Teach Kids about Art with Katie’s Picture Show by James Mayhew

Katie'sPictureShowIntegrate art and literacy with James Mayhew’s terrific books about Katie, a girl who can step inside paintings.  These beautifully illustrated books bring masterpieces to life.

Katie’s Picture Show: This is the book that started it all.  Katie visits London’s National Gallery, where five famous masterpieces come to life.

Katie and the Starry Night:  The stars are falling out of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night!  Can Katie save the day, er, night?

Katie Meets The Impressionists: Katie meets Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Katie and the Waterlily Pond: A Magical Journey Through Five Monet Masterpieces: An art competition inspires Katie to step into Monet’s masterpieces.  Can she learn how to create a winning entry?

Katie and the Sunflowers:  Katie explores post-Impressionst masterpieces by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, and Paul Cezanne.

Katie and the Spanish Princess:  This one’s about  the pride of Spain, Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez.

Katie and the Bathers: Pointilist art comes alive for Katie.  She cools down with the bathers—but floods the gallery!  What now?

Katie and the British Artists:  Katie has a magical art adventure exploring masterpieces by Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Katie and the Mona Lisa:  Katie tries to cheer La Giaconda up—with disastrous results!

Teaching ideas:

  • Choose a masterpiece and imagine what would happen if Katie stepped into it.
  • Learn more about each masterpiece Katie encounters.
  • Write or discuss alternate adventures for Katie.
  • Write a letter to Katie.  You can suggest topics (requests to become her sidekick, questions, suggestions for new adventures) or you can leave it open-ended.  Students may surprise you with their creativity.
  • Create a Katie’s Picture Show comic book.  Retell sequences from the book or create your own.
  • As a class, prepare a mini-lesson for younger students.  This could involve mini bios on the artists, listing sensory details in the paintings, or fun facts about the masterpieces.  Buddy up with a younger class and reread the book.  Then, partner students and let them present their work to the youngsters.
Posted in Academics,Accelerated Reader (AR),Book Lists,Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Feb 6, 2014

 

Try a Dr. Seuss-Themed Reading Buddies Session on Read Across America Day

NEA’s Read Across America Day coincides with Dr. Seuss’s birthday.  Your students are either the right age for Dr. Seuss—or way too old.  Either way, pair up with another class for a fun Dr. Seuss-themed event.

“Class reading buddies” is a time honored tradition in elementary school.  Typically, a primary class pairs with an intermediate class.  The older kids read aloud to the younger kids.

The two classes can have a great time with a Dr. Seuss-themed session.  Get as many copies of Seuss’s books as you can.  Try the school library, the public library (put BIG labels on these books and keep track of them), and ask families to send in their well-loved Seuss readers.

Pair the kids up however you wish.  There are many options:

  • Randomly
  • By reading level (pair higher-achieving primary readers with higher-achieving intermediate readers)
  • Let the little kids pick their buddy (empowering and interesting—watch them choose someone who looks a lot like themselves)
  • By interest: who wants to read The Cat in the HatOne Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish?

Then start reading!

It’s nice if you have enough computers so kids can take Accelerated Reader (AR) tests.  I would let intermediate kids take the tests, too—assuming they haven’t already in earlier grades.  They should be rewarded with AR points for reading aloud to little kids.

Consider Cat in the Hat themed art activities.  Keep it simple with coloring pages or making bookmarks.  After all, you’ll have up to 60 kids in the room (or split between two rooms.)  Here are templates:

Seussville Printables for Cat in the Hat

PBS Kids Printables

Happy Read Across America Day!

Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR),Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Feb 28, 2013

 

American Girl Teaching Guides

American Girls SeriesThe American Girl series is just wonderful for introducing elementary school students to history. For each era, there is an irrepressible character with many books, games, and often even a movie to hook students on that time period. Students comprehend history lessons more easily if they can relate them to the experiences of an American Girl.

Today, the American Girl Teaching Guides! These are high-quality materials, just like everything from this company. You will find printable worksheets, easy-to-teach lessons, and ideas for connecting the books to character lessons as well as academic content.

Example: the Kit teaching guide focus on the Great Depression, giving, and resourcefulness. Worksheets encourage students to relate to Kit’s experiences with the Depression, make judgment calls about giving, conserve today’s resources by applying the lessons of the Depression, and even create their own messages in hobo code.  The materials are very high quality, and the worksheets would have taken you a while to develop. Good, time-saving stuff!

Here are the teaching guides. Each link opens a file in pdf format.

Addy: Freedom, the Civil War, and Life After Slavery

Caroline: Patriotism, Heroism, and the War of 1812

Chrissa: Bullying and How to Stop It

Felicity: Loyalty, Independence, and the Revolutionary War

Josefina: Spanish Culture and the Settlement of the Southwest

Julie: Equality, the Environment, and Facing Change

Kaya: Native American Life and the Nez Perce Tribe

Kirsten: Pioneer Life, Cultural Differences, and Helping One Another

Kit: The Great Depression, Giving, and Resourcefulness

Lanie: Animal Habitats and Observing Birds and Butterflies

Marie-Grace and Cécile: Diversity, Community, and Point of View

McKenna: Self-Esteem, Goal Setting, and Encouraging Self & Others

Molly: Cooperation, Adaptability, and Resourcefulness

Rebecca: Immigrants, Old Ways and New Ways, and Doing the Right Thing

Samantha: Innovation, Generosity, and Family

Posted in Book Lists by Corey Green @ Jan 14, 2013

 

Fun and Educational Games on the American Girl Website

American Girls SeriesThe American Girl series of books have been so helpful in my classrooms—whether I taught 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. The books do a wonderful job of dramatizing eras in our country’s history, which helps students build a schema that helps them comprehend new content. (More simply, kids will understand a lesson about the Great Depression more easily if they read some books about Kit.)

Previously, I have written about the American Girl books and movies. Now, I want to extol the virtues of the American Girl online games.

There are games for all the American Girl characters. Some are mostly educational, others are mostly fun. All the games make students more interested in American Girl characters and books.

My best use of the American Girl online games was as an incentive for my American Girl challenge. I challenged my class to read at least one book about each of the historical characters. We set benchmarks with rewards: read 2 books and you can watch the Kit movie with the class, read 4 and we’ll watch the Felicity movie, etc.

Students who kept up also got to play the American Girl games during specially scheduled computer lab time. (Students who were behind on their reading sat in the back and read.) After one of those sessions, my students decided to get on board and do their reading so they could participate fully in the American Girl awesomeness.

Even the boys liked it! I take sexism out of it as much as I can. I tell the entire class that there is nothing like American Girl for boys, and so the girls owe it to the boys to not tease them about reading books about girls. That speech does the trick because the students understand that they have the power to create the environment they want to learn in.

There are several ways to access the games. I have listed many because they might help you create links for your class.

General access to games

Historical characters: this displays the game menus for all. Click on the girl whose era you want to teach.

Girl of the year: These are modern girls. Click on the girl for access to books, games, etc.

List of American Girls with links to their books:

Kaya 1764: a Native American Girl

Felicity Merriman , 1774: a horse-loving girl caught between Patriot and Loyalist family and friends during the American Revolution

Josefina Montoya , 1824: lives in New Mexico when it was part of Mexico

Kirsten Larson , 1854: a Swedish immigrant who settles in the Minnesota Territory

Addy Walker , 1864: a fugitive slave who escapes to Pennsylvania during the Civil War

Samantha Parkington , 1904: an orphan being raised by a wealthy family during the Victorian period

Rebecca Rubin , 1914: a Jewish girl growing up in the Lower East Side of New York City

Kit Kittredge , 1934: faces the hard times of the Great Depression

Molly McIntire , 1944: keeps the home fires burning during World War II

Julie Albright , 1974: A San Francisco girl facing the changes of the mid-1970s

Posted in Book Lists by Corey Green @ Dec 28, 2012

 

Black & White – A Crystal Kite Award Winner

Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor
by Larry Dane Brimner
AR book level 8.7/Point value: 4
Available at Amazon.com

Take your civil rights lessons beyond Dr. King with this insightful book about the conflict in Birmingham. Few things in life are black and white, but I don’t see any other way to spin the conflict between civil rights leader Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and segregationist Eugene “Bull” Connor. After reading about civil rights activists being bombed, jailed, attacked, and killed, I think your students will agree that Black & White is a fitting title.

I learned about Black & White at a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. Author Larry Dane Brimner received the prestigious Crystal Kite Award for this book. After hearing his acceptance speech and attending a breakout session on how he wrote the book, I knew I had to read it, review it, and most importantly, share it.

Black & White has plenty of photos that help the reader believe the incomprehensible events that occurred in Birmingham during the civil rights movement. Today’s students are at least one generation removed from the civil rights movement and they truly might not believe some of what happened.

Accelerated Reader classifies the book as the 8.7 reading level, and I have to agree. This book is perfect for middle school. Older elementary students may enjoy it, but the descriptions of the important legal battles may be difficult for them to understand.

If the book is too difficult for your students, you might want to read it yourself and then teach students from it. They can learn a lot by looking at the pictures and listening to you tell about Reverend Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor. Author Larry Dane Brimner shows how Reverend Shuttlesworth was able to use Bull Connor’s zeal against him, ultimately showing the country just how bad things were in Birmingham and paving the way for real change.

To me, the climax of Black & White is the children’s march. The world was horrified to see images of police dogs and fire hoses turned on the young demonstrators. Black & White coordinates well with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s documentary Mighty Times: The Children’s March. You can request a FREE teaching kit with lessons and the movie.

Here’s the link to the official teacher’s guide for Black & White.  Be sure to visit author Larry Dane Brimner’s site. You can learn about his books and find out how to book him for an author visit or professional conference.

Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Dec 3, 2012

 

FREE Worksheet for the Movie The Mouse on the Mayflower

Celebrate Thanksgiving and give yourself a little prep time by having your class watch Mouse on the Mayflower and complete this FREE worksheet.

Mouse on the Mayflower is a time-honored Thanksgiving movie. Your class will enjoy the cartoon story told from a mouse’s point of view.

For older students, you can use this FREE comprehension worksheet to increase the educational value a little. The questions are easily completed by a fifth-grader who pays attention. This worksheet is perfect for grades 4-6. In my experience, third graders just stress out and interrupt each other asking for the answers because they missed them.

Here’s a previous post about Mouse on the Mayflower.

Follow up other mouse-eye views of history. My favorite is Ben and Me, a wonderful book by Robert Lawson and a fun cartoon movie by Disney. It’s a great way to teach students about Benjamin Franklin and set the stage for a unit on the American Revolution. Another good mouse story is She Was Nice to Mice: The Other Side of Elizabeth I’s Character Never Before Revealed by Previous Historians, a cute mini-novel written by 80s star Ally Sheedy when she was twelve.

Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Nov 18, 2012

 

Book Review: Desert Baths by Darcy Pattison

AR Quiz number 153577/Reading Level 3.3/Point Value 0.5

As National Board Certified Teacher, I know that Desert Baths by Darcy Pattison is highly educational and entertaining.  Students and teachers will enjoy extended study with the activities, printable worksheets, and discussion guides in the comprehensive (52 pages!) teacher’s guide.

Darcy Pattison writes beautifully, but the clever use of figurative language and literary devices does not distract.  Students will enjoy the vivid imagery and description heightened by Kathleen Rietz’s illustrations.  Teachers will be glad to point out the many examples of onomatopoeia, vivid verbs, descriptive adjectives and varied sentence structure.

The information is interesting; it’s not often we think about whether desert creatures take baths, let alone how they do so.  Students will enjoy seeing the different techniques for cleanliness in a dry place.  Kids love animals, so this book is a natural fit.

The book features several activities printed at the end, but there is much, much more in the extensive Teacher’s Guide.  Click here to view or download the 52 page manual.  Many of the resources are a snap to use—ready to print vocabulary lists, Mad-Libs style activities, worksheets, quizzes and more.  Other ideas are more involved, like a STEM activity to build a bird bath or a printable card game to sort desert animals.

Click here for school visit info—everything you need to organize a visit from author Darcy Pattison.

Full disclosure: I didn’t just happen upon this book.  I have followed Darcy’s career since attending her one of her Novel Revision Retreats a few years ago.  If you write, either casually or for publication, check out Darcy’s resources.  Her website is a treasure trove of ideas you won’t find elsewhere, and her books Novel Metamorphosis and Paper Lightning are must-have resources.

Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ Oct 19, 2012

 

Kids and Kindles Part 5: Brand-new Kindles

Amazon has released new Kindles: better technology, better prices. A National Board Certified Teacher offers tips for using Kindle in the classroom.

Of course, everyone is excited about the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G, and I’m sure it will be very fun. But there is a lot you can do with a basic Kindle in the classroom. (Or fancier ones, if your budget allows.) Even the cheapest Kindles now support children’s picture books, so Kindles have more uses in primary classrooms.

To celebrate the new Kindles, here are my blog posts about how to use them in the classroom.

Kids and Kindles Part 1: Kindle reads to kids
Help kids build fluency and comprehension skills by letting the Kindle model fluent reading. Many Kindle users say this feature has helped their kids who have learning disabilities.

Kids and Kindles Part 2: Kindle teaches speed reading
Using a Kindle helps kids train their eyes to move faster, and their brain to keep pace, so they can speed read. My blog entry explains how to teach this skill.

Kids and Kindles Part 3: the No-Budget Kindle
Learn how to use the free Kindle e-reader to give your students some of the benefits of Kindle.

Kids and Kindles Part 4: Building a Classroom Kindle Library
Five tips for building a classroom Kindle library on a budget.

Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Sep 21, 2012

 

Accelerated Reader Genre Challenge

Here is a fun way to encourage your students to select a wider variety of AR reading material.

The Accelerated Reader program makes it very easy to keep track of students’ reading. Student progress is measured by reading level, point value, and percent correct. Kids can read pretty much anything so long as they fit their material within those parameters.

I noticed that my students were staying well within their comfort zones and missing out on the array of genres available to them. I also noticed that students tended to read a lot more fiction than nonfiction. While fiction is fun, nonfiction is increasingly emphasized in standardized testing to reflect its importance in the real world.

I created the AR Genre Challenge. Over the course of a nine week grading period, students had to read from a selected list of genres, but they chose the book. Spaces were reserved for free choice.

I keep track of the Genre Challenge with a class list generated by our grading software. I tape the list to a piece of construction paper and decorate it a little for flair, then label the boxes with genres. Here are some suggestions:

Fiction Nonfiction
Mystery
Science fiction
Historical fiction
Realistic fiction
Fantasy
Fable
Fairy tale
Myth and legend
Poetry
Free choice
Animals
Plants
Vehicles (cars, trucks, planes, etc.)
Places (states, countries, regions)
Biography
Autobiography
Environments (jungle, desert, etc)
Ancient cultures
History
Cultures
Free choice

You can measure progress by book or by point value. There are pros and cons to each system; you have to decide what is best for your class.

How to use AR student records to keep track of the challenge

I use the individual student record function to keep track of the AR Stamp Sheet. The record is great because you can customize the date range so you don’t have to wade through records you’ve already seen. I just keep a note by my computer of when I last checked records so I know where to start this time.

Print (or view) the report after students have left for the school day so you know that you are capturing all tests up to that day. Fill in the chart with the books you can identify by genre. Highlight the titles you can’t easily classify and ask the student about them the next day.

I highly recommend you use one whole-class chart to keep track of the challenge. When I first started this system, I used individual stamp sheets, and the admin took MUCH longer. Plus, it’s good for students to see others making progress.

At the end of the quarter, have a blowout party for students who completed the Genre Challenge.

Happy reading!

Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR) by Corey Green @ Sep 13, 2012

 

Book Review: The Princess School series

The Princess School is a short-lived book series—much like a favorite TV show that gets cancelled too soon*. Authors Jane B. Mason and Sarah Hines imagine that Ella, Snow, Rapunzel and Rose attend Princess School, a finishing school that teaches mirror skills, charms, how to be charming—everything a princess needs to know.

The Princess School characters are relatable and fun. There is something for everyone; think Princess Spice Girls. Rapunzel is Sporty Spice. Ella is relatable-and-spunky Ginger Spice. Snow White is Baby Spice, the girl the others protect. Rose is Posh Spice—if Posh wanted to be a normal girl rather than marry soccer star David Beckham, move to Los Angeles and start her own clothing line.

The Princess School will interest readers in third grade and up, but high-achieving second graders can handle it. The books are more difficult than Magic Tree House and similar in reading level to American Girl books. The Princess School books hover at the 5th grade reading level.

Personally, I don’t think The Princess School books are particularly difficult to read. I think the high AR reading level may have kept students from being allowed to read it for school. I see the same thing happening with Beverly Cleary books—I swear that part of the reason kids don’t read them so much nowadays is the 4-6th grade AR level on most of her books.

Here is the information on The Princess School books. Buy them on Amazon, or, better yet, see if you can convince your school library to buy them for you! Your girls will thank you.

If the Shoe Fits: Reading level 5.2, worth 4 points
Who’s the Fairest: Reading level 5.2, worth 4 points
Let Down Your Hair: Reading level 4.9 , worth 4 points
Beauty Is A Beast: Reading level 5.2, worth 4 points
Princess Charming: Reading level 5.0, worth 3 points
Apple-Y Ever After: Reading level 4.8, worth 3 points
Thorn In Her Side: Reading level 5.2, worth 3 points

The The Princess School series is very different from Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. The Princess School is like a fun and fluffy romantic comedy; Princess Academy is like Serious Film “Oscar bait.” Both are good—but they are very, very different.

*Prime example: Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Check it out if you haven’t already! Maybe we can bring The Princess School back in the manner that Firefly fans got the Serenity movie made.

 

Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR) by Corey Green @ May 29, 2012

 

Book Review: Washington City Is Burning

Washington City Is Burning, winner of the 1997 Carl Sandburg Award, is a wonderful story by respected author and multiple award winner Harriette Gillem Robinet. I recommend it for any classroom, but particularly if you study American history.

The focus, of course, is the British invasion of Washington City (now Washington, D.C) in the War of 1812. Tremendous extra value is added by telling the story from the point of view of Virginia, an enslaved girl. Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington figures in the story, but that’s really just the beginning.

The strongest storyline is about slavery in our nation’s capital. To me, it was much more interesting than the actual invasion when the British soldiers burned Washington City (although that is well told, too.)

Did you know there were slave auctions just blocks away from the White House? Wait until you read about the suffering Virginia endured to save her fellow slaves—even before she became a house slave at the White House, the central setting of the book.  (Don’t worry, it’s not too much for your students.) There is an exciting sequence wherein Virginia rescues slaves that are to be sold at auction. Her bravery is stunning and humbling. Could you or I have done what she did?

I hope you read and enjoy Washington City Is Burning. I think it is Newbery Medal quality. I wish it had been around when I was a kid, but I will content myself with sharing this book with today’s children.

Posted in Book Reviews by Corey Green @ May 21, 2012

 

Class Antics Nominated for “Most Fascinating Blog” Award

Dear readers,

Exciting news!  ClassAntics.com has been nominated for the 2012 Fascination Awards featuring the Internet’s most fascinating blogs in the category of Elementary Teacher Blogs.  It’s an honor just to be nominated.

The Fascinator Awards editorial team chooses the nominees.  ClassAntics caught their attention with FREE Leap Year Worksheets Part 3.  Special thanks to Kumie and Ramona, whose positive comments impressed the editorial team.

Thank you to the ten thousand viewers who visit ClassAntics each month.

Sincerely,
Corey Green
P.S. For a ClassAntics Sampler, visit these popular posts.

Classroom Management
All for One and One for All: Whole-Class Incentives
A typical elementary schoolday schedule
A Sample First Day of School Letter Home
Chill Music for the Classroom
Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 2)
Make your classroom a tattle-free zone

Literacy
AR Report: What Kids are Reading
Teaching Kids to Write Complete Sentences
Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: You Belong with Me

Resources and Worksheets
Dad’s Worksheets: my favorite math resource for parents and teachers
FREE Equinox Worksheet and More Equinox Teaching Resources
Beat Summer Slide: Where to Buy Workbooks

Civil Rights
Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 1)
Coretta Scott King Book Awards 2012
Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 1
Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, Part 2
Ballad of Birmingham
Ruby Bridges

Academics
New Orleans Halloween
Think Inside the Box
How to Ace Standardized Tests

Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ May 13, 2012

 

Amelia Bedelia in the Classroom

Idiom-challenged maid Amelia Bedelia has delighted children since 1963.  Who can resist a maid who doesn’t understand how to draw the drapes or put out the lights?  Amelia Bedelia’s good intentions and delicious desserts carry her through.

Interestingly enough, I have noticed that most children don’t enjoy the humor of Amelia Bedelia unless they are taught how to appreciate it.  Like Amelia Bedelia, children are very literal and they just don’t get the jokes.   I think kids enjoy Amelia Bedelia books best if they hear several of them read aloud.  That way, the students can help each other explain the idioms.  If you are lucky, one or two kids will get each joke, and they can explain them to the class.  Once the students understand Amelia Bedelia books, rereading them makes for good fluency practice.

Amelia Bedelia books are time-honored vehicles for teaching children about idioms.  This is especially helpful to English Language Learners (ELL students).  Idioms are hard to pick up—notice I used an idiom to explain the quandary.

In addition to the classic Amelia Bedelia books, your students will enjoy reading Herman Parish’s books about young Amelia Bedelia and her first experiences at school.  The books are charming and will make your students feel like seasoned vets as they chuckle over how confusing school is to young Amelia.  You can read a sample here at the Harper Collins website.

Tip for standardized test prep: it’s tough to answer a question about explaining the idiom if you don’t know what an idiom is.  Your students will face this problem unless you periodically review the meaning of words like “idiom.”  It’s easy to lose sight of vocabulary basics in fun lessons, so remember to bring the kids back to the definition.

Resources for Amelia Bedelia and Idioms

List of Amelia Bedelia books
Available at Amazon.com

Amelia Bedelia (1963) – Wiki link
Thank You, Amelia Bedelia (1964)
Amelia Bedelia and the Surprise Shower (1966)
Come Back, Amelia Bedelia (1971)
Play Ball, Amelia Bedelia (1972)
Good Work, Amelia Bedelia (1976)
Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia (1977)
Amelia Bedelia Helps Out (1979)
Amelia Bedelia and the Baby (1981)
Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping (1985)
Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia (1986)
Amelia Bedelia’s Family Album (1988)
Good Driving, Amelia Bedelia (1995)
Bravo, Amelia Bedelia! (1997)
Amelia Bedelia 4 Mayor (1999)
Calling Doctor Amelia Bedelia (2002)
Amelia Bedelia and the Christmas List (2003)
Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm (2003)
Happy Haunting, Amelia Bedelia (2004)
Amelia Bedelia Goes Back to School (2004)
Be My Valentine, Amelia Bedelia (2004)
Amelia Bedelia, Rocket Scientist? (2005)
Amelia Bedelia’s Masterpiece (2007)
Amelia Bedelia Under Construction (2007)
Amelia Meets Emilie Castro (2007)
Amelia Bedelia and the Cat (2008)
Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School (2009)
Amelia Bedelia’s First Valentine (2009)
Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend (2011)

 

Posted in Book Lists by Corey Green @ May 3, 2012

 

AR Report: What Kids are Reading

Renaissance Learning’s report on What Kids are Reading has garnered national media attention, much of it focusing on perceived inadequacies among today’s readers.  A National Board Certified Teacher offers a different perspective.

Renaissance Place’s Accelerated Reader program gathers a lot of data when students take AR tests.  Kids rate books and the program counts how often tests are taken.  The results can be interesting…and misleading.  For example, kids almost always pick the top rating, so you can’t place much stock in the stars books receive on the ARBookFind site. Additionally standalone titles of perennial popularity (Charlotte’s Web) do better than really, really popular series.  Kids love Magic Tree House books, but there are so many that they split the vote.

Sometimes the reason for a book’s popularity isn’t what you think.  For example, three of the top books read by third graders (Boom Town, Officer Buckle & Gloria, and Lon Po Po) are in the Harcourt Trophies third grade reader.  Would these books be so popular among AR test takers if they weren’t in the reading textbook?

Reading level can be a misleading thing.  Just because a student is in third grade doesn’t mean she reads only books rated three point something.  A quick glance at the top books for any grade level shows you that reading level is just an average.  For example, third graders love Diary of a Wimpy Kid (5.5), but they also enjoy Green Eggs and Ham (1.5)  Books hovering around grade level are prominent, but so are outliers.

Reading levels run the gamut in every grade, both among the readers and the titles they favor.  That’s why I’m not nuts about assigning kids to a narrow reading level (2.5-3.1 would be a common reading zone for third grade.)  Kids miss out on so much and the reading level is not always an indicator of whether the child can read the book.  It’s an indicator of sentence length, word length, sentences in a paragraph, that sort of thing.

Much has been made in the media about the low average grade level of high school students’ favorite books.  Don’t wig out, America!  There are several forces at work here.  First of all, mostly younger high school kids take AR tests, and mostly kids who are in regular English, not honors are required to earn points.  Honors students read literature and write papers; AR tests rarely figure into the curriculum.   If it does, it’s just an assignment to rack up points for independent reading.  Why not get credit for Twilight under such a system?

A look at AR tests high school kids are taking reads like the bestseller list.  Some of the reading levels may surprise you. For example, The Hunger Games clocks in at 5.3, but anyone who has read it knows the issues, characterization, and depth of the novel go far beyond that.  Besides, how can you knock The Hunger Games for a low reading level when Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is lower, only 4.5?  The low reading levels are indicators of today’s writing style—clear and concise.  Short sentences and paragraphs mean low reading levels.

What differentiates the high school books is topic, not word length and sentence length.  Glass by Ellen Hopkins is considered 3.7 grade level, but would I share that novel-in-verse with my third graders?  It’s way above their comprehension level!

Use the list of What Kids are Reading as it was intended: a way to report usage of AR tests, indicating popularity of certain books.  Don’t think it indicates the end of literacy or a terrible decline in the reading ability of today’s kids.

The report also has interesting essays by some of today’s most famous authors.  Ellen Hopkin’s article about frequently challenged books and what kids should be reading is insightful.

Posted in Accelerated Reader (AR) by Corey Green @ Apr 26, 2012

 

How to Win Interclass Competitions

Many schools have interclass competitions for all sorts of events: readathons, jogathons, fundraiser competitions, school spirit days.

I am not insanely competitive, and I don’t push my class to win everything. Winning takes a lot of dedication from the teacher, students, and families. I think it’s best to put that kind of energy into educational goals.

Here are the five tips I developed when G3 decided to win the school readathon.

1.  Set your goal high, and make it measurable. Yes, your goal is to be the best, but what do you think it will take to win? It’s only an estimate, but quantifying really helps. Your class can revise the estimate as early results come in.

2.  Set the goal for individual contributions. The competition is organized by class, but you’ll have to figure out what each person needs to do. Often, I find that the per-person goal is fairly low. Watch out for this—it makes people think they don’t have to do anything. As with most things in life, a few students will carry the rest. The next tip increases the numbers in the few, the proud…

3.  Reward individuals. Decide on a reward for individuals in your class who work hard to achieve the goal. For our readathon, we decided on an Oreo party for everyone who got their log signed each night and read a minimum number of minutes. Participation soared!

4.  Encourage the kids to motivate each other. My students and I identified a surprising pitfall in our quest for the readathon championship: the reading itself wasn’t so hard, but remembering to put the signed reading log in your backpack each night was. My students called each other to remind them to put their signed reading logs in their backpack each night. (Bonus: G3 parents got phone numbers for other G3 students.)

5.  Communicate with families. In most interclass competitions, parents’ support is essential to success, for example: signing the reading log, making sure the school T-shirt is laundered, making cans of food available to donate. The class performs better when the teacher forms a partnership with parents.  I sent emails at critical points in our quest for the championship.

When G3 won the school readathon, we invited our families to help us celebrate during the last few minutes of the school day. Families who couldn’t attend were encouraged to hold their own celebrations at home.  I think it’s an important life lesson for my students to learn how to create lifetime memories celebrating their accomplishments. This helps kids internalize goals and intrinsic rewards. Those benefits last a lifetime!

Posted in Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Feb 28, 2012