Friday, November 8, 2013

From the Dump to the Destination-Making our Way to Step Up with StopLIghts

Do you find that when you sit down to confer, or collect and analyze your student's writing that it looks a little like this?
The Dump

You know it, and I know it, the child simply took all their schema for the topic of "golf" and threw it down on paper. We've seen plenty of writing like this, but we know there is hope, a path, a way.  So let's see what we know is achievable. Let's check out the kind of writing we can support our students in achieving and transferring in EVERYDAY life: on paper, in oral communication, in digital format, in any content area!

You may wonder, what does this FOCUSED, ORGANIZED, and DEVELOPED writing look like in print? What does it look like when a child really writes this way?

The Organized Paragraph

Sure, I love it, do they get there? Could they start with a web? Could they use a different graphic organizer? Might they just write that way from their heads? Yes, Yes, and Yes! (Mrs. Ruhl has even developed a way for students to take notes from research in a way that easily transfers to a well-organized (focused and developed) paragraph.)
The Outline
The Other Outline

The Web
The Draft

Does it work with all modes? Well, of course! All writers must develop and organize their writing in all modes. Whether they are linking facts and examples, or adding dialogue, snapshots, or thoughtshots, all writers begin, support, further support, close and transition their readers along the way. (Just ask Mrs. Puckett who has students "StopLighting" in narratives!)

See! It can be done!

Is it a set number of sentences for each grade level, mode, or from? No, no, and no. It's not a cookie cutter concept. It's closer in nature to an accordion-- expanding and contracting as the writer decides when a reader's needs are met.

Does this StopLight (Step-Up to Writing) paragraphing make you wonder? Does this idea cause you to be curious? Make you want to learn more and try it out with your kids? It has certainly done this for many of our BES teachers and I'm sure they'd be happy to share some of their knowledge, ideas, and experiences with you if you'd like to know more. (And they are not just asking their students to use this organizational trait in writer's workshop only. Just ask Mr. Parrot about this and see what his kids are doing with StopLighting in math, reading responses, and oral communication!)

Of course, you can always grab me and I'll be more than happy to be a thinking partner!
Here's to supporting our kids as deep thinkers and developed and ORGANIZED WRITERS!

Special thanks to lMarisol Hood, ELD 1,2 Teacher, Del Mar High School lAnissa Sharief, ELD Teacher, Del Mar High School
lSteve Sinclair, SCCOE, ELA Coordinator for sharing your PPT.
Looking for further resources?
Of course, you can also click the Soplight to the right or Google: Step Up to Writing

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Top 10 Ways to Prepare My Students

TOP 10 Ways I Can Prepare My K-3 Students for
Marie Bradby’s Visit to Buckner
November 14, 2013

10) Play around with her website, to learn a little bit about her and her books.
You can also visit to learn about how she got started in her writing career!

9) Write about the visit (LET PARENTS IN ON IT!) in your newsletter/class website, or create a link to my website .

8) Listen to the newscast each morning for information about our exciting visit from Marie Bradby.

7) Look on her website and read HOW I WRITE and BIOGRAPHY to build the students’ schema.

6) Look on her website at the BOOKS on the right side to learn about her books. Go to and type Marie Bradby to read some of the reviews of her books. THEN CHECK OUT the tub of Visiting Author books and read them to your class.

5) Encourage your kids to read the snippets of text on the walls while in line, walking down the hall, etc.

4) Try the “Writing Exercise” activity to spark your students’ creative juices. Pretty interesting idea. See the website for details!
After reading More Than Anything Else, have students write a “More Than Anything Else” story of their own.
After reading Once Upon a Farm have students craft poetry with a
 “Once Upon a _______ “ story of their own.

3) Foster a connection to family and self by listening to George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem (text available, too)
and then reading Marie Bradby’s picture book Momma, Where Are You From?  to spark student generated ideas about where they or a family member is from. Discuss their thoughts in a share square. Research about a family member to preserve history, and/or have students write their own _________, Where Are You From? 

2) Use her books and poetry in your literacy workshops as the shared reading and discussion topics! And/or use them as your fluency work for the week!

- Use her texts as models or mentors: read them to understand as a reader, study her writing as you “read like a writer” analyzing the purpose, ideas, organization, words, use of voice, conventions, and variety of crafts.

PLEASE consider inviting Jennifer and Sarah in as guest readers or to model/co-teach a lesson! We love this author and would LOVE to share her work with the students.

Award-Winning Guest Author Comes to Buckner!

Students K-3
Meeting a Mentor— Marie Bradby

A mentor- a wise and trusted guide or teacher; someone you admire and try to learn from so as to better yourself

As you know, Buckner Elementary is dedicated to enriching the lives of our students through exciting and meaningful educational experiences. Students no longer watch their teachers stand and deliver information; rather, they are an integral part of their own learning.

Through intentional, focused, and guided instruction our children are becoming more adept at using the 7 thinking strategies to discuss and comprehend texts they read. They have also learned (or are learning) to analyze and read mentor texts like a writer—looking for the strategies and techniques the authors used to craft their writing. Students are given multiple opportunities to use this knowledge to write their own texts whether they take the from of a narrative, poem, article, letter, All About Book, etc. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful. It’s real. It’s because of mentors.

Each day Buckner students read works from published mentor authors so as to learn from them. (Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be- We learn from those who do it well?) How amazing would it be then, to SEE and HEAR and TALK TO a well-renowned author of books we have loved and studied? How powerful would it be to listen to and learn from that mentor? This year, Buckner is proud to announce that we will welcome Kentucky native, Marie Bradby to our school on November 14th to share her experiences— which have led to her books and poems; her thoughtful and intentional writing process; and her perseverance in working with her writing until it’s published.

Ms. Bradby says, “I have tried to write stories about the most important questions that I wanted my son to think about. What is a real friend? What if you didn’t get a chance to learn to read? Where are you really from? .” And throughout the rest of the year— BES students will write about questions and topics important to them and others. The best part is that your child will have the voice and lessons of our mentor in his/her head and realize the power of his/her own stories and ideas.

You, too, are invited and encouraged to learn from one of the best. By listening to your child talk about Ms. Bradby’s visit you will learn about he significant connection between reading, writing, and the value of sharing your family stories with your child(ren) and writing about passions and the questions you ponder.

Though the seeds have been planted, in order to better prepare for this exciting visit, over the course of the next few weeks your child will continue to experience the pleasure of listening to his/her teacher read Marie Bradby’s books and poems. Much thinking will be done and many conversations will stem from these beautifully written and thought-provoking books. Students will log onto her website and learn more about her life and love of writing, as well as experiment with some of her writing strategies as they craft their own writing.

So, mark your calendars for the experience and honor of meeting the fabulous mentor- Marie Brady. She’s guaranteed to touch your child’s life and motivate the reader and writer within.

               Literacy Coach,
               Sarah Whitt

For more literacy information log onto the Buckner website and click The Literacy Connection.

Mareie Bradby’s website:

Look for the flyers to fill out so you can purchase an autographed copy of your child’s favorite Marie Bradby book.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Who knew? Obviously the Common Core Maps Unit Writers Did!

            So, for the past couple of years we’ve been using the Common Core Maps units for the basis of our ELA curriculum. These maps have tried our patience, caused us to carefully consider KCAS content in the name of understanding, offered countless opportunities for us to analyze our practice, and mentally opened up our mindsets about the integration of all things ELA. As we’ve struggled through, we have certainly put to use all of our thinking strategies as thoughtful practitioners. Our background knowledge has guided us, our questions have propelled us, and our inferences supported us as we navigated uncharted waters.  Most recently, I experienced a synthesis of sorts after reading a Readers’ Digest article while visiting my mother. I had no idea it was coming, but after reading the text had a much clearer vision and understanding of one particular third grade unit.

Our Story
The unit titled, “Stories Worth Telling Again and Again,” comes as our second in the year. A focus of this unit calls for students to become familiar with those stories passed down from generation to generation so as to retell them using key details. It features Native American and other cultural trickster tales and asks for students to record a family (parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle) story of their own.  Of course, our team “got” that this unit takes place in the month of September when we celebrate Grandparents’ Day as a nation, but what we didn’t realize was the researched-value of students knowing the tales of their past— specifically the positive outcomes from family members’ experiences overcoming trials and tribulations.  Who knew? We sure didn’t know the benefits beyond current content, but obviously the Common Core Maps writers did!

…and Our Synthesis
            Last year we attempted to communicate a purpose so our students would be vested as they participated in the activity of collecting stories to retell them, but it felt flat (about as fulfilling as making a cute card). This past year, we made more of an effort and really worked to make the work meaningful to both students and their families, but we didn’t “get it” until we read this article.  “The Stories that Bind Us: Strong families know—and teach the next generation—their histories” by Bruce Feiler caused a synthesis for my third grade colleagues and me. And it came just in time to share our new understanding with our students so they could reap the undeniable benefits of connecting with their families (nuclear and extended). Now their work to capture these precious positive stories will afford them the opportunity to “be more resilient” when faced with challenges.
            While we wish we had read this powerful text about a month sooner then we did, we are grateful to know how we can revise our plans and support our students in understanding the true benefits of sharing and reflecting on those “Stories Worth Telling Again and Again.” Of course the take-away from this experience extends beyond this one unit. Yet again, we see evidence that the authors intentionally wove in meaningful experiences as they designed each of these units.  We are called to be open-minded and obligated search for a deeper meaning and worldly importance of those at-first-glance “surfacy” activities. Though they may not all be the hidden gem that these grandparent stories are, there may just be more than meets the eye, and who knows what ah-ha we will have next?

Feiler, Bruce. (2013, September). The Stories that Bind Us: Strong families know—and teach the next generation—their histories. Reader’s Digest, 32-34.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Contest Time!

Promoting authentic writing and arts in your classroom can be easier than you think. There are two contests running right now that may just be the ones to spark a student's creative side and the be one selected as a contest winner!

The contest above is geared for our intermediate grades (4th & 5th) and offers them an opportunity to connect literature and writing. Students can choose any text that speaks to to them and craft  a letter to that author sharing how it affected them personally. As  you can see, prizes are award at both state and national levels! Students can even read previous winners' essays to use as models for their won writing.
Scroll down to page 5 on this link: to be able to click on the links in the picture above.

A second wonderful contest that includes textual and visual literacy, as well as a variety of the arts is the PTA Reflections contest. This contest is for students of all ages (K-5th) and offers multiple opportunities for you to share about this contest. How many of you already talk with students about their beliefs, dreams, and inspirations? Please promote this contest in your room so that your students feel the power of their talents. Buckner and Oldham Co. do a great job of honoring these students, but they often don't even understand the contest itself. What role could you play in sharing their talents?

Carson Annie - an excited winner as a K-2 District Winner!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What's a Word?

Powerful Pronouns:     
Me vs. Us*

 What is the impact on your students when you say…

“Show me.”                   vs.             “Show us.”                       

“Tell me.”                      vs.             “Tell us.”                        
“Explain to me.”            vs.            “Explain to us.”                 
“Tell me why...”             vs.             “Tell us why...”                 

“Help me understand…” vs.            “Help us understand…”
                  “Describe for me…”        vs.             “Describe for us…”                                                                        

* Usthe class, our class, your classmates, our community.

Which pronoun do you find yourself saying most?

Who's invited in? Who's tuning in?
Who's tuning out?

Math From Me? Yep. 
This site is one to check out!

Citing Support

When it comes to research it can often seem easier to actually read, record, and paraphrase than it is to cite the research we use! How many times do we try to help our students understand the correct ways to cite, only to be tangled up on our own words? Well, here is a link that may just be your (and your students') saving grace. It offers students an easy way to learn how to cite their sources. 

As you know, our students are very much aware of the importance of the practice.  (Ask just about any Buckner Bear and they'll be able to fill you in on how it's "stealing someone else's words to copy.") They really do understand why they need to do it, but actually understanding how to do it is another story altogether. These helpful tools & may just offer the modeling needed to make the format of citing sources manageable and--one day-- part of their schema.  

This is the citation that appears when you simply type in the Title or ISBN of the book!
Polacco, Patricia. Bully. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2012. Print.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Upping the Ante: Challenge Rewards Go Physical

The Internet is a wonderful, crazy, and scary thing. Apparently anything you search is "trackable" and people you've never met notice your online activity. With that said, I got a very wonderful, crazy, and scary (I thought maybe I'd done a little copyright infringement issues with some copying and pasting of images or info.-not that I've ever done that, of course) phone call yesterday from The Great Books Foundation (Junior Great Books) National Director of Sales. He noticed my "Two Challenges, Two Teachers- Fifty Winners" JGB Challenge wanted to offer our teachers something for their participation. addition to the sheer joy you and your students will feel from engaging in JGB stories 5 times this year, AND the increase in reading proficiency and critical thinking abilities for you and your students, NOW you can also receive a Sampler kit worth $99 compliments of Mr. Thomas Kerschner and The Great Books Foundation. "We will send you a Sampler for each of your teachers who completes the challenge." Who can resist now? If you have not had the opportunity to read the finer details of the challenges, please check out Post Below and let me know when you're ready to start!

Have a great day! Who knows what wonderfully, crazy, scary things might happen to you!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Two Challenges- Two Teachers- Fifty Winners: Junior Great Books & Vocabulary Conscious Teaching

I've got a challenge for you. Actually, I've got TWO. Taking part in this adventure is a win-win no matter how you look at it and it's sure to result in increased student learning along the way.  

Is your interest piqued? Do you want to know more? Get a little info before you join in, try something, hop on board, give it a whirl?  Ok, here's the nitty gritty- remember these are TWO separate options for TWO different teachers- or ONE eager beaver who would like to try both. Wowza!

OPTION 1: Junior Great Books Stories  (within Literacy Workshops in grades K-5)
A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text—whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced—to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness. (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, 2011, p. 7)

A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text—whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced—to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness. (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, 2011, p. 7)
What: Intentionally teach using the Junior Great Books stories and methods that include multiple readings, vocabulary practice, directed notes, shared inquiry discussion, and a short written component. The stories selected would meet the ELA units' standards and coincide with the theme.  At no point would this be extra work. 

How many stories/cycles? FIVE- You would be agreeing to offer JGB experiences FIVE times a year. 

Why: JGB offers direct connections to the CCSS/KCAS.

  • A questioning stance that extends ans scaffolds critical thinking
  • Text complexity 
  • Multiple readings and close readings* of text
  • Text-dependent, text-specific questions requiring responses with specific and relevant evidence
  • Analytic and narrative writing with the use of textual evidence

*see article from Educational Leadership "Closing in on Reading" by Nancy Boyles

Purpose: To do a little action research to document the benefit of intentional instruction with JGBs and the WHYs listed above. Caveat: We would to need to use assessment data from your class to see the impact of this practice on students within your classroom. 

*Check out this link of a Shared Inquiry Discussion video with great examples of how JGB supports and sets the rigor for finding textual evidence.
Text used The Stories Julian Tells

OPTION 2: Vocabulary Conscious Teaching (10-15 min. 4-5 days/week) 4th-5th grades
Studies and reviews of research over the past three decades have shown that the size and depth of elementary students' vocabulary is associated with proficiency in reading comprehension and that instruction increases reasders' vocabulary results in higher levels of reading comprehension (e.g., Baumann, Carr-Edwards, Font, Tereshinski, Kame'enui & Olejink, 2002; Beck, Perfetti, & McKowen, 1992; Kame'enui, Carine, & Freschi, 1982; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986).
What: Intentionally teach and offer your students vocabulary instruction and practice with Greek and Latin affixes (prefixes/suffixes) and roots, thus supporting your readers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, social scientists, and thinkers in general. The words selected would come from research-based sources, the ELA units, and/or connections to content in other areas. 

How often and what would we do?    10-15 min./day     The link below is a text co-authored by Tim Rasinski, vocabulary and fluency guru and recent OC speaker!). The authors offer a set of "engaging instructional ideas for the use of Greek and Latin derivations to teach vocabulary and provide classroom-based examples of how a morphological-based vocabulary" implementation can impact students and teachers.

Other resources may include: Words Their Way, Word Nerds, Word Savvy and other texts you've used.
Why is it important to study Greek and Latin word parts?
    • Over 60% of the words students will encounter in school textbooks have recognizable word parts; and many of these Latin and Greek roots (Nagy, Anderson,Schommer, Scott, & Stallman, 1989). I'd contend that even if you don't ever use a textbook, students would encounter the words in the articles and texts you provide for them.
    • Latin and Greek prefixes, roots, and suffixes have predictable spelling patterns.(Rasinski & Padak, 2001; Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston, 2000).
    • Content area vocabulary is largely Greek and Latin-based and research supports this instruction, especially for struggling readers (Harmon, Hedrick & Wood, 2005).
    • Many words from Greek and Latin word parts are included in “Tier Two” and “Tier Three” words that Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) have found to be essential to vocabulary word study.
    • Knowing Greek and Latin word parts helps students recognize and gain clues to understanding of other words that use known affixes and roots(Nagy & Scott, 2000).
    • “One Latin or Greek root or affix (word pattern) aids understanding (as well as decoding and encoding) of 20 or more English words.” 
    • “Since Spanish is also a Latin-based language, Latin (and Greek) can be used as a bridge to help Spanish speaking students use knowledge of their native language to learn English.” 
    • Learning Greek and Latin affixes and roots may help reduce the literacy gap.   

Purpose: To do a little action research to document the benefit of intentional instruction with vocabulary and the WHYs listed above. Caveat: We would to need to use assessment data from your class to see the impact of this practice on students within your classroom.

So, anyone on board? Anyone interested in collaborating in this effort to increase students' reading achievement? Offer readers opportunities to improve on a number of level?

If you are up for the challenge, please let me know and we'll get started. Remember, it's a journey that setting up the participants for success. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pacing, Pulling, and Pondering with MENTOR TEXTS: Reflecting and Planning

Whether you find yourself clocking hours pacing around your room as you proctor your students taking the K-PREP, or you just notice your brain moving from this year to thinking about next year, it's about the time of year to ponder and reflect on the successes and "need to repeat" strategies from past year and the "want to dos" for the approaching August start date. Since you'll be passing by your bookshelves every so often as you pace or digging into them when you inventory books for Jennifer, this might be the perfect time to ponder MENTOR or "Touchstone" TEXTS for the 2013-14 school year.

You know as well as I do how easy it is to collect piles and folders of mentor texts (e.g. books, articles, poems, etc.). Heck, I could probably be labeled your "pusher" at times! And though I've thought it and a said it several times over the last few years, "You really only need 3-4 per type of writing", I doubt I've been successful as practicing it or really preaching it. In fact, I'm pretty certain I could be called a hypocrite in certain circles. But, give me a chance, if you will, to revise my thinking about mentor texts and consider future possibilities with the help of some amazing mentor writers and instructional leaders to back me up. Here goes:

"Most important, I've learned that  we don't need hundreds of texts. It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that we do....In my experience, though, there are many, many ways a single well-written text can be used to teach students in conferences....In each of my two collections of mentor texts-- one for primary grades and one for upper grades- I have about twenty-five texts. That's it. In the collection I use for primary grades, I have picture books and short texts: a couple of memoirs, a few list books, several number books and alphabet books, and some nonfiction books. I have one good anthology of poems. In my upper-grade collection, I have four or five memoirs and the same number of short stories. I have several picture books. I have a few editorials and nonfiction feature articles. And I have one good anthology of poetry.  (p.129-130)
                                                        -Carl Anderson, How's it Going?

Should you find yourself wondering about how to select these mentors, Carl does offer some suggestions.

Some of Lucy's Favorites
  • Consider Texts We've Already Read to Students- While this advice might  seem "a day late and a dollar short", I'd contend it's perfect timing. All this time pacing or inventorying provides you with the opportunity (while you are monitoring your students, of course) to consider which texts are jam-packed with craft techniques, structures, and content you wish to highlight and use throughout the year. If you find that you absolutely LOVE using Alice McLerran's The Mountain Who Loved a Bird,  and you used it for teaching science concepts later in the year, anyway, why not introduce it in August and let the kids go ahead and fall in love with the story, the structure, the language, the artwork? How much more powerful will it be when you return to as a mentor over and over again (when studying narratives, or beautiful language, or personification, or purposeful repetitive writing). Why not?
  • Cast a Wide Net- as Carl suggests, don't limit yourself to long picture books. This is an easy one for us as we have always cut clippings from newspapers or magazines, or downloaded from online sources. The shift may be feeling comfortable using those nonfiction texts, poems, and within our few few weeks of school as we support our writers in Building a Literate Community- as we offer invitations to write from sparks in a variety of forms, as we immerse our kids in ALL kinds of writing.  (situations, forms, audience, purposes, and styls)
  • Cut Excerpts from Longer Works- Although it's so temping to feel like we have to use the ENTIRE text when we show students how to write in a certain way, it's totally unnecessary to always feel like we have to have to reexamine the WHOLE text. Carl contends that sometimes just a few sentences will do the trick- show the student the desired craft technique, or demonstrate the complexity of a sentence. The key is that that the child already knows and appreciates the text. Then they will seek to emulate that writer so they can have the same desired affect on their reader. So, consider cutting out a part to have that available for later use.
  • Use Student Writing-As a whole, we are successful with
    Student Writing -Kindergarten
    this...sometimes. As you support your students in selecting their best writing for this year's SHOWCASE PORTFOLIO, take time to scout the room for that perfect model text for next year. Make the effort to copy or save it on  your drive so  you have access to it in AUGUST! Too often we see it, love it, and then lose it because it gets put into a folder or taken home. What student written texts will you save and use... or pass on for a lower grade to use. (Always consider your colleagues when you search for student models).

    Enlist the Aid of Colleagues, the LMS, LC (me!), and your future students- though it's easy to get swept away in what we know and love, there are always new idea and perspectives out there. Ask someone else what they have found success with using. Better yet, put it in your plans for the fall (August is not technically fall, I know, but the powerful alliteration called me to use that word.) to have your future students search for mentors they want to have available in the class.
  • Write Text Ourselves- Carl suggests that you never underestimate the power of using your own writing as mentor texts. You will have the desired traits, craft techniques, processes, content, and focus, as well as a way for your students to immediately see you as a fellow writer.
  • Final thoughts: Consider the kids' interests, the power of variety, the opportunity for emulation.
 Though this list is in no way exhaustive, it certainly offers food for thought. It gets us reflecting on our past year and the mentors we loved and those we wish we'd had. It also offers us some of our next steps- whether that means we copy or pull from this year's collection or student work, or get looking for something we've never had before-we will at least have direction. At this point, you've: taught the new ELA units; know the demands of the standards; better understand the connection of the themes, and experienced much of the variety and types of writing the kids are called to do.  At this point, you're ready to pace and/or check, ponder, pull and list the best little collection of MENTOR TEXTS.

Likeable Links
Franki Sibberson finds literary nonfiction provides rich and varied writing models for elementary students. She shares some of her favorite mentor texts:

If you're looking for new nonfiction text models, you might want to explore Choice Literacy'sPinterest board Great Nonfiction for Kids. We add to it weekly, and it currently includesmore than five dozen annotated children's books: are your "tried and true" Mentors (models, touchstone) Texts? Please post!
"Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros is certainly on my list!
The Big Rock by Bruce Hiscock
My Worst Day column in Discovery Girl Magazine is a goldmine! (Simply choose a relevant and engaging topic for your new class of kids...when you meet them.)

How's it Going? by Carl Anderson (Heinemann)
Other supporters of mentor texts- Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Ruth Culham, Ralph Fletcher, Jeff Anderson