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I tried something else ...

I took this picture at a local elementary school.Working at three schools each week gives me a chance to try different types of reader response activities with a wide variety of students!

The students I worked with this time were not all reading the same book, and I wanted to get an idea of where students were in the book … if they had started yet (since some chose not to read over Spring Break).

Like I have written before, I wanted to know more than just a page number. And there are different ways to express information about a book other than just writing a summary …

Different learning styles?

So I took a chance (but it was really the thinking process and the book conversations after the fact that mattered the most)

So here were the options I gave students:

  • Draw a picture the main character would take of an event that has happened in what you have read so far (ex. for a facebook or instagram post)

  • Create a selfie of the main character

  • Develop an image of a prediction you have about the story (if you haven’t started reading yet)

I watched as students brainstormed and then started creatiing. I did not go into this activity as a way to encourage and support the 4Cs (Creativity, Critical Thinking Skills, Communication, and Collaboration) but I could see examples of the 4Cs while students were working. I began to wonder if it is all about creating the right environment for those skills to flouriish?

But that is another blog post …

So we had a learing conversation (reflection time) at the end of class and discussed these questions:

  • How did you choose which type of picture to create?
  • How/Why did you choose the details to include?

I took notes on the discussion and here are a few of the comments I captured:

  • “I used evidence from the book cover when drawing prediction and decided to draw what I thought might be the setting”
  • “My picture is of a kid doing a lot of homework. He has a large pile of homework papers on his desk which was the reason for the HW machine.”
  • “This is when they discover the homework machine is real. I think that is an important part of story.”
  • “I did a selfie because I really liked the character.”
  • “I also did a selfie and included some details from the book in the picture. It is not just what she looked like but some of the things the book said she found or did.”
  • “I picked to do an event in book. This was very descriptive in the book so I chose to draw that part.”
  • “I did a selfie because he is main character.”

So not only did I have the images my students created but also was able to listen in on conversations about why students chose to create those images. I was able to not only figure out where students were in reading the book but also a little but about what they knew about story elements!

At one time, I thought, I should have students write down why they made that choice, but I have found that I get more authentic answers when we just talk!

And students like to talk …



Looking for some Magic?

I started reading A Snicker of Magic yesterday
And fell in love …
After only reading 20 pages, I knew I wanted to buy a copy!!!
I stole a few minutes to read before school this morning and I got to one part that made me stop …

Here is what I’ve learned about miracles: Sometimes they turn up quick, and sometimes they take their sweet time getting to you. It’s hard to tell either way because a miracle never looks exactly how you think it should.  Some miracles are big and flashy, and others are sweet and simple. Some miracles make you want to shout, and others make you want to sing.

And some miracles, the very best of all, show up wearing cowboy boots.

It made me stop

And it made me smile

And think

Although I am not too sure exactly what I was thinking about

But I could not get those words out of my head

I suddenly knew I needed to write or type those words

And I am not exactly sure why


Or maybe I never will know

But those words made me smile

And that is an idea I like! 

Pulling Books Out of a Box!

But in the past I have tried to structure it so we are all on the same page at the same time.

Well, that idea has totally flown out of the window the last couple weeks …

Waaaayyyy out of the window!

At one of my three schools, I meet with a group of students from two different grades at the same time.

I remember doing lots of research on multi-age classes in college and even helped in one my junior year, so getting to work with this group is a treat!

I also found myself with a box of books from the library … 5-7 copies of a wide variety of novels.

One week, I brought that box with me to class …

I wasn’t really sure exactly what I was going to do with the box or the books in it, but I brought it …

Students were so interested in what was in the box …

So I started pulling books out one at a time and doing mini-commericals or book talks

Based mainly on what I knew about the author of the book and/or what I read on the back of the book jacket

We also made prediction based on the book cover and title

It was a time full of critical thinking and creativity … even if we didn’t really know what we were doing!

The “everybody reads the same book” message began bouncing around in my head

I made that idea leave when I saw how eager students were to start reading the books I was pulling out of the box and sharing …

If I had to wait until I found enough copies for us all to read the same book, then the “newness” of it all would be gone

And I did not want to miss on the possibilities of that moment

So ….

After I did my song and dance show for each set of books I had, I placed stacks of books on the desks in front of me …

And I let the older students choose first

I also overheard some students asking one another if they thought I would let them choose two, but nobody asked me (I probably would have after everyone had a chance to choose one)

I now have students who excitedly chose what to read from a teacher-selected set of books!

Twelve students reading five different books …

How in the world am I going to keep up with who is reading what book and where they are in that book?

I decided to tackle the first question first …

Now I know I could have just had students pass around a list and write down the book titles and their names

But where is the challenge in that? :)

We happened to have 8 mini ipads in our learning environment that day …

And we had used the PicCollage app before …

Those two statements led me to have an idea!!!!

(I know that can be seen as a dangerous thing … but if learning happens, then what is dangerous about it?) :)

So I told students that before the end of the class, each person needed to use an ipad mini to take a picture of the cover of the book he or she chose to read. And with that picture, each student needed to create something that included both the name of the book and the name of the student.

By the end of class, every student had taken a picture and created something to share with me

Most used the PicCollage app, but some ventured out and used another app (one they had used before or one they figured out how to use that day … I am happy to have established the type of learning environment where students feel they can take chances to do those things … within reason)

Ta Da!!!!

I figured out a way to answer the first question mentioned above … how to find out what students were reading!

The answer to the second question deserves its own blog post in my opinion!


photo credit: A view to a lake via photopin (license)



No Words ... More Thinking?


Looking on the bright side, at least my group did not go from 4 to 12 this morning …

But it did go from 12 to 4 …

Since I was not sure that what was in my plan book would work as well with only 4 students, I made a quick turn in a new direction!

Flexibility is the name of the game, right?!?!?

Since the overall focus is to stretch thinking and use the 4Cs (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication), I suddenly had an idea! 

(as I mentioned yesterday, that statement used to concern a few of my former co-workers)

I am not sure if I have mentioned this before, but Scholastic Book Fairs are my downfall …

But I guess if it is books, then it is not really too bad …

And I only bought six books today …

Two of those are wordless picture books!

I read, or I guess experienced, those books this morning before seeing students

And they popped to mind when my plans suddenly needed to change!

I had 2 boys and 2 girls in my now smaller small group …

I gave one of those books to the boys and the other book to the girls without giving any background knowledge or information about the books.  I wanted to see what would happen …

After overhearing the girls plan to alternate reading pages, I did smile to myself!

It did not take them long to figure it out!

There are no words … pay attention to the details in the images and the story the images portray!

I have seen these groups read and partner read before, but they paid much more attention to the books today!

Even though it was really hard for me, I tried to just sit and listen to both groups with pinpointing the things I noticed …

After the groups were finished with one book, they swapped books and started reading/experiencing the other book

I soon heard students comparing and contrasting the two books!  That told me that they were thinking and not just looking at the picture!

The stories the girl group and the stories the boy group created shared some details but had unique differences!

I was surprised (and thrilled) at all the things that were noticed to create a rich storyline … 

After both groups read/experienced both books, then we had a conversation about the books (not a question and answer session)

We eventually talked about how we thought these were created …

Does the story come first?

Do the pictures come first?

I asked a question about how these wordless picture books compared to another picture book I had full of words to tell the story.

Students told me the wordless ones required more thinking for them to read.  So I asked which they thought might be more challenging to create …

They quickly decided the wordless ones must be easier since it was just images.

So I gave them the chance to create …

When we reflected at the end of class, students told me that there was more to making a wordless picture book than just drawing pictures …

Creativity and Critical Thinking, here we come!!!!

This quote keeps running through my mind:

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” 
― John Dewey


Checking Status With A Postcard?

What is something you have done recently that is outside your comfort zone?

Or maybe something that is not like anything you have done in the past …

I love doing novel studies with students …

The rich conversations we get to have …

Getting students to read something they probably would not have read on their own …

Seeing the “ah ha” moments …

It is authentic reading!

But I am in a unique situation right now

I don’t see the same students every day

I am not even at the same school each day

In the past, I generally had a whole class reading the same book and moving at the same pace so I knew where students were (or were supposed to be)

But we don’t all read the same way or at the same pace

I don’t even read all the books I read in the same way or at the same pace

So things are changing for me …

And still stressing me out some …

But I think I am doing what is right for my students

I work with a group of 3rd grade students for about an hour two days a week in reading (I also see that group of students for math two days a week)

I found enough copies of The Report Card by Andrew Clements for the whole group, so we started reading it

Since I don’t see them everyday, asking them to only read one or two chapters each week means we would be reading that book FOREVER

And that is not what these students want to do

(And this teacher does not either)

It has taken some bumps in the road but finally I told students when they needed to have the book finished. They are now responsible for finding time and figuring out ways to get it done.

(That is a responsibility that we talk about in class) 

Donalyn Miller shares the idea of doing a staus check to see where students are in the books they are reading and to help the teacher see how much is or is not getting done.

I wanted to find a way to do that other than asking the students one at a time to tell me what page they were on …

And page numbers really don’t mean much

So today I had an idea!

(Some former co-workers used to get scared when I said that!)

We talked about the things that are normally on a postcard …

The picture on the front, the letter/message, the address, and the stamp

I challenged students to create a postcard about the most recent event in the book they read about …

Some asked if the picture on the front had to relate

I really, really wanted it to, but I said that it did not have to (this time)

The letter/message on the postcard could be one character writing to another character about the event that just occured or a message from a character to the reader or me, the teacher, sharing his or her opinion and summary of the recent event.

I had regular size construction paper and white copy paper for students to choose from

In my file cabinet I had larger sheets of blue and orange paper, but I thought that might be too much to ask

It turns out that almost all the students wanted to use the larger paper, so I pulled it out too! :)

And students got to work!

Looking around the room, I was surprised how focused students were and how much they kept referring back to the text.

That is what I was hoping might happen

AND it did!!!!

Yes, I could have gotten the needed information from asking students to tell me a page number, but I was able to observce and informally assess so many other skills doing it this way!

top photo credit: backcard54 via photopin (license)

bottom photos were taken by me in my classroom today