Tuesday, February 26, 2013

YCTNN (You Choose the Next Newbery) Project

Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. 

We completed our YCTNN (You Choose the Next Newbery) unit with what I thought was our culminating activity in January as we listened to the live feed of the award presentations.  It was fun knowing that the awards were being presented in downtown Seattle, a short fifteen minute drive from our school.  My teacher heart smiled when a few students showed up in the library at 8 a.m. even though school didn't start for another 25 minutes!

This project began when KCLS (King County Library System) selected six titles on their blog as possible contenders for the  2013 Newbery award.  I had submitted a grant earlier this fall to our schools foundation for the funds to purchase eight titles of each book for rotating book club groups. With fifty-nine students this year, I added two titles so that we would have a bit more choice and flexibility with our book groups.  I selected One for the Murphys by Linda Mulally Hunt and The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen.  I had read One for the Murphys, and I selected The False Prince on the recommendation of two favorite booksellers at our local bookstore, Island Books.

When the books arrived, a team of parent volunteers covered them for me with library book covers so they were ready for distribution to students the next day.  I previewed the books and students listed the titles in order of preference.  I promised they would get to read at least one of their two top choices during the next two and a half months.  I divided the books into two groups and set to work assigning book titles and organizing groups.  I let students select either a two or three week cycle for reading the titles.  We spent the first two cycles learning how to complete quality bookmarks (my term for the folded-in-half paper with prompts) that helped students keep track of golden lines, new words, author's style, and sketches, questions, and connections so that they come to book club prepared to discuss the book.  With the first round of books distributed, I went to work recruiting discussion leaders for each title.  This year I had several parents, a library aide, two librarians from KCLS, our principal, another teacher, a retired teacher friend, our school secretary, and my own daughter who led groups at some point between the middle of November and our final book clubs in January.  Most of the time I had enough discussion leaders so that I could float among the groups, listen in, and take photos.

When we completed all our book discussions, each student chose the book he or she felt should win the Newbery and defended the choice in a short paragraph.  This was our popular vote.  We posted the results from our popular vote on a bulletin board in the hall using snowflakes to represent votes for book titles.

My school was not selected by KCLS to participate in their culminating event to discuss the titles, but I did manage to take two willing students to this three hour Saturday event so that we could get ideas for how to organize our final discussions.  At this event, students rotated in groups as they discussed each title according to the criteria provided by the Newbery committee.  Each group was led by a librarian.  I left this event wondering how I could replicate this event for my students.

Two big questions that consumed my thinking over the next few days were how to help my students better understand the Newbery criteria and how to engage my students in a meaningful discussion without having eight adults available to lead a discussion for each book title.  As I struggled with helping my students understand the Newbery criteria, I discovered a Powerpoint on Slideshare and then through an internet connection, I obtained a handout that provided questions to guide the student's thinking for each criteria.  (See Feb. 5 post regarding this handout.)  Students entered each title and the Newbery criteria in their writer's readers notebook.  They then provided a scale of 1 to 5 for each of the criteria.  I decided the best way to approach rating the books was to discuss one criteria daily and then have students rank each book they read according to the specific criteria discussed on that day.  After ranking the book, students wrote a one to two sentence explanation of their rating.  After ranking all the titles they read, students looked at these numbers to determine which title should win the Newbery according to the criteria.  We discussed how this title might be different from their personal favorite because they were using the Newbery criteria as the lens through which to judge the book.  Each student wrote a paragraph explaining his or her choice for the book that should win the Newbery Award using the Newbery criteria as supporting details.

I liked the way that students rotated at the KCLS event to discuss separate titles according to the Newbery criteria.   I knew that it would be impossible for me to have eight different adults available on the same day for two different blocks of students.  After several days of brainstorming and talking with colleagues who helped guide my thinking, I decided to have fishbowl discussions on each book title.  A select group of eight to ten students would sit in the center of the room to discuss the title according to the criteria while the rest of the students listened in with a sheet to record of their thinking.  It was hard for those outside the fishbowl to remain silent, so we provided an opportunity for observers to talk at the end of each fishbowl discussion.  Every student participated in at least two discussions, and at least one of those discussions was one of their top one or two titles.  I had two student jobs during these discussions - timekeeper (hold up cards at two minute intervals to help me keep the discussion moving along) and photographer (take photos of the fishbowl participants and the audience).

Our last activity (before gathering on Monday morning to hear the Youth Media Awards) occurred that afternoon when the children's librarian from the public library arrived for a short discussion about the Newbery award, distributed the paper ballots (which allowed me to track student choices), and provided guidance for voting online at the KCLS blog. We added the results from our Newbery vote to the bulletin board display in the hall.

And then we gathered on Monday morning to hear the Youth Media Awards announced.  My students were jubilant when The One and Only Ivan (their 2nd choice) was announced as this year's Newbery Award winner.  They were disappointed that Wonder (their top choice) did not receive any recognition. Two students who had selected Bomb and Three Times Lucky to win the Newbery Award were elated when those titles were selected as Newbery Honor books.  And hopefully they will always remember the year they engaged in an authentic project to read, discuss, and evaluate possible titles for the Newbery Award.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Packing my bags!

Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. 
After losing our week of mid-winter break for three years, it's restored once again!  I love this break in the bleak of mid-winter.  When I moved to the Northwest, a wise friend advised me to leave town every February and go where there's sun.  
I pondered traveling to exotic locales - Hawaii (I've never been there) or maybe France  (but no invite to join son and his wife on their trip to Paris).  Then I turned to more practical possibilities (places where I could visit family and friends) - Oklahoma, Texas, California, or Tennessee.  However,  I decided that my spring break (which includes Easter weekend this year) will be the perfect time to visit family.  Finally, I decided that a week at home with plenty of time for pajama days, puttering, reading, resting, and relaxing was the perfect plan.  
Tomorrow I'll be packing my bags with papers to grade, books, i-pad, and snacks.  
My destination - jury duty!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On my safety soapbox!

Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. 

Several years ago, I suffered a slipped disk which was very painful for several months.  I found myself unable to sit comfortably and used a standing desk for grading papers, posting grades, and making lesson plans (after school work that I had previously sat down to complete).  I also purchased a wheeled bag to replace my bags filled with papers, my computer, and books that I had been slinging over my shoulders each day as I left school. Since that time, I've been on a mission to convince other teachers to use wheeled bags rather than carrying bags on their shoulders.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped a young teacher (at least 30 years my junior) in the hallway with the words, "You're carrying too much weight."  I followed up my comment by encouraging her to get a roller bag so that she wouldn't strain her back.  The next morning her carpool buddy shared with me that this teacher was appalled that I would comment that she was carrying too much weight.  I think she must have missed the rest of my advice since she thought I was commenting on her body weight.  It looks like I should rephrase this advice that I hand out each time I see a colleague schlepping heavy shoulder bags back and forth.  My new advice, "Lighten your load, ladies!"

On the first day of February I tripped on an electrical cord connected to the cart that holds my document camera.  As I stumbled across the classroom trying to extricate my foot from the cord, I kept thinking, "I'm going to pull the document camera off the cart and break it."  Luckily the cord pulled free from the camera.  When I finally landed on all fours, my students went quickly to the office and returned with the nurse, a wheelchair, and ice.  It was good to see their first aid instruction in health put to good use as they responded quickly and appropriately.  I was sent home with orders to stay off my feet, keep ice on my bruised knee, and take Advil for the swelling.  Luckily my daughter was home so I received her TLC and the benefit of her medical knowledge as a PA in training.  When I returned to school on Monday, my first task of the morning was to reposition my cart so that the cords were not on the outside edge where I stand all the time.  And so because of my recent accident, I add another piece of safety advice to my fellow teachers, "Check your cords, colleagues. "

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Serendipity on the web!

Today I join my fellow bloggers in "serving up a slice" to the Tuesday Slice of Life sponsored by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. 

When I saw Tara's post about the wonders of connecting across distances with technology, I knew I had to share the fun connection that I made on the web while working on our mock Newbery project last month.  I started to tell the backstory for this project and it got way too long for a slice of life, but I will post it soon.  It's a great recap for me even if no one else ever reads it.  I'm not great at keeping track of how I do things, so this looking back provides great material for me if I do the project next year.  But I digress . . .

 One of the challenges for me as we were winding up the Mock Newbery project and moving to our final discussions was how to help my students better understand the Newbery criteria.  I typed Newbery criteria in a google search and was amazed to find a helpful powerpoint posted to slide share.  One of the slides showed a partial page with a list of questions for two of the criteria.  I longed to have the entire handout with questions for each criteria.  As I looked more closely at the power point, I found  a name and email address.  I briefly described our project, asked if he would be willing to share the entire handout, and sent it off.  That was Sunday evening.  On Monday night, I opened my email to discover an answer to my plea with a copy of the handout.  I copied it and was ready to use it in the classroom the next day!

Wow!  I love it when life or the web or a colleague hands you exactly what you need for the next day's lesson.  I noticed a blog address for the person who had so willingly shared this handout with me.  When I went to his blog, I discovered that he hadn't posted since July.  A quick reading of this post apologized by saying that he would be rather busy over the next little while since he was on the Newbery committee.  It was fun to share with my students how the handout we were using to better understand the Newbery criteria came to us from a person serving on this year's Newbery committee!

My return email on Wednesday thanked him for sharing the handout with us and asked if he would be willing to Skype with my students regarding his experiences on the Newbery committee.  This email was sent on Wednesday before the the ALA convention began that weekend.  I was not surprised that I didn't receive a return response and even thought that this librarian might be tired of my pesky teacher requests.  However . .  . last Friday (less than a week after the ALA), I received a return email that he would be willing to talk with my students regarding his experiences.  Now I just need to learn how to set up a Skype visit!