Thursday, December 27, 2012

Graphic Novels

Dear Nerdy Book Club Friends,

My students are reading more than ever. They are completing (and loving) books! I have never had a year where students are reading so much and I credit the 40 Book Challenge (thanks @donalynbooks) for their excitement.

I do worry about something I am seeing in the classroom - some of my readers are sticking solely to graphic novels. I have encouraged this because some of these readers are reluctant and the graphic novels have changed their opinion of reading. However, as we enter the new year, I would like my students to read different genres and read more text-only books. I wonder if I should even be feeling this way?

I have toyed with the idea of having a "No Graphic Novel Month", but that seems to violate the best practices for encouraging reading in my students.

So, I need your help! Have you experienced this? What are your solutions? Is this even a problem in your view? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Ryan @rantryan

Monday, December 24, 2012

"The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" Reader's Theatre

Every year, our fifth grade students perform "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" for the other classes in the school. It has become a yearly tradition that is fun and benefits the students' fluency. This year, I caught it all on video. Check out the videos below of the two classes. I'll let you decide who deserves the award for most convincing Grinch.

Not my homeroom:

My homeroom:

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 12/24/12

Head over and meet Jen & Kellee at 
for more on this awesome meme. There are many other "It's Monday" links.

Books I Read this Past Week...
This was one of those weeks where I did not read the books I had planned to. 

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea    
(5 out of 5 stars)  

I would recommend this book. It was a fast, engaging read. I want to read the sequel Mr. Terupt Falls Again.

Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer
(2 out of 5 stars)

I just wasn't inspired by this read. It was full of vindictive, negative characters. I much preferred Chris's children's book The Land of Stories. This one is definitely NOT for young kids. 

Books I Will *Try* To Read/Finish This Week...

Paranorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why I Teach Reading

It was just another typical end of the day at school. Most of the students were packed up and sitting on their desks to begin playing our "end of the day game" silent ball. Erinn, however, had chosen not to play. Instead, she wanted to keep reading the book I had recommended to her the day before - Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

If you've read Out of My Mind, you know the latter part of the book is moving and shocking and lovely. Erinn found herself right at that moment. She looked up at me, with tears in her eyes, and said, "Oh noooo."

This is why I teach.

Meeting Jeff Kinney

So, a funny story - I was in New York City last December with my mom. We went on a whirlwind trip just before Christmas. One morning, we decided to stop by The Today Show to see if we could end up on television. This was before they axed Ann Curry and I vowed to NEVER be a fan again. (They did you wrong, Ann!) As we arrived, I noticed that one of my favorite authors, Jeff Kinney, was being interviewed outside about donating books to charity for the holidays. I got so excited and my mom would've too, had she any idea who he was. A bit later, a producer from the Hoda/Kathie Lee Booze Hour was asking for people to go the next door studio to be part of Kathie's trivia game. Of course we jumped at the opportunity! My mom never liked Kathie Lee, but hey - she was a celebrity and we were in NYC. As we walked towards the studio where the trivia was taking place, Mr. Jeff Kinney was walking across the street. I chased after him and yelled, "Jeff please sign this for my students! They are such fans." He was so kind and signed my random sheet of paper, even though his handler was scolding him, "We've got to go! We have a flight to catch." We continued on to the trivia game, which was really fun. We sat in the audience and even got some air time, even though we were not one of the actual contestants. Mom said that Kathie Lee was "darling" (Jamie's Seal of Approval) and it became one of the best times we had on that trip.

Flash forward to November of this year and I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Kinney again, at my local independent bookstore Joseph Beth. My good friend Laurie (a co-worker too) and I went. He was so kind by signing our books and even taking a picture with us. I didn't bring up our chance encounter on the streets of New York City, though...I didn't want to be all awkward and stuff like Greg Heffley.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (12/10/12)

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this idea on their site.  Here is a link to their site...

Books I Read this Past Week...

Eight Grade is Making Me Sick by Jennifer L. Holm    
(5 out of 5 stars)                       

Ghostoplis by Doug TenNapel 
(4 out of 5 stars)

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler              
(5 out of 5 stars. An adult book, but so wonderful. Get your Kleenex. Anne Tyler's writing is so compelling.) 

Paranorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Bad Island by Doug TenNapel

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Buys 11/19 ;-)

I bought some great books this evening. My new favorite author is Doug TenNepal. Also picked up a "staff pick" book - The Future of Us.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hits in my Classroom - Fall 2012

Here are the biggest reading hits in my classroom so far this year:

Student Story/Philippe Petit

To follow up on our September 11th study, I wanted to share with you an amazing story that one of my students shared with us. Her birth possibly saved her father's life. She was born on 9-12-01, and he stayed longer in Cincinnati to be there for her birth. Had she not been born, he would have returned to his job at the WTC in New York City. As she has grown up, she has been referred to as her father's guardian angel. Isn't this AMAZING? Look at these!

By the way, when planning for next year's 9/11 study, might I suggest you read the Caldecott winning book, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordecai Gerstein.

Teaching about Philippe Petit's famous walk leaves my students speechless every year. Here are two links I use each year also. Footage from Petit's Walk and Actual News Report from 1974

Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 11th Interview

One of the most amazing things about teaching is how, as time passes, our students come in with a totally different understanding of history. When I first started teaching in 2005, my students had a vivid recollection of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. That horrible day was just as much a part of their life as it was mine. We shared the feelings of the day and could talk about how we all felt.

Now, in my eighth year of teaching, things have changed. The students this year, when asked about September 11th, have no recollection at all of the event because many of them weren't even born yet or were just newborns. As teachers, we must respond to these changes in student memory and adapt our instruction/discussion of important historical events.

What I have done in recent years is have my students interview someone close to them, a parent, family member, or neighbor about the events of September 11th. As I was creating this interview, it was clear that the discussion of these events should come mainly from those closest to my students - not me. Knowing how everyone's life was so affected by this awful event, I knew my students could learn more in a face-to-face interview than any other activity I did in the classroom. The September 11th interview, which does take some time to complete, has been one of the assignments I receive the most positive feedback on - from students and parents alike! (I have attached the interview form I used for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 last year.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inferring Box Project

We had such an exciting event last week in language arts class. The event was inspired (a.k.a. stolen) from @donalynbooks and her fabulous book The Book Whisperer. I asked all students to bring in 10 items that represented who they were as a person. I was BLOWN AWAY by the interesting and creative items students brought in. I loved one student who brought in an ice-cream scoop to represent his sweet tooth. I loved the student who brought in a pair of headphones to represent her love of music. There were the two students who brought in items to represent their love of their pets - a leash and a dog bone in a plastic baggie! More exciting than anything were the several students who brought BOOKS. Books were an item that described who they were as a person. nHow awesome is that?!

I set up all of the items on random desks and put post-its with numbers on them. Then, the students did a museum walk. We discussed as a class what environment a museum should have and I played classical music as the students perused. Their goal was to guess as many of their classmates items as they could. It was a testament to the students that so many guesses were correct - it means that they listen to one another and respect each other. After the guessing, each student described several of their items, which revealed so much. I would encourage all teachers to do something similar - both the students and the teachers were able to learn so much about each other. Fun and productive - a classroom winner! (I especially loved the students who kept saying, "This is hard!")

One tip: Encourage students to not bring in any item that is automatically identifiable, like personal pictures, etc.

Enjoy some pictures of our museum walk:

Monday, September 3, 2012

First Read Alouds of the Year

Wonderful video below with many teachers' first read alouds of the year. If you look close enough, you may spot me towards the late middle! So exciting to be part of a great reading PLN on Twitter. Thanks go to @colbysharp!

Check out large size video: First Read Alouds!

New Ideas!

It has been an exciting first full week of school, especially due to some new things I've/we've been doing/trying.

1. We are now doing a video newsletter for our grade level! Not only was it fun, but it saves SO much time! We plan to still send a paper one home for those without internet. My teammate and I wrote a grant for two video cameras last year, so this is one way we will be using them. We would like students to participate in the newsletter by showing their families their learning, instead of sending home a written newsletter. If you'd like to check out our first attempt, go to this link:

2. I have already had the students decorate and begin using their reading and writing notebooks. In the past, we've waited, but I am not sure why we did. Many of them have completed more than 1 book (some 2, 3 or 4) towards their 40 book challenge! I think they are realizing that it is fun and doable.

3. We've been reading, reading and reading. For the first time, I showed book trailers in class. Basically, they are like movie trailers but for books! In the past, I have shown Book Talk videos from Scholastic, but now I am adding book trailers. The kids enjoyed the videos. Here are the links to two great book trailers: Drama and The One and Only Ivan

4. After showing the book trailers for Drama by Raina Telgemeir and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, I decided (after inspiration from @mrschureads) to have a book raffle for the kids to enter. The winner of each book raffle will be the first person that gets to borrow these books. It is interesting how presenting new books this way is really getting them excited! Plus it solves the problem of kids saying they want to check out a book that I just recommended and me getting in trouble by double-booking ;-)

Off to a great start!


I got this wonderful caricature of myself (at least I think that's me) from one of my new students this year. I love it! I love reading just as much as this young lady and I hope she's gotten that message after the first full week of school ;-)

Do you think she's captured me?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Birthday Books ;-)

I am dying to read The One and Only Ivan and use The Nighttime Novelist to begin working on my book - I have a few great seed ideas ;-)

I had an awesome birthday, even though this marks the milestone year of 30. This age frightens me, but to cheer up, I listened to Tim McGraw's "My Next Thirty Years" and remembered the wise saying that you are only as old as you feel.

Regardless of the feelings of doom about my age, I had a lot of fun, saw a lot of friends and family AND got some awesome books as gifts! Plus, I got loads of delicious treats from my culinary-gifted co-workers.

Thanks to Shawn, his mom and my friends at school I was able to get tons of new, exciting books!

A set of grammar books! ;-)

First Read Aloud!

As part of the  #nerdybookclub, I have shared a picture of my first read aloud (last Friday) at school. I have chosen to once again start with one of the most hilarious books EVER: Sideways Stories from Wayside School. The kids are loving it so far, but the humor is a bit over their head sometimes. :-)

The Nerdy Book Club would like to see a picture of your first read aloud too! The deadline is August 31st! Check this out for details:

Not the best picture, but you get the idea :-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Alternate Assessment. Thoughts?

Our school had quite an experience this year when we received our test scores. Our school has done very well over the past several years in raising our performance index and our students have worked so hard to do well on their achievement tests. For those that are new to this terminology, performance index is the number score that schools earn based on the "level" of the student performance on the state test. There are five levels: advanced, accelerated, proficient, basic and limited. A student who scores advanced gets multiplied by 1.2, accelerated 1.1, proficient 1 and so on. In short, you want more kids in advanced and accelerated because they count more.

There are some students who are best served by taking alternate assessments, which are assessments designed to meet their needs. These students do not take the traditional state assessment. Last year, we had one student who was on alternate assessment. This student did AMAZING and passed all of the assessments, so we were naturally very proud. We were also proud of our overall scores, but lost a little of our spark when we learned that this student's tests for math and reading ended up NOT counting for our school.  In fact, they counted as FAILING, even though this student had passed. Is anyone else confused? (Or confuzzled, as an old student of mine used to say.)

The reason for this nonsense is a rule, dictated by NCLB, that a school district is not to have 1% of their total student population taking alternate assessment. What this means is that some schools discourage alternate assessments, even when there are students that may benefit. The punishment for a school district having a more than 1% of students on alternate assessment? Well, as crazy as it sounds, the school district must put the names/test scores of all of the students on alternate assessment "in a hat", pick out enough to lower the percentage and then discard those students' test scores. Those students' tests then COUNT AS FAILING. The student is still shown as passing to their parents and in their cum file, but for the district? Failing, failing...failing.

How on Earth is this allowed to happen? I'm all for alternate assessment when it is in the best interest of the student. But why are the schools, intervention specialists (who work hours and hours on this assessment) and the students the ones punished for doing the right thing? If we as a nation really cared about what is best for every student, then it shouldn't matter if a district goes above 1%. Each district should allow any student who needed alternate assessment to take one, without having to worry about a limit, if you ask me.

***Further reading on Pages 9 and 10 of this document.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The First Day! 8-23-12

Today rocked! I think we have a great set of new fifth graders this year and MANY of them already seem as enthusiastic about reading as my co-teacher and I are. Meeting students for the first time is always so fun, isn't it?

Today was one of the best first days that I can recall in quite awhile, mainly because of the effort to approach the first day differently. I mean, I tend to always change things up each year, but today's first day was unlike any first day I have had before. Thanks to inspiration from Colby Sharp (@colbysharp), today was a reading explosion in my room! I pounded, screamed, and possibly even jumped around the room exclaiming that reading was THE BEST! The kids couldn't believe it as I walked across the rows of desks shouting "Reading is AWESOME!" Did they think I was crazy? Maybe a bit...but that's okay. I told them that without paying the cost of a scuba diving trip, I was able to go deep-sea diving this summer because of a book I read. I told them that even though I have never met a kid in real life with a severe facial deformity, I met one (a boy named Auggie) this summer while reading Wonder.  I asked them, "Did you know that you could travel to Africa without paying the airfare?" I wanted them to know books take you to exciting, new places.

I have always had good success, on the whole, with getting my students to read more and also enjoy their reading more. But, this summer, I realized that I needed to do more. Thanks to some awesome Twitter friends and Donalyn Miller's (@donalynbooks) book The Book Whisperer, it became clear what I needed to do differently - get them into reading on day one! The idea of letting kids check out and raid my books on the first day initially violated my internal desire for balance and order. After today's excitement, I know I did more on THIS first day of school than I ever have before by simply getting books in my students hands right away and sharing my passion for reading as loud as I could! Sitting in front of them telling them the importance of reading (like I have done so many times) pales in comparison to literally jumping for joy and allowing them to get into the library and start choosing books. My kids handled it well and even though I was "spraying it while I was saying it", no one complained that a few specks of spit headed their way. The final result was over 90% of each class today borrowed a book to take home tonight :-)

After this frenzy, my students were able to read for 15 minutes to themselves - a new routine that I vow to make time for each day. I also was able to pull them together as a group and read Chapter 1 of my first read-aloud of the year, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. I will post a picture tomorrow and on Twitter for #nerdybookclub.

I hope everyone who returned to teaching today, has already, or will soon has a great first day also!

If you have never read this hilarious book, check out this great site with a review of my first read aloud: Kids Blog Review of Sideways Stories From Wayside School

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A New Year!

I am so very excited to start this school year (my eighth) and this blog. This summer I have been greatly inspired by many people on Twitter, part of an amazing PLN that I have encountered.

I have been Twitter friends with Mr. Schu (an inspiration to many) for a few years - he once helped me create a Google Docs survey that I used to learn more about my students' reading behaviors. I have never been a frequent Twitter user, up until this summer when I began looking closely at the conversations occurring between Mr. Schu and other members of the Nerdy Book Club. I wanted to learn and share - so here I am. A wave of new ideas for improving my classroom instruction has come my way. I feel like I had found my enthusiasm again! It's easy to feel drained with the focus on state achievement results, and the Twitter universe has awoken the passion for doing what I know is best for my students.

I have read so many wonderful books this summer, such as Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Fault in My Stars by John Green, and many more. I can't wait to share these titles and more with my students and to let the thrill of reading fly loose in the classroom!

I worked hard this year to organize my books by genre and decided (thanks to wise advice from the Nerdy Book Club) to not label reading levels on my books. It is our job as literacy educators to provide the time to independent read and give the students the freedom to choose their own reading adventures.

I thought I would post a few photos of my classroom and bulletin boards. Here's to a great 2012-2013 school year for everyone ;-)