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Singing, Playing, Laughing and Reading and Writing, Of Course! Back to School with "The Seals on the Bus!"

A Back to School Mentor Text Link-Up of literacy blog posts and FREE products from The Reading Crew.

I'm joining The Reading Crew for a Back To School Mentor Text Link-Up.  I've chosen to write about integrating our language arts teaching, K-2, using the fun book The Seals on the Bus by Lenny Hort.  (Note:  I've created a free downloadable packet containing more detailed information about the activities below.  It also contains the corresponding printables.  More details at the end of this post.)

The Seals on the Bus makes a great mentor text for innovating on a language pattern (see another post I wrote about that process here).  The text is based on the traditional "Wheels on the Bus," but instead of the story/song we know, all kinds of animals board the bus alongside the understandably nervous human passengers.  It's great fun to read and sing the words in the book, for example:  "The vipers on the bus go 'HISS, HISS, HISS!'...all around the town." K-2 students are highly engaged singing/reading, making the animal noises, and enjoying the details in the hilarious pictures (Watch out for those skunks!).  Given the familiarity most children have with "The Wheels on the Bus," this is an ideal text for beginning the school year since students experience a high degree of success while reading.

A logical extension of reading this book aloud (multiple times!) is interactive shared reading.  In the packet I mentioned, I made word and sentence cards teachers can enlarge and use in a pocket chart.  Then, as the class enjoys the text again, students can be prompted to use their phonemic awareness and phonics skills to find the correct words and substitute them on the chart as they move along in the text (as seen in the photos below).
A Back to School Mentor Text Link-Up of literacy blog posts and FREE products from The Reading Crew.

A Back to School Mentor Text Link-Up of literacy blog posts and FREE products from The Reading Crew.

But, why stop there?  As I read The Seals on the Bus this year, I was inspired to write a poem related to the book.  I explained to students how this is Reader Response:  sometimes you love something you've read so much, you just have to write about it.  Or, something you read puts thoughts in your head that you'd simply like to write down and remember.  Those are forms of reader response.  The poem is pictured here and is included in the packet in both color and black and white versions.  It could be enlarged for shared reading, and/or copies made to put in students' poetry folders for reading and rereading  (We all know this a favorite way to build fluency!).
A Back to School Mentor Text Link-Up of literacy blog posts and FREE products from The Reading Crew.

Certainly all this reading inspires writing!  Innovating on this text is simple.  I asked students to think of an animal that WAS NOT on the bus in the book.  What sound would that animal make or what would that animal do?  First we used a sentence frame to share our ideas orally (The _____________ on the bus go _______________________.).  Then, students were invited to create their own page for a class book through independent writing.  I modeled writing a few pages at the writing stages appropriate for the class.  Then, students were ready to write their own!   More emergent students drew/labeled while others wrote sentences.  Here are a few kindergarten examples:
A Back to School Mentor Text Link-Up of literacy blog posts and FREE products from The Reading Crew.

A Back to School Mentor Text Link-Up of literacy blog posts and FREE products from The Reading Crew.
"The beavers on the bus go 'chomp, chomp, chomp.'"

No matter the grade, (kindergarten included!) I always invite students to "write more" if they'd like.  After all, you never know what they might be inspired to do!  Some children may want to write their own individual books about animals on the bus or something else related to the reading.  In any case, when students finish their writing, we always take time to share.  I detailed ideas about sharing in the packet, along with bridging the reading to Shared and Interactive writingHere's a link to a short video showing interactive writing in process, if you're not familiar with the technique.  

I plan to make additions to the downloadable (Get it here!)  If you don't have a TPT account and would like a copy of the pdf, you can email me at janielwag@hotmail.com and I'll send it to you.

Follow the links in the link-up below to other blog posts by the literacy experts in The Reading Crew.  Each contains a free downloadable that goes along with the Back To School Mentor Texts featured.

AND, great news!  Enter the Rafflecopter below for chances to win a copy of every book featured in the posts!  Entries accepted through next Friday.

Finally, our link-up is supporting a "Go Fund Me" page for teachers from Texas who have experienced devastation from Hurricane Harvey.  We hope you'll consider contributing to this "Teachers Helping Teachers" cause.

Thank you and, as always, I welcome your comments and feedback.  Have a happy reading/writing/thinking day!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

When Teachers Say Students Don't Want to Write...

Happy Saturday!
Blog Post by Janiel Wagstaff:  Boosting Students' Motivation to Write + Book Giveaway
We just completed our first full week of school in addition to our three days last week.  It's such a busy and exhausting time for teachers, but Friday afternoon I sat down with two fourth grade teachers at their request.  They were concerned that now, after only 8 days in, they see very low student motivation for reading and writing in their classrooms.  In fact, they gave the students a baseline writing assignment and found some who wrote nothing at all, and several who wrote just a few sentences.  Of course, priority number one now becomes getting these students to love reading and writing, see them as purposeful acts that enrich and inform their lives, and building their sense of a literate community.

It just so happens that on Thursday of this week, Stenhouse published a blog I wrote about using students' writing as mentor texts.  Part of that post speaks to the profound effect this strategy has on students' motivation to write, how it boosts their confidence, and how it helps lift their sense of community.  Even though the post was written about lessons using peer writing for teaching in first grade, the lessons apply to all grades.  (See the post here.) When teachers say, "My students don't want to write," we have to ask, "Where have you started?  What short-term goals are you working toward?"  Students initial experiences with writing in any grade should involve choice and relevance.  Teachers write right alongside students and share their stories, information, and thinking.  What is written MUST be celebrated; students' voices validated through sharing inside and outside the classroom walls.   The way we respond to one another's writing is critical.  We have to really listen; really care about what writers are trying to say and show this in the way we respond. Using the students' own texts for teaching is just one strategy that augments these efforts.  It is a natural extension of the work we do as we build a sense of writing community:  "We are writers.  We are all growing together, side-by-side.  Our work is valuable.  Our work matters.  We learn from one another inside this strong community.  We celebrate each other's efforts."  Over the years, I've written many posts that have helped me reflect on such matters.  I'll include links to a few of those at the end of this post.    

In celebration of my Stenhouse post, I'm hosting a book giveaway:  5 copies of my book, "We Can Do This:  Student Mentor Texts That Teach and Inspire, K-2."  The giveaway is open through 7PM, ET, Sunday, September 3.  If you'd like to enter, click here.

It's the most wonderful feeling when we know students are excited about their reading and writing.  What power the teacher holds in making this a reality!

Best to you as you embark on your reading/writing/thinking journey this year!    
As always, I welcome your comments, questions and feedback!
Here are some pertinent links, as mentioned above:

Collaboration: Self-Reflection Plus Two Skills Assessment Rubrics

I'm working on growing my teaching skills for 21st Century Learning. My first formal introduction to such skills was through Tony Wagner's book The Global Achievement Gap and I've recently been reading his Creating Innovators.  Additionally, I'm taking courses in the Microsoft Educator Community.  Reflecting on how 21st Century Learning is defined (which varies a bit from source to source),* I believe as a teacher of almost thirty years, I've always valued purposeful, student-led learning, collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and communication.  Still, there is a lot to keep thinking about and growing into, especially considering our ever-changing technologies and our students' unprecedented global access.  I've just completed a course on collaboration through the Microsoft Educator Community which helped me think deeper about how much of my work with students has truly been as 'collaborative' and 'student-led' as it can be.  Yes, I've had students work in groups with what I thought was shared responsibility and choice, but I think I can stretch by giving groups even more decision making power over their content, process, and/or product. Additionally, I'm investigating ways to ensure student collaborative work is 'interdependent'--that they have to rely on one another for the group to succeed and their parts come together into a cohesive whole (whether that's a presentation, event, project, or other).  One way to guide these efforts is by having clearly defined goals which I've put together in two 'Collaboration Skills' Rubrics.  One is for self-assessment and one is for group assessment.  I really prefer working with students to create rubrics or success criteria, but I believe these will remind me of the direction we're going...that is in the direction of more student-responsibility and the active building of collaboration skills.  (Obviously, as we work with these rubrics, or something like them, we would have to define what each of these criteria looks and feels like in order for students to be successful.  Even so, we teachers have to trust in the process and our students and in the truth that they will grow into these skills with practice.  Remember, embrace approximation.  Make mistakes, debrief, and learn.  That goes for all of us.)

As I work with my K-6 students this year, I'd like to take more risks and give over more of the learning power.  When I strive to do this, I'm often surprised and excited about the results.

Here are the rubrics.  I'd love some feedback.  The google doc link is for both.  #happycollaboration #happylearning
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff:  Reflecting on collaboration.  Links to two collaboration rubrics are included.

Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff:  Reflecting on collaboration.  Links to two collaboration rubrics are included.

*Depending on the source, 21st Century Learning Skills include:  collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, self-direction, visual learning, information literacy, and global and cultural awareness.

My New YouTube Channel

Janiel Wagstaff Youtube Channel and links to other videos
Click the picture to visit my YouTube channel.
     I'm excited to announce I finally started a YouTube channel!  As of now, I've uploaded the Stella Writes an Opinion book trailer and short book talks for the other three books in the Stella Writes series (narrative, informational, and poetry).  I hope to add other instructional videos.  There are already some of these posted by different entities that show snippets of my teaching demonstrations. Given they were uploaded by Scholastic and BER, I can't feature them on my channel.  However, I'll paste the links below.

     I hope you'll take a look at the book talks (these are brand-new)!  I posted the book trailer on a few social media sites, but this is its debut on YouTube.  Woot! 

    I'll keep you updated--some big Stella news is coming soon!

Additional YouTube video links:
Using Differentiated Word Sorts Gr. K-3 (Live at ILA 2016) 
Using Word Walls to Strengthen Students' Reading and Writing at the Emergent Level, Gr. K-1 
Using Word Walls to Strengthen Students' Reading and Writing at Early/Fluent Levels, Gr. K-2
Enhancing Students' Growth as Writers, Gr. 2-3, Part II: Strengthening Students' Independent Writing 
Enhancing Students' Growth as Writers, Gr. 2-3, Part I: Boosting the Writing Skills of All Your Students 

I wish you a fabulous, literacy-filled, thinking-rich, community-friendly school year!

Beginning the Year: Preparing Students to Support Each Other Within a Community of Writers

Hello again!
     Setting the right tone for Writing Workshop at the beginning of the school year is a goal at the forefront of my thinking.  I want my students to feel like a community of writers who can work and grow together and support each other every day. I've been working on a set of classroom posters with some of my favorite quotes to share with students.  Here is one of them:
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff about working to create a supportive community of writers at the beginning of the school year.

(Poster Artistic Credits:  DJB Fonts, Babbling Abby, Darcy Baldwin Fonts)
I say something like this to my students when I show them the poster for the first time:  

“We are all writers!  We all have ideas to share and stories to tell.  We are all at different places in our journey to grow as writers.  Some of us may have an easier time getting words on the page than others. Some of us are more confident artists and have had more practice drawing, and that shows up in our writing.  Some of us find spelling words really easy, while others have a harder time.  And, some days, some of us have an easier time coming up with ideas to write about than others.  It doesn’t matter.  We are all here to support each other to grow.  We do our best, we ask for help and response when we need it, we aid each other the best we can.  Over the year, I will help you learn many ways to support each other.  We are all writers!  All of us!   Our writing may not always look ‘right’ on the paper.  It may not look like an adult’s writing.  Well, it shouldn’t, because we are not adults!  We are kids.  And, we are growing.  We will grow leaps and bounds this year!  So remember, no matter how someone’s writing looks on the page, listen to their mind, listen to their heart.  It is their ideas that matter most.  Never forget that!  Then, help each other, support each other, and encourage each other to keep writing and keep growing!  That is the most important thing we can do to build our community of writers!"

The beginning of the year is also an ideal time for reading favorite books that remind students how their reactions to one another's pieces can affect EVERYTHING.  First on my list of read-alouds is Ish! by Peter Reynolds.  This book is a perfect analogy for writing (though it is about the artistic process):  what happens when we write, when we struggle, and when someone responds with negativity to our writing.  

(I also use his book The Dot at the beginning of the year to discuss the importance of supportive response.)

Peter Reynolds understands the creative process inside-out, and seeks to support students' creative endeavors.  Check these out:
Blog post by Janiel Wagstaff about working to create a supportive community of writers at the beginning of the school year.

I love the pledge and the poster.  How perfect are these for the beginning of the year?  And these are just two examples of the engaging support materials found on his website:

Of course, it takes more than a couple of lessons and posters to really create a thriving writing community.  Every day, we have to walk the walk: modeling supportive response, explicitly teaching students how to support one another, lending them language, encouraging them to come up with their own ideas on how to boost the writing community, stirring up excitement about the risks writers are taking in their pieces, and celebrating their growth.  I start, right from the beginning, using students' writing as mentor texts to discuss, teach from, and enjoy.  And, lest we forget, students always have time to share their writing with each other--during and at the closing of the workshop.  Even just a few minutes at the end of a Writing Workshop (I call this "Everybody Share Time"), can make all the difference in helping writers feel their work is purposeful and valued.

I wish you the best as you begin a new school year.  You have the most important job in the world--and the best job in the world!  Watching writers grow, hearing their voices emerge and become bold, watching them become empowered--what could be better?
Here's to you and your writers!

P.S. If you'd like a copy of the poster I made ("We Are All Writers"), just email me and I'll send it to you (janielwag@hotmail.com).
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