Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I worry a lot about teaching writing because I want learning to happen without erasing any joy. I want ideas to flow. I want enthusiasm to reign. I want doubts to stay far away. I want little writers to build their skills in a space that is safe. I want the idea of writing to become (or remain) a purely positive experience. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s work. Even if we don’t have it all figured out.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out. Heck, I think I admit so frequently that I haven’t got a lot figured out that it might be time to really wonder about my credibility! BUT, I like to write about what I notice and sometimes it seems that there is enough great stuff happening right in front of me, that maybe I might have a thing or two to share. Lately, here’s what I have observed. We are growing writers. So far, it has been pretty organic. We aren’t bogged down in details and the “how to of it all” at this point.

We have jumped right in. We are immersing ourselves. We are beginning.

Here’s a peek into how:

There is daily time to read. Writers are readers. We need to give our reading writers time to fall into a story. There is so much learning happening when we let our students have time to read.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I read aloud often! Young writers need to be exposed to many, many read alouds. All different kinds of books shared with their classroom community. Picture books. Nonfiction picture books. Novels. Poetry. Writers definitely blossom in a room that celebrates stories.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

read books that are specifically about writing. Writers need to talk and learn about the process. Picture books invite them to learn from characters who are also figuring it out.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I provide time to reflect and to write about what writing means. My students  acknowledge that the process takes some work.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Writing is honoured.

I often am reminded about how deeply children think about the writing process. I love how bravely my students write. It’s about ideas on a page. We don’t get obsessed about correct spelling or mistakes. We embrace our right to imagine and tell our stories.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I introduce students to authors – if in real life, all the better! Local author Bree Galbraith came and read her latest picture book to our classroom. Milo and Georgie got lots of love! And Bree fielded numerous questions in an engaging discussion about writing books, being a Mom, cat allergies, idea generating and favourite words.Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

After getting some input from the students about some future and in-process stories, Bree got some spontaneous hugs!

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I loved listening in on the stories being shared. Bree gave beautiful space to each child who shared with her.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Our book is now signed!

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

I encourage students to write to everyone for all kinds of reasons

A Guest Teacher might be coming? How about some welcome letters?

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Our engineer helped us out with a new Food Waste bin. We all wrote him thank you notes.

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

That visiting author? We miss her already and couldn’t wait to write her letters.

Sunday Reflections: Growing WritersSunday Reflections: Growing Writers

Sunday Reflections: Growing Writers

A writing centre and materials for writing are must haves. Ours is a shelf full of paper, notepapers, pens and coloured pencils. We also bring out felt tipped pens to write with so that we can love our mistakes instead of erasing them. We write during Writing Workshop but students also write when they have free time, during choices time and even during the lunch hour. Many are collaborative stories with multiple authors and illustrators.

I was just gifted a The Kind Book co-written by three girls. Each page has one word and an illustration. Check out the rainbow end pages! These kids know books and no detail is missed.

Sunday Reflections: Growing WritersWe are about to make books to share what we have learned about insects. Once we’ve done a little more research, there will be art, poetry, facts and book love. Everyone is excited.

We can do this!

We are writers!

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

It has been such a long time since I have blogged with my usual frequency and fervor. Quite incredible how much time and energy a learning curve needs. My reading pace has slipped. Time runs away from me. I seem to wok constantly and not complete much. I am in full fledged learner mode while tasked with the important role of helping a learning community grow.

New everything – school, grade levels, community and students – after twenty-one years in another position, it’s a lot. I am trying to find my rhythm. Figuring it out step by step. Observing closely. Messing up. Deeply learning even if I don’t have the time to sit and reflect on what exactly feels new and right. This need to reflect – to figure it out word by word- has lured me back to this blog. On the page is where my thinking often happens best.

I have collected what I need on this Saturday morning: a second cup of coffee, a set of photos, some samples of student work and some quiet time. And of course this important question: What needs to be celebrated?

Some simple things that mean a lot as we build a community together of learning, thinking and doing.

Students bring their siblings into our room in the morning and read to them. Literacy matters here.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

In Writer’s Workshop, some of our best writing happens gathered together – we talk, we write, we think and then we share. The enthusiasm for writing becomes contagious.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Learning does not have to be solitary. When we discover things together, the learning is deeper. We are all teachers for each other.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

 Learning to listen and share in a group takes time. All of our voices matter.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

When we have to persevere through challenging tasks, the struggle feels exciting as we work through it together. 

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Math teams are a bonus. We learn a lot from listening to someone else reason. Noticing patterns and solving problems is effective as a social process.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

When we learn how to do something amazing and get practice time to create and explore . . . 

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

We make beautiful things. And . . . 

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

We learn skills to teach others. Even adults!

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Note: The art pictures above are taken in the Art and Discovery studio at my school. Every 3 weeks we get to work with Maggie, our amazing Artist in Residence. My students shine during the activities Maggie sets up for us and they love to share what they learn with others. In the photo above they are teaching another teacher about print making with gelatin.

Getting outside when we learn and reason things through is always amazing! Our classroom should extend into our community.

*Here we are figuring out how far 360 meters is and how long it would take to walk on the ice and in the cold of Antarctic waters. We are learning about the Shackleton Expedition and that when the Endurance got stuck in the pack ice, open water was only 400 yards (360 m. away). The crew had to set up winter camp and wait for improved conditions.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Later we came inside and wrote in the role of a crew member stranded on the ice.

Samples of student writing:

Dear Home:

I am sorry to say but I may not make it back home. Shackleton has said that we are stuck and going to set up for winter camp. From here, I can see the open ocean – just 365 meters (a ten minute walk) away.

I hope our family is doing well. I hope that you get this letter. Oh how I wish I could be sitting with you by the warm fire at home.

Every day when I go to the edge of the ice, I think of you. I think of how much I miss you. I even think of you when I am working.

We’ve seen humpback whales, crab eater seals and many types of seabirds. Even ringed penguins! In my spare time, I sometimes go fishing.

And this one:

12-14-1914

Dear home:

I miss you so so much!! Shackleton said we must stay and put up a winter camp. The Endurance is stuck in the pack ice. I wish I were home with you right now. Open water is 365 meters away. Everyday I go to the edge of the water and look in. It’s really, really cold here. I wish you were all here with me. I am really scared we might not make it. I want the Endurace to become unstuck. The animals are really cool. Today I did a cartwheel. Everybody laughed really hard. Love to you all.

Aren’t these powerful? The students wrote these in 15 minutes after our discussion and excursion outside.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.

celebrate-link-up

today we picked spring: Slice of Life #30

today we picked spring: Slice of Life #30

 

march 29

today we picked spring

we went walking to be in it and there it was

we gathered and collected

words, images

and pieces of the world we happened by 

 

there was the sun- warm and everywhere

clouds dusted the sky

“like spirits of someone that knew us,” said one boy

“they’re just white,” said another

the sky that we see is the bluest of blue

we all said that

 

some trees have white blossoms and some have pink

flowers in the trees and flowers on the ground

“why is that anyway?” we wondered

 

there were dandelions and daisies

and someone to teach us how to weave daisy chains

we wore them as braclets or twisted into our hair

we found tulips so red

but nobody found roses

even though we wanted them in our poems

(some put them there anyway)

(because you can imagine too)

 

the grass is so green

not like always

today we are poets and it glows for us

 

soft wind

sweet air

cold mountains

loud crows

words line up

two by two

and the trees sing

as we race beneath them

 

*I bought When Green Becomes Tomatoes Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Julie Morstad This poem is inspired by about two minutes of skimming through that beautiful, beautiful book (can’t wait to sit and savour each poem in more detail) and an afternoon of gathering up spring and writing simple spring poems with my students. I placed many of their images into this poem about our walk and writing experience.

We used a frame and a two by two format so finished poems were just 9 words long.

A few samples:

Grateful for

cold wind

hot sun

seeds grow

spring

by Khalid

 

Grateful for

blue sky

chirping birds

breezy air

spring

By Noah

 

Grateful for

Daisy gardens

wind dances

trees sing

spring

By Amira

 

Grateful for

muddy dirt

wind storms

soaking rain

spring

By Sahara

When Green Becomes Tomaoties

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Celebration: The Book Cycle

On the day when everyone is celebrating love – I am going to celebrate book love. How lucky I am to be surrounded by it!

It made it onto my Valentine envelopes

Celebration: The Book Cycle There's a Book for That

I get to witness it all week – in Reading Workshop, during quiet reading and most adorably, during buddy reading with the Ks.

Celebration: The Book Cycle There's a Book for That

This week we wrote about our classroom library and one little reader’s writing was a beautiful gift of celebration of how much we love books and how much I love books.

I celebrate it here:

I like that in our classroom library, we never say there is too many books because you can never have enough books!! Everybody likes every single book because we have so many memories like reading with our friends or this is the book I read when I’m sad. Ms. Gelson always book talks books which means she’s adding more books to the library which also means we have to make room. Ms. Gelson bought a whole new shelf for nonfiction!!! By the end of this year, we’ll be drowning in books 

You know how there’s a butterfly cycle and a blah blah cycle and all the other cycles? Well let me tell you about the book cycle. Step 1: Empty book shelf  Step 2: Mediumish filled book shelf  Step 3: Almost full book shelf  Step 4: Full book shelf and finally  Step 5: Drowning in books because there’s too many books. Sorry – you can never have enough books! And that is the book cycle 🙂

Maybe that book cycle doesn’t fit your teacher. If not, make your own up. I mean – that wasn’t made up though. But back to the point . . . That book cycle sure fits my teacher. She’s a little bit book crazy as in goes to the book store everyday! 

Here is the author of this incredible piece of writing with her favourite book! (She does read it when she’s sad. But also when she’s happy or mellow or tired or  . . . )

Celebration: The Book Cycle There's a Book for That

I wish all of you some love, particularly a little of the bookish variety!

I celebrate that I have a room full of books and wonderful readers to read them!

celebrate-link-up

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community! Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks. Read all of the celebrations by following the links shared here.

 

 

Dear Ivan

Last year I read my class Katherine Applegate‘s The One and Only Ivan. We fell in love. Ivan’s words (via Katherine) and his story had such an impact. When I heard that there was a picture book to be published in the fall written by Katherine and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, I showed my students the book trailer. Well, . . .

“You have to buy that book!”

“Will you read it to us?”

“Even if we aren’t in your class?”

“Promise?!”

This year I have been able to keep 80% of the students I had last year – looping a Grade 2/3/4 into a 3/4. When Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas was released, I made a special trip to the bookstore. I read this gorgeous picture book to my students multiple times. We have certain lines memorized.

 Dear Ivan There's a Book for That

We then watched the video of Ivan in the shopping mall that I found on Mr. Schu’s blog.

Some of us cried. We read the story again. We started writing letters to Ivan. I showed the children a video of Ivan at Zoo Atlanta. We watched it more than once. We added to our letters.

Yes, we know that Ivan passed away in 2012. But Ivan has sat with us in our room. He has made us laugh and made us pause. We have sat in silences thinking. He has been our hero and we have wanted to protect him. His story has prompted discussions of animals in captivity, of human cruelty, of just “why?” Lots of conversations. Thanks To Katherine Applegate and all of those who have loved Ivan, we love Ivan too.

Writing to him felt like the right thing to do. Reading the letters later? Well, wow. It was certainly the right thing to do.

 Dear Ivan There's a Book for That

Portions of my students’ letters:

Ava writes:

Dear Ivan: I wish I could actually see you in real life and your silver back. I’m sorry that you spent 27 years in a shopping mall all alone.

Noella writes:

Dear Ivan: Were you sad in the shopping mall? Was your cage rusty? Were you sad for your sister? Were you happy in the zoo?

From Andrew:

Ivan, what did the zoo feel like? How much did you eat? What did you feel like when you first went to the zoo? How did it feel to be trapped in a cage? How dark was your cage? How did it feel to have no one to protect? How did it feel to be lonely?

From Rebecca:

Dear Ivan: I really liked your painting Ivan. I am so sorry for your sister. You were so smart Ivan. I am impressed of the things that you do. I am happy that you are in a zoo. I am happy for your freedom.

Jorja writes:

Dear Ivan: Your cage was grey and the jungle was green. There were other gorillas and you looked happy. You looked happy in the zoo too. You looked calm and relaxed. I was sad when you died.

From Kevin:

Dear Ivan: I know you’re gone but we still have your books. I felt sad when you were in the shopping mall because it was dark and there were no friends and no love. There should have been grass and gorillas to play.

Brian writes:

Dear Ivan: I feel really sad for you and I really want to see you face to face. When I miss you, I get really emotional and I hope you were happy when you were in the zoo. When you were in your cage you felt empty inside and you need compassion and love. I’m really sorry for your sister Tag. You looked all majestic with your big black coat at the zoo. You were looking at the world instead of people looking at you. I love you Ivan

From Gracie:

Dear Ivan: I didn’t realize how empty and alone it was in your cage until I watched the real video. I love art and I wanna be an artist. You’re the most interesting and fantastic artist I’ve ever seen. I hope you had a good life Ivan. When I watched you at the zoo, I was filled with joy. Here’s what I saw: You looking around like you were impressed with the world. I know that it is hard to read a gorilla’s emotions but I bet you were very happy. Did you think you wasted your life or did you know you were gonna live happy every after?

Even though this post doesn’t talk in detail about this gorgeous nonfiction picture book by Katherine Applegate and G. Brian Karas, I hope it calls to you (if you have yet to read it) to experience Ivan’s story. Then, of course, find someone to read it to. This story is meant to be shared.

NFPB 2014

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2014. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

My goal is to read 65 nonfiction picture books for 2014. Progress: 111/65 complete!

Celebration: Following the questions

celebrate link up

I love ending each week thinking about all that I have to celebrate. Join Ruth Ayres who shares a Celebration Link up on her blog each week. Thank you to Ruth for the inspiration.

This week I am celebrating the power of books to cause a stir. To inspire questions. To promote thinking and lots of discussion.

Last weekend I read a title that I just knew I had to share with my class: Ruby’s Wish written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

I brought it in early in the week to read aloud. Students were surprised by so much in this book about a little girl in a prosperous Chinese family wants an education like her brothers and male cousins. She doesn’t want to settle with only marriage and motherhood. This story was especially powerful because it is based on the life of the author’s grandmother. A beautiful example of a little girl who speaks up and the grandfather who hears her. The children were shocked that at one time in China’s history, a man could have multiple wives. They were most surprised that boys could go to University when girls could not. When Ruby received an admission letter for University from her Grandfather, there was lots of nodding. And then the questions. The biggest one: “But why could the boys go to school and the girls couldn’t?” I asked the children if they would like to read more books that explored this question. The room erupted, “YES!”

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

And so, the next day I brought in Every Day is Malala Day by Rose McCarney with Plan International and read it to the students. This book is a photographic thank you letter to Malala Yousafzai for her courage and her determination to speak up for the rights of girls to have an education. Both text and photos (of girls all over the world) are powerful.

“People everywhere wondered why it was so hard for girls to have an education. But you and I know the answer. In many countries bullets are not the only way to silence girls.”

This book inspired outrage. Confusion. Upset and indignation. And rich, important discussion. I overheard two little girls talking about this book as they looked at it again together.

“It’s the ladies who should be having the most education because they are mostly watching the kids and kids have lots of questions. The Moms need to know stuff.”

Every Day is Malala Day  Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

On Friday Morning, with the intention of sharing Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, I put this statement on the board in the morning:

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

As students noticed it, it became very interesting in the room. There was whispering. Some children raced over to me immediately.

“Ms. Gelson, why did you write that on the board? Womens can be whatever they want!”

More children started to express their upset and confusion.

“I can be a Doctor. I’m a girl. I can be.”

“Really, I can’t be a Doctor?”

“Oh no. The girls are going to be mad about this. I don’t think it’s true.”

“No. It is true. My Mom was told she couldn’t be a Doctor in her country.”

“Are the girls only allowed to be nurses? That’s stupid.”

I had to reassure everyone that I didn’t believe this statement but had put it up as a writing prompt. I asked them to go write for 10 minutes about their thinking. Many leaped up to share their thoughts with each other as they wrote.

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

Excerpts from some student writing are shared below. Note that I am sharing the writing from both boys and girls here:

“Why can’t women be doctors? It is silly. It can be possible for women to be doctors. Women can be whatever they want.”

“Silly! Sad! Because the girls don’t get to be doctors and the boys do. The girls just have to be the stinky old nurses. Why can’t the boys be the nurses and the girls be the doctors?”

“Women can be whatever they want if they put their heart to it! That makes me mad. That’s so silly. That’s not fair. Why would they think that? Wwwwwwhy!!!??”

“Some womens can be doctors if they’re more smarter than the boys. All that matters is about knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you are female or male.”

“Why? It makes me mad because they can. Girls are smart. They should have an education.”

“It seems really unfair if this is true. Because if boys are doctors, girls can be doctors too.”

This little thinker worked out her questions and thinking as she went.

“Why only boys can be doctors, not girls? Can girls and boys be doctors? Can it be girls too? Girls can be doctors too”

This girl who wants to be a doctor, wrote this very powerful statement”

“That is silly. I am a doctor. Why can boys be everything? I am happy because I live in Vancouver. And in Vancouver, I can be everything! And in Vancouver in 2014, I can do everything!”

We came back to the carpet and I pulled out the book to read. But one little girl insisted she had to ask something before we started:

“What is it with all of these books talking about girls who can’t do things and can’t have education and stuff? Girls here can go to school just like boys.”

Then the beauty of classroom conversation took over. I sat back. Some children shared about their mothers in other countries not having the same possibilities. Some children reminded everyone that it is different in history and different in other countries. There was lots of talk and lots of buzz and finally we were able to begin this book.

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

 Celebration: Following the Questions There's a Book for That

We only read the first five or six pages and I had to promise that we will finish it next week. The best request?

“Can we talk more like this next week too?

The Other Side of Me

“Lost in a book? It’s the best place to be!”  I often say this in our classroom when the bell rings and everyone is so busy reading or listening to a story that nobody has noticed the time. But how much better is it when the book we are all reading (see below) is a book of stories written by our classmates? Add to this that each of us has our own copy to keep! And . . . that this book is the product of a whole lot of amazing process work: talking about, planning, writing, editing and illustrating a story with the help of staff and volunteer mentors from the Writers’ Exchange.

IMG_4068

This was our journey:

On Day 1, Jennifer from the Writers’ Exchange arrived at our class with four volunteer mentors ready to begin working with students on a creative story. We split into four working groups and Jennifer led us through some engaging get to know you guessing games. Students then filled out a story planning sheet in preparation of writing a transformative story – where they would turn into another “version” of themselves to have a small adventure. With the help of the mentors and school staff, all of the children made a great start on story ideas.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

One week later was Day 2. The day we called “Sticky Note” day. Our young writers added various details to Story Maps to flush out their story ideas. Clever mentors seemed to know that these colourful sticky notes were great inspiration for writing a lot of details! And they also make great moustaches. Don’t you think?

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

While I knew we were on route to some really fun stories, I particularly loved all of the talk time with our mentors. Students were so engaged and so excited to discuss their ideas. They were able to listen to feedback and were inspired to stretch their thinking.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

Day(one week later) was our day to write drafts. Jennifer explained that in some places we could just transfer some of our sticky notes and write details/words around these ideas. This certainly took the pressure off students who were worried about rewriting everything again.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

Look at how many adults were in the room talking and engaging with students! It was a beautiful thing! Many students actually wrote and edited their drafts in this one hour work period.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

Day 4 was a busy, busy day! Final edits and drafts were completed and then there was time to make masks, complete illustrations and celebrate creativity! The room was full of language, sparkles and the buzz of imagination.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

And then we had to wait . . . Jennifer and her team brought our stories and illustrations back to the Writers’ Exchange where they would be passed along to those people who worked on the editing, design and layout of our book. In the meantime, we had to decide on a title for our book. We thought The Other Side of Me was a brilliant idea! It captured the essence of our stories of transforming into another “enhanced” version of ourselves.

On April 23rd, we had our Book Launch party at the Writers’ Exchange (located just a few blocks away from the school). Yes, there were treats (the brownies were perhaps the biggest hit!) but first we received our books and students were invited to come up and read in front of classmates, Seymour staff and mentors. We even had two Moms come along to celebrate!

As our brave students read their story, everyone else followed along. The respect and focus was incredible. Some of our quietest children volunteered to read. Let’s just say that the adults in the room were in a constant place of “emotional awe”.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

Proud writer showing us her story.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

Proud Mama with her two little authors.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

A few days later, students filled out feedback forms about the experience. Here are some answers to the prompt: My favourite thing about working on this project was . . . 

  • writing my story. I like when we made our own books
  • reading, making and drawing my character
  • the nice mentors. I get to use my imagination.
  • making us better at writing
  • that we can put anything we want. We can write mythical!
  • our story! our own ideas! And now we can make our own book at home
  • we made our own stories with our own ideas and they are brilliant ideas
  • everyone feels like a star
  • everyone feels like a real author

Students then did some writing about what this project meant to them and what they were grateful about. I typed out key ideas from each child and these were used as part of a thank you photo series for the staff and mentors who worked with us. This thank you post (The Other Side (and side and side and side) of Me) can be found on our classroom blog. It is well worth taking a peek at! Here are just two photos that are part of the post.

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

 The Other Side of Me Our Journey with the Writers' Exchange There's a Book for That

More information about the Writers’ Exchange can be found on their website. From the inside of our “chapbook”:

The Writers’ Exchange makes literacy exciting and accessible for inner-city kids through free mentoring and creative writing projects like this chapbook.

Our gratitude is huge for everyone who helped make this book possible: staff and volunteer mentors from the Writers’ Exchange, Seymour staff and volunteers and the huge generosity of all those who provide donations for this amazing program!

Our little writers feel all kinds of pride!