Hunting for Treasure

"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."–Walt Disney

exhausted but excited—parent conferences a SUCCESS! November 5, 2009

thumbs upIt’s 7:30, and I just got home from night two of parent conferences.  My team partner and I had about 60% of our kids represented….that’s terrific for middle school!  As exhausted as I am, I’m also excited about how well conferences went.  My efforts on teaching my kids how to choose books for themsleves, as well as my focus on matching books to kids has been working!  I had a number of parents comment on how they’ve noticed changes in their child’s attitude about reading.  They’ve noticed more reading at home and requests for purchasing specific titles.  I was so happy to get this news, and motivated to continue on the path I’ve been on.  I still have a few nuts to crack, but tonight I received a lot of feedback from parents on possible ways to do the “cracking”!  I also plan  to reread the advice Janet Allen gives about the “I’d rather” and “I don’t care” readers in Yellow Brick Roads:  Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12.  It is my goal to guide my “I’d rather” and “I don’t care” readers into a love for reading.  It can be done!


Persuasive writing resources November 3, 2009

writingIn my district, part of the 6th grade curriculum is to write a persuasive paper.  I’m planning on working with my class on persuasive writing next month.  This year I want to steer a different direction with my persuasive writing projects, so I’ve been on the hunt for fresh ideas.  The first place I stopped on my hunt  is  the website WritingFix, which is hosted by the Northern Nevada Writing Project.  I’ve visited this site many times, so I knew I would find some good stuff.  I really hit the jackpot!  They’ve  posted lots of new ideas related to persuasive writing since my last visit.  There are too many ideas to mention, so take a look for yourself. 

I’ve also been thinking about mentor texts that I could use related to persuasive writing, and I’ve decided on two:

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

As a preteaching activity, just to put a little bug in my kids’ ears about persuasive writing, I used the poem “The Dirtiest Man in the World” by Shel Silverstein for our Friday poem last week.  After we read it together, my class and I discussed reasons why Dirty Dan should take a bath.  With a partner, the kids wrote a letter to Dirty Dan, trying to persuade him to clean up.  The letters were hilarious! It was a quick way to get them thinking about persuasive writing.


Update on reading logs. November 2, 2009

Filed under: Reading — jenucdavis @ 8:00 pm
Tags: ,


books with stars

It’s been a few days since I blogged…..I’ve had the end of quarter blues!  I’m sure you can empathize!  But, I managed to get all of my grades entered last night, so it’s all good.  Now on to quarter two!

A couple of weeks ago I blogged on my frustration with reading logs.  My goal was to have an alternative to reading logs by 2nd quarter, and I think I’ve found one.  I’ve decided to try a reading contract of sorts.  I have set certain goals the students have to reach in order to receive an A, B, C etc. for their Independent Reading grade.  So, for example, if they want to earn an A for their IR grade, they must read a total of five books (at least 150 pages long) for the quarter.  To earn a B, students must read at least 4 books, for a C, three books, etc.  I really struggled with whether or not I should attach a grade to the book requirement, but they earned grades for the reading logs, and I just felt like at this point I wanted to have a grade attached to it.  I also felt like five books for an A was setting the bar low, but since this is my first time trying it, I’m going to start with that baseline and go from there.  My ultimate goal is to have the kids decide how many books they will read each quarter.  The student choice piece is important to me, but at this point, I feel like the kids need some guidance.  When I told the kids about this change last week, they seemed much more enthused with this method over logs, mostly because they realized they would no longer have to worry about parent signatures and recording page numbers!  In addition to that, they could only count miuntes read outside of school with the reading log, so the kids were excited that the books they read during class would count. 

So, how am I going to keep up with this?  Monitoring is a weakness of mine, so I really had to have a plan in my mind.   I usually complete conferences with kids each week, and when I do that, I always write down the book title and page number they’re on.  I’ve also given the students a list of options of post-reading activities to choose from when they complete each book.  For each finished book, they must choose one of the options to complete. 

As I wrote earlier, my hope is that after this quarter, the kids will see how easy it is for them to read five books in nine weeks, and that they will be able to set their own goals next quarter (with my guidance of course!).  My students and I had an interesting discussion of how important it would be to pick “just right” books if they wanted to achieve an A  for their IR grade.  One of my students noted that if you chose all challenge books, it would take you longer to read because the books would be too hard.  Her advice to the class was to make sure that they use the five finger method  to help them choose “just right” books.  Everyone agreed that if they were choosing  just right books, they’d be able to earn an A for their IR grade.  I was happy to hear them make that connection!

I will keep you updated on how this is working…..




Raising bookworms October 27, 2009

Filed under: Reading — jenucdavis @ 4:34 pm

book wormToday I had one of the best experiences I’ve had since I started teaching 6th grade.  This morning I took my reading class on an impromptu trip to the library.  Before we went, I told them they could bring their book with them to read or they could use the last minute opportunity to browse the stacks and check-out books.  Now, typically what happens with my 6th graders is we’ll go to the library, and everyone races to the section of the stacks where the Guiness Book of World Records books are located.  Then they begin to argue over who’s going to get to look at the Guiness Books this time, and the kids who don’t make the cut go find a place to do the “fake read”, which I’m sure we’ve all observed at some point in our teaching career. 

Well, I am so EXCITED to tell you that today not a single kid went hunting for the Guiness Books.  They all made a beeline to the fiction section, looking for new books to add to their “To Read” list.  They actually used the librarian and me as a resource!  And not just one or two kids were doing this, but all of them!  They were sharing books with each other, recommending titles that they enjoyed.  I just couldn’t believe what I heard and saw.  It really made my day!

So what’s different this year than the other three years I’ve taught 6th grade?  I have put a tremendous amount of time into modeling and teaching the kids how to find good books.  I have bookshared with them almost every day since school began.  I have carved out the time to make sure that I am helping kids find the best books for them.  Today I saw that my focus in this area is really paying off.  Changing my way of teaching reading has taken a lot of time and effort on my part so far this year, but I must say that today was a heck of a reward for all the hard work!


My top five, all time favorite, can’t live without picture books October 26, 2009

When I taught first grade, I spent my weekends rummagaing through yard sales, thrift stores and used books stores (stop by McKay’s if you’re ever in Tennessee) searching for the best books for my class library collection.  It was so much fun to come to school on a Monday morning and share the books I discovered over the weekend to my 1st graders.  A few years ago when I moved from Tennessee to Idaho,  it was a lightning  fast move, and I had to leave many of my beloved books behind.  I’m still mourning the loss.  However, there were a few titles that I made certain would join me in the cross-country journey.  Here is a list of those books, and how I use them in my classroom…

*  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, Illustrations by John Schoenherr

Every year my kids and I write memoirs, and Owl Moon is one of the books I use as a mentor text in this study.  When I read this book, the kids go deep into a dream-like state, totally mesmorized by Yolen’s words and Schoenherr’s illustrations.  This book helps them recognize the value in simple memories.   I also use this book to teach setting/mood in my Reading class. 

The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Stephen Gammell and When I was Young in the Mountains, also by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode

Cynthia Rylant is a genius as far as I’m concerned.  Her writing inspires my students and me.  I use both of these books as part of my memoir study, but I also use them to model making connections with a text in my Reading class.  When I read these two treasures to my class, I always get a lot of smiles.  This year, I included The Relatives Came in a mini-lesson on leads, and I plan on using it as a model for circular endings.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Who doesn’t love Chrysanthemum?  This book is a great one to use for modeling text connections, as well as teaching theme.  I also used Chrysanthemum in a lesson taken directly from Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Know-How.  For days I  heard kids wandering around the classroom whispering their names to themselves, just like Chrysanthemum does in the book.  Yes, a little creepy, but I took that as a sign they liked the story!

* The 10th Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Eric Blegvad

This book did not accompany me on my cross-country trek, as I just discovered it a few months ago.  It’s been around since 1987, though.  This year I used it as inspiration in English.  I read the book to my class, then we created our own “The 10th good thing about”  lists.  Some kids wrote about a pet, others wrote about a family member or a sport.  I also plan on using this book to show the connection between setting and mood later on this year.  It could easily be used as a book to teach text connections and inferencing as well.

If you’re looking for more interesting ways to use these books, check out these websites I recently discovered…

Maury County Schools, Tennessee literacy coaches website:

David Stoner’s Writing Workshop:

Scribd website: If you visit this site, type mentor texts into their search box and take a look at all of the goodies they’ve got!


Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn October 25, 2009

deep and dark and dangerous scholasticIt’s interesting to observe how my students’ reading interests influence each other in class.  At the beginning of the year, I had a couple of kids bring in ghost stories for their independent reading, and I’ve watched as these books have been borrowed and passed around within our class.  They can’t seem to get enough of  a good ghost story!  When it came time to place my latest book order with Scholastic, I made sure to include Deep and Dark and Dangerous  by Mary Downing Hahn on my list.  Since it’s a mysterious ghost story, I was sure my kids would like to have it in our class library. 

13 year-old Ali has been invited to spend the summer with her Aunt Dulcie to help take care of her younger cousin Emma at their family’s newly renovated summer cabin on a lake in Maine.  It’s the first time in many years anyone in the family has spent time there, and, despite her mother’s wariness about the cabin, Ali decides to accompany her aunt and cousin anyway.  While there,  Ali and Emma meet a  girl, Sissy, who causes more trouble than she is worth.  Emma quickly becomes friends with Sissy, which causes tension and fighting among the girls.  Although Sissy is mean, Ali can’t help but be intrigued by the mysterious girl who won’t divulge where she lives, who her parents are, or even her last name.  Ali sets out to uncover the mystery of just who Sissy is, and what she finds out is a surprise to her whole family.

Initially, I found the book to be slow, but once I got past the first couple of chapters, I found myself really getting into it.  I carried the book around with me in my purse to sneak in a few pages here and there as my husband and I drove around town running errands this weekend!   As an adult, the book was predictable.  However, a child would find the story to be  mysterious and a page turner.   It’s a fast read that allows kids to practice prediction and inferencing.  I’m quite certain that after I finish sharing this book with the class on Monday, there will be more than a few kids adding this to their “To Read” list!


Genre Study October 22, 2009

Filed under: Reading — jenucdavis @ 7:50 pm

The 6th grade Language Arts curriculum in my district includes a unit of study on literary genres, and that’s what my lessons have been focused on this past week.  To help me teach about genres, I used many of the resources on Michigan teacher Beth Newingham’s website.  If you haven’t been to this site, you’ve got to visit.  I’ve taught third, first and sixth grades, and I’ve used many of the resources she provides in all of the grades I’ve taught.  She’s fabulous!  Her activity “Name that Genre!” inspired me to provide an opportunity for my kids  to apply the information they’ve learned about genres with a visit to our school library.  I gave each child a copy of a genre hunt sheet  and explained to them that they would be hunting for books related to the genres on the hunt sheet.  When they found a book that they would be interested in reading, they had to determine the genre of the book, and record the book title and author’s name under the correct genre on the hunt sheet.  The goal was to try and find books of interest across all genres. 

We spent about 30 minutes in the library on this activity, and the kids were really engaged.  Our media specialist was a tremendous asset during this lesson.  Between the two of us, we were able to work one-on-one with kids, matching books that would fit their interests and levels across all of the genres.  Towards the end of the period, one of my kids rushed up to me, excited that he had ACTUALLY DISCOVERED  a historical fiction book he wanted to read!  I asked him why he thought he’d like it so much, and he explained that Mrs.  D, our media specialist, had picked it out just for him when he told her that he liked mystery but not historical fiction.  He described his book as  “mysterious historical fiction.”  Pleasantly surprised he announced,  “It’s two for the price of one!”  That’s when I knew this lesson was a keeper!