Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Board Books for Babies, an Update!

Over 200 new mommies who deliver babies at the Riverton IHC Hospital will receive little gifts with great potential: bags of board books to encourage reading to their little ones from the very beginning of their lives.

At the March 8th Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA) meeting, members quickly assembled the bags that included a board book and a letter sharing research about the benefits of reading to children, starting at babyhood. In 20 minutes, approximately 20 participants folded letters, packed books, and tied bags to ready the gifts for delivery. (Pictured: Bev Griffith, R.S., Arlene Baumgardner, Becky Lind.)

On April 19th Susan Snow, Lori Huey, and I delivered many boxes filled with bags 'o books to hospital representatives. (I would have inserted a picture of that occasion if it had not turned out to be VERY out of focus. I would have also listed the names of the hospital's representatives if I had remembered to jot them down.)

Right now the labor and delivery, mom and baby care areas of the Women's Center are not operating at full capacity. Once they are, representatives indicated ABOUT 200 babies could be born each month. That means our donation will only last 30+ days!!! Consequently, we've decided to make this an ongoing project as we realize that MANY of the babies born at Riverton IHC this year will enter our schools in years to come! We want them to walk through our doors as lovers of literacy!!

The following is a "CopyPaste" version of the letter we enclosed with the books. You might find the research and the suggestions of interest.

Congratulations on the Birth of Your Baby
On behalf of the Jordan Council of the International Reading Association, our members present this board book to you and your little one because there are few gifts that outshine the gift of literacy! We know the importance of reading to your baby from the earliest possible moment, and we want you to share some of those reasons with you.
Reading to infants and toddlers can be very beneficial because it establishes a strong foundation for later literacy skills (McLane & McNamee, 1991). Little ones grow up believing that reading is fun to do as they become comfortable with the sound of language used in books. They learn to turn the pages and soon realize that printed words on pages have meaning (Rice, Burkes, & Kaplan-Sanoff).

After a few months of reading together, a baby’s face lights up when looking at favorite picture books. Before long squeals of laughter follow Mommy expressive narration, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” Eventually, chubby fingers point at colorful illustrations; and by the time baby is a toddler, Mommy hears her little one share the story through imitated words and sound effects.

A parent can also help young ones make connections beyond the printed page: “Here is YOUR soft brown bear. He looks like the bear on this page, doesn’t he?” Babies bask in the sense of closeness they feel in the arms of their parents. They respond to the sound of a mommy’s voice and the comfort of being held. They learn from peeking at the pictures, listening to the sounds, and interacting with the reader.

Realizing that all children develop at different rates, parents can refer to these guidelines published by the Corporation for National Service [CNS], U.S. Department of Education, & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for some suggestions.

Birth to Eight Months
·         Hold the baby in your lap as you share short books with bright pictures.
·         It’s normal for the child to want to handle the book and even chew on it. Use cloth, plastic, or board books that can be cleaned after each use.
·         Name pictures for the baby and respond to the baby when he/she points to the pictures.

Eight to Eighteen Months Old
·         Continue to read one-on-one. Children this age love to hear the same book again and again.
·         Follow the child’s lead. When the child brings you a book, do your best to find time to read it.
·         Relate pictures in the books to the child’s life.
·         Keep sturdy books within the children’s reach for them to explore on their own.
·         Offer books about everyday activities. Make some books yourself that include photos of the children.

Eighteen to Twenty-Four Months Old
·         Read to the children both one-on-one and in small groups, but don’t insist that the children stay in the group.
·         After hearing the same book often, the children will begin to join in and tell what happens next.
·         Point to the words as you read.
·         Encourage the children to talk about the stories. Add related props so the children can incorporate the stories into their play.

Our very best wishes to you and your new baby!
Jordan Council of the International Reading Association

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh My! Access: One Teacher's Experience

This year I've been happy to feature a few guest bloggers - Sarita Rich, Roseann Markham and Cynthia Vandermieden - today I am pleased to copy and paste this unsolicited email from Lars Erickson of Oquirrh Hills Middle School. I always appreciate feedback, and it is particularly rewarding when it is POSITIVE.  Thanks, Lars, for granting permission to share your reflections about a recent experience with the MY Access,with other JSD teachers. 

Having just finished my [MYAccess] District Assessment, I was curious to see how my kids did so I took a look at some of the M.A. reports.  Like the District average [Renae] reported, my kids averaged 5.0.  That’s more impressive since I teach the “non-Honors” L.A. students.

I fully expected the scores to go down from previous essay averages due to the restricted time allowed and the editing tools having been removed.  Yet, when I compared the averages from the three persuasive essays the kids have done, I found that they were actually the same as this last assessment, hovering around 5.0.  That might not sound impressive, that perhaps they have not improved, but considering the class time and preparation invested, it blows my socks off.  The first essay used about seven to eight days of class time, the second essay required about five, but this last one was only TWO days of class time and was completely without any teacher-directed pre-writing, M.A. spell-checking or editing help.

With My Access’ help, my students have become “advanced proficient” writers who understand that their efforts in the arduous writing process pay off.  I’ve seen so many lights go on in kids’ eyes today, it’s hard to believe.  I have a handful of essentially non-writers that have decided that they can write and write well.  They have learned valuable writing skills for sure (organization, word choice, mechanics, conventions, etc.), but I think by far the most valuable lesson has been that their sustained effort on a difficult task provides tangible results.  In all the years I’ve taught, I have never seen this lesson learned so well and so obviously.

I credit My Access for giving me the authoritative and immediate feedback tools to help my kids learn this most valuable wisdom. ... The gains I have seen would not have happened without ... My Access.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Showers of Couplets, Cinquains, and Haiku Rain Down in April - Nat'l Poetry Month

Yes, April is National Poetry Month. Established in 1996, the Academy of American Poets dedicated this month to celebrate poetry in schools, libraries, book stores, and literary organizations throughout our country.

There are so many events transpiring, and one of my favorites is following "30 Poets 30 Days." Well-known poets share some of their unpublished poems. (Cool, huh? And there are some AMAZING verses found there!) Some of our schools sponsor Pocket Poetry where EVERYONE carries poems in their pockets, and then they recite those poems at every possible chance. Other schools, like West Jordan High, hold Poetry Slams during April. (I can't wait to attend! So fun!)

Jordan Council of the International Reading Association (JCIRA) invited Brad Wilcox, author and BYU professor, to commemorate this fun occasion by speaking about the "What, Why, and How" of teaching poetry to our students. Here is a summary of what he shared with members at the April 12th meeting.

What is Poetry? 
  • "Pretty thoughts dressed up in pretty words." ~ Val C. Wilcox, Brad's mother who knows EVERYTHING!
  • Poetry is orange juice CONCENTRATE; if you add the 3 cups of water, you have prose." ~ Brad Wilcox, who listens to his mom!
  • "A poem begins more felt than thought, and ends more thought than felt."
    AND "Poetry begins with a delightful experience that becomes wisdom." ~ Robert Frost
  • "Poetry is music in words and music is poetry in sound." Wm. Wordsworth
  • "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know it is poetry." ~ Emily Dickinson
Why Poetry?
Why Poetry Indeed?
by Alex Nobel
Why poetry? Why indeed? Why life? Why communication? Why awareness? Why growth? Why sharing? Why love? I like to think of a poet as one who understands the unversal harmony and beauty of things .... This poet-possibility resides in each of us. In me. In you. You will find your way. I will find mine. And it will be a beginning.
Why poetry? 
  • BRAD'S practical reason: Because poems are short, teachers and students can work through the ENTIRE writing process in a short amount of time. 
  • Renae's reason: Poetry is a GREAT way to teach word choice because each and every syllable must be carefully chosen to share the just-right message.
How to Teach Poetry?

Note: Brad shared these ideas with elementary students in mind, HOWEVER, I have used them to inspire RELUCTANT poets. While my students published traditional and fun formula poems, I also gave them opportunities to create and publish original poetry that didn't fall into any formula but their own. Remember that CHOICE is ALWAYS a great MOTIVATOR!
  •  REMEMBER "to, with, and by!"
    • Read poems TO students.
    • Write poetry WITH them and have students work WITH writing buddies/peers.
    • Time to write poetry BY themselves.
  • Build word banks: Brainstorm "spring" words, "school" words, "color" words; "sad" words, etc. Then encourage your poets to incorporate them into their creations. 
  • Publishing: 
    • When Brad creates poems WITH students, he assigns groups of students to rewrite a line and create an accompanying illustration, create a cover and a title - each student completes one part of the assignment. The end result is 3-5 different books of the class-created poem.
    • When students work in partners or individually, each poet or pairs of poets makes copies enough for every student in the class. Then he stacks the piles across a long table or several desks. Students line up and walk by, each taking a copy from every stack. Next they staple and VOILA a class book to present to moms, grandmas, etc.
    • My students organized their poems into their own books. Here is a link to my personal blog, ... good times AND seasons ..., that shares some poetry from the book I created along with my students. It also includes samples of cinquain, Haiku, and concrete poetry.
Traditional Poem Ideas: I did not include Haiku or Cinquain poetry because they are familiar to most teachers. And perhaps you've also experimented with some of the following, but if not, here they are.
  • Couplets:
    • Ex. 1
      • Teacher: Give me 2 rhyming words.
      • Students: RAY and DAY
      • Teacher: Let's create two statements using these words at the end.
      • Students and teachers: In our class is a boy named RAY; he celebrates his birth this very DAY!
    • EX 2: 
      • Teacher: Give me another word.
      • Student: HIAWATHA
      • Teacher: O----kay. I need one more word and then let's come up with another couplet.
      • Student: FRIEND
      • Students and teacher: HIAWATHA is our FRIEND; he'll be loyal till the end. (Note: The difficult word is at the BEGINNING of the couplet's first line.)
    • Literary Example: "What's with that crazy BELLA that she wants a vampire for her FELLA?" 
    • Seasonal Example: When Halloween comes 'round, assign students to write "gravestone" couplets. 
  •  Irish Blessings: Use 4 "MAYS" along with an "AND" to create an Irish Blessing for St. Patrick's Day, why don't ye?
    • Here's a famous blessing for a model:
      • MAY the road rise up to meet you,
      • MAY the wind be always at your back,
      • MAY the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields,
      • AND, until we meet again,
      • MAY God hold you in the palm of his hand.
    • Renae's not-so-famous blessing:
      • May your students rise to cheer you,
      • May your colleagues watch your back,
      • May the recession wane in coming days; the budget cuts be forever misplaced,
      • And, until school starts again,
      • May summer caress your weary bones and tired minds.
  • Free Verse; Using a thesaurus, create a PLETHORA of word strips with one word on each.
    • Writing WITH students -  
      • Pull 5 from the stack of words.
      • Work with students to create 2 or 3 sentences using each of the 5 words.
      • Quickly revise and edit the sentences - eliminating and/or rearranging words.
    • Poetry Poker
      • Distribute 5 word strips to poet-partners 
      • Allow each partnership to trade ONE strip for another still in the "dealer's" hand
      • Assign partners to create their own poem, using the 5 selected words.
Other Fun Ideas
  • ABC poem - uses all or some letters from alphabet
  • Definition poem - ____________________ is  ______________________.
    • Anxiety is an alien gnawing on you from the inside out.
    • "Love is never having to say you're sorry." (Name that movie!)
  • 5 W poem - Who, what, when, where, why: complete the questions in a unified structure.
    • Mrs. Crumple
    • broke her yard stick
    • in 6th period
    • on Riley's desk
    • to wake him up.
  • List poem - Pull out key chain, backpack, pockets and list contents along with a comment about each.
    • This key fits the lock to a house I no longer live in,
    • and this one goes to the PT Cruiser I named CreamPuff.
    • This key opens my desk drawer where I hide my chocolate covered almonds.
    • This key ... this key... Hmmm? Who knows what this key opens?
  • Phone number or zip code - Vertically list a phone number that WON'T impose on anyone's privacy, like the school's, for example. Or list a zip code.
    • Each number indicates the number of words needed on that line.
    • If zero is listed, add a 1 before it for 10 or after it to indicate ONE. 
      • 8 words:
      • 4 words:
      • 01 word:
      • 8 words:
      • 4 words:
WHEW! This post ended up being MUCH longer than I planned, but hopefully, you will find some ideas to try during National Poetry Month!

Best wishes,

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

UPDATE: Implementing the Nat'l Core in Utah!


In a year of constant change, more lie ahead! And the rumors have been flying fast and furiously for months. While decisions have been made about some national, state, and district concerns, mandates, etc., others are still being deliberated. With that in mind, I'll share what language arts representatives from throughout the state learned last Wednesday when we met with Dr. Reed Spencer, USOE Language Arts Curriculum Specialist.

National Common Core State Standards (NCCSS)
  • Dr. Spencer said that the proposal to adopt the NCCSS would be presented to the State Board of Education for approval in June. Speaking confidently, he added that in all likelihood, the board would adopt the standards.
  • He surmised that it would take about 2 years for Utah to fully implement the national core, with the exception of math, and that will take 3 years. IN THE MEANTIME, the USOE, districts, and schools will start bridging together the current and future cores. (What fun.)
  • Adoption allows for states to add up to 15% more content to the standards if USOE curriculum leaders feel there are holes. (As I compared the two, I saw similarities, but also noticed Greek and Latin roots are not specified as part of vocabulary and word study. Nor is inquiry a separate strand but is embedded throughout the language arts core. We'll have to wait and see if the state plugs in any additions.)
Assessments: UBSCT, CRT's, 
DWA, and ????
  • Yes, it's true, starting next school year, UBSCT takes a leave of absence for at least 2 years, but Dr. Spencer does NOT see its return. Instead, he predicts it will be replaced with a version of the ACT that is "a grade-appropriate, curriculum-based assessment that measures what students have learned in school" (ACT News, Mar. 31, 2010).  
  • Criterion-Reference Testing (CRT), however, is NOT going away for grades 3-11 until a national assessment that aligns with NCCSS is developed. In the meantime, the CRT will test Utah's current core.
  • The Direct Writing Assessment (DWA) will still be administered to 8th graders, BUT the GOOD NEWS is that those students will NOT have to undergo the agony of the Iowa Basic Skills Test! YaY!
    • Speaking of DWA, Margaret Young, who oversees this venture, said the student interface could NOT have gone more smoothly! And she said THAT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF WONDERFUL TEACHERS!  Margaret also asked me to tell you how much she appreciated all your efforts! Some 83,201 5th and 8th graders took the writing test, and of that number, only 69 were non-scorable. Margaret was SHOCKED and THRILLED! That has not happened before.
    • In order to validate results, this year's essays will be computer AND hand scored. Measurement, Inc. will release those results by the end of the school year.
    • One last DWA topic is whether or not to change the prompt for 8th graders. Margaret is taking this under consideration, and she would like to know what 8th grade LA teachers think about that. PLEASE WEIGH IN BY REGISTERING YOUR OPINION ON THE L2L POLL, (top-left)!

  • The NCCSS Assessment will take at least 2 and maybe 3 years to create, according to Maureen Cunniff, State CRT Coordinator. She said that a 26-state consortium will combine efforts to created FORMATIVE and SUMMATIVE assessments. Utah, through the office of education, is one of the states that will be involved. Representatives will submit questions from their states' cores that support NCCSS. The tests will then be created from that item bank.
So what does this all mean in terms of change? There are some "interesting" aspects of all these modifications/transformations/reformations, etc. Here are just a few:
  1. FEWER STANDARDIZED TESTS - for the time being. We have all been concerned about the time these tests take away from instruction. Now we can utilize the extra time for TEACHING! 
  2. Because of national education reforms being enacted, U-PASS, the annual report of assessments and behavior indicators and the state's accountability plan, is also defunct! Whether this is good or bad depends upon what eventually replaces it. Remember that U-PASS "scores" included CRT and DWA results, and without that report ...?
  3. Some testing pressures may be eased, but we must still dedicate ourselves to teaching the core - including those NON-tested items - via evidence-based practices and also tend to Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) - the heart of the core. 
While accountability is important, we need to show the state and federal government that student learning does occur in classrooms without the overkill of mandated standardized tests checking up on schools. Instead, let's use formative assessments to course-correct and differentiate our instruction.

Granted, this is an "interim" time, but we can do some good things while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Best wishes,