Using Children’s Books to Improve Students’ Writing
Xiaoping Li and Ming Zhang, Central Michigan University
“This session presents various strategies of using children’s books to improve students’ writing. The presenters will (1) examine the benefits of using children’s books to improve students’ writing, (2) introduce various strategies to improve students’ writing through children’s book, and (3) involve participants in learning the strategies through hands-on-activities.”
Topic area: Writing Instruction; Of interest to: Later Elementary
Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) Writing from Knowledge and Experience, Grades 3-8 Holistic Score Point Descriptions: “6” (Macomb ISD)
Content and Ideas: The writing is exceptionally clear and focused; ideas and content are thoroughly developed with relevant details and examples where appropriate;
Organization: The writer’s control over organization and the connections between ideas moves the reader smoothly and naturally through the text;
Style/Voice: The writer shows a mature command of language including precise word choice that results in a compelling piece of writing;
Conventions: Tight control over language use and master of writing conventions contribute to the effect of the response.
Content and Ideas: Refer to concentration on the content and ideas of the piece of writing and to the development of the content and major ideas with appropriate details, examples, etc.
Shortcut by Donald Crews: Children taking a shortcut by walking along a railroad track find excitement and danger when a train approaches.
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco: A special teacher makes a word of difference for a young girl with dyslexia.
Jam & Jelly by Holly & Nelly by Gloria Whelan: Holly and her mother pick berries all summer in order to make enough money so that Holly can get a coat to wear to school in the winter.
Organization: Refers to the structure of a piece of writing with logical sequence: beginning, middle, and end; flow; cohesion; coherence; unity; effective leads; transitions and conclusions; sense of wholeness, etc.
Fables by Arnold Lopel: one-page fables.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: Max misbehaves and is sent to his room.
Magic School Bus Series by Joanna Cole: Mixture of fact and fiction in the classroom.
Where the Wild Things Are
Beginning: One night Max misbehaved and was sent to his room without eating anything.
Middle: That very night, Max dreamt that he became the kind of all wild things in a forest.
End: When he woke up, Max found his supper waiting for him.
Magic School Bus Series
Beginning: It all began when Ms. Fizzle showed our class a filmstrip about the human body.
Middle: The very next day, Ms. Fizzle made us do an experiment on our bodies. Then she…
End: At last, everything was quiet in Ms. Fizzle’s class -- everything, of course, except her dress! (Ms. Fizzle’s dress always provides a clue to the next adventure.)
Good beginnings draw the reader into a story.
Gather a selection of books with different beginnings, sometimes called leads, to share with your students. It is only necessary to read the beginning of each.
Discuss the different types of beginnings, then ask which one makes them want to hear the rest of the story and what that is so.
Have students select a previously-written narrative or begin a new one and write three beginnings for their stories, each of which uses a different approach.
Good models for beginnings;
Grandpas’ Teeth by Rod Clement: Soon after Grandpa’s teeth disappear from a glass beside his bed, the whole town is under investigation. (Beginning: the main character is speaking.) “’Help, I’ve been robbed!’ We hear Grandpa shouting. ‘It’sth a disthasthter! Come quickly!’”
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman: Grace is determined to be Peter Pan in the school play. (Beginning: introduces the character.) “Grace was a girl who loved stories. She didn’t mind if they were read to her or told to her or made up in her own head. She didn’t care if they were in books or movies or out of Nana’s long memory. Grace just loved stories.”
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily McCully: Mirette wants Bellini, the world famous high-wire walker, to teach her how to walk the high wire. (Beginning: setting.) “One hundred years ago in Paris, when theaters and music halls drew traveling players from all over the world, the best place to stay was a the widow Gateau’s, a boardinghouse on English Street.”
Not every ending words for every story.
Read books with different endings to the students.
Have students start a new story, or revise and old one, or try three different endings to see which works best.
Encourage students to use at least two or three sentences to bring the story to an effective ending.
The following books are good models for endings:
Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco: Grandchildren figure out how to get their grandmother a hat for Easter. (Ending: poignant.) “We lost Miss Eula some time back, but every year we take some chicken soup up to Mountain View and do just as she asked. Sometimes, when we are especially quiet inside, we can hear singing. A voice that sounds like slow thunder and sweet rain.”
The Relatives by Cynthia Rylant: The relatives come from Virginia and everyone has a wonderful time. (Ending: circular.) (Beginning: “It was in the summer of the year when the relatives came. They came up from Virginia.”) “And when they were finally home in Virginia, they crawled into their silent, soft beds and dreamed about the next summer.”
Style/Voice: Refers to the writer’s ability/attempts to engage and interest the reader through stylistic elements and techniques such as: descriptive detail, precise word choice, sentence variety, strong verbs, humor, figurative language, personal reflection, etc:
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst: Nothing goes right for Alexander. “Some days are like that.” Mom says.”
I’ll Fix Anthony by Judith Viorst: A little brother thinks of the way he will someday get revenge on his older brother.
Sentence fluency refers to varied sentence beginnings, varied sentence lengths, and varied sentence structures. These elements make the writing easy to follow and east to read aloud:
Brave Irene by William Steig: Irene braves wind, ice, and snow to deliver a ball gown.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig: In a moment of fright, Sylvester the donkey asks his magic pebble to turn him into a rock and then he can’t hold the pebble to wish himself back to normal again.
It is important to use models that show word choice appropriate to the purpose, audience, and content of the writing such as precise words, concrete nouns, and active verbs:
Amos and Boris by William Steig: A simple, matter-of-fact story about friends. “Swimming along, sometimes at great speed, sometimes slowly and leisurely, sometimes resting and exchanging ideas, sometimes stopping to sleep, it took them a week to reach Amos’s home shore. During that time, they developed a deep admiration for one another. Boris admired the delicacy, the quivering daintiness, the light touch, the small voice, the gemlike radiance of the mouse. Amos admired the bulk, the grandeur, the power, the purpose, the rich voice, and the abounding friendliness of the whale.”
Conventions refer to a writer’s presentation of a piece of writing through accurate and effective use of writing form including directionality, spacing, mechanics (capitalization, punctuation), grammar and usage, spelling, etc:
Punctuationg Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver: When all the punctuation marks in Mr. Wright’s class decide to take a vacation, the students discover just how difficult like can be without them.
Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka: Two lonely characters, one black and one white, meet on the street and become friends.
Speaking and writing should be connected -- talk with partners:
Read story aloud to students.
Partners or small groups share similar stories; students generate more (or initial) story ideas from listening to peers’ stories.
For four successive days, read books and have students share stories books remind them of -- log story ideas in writing notebooks.
Students select one of their four story ideas to develop into story.
Adolescent Literature Luncheon - Yes! We Do Want to Read
Laura Robb, Educator and Book Author, Differentiating Reading Instruction
Whole class differentiated workshop
Teaching text is used for Read Alouds
Independent reading texts are individually selected, leveled texts
Read at instructional level, but think at grade level.
Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) key indicators for success:
Long, diverse texts;
Leisure reading / independent practice (60 minutes per day; 40-60 books per year);
Attitude toward reading.
Volume matters. Students should read 30 minutes at school and 30 minutes for homework.
Four years to accumulate 400-700 books;
Range of 5-6 years.
Class time to read
Homework every night: 30 minutes reading;
Three times per week for instructional reading;
Twice per week for independent reading.
Provide time twice per week for students to update.
Reviewed in groups every six weeks.
Include reflections: analysis of authors, genres, number of books.
Raising Expectations and Results at the Classroom, School, and District Level: Creating Lifelong Learners
“Through stories of students, scenes from classrooms, and examples of students’ work, Regie Routman will discuss and demonstrate how to raise reading and writing achievement and enjoyment schoolwide. She will take you inside classrooms and schools where she teaches and coaches students, teacher, and principals and will show you what’s possible for even our most struggling learners.”
Of interest to: Early Elementary, Later Elementary, Literacy Coaches/Reading Specialists, Administrators
Tendency to set low expectations for minority and impoverished students.
Students must write for a specific audience and purpose.
Regie Routman is not a big fan of worksheets or centers.
Regie Routman maintains a reading log: date of completion, title, author, genre, self-rating.
“Teach it first, label it later.” Avoid using technical language -- have students write, and, after they master the skill, name the skill.
Celebrations: name every single thing a student does well with a piece of writing.
When a student writes a first draft, do not focus on spelling, etc. Publish books on the spot: student dictates story, teacher writes on book pages, student illustrates book afterwards.
Through reading and writing connections, all kindergarten students can read at year’s end.
Student brainstorms topics with teacher scaffolding support. Topic list evolves into student’s story. This is a realistic expectation for K-1 students. Students edit their stories by adding details while reading aloud.
In conferencing with students, provide specific feedback and focus on language choices.
Special education assessments for language minority students lead to special ed. placements 85% of the time. Even if the placement is inappropriate due to language barriers it can take up to six years for the student to be moved out of special education.
Reading and Writing Workshop Made Easy in Early Elementary
Michele Harga and Stephanie Isgrigg, Waterford Public Schools: Additional Handouts
“The purpose of reading and writing workshop is to promote a love for reading and writing, while scaffolding instruction to meet our learners’ specific needs. In the workshop, students participate in three areas: a mini-lesson conducted by the teacher, practice time, and sharing time. During workshop, students make choices about their reading and writing and are then allowed to be in control of their learning. The teachers participates as more of a coach or facilitator during workshop time by guiding and monitoring each student’s learning through conferences and reading groups.” Topic area: Writing Instruction; Of interest to: Early Elementary, Literacy Coaches/Reading Specialists
Reading Workshop Begin workshop with an explicit mini-lesson.
Classroom literacy block
Start reading workshop with music and movement (Jack Hartman)
Anchor charts - post photographs of classroom “experts” who demonstrate traits from mini-lessons; students learn which peers can assist them.
Puppetry helps young focus on mini-lessons.
Dr. Jean “Sing to Learn” CD.
Shared reading leads to success with active children.
Dick Ellington - kids need more books.
Writing Workshop Launching
Storytelling: send paper home to solicit story ideas from parents; provide specific categories: family activities, special people, pets, favorite books, sports, etc.
Talking, drawing, writing.
A Fresh Look at the Reading Workshop Framework - A Complete Literacy Program
Karen Bush and Beth Newingham, Troy School District
“Maybe you are a new teacher, a veteran teacher or somewhere in the middle. Wherever you are in your teaching career we are sure this fast paced session has something to offer you to enhance your literacy program! Come spend 75 minutes with us and we will share with you practical and interactive ways to get your kids actively engaged in reading. We will show you how to structure your literacy block using a reading workshop framework that meets the demands of all learners in your classroom. A wonderful packet to help you launch your workshop will also be handed out to everyone.
Topic area: Reading; Of interest to: Elementary, Preservice Teachers, Literacy Coaches / Reading Specialists; * Hand-outs have not yet been e-mailed by presenters 1. 5-15 minute opening
2. 40 minute independent reading / work period
3. 5-10 minute closing
Set class goals at beginning of year.
Build individual reading stamina.
Book boxes -- students should fill their individual boxes with a minimum of one week’s worth of books to read. Reader’s notebook kept in book box.
Contain a minimum of twenty books per student. Ideally, as students will progress through different reading levels, the library should provide twenty books per student at three different levels.
Books should be organized by genre and topic: color code: fiction, non-fiction, and chapter series; baskets with labels facing outward.
Books should be individually labeled to ensure return to appropriate baskets: name of basket (genre), library location (topic), color code (guided reading level).
Non-fiction books should account for 40% of collection.
Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Patton -- good illustration of how students learn to read at different levels.
Provides levels for organization of library:
Teacher Book Wizard
Spend about one month at the beginning of the school year to learn about readers:
Review data from previous year
Conduct reading interview
Conduct formal assessment with running record
Approximately 15-20 minutes to determine a student’s Independent Reading Level
Mini-lessons - 10 minutes long. Read Aloud previous day, then simply reference book in mini-lesson (students are familiar with story from previous day).
Types of conferences
Research, decide, teach
Reader’s notebook contents
Goals and progress
List of genres
Partnerships / book club memberships
Form reading partnerships with two students. Gradually merge two partnerships to create book clubs with four students.
Gay Su Pinnell - Building Bridges: From Struggle to Success
“Dr. Gay Su Pinnell will describe instructional approaches that help struggling readers of all ages, and how to create strong instructional designs for classroom and small group intervention. She will present interacting systems that bring educators together to support all students in achieving literacy success.” Seven things that matter for growing readers:
www.whatworksclearinghouse.com The Other Side
Pete and Pickles
Becoming Billie Holiday
Beneath My Mother’s Feet The Book of Lost Things
How Bear Lost His Tail
Friends (Orson and Taco series)
A Trip to the Laundromutt (Orson and Taco series)
Froggy The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Life’s Literacy Lessons by Steven L. Layne
Text sets connect a group of books by author/illustrator, genre, topic, theme, time in history, place, etc.
A predictable lesson format is beneficial for students.
Two-day framework for intervention lessons:
Rereading / revisiting text
Phonics / word work
Reading new text (instructional)
Reading new text (independent)
Writing about reading
I Wrote a Children’s Book. What Do I Do Now?
Lisa Wheeler - Children’s Book Author, Jazz Baby
“Have you dreamed of writing a children’s book? Have you written one and don’t know what to do next? Award-winning children’s author, Lisa Wheeler, will point you in the right direction. With helpful handouts, experienced advice, and face-to-face Q&A, Lisa will help you get your manuscript to market.”
Topic area: Literature; Of interest to: Later Elementary, Librarians; Strand: Author/Illustrator
Unless you are a professional artist, do not include artwork with manuscript. Illustrators are offended by authors’ suggestions for artwork.
Include a SASE with all publisher correspondence.
Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market (CWIM)
How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published by Barbara Seuling
Writing for Children and Teenagers by Lee Wyndham & Arnold Madison
The Art of Writing for Children by Connie Epstein
Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Connor
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Rhyming Dictionary, Thesaurus, Dictionary, and other reference books
Once Upon A Time
Children’s Writing Resource Center (www.write4kids.com)
Children’s Literature Resources (www.cynthialeitichsmith.com)
Harold’s Purple Crayon (www.underdown.org)
Lisa received 225 rejections over a four-year period before having a story accepted. One-fourth of everything she currently writes gets published.
Join Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Join a genre-specific critique group. Be careful: story ideas can be stolen by group members.
Literary agents are not required, but can be helpful; some publishers will not accept manuscripts from authors who do not have representation. Never pay agents up-front -- they are not reputable. Agent receives 15% commission if story is sold on author’s behalf; even if author ends relationship is agent, agent will continue to receive commission for any story sold while working together for lifetime of story publication.
Publishers are always looking for something fresh, new; attend regional literary events to meet young new agents who need to build client base.
Picture books are typically 300-500 words in length, but can run up to 900 words.
Never submit more than one story at a time. Acceptable to submit different versions of the same story idea -- submit separately.
Use Publisher’s Weekly to identify gaps in market.
Using Literacy Profile to See “The Big Picture” of K-4 Students’ Literacy Development
Susan Biggam, Professional Book Author, Literacy Profiles
“This session will provide an opportunity to explore a standards-based Literacy Profile, which can be used to gauge students’ progress across ten dimensions, and also to help plan next steps in instruction or intervention. We’ll talk about some different ways to use the Profile, and ways to get started. Participants will have an opportunity to use sample student assessment information to mark and annotate the Profile, and will leave this session with some practical tools for using assessment information to inform and adjust instruction.”
Topic area: Assessment; Of interest to: Early Elementary, Literacy Coaches/Reading Specialists, Administrators; Strand: Assessment
Goal of literacy profile: to provide a multidimensional, standards-based lens for looking and documenting a student’s literacy development over time.
Profile has its roots in a number of other documents and sources, including the work of Hill and Ruptic, resources from Frist Steps, and a team of educators in Vermont in the mid-1990s.
Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development
Gradual release of responsibility (Pearson and Gallagher, 1983)
Cambourne’s condtions of learning
Links to standards, instruction and assessment
Standards (“What” students need to know and be able to do)
State standards, grade level expectations
District and local curriculum expectations
Instruction (“How” students achieve expectations of Standards)
Core questions for each dimension, and a list of sample assessment tools
Seven columns that include indicators of development from pre-kindergarten through the end of grade 4 - based on standards and grade-level expectations from a number of states, as well as other resources
Ultimate goal: using the results of assessment to inform and adjust instruction or intervention.
If you want to closely monitor the progress of an individual child or a small group, identify two or three dimensions or strands that are a high priority for the student(s). Begin with the core questions, select, administer and analyze the assessments. Mark the profile and plan appropriate intervention.
If you are preparing an individual case study as part of a literacy course or a study group, begin with the core questions for each strand, select assessments to yield useful information, administer the assessments, analyze information and mark the profile. Recommend next steps.
If you are interested in exploring one or more strands of the profile with all of the students in the classroom, select one or two strands that are a high priority at the current time. Begin with the core questions, then select and administer assessments to all the students. Notice patterns, mark all students’ profiles, and plan next steps for instruction.
If you want to “just explore” the profile with one student, begin with one strand (or cluster) with one student. Select assessments, administer them, analyze them with a colleague and consider next steps.
Data Team Meetings: Possible Outline
Note the focus of the assessment information being investigated; what skills and concepts are being assess?
Look at the assessment data, student work (informal or formal); sort:
Work that is proficient or beyond
Work that is nearly proficient
Work that “has a ways to go”
Notice what the student(s) can do and what needs work. What patterns can be seen (e.g., different performance from boys and girls? Low or high SES? Those who finished and those who did not? Students new to the school versus “stayers”) Difficulty with one portion of the assessment vs. another? Areas of strength? Any possible misconceptions? Areas that need work? Other?
2. Decide: What next steps will be most productive? What strategy/strategies might make sense and be feasible?
3. Plan for follow-up:
What “SMART goal” (specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, realistic, timely) can we set? (e.g. “By May 2009, 75% of the students in this third grade class will score “3” as measured on the on-demand prompt about the author’s message in an informational text piece - scored by a holistic rubric.” OR “By November 2009, 4 out of 5 students in this group of first graders will be able to segment phonemes in simple c-v-c words, as measured by the Formative Assessment of Phonological Processing.”)
When will we get together again? What data/assessment information should we bring? (What will be looked at, and what, in particular, will we be noticing?) Who will facilitate the next meeting? Who will record notes?
Third General Session
Katie Wood Ray - Rethinking the Role of Teacher Modeling: Allowing Our Students to See in Us What We Hope For in Them
“Katie Wood Ray believes that inviting students into a lifetime of literacy means that teachers must be intentional about showing children what a literate life entails. Teacher modeling, then, is about much more than just demonstrating lessons. It’s about all the ways teachers live alongside their students in classrooms.” Writing workshop (predictability)
Collect good examples of text of what we want to study.
Immersion in reading/writing about texts.
Study some closely until articulate about HOW people write this kind of thing.
Writers need to get a sense of both genre and the craft of writing as they read.
ELL Students and Modified Literacy Strategies = Success!
Casey L. Gordon, Kent Intermediate School District
“We know that literacy strategies are great for our students, but how can we make them more effective for English Language Learners? Popular literacy strategies can easily be modified to accommodate the unique needs of ELL students. Participants will examine the text and content that can create difficulty for ELLs and learn how to adapt strategies for specific purposes.” Topic area: Adolescent Literacy, Content Area Literacy; Of interest to: Later Elementary, Middle School, High School, Literacy Coaches/Reading Specialists Special Educators
ELL (English Language Learner) students may be:
Citizens, refugees, migrants, or internationally adopted; 2/3 of ELL students are U.S. citizens.
Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)
Bilingual, trilingual, or more
Literate, pre-literate, or not exposed to literacy
Majority are 2nd and 3rd generation (Spanish, Arabic)
Large immigrant communities (Vietnamese, Bosnian, Albanian, Hmong)
Large migrant communities
Refugees (Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services based in Michigan)
Aspects of literacy
What are their first language literacy experiences?
Reading and writing (most challenging students are those who did not learn to read or write in primary language)
What are their second language experiences?
How long in U.S. schools?
What kind of language program?
Second language acquisition is different
Not fixed process or timeline
First language literacy experience is critical
Dependant upon 1st language structure
Dependant upon type / length of exposures
Typical literacy strategies
Activate prior knowledge and build upon background information
Activating prior knowledge does not equal building background.
Ask students to classify/clarify/decide
Similarities, differences, and groupings are linguistic and cultural
Clarifying the intent of the author or the understanding of the student requires proficiency
Synthesizing information and forming an opinion or decision requires specific language structures
Input skills develop faster than production skills in 2nd language -- students cannot articulate what they know
Adult Literacy Luncheon - From Resistance to Resilience: Engaging Young Adults in Reading and Literacy
Alfred Tatum, researcher and author of Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males
“After years of research and observation, this professor from University of Illinois at Chicago and IRA board member delivers a throught-provoking message about understanding the motivation and skill needs of students. As researcher and author of Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males, Tatum has impressed educators across the nation. Open to all.”
* Hand-outs have not yet been e-mailed by presenter