Practice Makes Perfect

Love's Legacy

Its been a few weeks since I’ve been able to write. I started writing a piece a couple of weeks ago on the Orlando Pulse Memorial, however, time constraints and home repair troubles interfered with life and my blog is still crying out to be finished. 

Today, as I sit in my ‘evacuee’ rental home, I have a few minutes to myself to jot down some thoughts about the last week. It’s been a very long haul but my own home is so badly water damaged from a new roof placement gone awry, that we have been forced to leave our humble abode for some undetermined amount of time. In the meantime, my husband and I have had to do the ‘rental-house hop’ several times over the last week while water and mold remediation is being done. With so much going on, it hasn’t left much time for writing. It…

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ClassDojo Chat on Twitter

Hello all!

I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be moderating my first Twitter chat on Wednesday, March 29th.

As a ClassDojo Ambassador, I’ll be hosting this chat from the comfort of my very own “embassy!”

I’d love to have you join me!

Here’s hoping everything works out great…fingers crossed!

The Tyler Factor…Why Our Reading Challenges Matter Most!

You know this kid.  He’s the one that showed up in your classroom, absolutely HATING reading.  We all know this kid…we’ve all had these kids in our classes.  They are our biggest challenges and the source of our greatest joy…that is, if we are successful.

Meet Tyler.  He’s a kiddo who’s comfortable in his own skin, and has no problem telling you what he’s thinking about.  If he’s hungry, he’ll let you know.  If your lesson is sub-par, he’s got no problem telling you about that too.

We started our year with him jotting a note on my “Hello Board” that said, and I quote, “I hate reading.”

Yep.  “I hate reading.”  Just. Like. That.

But here’s the thing:  I LOVE THIS KID!  Even better:   I love being Tyler’s teacher.  He keeps it real.  He challenges me.  And he makes my days a heckuva lot more interesting.  He’s really fun.

Just the other day, Tyler was saying, “I’m hungry.  A cheeseburger would be nice.  What do you say Mrs. Lutzke?  How about you and me go and get us some cheeseburgers?  Knute’s has a $5.00 special today!”  Have I told you how much I love this kid?  Who wouldn’t, right?

But, I digress.

Tyler didn’t like to read.  That is true.  So I needed to figure out why he wasn’t enjoying reading.  So I conferred with him.  We talked.  He shared.  He debated.  And, ultimately he shared a truth that needed to be explored.  He didn’t know what he liked in terms of books.  He hadn’t yet found out what kind of reader he was.

We had to find a common ground…and that was in humor.  He’s a funny guy.  I’m a quirky adult.  So I needed to dig into my stash o’humor in order to find a starting point.  Thank goodness for Jeff Kinney and his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series!  I encouraged Tyler to give one a try, and…SHAZAM!  He liked the books.  A lot.  Tyler was plowing through this series the way the Tazmanian Devil decimates landscapes.  So cool.  So exciting as a teacher to watch this…and even more stunning…Tyler decided to join the school Book Club!

I ask my students to create “Reading Selfies.”  This was Tyler’s from November:

You’ll notice that Tyler’s reading some great nonfiction texts and focusing in on noticing text features and how they add to his understanding of the topic.  His goal of “read(ing) faster” is also included in on his selfie.  By this time, I was really pretty proud of the both of us.  
After the holidays, things changed a bit.  Tyler didn’t like being told what to read, so he quietly backed out of Book Club.  
He became frustrated…he was tired of DWK and was ready to try something new.  So we conferred.  We debated.  We talked.  And he shared that he really liked history.  A peek into Tyler’s book basket gave me an idea…all that history in those books…why not combine that with some Historical Fiction?
So, that’s the direction Tyler took.  Starting with Dead End in Norvelt and it’s sequel, From Norvelt to Nowhere…he loved Jack Gantos’ style of writing!  From there, we moved on to other amazing books like The Enemy Above…there was no stopping this guy.
Tyler’s an avid archer, and he’s learning about hunting and conservation from his dad.  So, when Tyler ran out of material, I decided to introduce him to Gary Paulsen’s character, Francis Tucket.
Tucket’s Travels was the perfect collection of books for Tyler.  So much adventure!  So much excitement!  So much…reading!
And then, the best part…the icing on the cake…talking with Tyler about the book!  Whoa!  We could have talked for hours about this book.  (He finished this yesterday, by the way, and he’s blogging about it at my side right now!)
There are conversations with kids that “stick.”  The conversation I had with Tyler will truly stick with me…”Mrs. Lutzke, I was thinking about this book last night.”  (That’s always awesome…when a kid takes a book home and can’t let it go, even as they are trying to go to sleep!)
Here’s the rest of the conversation:  “If I was Francis, and I had been living outside, on my own, and I had been my own boss for two years, I don’t think I could live with my parents after that.  I mean…I’d want to be close to them and live nearby, but if I had been making my own rules and living my own way, then being in someone else’s house would be kinda bad.”
Whoa…great conversation…great reader…GREAT KIDDO!  I’d say that you have this down Tyler.  
P.S.  Tyler is moving this summer to a whole new town.  I’m going to miss him terribly.  So, to Tyler’s wonderful mom Jen…you have my permission to share this blog post with his 5th grade teacher. Because he’s a great kid…and he only deserves the best!

The Reading Strategies Book Goal 6: Supporting Comprehension in Fiction (Thinking About Characters)

Ooooh!  Oooh!  Is it my turn yet?  
Hooray!  I’m so excited to be joining a talented team of educator bloggers in this great conversation about THE BEST READING RESOURCE on the planet!  
Recognize this guy?  Recently, my 4th grade students and their 1st grade Book Buddies were sharing some of their favorite books, and Clifford the Big Red Dog was the topic of conversation amongst all of the readers.  
If you think that getting to know the characters in the book you are reading doesn’t matter…think again.  My 4th graders reminisced with great fondness the adventures that Clifford and Emily Elizabeth had together…just like you’d remember the exploits you had with your very best friends.
That’s why the reading work outlined in Goal 6 is important work…understanding the characters and how they feel…what makes them tick…feeling empathy towards their situations…these all converge together to not only engage the reader, but to enhance their understanding of the text.
So then there’s this guy, Greg Heffley, and by the time my students begin their work with me in the 4th grade, they begin to put character traits together to name a theory about the character.  One of my students recently shared with me this little nugget of wisdom…”Greg is pretty much all about himself.  He doesn’t know how to be a good friend to Rowley, and part of that is because you’ve got a lot to live up to in order to even be half as good as he is!”  Interesting insight from a nine-year-old!

As our readers become more fluent and more sophisticated in their choice of texts, secondary characters come into play…and their storylines become much more important.  Case in point…as Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger all advance through Hogwarts, the layers that Ron and Hermione lend to Harry’s story help to shape the character he ultimately becomes.  Harry’s dedication to his friends plays an important role in his decision-making process.
Goal 6 offers 24 fantabulous “Thinking About Characters” strategies.  My three favorites, in no particular order, are:
6.1:  How’s the Character Feeling?  
Jennifer reminds us of the importance of knowing our characters, and caring about how these characters feel.  Empathizing with our characters helps us as readers connect deeply and personally.
When readers pay attention to the characters in their story, they notice how the character acts, how the character speaks, what the character says, and what the character thinks.  
What do these things tell the reader about how the character is feeling?  Is a feeling like this positive or negative?  What leads you to think this way?
This strategy, while straightforward, has so much to offer readers at ALL levels.  Early/Emergent readers can use cues in the illustrations to help them understand what the character is feeling.  More fluent readers should be encouraged to “mine” their texts for clues as to what the character is feeling (dialogue, punctuation, body language, etc.).
6.3:  Put on the Character’s Face  
I love how Jennifer talks about the idea of “putting yourself in the character’s shoes.”  She shares how kids take that phrase so literally, and how the wording can really get in the way.  She asks us to reconsider this language and urge students to “try to feel what the character’s feeling.”  Why not “try on the character’s face?”  How are they feeling?  What does disappointment look like on your face? Can you see disappointment in your body language?  
I absolutely adore the anchor chart featured in this strategy!  An excellent extension would be to have students create an anchor chart that features photos of your readers and the many emotions they show!
6.17:  Talk and Actions as Windows  
This strategy makes use of “dialogue tags” to infer what kind of person the character is.  When we notice not just “what the character says,” but “how they say it,” we gain a better understanding of what kind of person the character is.
This also applies to the character’s actions, because, as we know, we can “read” a character based on what they do!
This strategy has a great little visual that involves a window with curtains.  This would make an awesome anchor chart or a great addition to an interactive Reader’s Notebook!
I’d love to hear what’s working for you when you and your students “Think About Characters.”  Are there any takeaways from Goal 6 that you are just itching to try out?  Please check in and share in the comments section…each conversation is important and helps us all to grow our thinking!
With a nod towards Theresa’s blog entry at Tried and True, I echo the sentiment that our teacher bloggers who have contributed to this book study have completed and shared important work that benefits and elevates all educators.  If you haven’t visited these entries, what are you waiting for? 
Thanks for stopping by!

Mentor Text: Knucklehead

Today is one of those days when I’m going through my blog stats…and I actually found a blog post that I started about 3 years ago.  What to do?  Do I throw this one away, or do I resurrect this post and put it out there.

If it was anyone but Jon Scieszka, I might consider tossing it.  But I have a soft spot for an author that makes me laugh so hard that milk comes out of my nose…well…who am I to withhold such a treasure?

Ok folks…if you haven’t yet shared Knucklehead with your upper grade kiddos, then what the heck are you waiting for?

Knucklehead gives the reader the opportunity to see what makes the genius behind The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales tick.  PLUS…it’s an awesome mentor text for student narrative writing!  Seriously.  Awesome.  Scieszka’s “Car Trip” is worth the cost of the book.

Who doesn’t love a station wagon full of 6 boys and a cat, traveling cross-country?

There are so many great books that can serve as mentor texts for writing.  What books are YOU using as writing mentor texts?

The Reading Strategies Book: Goal 2 ENGAGEMENT!

Happy Wednesday all!  Today’s topic is ENGAGEMENT…and it’s an important one at that!  Join Tina over at Crofts’ Classroom for today’s post.  This is one of those posts that’s just full of ideas…not only from Tina herself.  Check out that Comment Section!  Great ideas abound!

My favorite from Goal 2 is Buzz Books.  How do you create a “buzz” in your classroom surrounding books with your kids?  In my class, we have a “Buzz Books” bin that students can add to.  We check it out from time to time!

Another strategy I’m using in my classroom helps to keep some of my wanderers in one place so that they can stay focused and build reading stamina.  I call it “Reading Spots.”  When my students find a place to read, the put a “Reading Spot” on the floor and sit down/lay down to read.  My “Reading Spots” are actually brightly colored round placemats from IKEA.  (The best $6.00 I’ve spent in a long time!)

Tina’s post not only shares her faves from Goal 2, but she also asks great questions to stimulate the conversation.

So what are you waiting for?  Stop on by to join i the conversation!

Yeah for Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading…

I’m always on pins and needles on Monday…waiting to see what some of my favorite bloggers are reading, because, as we all know, we get our best recommendations from the really great teachers out in “Blogland!”
One of my absolute faves is the incomparable Carrie Gelson over at There’s a Book for That.  Carrie’s posts tell me that she’s a kindred spirit…one of those teachers who are passionate about literacy and who totally enjoy matching the children they care about with amazing literature!

It was through her blog that I was turned on to these two gems that I plan on sharing with my students today:

Gus Gordon’s little gem of a book captures city life and has such a great musical vibe…couple that with a sweet story of friendship and you’ve got a winner!  (Added bonus:  The cover looks like a jacket for a classic vinyl album!)

Oh man!  Where has this book been for the last nine years…and how come I’ve never heard of it? Pete and Pickles has the most whimsical illustrations PLUS the story.  Have I told you about this story?  It’s been a long time since I cried while reading a children’s book…yet here I am, admitting that this book had me sobbing.

Berkeley Breathed has created a magnificent story of friendship that is so clearly captivating…so beautiful…sigh.

This is one of those books that should be in every teacher’s collection.

While were on the subject of great books about friendship, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Caron Levis’s book, Ida, Always.  Such a heartwarming book about a friendship and the love between friends that never dies.  Yet another book that can leave me in tears during a read aloud…but so so so very wonderful!
Even better…right now, this sweet book is selling in hardcover on for $6.74.  This is a book that is perfect for picking up RIGHT NOW!  Do it.  You won’t be sorry.  (Disclaimer:  I’m an junkie…if there’s a 12-Step program for buying books, please keep this to yourself.  I don’t want or need a cure.…I love you!)
I’m always on the lookout for great nonfiction texts…and The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring:  The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation, by Gilbert Ford is just such a great book…super-interesting with some of the coolest illustrations I’ve ever seen.  Why oh why didn’t we have such fun nonfiction text when I was a kid? 
Life’s too short to not share amazing books with your students.  So…what are you reading to your students this week?

The Reading Strategies Book Study: Goal 1

Goal 1 is all about working with those Emergent and Early Readers, and there are 20 really great strategies to investigate and explore with our youngest readers.  Join Kit over at My Crazy Teaching Ideas to see some of Kit’s favorite strategies that can even be modified to work with our more advanced readers.
Kit definitely doesn’t disappoint!  
Stay tuned for Goal 2 links on Tuesday.

Book Study Announcement: The Reading Strategies Book!

Wow!  Has it really been over two years since I last posted here?  Time flies when you change positions and buildings.

I’ve been lovin’ on Jennifer Serravallo’s AMAZING teacher resource since it was released:  The Reading Strategies Book.  If you haven’t joined up with the fabulous group of educators from around the world on Facebook, what the heck are you waiting for?  Click here to mosey on over and join in the fun!

The great thing about Jen is that she is a part of this community as well…and she really does listen to educators!  In fact, she loves us all so much that she wrote a second, and equally AMAZING teacher resource:  The Writing Strategies Book!  It is yet another resource that is chock full o’ writing strategies…over 300 easy-to-integrate strategies for on-the-spot mini-lessons, student conferring supports and much, much more!

The wonderful Tina Crofts has given teacher bloggers an opportunity to join in the fun by sharing components of The Reading Strategies Book in a Book Study every two days.

I’m looking forward to joining in the great learning AND…I can’t wait to share my thoughts on GOAL 6 on March 22nd right here!

Tina starts the ball rolling tomorrow (March 10) at her blog.  Click here to begin the journey with all of us!

Man…it’s been way to long!  I can’t wait to join all of you in this AWESOME learning opportunity!