The Graveyard Book (Due 4/19/12)

The Graveyard Book was truly a unique reading experience.  I must admit, I picked it up once, read for a few days and put it down.  I had quite a lot going on, and I knew that in order to really understand what was going on in the plot, I’d need to take the time to focus a little more clearly.  This past weekend I had to opportunity to finish The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  The story is centered on a young boy, Bod, “Nobody” Owens who was missing from his crib the night that his entire family was murdered by the man Jack.  Bod is adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Owens in the graveyard and Bod learns about life from multiple non-living souls.  He takes his academic lessons from these non-living souls.  He has a care-taker or a guardian named Silas.  Silas guides Bod in the life of a ghost, providing him with the tools to which he needs to live life without traditional parents.  Eventually Bod gets curious about the “outside” world and tries his hand at being a “regular” kid.  He has trouble handling bullies and other students’ questions about where he was from and who his parents were.  In addition to dealing with issues of being an abnormal child in a “normal” society, Bod is in danger of being found by the man Jack.  In transition of coming back to the graveyard Bod learns of Scarlett, a friend from the past who Bod feels he can be himself with.  Unfortunately, Scarlett is used by the man Jack who pretends to be Mr. Frost, offering missing pieces to Bod’s family’s murder.  Bod and Scarlett escape death by tricking the man Jack to be taken away.  However, Bod loses his friend Scarlett, Silas taking away her memories of what happened with Bod.  Bod decides at the end that he wants to try living in the outside world on his own, and is released from the graveyard by Silas and his parents to travel on his own. 

After finishing The Graveyard Book, I felt somewhat confused.  I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of one chapter to the next.  I tried to keep the flow of the story, and was able to understand a couple of themes.  One theme that I picked up on was finding oneself.  Bod tries to find out who he is and where he is from in the entire story, and finally, at the end begins what he calls “life” as he leaves the graveyard to embark on journeys as a mortal human.  As I read, I got lost sometimes in the names of the dead in the graveyard and their roles in Bod’s life.  I knew of Bod and Silas’ relationship the best, because they engaged in multiple instances of dialogue throughout the story.   Bod and Scarlett had a special relationship because Scarlett was the only mortal who seemed to “get” Bod when others did not.  She showed interest in him when he was known as the “weird” kid in school.  She had a special place for Bod in her heart.

I imagine if I brought this book into my classroom, I’d use Neil Gaiman’s read aloud from his website:  However, I think I might introduce this story to my students and let them take this one and run with it.  I had such a hard time connecting to the story that I would guide them the best that I could, but the scary, gory parts might be better served through students’ personal reading than my descriptions.  If, in fact I had some students who were interested in The Graveyard Book, I would use Scholastic’s learning tool: Book Wizard.  When using Book Wizard I found a few texts that were two grade below The Graveyard Book:

Circle of Secrets

by Kimberley Griffiths Little


The Orphan of Ellis Island

by Elvira Woodruff


Dunc And The Haunted Castle

( Culpepper Adventures )

by Gary Paulsen (A personal favorite!)

 Renee Hennings 4/18/12

Read Aloud Post! Due 4/19/12

Fisher, D., Flood, J., Lapp, D., & Frey, N. (2004). Interactive read-alouds: Is there a common set of implementation practice . The Reading Teacher, 58(1), 8-17.

Lane, H., & Wright, T. (2007). Maximizing the effectiveness of read aloud. The Reading Teacher, 60(7), 668-675.

I’ve always taught 5th grade.  I’ve read aloud at least two to three novels each year to each of my groups, because they have always seemed to enjoy it!  Up until this point, I have never read any research on read alouds, but because I’ve always had a pleasant experience with them, so I’ve continued to do so.  According to Lane and Wright’s article Maximizing the effectiveness of read aloud, read alouds provide students with strong vocabulary acquisition and can increase reading comprehension.  It seems that the key to effective read alouds lies in the time for read aloud, selection for read aloud and methods of read aloud text.  I took all of these into account when I chose my read aloud for my 5th grade class for the purpose of my post.  It was suggested by Dr. Frye that we read aloud Mo Willems’ latest book, I Broke My Trunk.  On the first day of read aloud, I did not have access to Willems’ I Broke My Trunk but did have access to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  I chose this piece of literature because it was different than what I usually read aloud to my students.  Currently, students hear me read aloud novels such as Bud, Not Buddy or The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963.  Although they have enjoyed both of these novels, I wanted to go with a different piece.  I personally had read Don’t the Pigeon Drive the Bus back in undergraduate school, and loved the story. Since Mo Willems was suggested to read aloud, I thought it would be fun to showcase Willems in this way! I felt that this particular book was a nice example of a read aloud because it held my students attention just long enough that they didn’t get lost in the plot.  The point of view of the Bus Driver makes it an enjoyable text to think about who is telling the story.  Students loved the simple mind of the pigeon, and could relate to his character, because as we read and discussed, they wanted to share stories of when they wanted something so bad they would throw a fit, or try to get their parents to buy them something.  Because the pigeon wants to drive the bus sooo bad, I could change my voice to mimic his determination. This story was a great way to predict the next steps in the story.  According to Dickson and Tabors (2001) it is important to choose text that addresses both immediate and nonimmediate talk.  Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a wonderful tool that addresses both of these pieces.   Because I had such a great response to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus I decided to read aloud Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.  I read more about selecting the correct books to read aloud, and through the research of Beck and McKeowen suggested using meaningful text to create classroom discussions.  I was able to connect Trisha’s dyslexia to my students because they were old enough to understand what this disorder was.  I shared with them some photos of what text might look like to one who was dyslexic and we discussed what life could be like for someone who is, but never received the help needed to cope with the disorder.  My students made comments that they felt bad for Trisha, and some said that they had been bullied before because of something that they couldn’t help.  Others mentioned that they had seen bullying happen, and could connect Trisha’s feelings to the feelings that others had shared with them in the past.  I am glad that I was able to choose such a book that connected with my kids so well!  In fact, one of my students was so moved that she brought in another Patricia Polacco book the next day called Babushka Baba Yaga.  This story was set in a Russian village where an elderly woman wanted nothing more than to have a baby or a grandchild.  Her name was Baba Yaga.  She was not welcome in the Russian village, so she had to dress herself as a Babushka in order to gain access to a child.  She becomes the caretaker of a young boy named Victor.  When Baba Yaga overhears other townswomen speaking of her and her supposively “dangerous powers” Baba Yaga is hurt, and flees to the forest.  She makes her face known again once Victor is lost in the woods and is threatened by wolves. She saves Victor’s life from the savage wolves, and the village people learn that Baba Yaga is not as threatening as they had made her out to be.  This became an excellent read aloud for my students because it taught a lesson that you should never judge a book by it’s cover.  Again, just like with Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, students at the age of ten and 11 truly enjoyed the story, and understood what it was trying to convey.  After reading Interactive read-alouds: Is there a common set of implementation practice?  I read through the research based essential components to an interactive read aloud.  Fisher, Flood Lapp and Free suggest that teachers always preview their selections before reading aloud to students.  Even though to me, this seemed like “common sense” I can recall times that I have looked through a read aloud, like Babushka Baba Yaga and mispronounced words.  Had I not previewed my read aloud, I might have stumbled over words that would take away from the interest of the story and would have interrupted the flow and fluent reading of the story.  One piece of this research that I know that I need to beef up on is allowing students to write or respond to text after read aloud.  I typically open the floor for students to discuss their ideas with me, but we either get too deep into discussion, and I lose track of time and we must move on to another activity. It was suggested that in the article, Shiloh was read aloud, and the teacher had put together an activity on the Internet much like an internet workshop or a small research project after the read aloud.  As I reflected on this information, it is true that our class has participated in this activity!  After reading The One and Only Ivan students participated in an Internet Workshop that focused on silverback gorillas! I am setting goals for myself in the future to make time for written response to read alouds for my students.

Overall, read aloud in my classroom has been a big hit!  My students have truly enjoyed listening to me read stories aloud, and much to my surprise, they loved picture books.  I think the use of picture book read alouds for my students was great because they don’t tend to look through them as often as they “should.”  By providing my students with picture book read alouds, I think I have offered my students an open door to a new way to enjoy text without feeling “odd” because the books are “baby” books.  Students have responded to these texts so much more deeply than they would have before as younger readers.  I am contemplating looking for resources in the new future to text EOG test taking strategies with picture books and read aloud so that students may find enjoyment in getting ready for the state test, but also to enjoy great literature!  I know that I will continue with my novel read alouds in the future, and won’t forget my favorite titles to share with my students, but reading aloud with picture books will become a part of my instructional day!


Renee Hennings 4/14/12

How to Cope…(Due 4/19)

“Sometimes fiction is a way of coping with the poison of the world in a way that lets us survive it.”—Neil Gaiman

It wasn’t until I was older that I truly understood the personal meaning behind this quote from Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal.  I can say that my childhood wasn’t terrible.  In fact, looking back and comparing to others, I had it good.  I had supportive parents.  I always made the ball teams.  I always earned the A’s and B’s.  I never quarreled with friends.  Life sure was perfect, when I was little.  It wasn’t until I turned 25 until I truly knew what it was like to feel lost.

My parents’ seemingly (un)perfect marriage had started to tumble.  My mom left our family, in search of herself, and I felt lost an abandoned for the first time in my life.  I had no one to turn to for advice, because no one really knew what it felt like.  I thought I had played the parts right, done my “job” as the “good kid” and it all literally blew up in my face, and all in the one day that she left.  I turned to friends for help, but felt a nuisance to bother them with such a complex and troublesome problem.  I tried talking to family, but I felt pushed and pulled from one side to the other.  I finally found solace in one thing: reading.  I can’t always say that I’ve enjoyed reading.  It was fun, but growing up, I’d be more apt to flip on the TV or boot up the computer to entertain myself.  Once my family began to re-form to what it is now, being on a computer didn’t erase the pain.  I’d find myself on Facebook, looking at pictures of “happy” families, wishing mine weren’t so confusing.  Flipping on the TV didn’t make me feel any better.  There, I’d see shows that I’d watch with my mom, and feel angered that she weren’t with me, sharing the laughs of The Golden Girls.  I found that the only therapy was to read.  I could put my nose in a book, and escape.  I could escape the words I heard my parents say to me about each other.  I could escape the problems that I had dealing with my mother’s missing link to her family, and the words that I wanted to share with her, but couldn’t place.  I escaped the day-in and day-out nightmare of “what has happened to my family?”  I picked up a series of books called Pretty Little Liars by Sara Sheppard, and literally finished the series in a matter of weeks.  Next, I focused on kids’ books.  Of course I read for my required readings in graduate school, but moved on to other genres that I’d never picked up before.  I read Scat by Carl Hiaassen, The Giver (again) by Lois Lowery, Rule  by Cynthia Lord and other titles that I can’t put my finger on.  It was like I could open a book, a work of fiction, and lose myself, lose my problems.  When I was so angry, I could cope, by using fiction.  When I was melancholy, I used fiction to help me gain my happiness again.  When I was feeling good, fiction kept me going.

So now, as a 27 year old adult in a Reading Education program, I’ve felt that I’ve taken away many things that I can provide for my students.  I know some tricks to teaching kids how to pick a novel.  I can guide a student through a word study.  I can convince kids to work together to discussion literature.  I can make suggestions for students who want to read a certain type of genre.  But now, after truly appreciating the magic of getting into fiction, I can survive the world.  I can be what I want to be, and I can make it.  I can provide my students with this authentic feeling through my instruction of literature, with hopes that one day, when they are having a tough time, no matter what age, they too, may survive.

“Home”-The Answer to our own Wonders-As told through Glogster (Due 3/29)

After taking a look at the given sites provided by Dr. Frye, I found Glogster moved me the most to create an artistic response to my reaction and thoughts on Wonderstruck Linked below is my Glog:

In efforts to indicate and share what I’ve done, let me offer explanations for each piece found on my “Glog for Ben”:

I included the title and author in the center, and I’ve included it on a suitcase.  This symbolizes that Ben is lost both physically in NYC but in his mind, he’s unsure of who he truly is, and is unsure of where he belongs.

I included a graphic for sign language for “dad”.  This was important to me because I know that Ben was going to NYC to try and find out more about his father, and of course with is hearing impairment, he needed to figure out a way to communicate.  Jamie, Ben’s new friend offers this time and time again, but Ben sees that he wants to communicate using notebook paper.

Next, in the center of the Glog is a real photo of the Panorama of New York City at the Queen’s Museum.  I linked this directly to the Queen’s Museum website so that you or my students may go visit and learn more about the Panorama and its construction and design.  I personally enjoyed connecting Rose’s love for art as a child to her success as an artist in her adult life.  I felt that Selznick create a lasting link between the two in the novel.

To the left of the photo of the Panorama, I included an old notebook sheet of paper that has one of the most memorable quotes written on it.  To reference this quote yourself, you may use page 578.  “Elaine never said you were Danny’s son, but Bill and I couldn’t help but wonder.  I remembered Danny’s descriptions of her, and it made sense that even if she didn’t want a husband, she might still want a child.  Maybe that was the one thing she had been missing. You”.  To me, this quote summarizes the meaning of “wonder” in two ways.  First, Rose’s thoughts of a possible grandson are confirmed.  She says herself that she and her husband “wondered” if Ben had been Danny’s son.  It also answered Ben’s question that yes, he had a father, and he no longer had to “wonder” who his father might be.  Neither of these two “wonders” are solved crystal clearly, but it seems that at this point in the novel, attitudes are turned for the better, and the mood of Wonderstruck lightens just a bit.  I chose this quote because it speaks volumes to me as well.  It captures the need for another in one’s life when one doesn’t realize how badly one is needed.  I love that Selznick has the ability to weave this into his story.  It truly draws in a crowd of readers, young and old.

The next part of my Glog is the sign language letters for the word “home”.  I included this because Ben went to New York City trying to find himself a home, while Rose wanted to find a place where she belonged.  It captures the essence of both of these characters because both are deaf.

In the bottom right corner I included a YouTube video of Michael Bublé in his single “Home”.  Besides being nice to look at (if I do say so myself 😉 ) Bublé sings about bringing back a long lost love home.  Although his message is more romantically inclined, I can see how Rose longed for her questions to be answered, asking for her question of family to come “home” and make her complete.  Ben shows his ability to find a new “home” away from Minnesota and into New York City with his grandmother.  Even Jamie finds “home” in a sense that he joins forces with Ben and finally feels that he has a friend that he may relate to.  Wonderstruck captures “home” in so many ways.

The last graphic is a postcard.  This represents Rose’s postcard that she carries in Part One of the story, looking for her brother Walter after she feels abandoned by her mother.

I included graphics of birds throughout the entire piece because to me, birds represent freedom.  With freedom, chains are broken free, and you are allowed to fly and soar as high as you may.  With all of their wonders solved, I felt that Ben and Rose are no longer lost, but found.

Renee Hennings 3/25/12

Wonderstruck Post-Thoughts, Feelings, Classroom Connections Due on 3/29

Wonderstruck captured my curiosity.  I found myself turning page after page to try and relate Rose and Ben.  I wanted to see how the two were connected, waiting for them to meet up at multiple points throughout the story, only to see the connection in part three! The reader meets a young Rose, in search of her mother in the big city of New York, who is an actress.  Her mother does not visit often, and turns Rose away when she finds her on stage, practicing for her next production.  We also meet Ben, a recently orphaned boy who is left partially deaf in one ear due to a lighting strike.  Ben is on the lookout for his father, who is thought to be in New York City as well.  As both young people journey along, they meet up in the New York American Museum of Natural History.  Both experience the museum in similar but different ways.  Rose searches alone for her answers while Ben finds himself alone, but befriends Jamie.  Jamie knows the ropes around the museum, introducing Ben to secret rooms that capture piece of secrets that are looming ahead of him as he searches for his father.  Ben’s search is re-routed as he falls into the arms of an elderly woman named Rose and her brother Walter at Kincaid’s Bookstore.  Here, Ben learns more of his mother, his father and his grandmother, Rose.  As the story progresses, the reader learns that Rose’s experiences are parallel to Ben’s because she did similar searching as a young, deaf child.  She finds solace in her brother, Walter, and ends up in New York away from her son, Ben’s father, Danny.  Ben’s father, Danny, does research work in Minnesota for the American Museum of Natural History.  He meets Ben’s mother, Elaine, and falls in love.  However, Elaine is not interested in marriage, but, from this relationship, Ben is born.  The plots are happening at different times in history, but are connected in mysterious ways.  At one point in the story, Rose lays a piece of paper on top of a meteorite in the museum, making a wish on a “shooting star” and Ben finds a piece of paper from the same location, only years later that reads “What’s inside the box?”  Selznick keeps the reader guessing so that connections seem made at the right time, but don’t quite add up as it appears!

 In comparison to other texts that I have read in the past, Wonderstruck was much different.  As I am sure most unknowingly readers of Selznick’s novels, Wonderstruck is composed of both words and pictures.  It’s overwhelming size is not to be taken without a grain of salt!  Although there are a good amount of original illustrations, there are ravishing words to be read as well. “Typical” children’s books include chapters with text and illustrations that complement each other simultaneously, telling one plot line.  Selznick’s Wonderstruck includes both text and illustrations, and tells a story that seems to be simultaneous, but once the reader embarks, realizes that it’s not as clear as you may first suspect! I do have to say that the illustrations are hauntingly detailed.  Each character has special features that capture his/her true personality.  I imagine that Selznick must include such detail since there aren’t necessarily words to back up every detail of his characters. Wonderstruck addresses issues about families, death, and being lost, just like other works of children’s literature.  It provides impeccable descriptions of the New York City and the American Museum of Natural History. It provides illustrations that capture the delicate details of the New York City Panorama from Queen’s Museum of Art.   It focuses on loss of family and the gain of friendship.  It addresses the thoughts of those who are deaf, and the challenges that deaf and hard of hearing people face.  Wonderstruck connects characters and character traits over time.  It keeps the reader flipping back to selections of text and illustrations to try and solve the mystery of the young girl and young boy named Ben.  As suggested by Publisher’s Weekly, “A true masterpiece”. 

I read this story in two different settings. I finished Part One about a week before reading Parts Two and Three.  As I picked back up with Part Two, I found myself having to flip back to connect parts One and Two, just to make sure I hadn’t left out any details!  As I reflect now, I found it easier to remember portions of Part One in text context rather than in illustrations.  I wonder if this is a condition that I have trained myself to be since I am a reader of majority text, as opposed illustrations?  Nevertheless, I was able to shake my memory, and continued with the rest of the novel.  Overall, I think I spent about three hours total reading the entire novel.  I found once I got into the groove of the novel, switching from illustrations to text, that I got comfortable with the format, which made reading easier.  I noticed as Ben’s text would shorten, Selznick would immediately change to illustrations for Rose.  This was a nice way for me to know that the plots were about to change, and to get ready to start my connection process again!  The mood of Wonderstruck was somber overall.   As a reader, I felt the frustration in Ben when he lost his hearing, knowing that life would be tough to communicate with those who looked after him.  I also sympathized with Ben’s missing his father.  Recently in my life, my mother went on a hiatus, leaving me feeling lonely and abandoned for a period of time, which can pull the rug of joy right out from underneath a child.  Even at my age, I can relate to Ben’s thoughts of abandonment from where his father might be, wondering why he was never contacted by him.  I think that this issue speaks volumes to both kids and adults, which can draw in multiple readers.  At the end of Wonderstruck, Ben realizes that both his mother and father are gone, but he gets insight on their lives.  The reader is left to believe that Ben will start a new life with his grandmother and great-uncle Walter in New York City.

Wonderstruck in the classroom would be a great read aloud or a novel for a guided reading group.  Read aloud would be useful for lower leveled readers, because this type of reading does take some “training” since it is not the “typical” plot line.  I have an AG student who asked to borrow my copy and had it read in three days, whereas I am sure I will have others who will request and it will take a couple of weeks.  Wonderstruck’s themes serve as spring boards for classroom studies outside of the story.  Students may enjoy studying about sign language, since both Rose and Ben are deaf.  When creating my Glogster, I linked the American Sign Language Wikipedia site so that students may visit for more details.  I teach in a school with a hearing impaired program, and I imagine these teachers could use Wonderstruck in their classrooms to capture the essence of deafness of mainstream individuals and provide support for their disabled students.  I like that Wonderstruck provides students with details in illustrations.  This could be a topic starter for providing ample detail in descriptions in writing so that students may visualize characters clearly. I also found myself making active predictions with Wonderstruck.  The illustrations make it easy to think about what might happen next in Rose’s story, and in the events that Rose and Ben will meet at some point. provides students with the opportunity to take a virtual field trip through the American Museum of Natural History.  Since majority of us will probably never get to visit such a place, the next best thing would be to visit this virtual tour.  As I read this story, I couldn’t help but continue to think about the recent films, Night in the Museum, and Night in the Museum II.  (Night at the Museum) (Night at the Museum II: Battle of the Smithsonian) These films are intended for younger audiences, so I imagine some readers might have a bit of background knowledge about museums from viewing these films.  I also kept thinking about From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg.  In this story two young students spend nights in a museum, enjoying the sights and sounds of the museum at night.  All of these resources would be great ways for students to relate their understanding of Wonderstruck to background knowledge.

If I were to introduce this book to my classroom, I would share my Glogster, and have my students interact with each other in silent ways. I would ask them to imagine being deaf, and having them think about functioning in life without hearing.  We would discuss sign language, again because there are students that are in our school who are hearing impaired.  I would want them to imagine what life would be like for both Rose and Ben before we got into the thick plot of the two stories.  I think I would also provide students with exposure to picture books.  At the age that I teach, majority of my kiddos tend to use text only novels.  We would discuss using illustrations to predict feelings of characters and their actions.  This would be helpful to do ahead of time, because there are so many of these photos in Wonderstruck. 

Initially, I thought that this book would be an interesting read.  I had previously heard of Brian Selznick before, so I knew that I would be introduced to a new type of reading.  I didn’t think that I would see as much as I did in the illustrations.  I also thought that I would be able to predict the story line easily with the illustrations, but that was not always true either!  I thought throughout the entire story that Rose and Ben would meet up as children, not as family members at the end!  I knew that selections that are chosen for my graduate classes are meant to challenge me as teacher, and are meant to be used in the classroom and to provoke a different type of thinking.  I hadn’t anticipated that this type of literature would rope me in like it did.  Beyond my personal connection with Ben and his missing parents, I found elements of adventure,   tragedy and friendship.  At the end of Wonderstruck, I am glad that I spent time reading.  I plan to read again this summer, so that I may use this as a read aloud next year with my students.  Until then, I have three students who are lined up ready to read!

 Renee Hennings 3/24/12

Independent Reading Post (Due 3/22)

What have I learned about independent reading?  Well, I have learned there is a whole lot that goes into this topic!  I’ve learned that right now, I do some parts of independent pretty well, while I need to boost instruction in these ideas a little more in other areas. One main idea is that independent reading is absolutely necessary for students each day.  In order to grow as readers, students need plenty of practice, and then practice has to be done regularly, monitored (both individually and by a teacher) and needs to be reflected upon.  Students must acquire at least 2,000-3,500 words yearly (taken from Dr. Frye’s PowerPoint).  Some are taught in the classroom through direct instruction, but majority must be taken from silent reading. As I reflect on topics from Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading, I realize that I provide my students with comfortable seating in a classroom that welcomes reading and encourages reading.  I have a shelf that is full of award winning children’s literature, both fiction and nonfiction.  I provide my students with at least twenty minutes of SSR daily.  I don’t have a creative way to display my books besides with their spines showing, and I have not mastered conferring with each and every child each and every day. Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading has provided me with insight in to what is needed each day to build a classroom that fully promotes independent reading and values differentiated instruction.  I have gone through my copy and starred, highlighted and underlined topics that I already do, but also ideas that I find feasible to implement in to my classroom right now! 

I am interested in motivating my students about reading through interesting book displays.  I have colleagues who use basket displays in their classrooms and I have noticed that through conversations, their students know more about book genres and make recommendations during community reading time.  I have talked with on colleague in particular who has students who are excited about writing their own comics.  She has offered those students their own baskets in the classroom library that display student-published work.  What a great idea!  I also want to improve motivation through written book reviews that offer insight to books by students for students.  At the age that I teach, I know that peers are such a big influence on each other, and through reviews in the classroom, books will begin to be passed around like wildfire! 

Another interest that I think is applicable and easy to implement in the classroom right now are interest surveys.  I administered one a few weeks back and learned a large amount about my students and their love of types of texts.  I found the Internet to be the best resource to find texts once I analyzed my students’ interests.  The ALA website provided a list of resources by children’s awards, by years awarded and summaries of certain books.  I also found that had a wonderful tool that introduced me to other types of text that are like some texts my students already love to read!  Both of these sites served as spring boards for me to do more extensive searches for titles of novels for my students.  After chatting with a classmate, I learned that she administers reading inventories throughout the year.  I think this is a great idea because as the year progresses, students’ interests can change.  Sometimes novels turned into movies can spark interest in new books or a new book series.  Without inventories, we as educators might not truly understand what our students love. 

Through Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading I found a very concrete suggested schedule to model my language arts instructional day after.  This is great for me, because I have a hard time trying to schedule and decide what practices are the best for my readers.  I loved that I could create my own independent reading program using suggestions such as community reading.  Through my community reading time, students will get to share their books in book talks, listen to me read aloud interactively or get lost in their own books.  The second piece that I found to be useful was SIRT.  I realized after reading that I have used elements of SIRT in my classroom before, but I had never connected how the practices that I’ve used were connected in different ways.  I have always used mini-lessons to teach topics (or known as focus lessons by Moss and Young).  I have had students take their newly learned strategy back to their own reading and to practice using graphic organizers or to share thoughts in small groups. One piece that I’ve learned that I need to beef up is my conferencing time with students.  When conferring with my kids right now, I have not found a clear way to organize my thoughts, and how to ask the “right” questions so that I don’t seem to be aiming blindly with my thoughts.  I was happy to see that conferences can be as simple as monitoring student progress or to discuss a reading goal.  Running record keeping in 5th grade can be tougher, because students get through texts much more quickly than younger readers.  Another suggestion for conferences was a book selection conference. Who would have thought I could spend constructive time on discussing with a child what makes a great book selection? This can encourage future text selections for that child, so that he may not feel lost in the library without a direction in mind. 

Another piece that I’ve had trouble with in the past is assessment in the reading workshop approach.  I have graded students’ responses to text, whether their responses are in an art form or in written form.  Sometimes parents want to see a tangible piece of evidence that their child is performing at grade level, and it can be tough to share running records without proof of response.  As I read through Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading I found suggestions of self-evaluation rubrics that can be used as a “grade” when conferring with students.  Reading logs also offer insight that a student is reading as he should.  Between these two pieces I can provide my students’ parents with tangible evidence of understanding and students can see the progress they are making as they read.

Through this assignment I have learned that independent reading is essential for every classroom at every age.  I am eager to try new ideas for reading with my students and am eager to see their motivation rise due to these changes.

Renee Hennings 3/21/12

Donors Choose Project (Due on 3/22)

Linked below is my first Donors Choose Project:

Renee Hennings 3/18/12

Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading-in Room 215

According to Noyes (2000) far more students in the United States choose not to read rather than to read.  Noyes calls this practice aliteracy.  Furthermore, the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that only 35% of fourth graders in the United States read for pleasure daily.  An average of 40% of International Students read for pleasure outside of school.  Thirty-two percent of fourth graders in the United States shared that they never read outside of school for pleasure while an average of 18% of international students shared that they never read for fun outside of school.  These statistics are alarming, but also open a door to why students in the United States are not measuring up against to the reading results of international students.  In efforts to improve these scores, it is suggested that students have proper direct instruction and in addition to this instruction, implement the opportunity to apply the skills learned during direct reading instruction.  In the words of Pearson (2005), “..all the explicit instruction in the world will not make strong readers unless accompanied by lots of experience applying their knowledge, skills and strategies during actual reading” (p. 6).  In addition to Pearson’s thoughts Cunningham and Stanovich (1998) suggest that independent practice builds “fluency, improves comprehension, increases vocabulary, and creates confidence in you readers.”  To continue the argument of independent reading in the classroom, motivation is another element that is important to build through independent reading.  Hanjian,1985 and Pieronek, 1985 mention that “perhaps the most important, students are denied the opportunity to engage with texts that they can choose for themselves in topics that matter to them.”

The Five Benefits of Independent Reading

               When implementing an independent reading program in the classroom there are five benefits of independent reading. First, students will increase their vocabulary development.  Students will need to acquire 32,000 words between the first and 12th grades.  Typical vocabulary programs only provide students with 700 words per year, whereas students should be averaging 300 words per day (Nagy & Anderson, 1984).  The use of independent reading provides students with the opportunities to acquire these new words, and introduces them to new vocabulary as well as background knowledge. The second important component of independent reading is building a greater domain of background knowledge.  Cunningham and Stanovich said that students who read independently have a higher chance of gaining background knowledge on topics and will in turn motivate them to read more independently as older and more experienced readers.  Success in reading depends on one’s ability to concentrate on longer selections of text and to understand what is read in a deeper way.  Independent reading exercises can aid in the development of a longer reading stamina and encourage “deep reading” within longer selections of text (Block & Mangieri, 1996).   The third
benefit of independent reading aids students in their fluency and comprehension.  In beginning reading research, Adams (1990) mentions that children’s reading facility and vocabulary growth depends upon reading large amounts of text.  Pikulski (2007) mentions that “substantial correlational evidence shows a clear relationship between the amount students read, their reading fluency, and their reading comprehension” (p. 90).  Lower achieving students typically do not engage in a wide variety of independent reading for pleasure.  There has been a correlation made by Alliington (2006) that states that those low achieving students may lack the practice needed to increase comprehension and build fluency.  Providing this opportunity in the classroom will surely build all students’ comprehension and fluency.  Students who are ELL (English Language Learners) will benefit from the fluency and comprehension practice.  Elley and Mangubhabi (1983) found that providing ELL students with interesting books and the time to read contributed significantly to students’ English development.  A study compiled by Kuhn in 2004 shows that second graders who were engaged in repeated readings and participated in groups that influenced wide reading made gain in word recognition and comprehension, as opposed to a group of second graders who were only involved in a reading group who were engaged in repeated readings.  A fourth benefit of providing independent reading in the classroom is improved reading achievement.  There have been numerous studies done on the relationship between the volume of reading versus the achievement on standardized test scores.  Although it has not been concluded that the amount of reading and literacy test scores are not always significant, they are consistent (Cullianan, 2000).  Providing students with the opportunities for reading in the classroom will only aid in student achievement.  The last important benefit for independent reading is the greater interest in books and motivations to read.  Guthrie and Greaney, 1991 defined that high-interest materials are more pleasurable to students and result in their reading for longer periods of time.  Along with this discovery, students have higher levels of comprehension in reading selections that they find interesting rather than challenging, (Guthrie, Schafer, Von Secker, & Alban, 2000).  If these two ideas are combined, students will engage with texts more often and for longer periods of time.  They are in turn, comprehending more and building their stamina for reading.  This will increase their abilities to read longer passages of text without tiring and their background knowledge will be increased as well.

Creating the Space for Independent Reading

               In my fifth grade classroom, students will need a great amount of space to spread out, get comfortable and read.  It is suggested in Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading that a classroom should have a central library space that is determined by arrangements.  Along with this defined area, students should have access to comfortable pillows, beanbags, couches or other furnishings that invite engagement with books.  Access to posters about literacy should be posted in order to spark students’ interest about books.  Book displays are necessary so that students may see the selections that are available in the library, and some displays outside of shelves are necessary.  Baskets with appropriate labels are great tools so that students may learn to categorize and organize books by genre or author.  Books may also be displayed with covers showing, not just spines.  This can encourage students to relate illustrations on the book cover to the content inside.  One more exciting way to display books is through the use of a classroom book awards center.  Students can read, rate and recommend books on a bulletin board nearby where students read freely.  This gives new readers a chance to read their peers’ reviews of books, but also gives readers and chance to share what they think of books that they have completed.

Creating the Collection for Independent Reading:

               Through interest inventories, students’ personal choices and simply listening to student conversations in passing, I have learned about students’ preferred selections of text and what they enjoy.  At the fifth grade level, I know that majority of my students are into reading children’s novels, while some are moving more into younger adult novels.  At the same time, I have some students who really enjoy reading informational texts about particular topics such as sports. Others enjoy perusing through magazines to check out the latest gossip for their favorite celebrity singers and movie stars.  I have my topics nailed overall, and now to build my library!  I first used the sites provided on our class syllabus and tried to match some of my students’ interests up to titles that were mentioned on individual blogs.  The first blog that I found to be the most useful was  This blog of a “Geek Dads” by Jenny Williams addressed graphic novels for kids.  This type of book is passed around my classroom like wildfire.  Mentions of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton are just two of the titles I’ve seen this year.  These titles address students’ requests in their reading interest inventories for topics that were “funny” and “hilarious”.  Through Jenny William’s posts on comics for kids, I found suggests for Otto’s Orange Day by Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch (also available as a free e-Book online).So, for my first request, I will focus on building my graphic novel collection up! I have enough students in my class that are interested in this genre that I feel I could reach multiple kids with this genre of text.  At this point the titles I would like to request include:

Dear Dumb Diary Series by Jim Benton

Dork Diaries  Series by Rachel Renée Russell

Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck and The Invention of Hugo Cabret

 Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek Series

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney

Key Components of My Independent Reading Program:

               As I began to plan for my independent reading program I used Creating Lifelong Readers to guide me through ideas for my particular classroom. I am given a total of 80 minutes each day for language arts.  To break everything down, I start with the biggest piece first: Supported Independent Reading Time (SIRT).  I will have to use my basal reader, because it is mandated by my school system.  This basal story is usually divided up into an introduction lesson on Monday morning, focusing on the reading skill of the week and new vocabulary unique to the story.  On Tuesday, students will read the story (either aloud with me, in partners or independently) After reading, students then take a selection test that includes comprehension questions as well as vocabulary questions.  This is only a snippet of what I’d like to do next.  Once students finish their weekly selection from the basal, I will then focus on a mini-lesson (focus lessons, according to Young and Moss) that coincides with the instructional focus of the basal.  These lessons are about 15-20 minutes in a whole group setting.  During lessons I will model the skill to be practiced, model a procedural idea or remind students of past strategies.  The next piece will include time for reading.  Students will have at least 30 minutes to read silently and practice skills taught during guided reading.  As students are reading, I will spend my time conferencing with them regarding their progress and literacy goals.  I only plan to spend about five to ten minutes with each child, working my way around our class of twenty readers.   Next step is to plan for community reading. Although Young and Moss suggest using community twice per week, I want to try and include this time each day per week.  My community reading time (20 minutes) will occur at 11:40am each day until noon when we get ready to pack up for lunch.  I think this will be the best use of time because it transitions well from one topic to another.  At this time, community reading will be filled with time for book talks in small groups, interactive read alouds from me, time for my students to read and book sharing.  I would like to plan for interactive read alouds two times per week, individual reading twice per week and alternate book sharing and book talks every other week.  This will allow for students to be in the meat of their text, or our classroom text four times per week (or 80 minutes each week).  Every other Friday can be set for book talks with small groups or the entire class if appropriate.  This will give four students a chance to share whole group each week or anywhere from five to 10 students to share in small groups every other Friday.  During independent reading time when students are in their own texts, I will rotate and have conferences with those students and their selections. This would be an excellent time for me to update my records as well on each student.  I can double up time on students who need additional support in their reading.

Linking Literacy Instruction with Independent Reading Experiences

               The last piece of my independent reading program includes the connection between literacy instruction and independent reading and response.  Young and Moss share the GRR Model or the gradual release of responsibility model researched and introduced by Pearson & Gallagher, 1983.  In my framework, I would like to use elements of the GRR model.  The first piece is a read aloud using strategies that are taught whole group and practiced individually.  This gives my students the exposure to what they should be doing when working with text on their own.  Some examples might be building background knowledge, summarizing, identifying characters, identifying settings, discussing text features or comparing and contrasting text.  The next element that I use is guided reading.  Guided reading can replace the basal at the end of the year, once our basal stories have been extinguished.  This provides me as a teacher with the time to guide my students through a novel, focusing on strategies more specifically and guiding them throughout the text. I am careful not to let them rely on me too much, but to provide them with scaffold support. The next piece is independent reading.  As students break out into their own reading selections, or in leveled readers, we can collect at the end and share strategies that they used to get through their text.  During the reading process, whether it be guided or independent I always have students respond to their reading.  Some responses are in journal form, addressing thoughts about what was read.  Other responses can be composed in poetry, such as I Am poems, poems for two voices or acrostic poetry.  Something that I have wanted to implement is responding with technology.  Some of my classmates have had opportunities to share their students’ responses on classroom blogs, having students use strategies such as predictions, book reviews or poetry.  Online responses allow for student interaction with comments from one student to another.  I am working on scheduling computer lab times for my students to log in and to read each other’s work, and they are creating discussions online about their reading choices as opposed to only discussing face to face.  The last piece of my GRR program will be the assessment piece.  Of course through conferences I am able to keep up with what students are reading in the classroom.  At the same time, I can read their responses and conference with their predictions, inferences and comparisons.  I also use AR to have students take AR tests to make sure they comprehend the story.  A suggestion that I might could use in the future would be a bulletin board with past student responses, rating each response on a rubric as samples and guidelines for my current students to use.

               Content in fifth grade is very important, and is a great background resource for other works of literature.  In order to address content in the classroom I use interactive read alouds with content trade books.  I also choose literature that addresses topics in the content areas in guided reading novels.  In the past I have used science trade books in small group instruction to build on vocabulary and background on science topics.  Science content trade books are excellent ways to teach mini-lessons on informational texts, focusing on text features and reading data charts.  Other possibilities include lab reports and timelines.  Just like responding to regular text, students can respond to text through questions that are content driven.  During community reading, students have the option to prepare book talks on content books.  This can drive motivation for students to pick out other content books.  According to Moss and Young there are three models that prove to be useful in the content classroom.  I personally use the combination model throughout most of the year.  It makes the most sense to integrate science and social studies during Black History Month in February or Severe Weather Awareness Week in March. 

Renee Hennings 3/18/12

Reading Interest Inventory-Response Due on 3/22

I used the following Reading Interest Inventory to survey my students this week:

I looked through the examples listed on our class WordPress and in Creating Lifelong Readers and decided that this particular inventory was appropriate for my students because it asked a few different questions.  Students felt that their attitude toward reading was valued by the way it asked how reading made them feel, and if reading was important enough to complete every day.  It also asked questions that got down to the nitty-gritty detail, asking students to share how many hours they spend per day in front of the TV as opposed to being in front of a book. In addition to the open-ended questions, there were only 18 questions in the inventory.  This made the process not seem painstaking, but pleasurable, and with hopes that students would put their honest thoughts and effort into filling out inventories.

As I began to analyze the reading survey, it seemed that many of my readers do read for some length of time outside of school.  The times range anywhere from ten minutes to “so much I can’t count!”  My students seem to really enjoy reading chapter books the most, which at this age is understandable since 5th graders are into novels and longer texts.  Students indicated that they enjoyed looking for books to read at the library at school, and of the four that responded that they had library cards, only two said that they used those cards more than twice a month!  This tells me that our school and I am most of my students’ primary sources for reading materials.  Majority of my students have listed magazines as an alternate source of reading.  They shared that they also liked comics from the newspaper.  This tells me that they have some exposure to non-fiction.  The next selections of questions were completion questions.  I have to celebrate that most of my students loved Ivan as their favorite read aloud, while others thought of stories such as Guess How Much I Love You? and other “nursery rhymes” were read to them as young children.  My kids were asked to share their topics of interest.  At the 5th grade level, most boys said humor and sports and mysteries.  The girls typically answered with mysteries, entertainment and drama.  The consensus is that my students like stories that make them laugh and think!  I am happy with this combination for sure.  The survey asked students to share what they felt they should improve on, and majority of them said that they should read more often!  Others shared that they used their fingers to read, and that they needed to stop.  One young man said he didn’t need to improve at all =)  The next section of the inventory asked students to share their reading strategies.  I found this question interesting because students immediately thought of reading strategies that we share in 5th grade such as prediction, author’s purpose, and using context clues.  Others saw this question as an opportunity to share that they used dictionaries to find meanings of words, to use the right speed when reading, and to visualize what they were reading as they read.  The last part of the interest survey focuses on students’ response to literature.  Majority of my students shared that they only response to literature in the classroom when required.  I only have two students who talk with their families about books.  I didn’t have one participant that responds to books in journal form unless required by school.

Now that I have had the chance to think about my students’ responses to their interest inventories, I can revaluate my classroom library.  At this moment I have quite a few copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Percy Jackson Series.  I have a slew of stories that I have purchased from monthly Scholastic book orders that were $0.95 or a dollar.  I have donations from past students as well as cheap finds from the local bookstore in town in Winston Salem.  I have donations from past teachers who have retired or left the profession.  I have honestly done the best that I can with the little bit of funding that I’ve had in the past and the bit I can afford out of pocket.  When I go to local bookstores I am careful to choose quality children’s literature, paying close attention to what my students are carrying around school and what they do talk about with me. I look for Newbery Winners, fiction, non-fiction and reference books. I try and listen to students about the age of my students in the bookstore, hearing any comment I can about what students enjoy reading.  Sometimes I walk away with treasures while other times I flop!

After thinking about my students’ attitudes toward books, I feel that I need to beef up my collection some.  My students seem to like chapter books the best.  I am seeing a trend that most of them enjoy humorous stories and mysteries.  I also noticed that my boys are really into sports stories while my girls like their dramas.  When planning for my Donors Choose, I will keep this in mind.  Another way that I can beef up my library is to find a more clear way to display books of interest.  As I read through Chapter Two in Creating Lifelong Readers through Independent Reading I noticed that it was suggested that students have the ability to see books in other ways, not just by the spines.  I would like to find myself a quality bookshelf that is lower so that I may display books more clearly and showcase special finds for students to get interested in. In efforts to get my students talking about their text more often, I am thinking of a classroom rating system much like online reviews.  I have space to create a bulletin board where students may illustrate and review a piece of literature and could even categorize their book by its genre.  Again, in Creating Lifelong Readers I found suggestions in Chapter Two that book displays are a way to capture students’ attention to new texts.  To extend this online, I have recently discovered Amazon’s free program, Shelfari that allows users with an email address to set up online book shelves that enable readers to browse similar genres of text and to read others’ thoughts and comments on books that they’ve completed.  In order to address students who are worried about their fluency, I think purchasing novels in pairs and in small groups might be a great way to practice this.  Students who feel they need practice can time themselves with partners while reading passages from the same novels, allowing for students to read high interest books, but also practicing their weaknesses.

I feel that I am swimming just a bit in this big idea of my classroom library, and I need any other suggestions that any of you may have to better organize myself and my thoughts so that I may make the best use out of my Donor’s Choose account.  If you have tips or tricks that you use in your classrooms, please comment and share!  I’d love to hear!

Renee Hennings 3/10/12

Ivan’s End in Room 215

As it’s been said before, “All good things must come to an end”.  Today, I finished reading aloud The One and Only Ivan to my 5th graders, and I am sad that this experience is over.  I am sad for two reasons.  For one, I totally felt connected with each and every student as I read Ivan.  Kids would put down their own books to listen to me read the sections of Ivan and would perk up when I’d change my voice for a character, or would drop their heads when Ivan had a flashback of life in the Congo.  The second reason is the discussions we’d have after reading.  I learned so much about my kids’ insight on animal behavior and their habitats.  Some of these topics are in our NC Standard Course of Study for science: ecosystems.  How great has it been to have students relate their science vocabulary to an exciting piece of literature for the past couple of weeks?  I have never had so many kids so excited for me a read aloud one story.  Our past read alouds, The Watson’s Go to Birmingham and Matilda didn’t touchIvan.  I think there’s a strong correlation between kids and animals, because they all wanted more!

After we finished today, I had multiple hands shoot up, wanting to share their thoughts and ideas behind reasoning throughout the story.  One student shared that he they knew this story would end “happily ever after, because Julia will be at the zoo with her dad while Bob sleeps on Ivan’s tummy and George works.”  Just the other day, my kids hooted and hollered when Ruby thrashed her trunk about to stop Mack from repremanding her with the claw.  They questioned why Ivan “slept” when he was put in his new cage to go to the zoo, and our discussion lead to the fact that although gentle and kind, Ivan was still a large gorilla with the capacity to tear into silverback mode at any time.  I had students wanting to visit the website, to see photos and videos of gorillas in the wild.  One student even mentioned the release of a new Disneynature film called “Chimpanzee” which will air on April 20th, 2012, or Earth Day (Click to view and enjoy a playful orphan chimp named Oscar)  This book has opened the door for other types of literacy to surface, because you know what the next question was, “What are we going to read next?”


Those words are music to my ears.