Working at Learning Web Tools

I created the drawing in Google Docs,
saved it as a JPG, then edited it a 
little further using Picnik. 
I've been playing around with some web tools that have been keeping me up late, getting me up early, and I’m having a blast! I’ve been working on a conferring notebook using Google Docs and LiveBinders. I don’t have it all figured out but I am learning loads of new things. Are you using either of these tools? If so, I would love to hear what you think. Also, you have to check out my Voki. Too much fun. 

Mentor Sentence Monday: Nicola Davies

Amazon Link
I love the way Nicola Davies combines beautiful description with informative facts in her book Bat Loves the Night. Her sentences are great for showing kids how to use commas in compound and complex sentences. Davies also uses great verbs.
The following are sentences from Bat Loves the Night:
Bat shouts as she flies, louder than a hammer blow, higher than a squeak. She beams her voice around her like a flashlight, and the echoes come singing back.
The following sentences were generated using Davies' words as my model:
Cat wails as he wonders, louder than a baby, deeper than screech. He vibrates his voice like a bad opera singer, and the other cats join in.

Roxy Gives Great Advice!

Roxy is my early morning writing
buddy. Now she has a voice! Check
out my Voki and hear what Roxy has
 to say about starting a blog. Way
too fun!

One Little Word Wednesday: Thread

I have been spending lots of time learning what about Google Docs. Last weekend, I excitedly explained to my husband that I had figured out how to link documents to one another and was in the process of creating a reading conference form that could be used on an iPad. His eyes glazed over as his jaw hung open slightly. His indifference to my interests didn't trouble me in the least. In fact, I have found if I want him to stop bothering me, all I have to do is start a sentence with, “Guess what I figured out that I can do in Google Docs!” He immediately leaves the room. I can’t help it if I find learning how to use forms and spreadsheets more stimulating than watching him sit in the green chair as he watches re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond. I guess we are both pretty boring. Not sure what this has to do with thread other than I’ve been trying to figure out how all of the new learning I’ve been doing will impact my teaching, impact my daily life. I’m just trying to thread it all together. And writing about it helps.


Image from Microsoft Word,
edited in Picnik.

I started hearing the helicopters circling our neighborhood about 5:00 am Monday morning. My husband left for work about 6:30 but then returned just as my son was to get on the bus. He informed me that there were several police cars in the area and he suspected that they were on the hunt for someone or something. I wanted my almost 15-year-old son to wait in the car with me as we watched for the bus but he told me I was silly for worrying. I didn't really think he was in danger but I also didn't like the idea of him standing outside by himself. After my son got on the bus, I left for school. I arrived at 7:05 and the director of the before school child care program met me at the door. There were no other teachers in the building. She told me that there had been an armed robbery at a nearby Sunoco station and the police were looking for the suspect. Armed . . . meaning gun. How could this have happened so close to my school, so close to my home? I couldn't imagine ever being so desperate as to wave a gun in someone's face and demand money. How would I feel if I had been the clerk behind the cash register?  Later in the day, details about the suspect were reported: white, male, early 60’s, 5’ 8”, 200 lbs, beard stubble, wearing dark clothes. The police have not found him yet but they don’t believe he is still in the area, whatever that means. So if he isn't around here, where is he?

Mentor Sentence Monday: More Cynthia Rylant

Amazon Link

One of my favorite books by Cynthia Rylant is An Angel for Solomon Singer. I love the unapologetic way she weaves the story of a lonely man’s life. Her words are simple and direct and beautiful. Several places in the book Rylant describes her character by what he doesn’t have or doesn’t like which is a technique that kids can imitate and will quickly change up the flow of their writing and add voice to their pieces. It is also a way of describing that young writers can use when writing across genres and in all content areas.

The following sentences are Cynthia Rylant’s:

His room had no balcony (he dreamed of beautiful balconies). It had no fireplace (and he knew he would think better sitting before a fireplace). It had no porch swing for napping and no picture for watching the birds.

The following are sentences I generated using Rylant’s words as inspiration:

Her office had no window (she dreamed of the warmth of natural light). It had no way to control the temperature (and she knew she would think better without shivering). It had no filing cabinet and no bookcase for all of her books. 

One Little Word Wednesday: Thread

Today I meet with the other literacy coaches and consultants from our district. It is a day of study, reflection, and idea sharing. We also eat chocolate and vent. Coaching can be a lonely position and having the opportunity to talk freely with other coaches without fear that what we say to each other will be repeated is critical to our survival both professionally and personally. In the past, the bond that we formed was supported, if not encouraged. This was never a group of people that competed with each other or controlled each other. Our conversations have ranged from big global thinking to sharing little teaching tips. The assumption has been that we all have important pieces to offer, different perspectives. And we question ourselves. We know that we can't ignore evidence and there is always  more to learn. We use what we observe about our district, our schools, our teachers, and our children to guide our study. We discuss state and national literacy trends and the politics that influence how schools are funded. We read. We write. We use our own literacy processing to improve instructional models and create lessons. The threads of our thinking wind and weave. These days of coming together have been a gift. 

Not Funny Until Later

Sam started dancing when
she was three.

 My husband and I planned to travel to Bowling Green on Saturday to see our daughter, Sam, perform in a dance concert. During the day, we got about two inches of blowing snow. He decided we should drive my car to the performance. I warned my husband not to open the driver’s side door because it wouldn't shut if it got too cold out. He looked at me like I was nuts misinformed. I had actually told him about the door several weeks ago but since we hadn’t had much icy weather, it hadn’t been a problem. By the time we arrived in BG, the wind chill had dipped into the teens. Walking through the parking lot and up the stairs of Kobacker Hall brought back memories of trudging across that flat open campus, in the whipping wind, cutting through buildings along the way to warm up.  After the concert, we planned to take my daughter and her friend back to the dorm. I told the girls that they had to climb in through the passenger side back door because there was something wrong with the other door. My husband decided he should warm up the car and bring it closer to the entrance so the girls could hop in the back.

While waiting for the car, I enjoyed listening to my daughter chatter with the other dancers. My husband texted that the car was ready and we headed out. And there he stood, in the blowing snow, slamming the back door over and over, trying to get it to close. He looked at me, mouth agape. I looked at him and shook my head. I told Sam to try to hold the door shut from the inside as we drove back to the dorm. The girls thought the whole situation was wildly comical. I did not. After dropping Sam off, we found a car wash, warmed up the door, and got the darn thing shut. About halfway home, it all seemed a lot funnier.

Mentor Sentence Monday: Cynthia Rylant

Word cloud created using text from
When I Was Young in the
by Cynthia Rylant.
Cynthia Rylant’s books are swimming with wonderful craft perfect for teaching kids to write compound and complex sentences with commas. Her book, When I Was Young in the Mountains is chock full.

Rylant’s words:

When I was young in the mountains, we walked across the cow pasture and through the woods, carrying our towels. The swimming hole was dark and muddy, and we sometimes saw snakes, but we jumped in anyway.

I generated the following sentences using Rylant’s words as the pattern:

When I was young in Green Valley, we rode our banana seat bikes across the railroad tracks and through the back alleys, carrying our towels around our necks. The city pool was crowded, and sometimes little kids peed in the shallow end, but we jumped in anyway.

One Little Word Wednesday: Thread

          Kids really say the most amazing things. Yesterday in a third grade class, I introduced the students to writing snapshots. I used Barry Lane's ideas about how details are like boxes inside boxes and writers zoom in with their words like photographers zoom in with their cameras. I read aloud samples from wonderful authors and shared some of my own writing. Using a slide show of images on the smart board as inspiration, the kids made their first attempts at writing their own snapshots. It wasn't easy for them. I didn't expect it be. I told them that they had to try to push through their struggle, like lifting a heavy weight or running a long distance. They had to try. All the students shared one sentence from their snapshot. I heard similes, great hooks, and complex sentences. Then they shared their whole snapshot with someone near them. After the lesson, two excited boys came up to me before heading out to lunch recess. The first one said, "I know what I could do! I could go back to my book I'm making and add a snapshot and put a simile in it." I was stunned. This young writer was beginning to weave together all the threads of the lessons we had done together throughout the trimester. The other little boy plum blew me away. He said, "Writing is fun. I used to like gym but now I like writing better." He actually thought that writing was more fun than gym. I couldn't agree more.

She Still Needs Me

Sam's bedside table
When we picked Sam up at college before Christmas, after she had finished her last exam, she was sick with tonsillitis. She had been to the health clinic on campus a few days before with 103 degree temperature. They prescribed Amoxil, the same medicine she had taken in liquid form for her ear infections as a preschooler. Once at home, Sam complained about swallowing the fat pills and how much they hurt going down. The pills were pretty big. When I peered down my daughter’s throat with the flashlight, her tonsils looked like pieces of cauliflower, all inflamed and purulent. Her right and left tonsils met in the middle, touching her uvula. When she talked, her voice had the same hypo-nasal quality she used to have when she got strep back in middle school. When Sam was in sixth grade, she had a few months where she got strep over and over. I could always hear it in her voice before the sore throat would even start. I’d take her to the doctor, they would run the strep test, and it would come out negative. Within two days, her fever would spike to 102 or 103 and back to the doctor we would go. She couldn’t wouldn’t swallow pills so we had to get the pink liquid.

Sam spent the better part of winter break in bed sleeping, sipping tea, and eating pudding. She seemed to get better for a while and then after Christmas, her symptoms returned. Off we went to the urgent care on a Saturday night and this time she got a Z-pack. More days in bed, sleeping, texting her friends, and sipping 7-Up with a straw. The nice thing about her being sick was that I didn’t have to worry about where she was. She didn’t leave her crap all over the house. She didn’t demand to use the car to go shopping in Toledo or visit friends in Ann Arbor. She even spent New Year’s Eve at home sitting on the couch watching Dick Clark. This may sound weird but it was one of the pleasantest breaks I’ve spent with my daughter in recent memory. It felt good to take care of her. And she didn't mind me doing it. 

Mentor Sentence Monday: More Brian Selznick

Product Details
Amazon link

Another one of my favorite books by Brian Selznick is The Boy of a Thousand Faces. His sentences are fun to imitate and give young writers great models for creating more complex sentences of their own. The opening line from The Boy of a Thousand Faces is a wonderful hook to mimic.

Selznick’s words:

After the crowd lit their torches and chased the phantom into the river, after the hunchback met his death in the darkness of the tower, and after the creature disappeared back into its black lagoon, Alonzo King went to bed.
 Sentences I generated using Selznick’s words as inspiration:

After the grandparents finished their cheesecake and coffee, after the cousins played unruly games of Scrabble, euchre, and spoons, and after the aunts and daughters washed up most of the dishes, everyone left and house went quiet.

After her hair was washed and conditioned, after it was dried and straightened, and after the blond strands were sprayed in place, Samantha sat in the red chair in the living room and waited for the doorbell.

One Little Word Wednesday: Thread

This is actually a photo of my thread drawer
after editing it in Picnik

I was supposed to get myself to bed early on Tuesday evening. Didn’t happen. The phone bill arrived in the mail. My son was significantly over on his minutes which necessitated a discussion. My daughter was considering studying abroad next year. More discussion. The Iowa Caucuses were yesterday evening. Lots more discussion between me and my husband. I had planned to spend a quiet evening reading blogs, writing comments, and composing a post for today that had something to do with thread, which is my one little word.  My brain was fried from all the talk. As I wrote, I began to think about the nature of oral discussion and how different it is from texts, tweets, emails, or writing comments on a blog. 

Comments on blogs, even when threaded (ahhhh, there is the link to thread) feel very different than verbal conversations. Talking with living breathing people can be tiring. Then again, maybe it was the topics and who I was talking with that drained my desire to write or do anything else on Tuesday. While trying to compose this post I was interrupted by both of my teenagers several times. I guess I should have been glad they wanted to talk to me at all. Then my husband decided I should watch him watch the TV then pouted when I didn't drop everything for this obviously thrilling activity. By the end of the evening my energy was thread thin.

An Easy Writing Celebration: Gallery Walk

I can’t stop thinking about Tytiana. Right after Thanksgiving, I started a fresh coaching cycle in a third grade class during their writing workshop. We only had a few weeks until Christmas vacation and I wanted the students to have the opportunity to celebrate their writing before the break. The students, their teacher, and I decided to use their quick writes about “hands” and turn them into finished pieces.  Some kids wrote about their own hands, the hands of a parent or sibling, or Santa’s hands. The format for the celebration was very simple. The kids put their fancied-up “hand” writing in the middle of their cleared off desks then stood quietly nearby. We had invited another class, administrators, secretaries, and some teachers to attend the gallery walk the week before.  As guests arrived, they signed in and browsed the pieces at their leisure. They were free to pick up the writing, read it, and ask the writers questions. After about fifteen minutes or so, the teacher and I asked the attendees, as a group, what stuck with them about the pieces they had read or seen.  The guests noticed that even though everyone had written about hands, all the pieces were different.  Many of the visitors noticed that the writers had used similes. Lots of compliments. Lots of smiles.  Then our visitors were thanked and they departed. Quick and painless. As soon as everyone left, the class, their teacher, and I gathered at the carpet to debrief. The kids were bursting with excitement. One little girl, Tytiana, a decidedly reluctant writer, was smiling so wide I thought her cheeks were going to pop.

“Tytiana, you are smiling so much! Are you happy?”

(enthusiastic head nod)

“Did it feel good to share your writing with Mr. P’s class?”

(another enthusiastic head nod)

“Did you want to tell why it felt so good?”

(animated head nod and a big breath in)

“Wellllllllll, this girl read myyyyyyy writing.”

“So, why was this so wonderful for you, Tytiana?”

(big breath in)

“Welllll, she is in my cheernastics class annnnnnnd, usually  . . . she doesn’t even notice me. Today . . . she did!”

I looked over at Tytiana’s teacher biting my lip and swallowing hard. Tytianna continued.

“She never even talked to me before. (pause) Cuz, IIIIIIIII’m like on the bottommmm of the pyramid, yunno, and she’s on top cuz she’s smaller.”

Tytiana struggles in so many ways. But that day was different. Tytiana wasn’t struggling. She was noticed. She was noticed and smiled at and respected. And by the way, her writing has amazing voice!

Mentor Sentence Monday: More Hugo Cabret

Text for word cloud came from page 165 of
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian
I've always loved the look and feel of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It is one of those books that rests beautifully in your lap and the black and white pages are delicious to turn. Sorry, but there is no way I would want to read Hugo as an ebook. The structure of Selznick’s sentences and paragraphs are also perfect for imitating.

The following sentences are from the opening paragraph to the eighth chapter on page 165.

After making his morning rounds with the clocks, Hugo showed up at the toy booth the next day prepared to work. He could feel the cogs and wheels in his head spinning in different directions. On moment he felt hopeful that he'd get his notebook back, the next he felt angry and resentful.

The following are sentences I generated using Selznick’s patterns:

After collecting the empty cups, dessert plates, and pop cans downstairs, Mary headed to the basement prepared to face an even bigger mess.

After making the rounds at the usual bars, Ray showed up at the Someday Saloon prepared to deepen his level of inebriation. He could feel the boozy blanket begin to warm and calm his brain.

After making their morning rounds with the litter boxes, Roxy, Fred, and Tiger showed up in the kitchen prepared to eat breakfast. 
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