Monday, July 31, 2017

Giveaway News and a Book on Writing

It's Teacher Book Talk Tuesday! Today I bring you a review of a teacher book, but before I begin I want you to know that starting next Tuesday, three weeks of book and Amazon card giveaways begin!
Starts Next Week!
The Amazon Cards will be for ten dollars each, and Flashlight Press is generously donating the books. Our first book prize to win next week will be Too Much Glue by Jason Lefebvre and Zac Retz. This book has made a big splash among the kiddos and was picked up by Elmer's Teacher's Club.... I'll review it next week so you know more about it before you enter the contest.

Four of my bloggy buddies will be joining me to spread the word and give you extra chances to win!

Angela from The Teacher's Desk 6                              Julie from Stem is Elementary


Corrie from  Peace, Love and Primary                           and Janet from Kindergarten: 
                                                                                              Hand-in-Hand We Grow

NOW on to today's book review.

In Pictures and In Words–
Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study
by Katie Wood Ray

I have been meaning to read this book for a long time now and I finally put it on my to-do list this summer. A good friend and teaching colleague read it years ago and was very excited about it. When I read the title I pointed out to her that we already do Lucy Calkins Units of Study and we love that program. She replied that this book could very easily be used in conjunction with Lucy. Based on her enthusiasm I said I would read it, and indeed I did buy it from Heinemann right then. It wasn't until this summer, however, that I took a good look.

Katie Wood Ray suggests that teachers can support students as they make meaning both visually and verbally, in words and in pictures, and that both these abilities can be strengthened. She explains that the key qualities of good writing can be taught in the context of illustrations, and that students can gain lots of experience planning, drafting, revising and editing as they compose illustrations for their books.

As I read Katie Wood Ray's words I was prompted to look at and think about ALL that students put on paper, not just the writing. By not only noticing all their work, but teaching into illustration, using picture books that we already love and read in class, teachers can help kids develop as writers. Her first point is that as children make picture books of their own, over three or four pages, they are doing so with an "exploratory spirit" which they bring to all sorts of play. People who read my blog know that I am a big supporter of play and push back as it is being squeezed out of kindergarten. It is through play that children learn not only self-regulation and social skills, but also language and cognition. It makes sense to me that making a picture book is like all the other open creation that happens in play on many levels.

There are lots of writing samples included in the book

We all have students for whom writing is very difficult. The process of putting letters on the page, making the letters approximate words, remembering what words they were even writing to tell the story in the first place are huge tasks as children first learn to write.  But these same students can tell stories– which is why oral storytelling practice is so important, too... but that is a topic for another day... When our struggling writers are supported in making illustrations to represent their stories, so much more becomes possible for them as writers. Support of illustration teaches them to make meaning. It also makes sense that students start "writing instruction" by making picture books because picture books surround them in their classroom. Picture books are what beginning writers are most familiar with, be they fiction or informational.

Sometimes teachers are lead to feel that we need to move kids out of drawing and into writing as soon as possible. But Katie Wood Ray points out that we can shift our ideas and think about teaching into the illustration part of composing. We can encourage students to stay with the illustration and expand the story by intentionally composing the pictures. Teachers who do this do not value word making over image making, but value them equally and see that students can move to writing instead of drawing when they choose to. Teachers can see illustration as true practice in composition, planning and meaning making– that illustrating in this way is doing with pictures exactly what a student could be doing with words.

Katie Wood Ray also cautions against thinking that teaching into illustrations is just letting kids draw. Teaching into illustration must be very intentional. Teachers need to teach into all sorts of texts, thinking of both the process of illustration and the final product. Different illustration techniques allow students different ways to represent meaning, just as words do.

There are two sections to the book. The first section is broken into six chapters in which Katie makes an argument for why teaching into children's illustrations builds a foundation for strong writing and how it helps children develop as effective communicators. I think this gives justification to all those teachers whose gut says there is more to the pictures that children draw when writing, but who want to be sure they are really teaching writing. The topics of the first chapters in section one will be familiar to teachers who use writing workshop– building stamina, reading like writers, learning qualities of good writing, planning and implementing a unit of study in illustration. Katie Wood Ray gives practical advice in these chapters with instructional tips for supporting students while teaching the topics.

Section two of the book is made up of fifty illustration techniques and the qualities of good writing they suggest. There are five broad categories that the illustration techniques fall into– ideas and content, precision and details, wholeness of text, tone, and layout and design. Each illustration technique is discussed in a predictable format that helps us think about illustrating and writing as parallel composing processes. Each write up contains– something to notice, an illustration example or two, an understanding for young writers and illustrators, an idea for trying it out, and a writing connection. The layout of section two makes it very user friendly to teachers and I predict that within a few lessons, the teaching becomes very comfortable.

Last but not least, Katie Wood Ray includes an extensive picture book bibliography. I think most teachers will find many of the books familiar and already on the classroom shelves. And the techniques are described so well, I don't think it would be hard to find similar books already on hand that could be used instead of the ones she describes if need be.

Just having read about some of the illustration techniques and their examples, I already have a new appreciation and understanding of what pictures do for children's books. I will look at picture books from a new angle, thinking of the writing lessons contained in the illustration style. This is a bit of bonus learning that I did not expect to receive. It really is a great book with a wealth of information which helps a teacher grow and shift lenses. I recommend it as a good read, even if you are not going to follow every page as a curriculum. You will become a better teacher of writing, I am quite certain.

Like all good Heinemann books, there is notice of other similar books on the last pages of this one. Doggone it... off I go to Heinemann again.

Well, then. I hope you have a better understanding of In Pictures and In Words and I hope I gave you enough info to decide if it would be valuable to you and your teaching. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Don't forget to come back next week to enter the giveaway– you'll get several chances to win! Bloggers, link-up your reviews below to give our readers a bit more good teacher book talk!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tracking Freebies on Dropbox for Free

Hey Bloggers and Instagramers! Do you use Dropbox to share downloadable Freebies with readers when the Freebie is small or you don't want to make thumbnails and write descriptions for TPT? And have you been frustrated because the free version of Dropbox does not let you track how many times the Freebie has been shared? Well, today, for my Monday Made It, I am going to show you how you can track it for FREE!
A Free Tracking Hack

Upload the downloadable item you want to share on Dropbox, like you already do.

Click the blue SHARE button for the link that you usually embed on your blog so people get your item when they click. But this time, don't embed THAT link!

Go to Google URL Shortener to get a simplified link– most people already do this for IG.

Enter the Dropbox link so that Google simplifies it. You are not doing this just to get a shortened link, but to know how many times that link is clicked because Google URL Shortener lets you track that link for FREE.

Embed the shortened link on your blog or IG profile so it is what people click to download your freebie.

Now when you go back to Google URL Shortener, you'll see your item link and how many times it has been clicked on by readers. Ta-da!

It is true that when someone clicks on the link it does not necessarily mean they downloaded the item. They were interested enough, though, to take a closer look. Knowing the number of clicks tells me if the Freebie was generally desirable. And although my number of followers is one indicator of readers reached, knowing how many are interested in what I'm giving away is another indicator of how many people are interested in what I share.

This is one bloggy trick I didn't read about anywhere. I just stumbled upon Google URL Shortener when needing to simplify a link, and then realized that they track it for you. That got me thinking about how that info can be applied, and voila. I wish I had known about it earlier, so I share it with you now. I bet you can think of other ways to use this tip, too. Happy tracking! PIN so you remember!

Scoot on back to Monday Made It at Fourth Grade Frolics and find more good stuff! Thanks, Tara!

Watch the blog for upcoming book reviews, giveaways, start of school tips, and much more you don't want to miss. See you next time... and the next, and the next...

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Do You Celebrate Dozen Day?

Hello Folks! Since some of you have already started back to school, and the rest will be there soon enough, this is just a super quick post to share what I do on the twelfth day of school.

Have some math fun with 12 on the twelfth day of school!

First of all, I set up my light box sign to welcome in the kids. It immediately gets their attention, since the only other time they've seen it was the first day of school. I use it sparingly throughout the year and it always emphasizes something special. I don't use anything fancy on the sign, just the letters, emojis and numbers that I got when I first got the box. Our math discussion starts with the sign though- that the letters just happen to be all capital letters, why I there are two hands and two fingers on there, and what the number 12 looks like. The one means ten and the two, two more. We practice making twelve with our fingers, needing a partner to do so.

We talk about how twelve is a special number which gets a special name. We also talk about how some things are sold in dozens– like eggs, donuts, and flowers.

I bring in a dozen hard boiled eggs in a carton. We all get to eat one (I bring in some extra for the whole class) and then we use egg cartons to count out twelve of all sorts of things in math centers.

I also bring in a dozen donuts, which leads us to discuss a "baker's dozen." The history I share goes something like this: The term baker's dozen started back to the middle ages, a looooong time ago, even before your grandparents were born, or their grandparents! There was a very strict law and sellers who sold things by the dozen, but who cheated or even just miscounted and gave less than twelve, were punished. (They had their hand amputated, but I don't add that detail to the story!) So it was very important that everyone could count correctly to twelve. To make sure the shopper ALWAYS got at least dozen, bakers started giving them 13 for the price of 12, and that became known as a baker's dozen. Even today it is nice to get a bonus donut, isn't it??

Our math discussion usually includes dozens we see in our room... like a dozen students, plus seven more. We talk about "half a dozen." I also add an egg carton and a dozen plastic eggs to our Drama area where they stay the rest of the year. You get the idea.

Now PIN so you remember and have fun on your Dozen Day!

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Books That Support Makerspace Learning

Happy Teacher Book Talk Tuesday! Today I'm sharing three books which launch good makerspace projects. Simply put, a makerspace is a place where people gather to design and create things, sharing ideas and equipment. Makerspaces are closely tied to STEM and STEAM learning and they can be found in more and more classrooms in all grades. As this post is about books to use with kindergarten makerspace projects, I'll not go into makerspace discussion right now. I plan on posting all about what I have set up in my classroom makerspace at a later date. I share just a couple snapshots, so you know where projects happen in our room. We call our makerspace The Lightbulb Lab, as in Kevin Henkes' Lilly and the Purple Plastic Purse... I aim to bring literature to everything we do.

This is a standing table where kids can work

We don't have power tools and 3D printers to use, like older kids often have in their makerspace, but we have a plethora of supplies for what I call paper engineering– paper of all sorts, writing tools of all sorts, and tape... oodles and oodles of tape. We have a lot of miscellaneous things too, like popsicle sticks, chenille stems, paper punches, crimpers... you get the idea. The kids don't need a lot of prompting to get started. Some kids get really comfortable doing a particular "thing" and get a little stuck wanting to do that exclusively, so I introduce new concepts throughout the year. I often use books to teach into a new idea, asking the kids to expand on what they see. Here are three books, which I use to prompt new creations... sort of bends in the road with our yearlong makerspace learning.

My Map Book by Sara Fanelli

Do you know this book? It certainly is not new, but it is a great leaping off point. Maps are part of our math and social studies curriculums. We look at a map of our classroom, using it to find objects I've hidden ahead of time. I put very basic maps of our classroom with only key pieces of furniture on it out in the Lightbulb Lab to get the kids started with making their own maps We use a map of our school, too, and look at real maps of our city, state, country and world. Then I introduce the book.

This is a treasure map from the book. By the time we see it we have seen other treasure maps, and know this one is not typical.

This map of my heart expands the idea of maps further yet again.

We talk about how a real heart pumps blood and does not look like this. When people speak of what is "in my heart" they are talking about things which they love. I point out small details on this map, like the cane and eyeglasses for grandpa and grandma. This naturally leads to the idea of "symbols" to represent real objects and people. I draw a bone for Popeye, a lego hat for Jonathan, and a jet plane for my eldest daughter who can really only be reached in Seattle by plane, and who works at Boeing.

By this time in the year the kids have seen me draw Popeye and Jonathan many times in writers' workshop. I always illustrate them as they "really look" so using symbols instead, piques the children's interest. As kids experiment with symbols they sometimes come up with hilarious things– moms represented by slippers and baby brothers by poop... the explanation was that said brother often had poopy diapers, but I think there may be another layer of meaning when little brothers are drawn as piles of poo... just sayin.
There are lots of other fun maps in this book, too, including a map of a dog, a map of my family, and a map of my day... which is cool as it represents a daily schedule in a new way. I read just one or two maps each day, so it can take over a week to finish the book. Each day kids get new inspiration. We talk about techniques kids could use to make similar maps, and what other things in life could be shown as a map. We discuss 2D and 3D maps, and they learn how to make "pop-up" objects for their maps.

My Map Book hangs out in the Lightbulb Lab for many weeks and becomes great reference that they use again and again. I highly recommend you actually add this book to your classroom, and not just borrow it from the library this time. You can get used copies for really cheap and it is worth the investment.

Open This Little Book
by Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee

This is a special book because it is one story, but with many books within books inside. The book itself is kind of large, but as you turn the pages you find many more books, each one smaller than the next, until you reach the middle and they start getting big again.

The kidpeople are fascinated with how this one fits together and love pouring over this book. I put out some blank versions to begin the projects– getting staples in the middle seam is a bit tricky. When we run out of blanks though, I don't hurry to make more but encourage them to find a way to make a book. This makerspace unit leads to accordion books, lift the flap books, scrolls... you get the idea. And, of course, as no book should go unfilled, they write and illustrate a story in each of their books. I tell you, there is a lot of curriculum support in our makerspace.

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Last but not least, we have Press Here. It is a simple concept with the idea being that if you "press" the dot, something will change with the dots on the next page.

The kids love the idea of a "power button" that can make things happen. Pretty soon it is not just dots that move or change, but all sorts of imaginative action which takes place on the page after the button. One year kids made power buttons to add to their block structures... with the results almost always being some kind of topple and crash. Such great fun... loud fun...  but great fun.

So there you have it. If you are toying with the idea of creating a makerspace in your classroom, or expanding one, I hope these three books give you some ideas and structure for teaching into the creating process. We read these books during regular read aloud time and the kids do the projects during free choice, or an occasional learning center, so everyone rotates through and tries out the new ideas. A class of little paper engineers is a wondrous sight to behold, and you'll love all the multifaceted learning which takes place.

I am so happy you stopped by for Teacher Book Talk Tuesday. Be sure to click below on any other blog links to read more book reviews. You might find books for students, books for teachers, or books for pure adult fun. And bloggers if you have book reviews of your own, just grab the button below and link yours to this post, and then back again.

See you later... and I do mean SEE YOU LATER! Our first of three giveaways starts in just two weeks. We'll be giving away a Flashlight Press book and ten dollar Amazon gift cards for each of the three giveaways that happen for three weeks.... you can buy some of the great books you're reading about, or anything else you want.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

A New Video for Mo and Bird Enthusiasts

Hello there. I'm sharing just one new creation today. I made a video for kids this time. I didn't start out to make a video for kids... I didn't start out to make a video at all, actually, but somehow these things just sort of drop on my lap... or my arm, shoulder, or head, I guess.

It started when I noticed a little hopping bird by our front porch... but I'll let the video tell the story. It is quite short– about four minutes. It will be good to use with your students when you teach about text-to-self connections, birds, wrens, or Mo Willems.

It was fun to make and I know my kiddos will get a kick out of it. I hope yours do, too. Just click on the picture up there and you'll go to my YouTube Channel to find it. While there, you can also see my classroom tour video that I just uploaded a couple weeks ago.

Scoot on back to Monday Made It and find MORE. Thanks, Tara, for your Fourth Grade Frolics link-up where I find so many great ideas.

Thanks for stopping by! Pin, Pin, Pin. And do know that I always comment back if you leave one :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Let Me Eat Cake– Chocolate, Please

Who doesn't like chocolate cake, especially this cake. This recipe has been on the blog for a while now, but it was on the "Other Stuff" page. I had intended to put more topics of interest there, but instead I'm reorganizing, and the "Other Stuff" page will soon become "Classroom Design." I post this chocolate cake recipe so it is not lost.

This is a favorite summer recipe. It can be made any time of year, but for me and my life, summer is the only time I have for random baking. And summer is less stressful than the school year so I can live a bit more healthfully and enjoy a piece of not-too-decadent cake. Like all posts on the blog, this is not written as just a straightforward recipe. Gotta throw in a little fun commentary. Life is lived in the small details after all, right?

Died-and-Went-to-Heaven Chocolate Cake

Yum, yum, yummy chocolate cake

This is a great, easy, low-guilt cake. Great because it is super moist thanks to buttermilk. Easy because it is made in a bundt pan and only needs a glaze to pour over top– not frosting to spread. And Low-Guilt because it only has 220 calories and 5 grams of fat, per slice, which is 1/16 of the cake. Here we go!

Ingredients for cake:
1 3/4 C flour
1 C sugar
3/4 C cocoa powder (Dutch Process)
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 baking powder
1 t salt
1 1/4 C buttermilk
1 C packed brown sugar
2 lg eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 C canola oil
2 t vanilla
1 C strong black coffee

Ingredients for icing:
1 C confectioners sugar
1/2 t vanilla
1 to 2 Tbs buttermilk, as needed so it pours and dribbles

Preheat the oven to 350°

Spray bundt pan with Pam and then flour. I don't have all silicon baking dishes by any means, but with this silicone bundt pan it is super easy to get cakes out.

I was married 25 years before I got my Kitchen-Aid Mixer. I only got it as a poor substitute for a spring break vacation, so it was not without it's sacrifice. But I do love it.

Note the Twin Terrors that live in the bowl... why? you ask... I have no idea. My husband got them for me for Valentine's day and threw them in there, and they just sort of took up residence. I think they are mostly there because the bowl was empty and any empty space in our house forms a vacuum which instantly fills itself. The Twin Terrors are not in ANYway reference to my younger identical twin brothers... nope... not at all... never crossed my mind.

BTW, if you have anyone living in your mixer, take them out before the next steps. grin.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder.

Stir together the buttermilk, brown sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla. Then add to dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes. This is where I REALLY appreciate the ol' Kitchen-Aid. After 2 minutes whisk in hot coffee until completely incorporated. This will for a very thin batter– not to worry!

Pour the batter into the prepped pan. Note I keep my silicone bundt pan on a small cooling rack as it makes the soft pan easier to handle and keep its shape. I lift the cake and rack and leave both in the oven to bake.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until the tester comes out clean.

Cool cake on rack for ten minutes and then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely.

Whisk the icing ingredients until pourable. Pour over the cake on the plate. I make this cake for my health conscious friends, and my not-so-health conscious friends, too... they get ice cream on top! :)

I would happily give credit to whoever I got this recipe from, but I have had it for a long while now and have no idea of the source. Whoever made it up– Thank you! I really think it is the buttermilk and coffee that give this cake its moist, rich flavor. I never buy buttermilk any other time, and can't really imagine that I'd like it straight up, but in this recipe– yummmm. And coffee? Well, everything in life is better with a little bit of coffee. It's kinda funny though, this cake does not taste like a mocha cake. It is just good, straight-up chocolate.


Thanks so much for stopping by for this non-typical, non-teacher post. I hope you'll swing by again... though you are not likely to find another cake recipe, there is a great oatmeal bake recipe hiding somewhere in these pages if you search. Next up on Monday, will be a new video I made. It's just a short one for the kiddos. Good for viewing to learn about fledgling birds and text-to-self connections, and Mo Willems There's a Bird on Your Head.  You just never know what the next post will hold.

See you next time.

This post first appeared on the Other Stuff page as Died-And-Went-To-Heaven Chocolate Cake on
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