Deborah Hodge Talks the Craft of Writing


There is nothing like the visit from a REAL author to bring to life the point that authors are real people, writing about their experiences or imaginings.  We are thrilled to welcome Deborah Hodge to speak to the Vancouver School Board.  Deborah Hodge will be joining administrators, librarians and two students from 55 Vancouver elementary schools at Shaughnessy Elementary School on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

image

Each year the Vancouver Elementary Principals and Vice Principals host an author to celebrated reading and writing with elementary students and educators.  Phyllis Simon of Vancouver Kidsbooks, is one of our keen supporters.  She selects a collection of some of the most wonderful picture books that have been recently published for the selection committee to peruse.  Of course, I love this committee and always manage to find birthday picks for my friends, family and my own collection.  It is also a source of inspiration for possibilities in the school.   From our shortlist of books, we then contact the authors to determine their availability during Canadian Children’s Book Week:  May 7 – May 14th, 2016 to share their book .

For 2016, we have selected a new publication by Deborah Hodge.  This author was born in Saskatchewan but lucky for us, she lives in Vancouver.  Deborah Hodge has written over 25 books for children, many of which provide a plethora of information about nature and history.  Her picture book , West Coast Wild – A Nature Alphabet, has been purchased for all of the elementary libraries in the district by the administrator’s association.   Several schools in the Vancouver School District participated in Wild About Vancouver Festival this year and interest in learning in the outdoor classroom is growing.  The First People’s Principles of Learning have also been highlighted in the Redesigned Curriculum in British Columbia and have opened our eyes to the experiential and reflective learning of Indigenous People who have lived and learned in British Columbia for thousands of years.   Both of these factors, along with the engaging text and illustrations make this book a perfect choice.

Students throughout the district are excited about the chance to meet Deborah Hodge and have their questions answered.    Grade 3 students at Tecumseh have been writing alphabet books about topics they have been researching.  Maria got new glasses this year and has taken off with her writing.  She is wondering if Deborah Hodge saw all of the animals she wrote about in her book or if she did an internet search to find the animal that matched the letter she needed.  Victoria is writing an ABC book about the aquarium and is wondering how the author got so many good ideas for her book. Hopefully they will find their answers on Wednesday.

Special Thanks to  Vancouver Administrators for funding this project,  committee members – Maureen McDonnell and Maria Donovan, as well as staff at Shaughnessy Elementary School for hosting this event.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

“Norman, Speak!”

  Caroline Adderson welcomed student representatives from all of the elementary schools in the VSB to a celebration of literacy along with their librarians and principals or vice-principals.  “Norman Speaks” was the book selected by the Vancouver Elementary Principals Vice Principals Association (VEPVPA).   Each year the VEPVPA “Celebrating Literacy Committee ” selects a book.   The Association invites the author to share the story with students and then puts the autographed book into the one hundred VSB elementary school libraries in Vancouver.  “Norman Speak” was selected for the storytelling and the illustrations in the picture book, as well as the story itself.   Caroline Adderson fascinated both groups with the story of the dog who inspired the story, a real dog that really only understood Chinese.  The book explores the assumptions that young and old people make when someone does not speak the language.  Something wise to be talking about in a city like Vancouver, where so many people speak English as a second or third or fourth language.  Caroline was an amazing presenter – a prolific author with teaching experience!  She had us all engaged in grappling with the task of trying to speak another language.  She also shared a video clip with the illustrator, Qin Leng, discussing how she approached doing the illustrations.   The students were amazed to learn that the authors and illustrators don’t usually meet until after the drawings are done, if ever.

Ben reports that the highlight of the event was having books and pieces of paper signed by the author.   More than one students reported that the dog shaped chocolate was the best part.   The was truly a wonderful illustration of how books can help us to adopt another perspective and delight in the experience.


     I

ABC Research Reports

My Grade 3 students in the GR 3/4 class I teach on Monday and Tuesday are doing research reports using BookCreator for The Celebration of Learning at our school.

The teacher librarian in the school has created a strong collection of books on Canada at a variety of reading levels to support the high number of ELL learners in our school. She has also developed a unit of study on Canada to teach research skills to late primary/ early intermediate students. Students used a collection of books on each province and territory to answer questions, develop mapping skills and complete tasks in the library. In the classroom, they used databases to find information.

Once the students demonstrated their ability to find and record information accurately, the Grade 3 students each chose a province or territory to research and share their learning at The Celebration of Learning.

I shared several ABC books that had a specific theme and shared content area knowledge, including:

Campbell, Janis and Collison, Cathy(2005). G is for Galaxy. An Out of this World Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI.

Napier, Matt (2002). Z is for Zamboni. A Hockey Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press. Chelsea, MI.

Thornhill, Jan (2012). The Wildlife ABC. A Nature alphabet Book, Owlkids Books, Toronto.

Students Were already familiar with BookCreator and airdrop through our work with Joanne Carlton and Zhi Su, our Technology mentors. Students were given the task to create an ABC Picture Book about the province or territory that they had chosen. The title of the book title was to include the province or territory and the first letter.

ie. Y is for Yukon
B is for Beautiful British Columbia

The challenge has been helping students to choose facts that are backed up with research and specific to the province or territory. “B is for brown houses in the Yukon” does not help us to learn about the Yukon, even though it may be a fact from picture cues in a book. The huge advantage of using BookCreator is the ability download maps, flags, pictures, illustrations from drawing pad and add audio clips. Students find images and share them with each other via airdrop. The challenge is to keep them focussed on the task of using the images to support research.

I’m looking forward to see how this project plays out. I’ll keep you posted.

Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.

On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My buddy, Armando, was a great fan of Stephen King in high school.  Uttering the name, Cujo, became a tool to freak each other out walking home from the bus stop late at night or in expansive yards in Kerrisdale during late night parties.  Of course, the movie version of my namesake, Carrie, taught me the power of standing poker straight, the unblinking stare and clearly enunciating “No”.   Even the most drunk frat rat or persistent “bad choice” date responded with the intended outcome. Although my older sister digested horror books en mass, I never did.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book.

Stephen King is a prolific writer who has been able to translate that to market success. My assumption was that his goal as a writer was mass market success.  His book On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft reveals this is not the case. His writing has been a way to live his life, starting from a very young age.   Life granted him both the ultimate highs and ultimate lows that he negotiated through his writing.  He says that he doesn’t even remember writing Cujo because it was in the midst of a dark time when he was drinking heavily.  Perhaps it was the darkness that made the book so haunting!

His writing has strong voice, a direct style and an honesty and openness that I admire.   His advice to aspiring writers:  Make the time to read widely and write widely.  He reads because he likes to read.  He reads fiction because he likes stories.  The learning comes from both the good and the bad books.  “One learns most clearly what not to do from bad prose… Good writing on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters, and truth telling. “(p.146)

King is a disciplined writer and he rarely skips a day.  He is not a believer in mapping out the plot and then developing his story. He begins with the situation and flat, unfeatured characters.  Once that is firmly in his mind, he begins to narrate.  He emphasizes:  “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story…Reading will help you answer how much and only reams of writing will help you with the how.”(p.173)

His book also includes a few pieces of advice that were given to him along the way.

by John Gould, editor of The Lisbon’s weekly newspaper where he had his first job:  “When you write the story, you’re telling yourself the story. he said.  When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all of the things that are not the story.” (p.57)

in a rejection letter in spring of his Senior high year: machine generated signature of editor  :“Not bad, but PUFFY.  You need to revise for length.  Formula:  2nd draft = 1st draft-10%.  Good luck.”

This book taught me so much that I can use in the teaching of writing and in my own writing.  I’m so glad it fell into my hands.  I highly recommend it.

 

Readers Who Write

Spanish Banks was my favourite beach to take my kids to because I could actually have some reading time when the tide was way, way out there and I could look down at a book.  My daughter, Larkyn, completed the classic “starting school” assignment as a young scholar: Draw a picture that tells about your family.   Stick mommy has fountains of tears coming out of both sides of her head. Stick Mommy is perched on top of what looks like a big box. The arrow pointing to it says “fat, sad book”.   She nailed it. Rohinton Mistry, A.S. Byatt, Jane Urquhart, Michael Ondaatje, Wayne Johnson and Ann-Marie MacDonald are all near and dear to my heart.  The descriptive language, the character development and the story captivates me.

In a discussion of favourite books and good reads recently, I was surprised that a colleague shares a common all time favourite book, Possession by A.S. Byatt.   We laughed because in many ways we couldn’t be more different. However her observation was “Hhmmm, that’s why you can write.”  Same conversation, David Hutchison, author of The Witches’ Malice was sharing his love for Edgar Allen Poe.    My Dad loves Poe and always highly recommended his books for evening reading at his cabin in the Sierra Nevadas.   I wouldn’t be able to put the book down, read long after everyone was sleeping and terrified myself.  The visual image of the pendulum moving closer and closer still comes to mind when I’m dreading something. The Witches’ Malice, reflects Hutchison’s fascination with building suspense and the macabre imagery of the hand.  The learning from the reading isn’t deliberate but pervasive.

As part of my teaching assignment next year, I am sharing a grade 3/4 classroom with a teaching partner.  I am looking forward to teaching reading and writing with young children again.  However I’m also looking forward to exploring the reading-writing connection with them.  Many of the students in our school have English as a second or third language. Reading becomes mandatory practice rather than something that defines how we communicate.  I’m looking forward to the process of working with eight and nine year olds to discover the possibilities for readers who write.