Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Clubs in the Primary Classroom

We are at the end of our informational reading unit and my kiddos are now working in book clubs. Book clubs are typical routines in the upper grades but they don't happen as much in primary classrooms. In my opinion, the key to successful book clubs is not expecting perfection. Yes, I do expect my students to work hard, and I do expect them to do their best work. However, these are not MY book clubs, these book clubs belong to my students. What I am saying is...Let go! Let them have at it. It's going to get messy, and that's o.k.
In the first grade classroom book clubs will look and sound different from their upper grade counter parts. After all, this is the first time my kids have participated in a book club. A big part of the learning is to expose them to what book clubs are and  how we participate in book clubs. First graders will study a topic and then talk and listen to each other as they share their learning.  The final piece is to sharing their learning with the entire class.

First, I presented the topics: Snakes, butterflies, turtles, polar bears, and wicked weather. I chose the topics based on the books that were in my classroom library and based on the interests of my students. For example, I have a group of boys who love snakes. I knew right up front that I would make snakes one of the topics for a book club. Next, students were placed in groups according to reading levels. It's tempting to put students in mixed ability groups so that students can help each other. However, by placing kids in leveled groups your stronger readers are not taking over and your lower readers are more likely to add their voice to the conversation. After that, groups chose their topics and got to work. They read their books during independent reading time and jotted notes on Post-its. Later, they shared and discussed their notes with the other members of their groups. Finally, the created posters to share their information with the class. Every group was required to represent their findings using a poster. I could have given them choices as to how they would share their findings but I felt that too much choice would be confusing for our first time working in book clubs. Even though they were all using posters, I still had kids asking me if they could draw pictures on their posters, or if they could use markers, or could they show words and pictures, etc. My response to each question was..."I don't know. I'm not in your group. You'll have to discuss that with the other members in your group and see what they think about that idea."

I'm convinced that giving them too many options would have made things a bit confusing for our first time out of the gate. However, you know your kids best. Perhaps your kiddos would be able to handle having lots of options right up front. The consensus from other first grade teachers that I've chatted with, who were also doing book clubs, was that giving them too many options was a lot for them to take on.

Additionally, my students are accustomed to using their Wonder Books two to three times each week. We use these books to record our wonders using the Wonderopolis website. I think our book clubs went very smoothly since my students were already comfortable with "wondering" and asking questions. In the beginning of the school year I had student who didn't know how to wonder. Or at least, they didn't THINK they knew how. Those same students now typically record five or six "wonders" in their notebooks each time we do a wonder of the day. I'm really proud of the work these students did. Take a look and let us know
what you think!
Book Club Weather from Valerie Ruckes on Vimeo.
We are going to do book clubs again in the spring. At that point I plan to give them more choice as to how they will present their information. Now that they have an idea of how book clubs work, I'm sure they can handle having more options and a choice of how they demonstrate their learning. I'm getting excited just thinking about it! Have you tried doing book clubs in a primary classroom? What worked for you? Please leave your comments and suggestions below. I would love to hear you ideas.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Professional Connections and the Power of Twitter

Most educators are not aware of the power of Twitter.  If you're a regular Twitter user, more than likely this statement doesn't apply to you.  It's not a criticism, it's simply an unfortunate fact.  I was introduced to Twitter a few years ago.  My sister was an active Twitter user and had been using Twitter with great results as a published author.  I was intrigued by the prospect of using Twitter but I had no clue how to go about it.  I opened a Twitter account which, I have to say, was the easy part.  My next reaction was, "What now?"  That was the hard part.  I couldn't seem to figure out what to tweet and how to use Twitter with a purpose.  What could I share that others would be interested in knowing?

Back to the drawing board!  I ran back to my sister complaining, "I just don't Get It!"  Her response was, "You have to find your niche."  I remember thinking, "Now we're getting somewhere."  I'm a teacher, so my niche is obviously education.  There must be a way to use Twitter for educational purposes.  I set out to do what teachers tend to do without even thinking much about.  I did a bit (actually a lot) of research. I started reading everything I could find on Twitter in education.  I found myself at the Simple K12 Teacher Learner Community website.  I did a lot of reading there.  That reading led me to more websites, more reading, and educators who were already using Twitter.  Somewhere on my journey I found out about the importance of building a PLN or Personal Learning Network.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Three years later I'm a member of an invaluable learning community of educators on Twitter.  This journey has transformed my teaching in ways that I never would have imagined.  I have made connections with educators from all over the United States and from around the world.  My Personal Learning Network is made up of a group of brilliant educators who share resources, discuss ideas, push my thinking, offer support, answer questions, make suggestions, and share learning and insights.  They are like minded individuals who enjoy learning new things, acknowledge when they don't know something (and feel safe to do so), and want to continue to grow as professionals.  Great teachers never stop learning and growing and the educators that I've made connections with on Twitter exemplify that mantra.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to share the "Power of Twitter" with colleagues.  My principal asked me if I would share how Twitter could be used for professional development.  I was more than happy to do so.  When you find a great resource, tool, etc. it's natural to want to share it with others.  As I suspected, Twitter is a well kept secret because many educators are unaware of how it can be used in education.  Afterwards, a few of my colleagues told me they had no idea how useful it could be to their teaching or to themselves professionally.  I think a few still find it a bit mysterious, some may feel they simply don't have the time, but others have already taken the plunge and/or dipped their toes into the water. They are finding out it's a bit cool but the more they dip their toes and feet in, the warmer the water feels.

Here are the Twitter Tips and Twitter Lingo that I shared with my colleagues.  I have also compiled a few websites where you can do a bit of research of your own.  I hope others will decide to jump in.  The water is not half's actually quite exhilarating!

Twitter for Professional Development
Teachers Teaching Teachers, on Twitter: Q and A on 'Edchats'
Why Educators Should Join Twitter
60 Inspiring Examples of Twitter in the Classroom
Twitter Hashtags in the Classroom

How are you sharing the Power of Twitter with colleagues and/or friends?  Please share your stories in the comments below.

I would love to connect with you on Twitter.  You can connect with me using @valruckes on Twitter and through Twitter chats.  I co-host #1stchat on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. EST.

Note:  If you share the Twitter Tips and/or Twitter Lingo please give credit to this site.

Happy Tweeting!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Liebster Award

I love meeting other educators through this blog and on Twitter. I have made a lot of connections and I've gotten a ton of support. When I found out that one of those educators had selected my blog for the Liebster Award, I was thrilled. The Liebster Award is given to a fellow blogger who has fewer than 200 followers. This Award would certainly give that blogger a lot more exposure and their blog would no longer be a well kept secret. Thank you Nancy at Teaching is Elementary for this wonderful nomination!

The Rules for the Liebster Award are:
1. You must post 11 random things about yourself.
2. You must answer the questions that the nominator set for you.
3. You must create 11 new questions for the people you nominate.
4. You must choose 11 other blogs with fewer than 200 followers to nominate and link them in your post.
5. No tag backs to the blog that nominated you, but do leave a comment on their post with the URL of your Liebster post.

 Here goes...

 Random Things About Me:

  1. I have three sisters.
  2. I have a 17 year old daughter.
  3. I'm a huge movie buff.
  4. I love, love, love chocolate!
  5. I prefer daisies to roses.
  6. I get up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym by 5:30 a.m.
  7. I love getting cozy with a good book.
  8. I restore antique furniture in my spare time, when I have spare time.
  9. My Ipad is my favorite new toy.
  10. I'm a shoe fanatic.
  11. I've know my best friend since kindergarten.

Questions from Nancy:
  1. Favorite Book?  The Hunger Games
  2. What is your earliest memory?  Picking apples
  3. Favorite Sound?  The sound of rain
  4. Book or eReader?  Book
  5. Last movie you saw at the theater?  Flight
  6. If you weren't in education - what would you do?  Write Children's Books (future goal)
  7. Can you speak another language?  If so, which one?  No
  8. Favorite subject to teach?  Reading
  9. Sports team you like to watch?  Detroit Tigers
  10. A favorite lesson to teach?   Fluency lesson on Tuning into interesting words 
  11. Would you rather receive an email or letter in the mails?  Letter in the mail
Questions for My Nominees:
  1. Favorite flower other than roses?
  2. Favorite book?
  3. Favorite sound?
  4. A place you want to visit?
  5. Friday evening ritual?
  6. Heals or sneakers?
  7. Morning person or night owl?
  8. Your Star crush?
  9. A person you admire?
  10. Three people (living or not living) you would love to share a meal with?
  11. One word you would use to describe your personality?
My 11 Nominees are:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Science Rotations in the Primary Classroom

My colleagues and I decided earlier in the school year to teach our science content as a team. In my building we have four first grade teachers. We would use our first science unit, Weather Watchers, to rotate our first graders around four different lessons. We chose Friday as Science Day. Friday is the day we have no special classes and it makes for a very long afternoon of teaching and learning. Additionally, we have to teach this unit during the fall and winter in that it's a weather unit and many of the lessons require observing the weather and using snow (which we didn't get much of last winter here in Michigan).

Last Friday, was our first rotation day. Each of us would teach one of the first 4 lessons. I was given Lesson 1, another teacher was given Lesson 2, and so on. Each of us taught our particular lesson to our own students on Thursday. On Friday we would only need to teach 3 lessons having taught our own students the day before. One of the benefits to teaching rotation style is that each teacher needs to prepare and set up for one lesson rather than 4 different lessons. Our rotations consisted of three sessions that were 35 minutes long with a 15 minute recess in between the second and third rotation. We also scheduled in transition time of 5 minutes between each rotation. The schedule looked something like this:

Rotation 1: 1:15-1:50
Transition: 1:50-1:55
Rotation 2: 1:55-2:30
Recess: 2:30-2:50
Transition: 2:50-2:55
Rotation 3: 2:55-3:30
Transition back to homeroom: 3:30-3:35

 Our first rotation day was exhausting!  There were some things to consider and a few minor problems to work out.  I've listed them below:

  • Two of the teachers didn't have their students wear name tags-Interacting with students is more difficult when you don't know their names.
  • One of the teachers sent her students with pencils-The kids were playing with them during my lesson and were very distracted.
  • Behavior was not at it's best.  Students interrupted the lesson because they wanted to use the bathroom, some were arguing over where they would sit, and several were playing around and not following directions.
  • We have a lot of content to teach in 35 minutes and every minute counts.
Honestly, I wanted to throw in the towel.  It would be so much easier to teach my own students and a lot less stressful.  However, I'm not one to give up so easily.  I had committed to trying the rotations and I wanted to see this through to the end.  What we needed was to make a few adjustments.  These are the adjustments we made prior to our second rotation day:
  • Everyone would remember to have name tags for their students.
  • Each of us would have our students use the bathroom prior to rotation time.
  • Students would not come with pencils since each of us have plenty in our classrooms
  • We would provide students with an incentive to maintain good behavior during the rotations
What would that incentive be?  McGregor Bucks!
What are McGregor Bucks and how do they work?

We have a school-wide behavior program already in place.  In that plan, student get guiding reminders (4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon) to help them monitor and regulate their behavior.  When a student receives her 4th reminder (for blurting, not following directions, disrespectful behavior, unsafe activity, etc.) they receive a Student Learning Form that is sent home and explains their reminders.  Our "McGregor Bucks" are meant to work within our behavior program.  For our Science rotations, I copied a strip of four, one dollar bills on green paper with our school name (McGregor) written on the front of each one.  We stapled the strip in the back of each students' Science Notebook.  Each time a child was given a reminder, the teacher crossed out one of the bucks.  When the students returned to their homerooms, they were given a treat or reward if they had at least 1 or 2 bucks that were not crossed off.  Treats/rewards included stickers, candy, a classroom celebration to occur on another day, etc.  I'm somewhat old school.  I gave my students a piece of candy for each McGregor Buck that was not crossed off.  All of my students got 4 pieces of candy and one of my students got 3 pieces.  My most difficult to manage student was able to redeem all 4 of his McGregor Bucks and was hooked on the Bucks from the start.  The McGregor Bucks became a visible tool to help them regulate their own behavior.

I have to say that our second Science Rotation Day was a huge success.  The students were exposed to 4 different teachers with different teaching styles, my colleagues and I have new relationships with the other first graders in our building, the students learned a lot of content and had fun in the process.  Our science rotations not only demonstrate best practices in teaching, they are also great examples of collaboration, teamwork and school community.  It's also a reminder of how important it is for educators to work smarter and not harder.  We're already working so very hard these days.  Aren't we?

How are you teaching science in your classroom, grade level, or building?  Do you have an unique way of teaching science?  Leave a comment below.  I would love your input.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 10 For 10 Picture Book Event

This is my first year participating in the August 10 For 10 Picture Book Event.  Choosing only 10 books to share with you was a very difficult task.  However, I did manage to shrink down my list down to ten favorites.  These are the books that I tend to read each year in my classroom.  I share these books with my students for various purposes.  Sometimes they're chosen to support a reading strategy, sometimes they teach us life lessons, and often they are read for pure entertainment and enjoyment.

My 10 For 10 Picture Book Favorites

Product DetailsThe Old Woman Who Named Things 
Written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Kathryn Brown

Cynthia Rylant is one of my favorite picture book authors.  We read a lot of her books in my first grade classroom.   She has two books on this list, so that in itself speaks volumes for her work.  The Old Woman Who Named Things is about an old woman who names the things around her.  She names her car, her furniture, her house, etc.  She names the things she knows she will never outlive.  This is all good and fine until she meets a puppy that she becomes very attached to.  After much reluctance on the old woman's part, she finally names the puppy.

The Old Woman Who Named Things is a wonderful story to read when building conversations around the themes of love, loss, and loneliness.  We use it to help us create a classroom community that is sensitive to those ideas.  I have also used this text with my first graders to demonstrate the comprehension strategy, checking for understanding.  It's a favorite in my classroom each year.  Look closely at the cover illustration...don't you just love her cowboy boots?  I think they're hilarious.  They really give you a glimpse of the old woman's character.

Product Details
Sometimes I'm Bombaloo
By Rachel Vail and illustrated by Yumi Heo

Sometimes I'm Bombaloo is one of the books I read during the first days of school.  I use it to introduce one of our classroom structures, The Safe Place.  The Safe Place is an area in my classroom where students can go when they feel sad, angry, or just plain "bombaloo".  It's just a bean bag which I've placed next to our Friends and Family board.  Sometimes I'm Bombaloo is about a girl who gets angry at different times throughout her day and finds that it can be a little scary having to deal with those feelings.  It's a great book that helps students recognize and deal with their own anger.  My students make lots of connections to the story and it helps us build important conversations around feelings, how we handle disagreements, and what we can do when we need a few minutes to ourselves.

Product Details
By Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum is book written by one of our favorite authors, Kevin Henkes.  It's another go-to book I read when we are talking about feelings, and building a classroom community where everyone feels valued.  In the story Chrysanthemum is teased because her name is too long, and she's named after a flower.  The teasing finally stops when the music teacher tells everyone that she has a long name, and that her name is a flower too.   Chrysanthemum is also one of our favorite books to use when we are focusing on expanding our vocabulary and tuning into interesting words.

Product Details
No, David!
By David Shannon                                                                      

No, David! is a big hit in my classroom each year.  I'm always prepared for lots of laughter when I get to the page where David is running down the street naked.  My students think it's hysterical.  It's one of the best picture books that I've come across for helping students make inferences.  I love that it's a quick read since my first graders don't have a lot of stamina, in the beginning of the school year.  We read all of the David
books in my classroom.

Product Details
George Shrinks
By William Joyce

The first time I read George Shrinks, I fell in love with it.  It's a story about a boy who dreams that he turns small.  The suspense starts on the very first page, when the letters GO FROM LARGE to small type.  I love the colorful illustrations in this book.  Imagine being smaller than all of your toys, sitting on a spoon, and riding on your baby brother's back.  Joyce creates a story that uncovers the childhood imagination at its best.  You can't beat that for excitement!

The Paper Bag Princess
By Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Product Details
If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be "Empowering".  The Paper Bag Princess is sure to empower young girls everywhere.  It's not your typical princess story.  There's a prince, a princess, and a dragon to boot.  However, Munsch gives this story so much more.  The Paper Bag Princess doesn't wear a beautiful gown, instead she wears a paper bag, she outsmarts the dragon, and she calls the prince a "bum".  This princess has courage, smarts, and lots of attitude.

The Relatives Came
By Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Product Details
This is the second book by Cynthia Rylant that made my Top 10 list.  The Relatives Came is the story of a family that packs up all their things, jumps in their car, and drives all day to visit relatives.  When they get to their destination there's lots of hugging, pulling, crying, eating, and snoring as the relatives sleep all over the house, in the beds and on the floors.  Most students can relate to the happy times that the relative have during their visit.  I use this book to prepare them for our Family Read-Along.  Parents are invited to bring in books, blankets, and snacks on the second Friday of the new school year.  My first graders are so surprised to see their "relatives" arrive at our door, unannounced.  It's our first reading event of the school year and it's a great way to show parents how much we value reading.

The Table Where Rich People Sit
By Byrd Baylor and illustrated by Peter Parnall
Product Details
The Table Where Rich People Sit was given to me some years ago by one of my students.  It's been one of my favorites ever since.  I love the messages in this story.  The Table Where Rich People Sit is about a girl who thinks her family needs to get more serious about their financial situation.  She calls a family meeting to talk to them but instead she gets a lesson on what is truly important in life.  The pages have a lot of text.  I usually save this on for the second half of the school year when my first graders have more stamina to sit for longer periods of time.  It's a great story to build conversations around the things we value in life and how we can be rich in ways that have very little to do with money.

My Teacher Likes To Say
By Denise Brennan-Nelson and illustrated by Jane Donovan
Product Details
I love language and sharing idioms, proverbs, and cliches with my students.  My Teacher Likes to Say is a visual interpretation of those familiar idioms/proverbs/cliches.  Children, especially first graders, are not at all accustomed to hearing adults speak in these "funny" kinds of ways.  When I was a kid, my teachers often used phrases like, "put on your thinking caps".  Needless to say, I enjoy sharing some of these idioms with my students.  One of my favorites is, "please button you lip".  Read the's a great way to share these fun sayings.

What Do You Do With A Tail Like This?
By Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Product Details
Steve Jenkins is one of my favorite writers of nonfiction.  He doesn't disappoint with What Do You Do With A Tail Like This? Jenkins introduces readers to all kinds of animals, and shows us how these animals use the different parts of their bodies.  In the very first pages of the book you're shown various noses, and my first graders love guessing which animals they belong to.  If you need more nonfiction books in your classroom library, your students will certainly enjoy this wonderful addition.

I hope you find this list helpful.  There were so many others I wanted to add to the list.  After all, It's 10 for 10!

You can see more August 10 for 10 Picture Book lists at Cathy Mere's site, Reflect and Refine.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Power of Listening: Opening Minds - #CyberPD Part 3

Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston (Chapters 7-9)
After reading Johnston's book, Choice Words, there was no question as to whether I would read his latest book, Opening Minds.  As I finished the final chapter, I thought about how reading this book has really opened my mind in terms of the kinds of conversations that can and should be taking place in our classrooms and the learning those conversations can lead to.  As Johnston states, "Given what we know, failing to attend to students' civic, social, and broader cognitive development in school is not only academically shortchanging children, it is criminal." (p.124)

As I think about opportunities in my classroom, the first thought that comes to mind is teachable moments.  Like most teachers, I try to take advantage of the teachable moments that occur naturally in the course of a day.  They don't always happen at the most convenient time, but they are great moments for teaching and learning.  "It might be better to view these interruptions as opportunities for building a moral compass and both the tools and inclinations for social problem solving." (p.91)  I want to embrace these moments and points of conflict as they occur.  The great thing is, I don't have to plan for them, all I have to do is notice them and use them as opportunities for us (our classroom community) to learn.

I want to remember that social problems offer:  (p.91)
  • concrete spaces for understanding different perspectives
  • understanding and managing emotions
  • learning strategies for negotiating social conflict
  • asserting a commitment to fairness
I want to remember that conflicts offer:  (p. 91)
  • opportunities to make clear that we value considerate, empathetic behavior, and
  • disapprove of non-considerate behavior

I recognize that fact that listening is an important skill, both inside of and outside of the classroom.  We all know individuals who are terrible listeners, and we find ourselves gravitating to individuals whom we view as good listeners.  Johnston spends a lot of time talking about the value of listening.  Why?  "Perhaps it seems trivial to mention this, but in order to have dialogue, people have to listen to one another." (p. 100)

Johnston shares several examples where teachers use "turn and talk" during discussions in their classroom.  I use it, as well, in my own classroom.  I'm often perplexed by the children who feel they have nothing to share or the children who are not really listening when their partner is speaking.  Johnston talks about the need to teach our students to listen.  This was an "aha" moment for me.  Teaching my students to listen, is definitely an area that I need to pursue and spend more time on.

"A turn-and-talk is not simply an opportunity to say what you have to say and allow someone else to do the same.  When we are listening to a partner, we are actually doing more than that.  We are offering through our bodies a responsiveness to the other that, in a sense, brings the other into being.  If there is no responsiveness between us, no openness to being influenced by the other, there is no trust.  It is through persistently being heard that we take ourselves seriously and view ourselves as agentive--someone who has interests and plans and acts accordingly." (p.102)

Talk that promotes engaging conversations: (p.104)
  • Why do you think that?
  • Could you explain?
  • I agree because...
  • I disagree because...
  • And...
  • I agree, and...
  • I have evidence
  • sometimes...

Books as Vehicles
Johnston frames a lot of his information around reading aloud to students and having conversations around books.  "That these students are thinking through social problems in their school lives--bullying, discrimination, loneliness--using the books as vehicles, expanding their social imaginations and their relational ties, should be celebrated more than their test scores." (p.120)

In my district we use a resource called, Making Meaning.  It's a great resource to promote listening, viewing, and speaking development.  As I think about using this resource in the upcoming school year, Johnston's words cause me to ponder how I might use it in even more meaningful ways.  With the support of this resource, we already have a lot of conversations around books.  However, our focus is on comprehension skills and strategies.  Can I use the books that are a part of this resource in more meaningful ways?  Can I use this resource to help students develop their social imaginations?  As Johnston states, "Making meaning is good.  Doing meaningful things is better." (p.124)

How will you support your students in doing more meaningful things in your classroom?  How will you support the social imaginations of your students?  I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Teaching Them To Teach: Opening Minds - #CyberPD Part 2

Opening Minds:  Using Language to change Lives by Peter Johnston
"How we give children feedback is probably the most difficult for us to change, but it is probably the point of most leverage." (Opening Minds, Chapter 3, p. 37)This is the last sentence in chapter 3 and after reading it, I could hardly wait to read chapter 4.

Teaching Them To Teach 

In chapter 4 of Opening Minds, Johnston explores interactions and the consequences of different kinds of feedback.  According to Johnston, "We are not just giving students feed back; we are also teaching them to provide it.  In a way, we are teaching them to teach." (p.36 )

I don't recall when I started to pull away from giving students person-oriented feedback, like "Good Job" or "Nicely Done" but  I think it was several years ago when my building started using a behavior program called Conscious Discipline.  It was through that program that I began to learn how to notice instead of judge students.  A lot of the thinking in chapter 4 reminded  me of my training in Conscious Discipline.  

"If you are going to give feedback, focus on the process and possibility." (p.37)  It's important to use process-oriented feedback rather than person-oriented praise.  These are examples of process-oriented feedback:  
"You tried really hard."
"You found a good way to do it; could you think of other ways that would also work?"

Process feedback is important for the following reasons: 
  • It gets children into the habit of explaining successes and failures in terms of strategy use.
  • The more process talk becomes part of classroom conversations, the more strategy instruction will be occurring incidentally, without the teacher having to do it. 
In the midst of a teaching day, it's so easy to revert back to old standbys such as, "I like the way..." but in doing so we are offering judgement.  I know I've been guilty of using those words on many occasions.  Instead, we should say, "Look at how you...", which turns attentions to the process.  "Causal process statements are at the heart of building agency.  They show the consequence of a process, making it into a tool that the child can use again on another occasion to accomplish a similar end." (p.42)  I love the idea of creating a classroom community where process talk is a part of our every day classroom conversations.  "We need to help them become lifelong teachers as well as lifelong learners." (p.50)

Tools for Growing Minds

Chapter 5, Johnston describes a dialogic classroom.  "A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students." (p.52)  Theses are classroom where rich conversations are created.  A lot of these conversations are created around books.  Johnston referred to books as "tools for growing minds".   Having conversations around books is right up my ally.  I think my classroom is one where a lot of dialogic instruction occurs.  It's not where I want it to be, yet, but as I read this chapter, I can honestly say I'm  on the right track.  Here's a quote that Johnston shares, which I want to remember and keep in the forefront at all times, "Judith Lindfors observes that dialogue is a bit like a game in which keeping the ball in play is the goal rather than winning." (P.57)  I had never quite thought about dialogue in that way.  However, It's a good analogy for promoting rich conversations.

In my classroom, we love to spend time thinking together about books.  We often use "turn and talk" and "think pair share" when we discuss books.  I love the examples of dialogue in this chapter.  Students engaging in conversations without a lot of "talk" from the teacher and a free exchange of ideas.  It reminds me of something Lester Laminack said when I heard him speak on reading aloud.  He said that students should not have to raise their hands.  Instead, there should be respect within the learning community so that children are careful not to interrupt others but are free to interject their own ideas without waiting for the teacher to recognize their raised hands.

Social Imagination
Most of the information in chapter 6 was framed around books.  Johnston talks about social imagination.  Which he refers to as an ability to make sense of social cues and to think through their implications.  According to Johnston, there are two main dimensions of social imagination:  mind reading (the ability to read  facial expression and figure out what's going on in their mind)  (p. 20)  and social reasoning (the ability to imagine and reason about other's actions, intentions, feelings, and beliefs from multiple perspectives.) (p.71)

Johnston states that having children talk about others through storytelling is a good place to start.  He goes on to state that, "Social imagination directly affects the child's ability to comprehend complex narratives." (p. 72)   That statement alone puts a smile on my face.  I love my classroom reading time.  For me, it's the best part of the day.  Being able to support the idea of  social imagination by having conversations around books is a major bonus for me.  I had to laugh, however, when Johnston stated that the hard part for teachers is keeping our mouths shut while our students engage in conversations.  Fortunately, most of us have learned from experience that the more the teacher talks the less students listen.  This book shares a lot of great examples of the way we should facilitate the conversations in our classroom and not dominate them.

Johnston also shares that there are other benefits too.  "Children with well-developed social imaginations have, according to their teachers, more positive social skills than those who do not." (p73)  Not only are we building comprehension skills, we are helping our students learn to problem solve on their own, and all of this contributes to better classroom management.

Below is a Wordle  I created with some of the key words from chapters 4-6.

 Wordle: Opening Minds