see the dvd. There are clips in both dvds from grade four and six classrooms and it's interesting to see the sisters' adjustments.We now have quite an extensive dvd library for teachers to borrow plus you can watch clips on the choice literacy website. I have given you that link. I am already setting up my new classroom in my mind and thinking of how I may want to incorporate the Cafe "menu".
Instead of trying to do a wide angle focus on the whole district it's interesting to think of how I will be mainly be focused on one classroom next year.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Graphic novels etc.

Yesterday, we had our final high school literacy coordinators' meeting. Due to last minute staff meetings etc. some people had to cancel but we still had a good number of high school teachers (and one administrator) out at Thompson for this meeting. Many thanks to Celia Brownrigg who presented on Graphic Novels. I think we all learned lots. Also Pam Hansen, our high school literacy mentor, led us through an interesting discussion inspired by an article on how different subject area teachers read different disciplines by Cynthia and Tim Shanahan in The Harvard Educational Review. She was aided in this by our new other high school mentor, Jacob Martens, who is a high school science teacher. Due to the loss of my position we decided one way we could cope was to have another mentor take on high school so it is exciting to have someone with a content area background!

As promised here are a couple of great links I discovered yesterday. One is great ning with all sorts of topics of interest for English teachers thanks to NCTE. You can discuss a poem a week, join a Readicide book club etc. It's great. Another useful site is Classroom 2.0 where you can really become tech savvy and there are sorts of teacher friendly resources.

For those of you who would like to access Celia's powerpoint on Comic Novels you can just go to my wiki where I have posted it and other related materials to her presentation. I also have a link to the Shanahan and Shanahan article.

My four years attempting to "understand high school again" have been fascinating. My grand finale will be a high school literacy summer institute where I will attempt to boil everything I have learned down to a day and a half-hmmm...

P.S. I just found a unit on Persepolis in Read Write lesson plans for you.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Notebook Connections-recommended summer reading...

I am reading Notebook Connections by Aimee Buckner currently. A couple of years ago, she wrote Notebook Knowhow describing how she used writing notebooks with her students. There was a buzz about this book in our office and I began a popular book club at the board where various teachers shared how they were using her book to create notebooks with their students in their classrooms. We found out the best "deals" for hard covered notebooks and they have become part of many classrooms in Vancouver and many schools have had their own Notebook Knowhow book clubs.
Her latest book is about how to use reading notebooks as a tool for students to think more deeply about their reading. For years my students had Reading Response Journals where they wrote about the books they were reading and they used these journals as a basis for discussion in their literature circles. I had a fairly successful formula for their format and use, but like everything else there definitely was room for improvement. I, personally, like how Aimee Buckner questions her practice. Reading her books is like having a conversation. You think, "yes, I thought that as well". I think as well her books are aimed at teachers who already are doing writing workshops or reading workshops but want to sharpen their practice. Rather than following necessarily step by step, these books provide a place to turn for practical suggestions and ideas, to hone our craft as teachers.
I am asked how I feel about teaching again after not having my own classroom for four years. It feels a bit like where I was 15 years ago when I started teaching grade six after seven years of being a LAC teacher. I know it will be a bit of an adjustment but again the opportunity of being able to try things out day by day is exciting. And the opportunity to really read and discuss and observe and think about practice for four years has really been a gift. I started teaching in 1973 and to still want to teach in 2009 is really wonderful. I am sure it has helped to change positions along the way and to have had a couple of short breaks plus summer holidays! But I think one reason is being able to connect to authors like Aimee Buckner.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I school anyone?

Well in my blog prowling I found a very interesting video put together by a seventeen year old who now has his own website. Will this inspire me to buy an i-phone??? I sometimes think it's ironic in that I always write about books and my friend, Moira, who is our teacher-librarian consultant is the technology queen bringing me up to date with all the latest digital devices, but I guess our teacher/librarians are our media specialists. Anyway this video is fascinating. See what you think. Someday I will figure out how to embed video into my blog...

Someday I will be efficient...

Just wanted to know that $500 later my computer is back plus all the data! Now I am still contemplating a new computer but I am quite excited to have my old friend back.
I took a break from packing and organizing to spend some time with a favorite grade five class at Queen Elizabeth. I read them a new (to me) wonderful picture book, Someday, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Rosie Winstead. The book describes what the girl would like to be doing someday and then it brings her back to the reality of what she is doing today.
For instance, someday she would like to be an oceanographer swimming with dolphins but right now she has to be contented with looking at her uncommunicative gold fish in a bowl. She would like to dine with the president but is stuck with her little brother who is rather lacking in table manners. The detail of her dreams of the future are great as is the contrast to the future but the book comes to a lovely end proving there are good things today. I read this book and that other favorite, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything, and then let the kids write whatever they wanted. I wrote along with them after I told them how I used to fantasize about my Academy Award (I am still waiting). They did a great job. One young lady is just such a natural rhymer it's unbelievable. Other children were able to quickly pick up the idea and do great connections between someday and today, much better than my attempts! Ah... the sweet power of teaching when students reach beyond your wildest expectations.
Okay, here is one of the young writers' work.

"Someday I will sky-dive off the CN tower with my pink superman costume and when I land all the CBC news people will ask me how it felt to fly like Superman.

Today I'm jumping off my picnic table with my piggy pyjamas on and my teddy bear named Sprinkle.

Someday I will be the first kid to fly to the moon and eat it. Mmmm... all that yummy cheese melting in my mouth. Then an alien would come up to me and ask how it tastes. I would say it tastes wonderful!

Today I'm in my summer dress eating cold cheese out of the fridge with my dog Buddy begging for some.

Someday I will jump off a 50m high jumping board in the deep blue sea with goldfish at the surface trying to nip my little toes.

Today I'm trying to jump off a 2cm jumping board with my arm floaties with picture of tiny fish."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What I am reading-The Cafe Book

Well since I am not quite as attached to my computer as usual, I probably am reading more professional books. I feel very smart that I pressured our reading councils to bring The Sisters to Vancouver several years ago when they were just beginning to be famous. I have had lots of fun this year bringing the Daily Five (or three or four) to quite a few classrooms from grade one to seven very succesfully, and finally their new book, The Cafe Book is out. I began reading it and as I contemplate my return to the classroom, I am trying to visualize if I could set up life this way. I really like the acronym, Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary which sum up what our students do need to be taught and to practice. Anyway I guess I will have a chance to find out. And speaking of Joan and Gail, Choice Literacy has clips of their new dvd of Joan and Gail working with intermediate students on the Daily Five so have a look. We are planning to order that dvd for the office so our teachers will be able to borrow it. If you don't subscribe to Choice Literacy's newsletter I totally suggest doing so. So much good stuff I constantly discover there.


Tragedy has hit. My computer's hard drive failed due to a fall it received a month ago! I am currently using our learning services laptop which just isn't as friendly as my trusty four year old Mac. This has definitely cut down on my at home computer use which probably is a good thing. As many of you know (well the two or three people who do read this) my time at the school board is coming to a close and I will be back teaching full time in a grade six/seven classroom in September. Yesterday late afternoon and early evening was spent going through my desk files and I have another whole filing cabinet to purge and sort. Did I have an impact, did I do a good job? Hard to say but I sure accumulated many files. That leads me back to my computer and the jury is still out whether any material will be retrieved. It's amazing how much baggage we now pack into a small machine-try over 3000 pictures...
The pictures-I am only about a year and a half behind pulling my favorite pictures into an old fashioned album but you know my favorites are firmly planted in my head and there are many more pictures to take.
Of course, you should back up files and documents but sometimes that leads back to the question of what is important and what do we really need. And I can tell you that there are going to be many files purged in my school board computer as well. Clutter just accumuates in many places and forms!
So my packing (well sorting then hopefully packing) will continue on trying to establish what is important to take with me and what I will actually use.
I found three letters written to me at the end of grade seven by former students. I am keeping them. They gave me a boost as I sorted through information about diplomas that never happened, old district plans, and many things that took so much energy. Teaching is what matters, what's really important. And what I really need next year has been honed by all the wonderful reading, professional development, conversations, and the opportunities to play in other people's classrooms which has given so much richness to my life as a consultant (or rather learner).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How to Steal a Dog

Yesterday, I noted to a few teacher librarians that this week first I read a novel entitled How to Steal a Car (see earlier entry) and then one entitled How to Steal a Dog. How to Steal a Dog ,an award winning book by Barbara O'Connor, is a great novel for intermediate students about a girl, Georgina, whose dad has walked out on the family so that her mom and Georgina and her younger brother, Toby are forced to move out of their apartment into their car, something they don't want anyone to know. Mom is working two jobs, trying to get enough money for a deposit for a new place. Needless to say this is rough on Georgina and Toby. She sees a flyer advertising a $500 reward for finding a lost dog. That dog has been found but this gives her the idea to find a dog belonging to someone who appears to have money and then "find" the dog and get the reward which will enable her family to have a decent place to live again. Careful planning is involved and executed but needless a few things go wrong then right. I think this would be a great real aloud for fourth and fifth graders as there is so much potential for discussion. I know the idea that children their age in many countries have to work to help to support their families was a bit of a revelation to the students with whom I worked at Cavell. This book enables students to enter the world of a child who is just like them but due to circumstances ends up in a difficult situation. A perfect book for developing empathy and understanding.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Warrier Boyz

I am playing catch up. Last week at the VSB there was another film screening. This time it was Warrier Boyz
Several years ago, I met Baljit Sangra, the film maker whose cousin, Harjinder Sangra, happens to be a Vancouver teacher and a good friend of mine. Bal had just started work on the project and I was fascinated. For eleven years, I taught at Moberly Elementary. While there, there were several gang related deaths which deeply touched my students. One murder happened a couple of blocks from the school and involved the uncle of several students. The infamous Bindy Johal was another student's cousin. My students knew people in gangs and I worried that some of my students too would be recruited. I wanted to understand what was going on.
This film is excellent as it focuses on three young men, one who was once a gang member and left , another high school student who has been expelled from one school and is now at Princess Margaret in Surrey and trying to get on a straighter path, and the final student, also a Princess Margaret student, who still seems in deep danger. One of the positive points of the film is the portrait of a vice-principal who really cares and makes a difference.
Last week there was a screening and discussion at Moberly with students and parents. Screenings have occurred at Windermere and in several other schools in the Lower Mainland. If you haven't seen it I totally recommend it. It will be on Knowledge network tonight at 10:00. It's also available through VSB's media services.

Mr. H and his Unruly Puppets

I am running out of time in my consultant position and just like it used to be at the end of the classroom year I seem to get energized as the end is coming. I decided long ago not to go into journalism because I didn't like writing under pressure. Later I realized I only wrote under pressure. It must be the adrenaline rush of knowing the end is near.
But thanks to the help of Denise Johnson we managed to have a screening at the VSB of this wonderful film and as a bonus we had the star and the film maker there as well.
I only worked with Bob for a year but I was amazed just by his classroom which was incredible as well as what he did with his first grade students. He led them through a kind of Odyssey out of which came sheer delight and wonderful learning. A classical scholar, he brought this passion to the classroom as well as his love of poetry which many of us have been able to savour through his wonderful children's books. He also happens to be just a lovely person.
I missed the initial screening but was invited to another for UBC student teachers, and as Bob said himself we don't often have documentation of teaching. Thanks to filmmaker and VSB teacher, Annie O'Donaghue, we have this wonderful view into Bob's classroom and get to feel the magic, focusing in on the use of the puppets who teach the children so much about life as well as learning. Soon it will be available through the VSB media services. We can't all be Bob but we can all benefit from the message that we need to find our own passion and joy in our own classrooms and take our own risks. Don't miss seeing it!

Monday, June 1, 2009

How to Steal a Car

What doI like best to read in the children's lit realm? Ever since (well obviously before) I started teaching I have been drawn to two types of books, a perhaps strange combination, picture books and Young Adult literature. This probably demonstrates an unwillingness to grow up, but I always liked picture books (this may also account for my weakness for magazines with good pictures-in another life I will be a photo stylist) and I read The Outsiders when it first came out(which was a long long time ago-I was a teenager) which may have begun my weakness for those realistic YA books. I just read a children's novel and as enjoyable as it was I am still frozen somewhat in adolescence. Getting to work in primary classrooms this year has really fed the picture book habit and the best part of working with high school teachers may have been the feeling I need to be up on YA lit.
As you may have guessed, my latest read has been an advance copy of How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman (winner of the National Book Award for his novel, Godless)which is set in an upper middle class suburb of Minneapolis. Having recently been to Minneapolis where I acquired the book for free at the International Reading Association convention, I was able to have a sharper sense of the setting of course. When I picked up this book I thought it would probably be about some underprivileged delinquent boy but instead it is about a rather privileged teenage girl who although she doesn't yet have a driver's license has an ability to steal cars. An interesting book as we begin to peel away the layers of why she is stealing cars. I think I would love the opportunity to discuss this book with some teenagers. I kind of love the humour and descriptions of this book. I also like the surprises which when closely examined perhaps aren't that surprising. It's due out in early fall. I think I am planning to read more of his novels.