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Tools of the Trade: Poetry (Reading) Out Loud

by Kelly Virgin

This week my students and I are celebrating National Poetry Month by reading poetry the way I believe it is meant to be read – out loud. Using the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition for inspiration, we are enjoying our own poetry reading competition (I removed the added pressure of memorizing the poems).

Our week started by finding inspiration in poetry recitations. We spent a class period watching, noticing, and discussing past Poetry Out Loud winners and finalists. Presenters such as John Uzodinma  and Cennemi Diaz showed us how to alter our voices, change our expressions, and use our gestures to communicate the deep and varied emotions found in poems such as “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn.

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Next, we spent time sifting through some of the resources available on the Poetry Out Loud website. After investigating in pairs, students reported out on the resources they found most helpful: the online anthlogy of poems, the tips on physical presence, voice, and articulation, and the collection of recordings of actors and poets discussing and reading poetry were mentioned several times. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: A Summer Writing Institute and Endless Possibilities

By Lynne R. Dorfman

There are lots of things that are right about education today. Teachers and students are reading more and interacting more with parents, students and fellow teachers. One way to interact with colleagues in your own school and with colleagues from across the country is to participate in professional development opportunities such as ILA and NCTE.  A few years ago, Stacey Shubitz, Rose Cappelli, and I attended a workshop offered by Highlights Foundation. Highlights offers workshops for writers year round. But there are many stellar conferences in our own backyards. For me, PCTELA and KSRA in October and our PAWLPday in March promise to offer incredible venues that cannot be overlooked or dismissed. On May 12th, the Philadelphia Reading Council of KSRA and the Alpha Upsilon Alpha Chapter of Saint Joseph’s University offer their spring literacy conference: And Joy for All: Using Poetry to Bring Happiness to Your Daily Teaching. Janet Wong is the keynote speaker.  I will make time to attend all these events.  Last week, I facilitated two sessions at a Best Practice Summit in Boyertown Area School District. So many Boyertown teachers K-12 were facilitating sessions, and there was an air of excitement and commitment throughout the day. Good things are happening.  Read more

Periods. From the Writer’s Point of View

by Elizabeth Hale

Ever since I can remember, teachers have lamented about their students’ use of periods, or rather, the lack thereof, especially teachers beyond the primary grades.  After all, their students have been hearing about using periods for almost half their life! These teachers certainly talked about periods and taught lessons about them, but the reminders of “Don’t forget to end your sentences with periods!” just never seemed to stick.

One reason is that we were all giving the same advice we got in elementary school of why we should use periods: “The reader needs to know when to stop and take a breath.” But this advice is from the reader’s perspective, not the writer’s. And the truth is, unless someone is reading writing out loud, “the reader” doesn’t need to take a breath! When I put myself in the shoes of a fourth or fifth grader, I saw this generations old advice was just not that convincing.

So how do periods benefit the writer?  Once I slowed down the thought process of constructing a sentence—raising my pencil or finger on a keyboard to make a little dot—it came to me:  periods help writers take a pause before writing their next sentence.  This pause is a gift because it can be a vehicle for attending to the writerly advice teachers give all the time, “Don’t forget to add details and description!”  With Memoir, students already have rich details of sound, color, shape, and texture in their minds: it’s just a matter of taking the time to pause and “see” them again in their mind so they can put them in their writing. So rather than just remind students to add details, we can show them the thought process, guided by those periods, of bringing details into writing.

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From the Classroom: Personalized Mentor Texts to Inspire and Elevate Student Writing with Independent Reading Books

This month’s From the Classroom post comes from Lauren Heimlich Foley, a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Holicong Middle School in Central Bucks School District. If you feel inspired after reading Lauren’s post on mentor texts, please comment below and also consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog. Click here to learn more.


GRADE / SUBJECT

7th Grade English Language Arts

LENGTH

Approximately 20-25 minutes occurring throughout the school year

PURPOSE

Last year, I devoured The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini: his books became a constant source of inspiration—fueling my writing, providing minilesson examples, and driving book talks. When I shared Paolini’s ideas, style, conventions, and craft with my students, I modeled how to “read like a writer,” and in turn, my seventh graders began noticing and emulating the way the authors of their Independent Reading Books wrote.

During one writing conference, Caleb declared, “I want to experiment with one-word sentences like in Hatchet.” Skimming the book’s pages, he pointed out “Divorce” and “Secrets” and explained, “Gary Paulsen uses these words to build questions, mystery, and suspense for readers.” The next day he shared his mentor text and revisions with the class as our minilesson. Caleb’s final poem highlighted five words: “Victory. Freedom. Peace. Unity. Hope.” In his reflection, he stated, “The best part about [Paulsen’s] writing is the one-word sentences he adds in. It creates emphasis on the words. I [accentuated] the words of what the [Allied] soldiers [on D-Day] are fighting for because to them these words are really important.”

Intrigued by the power of personalized mentor texts, I considered ways to foster independent reading as a writing tool and dedicate instructional time to observing word choice, voice, sentence fluency, and other stylistic decisions in students’ individual books. Additionally, I wanted to create more opportunities for students to teach one another, take charge of their learning, play with writing, consider risks, and become stronger readers and writers.

NOTE: This lesson can be adapted to use with any text:

  • Fiction, nonfiction, or poetry
  • Whole-class, book club, or independent reading
  • Any age and reading level (picture book, YA novel, or adult book)

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Tools of the Trade: March Madness

By Rita Sorrentino

I always enjoy the transition from one month to another. I delight in turning the pages on my wall calendar with a feeling of newness, encouragement and opportunity. Even now, while I do value the convenience of managing time and productivity with digital devices and tools, I still hang on to a yearly calendar. Its lovely colorful images beautify the wall space and my preference to keep it unmarked reminds me to take a long view of what matters.

When March arrived a few days ago I remembered a verse from a poem I learned in my elementary school days, “March brings breezes, loud and shrill, to stir the dancing daffodil” (The Garden Year by Sara Coleridge). It’s similar to the familiar “lion and lamb” predictions for unpredictable March. Both shed light on our yearning for longer warmer days and colorful surroundings.

My gran Read more

Books on the Blog: Brave Clara Barton

Review by Lynne Dorfman

Frank Murphy’s latest Step Into Reading biography is a cradle to grave story about Clara Barton. Frank, a sixth grade teacher in Council Rock School District in Bucks , Pennsylvania, loves the research behind a good story. Frank tells us of Clara’s shyness on the very first page, in part, because she spoke with a lisp.  He shows us how all her family members taught her something different and important.

Clara became a teacher of a one-room schoolhouse in New Jersey.  The school grew to be big, and Clara wanted to become principal, but the position was given to a man instead. When the Civil War began, Clara helped injured soldiers on the battlefield, even though many men felt women had no place there.

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