NerdCampMI Lives Up to the Hype!

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NerdCampBanner2016Last week I traveled to Parma, Michigan for my first Nerd Camp. Nerd Camp (#nErDcampMI) is an event sponsored by Colby Sharp and his amazing wife, Alaina, with the help of the Nerdy Book Club members. The two-day un-conference featuring authors, illustrators, and expert educators was awesome, and I’m still on Cloud 9! The main reason I signed up for Nerd Camp MI was to finally meet Josh Funk, author of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (and the upcoming Pirasaurs! and Dear Dragon). I used this wonderful picture book in my 6th grade classroom last year, and some of my students got to know Josh through email. The kids were thrilled that an author would actually write back to them, and in May he even joined our class for a Google hangout, which was the major talk of the sixth grade class! Thank you, Josh! JoshFunkandMe0711016

My Twitter friend, Kelly Vorhis, knew of a place to eat dinner the night before camp, but she didn’t tell me that the Olive Garden would be the meeting place for tons of Twitter friends I’ve followed for so long! I met Lesley Burnap face-to-face and she even gave me a handmade book necklace — she’s so talented. Thank you, Lesley! As I sat there, talking to author Jess Keating and her husband Justin, I started to feel like I was living in a fiction book. How could a teacher from Indiana sit with all of these famous people and feel so comfortable? I’m a book nerd. I fit in here. This was my “tribe.” I’m so glad they all let me in.

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Nerd Camp itself was full of surprises. I had no idea that I lived just a few miles away from Kathy Burnette, librarian-extraordinaire! She was an inspiring keynote speaker and all-around beautiful soul. I am so lucky to now call her “friend.” Other speakers included Raina Telgemeier, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, and Pernille Ripp, who also told inspiring stories (and made me cry!). Then…surprise! Kate DiCamillo came to speak to us! What a wonderful opening! I don’t know how Mr. Sharp pulled that one off. I’m still reeling!

I met Debbie Ridpath Ohi, author of Where Are My Books? — she was so nice to me! She offered me Mitzi Tulane cookies and conversation, which I loved. (The cookies were delicious, and the book is the cutest!) I spent time with some of my favorite lit-world friends, Donalyn, Katherine Sokolowski, and many others. I ate lunch with Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin, authors of books about 9/11 that I will definitely use in my classroom this year. The fun did not end there! I saw Cardboard Schu in the lobby with the real John Schumacher (@mrschureads). I just had to get a picture. JohnSchuandCardboard071116DebbieOhiandMe071216

On Day 2, after adult learning sessions ended, the children came to Nerd Camp Jr. The evening was filled with mini-classes in writing for students of all ages. I signed up to help an author in a classroom, and I met Aimee Carter. Wow — She’s so cool! She told the kids about her book, Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den, and how she develops characters and plot in her series. Thank you for spending time with me, Aimee!

AimeeCartertalks071216Nerd Camp is over, but I still have so many ideas to mull over and books to read. My summer is going to fly by now, thanks to my nerdy friends. I will attend this event again — #nErDcampMI definitely lives up to the hype!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Relax, But Keep the Momentum

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Slice of Life Small LogoThis week is vacation week! The Fourth of July was relaxing and unexpectedly tranquil. Not in the sense that I was bored, but that there wasn’t a schedule of activities. We all just “went with the flow.” It was mellow. Ahh!

My brother-in-law and family rented a house in St. Joe, Michigan and invited us to visit. We got to chill out in a nice, big lake house (yes, I want one, too), walk down the sidewalk to the lighthouse/pier and test the waters with our toes (cold!). My granddaughter said, “There’s not big waves in Lake Michigan, Grandma.” Little did she know that days before, there were 8 foot waves! Family members played cards, ate, and talked all day and night. StJoeMIConcertlightonwater070416

As a trade for giving up our bean bag game for a while, we got to tour a Coast Guard boat. The two officers were thankful for the use of the game during their down time, so they allowed us to board the deck, cabin, holding room, and showed us the mechanicals, rescue equipment, and even let my granddaughter sit in one of the rescue seats down under the main cabin. How nice of them! CoastGuardBoatDeck070416

The fireworks show began late — past my bedtime! It was worth it! The bright colors in the black sky were impressive, and we saw it all right from the sidewalk of the house! Of course, the finale was awesome!

 

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you get to spend some summer days like mine. Boring? No. Relaxing, and restful.

 

Slice of Life: Read More

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Slice of Life Small LogoI remember sitting at the ILA conference (then it was IRA) in 2009, listening to Douglas Reeves talk about literacy research findings. He got all excited and leaned forward, looking right into the faces of the crowd of participants, and said, “[after years of research]…do you know what we found?”

We all looked at one another, and then fixed our eyes back on him. We wanted to know! He gave us the results: “The more you read, the better reader you become.” We looked at each other again. I said out loud, “That’s it? We knew that!”

In my opinion, many people, even in the field of education, do not seem to know that yet. It’s always been a wonder to me that a literacy focus in high-achieving schools allows students to have a better grasp, a better focus, higher achievement, than those schools who don’t offer wide reading opportunities. I read quite a bit, and I still struggle with vocabulary and fluency, so I cannot imagine how awful it would be for struggling readers who don’t have the skills needed to succeed.

As I plan for next school year, I renew my pledge to read in class every day, and allow my students to read, too. I don’t mean teach a lesson on comprehension strategies or give a list of vocabulary words for the week. I mean READ. Every. Day. That’s what students need. Students want to read. Students want to learn. Students want to succeed. And they can, IF they are provided every opportunity to read, learn, and succeed.

Read. Every Day. It’s that simple.

“The more that you read, the more things you’ll know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Packing For the Summer

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Slice of Life Small LogoI have packed for 2 days. “All personal belongings in classrooms must go home for the summer.” Principals are brilliant. They’re sneaky, and brilliant. Requiring teachers to go through their personal items makes reflection a required activity. It’s genius! After grumbling a bit about how to create room in my house for a classroom of books and materials, I started reflection time.

I looked at the bookshelves first. Giveaways for the kids! That was fun. I even had a few students say, “Really? I can keep this?” Sure! Once students were gone — off to their own summer vacations — I boxed the rest of the books up by genre. This made me reflect on the types of books I have in the classroom, and made me write a list of needs for the future. I kept thinking about #weneeddiversebooks. Then I started thinking of my friends Christina and Kari, and their wonderful blog post about cleaning up and moving on. (See their post, “Clean Sweep”, at www.teachertriathlete.com or www.simplyinspiredteaching.com.)

After the books were boxed and placed in the car, I started another task. Tough reflection. Each piece of paper, perusing and purging until my eyes ached. Good thing I had a large recycling bin in the room. I filled it three times. I stacked the rest of the files up on the counter. I asked myself, “Really, Jennifer? Do you need all of this?” Mostly I answered, “No,” because that piece of paper, or unit, or activity is on a jump drive (somewhere). I organized the files and boxed them up. One box. Not bad!

On to the computer. I cleaned out my desktop and saved everything I wanted on my jump drive. That small piece of plastic easily fit into my purse. No problem.

Now I’m ready for summer. Let’s get to the beach! (Silver Beach Pizza in St. Joe, MI is calling!)

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: OLW Checkpoint

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IMG_5345My One Little Word for this year met a fork in the road during the decision-making process, so I have two words: Dream and Do. My checkpoint for the 5 month mark made me marvelously excited!

  1. I dreamed of remodeling my house for years. We were finally able to DO the remodeling: kitchen/dining room paint, bedroom paint, furnace and air mechanics, and we put up a new roof! Progress!
  2. I dreamed of becoming a school librarian. I passed the courses, test, and added School Librarian to my NEW license!
  3. I dreamed of my children succeeding in school, and my youngest daughter graduated from high school last weekend.

I guess I picked the right word(s) this year! Thank you all for supporting me and sharing the joy!Slice of Life Small Logo

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Hard Work

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SliceofLifeSwagMarch2016Roofing is hard work. Remodeling is hard work. Cleaning is hard work. Teaching is hard work. Renewing a license is hard work. Taking classes online is hard work. Reading is hard work. (OK, that’s not true, in my case, but for my students it is.) I cannot wait to drink iced tea and enjoy my “new” home when this school year ends.

 

 

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Slice of Life Tuesday: What Independent Reading Looks Like in May

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Slice of Life Small LogoMany observers still do not realize what it takes for a teacher to offer independent reading during school hours. There are so many standards, so much curriculum, so many activities and projects to do before the school year ends. Many teachers ask, “How am I supposed to do independent reading, too?” I have employed a three-step process for the reading class in May that prove my students have learned the standards and can read independently during school hours.

Step One: Just Do It! Let’s face it. Tests are over. Students and teachers alike want to get down to the true business of learning now. I expect my students to “show what they know” in May. We have learned how to choose books, find a place to read, read with stamina and purpose, and talk about books with friends. My assessment? Their grade? “Read during reading time.” Period. Also, let the students CHOOSE. It’s important. They won’t have the teacher over the summer, and they need to know how to read on their own. Plus, assigned reading is boring (to students). They know what they like now. Let them live their own reading life.

Step Two: Keep it up! Teachers must be able to keep up with the times, especially in the classroom library. Our school library closes many days before school ends, so I must be willing and able to provide good reading materials for students all the way until the last day of school. My favorite way to gather books in May is through Scholastic Book Club bonus points and clearance sales. I save my bonus points (usually) until May, and then restock the classroom with fresh finds for students to enjoy as they wind down the school year. (Note: Garage sales start in May as well. Teachers can find reading books economically at these sales, although many titles are worn out. At least you can have them in the classroom for a little while! The public libraries sometimes have “Friends of the Library” sales in May, too. Check it out!)  IMG_4317BookStack030816

Step Three: Give a grade. Yes, I give grades in reading class in May. Don’t be afraid to assess independent reading time. Students must show that they remember and use the mini lessons, strategies, and standards that we spent all year learning. Grades are based on choosing a just-right book, finding a place to read, reading and talking about their choices, and conferring with a teacher. I’ll never forget the time (a long time ago) a student was recommending a book to me, and I missed the main character’s name during the conference. I asked, and the student replied, “That dude who was…” (I didn’t say this out loud, but I thought, “Dear! Unless the name of the main character was “Dude,” I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the book!”) My students know (this year) that 1) I’ve read the books (most of them), and 2) I will ask about theme, how the setting “sets” the mood of the story, how and why they think the characters change over time, and how many stars they would give the book (or “two thumbs up”). They know I love to read and I want to share reading time with them.  It’s supposed to be fun, but it’s still school.

Hint: As a reading teacher, the teacher is also responsible for reading during reading time, and sharing good books with students. Passion is powerful! (Lucy Calkins said that.) Read a good book today. What do you say?

 

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