Monday, December 12, 2011

Presentation to Local Education Professionals

Professor of Library and Information Studies, Joyce Chao-Chen Chen, from National Taiwan Normal University brought about twenty local education professionals to The Taipei American School to tour the libraries. I gave a presentation on what is means to be a Teacher Librarian and promote reading in a school library. The education professionals are interested in what the libraries look like and how the U.S. school library  model is similar and/or different to the Taiwan school library model.

Here is a copy of the presentation.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hopper and Wilson Newspaper Sailor Hats

The 2011 book, Hopper and Wilson by Maria van Lieshout, is about an elephant and mouse that set sail in a newspaper sailor hat boat to see the end of the world. Kindergarten students made a simple sailor hat before I read the story. I set out a one page spread of a newspaper folded. Students had to make a triangle at the folded edge then fold up the bottom. It was easier for the students if we taped the edges down. There are always a couple of students who say they can't do it on their own. I'll start the triangle and make them do it on their own. Some got help from another student. The story itself is cute. Hopper gets lost in a storm and Wilson is afraid he's lost at sea. The two become reunited and sail around the world ending up at the same place they started. I keep mixing up the names. Hopper is the elephant and Wilson is the mouse. I always want to reverse them. Kids kept laughing at my mixup.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting Students Excited about Reading

I've been having problems getting one particular grade 4 class excited about reading when they come to the library. I tried book trailers and book talks but got a mediocre response. Either the books were too hard or I was way off on books I thought they liked. I decided to find out their reading interests.  Students filled out a reading survey that I found in the Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller. I put the survey on Google docs and shared it with the teacher.  Students filled out the survey in one 45 minute library session. I found out that I was off on their interests. Most wanted Geronimo Stilton or books on World War II. For their next library visit, I pulled 3-5 books based on their interests in the survey and handed them out. I had just received four boxes of new books so each student got a brand new book. They were excited and sharing books like I had hoped to do earlier with the book talks! Yahoo!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What is a Caldecott Award?

For this lesson, I pull about 25 Caldecott medal books for an entire class. Students spend 5-10 minutes and browse through a book looking at pictures and trying to figure out the story. If they finish early they can pick another book. Using the whiteboard we brainstorm physical characteristics of the books. First time I did this the students read the stories but I dropped it because it made the lesson too long and boring. Eventually the students notice the award on the cover. We go back to our list and see how it matches with the Caldecott criteria. Last I show students a Caldecott Medal. I bought them from the American Library Association and they look exactly like the ones on the book. The kids go crazy over them and it is a memorable moment. In one school I worked at we had a contest where the best picture book was judged and a "Caldecott Medal" (from the ALA store) was put on the winners book. There are gold and silver medals for purchase at $14.50 for a packet of 24. The lesson lasts 20 minutes.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

High Low Books

Looking for easy-to-read books that target older students? My students seem to really like several series from Stone Arch Books. The covers are not babyish and the plots have conflicts that appeal to grades 3-5. Take the book, Rapunzel Lets her Hair Down, by Tony Bradman from the After Happily Ever After series. Rapunzel is sharing breakfast with her husband who talks about how much he loves Saturdays. He can play sports all day long and do whatever he wants.  Rapunzel, on the other hand, hates Saturdays because she has to wash her hair. It takes the help of 12 servants and lasts well past midnight. Rapunzel wants to cut her hair but her husband says, absolutely not! She also tells her husband she'd like to play sports and he tells her that girls are not good at sports. Ooooooh, now Rapunzel is mad at him. She concocts a plan to not only fix her hair problem but show her husband that girls can play sports. Funny and entertaining.

Other hot books are Claudia Christina Cortez, Library of Doom, and Dragonblood series from Stone Arch.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Having Fun with Books

A group of kindergarteners bounced into the library like a bunch of baboons. Arms and legs seemed to be everywhere. One girl  did a spin before sitting down, reveling in the swish of her skirt. Another boy jumped before splatting on the ground in a way that would be painful to any adult.  They sat, twitched, and rolled their way into a sitting position before pounding the palms of their hands on the hollow stage creating what sounded like a drum beat. Energy and excitement oozed from their bodies. It reminded me of a lesson I did where I had students tip waste paper baskets upside down and use them as drums while reading the book, Jungle Drums, by Graeme Base. I dropped the books I had originally planned to read and pulled the book out. On three pages when the Warthog makes a wish the students got to pound on the stage. What a blast! They were so darn cute I grabbed the video camera and taped them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Author Letters

Grade 1 put wrote letters to the visiting author. I got this idea from Tara Etheridge's blog. I modified it by having students use the Epson Brightlink interactive whiteboard but switched to paper because I needed to fill some bulletin boards up for the author visit. You can get the idea from the photo. I put the photos on Youblisher and sent them to the author. It helped generate excitement about the upcoming author visit.

Here's the look on Youblisher. I put it in a PowerPoint and saved it as a PDF file. Click on the box and it will enlarge, then click on the arrows in the lower righthand corner to turn pages.
Author Letters

Here's the Epson Brightlink photo. I had saved it originally but can't find the image so here's a photo of what we did. The original will show up in some weird place. I have photos on my photos...

ABC Book with Foss Unit on Trees

Kindergarteners put together an ABC book based on a lesson in Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi's book, Nonfiction Craft Lessons, and tied it in with the Foss Unit on trees. I printed off vocabulary words and photos to go with them. We read the book, Are Trees Alive?, by Debbie Miller, one of the supplemental books on the Foss website. I printed off the vocabulary words from the unit as well and used some of them for the ABC book. Kids wrote the word and colored a picture. They needed an example of a picture to copy. I also had to assign letters. I didn't assign letters the first time and got the same letter and picture from about 8 students. Oops. Remember to assign.

The pictures were displayed outside the library and zigzagged like an alphabet book for the author visit.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Visual Stories

Grade 4 students created a visual story summarizing chapters from the book, Marshfield Dreams, by Ralph Fletcher. Students paired with their writing or reading partners after I read a chapter from the book. Each pair received a paragraph or less of the story in the chapter. They had to use a digital camera and come up with a picture to represent the text. Students were limited to 1-6 pictures. Stress keeping the number of photos small because it will make it easier in the next lesson. This was part 1 of the lesson and took 30-40 minutes.

The second part of the lesson involved students putting the pictures on PowerPoint, adding clip art if they wanted to, and summarizing the text. I told them to change the first person to third person using "Ralph." This helped with not copying. When they were done I sat down with each group and we went over the text. Some groups copied too much of the text and we used it as an opportunity to work on what makes a good summary. Next time, I need to talk to students about using present or past tense. I put the images on Youblisher and sent the links to the grade 4 teachers.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Talks with iTouch

Visiting author, Ralph Fletcher, is coming to our school in two weeks. I had students in grade 5 get into 5 groups and read his picture books. They had to then create a book talk on the book they read. They wrote a script beforehand and then videotaped themselves using the iTouch and students were able to finish in 45 minutes. The first group decided to setup chairs while the second group propped the iTouch on a chair, reversed the screen, and each took turns taping themselves. It was interesting to see how each group did it differently. Make sure you tell students to not be silly with the cameras and stay with their groups. I will play the book talks on the LCD screen outside the library when the author visits.

The example below is the group that proppred the iTouch on a chair and reversed the screen. I downloaded a 2010 PowerPoint template and followed the directions in the notes to create the video below.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Parent Talk on Reading & Selecting Library Books

I got this idea from Tara Etheridge's, Elementary Librarian at the International School of Bangkok, blogpost. Thirty parents in grades 1 & 2 came to hear a brief talk on reading and selecting books with their child.

Angela MacKenzie, Reading Specialist, and I presented the talk. We had 4 tables of books with one of those tables being new books. We talked about how to select books, read for enjoyment or read for meaning, use  the catalog and consider reading levels, and what the levels mean on Early Readers. We ended with Angela modeling how to read for meaning with a child and ask questions. We didn't want to make it too teacher-oriented. Afterwards we browsed and helped parents one-on-one. One thing I didn't take into account was the parents who came that didn't speak much English. I didn't put together a PowerPoint and I probably should have for them.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Library Mouse Lesson

I read the book, The Library Mouse, by Daniel Kirk to grade 1 students. It's about a mouse who writes and illustrates his own books then hides them in the library. After reading the book the students made their own book. They had to show me their book when they were done and I videotaped them using the iTouch as they read it to me. Afterwards they had the choice to hide the book in the library, bring it home, or put it in our publishing center. What was interesting is that many of the students said more than they had written and some who are just learning English just drew pictures and told the story verbally. We talked about writing with a beginning, middle and end. Here's an example:



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is an amazing way to capture the attention of students and motivate them to learn a variety of literacy skills such as information literacy, reading literacy, visual literacy, and technology literacy (I'm probably missing others). Students must design, create and present their own digital stories using:

  • research skills - document and find information for the story

  • writing skills - develop a script

  • organization skills - need to manage and complete the task on time

  • technology skills - use a variety of tools such as the computer, camera, scanner, microphone, software and more.

  • interpersonal skills - have to work in groups.

Two years ago I created a lesson where third graders made video book trailers using Photostory. The problem is that it was too time consuming. I see the students 17-18 times a year for 45 minutes and 10-15 minutes is spent checking out books. I end up seeing students roughly 13 hours or less for the entire school year.

13 hours.

I see students more when I coach a sport after school than I see students in the library over the year. So what is meaningful learning? What is supportive? Jeff Utecht in his blog post, Only the Willing, mulls over the meaning of his job and it got me to thinking about my job. What's the most important thing I want kids to learn?

My answer: get them excited about reading!

The video book trailers took up six 45 minute lessons or 30% of my teaching time. Was it worth it? Should I be doing mini-lessons?

I asked grade 5 students to create a video book trailer of our visiting author, Ralph Fletcher. I had a few students say, "Oh awesome! I liked making that in third grade." The real test will be to see what they remember. But what it really made me think about was that I need to build on skills from year to year and get more mileage from my 13 hours. I need to start younger. Maybe digital storytelling is the way to go. I can start with iPads and iTouches in the library and do some type of lesson in every grade. For instance, have grade 4 choose their favorite personal narratives and create a digital story. Or grade 1 students do a retelling on a field trip. I really need to dig into the resources I got at the  Learning 2.011 Technology conference on digital storytelling.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Summer Reading Challenge

The first ever Summer Reading Challenge 2011 was launched last spring. Congratulations to the 162 students that participated! It was great fun handing out gold certificates this September and talking to students about series or books that they enjoyed reading over the summer. We also had double the circulation check out of books over the summer because students read more.

The Reading Challenge involved students keeping track on a calendar how many minutes of reading they did each day over the summer. This fall during the month of August they turned in their calendars to the library. The goals are posted below:

Kindergarten=(10 minutes X 5 days per week) = 480 minutes; Grade 1 =(10 minutes X 5 days per week) = 480 minutes; Grade 2 =(15 minutes X 5 days per week) = 720 minutes; Grade 3 =(20 minutes X 5 days per week) = 960 minutes; Grade 4 =(30 minutes X 5 days per week) = 1440 minutes

This could be done any time of the year. You could do it for one month and challenge students to read a certain amount of books or you could make it longer and challenge them with minutes. One thing I would do differently is that we had gold, silver and bronze certificates based on percentages of books read; instead, I would just have one certificate for participation. Most completed reading for the gold certificate. One student read over 30,000 minutes!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Putting epub books on the iPad or iTouch

If you have a residence in the US, you can borrow eBooks or audiobooks from your local library. You just need a library card. I live in Minneapolis and can choose from over 17,000 eBooks or audiobooks through the library. There are many devices that can be used and it is always being updated with new devices - just last week, downloads were made available for Kindle devices.

I don't own an eReader. Hey, what can I say? I can't decide which one to get and they change as fast as a street light. I do own an iTouch and have access to an iPad; hence, I decided to put my library books on these devices and created a 30 second video on how to do it.

epub books to ipad using bluefire reader

Saturday, September 24, 2011

It's a Book

Lane Smith's humorous picture book titled, It's a Book, captures the tension of traditional print trying to exist in a digital world.


For me, the book is a reminder that the future of book publishers and libraries must be one that adapts to a society using less paper and shifting toward digital content. Lately the hot topic in libraries involves the explosion of eBooks. According to an article in the School Library Journal, eBook sales have increased 1,000 percent in the past three years. This fall, the librarians at my school discussed purchasing eBooks and audiobooks for the library from OverDrive, a large global distributor of eBooks and audiobooks. We know that this is the future; however, the cost of purchasing the eBooks is still high or I should say licensing the books. You don't really own them. It's more like subscribing to a magazine, except it costs thousands of dollars. The University of Kansas is in litigation with OverDrive because it wants a new service provider, Cloud Library, and OverDrive is saying, nuh-uh, no way are you moving the eBooks to another provider. Over 5 years, the University has invested half a million dollars in eBooks and audiobooks. You can see why the courts are involved. What a mess.

Then there is the issue of what eReader to purchase for the library and what platform to use. Or do you even need an eReader? Maybe in iPad is better? I'm wondering also whether or not to get a color eReader versus a black and white reader because I am an elementary library serving children from ages 4-12. Will parents prefer an eReader in color and would they read picture books in color to their young children with it? Do I check out the device to parents or kids? What if it gets lost? Elementary students aren't very responsible and the device is expensive. And to muddle my thinking even more, Google has just created a cross-platform eReader App that might force some changes in the industry.  Plus there is the issue of troubleshooting for library patrons, digital rights management, etc.

I decided to send a message on Twitter to see if anyone uses eBooks in an elementary library and what eReaders they use. So far no comments. I'll keep digging...


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Flipped Classroom and the Library

The Flipped Classroom (or Reverse Instruction or Teacher Vodcasting) appears to be best suited for older students as a teaching pedagogy. The flipped classroom is when teachers put lectures online as videos and assign students to watch them as homework; then students come to class with questions regarding the lecture. Class becomes a time to question, experiment, and collaborate with others while the teacher is the expert and coach.

Sharing videos is a great tool that wasn't available when I was a growing up. Our homework was usually to read a chapter from a textbook or novel. I would have loved having access to teachers lectures where I could watch and review at my own pace. This allows for differenciated learning and addresses more learning styles. What a terrific new technology tool for delivering curriculum content!

Would this learning method work in an elementary setting? If elementary students were required to watch a video at home they would need the skills to get to the webpage, have knowledge of computer videoplayers, have enough bandwidth at home, know what buffering is, know how to troubleshoot, and maybe need knowledge of how to download videos. It would be interesting to see what issues came up if you had grade 5 students do this. One consideration is that all students need Internet access and a computer. We are a 1 to 1 Laptop school; however, students don't get a laptop until they enter Middle School.

I don't know how I would apply the flipped classroom to the elementary library. We are having an author visit and maybe I should post a video on him and tell students to watch it. My problem is that I see the students on a 10 day rotation and weeks go by before they come to the library again. I also don't assign homework. I'm not saying it can't be done, I just don't see how it would work with my current setup. Maybe a flexible schedule would work? Seems like the only way I could give it a go is to collaborate with a teacher.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Technology in the Library

The Learning 2.011 Technology Conference in Shanghai, China was really exciting for getting ideas on technology use in the classroom and outside of it. I took a digital storytelling class and was so excited that I videotaped Shanghai using the iTouch. I had 200 thirty second or less videos and they captured the noise and crowds of China. (I deleted most of the videos.) It was my attempt to tell a story of a country I had never been to using a video camera app. I had so much fun!


I love using technology in the library. It's a tool for getting students excited to read. After the conference, I was reflecting on an area of technology that I need to improve on such as social networking. I'm a twit when it comes to Twitter. Honestly, I can't quite figure it out. Jeff Utecht introduced our CoeTail cohort class to it, but my brain was not computing. I shut down at the part. I know a ton of applications but this social side to technology is really different! How do I use it in a meaningful way? How do I develop the habit of using it? How do I find time to use it in a schedule already overflowing?

The unique setup of the Learning 2.011 conference is that people get together and have a one hour workshop on a topic of interest to them. I went to the Twitter workshop. The presenters' PowerPoint on the LCD screen kept flickering like an eyelid blinking in rapid succession. It made me feel slightly ill if I looked at it too long. I focused on the speakers and what they were saying and found my twitter jitters disappearing and my thoughts becoming positive: this is something I want to do! The speakers showed the value of networking with colleagues and others who are on the cutting edge of technology. They showed people in the conference tools for organizing and reading tweets that are more intuitive than the Twitter homepage, such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, and gave the advantages and disadvantages of both. They showed how it has helped them improve lessons and connect with other students and teachers around the world. They showed the power of this technology tool that opened my eyes to its possiblities.

Another teacher at the conference told me about Shanghai Taxi, an iPad app that is free and translates English words to Chinese. Too bad I didn't have my video rolling when we showed the iPad,with Longyang railway station in large Chinese letters, to the driver who giggled over it like a kid. He thought it was so funny. He started to hand the iPad back to my husband, pulled his hand back, laughed, shook his head and touched the screen like it was a magic wand. More importantly, it worked; we got to the right destination.

The beauty of this conference is that you can customize it to your needs or interests in learning technology. The sessions are no longer than one hour and I could absorb all the new information. I need to thank Jeff Utecht for suggesting this conference that he co-founded. It is terrific.

Sitting on my desk next to my computer is a notebook that has scribbles saying, "Tweet about this:...." and I have a list of ideas, but I haven't tweeted them. I know you are thinking, what a twit.

But no more. Tonight I sent my first Tweet asking for apps that are easy to use for grade 5 students doing video book trailers on the iPad.

Except I forgot to mention I wanted an app for the iPad not iPad 2.

Then I realized I forgot to mention I wanted a free app because I have a demo iPad for only 2 weeks.

Then I realized I only had 9 Followers so it really doesn't matter ; )


Friday, September 16, 2011


Who is responsible for teaching National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS)?


The wording of the new standards applies to parents, teachers, staff - basically all adults.  I've been using technology for 30 years. The skills change so quickly as new technology gets invented that I can see why they've made the new standards more general than the old ones that focused on skills. They've done the same thing for library standards. People living in a technological society need to understand technology use and the consequences of good and bad actions.

I just spent three days at the Learning 2.011 Technology Conference in Shanghai, China. Presenters gave an onslaught of ways to connect technology with curriculum and social networking. I came back oozing with excitement at trying the new ideas and foolishly tried three new lessons on the same day. That was a little too ambitious. I really didn’t have the right technology tools to do everything I was trying. I tried using cameras instead of iPads and they were too cumbersome and slow for grade 4 students. I did have an iTouch and that group finished the project in 40 minutes. Hmmm. Tells you something about those touch screens and young children.

What was obvious at the conference was that technology affects all of us. Kim Cofino stressed using technology to customize education, Kevin Honeycutt stressed using social networking and gave the example of his son raising money through social networks to purchase laptops and begin a library for a school in Nepal, Julie Lindsay spoke about the flat classroom and connecting with students and teachers around the world, Wes Fryer talked about his daughter publishing a book, Sheldon Bradshaw showed his 5 year olds blog. However, the highlight was when three young students showed how technology had impacted their learning.

After the keynote speakers, we separated into different classes of interest. I signed up for Digital Storytelling. One of the instructors,  Sheldon Bradshaw , pointed out that there are times to “get rid of the burden of text” and focus on oral storytelling. Bradshaw and Wes Fryer had an iPad and iRig microphone and showed examples of how your can do this in a short time with the iMovie app. I needed to transfer this learning to the age of the students I teach which is KA-5. I decided to try it on grade 1 students. I didn’t have an iPad but I did have an iTouch. Before the conference I read, The Library Mouse, to first graders. It’s a story about a mouse who starts writing books and hiding them in the library for people to find. The readers decide they want to meet the mouse and he leaves blank books and pencils on a table encouraging the readers to start writing. A self-published center begins in the library. First graders wrote their own books and then hid them in our school library. When they finished, I asked them if they wanted to read me their story and I videotaped them with the iTouch.  The following video shows a first grader reading her story and then being creative and making up the end of the story about the witch being good.


So... to recap.

As we become more and more connected in a digital world, it’s the responsibility of all members in a community to teach students and each other responsible technology use, and the NETS standards give a structure for doing just that. As a librarian, I want to get students excited about reading and technology is one tool I can use to reach that goal.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


We were studying infographics in my technology class and I came across an infographic on 35 best web 2.0 tools for the classroom. I decided to use Glogster and designed a poster. I already had the pictures and it took me about a half hour to put this together.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Free Audiobooks and eBooks

Did you know that you can borrow audiobooks and e-books for free from your local public library? You need to get a library card in Taipei or the States. In Taipei, you have to go in-person to get a library card. The closest  libraries to TAS are Shipai and Tianmu. You need to bring your ARC/passport and fill out an application form. If you want a library card for your child you need a to bring your household registration certificate. More detailed information is at the Taipei Public Library website: In the States, the application varies depending where you live. I applied online. Audiobooks and e-books can be downloaded to your iPod, Nook,  MP3 Player, Android, iPhone, iTouch and more. E-books will be available for download to the Kindle some time this year.

I have created a video that shows photos of the Shipai and Tianmu libraries, as well as, how to download e-books: [youtube][/youtube]

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Video Book Trailers

I like to use video book trailers from Scholastic's website (click on Exploring Books) to promote reading in the library. These book trailers are done professionally and are a great way to get students excited about reading. I thought students might enjoy making their own and created the lesson below.

Grade 3 students made video book trailers using Photostory 3. The lesson incorporates language arts, library, and technology skills. Here's an example:


The following video shows students working on their book trailer and choosing music from the program, Photostory: [youtube][/youtube]

In the first lesson students are asked to write down their three of their favorite books and I show them examples of video book trailers made by students and myself. I create groups of 3 placing students together who have read similar books and who are at the same reading level. We discuss working as a team and I go over the teamwork rubric.

In lesson 2, students  pick a book that they have all read in their group that they will use for their video book trailer. I check the books out under my name and collect them at the end of the 45 minutes lesson. Students fill out a worksheet. I show an example of my SpongeBob book trailer. I tell them book trailers are like movie trailers in that they focus on the tension or problem of the story.

When they are done with the worksheet they have to see me to collect their packet to write the script. If they don't finish the worksheet, I make them come at recess to complete it. Make sure they pick a book they have all read. They tend to forget that instruction. I type a list of groups by class, their choice of books, and assign a login person. This is important because if the student is sick the other group members need to be able to access the video. I keep the information for all six classes in a binder.

The students finish the worksheet at different times and when they do I give them their packet to write a script. When they have completed it they can begin creating their book trailer. I have a series of video lessons posted on the network that students can access and go through at their own pace. This helps scaffold the lesson and allows students to work independently so I don't have to teach each step to each group at different times. Below are the video lessons:

Lesson 1: Taking Photos


Lesson 2: Beginning with Photostory by inserting photos


Lesson 3: Adding text to photos


Lesson 4: Narrate pictures with headphones


Lesson 5: Adding motion to pictures


Lesson 6: Adding music



I need to find out how grade 3 teachers teach "endings" in language arts. Right now students use "read the book to find out what happens next." If they haven't learned anything about writing  endings then this is okay, but I should see what they are teaching in writer's workshop and integrate it into the book trailer.

Students want to choose Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes books. These books don't work well because they don't have clear story elements and are more difficult for students to make the language arts connections. Next year I'll tell them to only choose a story with a plot.

I was disappointed in the blurry photos. Students had problems with the webcams and focusing them. I tried using cameras but they didn't know how to download the photos. This was the most difficult part for students and took the most time. Nancy Gorneau, our grade 3-5 IT coordinator, suggested I try the document camera next year and have the pictures go into a shared folder where the students can access them. Maybe if I combine that with the camera?

They forget that they do not have to type the entire script on the text section. I should change the video to remind them to not do this.

This lesson took 7 lessons in total and lasted 4 months. I have talked to Nancy Gorneau and she is willing to coordinate IT with it to help shorten the length of time. This will allow me to work more on the language arts section with students and not drag out the unit.

I also think this lesson would be better if done in the second semester versus the first semester when students have progressed more in their writing skills. The lesson seemed a little too difficult for many of the students in the beginning of the year. I did this same lesson with one class of grade 5 students and it took 2 lessons. That's another reason I would like to do the lesson with Nancy Gorneau to see if she thinks it is too hard for grade 3. When I surveyed the students they said that they really liked doing the project, but maybe it is better for grade 4 or 5 (and I need someone to tell me to drop it with grade 3.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Art & Max: story mountains

This lesson involved students creating a story mountain from the book, Art & Max, by David Wiesner. A story mountain is a way to look at the structure of a story and examine how the story has a main character with hopes and desires who gets into trouble or has a problem that is resolved by the end of the story. Grade 4 students have been working on story mountains in readers and writers workshops.

First, I asked students if they knew anything special about this author. David Wiesner has won 3 Caldecott medals and only one other writer has done this in the history of the Caldecott medal. One of the library standards in elementary school is for students to understand the purpose of children's and young adult book awards. In addition, Wiesner is a brilliant artist and I try to show his contributions to literature throught the medium of this work. The story in this book is about the creation of a piece of art and the exploration of the medium. I pointed out to students throughout the story the illustrations shift from acrylics, to pastels, to watercolor. Art also changes at the end and is inspired by Max's pointillism and creating an abstract piece of work on the cactus.

The objective of the lesson is to create a story mountain. To begin, I asked students to describe the two distinct character traits of Art and Max.  (This ties in with grade 4 language arts where they study how characters change from the beginning to the end of the story.) From the first page, Max is high energy and loveable in an annoying way. He flies across a double-page spread running over two assistants and knocking Art's paint brush out of his hand. Max is so excited to see Art paint he's a bit reckless in his enthusiasm. Art is the expert who has three assistants and is a bit of a snob. Art is annoyed with Max in the beginning but changes at the end when Max opens his eyes to new possibilities in creating a work of art.

The structure of this book is fairly easy to follow and the pictures are hysterical. Students were able to recreate the story mountain although there were debates in every class as to what the climax was in the story.  Art lets Max paint with him but tells him to stay out of the way. Max doesn't know what to paint and asks Art. Art replies by telling him to paint him. Max takes Art literally and paints him. The acrylic paint hardens and cracks on Art before exploding off the page to reveal pastels beneath Art. Max is fascinated by what the medium is doing while Art is furious with Max. Excited, Max rushes off the page with one finger in the air indicating he has an idea and that Art should just wait there for him. He comes back with a fan and blows the pastels off of Art who is feeling dry-mouthed from inhaling pastel dust. He asks for a drink of water and the medium turns into watercolors. Art drinks the glass of water and the watercolor washes off him completely leaving only his outline. Completely fed up with Max, Art stomps off the page while Max says "wait a minute" and grabs a hold of his outline. Art completely unravels so that he has disappeared from the page. Max holds the tangled outline in his hands and with a baffled look says, "Arthur?"

Max then sets to work with determination, his long lizard-like tongue hanging out of his mouth, as he concentrates on putting Art back together. His first attempt is quite comical and the students laugh the hardest at this page no matter what age group I read it to. Next, Max puts art back together and the students "ooh" and "aah" as the simple lines become more complex and Art becomes recognizable. Once he is back together Max holds his finger up because he has another idea. (Uh-oh, the students groan, along with the assistants who are shaking their heads). Max comes in with a vacuum cleaner and blasts Art with paint. Art looks completely different covered in dots to represent Pointillism. I then have a slide of famous paintings in Pointillism by Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. Last, I show a 2 minute video that Wiesner narrates about how he writes this book. [youtube][/youtube]

The last part involves writing a story mountain and we used the Epson projector for this part. I projected a graphic organizer and the students filled in the blanks. The climax was usually hotly debated by the students. Except for the class where the student yelled out dramatically at the point where Arthur has disappeared, "Oh-no! He killed him!"

I had a student videotape me giving this lesson and there were several things I would do differently. I should drop the Pointillism slide. It takes away from the story mountain. While the students found it interesting I think it was distracting and made the lesson too long. Children's picture books and how it relates to fine art is a personal interest of mine and while it adds to an appreciation of illustrators it muddied this lesson and the objectives. Also, I should have had students turn and talk to a partner before they came up to write on the Epson interactive whiteboard with the story mountain worksheet . In another class the answers were way off and I think I should have intervened with the correct answer sooner. It can be a challenge mastering the "art" of teaching.

Here's some highlights from the book when I was reading it to the students. [youtube][/youtube]

Monday, March 14, 2011

QR Codes

QR codes or Quick Response codes were developed during the 1990's but have only recently become popular with the increased use of  mobile phones. This lesson involves publishing book reviews and applying the QR code to the book so it can be read by other patrons. 

Fifth graders wrote book reviews in the classroom and saved them in Google docs or Word. I had students put the reviews on their blog, generate a QR code, and put the QR code on the book in the library. Using an iTouch, the students scan the QR code which then goes to the URL with their book review. 

  • Lesson Activity

Materiels: laptops, scissors, tape, iTouch, QR code example

 To begin, students put their reviews on their blogs. Many copied the URL incorrectly on this step. This only happened when we published the blogs and created the QR codes on the same day or during the same 45 minute lesson. Many students copied the preview page of the blog or didn't hyperlink to the book review page. I taught this lesson to six 5th grade classes and once I required students to check with me after publishing their review did the errors go down to a manageable amount.

The second part of the lesson involved students opening a QR code generator at (I used DyKnow to push the URL codes to the students which saved time.) There are many codes available, I just chose this one because the Jeff Utecht, instructor of our technology class, suggested it. This QR code generator has the http:// already in the link. Make sure students delete it. Many pasted their URL in the box and had two "http://"s which caused the code to not work. Also, tell students to choose the "S" for a small code. When printing choose the box "Pages 1"; otherwise two pages will print and quite a bit of paper is wasted. Have students who finish first help other students. I saw some nice peer mentoring going on with this lesson.

Make sure students check their QR code after it is generated. This is when they find out whether or not it works. Then students can search for the book, cut it out,  and paste it on the book .

To build on this lesson I'm thinking of having 4th graders find the QR codes on the books and read 5th graders book reviews. I will have to set-up stations for this because I only have one iTouch. According to Jeff Utecht's blog on QR codes, I could download a QR code reader that works with a webcam.

Below is a 30 second video showing students using the iTouch, finding their book, and taping the code onto the book.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Evaluating Early or Easy Readers

I read an interesting book by Kathleen T. Horning  called,  From Cover to Cover (revised edition): Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books. I particularly liked the chapter on evaluating early or easy reader books. I thought I had a good understanding of what consitutes an early reader book...    

Until I read Bink & Gollie, winner of the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. This books shows that early readers are evolving and that there are similarities and differences from past winners.   


  • A Look at the History of Early Readers

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award was created in 2006 to recognize authors and illustrators who have created quality books for children from pre-K through Grade 2.  The award follows criteria established in 1957 when Dr. Seuss published The Cat in the Hat; a story that used 237 limited first grade vocabulary of words  targeting early readers. Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik, was published the same year and established the form in which early reader books were written using chapters with pictures that give clues to the text. According to Horning, early reader books were written taking into account the physical development of childrens' eye muscles. For instance, a beginning reader has to train the eye to travel from left to right across the text. Research shows that beginning readers see five letters; whereas adult readers see around 9 letters. Horning explains that this is the reason beginning readers find it easier to decode words with fewer than five letters. As the eye muscles develop, children can handle longer sentences and unfamiliar words. Eventually, children make the shift from decoding words as they read aloud to reading for meaning.   

Here's an example of using site words, limited vocabulary, and short five letter words in Cat and the Hat:   

"Now look what you did!"
Said the fish to the cat.
“Now look at this house!
Look at this! Look at that!
You sank our toy ship,
Sank it deep in the cake.
You shook up our house
And you bent our new rake.”

In addition, Horning expained how Arnold Lobel, in the 1970's, created the Frog and Toad series that combined both standards set by Minarik and Seuss using a  limited vocabulary with five letters, repetition, distinct characters, episodic chapters and humor. Below is an excellent example written in the book, Frog and Toad Are Friends:   

Then Toad went into the house
And stood on his head
"Why are you standing
On your head?” asked Frog.
“I hope that if I stand on my head,
It will help me
To think of a story,” said Toad.

Toad stood on his head
for a long time.
But he could not think
of a story to tell Frog.

Then Toad poured a glass of water
over his head.
“Why are you pouring water
Over your head?” asked Frog.
“I hope that f I pour water
over my head,
it will help me to think
of a story,” said Toad.

Toad poured many glasses of water
over his head.
But he could not think of 
a story to tell Frog.
Then Toad began
to bang his head
against the wall.
“Why are you banging you head
against the wall?” asked Frog.
“I hope that if I bang my head
against the wall hard enough,
it will help me to think of a story,”
said Toad.

Over the years, early readers have changed in pattern. In the 1990's, Harper Collins added the three step leveling system with reading progressing in difficulty with each level.  Horning suggests following these guidelines when evaluating easy reader books:    

Level One
17-20 point type
Average 5 words per line
Sentences 5-7 words
Words used are mainly sight vocabulary and one-syllable words of 5 letters or fewer
2-7 lines per page   

Level Two
Sentences are a little more complex with sight words greatly expanded
Multisyllabic words
5 words per line
4-14 lines per page
Evenly balanced with illustrations or white space   

Level Three
Controlled vocabulary
Greater frequency of compound and complex sentences resulting in language that begins to sound more natural.
8 words per line
Number of lines does not exceed 15.
Text may cover three-fourth's of the page
Illustrations appear only on alternating pages and function more as decorations.   

If you would like more in-depth information on early readers look at Elizabeth Ward's thesis paper at I believe that the 2010 award winning book,  Bink & Gollie, does and doesn't fit some of the criteria listed above. Will it end up creating a new standard? Will it become its own series? I hope so! Let's look more closely at the story.   

  • A Review of Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

At first I thought Bink and Gollie were sisters, but they are best friends who learn to get along even though they have differences. One lives in the house in a tree while the other lives in a house on the ground. Three adventures take place with no parents present in the story. Bink is short with hair that looks like a dandelion. She is energetic and carefree. Gollie, on the other hand, writes and speaks in sentences using big words that Bink can't understand half the time. She is smart, organized and looks neat. In the first adventure Bink buys a pair of bright socks that irritate Gollie so much she doesn't want to be with her if she is wearing them. They have to learn to compromise in order to solve their problem. In the second adventure, Gollie is pretending to climb the Andes Mountains in her room, but Bink keeps knocking on her door because she wants to be with her and have a peanut butter sandwich. Gollie eventually lets her in and the two pretend together. The third adventure has Bink buying a pet goldfish and Gollie is irritated or jealous that Bink wants it as a friend. When Bink has an accident with Fred (her goldfish), Gollie is the only one that knows how to save it.   

I love these characters. Bink is an active girl who wears a skirt and sneakers. I read the book to seven grade 1 and grade 2 classes and many asked if Bink was a girl or boy.  She has a strong character, is good-natured and doesn't get mad or give in when Gollie tries persuading her to not buy the bright socks and the goldfish. Gollie has a neat bob with a barrett holding her hair off her face. Her socks go over her knees and she likes to be dramatic and use big words. I must journey forth into the wider world. But where? Tasmania? Timbuktu? This book is reminiscent of Frog and Toad and their friendship; one where they irritate and adore each other. Like Frog and Toad, each chapter is complete in itself ; that is, the action at the beginning of the chapter is resolved at the end of the chapter. Unlike Frog and Toad, Bink & Gollie uses difficult words such as bonanza, compromise, gray matter, marvelous companion, outrageous, and more. The words repeat themselves and the illustrations help with children understanding their meaning.    

Tony Fucile, illustrator, did an incredible job that gives this book a unique look not found in any other easy readers. His illustrations give the girls their distinct characters such as Bink with her peanut butter sandwiches and the illusion of constant movement, to Gollie with her pancakes, staid personality and deliberate movement. Fucile worked as an animator on the movie, The Incredibles, and Bink reminds me of the character, Dash. Although according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune they are supposed to represent the two authors. The layouts are different than any books to date. A full page spread is followed by another that is divided into three sections that show Bink falling down with the goldfish. Other pages separate the story into scenes such as the example to the left.   

I wasn't sure if Fucile's illustrations would give young readers enough clues to help them work out the difficult words in the text or if the repetition in the storyline was enough for readers to figure out words not in their vocabulary. After reading it to seven classes I found that most of them were able to figure out all the difficult words in the text because of the clues in the pictures. I had more success with the grade 2 students. For instance, they were able to figure out the idiom of's either Gollie's way or the highway and the metaphor gray matter. The book is 96 pages and the first graders had problems staying with it. Except they loved the third adventure and it was able to pull their attention back to the story; however, they got a little restless during the second story. The double-page spreads are magnificent. The students laughed at Bink who has to take her fish to the movie theater and they gasped when Bink fell and the fishbowl seemed to fly out of the page of the book. The aerial view of Bink falling is marvelous. While this book looks like a level 1 reader and has a reading level of 1.5, it is really more appropriate for the level 2 reader because of the length and difficulty of the words.    

 Works Cited    

Pekka Niemi, et al. "Development of the letter identity span in reading: Evidence from the eye movement moving window paradigm." Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 102.2 (2009): 167-181. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 9 Mar. 2011.   
Ward, Elizabeth. "Do They Still Make Them Like They Used To?: A Content
     Analysis." University of North Carolina Library and Information Science.
     UNC, Apr. 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2011. <

Horning, Kathleen T. From Cover to Cover (revised edition): Evaluating and
     Reviewing Children's Books. (pp. 121-148). New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print. 


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