Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

I miss Viola Swamp October 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 6:37 am

One of many things I miss about being a classroom teacher is the week leading up to the Halloween party. My fourth grade colleagues and I would “transform” slowly over the week into the character Viola Swamp. It started with one fingernail being painted black. Then another. Perhaps the whole hand was the second day.  We would all swear up and down, backwards and forwards that we had no idea what had caused the black nails. Perhaps the water? Perhaps nuclear waste in the microwave?


Unit of Study Fiction Writing Grades 3-5 October 27, 2009

Here are my notes from my first session at TCRWP Reunion Weekend. The presenter was a dynamo!

Writing- Short Fiction

Quick Look at Writing Process:

  • Generating (3-4 days)
  • Choosing (1 day)
  • Developing (5-6 days)
  • Drafting (1-2 days)
  • Revising (3 days)
  • Editing (2 days)
  • Publishing (1 day)


Generating (3 days; 4 if not enough blurbs to choose from Writing Story Blurbs-what the story could be about (do for 3-4 days)

  • Chart: Writers Generate Ideas By:
    • Paying attention to the issues (problems) in their lives –don’t let them pick too big of an idea
    • Imaging stories we wish existed in the world
    • Rereading their narrative entries in their writers notebooks and asking themselves, “How could I turn this into a different story?”
      • be very focused-specific-don’t pick whole story (example-playground)
        • 3rd grade-friendship-what happens at recess, can relate to through many times
        • Stories should match their age!!

3-4 days of Story Blurb Writing-We are filling up our notebooks!

Don’t worry about spelling and grammar at this point

Immediately draw a line and have 10-12 pieces (story blurbs) to choose from

  • Story Blurb examples:
  • Maybe I could write about these two girls competing…
  • Maybe I could write about a boy who goes to summer camp…
  • I wish I could read a story about a boy named Josh…

Writers, you are always saying there are no good stories to read in the library and…

  • Somebody…Wanted…But…So

          Pushes them to develop problem

Somebody Wanted (Feared, cared) Because But/so
Jade Cared about her dog Scruffy Because Scruffy was very special to her Her dog ran away and didn’t come back
Bill Wanted to find out why his mom was going out at night Because his mom had just gotten divorced He followed her and found out she was dating

Pick one from chart and stretch out into a story blurb

Mentor Text-Those Shoes

          Not “perfect” ending

          Not she wanted a dog so her mom bought her a dog

  • Choosing (1 day to select)
  • Developing/Nurturing/Rehearsal-need to spend more time on this so 1 day on story mountains or timelines 
  • Drafting
  • Revising
    • Dictionary definition-
      • to prepare a newly edited version (of a text)
      • to reconsider and change or modify-put on a different set of lenses
      • Editing
      • Publishing (1 day)
Possible Teaching Points for Generating with some Predictable problems and strategies

  • Trouble Coming Up with a Story Idea
  • Story Doesn’t Match the Genre
  • Students writing stories about themselves
  • Students Do Not Understand the Problem Arc


  • Trouble Coming Up with a Story Idea

                    Bring in mentor texts—that you could take and change-example Those Shoes

                   If you were reading this book what would you say about it? Is it interesting. Would you tell me what isn’t interesting. Let’s make something happen! Make idea stronger and working with it.

  • Story Doesn’t Match the Genre (flying, ghosts-we will do fantasy later in the year)
    • Ask Yourself, “Can it happen to you?” no superhero magic endings
  • Students writing stories about themselves

          How Can we tweak this?
                   Maybe different problem

                   Never say, “bad idea”-say “great idea-Let’s try tweaking it.”

  • Students Do Not Understand the problem arc-they solve the story immediately
Possible Teaching Points for Developing with some Predictable problems and strategies

  • Choosing a story they think is strong enough, one they want to work on and one they think they can write well
    • Which one do you want to work on and which one do you think they can write really well.
    • Writers can develop their internal and external traits and not holding on to the problem in the story—


  • Choosing a story they think is strong enough, one they want to work on and one they think they can write well
    • Which one do you want to work on and which one do you think they can write really well.
    • Writers can develop their internal and external traits and not holding on to the problem in the story—
Struggle Problem Internal (limit the #) External
He wants to be popular so he lies and says he cheated when he didn’t Bob has let his friend cheat from his test. He gets caught because teacher thinks
  • Usually honest
  • Good student
  • Smart
  • lonely
medium heightbrown hair

only child


  • Think about problem first
  • Shy girl problem-wouldn’t be super friendly and loud
  • 3rd Grade-booklets
    • Storytelling using story booklets-touch page and say aloud-do at least twice each
  • 4th/5th Grade
    • Creating story mountains with small actions
    • Breaking down their story mountains into smaller scenes by thinking about:
      •  change of setting
      • change of time
      • when new characters enter or leave the scene

Sketching our scene

  • Use a sentence strip
    • Rules: have to show time of day by including a clock or night/day
  • Bigger scenes-more happens
  • Smaller scenes-make boxes reflect that
  • Notebooks away-no looking during sketching the story
1 2 3 4 5 6

Story Mountain example- Illustrate how to put—Boxes around scene

On Choosing Day:

  • have them bring notebook and put a little star next to which one they think is strong enough
  • thumbs-up when you have your idea
  • give post-it note to thumbs-up and quickly see/assess ideas
  • 10-20 minutes on rug to choose
  • Let strugglers take notebook home the night before to pre-pick
Predictable Problems During Choosing/Developing

  • 1 dimensional characters
  • Story doesn’t have a clear plot
  • Struggling with creating a scene
  • The solution is without struggle
  • There is no tension building up


  • 1 dimensional characters
    • Really evil or really nice
  • Story doesn’t have a clear plot (story doesn’t make sense)
    • Bring them back to Somebody, wanted, but, so
  • Struggling with creating a scene (what could happen before she got what she wanted)
  • The solution is without struggle
  • There is no tension building up
    • Teach how to slow scene down
      • Add: show don’t tell
        • Show internal thinking
        • Add action or dialogue


What does drafting look like:

          Big scene-full sheet of paper

          Small scene-half sheet of paper


An Amazing Experience October 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 3:52 pm

I should get out a thesaurus and include all the words for amazing that are listed, but my brain is tired and my life is busy.IMG_2520

The school visit to PS 41 was better than my wildest expectations. I will add photos and post more about it later this week. TCRWP Fall Reunion was also top-notch. Katherine Patterson gave an amazing talk about heroes. My first session answered every question I had ever had about the unit of study on writing fiction with third through fifth graders.


Lucy Calkins on the National Day of Writing October 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — bestbookihavenotread @ 5:16 pm

Here is the link to an 8 minute video of Lucy Calkins talking directly to students (or any writer) about their writing. Don’t be a curmudgeon, read your writing like it’s gold! (watch the video-it will make more sense)


When the Whistle Blows–Possible Newbery Contender??

Filed under: book reviews — bestbookihavenotread @ 7:08 am
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When the Whistle BlowsWhen the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton is what I would describe as a “Sleeper Hit” of a book. It’s sat in my pile of TBR since last November when I received an ARC at NCTE.  There was nothing about the title , the cover , or the back blurb that grabbed me. I was thinking it was the kind of book that would appeal to my husband, but it hadn’t made it’s way to the top of his pile yet either.

I can’t remember where I saw a little write-up about the book, but the cover looked familiar to me in a, “I am sitting on your shelf waiting to be read,” kind of way. Sure enough, there it was in my study with the other TBR books that don’t fit on my bedside stand.

I LOVED When the Whistle Blows. My husband woke this morning to find me crying over the book (again) while drinking my morning cup of coffee.

I can’t explain why the back blurb didn’t originally pull me in, since it is most of the first page of the book. When I started it this time, the first page grabbed me and would not let go.

The book has a unique format. Each chapter takes place one year after the previous chapter/story. Each story takes place on All Hallows’ Eve between 1943 and 1949.  The setting in Rowlesburg, West Virginia is at a time when the steam engine was still king, but in danger of being tipped from its pedestal by the new diesel locomotive.

The story is narrated in the voice of the main character, Jimmy.

A favorite uncle’s wake, a state championship football game, the new school principal’s refusal for students to take the day off for the start of hunting season, his father’s prediction of the demise of the steam engine train. None of these are stories that someone would be able to convince me under any circumstance that I would want to read about…yet…I couldn’t stop reading. I hung on every word. I was transported to Rowlesburg and felt as if Jimmy was my brother and his family, mine.

Perhaps it is the background I bring to the book:

My aunt’s home in Rocky River, Ohio had a railroad that went through the back yard less than 100 yards away. You can still hear the train when it comes through the country each week (less frequently each passing year).

The only song I remember my father singing to me as a child has the words, “when the whistle blows” in the chorus (Remarkable-I did not remember that little tidbit until I sat down to start writing this review! Now I need to find out what the rest of those words were!)

Just last week I was trying to explain to a parent new to town from the East Coast why some schools south of us are closed (for county fairs or first days of hunting season).

No matter the reason, I found this book a magical read. I hope it is strongly considered for a Newbery (and a Cybil). It haunts me like last year’s book The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

Buy It!

Read It!

Write it up for Mock Newbery Contention!





TCRWP Fall Reunion October 19, 2009

The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project

presents the

Saturday Reunion

October 24, 2009

9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Join the entire Project Community as we open our doors to thousands of educators from New York City and around the world for more than 140 free workshops, keynotes and closings throughout the day on state-of-the art methods in the teaching of reading and writing for grades K-8. Special guest speakers and literacy leaders from all over the country will join us to discuss such topics as: Help Students Think, Talk and Write Well About Reading, Teach Higher Level Comprehension; Use Assessment to Inform Instruction, and dozens and dozens more….

Katherine Paterson
The day will open with a keynote by Katherine Paterson, the author of young adult novels that have uplifted generations of children.  Her stories of perseverance in the face of impossible odds and her treatment of weighty topics, such as death and jealousy, have earned her numerous awards, including the National Book Award for The Great Gilly Hopkins, and the Newbery Medal for Bridge to Terabithia, and Jacob Have I Loved.

Speakers Include:

Lucy Calkins, Founding Director of the TCRWP is the author of many professional books including The Art of Teaching Reading, A Principals Guide to Leadership in the Teaching of Writing, and two series about units of study for primary and upper grade writing.  Her upcoming Units of Study on Teaching Reading for Grades 3-5 (Heinemann, 2009), co-authored with Kathleen Tolan, is due out from Heinemann soon.

Kathy Collins is the author of Growing Readers: Units of Study in the Primary Classroom. Kathy is a frequent guest lecturer at national conferences.  Her latest book is titled, Reading for Real: Teach Students to Read with Power, Intention and Joy in K-3 Classrooms.

Mary Ehrenworth is the author of Looking to Write: Children Writing Through the Visual Arts and The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language. Mary is the Deputy Director for Middle Schools at the TCRWP.

Amanda Hartman is Lead Coach at the Project and has co-authored three works with Lucy Calkins: Authors as Mentors, The Conferring Handbook and One-to-One: The Art of Conferring with Young Writers, as well as a CD-ROM: Conferring with Young Writers.

Laurie Pessah is Senior Deputy Director at the Project and leads study groups for principals, assistant principals, staff developers, and teachers, and she is co-author with Lucy Calkins of Nonfiction Writing: Procedures and Reports and A Principal’s Guide to Leadership in the Teaching of Writing.

Kathleen Tolan is Senior Deputy Director of Reading at the Project.  Kathleen co-wrote a FirstHand series on literacy coaching and co-authored with Lucy Calkins the upcoming Units of Study on Teaching Reading for Grades 3-5 (Heinemann, 2009).

Having found the “storytelling” behind history, our Closing speaker, Joy Hakim, author of the ten-volume series A History of US, will speak about shedding a new light on the teaching of history.  She put “the story” at the center of nonfiction again with her subsequent book, The Story of Science: Einstein Adds a New Dimension.  Her passion and style have brought her wide acclaim and recognition, and her awards include: The 2008 Benjamin Franklin Award for Education/Teaching/Academic, and the 2007 USA Book News’s Best Book in General Science Category.

The Morning Keynote will be held at Riverside Church9:00 a.m.

490 Riverside Drive (between 120th and 122nd Streets)

The remainder of workshops will be held at Teachers College, 525 W.120th Street, NY NY 10027

No registration required.

For more information, visit our Web site at:


I find a school visit to be one of the most powerful professional development tool October 17, 2009

We are taking the following books to Public School 41 when we go for our school visit next Friday. A small thank you token to the teachers, administrators, and staff…We are going to take 6 copies of each so teachers whose classrooms we visit feel appreciated.

Jackie robinsonTesting the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson & Kadir Nelson

Old Bear by Kevin Henkes only in dreams

Only in Dreams: A Bedtime Story by Paul Frank

old bear

We are also taking along copies of Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Interesting Items About their school:

  • There is a School District Parent Coordinator whose job is to facilitate communication at the front-line between parents, teachers, and staff
  • There is an Extended Day option for students who need extra instructional support in a small group setting that can be mandated or voluntary from 8:00-8:50 Monday-Thursday
  • Reading Recovery is a reading intervention program used with First Graders
  • 2 times a month there are Family Mornings-families are then invited to stay after drop-off to observe literacy and math
  • Cluster classes are part of regular classroom instruction throughout the school year and include: Science, Physical Education, Art, Music, Computer, Theater and Movement.
  • Choice is an additional double period cluster class chosen by the students in 4th & 5th Grade. Past offerings have included Expression Art, Computer, Violin, Physical Education, Chess, Art, Science, Math Enrichment, Music and Chorus.
  • There are two part-time literacy staff developers  and one full-time math staff developer assigned to the building. In addition they have a TCRWP Staff Developer who comes in and leads classroom lab sites in reading and writing as well as study groups
  • Collaborative Team Teaching Class (CTT) -Their CTT class is a model for the entire New York City school system. At PS41 each grade has one CTT class, which has one full time general education teacher and one full time special education teacher.
    • In the CTT classes, the ratio is approximately 60% general education students and 40% special education students. Our inclusion classes provide the same curriculum as our other classes, with the added benefit of a higher staffing ratio and a great deal of support.
    • The Committee for Special Education (CSE) places the children who are on the special education side of the CTT class. The school administration places the children on the general education side of the CTT class. Children on the general education side are “model” students — they must model excellent behavioral and learning habits — and cannot be receiving any special services themselves to be in a CTT class.

Fall Reunion TCRWP October 13, 2009

Filed under: Calkins,TCRWP — bestbookihavenotread @ 9:18 pm
Tags: ,

10 days and counting until a Lucy Calkins /Teachers College Reading and Writing Project fix…

Chuckled to myself when obnoxious teacher told me she doesn’t use Lucy Calkins –that she is too “loosey-goosey” and not based on enough research. Chuckled even more when she said uses Katie Wood Ray.

Obviously didn’t know Katie Wood Ray was a staff developer for Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and that she and Lucy Calkins have great admiration for each other’s work.

Wish I was obnoxious enough to point that out to her in front of a whole group, but decided my private inner chuckle was more appropriate.

Get on board…the train has left!


Going to Make It to Goal! October 11, 2009

Filed under: books — bestbookihavenotread @ 8:39 am

It’s not very often that I am able to set a goal and actually meet it. Maybe it’s the kind of goals I’ve set in the past. They usually have to do with healthy eating, weight loss, running so far so many times a week. Maybe this time I’ve actually hit upon a goal that I can realistically meet! As part of J. Kaye’s 100 + Reading Challenge, I’ve been tracking the number of books I’ve read this year. I’m up to 84 and I still have the rest of October, November, and December to get there.

I’m patting myself on the back. It feels good to actually be in reach of accomplishing a goal


Truisms, Maxims, and Other Ways You Can’t Get Your Mother Out of Your Head October 10, 2009

Filed under: authors,book reviews — bestbookihavenotread @ 6:59 am

You know those little sayings that your mother said to you your entire childhood?

The one I am often stuck with is, “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all”. Now I know my mother did not “invent” this saying and it is one that most children have drilled into their heads from a young age, but in regards to my blogging life, it is one that comes up again and again. I have a really hard time reviewing books that I’ve read, but don’t have anything very nice to say. It is as if the author is my personal friend and I’m telling them their baby is ugly. It just doesn’t feel right!

Here are some examples of things I often think, but find almost impossible to put down in published word:

Don’t buy it, check it out from the library.

Don’t bother reading it-you’ll be disappointed.

Someone’s editor was not doing a good job.

Wow! Good thing they’ve won the Newbery in the past or they wouldn’t have gotten past the interns.

I will share two recent examples at the risk of bringing the authors’ wrath upon my head. Gary Paulsen’s Mudshark and Sharon Creech’s Unfinished Angel.

I have devoured everything written by both these authors. Any time I see that they have a new book being released, it is like my birthday and Christmas rolled up into one. I’m that excited! Plunking down the cost the hardcover book is not an issue when it comes to these authors. Delayed gratification and books is not my strong suit.

Creech’s Unfinished Angel is a nice story. Nice is one of those words teachers use on report cards when they don’t want to sound too negative. It doe

unfinished angel

sn’t convey much meaning.

I LOVE Sharon Creech. I’ve heard her present multiple times (although I was a little disappointed at last year’s NCTE’s talk), Walk Two Moons is one my all-time favorite books that I read over and over, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup is the best read aloud for middle grade students and I don’t think it can get any better that Love That Dog. With that said, I was a little disappointed in Unfinished Angel. It’s not a bad story, but it is as if the great Italian-accented English from Granny Torrelli and the boarding school/overseas from Bloomability is combined into a not totally tied together story.  I think you could do some fun things with it as a read-aloud, but it falls into the “Check it out from the library” category for me.