Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Writing Journey

I was recently working on a blog post that had me stumped. I knew what I wanted to say, but for once I had a deadline and began to stress about getting it done. My husband even noticed the shift, commenting on how I appeared to be wired for the past few days. The problem was not writing the words. The problem was having the stamina to sit and write for longer periods of time. Writing is still a newer pastime of mine, and working on this post made me realize how little writing stamina I had. I seemed only able to work on it for 15-20 minute spurts. Then I would come back and completely change sometime, decided I hated another part, and get barely any new writing done. One post was taking me days!

I began to think about the implications this experience has for me as a teacher. How many times did a student tell me they couldn't keep writing, they had nothing to write about, they didn't want to go back and look over their writing?

I recently attended #nErDcampMI and sat in Jen Vicent’s session. She put a quote on the board to start the discussion about teaching writing. “Only writers have any business teaching writing.” Of course, such a statement was met with a variety of reactions, but I feel that this experience has further solidified my belief in such a statement. A year ago, I did not consider myself a writer. I taught writing and told my students what I thought they should do, but I brought no experience to the table. I didn't fully understand the struggles they had, the way they learn, or what it was like to write when you truly felt like you would rather be doing anything in the world but.

I still have days where I hate my writing. I’m not sure I will ever feel satisfied with my writing, but I am becoming more comfortable every time. I’m glad I finally can appreciate the struggles my students go through. The next time I watch them go through another “avoidance strategy” to get out of writing, I will be able to sit down and sympathize, understanding and appreciative of the unique path we each take as writers. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrate: Indie Book Stores

Ever have just an awesome book week? A week where you get your hands on books you have been long awaiting, read some true works of art, or just have time to sit down and read at leisure. I have had the most wonderful book week! Today, I am celebrating Cover to Cover Bookstore for making this possible. 

I have a confession... I tend to buy a lot of books online. I am not proud of the fact, but I do. Recently, some friends and I got together and made life lists- lists where you come up with as many goals to accomplish in a year as your age. One of my goals was to be more purposeful about buying my books from independent books stores. So, this week, I headed into my local Indie, Cover to Cover to pick up a book I ordered. A Book... lol. 

Upon picking up the book I ordered, I of course spotted another I had to have. Sally, the owner of this fine establishment, and I had a fantastic discussion about Ann M. Martin's new middle grade novel, Rain Reign, and she handed this to me to pass to other teachers to read. She then let me peruse her stack of arcs in the back. I squealed when I came across Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath. I have been dying to read this book for months. I also found Spirit's Key by Edith Cohn, another that I was less than anxiously awaiting. As I was heading out with my bag of goodies, Beth grabbed a pack of bookmarks she had set aside for me. She happens to know my love of sloth books! I left the store with my  heart so full and happy. 

This experience made me realize how very important it is that I support a small business like this. For us book groupies, these stores give us a place with knowledgable staff who have the same goals we do- to get books in kids hands. They are not doing what they do to become rich no more than any teacher gets into the field hoping to make millions. 

This experience has resonated with me all week and every time I glance at my small pile of books I grin. Thanks for taking such great care of us, Indie stores!

This celebration post made possible by Ruth Ayres and her Celebrate This Week link up. Head over to her blog to check out other celebrations!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Sometimes, I HATE writing blog posts! It seems to me, the more passionate I feel about a book, the harder it seems to say anything worthy about it. I have this fantastic, sometimes even MAGNIFICENT, idea in my head that I struggle to convey on a mere computer screen. 

This is why I just LOVE Ashley Spires new book. The little girl in the book seems to go through the same steps I do as I desperately try to find the words to share my thoughts and feelings about a book. She has a MAGNIFICENT idea, a trusty sidekick (maybe thats where I'm going wrong ;) ), and access to some pretty cool supplies. She sits down to get her ideas to come to life and finds that sometimes the MAGNIFICENT thing is the process. The product seems easier to attain when you make peace with the process. 

I have started this blog post 4 times already. I did not use a single line from my previous 4 attempts, but those attempts helped me realize what I did want to say and, what I didn't. I find parallels in The Most Magnificent Thing to my life as a writer because that is what I struggle to refine. The beauty of this book is that, I feel, anyone could relate. We all have times where we have an idea of what the end product looks like and we learn along the way that it is the learning experience that matters. (a excellent example of why I hate cooking!) This book has a fantastic message for every reader!

Ashley Spires' book is truly a magnificent thing! 

*If by chance you are unfamiliar with any of Ashley Spires previous works, I recommend you hunt them down immediately! #BinkyforPresident

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Soccer Fence

Like many Americans, this summer I have become a bandwagon soccer fan.  I'm not sure why, but there is something about the World Cup and all these countries setting aside their differences to join together over a common sport that ignites a flame of patriotism in my heart. I have been shamelessly watching and cheering alongside the rest of the country for many weeks. This is one of the many reasons Phil Bildner's new book The Soccer Fence nestled in and found a place in my heart (right next to that flame of patriotism ;) ). 

The Soccer Fence tells the story of Johannesburg in 1990 as the "apartheid began to crumble". As Americans, we can relate all to well to a story of laws changing at a different rate of speed than people hearts. Though South Africa saw glimmers of hope on the horizon in the crumbling of the apartheid and freedom of Nelson Mandela, the stories main character, Hector, finds out there are things that are not changing. He is still not welcome to play soccer with white boys his age. The story marches on and covers many important events in the history of South Africa. Each time Hector approaches the soccer pitch the white boys play on, he is snubbed. In the background of this story, we learn that South Africa is hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations. 

In the end, the game of soccer unites more than just a two boys of different backgrounds. It tells the story of the power of sports to unite a nation, even in darker times. 

This uplifting story is taken to a whole other level with its gorgeous illustrations done by Jesse Joshua Watson.  The pictures are so magnificent, that this book entered my top 5 Caldecott hopefuls for the year. I recommend you find a way to get your hands on this book. You will be happy you did!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Using Frozen in the Classroom

One thing you rapidly learn about me in my classroom is my love of ANYTHING Disney, which is why I was all to excited when their newest animated work of genius came out this year. As more and more students in my class went and saw the movie, the discussions about it abounded during our morning meeting. Taking advantage of the enthusiasm, I began to encourage the research of information about the movie. Early on, students were bringing in books from the library about Hans Christian Andersen and reading adapted versions of The Snow Queen. By the time January rolled around, I still had about half of my class who had not seen the movie yet. I decided to use this to my advantage. One of our third grade writing standards is conducting short research projects. I came up with a list of topics students could choose to research. They were invited to work individually or together and could present their information in any way they like.

Some students chose to quickly research everything on the list. Others spent more time researching one of the topics. 

My only regret was sending home finished products with the students after they presented. These were some of the few I had left after room clean up at the end of the year. They all did an amazing job! I told my students after they researched and learned from this list, we could watch the movie. One of the best parts of this project was listening to the kids watching the movie and commenting on everything they had learned. The scene where the choir was singing from the church, someone yelled out that they were singing Joik. Another one asked if the fjord in the background was the Sogenefjord. 

Our learning did not stop here. Frozen inspired us to read this book:

And students loved working on sequels until the end of the year. 

Frozen was a great learning opportunity for our class this year. I hope you also take more time to learn all the amazing aspects of the movie that can be so easily overlooked. Have you ever used a movie as instructional material in your classroom?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"In Summerrrrr"

This year has been quite a wild ride! As a new blogger, I have infinite amounts of admiration for all those out there who relentlessly keep up their blog post throughout the school year. It's definitely something I will have to work on more next school year. Now that school is out for the summer, I am finally beginning the decompression process as well as reflecting on the year. As I complete my fourth year of teaching, here are just of few of the things that I will take with me into future years of teaching. These are things that would never have been possible without the inspiration and support of those awesome educators who I have been privileged enough to add to my professional learning network.

1. Taking the plunge to become digital in record keeping- I was inspired after listening to Cathy Mere and Karen Terlecky present with a group of brilliant women at NCTE in November. I started using Evernote to record anecdotal notes of student conferences. I loved the ease of use and being able to access my notes anywhere. It helped me keep track of student goals and growth throughout the year. I look forward to using it from the get go next school year.

2. Exploring ways to embed digital literacy in my classroom- With the educational field ever changing, it can be overwhelming to keep up with the changes.  I jumped in to using quite a few different ways for students to share their learning using technology this year.  I only brushed the surface of digital literacy this year, but I feel that that has given me enough of a background to make me feel more comfortable with the idea of embedding in my future classrooms.

3. Becoming more comfortable on Twitter- For the longest time, I was a Twitter stalker. I loved to follow educators I admired from afar, but did not feel comfortable putting my own thoughts out into the "twittersphere" or connecting with others I did not personally know. This year, I have made a point of being more active on Twitter (May excluded ;) ). This in turn helped me to find a voice to start a blog, one which I hope to update more frequently "innnn summmeerrrrr"! :)

So, what new learning will you take with you into future years of teaching? Please share!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

If Not for Franki


Everyone remembers their first year teaching. At least the bits and pieces time has been kind enough to let hover in our memory. My first year was probably no different than many others. I felt completely overwhelmed and unprepared for what I had gotten myself in for. I was hired in a new state, in a district that had so many accolades, feeling grossly out of place. As I arrived at my first "new teacher orientation" event, I was greeted by a rather spunky individual with an infectious laugh. Little did I know, this would only be the beginning of a journey in my professional career that Franki Sibberson would continue to touch. 

As I stumbled through my first year of teaching, I remember asking a team member what professional books I should read. I was feeling the same as many others, that college had left me unprepared for the real world. I realized I needed some help. My team mate directed me to the books in the library written by Franki. All the sudden, light bulbs started to go off. Franki Sibberson? The person who will always remain one of my first memories of a district I was falling in love with? She was an author?

If you have had the opportunity to meet Franki, you know that she is one of the most humble people out there. I sat through a week of new teacher orientation watching Choice Literacy videos of other amazing teachers in our district and having her talk about other professionals to learn and grow from and not once did she mention her achievements. That's just who she is. 

I learned and grew as a literacy teacher my first year alongside Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades K-5 and Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6, both written by Franki and Karen Szymusiak. 

At the end of my first year teaching, I ended up being RIFed. I was heartbroken. Then I got a phone call. I was being picked back up at Riverside Elementary, which just so happened to be the elementary school Franki was working at at the time. 

I was totally starstruck when I was introduced to her. I even asked my teammate, Kami, if she thought I could ask for Franki to sign my books. Kami advised me against this, because that was just not Franki. I was lucky enough to learn and grow so much more that year. I was introduced to books and authors that changed my world. I transitioned from an adult reader to a children's book reader. My classroom instruction changed. Franki made me question thing I did and look more critically at everything. 

Since then, I found a community of professionals to learn and grow from on Twitter because of Franki's encouragement. I have met amazing people at conferences because Franki has introduced me. I have started a blog, because she knew how much I wanted to, even though I struggled and kept on me about it. I have become more purposeful in my professional reading because Franki saw what I needed to continue to grow. There are more thing than I can even count that she has helped me with. 

Thank you so much, Franki! I hope you have the most amazing birthday ever. I hope you feel the love today from all those around you that you have touched!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mentor Text: How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans


This past summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in the local chapter of The National Writing Project. This awakened a love of writing and teaching writing that I did not know I possessed. One part of teaching writing that I have come to love is finding mentor text to inspire writers, who, like myself, have not developed confidence in their writing skills yet. 

How Martha Saved her Parents from Green Beans is a perfect story to inspire stories and creativity in writing. It has such a funny and accessible story line, my students could not wait to begin their own story inspired by this book. Some examples of stories they are working on are:

How Shahad Saved Her Parents From Chicken Wings

How Ellie Saved Her Mom from Green Beans

How Maysa Saved Her Parents from Peas

This book was a welcomed addition to my classroom library! 

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What are you Reading is a meme began by Sheila at Book Journeys as a way to share what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and what is in store for the upcoming week. Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts, and Kellee and Ricki of Unleashing Readers use the inspiration to host a kidlit focused link up every Monday. 

This is my first time linking up to #IMWAYR and I cannot be more excited! Last week, I read some fabulous books. As a third grade teacher, I am always on the lookout for books appropriate for third graders. This can provide tricky at times, but I definitely read some great ones last week. These are some of my favs (in no particular order). 

I absolutely LOVED The Chicken Squad. I thought it was the perfect short chapter book with awesome picture support for some of my struggling readers. And could the topic be any more engaging?! I'm always a chicken book fan. If you are interested in reading more about my love for this book, head over to my blog post about it. 

I have been rather IMpatiently awaiting the third installment of the LULU series so I was so excited to grab this book Tuesday! Judith Viost did not disappoint in the newest book, LULU's Mysterious Mission.  I did struggle to get used to the new illustrator in this book, but after adjusting, I fell in love with the story. Lulu goes on a mission to get rid of her new babysitter and along the way finds out a secret that has her scheming again! A great addition to our classroom library. 

Everyone has that author/illustrator who they would walk on hot coals to meet. Well Dan Santat is that person for me- which is why this is one of my favorite moments:

Or maybe this....

This is why I was beyond excited to get my hands on his new story. I knew it was going to be a favorite even before I got it. Dan Santat's inspiration for this book was his son, and you can feel that in the text and pictures throughout the book. The Adventures of Beekle is the beautiful story of an imaginary friend who goes in search of his person. And if loving the book wasn't enough, my students went WILD when I showed it to them. (They may have inherited a little of my crazy when it comes to Dan)

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald was my surprise book of the week. I had ordered it after hearing about it at MRA this year. I had had it for a few weeks, but hadn't got around to it. Finally, this weekend, as I was lazily lounging in the gorgeous weather, I grabbed it mostly because it was close and I wasn't about to go hunting. Well that was one of the best decisions because I fell in love with this book! I immediately felt attached to the main character, Theo, who was such an eccentric little girl with a resilient spirit. Then I fell in love with the story, which has roots in World War II. The history nerd in me just about fell over when I realized what the story was actually about. I have heard this book described as Chasing Vermeer meets From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Check it out- it does not disappoint!

This Weeks Reads:




So, what are YOU reading today??

Sunday, April 13, 2014

DigLit Sunday: Book Shelfies

This is my first post as part of Margaret Simon's weekly link up celebrating Digital Learning in the classroom: DigLit Sunday. Head on over to Reclections on the Teche to explore other link ups. 

While perusing Twitter one day, I came across Jonathan Werner's link to a recent blog post. I'm not sure who coined the term "Shelfie", but I loved it! I had recently introduced Explain Everything to my students as a productivity app, and had been wanting to find a way to introduce ThingLink to them. Jonathan had merged these two apps to create an interactive book recommendation. I couldn't wait to introduce the idea to my students.

 Once I showed my students a few examples, they began to create their own. I did not require them to include anything, but gave them the some ideas of things they could include in their Shelfie:

1. A powerful line from the text
2. A personal response to the text
3. A quick summary of the book
4. A book trailer
5. Link to the author's website or blog
6. Link to a blog post about book
7. Images of other books by the same author

The rest was up to the kids. They did great! Not only did they learn more about a book they loved, but they immediately began to share what they were finding with each other. Once they finished, we used a QR code to link their Thinglink and put the printed image of the Shelfie out in the hall. I couldn't be happier with the product. Franki Sibberson (A Year of Reading) had then given me the idea to keep the Shelfies up in the classroom for next years class to get book ideas.

Here are the steps we did to create our Shelfies:

1. Take a picture of you and your book with the iPad.
2. Drop the picture into Explain Everything.
3. Edit by adding text and other pictures in Explain Everything.
4. Save the picture from Explain Everything to iPad camera roll.

*Note: My classroom has 2 iPads with cameras. Because of this, we used WebDAV to export the image to their school cloud. From here, students could use either the ThingLink app or the website.

5. Import image to ThingLink.
6. Add interactive buttons.
7. Share the image by using the link, or embedding the code.

These are just a few of the Shelfies we created.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Celebrate: March Book Madness



I love Twitter for so many reasons. One of which is the ability to have 1 min PD from a community of brilliant educators any time. So when I saw this tweet from Tony Keefer, I was very intrigued:


 I have always been a huge March Madness fan and a huge book fan. The combination of these two had my mind blown! I couldn't wait to get started. Well this week we had out championship vote. Here is my list of celebrations for March Book Madness 2014: 

1. My classroom is across from the bathrooms. The books we chose had maximum exposure and even some students coming in to ask if they could read them. Many times, I would walk out of my room to kids staring at the books or having discussions with other about them. 

2. After our initial seeding, some books were ranked low because students judged by their cover. Those were some of the books that went the furthest. Hopefully a valuable lesson!

3. The students became so invested in the books they wanted to win. Both a good thing and a bad thing. When their book lost, they took it a little to hard!

4. The deeper thinking the kids did about the books never ceased to amaze me! They would try to reason against popular books being up against other popular books. Their excuses ranged from genres not matching, to the same illustrator going up against one another, to a "think and feel" book up against a funny book. When they are trying to passionately convince others of their opinion, their thinking becomes so much deeper!

5. The noise level in the classroom at the time of the championship vote was out of control! I have never felt a quiet room was necessary and the louder the better in certain cases. This was one of those cases. People walking by couldn't help but stop and stare. 

6. Though there could only be one winner, I know all the books were winners in each child's heart. 

These are just some of our celebrations. I can't wait to make this an annual tradition in my classroom! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure

     It seems year after year, the biggest struggle I have with my classroom library is finding new, high interest, beginning chapter books for my struggling readers. This is why I was delighted yesterday to find Doreen Cronin's newest creation, The Chicken Squad

     With the distinctive voice found in her earlier, CLICK, CLACK, MOO Cows That Type, Cronin's book had me chuckling the whole way through. And who doesn't love a good chicken book? I mean really, a chicken on the cover is an automatic selling point for me! Well, these chickens do not disappoint.

   Dirt, Sugar, Poppy, and Sweetie join forces with J.J. Tully, a retired search-and-rescue hound, to solve a backyard mystery.  Tail comes to The Chicken Squad with a mystery of an unknown object in the backyard. The chickens quickly realize that there is more than Tail's tail at stake! They band together to protect the yard from this new invader. In the mists of an adventure, their new "client", Tail, gets an expanded vocabulary, a fantastic action sequence, and a few new friends.

  The second I finished this book, I knew exactly which students I wanted to hand it off to. So many of my third grade readers will benefit from the short chapters, supporting pictures, and new vocabulary this story is bound to introduce.

   Luckily, I do not have too long to wait until the next installment. The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken: The Next Misadventure will hit stores in September. Perfect timing for my next bunch of kiddos!

Monday, April 7, 2014

$11 in Coins

Today, as I walked in to school, I was not feeling my bright and chipper self. After a weekend of realizing that aging does not always occur gracefully, I had a bad case of the Monday's. The rainy, cool Midwest weather did little to improve my mood. But once again, leave it to my kiddos to pull me out of my funk, back to the land of the living!

As my students shuffled in to class, one kiddo handed me something that awakened a joy that only those kids can do on a dreary Monday. She had no idea of what she did, but how could she? One of my marvelously joyful English language learners came skipping in with this:

What you may not be able to see written so carefully on the plastic bag of quarters are the words: "Money for Books". 

She proudly exclaimed, "It's $11 in quarters, Mrs. Strawser!" pushing her Scholastic book club order form into my hand. 

To some, this may seem like an odd thing to find so rewarding.

What my student could have never known was that at the same age, I did the exact same thing. Only, my teacher responded quit differently.

Memories are funny that way. The ones that stick the closest to your heart, the ones you never seem to let go, never loose their power.

I will never forget scrounging every last penny from my piggy bank to purchase the new edition of The Bailey School Kids. And I will never forget the pain I felt when my teacher told me she would not except my money because it was all in coins. How was I to understand that even though I had enough money, It was not what she wanted. I went that month without experiencing the joy of watching that box arrive in the classroom. The humiliation my young 8 year old readers heart felt loosing an opportunity to add to what would one day become an impressive collection of books was unbearable. And thus, this memory will forever haunt me. I look back and still wonder why? Why did my teacher not see that my pennies, nickles, and dimes were brought to school accompanying a love of reading? 

And so today I accepted $11 in quarters with the happiest of hearts. The heart of a reader witnessing the growing heart of a fellow reader. This was a reminder to me in so many ways. This is what no standardized test can score. This is why I am a teacher. I can watch these kids embark on their own journey at their own pace. I try an do my best for them just like they do every day for me. 

Although, I did leave with a rather heavy purse...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Discover. Play. Build.

Celebrating a Day of Birth

Today is a very special day. Today, March 15, is the birth of my blog. Those of you who know me know that this has been a long time coming. Though every writer feels the guilt of the wasted minute 
before her that could have been used to finally accomplish a goal, I feel that there is no better day than today for a birthday. So, though I have dragged my feet for many months, I am today celebrating. 

There are so many thing I have to celebrate in my life every day. Though I will soon be celebrating the day of my own birth, and subsequently entering the "other side" of my 20s, I feel that to be where I am in life at this age is one of the most amazing gifts. I am feeling particularly blessed to be surrounded by friends and mentors at The Michigan Reading Association conference this weekend. Just an hour ago, I was sitting, mesmerized, listening to Penny Kittle instilling all the wisdom 90 minutes allows. It has been what can only be described as a gift to listen to Troy Hicks, R.J. Palacio, and Jeff Anderson all in one unbelievable day. See why I'm celebrating??

So here's to Book Groupie Blog. (Book Groupie was already take)

Here's to being a book groupie, a learning groupie, and a groupie of all the amazing people I am surrounded by today, and every day. 

What is a book groupie you ask??

Some people get excited for the Oscar or Grammy's. A book groupie gets excited for The Newbery announcement or any other Tuesday a book they have not so patiently awaiting comes out. Some people get excited to spot Hollywood movie stars. A book groupie gets excited and screams out the car window at Louise Borden's doppelganger who happened to be outside their hotel (true story). A book groupie feels the wide range of emotions certain books can evoke in you on a daily basis, so much so that their spouse gets concerned about mood swings. A book groupie know, cares, and loves the people who understand what these and many others feel like. 

So, today I am Celebrating being at MRA (#MRA14), having a supportive PLN that helped me get where I am today, and BOOK GOUPIES! (You know who you are ;)

Thanks for stopping by!