Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Into the Book" & Other Visual Resources

As I move into my newly expanded media center at Cedar Heights :), I'm trying to weed and organize my decorations and bulletin board items. I already discarded most of the "holiday" stuff several years ago. In the last few years, I have used my bulletin board and chart resources to create visual displays of information that students can read in the hallway while waiting in line for the drinking fountain or bathrooms. Our principals stress the need to make every minute count for learning and so this was my response to that directive. Students can keep their minds actively engaged while they view a display about animal classification that includes colorful posters of animals with a chart of selected vocabulary words (predator, prey, camouflage, etc.) and put the information to work by mentally filling in blanks on a Venn diagram. Or it might be a poster identifying the parts of a dictionary with a set of words to alphabetize on one side and practice with guide words on the other side.

One display that I have used for a few years offers some great posters on reading comprehension strategies with additional information on reading called Into the Book, a reading comprehension strategies program from Wisconsin. It is set up with separate sections for teachers and students in grades K-4 (although I think it could be used into 6th grade). Students will need to set up a login but teachers can access the majority of the site for free! Reading strategies focus on Prior Knowledge, Making Connections, Questioning, Visualizing, Inferring, Summarizing, Evaluating, Synthesizing, and Using Other Strategies. The interactive site features video clips, downloads of strategy posters and songs, teaching tips, and more. Be sure to look in the "Other Resources" tab for pdf files on teacher guides, summaries, bibliographies, and more to print. I think this site is amazing with all of the information it offers!

Another site to check out for additional reading strategies is called Just Read Now It offers innovative and effective reading strategies in addition to lesson plans. The focused strategies can be applied across academic disciplines and learner levels and are grouped into four areas that include Discussion, Active Reading, Vocabulary, and Organization. Although this site does not feature posters, it contains additional links to resources for teacher background information as well as some pdf pages to print.

Another hallway display that I use features posters on genre that I found on the Troy, Michigan school district site by third grade teacher Beth Newingham. (Note: The genre titles featured in this site may or may not coordinate with the titles your textbooks or teachers use. For example, some of my teachers use the title "adventure" which is not used in this site.) Be sure to browse this site for other great ideas!

Currently I'm thinking/working on a display about poetry and elements of poetry, such as alliteration, hyperbole, etc. at the request of third grade teachers at one of my schools. (I consider that the ultimate compliment--a request for a display!) I found a good poster to start off and plan to feature an element with an example every so often. We're hoping this will act as a "word wall" to help students become more familiar with some of these fun, odd words (onomatopoeia!!) as well as to be able to identify their usage in poetry and other reading selections. Thus, I would really appreciate ideas or specific poems that would help us achieve this hallway learning goal!!

I guess the bottom line is that I believe that visual learning is very powerful and I hope these hallway displays create interest in learning as well as a "picture" to retain the information for future reference.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thinking about Nonfiction & AR

Nonfiction is on my mind these days. It is an area of reading that students love and I believe that they need. I'm currently searching online vendors for nonfiction books for my two 1st-4th grade schools. Criteria includes subject matter, reading level, quality information and illustrations, the inclusion of a contents and index page, and an Accelerated Reader (AR) quiz.

Last year, my 3rd and 4th teachers joined me in an experiment where we allowed students to take an AR nonfiction book with them to the computer to use as they took the quiz. This is not our normal AR protocol but we wanted our students to have a hands-on experience with nonfiction books to build the skill of "locating the answer" and of actually using the table of contents/index/glossary pages to find that information more efficiently.

Students were required to read the book before taking the test to become familiar with the book's content and organization. They were also required to mark the quiz as "W--I read this book with someone" since students were using the book WITH the quiz. This helped us group quiz results separately from the fiction books the students read Independently (I) and from books the teachers read To (T) the class for listening comprehension.

You would think that this would be a no-brainer experiment but we found that students had to be taught to use the book. You might be surprised that initially students preferred to "guess" at the answers rather than take the time to look them up. But after a couple of failed tests, they were finally willing to use the parts of the book to locate answers and were quickly rewarded with passing scores. I believe that we should see improvement in reading scores as students learn to better utilize text information in making answer choices. So I am getting excited/worried as I wait for our administrators to share test results with classroom teachers as I hope that our reading experiment made a difference.

As I'm running through email and RSS feeds, I came across a Big Fresh article by Franki Sibberson that has me thinking about what constitutes "nonfiction" these days. Things that I'm thinking about include:
what is necessary tech/info text for my age group of elementary students;
how do we address teaching tech/info text with one dedicated computer lab and only one or two computers per classroom;
what is my role when I'm divided between schools.

Although No Child Left Behind has pushed administrators into a corner of focusing on math and reading to achieve test scores, I believe we must support a broader curriculum to include social studies and science. Social studies and science topics provide great informational text that supports reading skills and naturally creates interest with students.

So I will continue to try to find avenues to intersect the focus of reading with great nonfiction texts involving social studies and science information to meet the needs and interests of our students and satisfy the goals of our administrators with NCLB. Somewhere along the way, I hope to find a way to include more technology in our reading goals. Although higher test scores is not my goal, I believe that higher test scores will be a direct result of these actions as well as to interest students in reading and learning. Good for students--good for schools.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Your Desktop Photo According to Doug

My quest to master Web 2.0 tools this summer is coming along. I've really enjoyed using the Google Reader RSS tool to help manage news subscriptions. However, I find that I keep adding more subscriptions to read and I think that may defeat the purpose somewhat. Right now I'm still figuring out what it is that I really want to read/follow-- that will help me to eventually determine which subs/blogs will get cut from my feedlist.

As I was reading through my RSS backlog recently, I came across this blog by Doug Johnson that I wanted to share as part of the "whatever" in my blog's title. Doug Johnson is the director of media and technology for the Mankato, MN public school system and is a school library/librarian advocate. I really enjoy reading his blog--he is direct and honest in his assessment of national policies affecting education, makes me think and reflect on his viewpoints and how they may affect me and my program, and provides touches of humor now and then. I hope you will enjoy his blog about "Your Computer's Desktop Picture" posted July 22, 2009 on The Blue Skunk Blog.

"What does your computer's desktop picture say about you - your goals, your
values, your motivations?

The picture I see when I turn on my computer and throughout the day is
usually one of my grandsons. Increasingly they are the ones I keep in mind as I
think about the decisions I make at work and the things I write about schools
and libraries.

Now don't look at this as me being all noble or anything. I pretty much
ascribe to the sociobiologist theory that most of a person's actions and decisions can be explained by his lizard brain doing what is most likely to perpetuate his DNA via his offsprings' survival. But not that I don't love my grandsons as well.

Anyway, what's on you computer background? Your spouse, your house, you
dog, somebody else's spouse, your car, Megan Fox in a bikini, a quiet beach with
swaying palm trees? And does it reflect what is important to you*?

*Or does it say that you don't know how to change the picture on your
computer's desktop?"

So what photo is on your desktop? I change mine from time to time. Recently I replaced the boat photo taken on our family's Alaskan cruise to a New Mexico mountain landscape taken by my daughter this summer. I love photos of natural settings and both of these photos remind me of family times in those locations.

But most recently I added a baby ticker from Lilypie to my Facebook profile as well as my desktop since I've found out that my daughter and her husband are expecting a baby boy in December! It didn't take long for this grandma-to-be to find a way to monitor the baby's progress! Two baby tickers that I like are Lilypie and Baby Gaga Lilypie is a cute customized timeline and includes tickers for weddings, vacations, and pets as well. Baby Gaga provides a ticker of baby development and offers a choice of a development phrase or a humorous phrase to accompany the illustration of how the baby would look at that stage.

So, take a look at your desktop photo. Does it "reflect what is important to you?" And if you don't know how to change the image on your desktop, please have someone show you!!