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Archive for August, 2015

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

I have been having a Voxer conversation with some teachers on the subject of Writing about Reading #WabtR. Last week we discussed theme and the difficulty students have in identifying the theme of a given story. So I wondered, what if we give them the theme up front? Julianne responded with 5 common themes she had gathered from Cornelius Minor at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project #TCRWP this summer.

Lori tweeted out to authors this question.

author theme tweet

The responses flowed in, so I retweeted and tagged some of my favorite authors. I just have to comment here on how cool it is to connect with authors in this way.

These seeds were planted, so I decided that students needed to see all of this in an interesting way. I created an Emaze presentation. As the week went on, I got more advice from the group and added slides. Students can see the 5 common themes, the progression from topic to theme involving a character change or a problem and solution. I added in a student reader response sample from a 4th grader along with some of the author tweet responses.

Feel free to use this Emaze in your classroom to teach, review, or reinforce the concept of theme. (Note: On the slide with the video, you have to pause the presentation to be able to watch the video.) I’d love to hear your results. Tweet @MargaretGSimon with the hashtag #WabtR.

Click on the image to go to Emaze.

Click on the image to go to Emaze.

Join in the DigiLit Sunday conversation with a link to your blog post.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Last week I celebrated the hard work of planning a new learning community, our 6th grade enrichment project. We call these special Wednesdays, “WOW” as in “Way out Wednesdays,” and this week was WOW! We have an amazing group of students who enthusiastically mingled and became fast friends. One of our teachers had the brilliant idea of grouping them by what they like to do (computer, art, writing a play, building/crafting), and these groups built their own super hero. One group did a Powerpoint, another a play. The art group created a poster, and the craft group built a costume. This was one of those situations a teacher dreams about. All the students on task and completely self-directed. I celebrate this new learning community and have high expectations for the products they will create.

Super Hero costume: Cop Copter!

Super Hero costume: Cop Copter!

My classes are becoming places of safety, learning, and fun. Yesterday we celebrated two birthdays. It delights me that the wish that my students have for their birthday celebrations is the apple peeler. I have an old turn style apple peeler. They each get a turn to peel their own apples. Kielan brought in cookies to share. She created a scavenger hunt that included book titles. And she chose a poetry writing activity from Laura Purdie Salas’s book Catch Your Breath. This is what I call a literary birthday celebration.

Kielan's birthday

While every other day of the week is focused on reading and writing, Fridays are fun! In my other classroom (I teach at two schools), we celebrated completing the week’s assignments with game day. Don’t tell my students, but the games are all educational. They don’t know that. They just think it’s fun. As it should be!

Game Day: Building with the game Brain Builders, challenging and fun!

Game Day: Building with the game Brain Builders, challenging and fun!

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Poetry Friday round-up with Sylvia at Poetry for Children

Poetry Friday round-up with Sylvia at Poetry for Children

Catch your breath

If you are a teacher, here is another poetry book to add to your collection. I am a big fan of Laura Purdie Salas. She has a good voice for children. This new book is small and rich. I have been doing an activity every few days or so with my students. The activities only take about 15 minutes of your writing time, and yet they build strong poetry muscles.

I recently listened to a podcast, On Being, about creativity in which the neuropsychologist Rex Jung suggests that the way to creativity is through practice. What this suggests to me as a teacher who wants creativity to stay in my curriculum is I must model the practice daily.

Laura’s book introduced my students to the author Thanhha Lai who wrote Inside Out & Back Again. I loved that book, but never thought of using it as a mentor text for writing poetry. Using a short 4-lined verse from the book, we see imagery and the craft move of showing, not telling. How can you show an emotion without using the emotion word?

I am sharing two poems today, one from Jacob (2nd grade) and one from Vannisa (6th grade). Each of these students wrote about their younger sisters using imagery to describe an emotion. We talked about how the words you use not only describe an image, but they also inform the tone (emotion).

When I re-read the pages to prepare for this post, I realized that Laura does not use the words imagery and tone in her “Your Turn” writing activity; however, through this simple poetry lesson, I can tell the students that they are practicing creative moves that writers make.

My sister’s face lights up
like a nightstand lamp.
You can tell by her eyes,
though they don’t crinkle,
that she is smiling.
Her toothless smile giggles.
My sister’s tiny smile.

–by Vannisa, 6th grade

My sister's face lights up!

My sister’s face lights up!

My baby sister’s face
opens up
like a confetti egg.
I appeared out of nowhere
and said, “Rahhh!”
She wants me
to do it again.

–Jacob, 2nd grade

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Join the Spiritual Thursday round-up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Join the Spiritual Thursday round-up at Reading, Teaching, Learning.

Wendell Berry quote
Holly leads the round-up of Spiritual Thursday posts, and she usually tweets out a topic early in the week. This week she told us to write about what is on our hearts.

I am thinking about words, the power of what you say. I am an introvert and as such, I usually think about what I am going to say before I say it, or more likely, think about what I should have said.

Why did I say that? I sounded so arrogant. What must she think of me?

I can mull over a conversation for days. I calm myself with self talk. She probably has totally forgotten about it by now. Don’t worry. Remember you are forgiven.

During Sunday’s sermon, Fr. Matt reminded us that words matter. He told a story of a father and son who when the father was close to dying, they learned to say “I love you” to each other. He continued by giving us 5 things you should say to a loved one who is dying: 1. I love you. 2. I forgive you. 3. Will you forgive me? 4. Thank you. 5. You can go now.

Sometimes when your world grows, your heart grows too. I now have a world of friends through blogging and connecting online with Facebook and Twitter. One of these friends lost her husband this week. I cannot know the grief that Bonnie Kaplan is going through, but I am sure she spoke these important words to her husband. Through her words on her blog, she exposed her breaking heart. Those of us who read her letters to Tuvia on the days from heart failure to death know that she spoke the words that matter.

When someone dies, we are sadly reminded that words do matter. But we should know this every day. Let’s say the words we feel to the ones we love. Don’t wait until tragedy comes. Breathe them out with every breath–I love you, I forgive you, I thank you…every day.

Below is a video posted by Bonnie in which she reads a love poem by ee cummings to Tuvia, “I Carry your Heart.”

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

I remember standing in my bedroom watching the TV in tears. I turned it off, sat down, and grieved… for the city I knew, for the deserted ones, for my own daughter. On Sunday, August 28, 2005, Hurrican Katrina reached Category 5 and barrelled down on the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. We were a safe 120 miles from the storm.

One thing I have learned from experiences with hurricanes all my life is that the stronger the hurricane, the more it sucks into itself, thus leaving outlying areas in a strange calm with virtually clear skies. And yet, the horror was showing up on my TV screen.

My daughter was packed and ready to return for her junior year at Loyola University in uptown New Orleans. The schools closed. Every thing closed. The city was completely shut down.

Maggie wasn’t going to let this disaster ruin her college plans. She got online and watched the Jesuit schools all over the U.S. open their doors to Katrina victims. We had a talk with her. She said, “I have my choice of schools. I want to go to New york City.” By Tuesday, Sept. 6th, Maggie had chosen Fordham in the Bronx of New York City.

I insisted on going with her. All flights from Houston and Baton Rouge cost close to $1000. (Total price scalping, if you ask me.) We decided to travel to Jackson, MS. where my parents live to get a cheaper flight. We drove to Jackson on Wednesdy and flew out on Thursday.

Students at Fordham were asked to open their doors to these victims. Maggie was welcomed by a wonderful group of girls who took her in and are her close friends even now. This experience changed her life, widened her experience, and tested her adventurous spirit.

Leaving my oldest child in New York City was hard. At the same time, I was grieving for the loss of a favorite city and a treasured coast line. I cried all the way home.  There are many tragic stories of Katrina. This is not one of them. Maggie’s experience in NYC was great. We call it her semester abroad.

All three of my children love New Orleans. Two of my girls live there, and the third will be moving there soon. It’s a special place.

Recently, I visited my middle daughter, Katherine, in NOLA. She took me to an outdoor display in her neighborhood of Gentilly near the London Avenue Canal levee breach. The panels told the story of the devastation of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. What saddened me most was that all of the flooding that occurred, destroying homes and taking lives, was caused by human error. For years the Army Corps of Engineers maintained the levees below standards. The levee could not handle the weight of the water. The water did not flow over the levee, it flowed through a subwall that gave away.

Katherine looks at the neighborhood commemoration of Hurrican Katrina, 10 years later.

Katherine looks at the neighborhood commemoration of Hurrican Katrina, 10 years later.

Ten years later, this home is still abandoned and delapidated.

Ten years later, this home is still abandoned and delapidated.

Here is a link to a news report about the neighborhood commemoration.  Here is the online version of the text on the panels revealing the failure of the levees.

So much of the aftermath of Katrina could have been avoided. This disaster exposed a tragic weakness in levee structure and government infastructure and the blind neglect of people living in poverty. The city is reviving. Young people want to be there. The culture of arts and music is alive and growing. You can walk down the street and feel the energy. Keep New Orleans in your heart. Once it gets in there, you will never be the same.

Katherine and I at The Bean Gallery-- notice the Katrina flood line above our heads.

Katherine and I at The Bean Gallery– notice the Katrina flood line above our heads.

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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

Unlike my outside plants that are dying from lack of water, my professional learning network (PLN) is healthy and growing. I have been nurturing my PLN this summer. I joined a group of teachers from around the states discussing writing about reading. We started a Voxer group.

I am totally new to Voxer. It’s novel and fun. Voxer is a phone app that acts like a text message or walkie-talkie. Within the conversation, you can leave a voice or text message. I love hearing the voices of my friends as we ruminate about the process of writing about reading. Now that school has started I am able to use this group to bounce ideas off of and to ask for help and guidance.

This week one of my students wrote about the book he was reading. I wasn’t familiar with the book, so I just sent a message in the Voxer group asking for help in analyzing his reader response. The help came immediately and we used Google docs to communicate further about the writing. How cool is that?

With another group, we’ve started a conversation about student blogging. We met yesterday by Google hangout. We are planning to connect students throughout the year using kidblogs. The connections are still in the planning stage. If you’d like to connect your middle grade kids (grades 4th-6th), let me know.

My PLN is becoming a group of friends. I can call on them with any kind of situation with my students. Last week I received many messages of support and love about the death of a former student. This meant so much to me. Kevin Hodgson responded with a poem. He posted this on Twitter.

Kevin Hodgson

Kevin Hodgson

My digital world is healthy and alive. We are working together to make positive choices about our work with kids. Julianne Harmatz is the pro who can connect you with our Voxer conversations. The Twitter hashtag is #WabtR. This is not a closed community. We are open to new friends, new ideas, and new connections.

If you have a digital literacy post, please link below.

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Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres invites us the celebrate each week. Click over to her site Discover. Play. Build. to read more celebrations.

Without-Hard-Work
This was the second week of school here in South Louisiana. We started the hard work of teaching and learning. I celebrate that my students and I began the process of reading and writing together. Having my students move from recreational reading to reading for meaning is not an easy task. While I want them to have free reading time, and I’m determined to build this into our time together, I also want them to become critical readers. This is hard work. We will find value in this hard work together.

I celebrate the hard work of my daughter, Maggie. She is a public defender in a nearby parish. This week she had a trial, only her second one. She worked long hours and talked through the case with her father and grandmother and, while I didn’t understand all the lingo, I enjoyed this hard and gratifying work. In the end, the prosecuter dismissed the case. Maggie received lots of kudos from her colleagues. My mother-in-law is so proud when she gets calls from others in the business saying what an impressive lawyer Maggie is. There can be joy in hard work when you care about the work you do, and Maggie is one of the most caring people I know.

I celebrate the hard work of my gifted team. We will be starting our 6th grade enrichment project this week. We are all putting in extra time to research and prepare. This year we are planning to participate in the Unsung Hero Project by the Lowell Milken Foundation. This is an amazing project, and I look forward to instilling the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of hard work with our students this year.

What hard work are you celebrating today?

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