April 24, 2013

Creating Picture Books with Kids: Revision (Rubric/Self Check/Adult Check/Peer Check)

Today I return to the topic of, "Writing Fractions Stories for First Graders," a project that I initially wrote about in my March 22nd post. Last week I shared the fabulous story ideas the fifth grade students began working on for their first-grade buddy class. This week I will outline the revision process we incorporated into this project. 

I opened the class meeting with a discussion on the importance of revision in the writing process, and I shared the real-life file that holds many of the different revisions for one of my published picture books, THE NEST WHERE I LIKE TO REST (a 250-word book, that takes about three sheets of paper per draft . . .).

Here is the file: 

I am routinely asked by students how many revisions this manuscript went through, and this group was no exception. I do not have an exact count of the number of revisions this manuscript endured, but I know it was at least 15 or 20 significant rounds of revisions!

The revision process the fifth graders incorporated into the "Writing Fractions Stories for First Graders" project was as follows:

1) Self Check:  Complete your first ROUGH DRAFT, and then compare it against the grade-level writing rubrics used by the school:

a. Ideas
b. Organization
c. Sentence Fluency
d. Transitions

When students worked on their self check, they were encouraged to ask themselves: Are you satisfied with how you have 1) conveyed your idea  2) organized your story 3) your sentence fluency, and 4) handled your transitions?

We discussed that good writers REVISE, and students were challenged to make each of the following types of changes on EACH PAGE of their manuscript:

Change at least one word.

Add at least one word.

Cut/draw a line through at least one word or sentence.

Move/rearrange at least one word or sentence.

If students couldn't muster the strength to do each of these types of changes on each page, (which arguably is very difficult!), then at a minimum, they needed to make at least one of each of the above types of changes in their overall manuscript.

Once students completed their Self Check, they were ready for feedback/critique from an adult and from a student peer:

2) Feedback from an Adult:

Project volunteers were on hand to provide feedback. During the "feedback from an adult" process, students were asked:

1) To confirm that they had considered their work with respect to the rubric (i.e. ideas/organization/sentence fluency/transitions)

2) To show the changes they had made during their self check (i.e. What word(s) they changed, what word(s) they added, what word(s)/sentence(s) they cut and what word(s)/sentences they moved)

Then, the volunteer and student read through the manuscript in detail, and the volunteer made written notes of compliment and notes for suggestions to think about/consider in their next revision. (It was discussed that it is important for good writers to get comfortable having their rough drafts marked up...it's a rough draft and changes are expected . . . this is a hard experience to go through, but students did a great job). 

3) Feedback from Another Peer:

Students swapped manuscripts, and then gave each other feedback. Students were asked to use the following guidelines in sharing feedback:

1) Share what you liked

2) Share what questions you had (i.e. things that might have been unclear to you)

3) Share the suggestions you have

4) Thank the author for sharing their work with you (it's hard to have your work critiqued!)

After students completed their Self check, Adult Feedback and Peer Feedback, they worked on incorporating the feedback they were given and started putting their manuscript into the format of a  "book dummy," (For those who are not familiar with author lingo, a "book dummy" is the official publishing-world word for a manuscript that is drafted into more of a book-like form). Students figured out that it is easier to work on a dummy if you just fold the paper and don't staple it (and some students just used whole sheets of paper for their dummy). Here are examples of two real-world book dummies I used when I was working on one of my published books:

This is a folded dummy

This is a whole-sheet dummy

Once students completed their revised draft/book dummy, they met with another group students (who were not involved in the project) and received feedback from them, then they began work on their final product. I will share more about these additional steps in a future post.

April 17, 2013

Creating Picture Books with Kids: Sharing Our Ideas and Writing Our Stories

Today I continue my series of posts about "Writing Fractions Stories with First Graders." Last week I summarized the students' research and general project guidelines. This week, I'll provide a brief summary of the fabulous story ideas the students started working on: 

Grace:  Willie the Wolf howls at howls at the moon. Forest creatures ask him questions that involve portions of the moon.

Alyssa: Kit the Cat is on a picnic with Buddy the dog (and possibly other friends). Pie, watermelon and apples will need to be divided.

Kate: "Dog" steals portions of food off the table.  Readers will be asked how much he ate and how much is left (i.e. dog ate 1/4 of the food, how much of the food is left?).

Sophia: Four insects are playing together. One by one they will go away to their own habitat (and the fractions will be incorporated in terms of how many of the insects have left and how many remain).

Miguel: Spot the Cat (a referee) has 12 friends (though he is rethinking that  6 might be more manageable ). Spot organizes several games (tug of war, relays, etc.) and will need to divide his friends up into fractional groupings to play the different games.

Ed: Different rain forest animals will come to shared water source to drink water, but the water is in short supply. The water will continue to reduce as the story progresses (i.e. now there is only 3/4 of the water remaining).

Val: Stray cats will be doing various things like eating and sleeping. The story will be told by indicating what fraction of the cats are doing the different activities. (i.e. 1/2 of the cats are sleeping. 1/4 of the cats are eating).

Ethan: Rob the Tiger is a PE Teacher. He has 12 kids in the class, and he will divide them up for different classroom games.

Nikko: Sammy's Fraction Adventures: Book One: Lost. This story is about a cube named Sammy who is made out of a jello-y substance. He gets lost and must get back home, but runs into various obstacles along the way. He must divide himself into different fractions/portions to get through the obstacles and get back home.

Drew: Henry owns a fish shop. Kids come in to get a supply of fish of different colors (i.e. 1/2 blue and 1/2 red).


By this stage in the process, many of the students had well developed illustrations to go along with their stories. Students were motivated and very focused on their project during class time. Before this class session ended we reviewed the importance of keeping the plot simple and staying on focus in terms of weaving the fractions into the story. We also reviewed that there would be several revisions to these stories before they were ready to be published into their final drafts. In a future post I will share the revision process. 

April 15, 2013

Gotcha! How to Find and Capture Great Writing Ideas: Summary Post

Last year I wrote a series of posts under the heading: "Gotcha! How to Find and Capture Great Writing Ideas," which summarized the key learning points in a workshop I teach for young writers by the same title. This workshop focuses on the curricular learning targets pertaining to generating ideas. It's a good match for young writers in a variety of different settings including schools, libraries, scout troops and homeschool study groups.

Below are the links to all of the posts in this series, beginning with the introductory post:

Introductory Post

Big Idea #1: Find Your Feelings

Big Idea #2: Story Ideas Hide in Your Head

Big Idea #3: Keep a Notebook to Capture Your Ideas

Big Idea #4: Read, Read, and Read Some More

Big Idea #5: Write, Write and Write Some More

If you'd like to schedule a writing workshop or author visit for your school or community group, please get in touch.

April 11, 2013

Start to Finish Story Time: Summary Post

Available through ABDO
I've written several "Start to Finish Story Time" posts, with the idea being that with each new post, I provide a "start to finish" lesson plan for a sign language story time program for each of the themes covered in my "Story Time with Signs & Rhymes" books. My aim is to build each lesson plan in a pick-and-choose/modular format, meaning that you can apply the elements that work for your environment, age group(s) and personal interests, and skip the rest.

Each lesson plan incorporates ideas that are suitable for infant/toddler, preschool and/or school age audiences and each program incorporates activities that promote literacy/early literacy and one or more of the six keys skills recommended by the National Research Council for preparing children to become readers when they enter school. Programs can last from 20 - 45 minutes, depending on what you include and who your audience is.

This post provides a summary of the current posts in the this series:

Start to Finish Story Time: See the Colors

Start to Finish Story Time: A to Z Sign With Me

Start to Finish Story Time: Wear a Silly Hat

Start to Finish Story Time: Opposites Everywhere

Cowgirls Don't Wear Diapers (a Start to Finish Story Time Post that Incorporates ASL into a cowgirl and potty-themed lesson plan)

And, here is a link to my Playlist of Sign Language Story Time Videos.

I will add to this list as more "Start to Finish Story Time" posts are added to the blog.

If you like this series, you might also like the Ideas for Incorporating Alphabet Signs into Your Story Time series, and the Start to Finish Story Time, Expanded series.

And, for your web browsing pleasure, here are some excellent links to others' blog posts about incorporating sign language into story time:

*Using American Sign Language in Storytime (a blog post written by "Jbrary,"a librarian duo, full of sign language story time resources and videos, including songs to sign and links to the Jbrary YouTube Channel).

*American Sign Language (ASL) in Your Library (a great ALSC blog post written by Renee Grassi full of fabulous resource links).

April 10, 2013

Creating Picture Books with Kids: Summarizing Our Research

Today I return to the topic of, "Writing Fractions Stories for First Graders," a project that I originally mentioned in my March 22nd and April 2nd posts. In these earlier posts, I described the project and the initial research that the students conducted. In this week's post, I summarize students collective feedback of the books they had read during their research the prior week.  As a reminder, each student read at least three different picture books from the books available (noted in this post). While they read, students took notes about the following: 

1) What we liked

2) What we didn't like, and

3) What ideas this book gave us for our own writing project

Here are the notes from our discussion--with apologies for the messy writing on the easels!:

Based on this discussion, students summarized the things they thought would be particularly important for their own stories for their target audience of first graders:

*Start with a fun character, and then build a plot around that character
*Incorporate a problem that needs to be resolved by the character
*Keep the target audience (first graders) in mind
   -Use shorter sentences
   -Don't try to be too fancy/complex with the plot or with the fractions that are incorporated
   -Keep it simple (but don't be so simple that it's boring)   
   -Stick to the topic (and be sure that the details included are important to the story line vs. random 'extras') 
   -Beware of negative messages or scary plot lines
*The books should be fun to look at visually 
*Illustrations that incorporate fractions can help first graders understand fractions (these can be on side bars, or in the back of the book, or incorporated into the main illustrations)

With these general guidelines in mind, students got busy working on their own stories. We discussed that each writer/illustrator may have a different way of  getting started, (i.e. some may start with a title or character or plot ideas, some may start with pictures, some may start with an outline, and some may start writing a rough draft), but we agreed that everyone would make progress in one or more of the areas listed below during their in-class work time: 

...and they did! By the end of this class meeting, most students made impressive progress on an outline and/or rough draft, and some had a good start on illustrations. In a future post, I will provide a summary of the story ideas that came from this process.  

April 5, 2013

Autism Awareness Month (Deaf History Month, National Poetry Month) WOW!

There is so much to be aware of and celebrate this month that has a tie-in to sign language and/or my books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series. I've read several blog posts and Facebook status updates about these topics and thought it would be helpful to do a round-up here:

Autism Awareness Month (April)

Signing Time posted a series of blog posts in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. Via this post, you can download a free guide that explains how sign language can help you and your family, if your child is on the Autism Spectrum. Pages 8-10 of the guide offers some great testimonials from parents and professionals about the benefits of sign language for children on the Autism Spectrum. One of my favorite quotes in the guide was from Amy Baker, the 2010 Co-Chair for Utah Walk Now for Autism Speaks. She said that sign language turned her family's "spoken vocabulary into works of art, pictures that [her son] could better understand." Isn't that beautiful?

Later in the Signing Time resource guide, a first grade teacher shares how incorporating sign language into his literacy programs benefits all of the students in his classroom, (by increasing vocabulary, improving letter and word recognition, improving written sentence formation, and helping students focus on learning). However, he goes on to say that sign language plays an especially key role in communication for his students identified on the Autism Spectrum. Specifically, sign language gives those students a valuable tool that enables them to ask for what they need, and it gives them an opportunity to feel like bone fide members of the learning community. These are some of the topics I touch on in my "Sign Language Beginner Basics for Early Literacy (and Fun!) workshop that I teach frequently at community events and professional development conferences (coming up next at the SW Washington Early Childhood Tapestry Conference, April 6, 2013). (Visit the website for the Southwest Association for the Education of Young Children for more info, or contact me if you'd like to schedule me to present a workshop at your upcoming event).

Deaf History Month (March 13 - April 15, each year)

When I attended ALA this past January, I had the opportunity to listen to Alec McFarlane discuss his work to help Deaf History Month become elevated to the same level of national recognition as Black History Month and Women's History Month. To quote Amy Bopp, President of the Library Friends Section of the National Association for the Deaf:

"By observing Deaf History Month, as well as any other appropriate annual events during the year, you will be reaching out to your diverse community increasing their awareness of the rich deaf history and of your various library resources that will benefit the public—hearing and deaf." 

The New York Public Library recently blogged about this topic, honoring library activist, Alice L. Hagemeyer, and sharing that one of their traditions is to commemorate Deaf History Month by inviting hearing authors with Deaf parents (also known as CODAs), who have written memoirs to share their stories.  What a wonderful way to build awareness about Deaf culture and community.

(Image from Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series)
One of the ways to involve children in Deaf History Month is to introduce them to American Sign Language. My publisher, Abdo Publishing Group, has a free Sign Language Event Guide that can be downloaded from their website (scroll down past the Star Wars Event info).

Although I'd love to be invited to present a workshop at your event, the free event guide provides all of the information and resources you'll need to independently host an "ASL and/or Deaf Culture" event in your area!

I should also mention that each book in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series has a page of Activity Ideas, Fun Facts about ASL, and a list of Additional Resources to help readers learn more about ASL and Deaf Culture. One of my favorite tips offered in the books is to invite someone from the Deaf Community and/or who is fluent in ASL to your school, library or community event. Not only will you make a new friend, and learn something about Deaf Culture, you will discover first hand, that ASL is a beautiful and poetic language to see in action!

Speaking of poetry, that brings us to . . .

National Poetry Month (Also in April)

According to Poets.org, National Poetry Month was "inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996." It is now held every April, and it is a time when "schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and it's vital place in American culture."

One of the fun poetry-related traditions I've enjoyed over the past couple of years, is the Poetry Slam put on by http://www.thinkkidthink.com. Poets are given words that they must incorporate into a fresh poem within an established deadline. It's so much fun to read the poems that are created and vote for favorites. If you missed it this year, be sure to bookmark it in your calendar for next year (it actually starts in March with a "March Madness" theme, and wraps up in April).

I also have enjoyed being the recipient of a student-written poem via the Poetry Postcard Project, facilitated by a teacher librarian, and one of my author friends, Jone MacCulloch. Here is a picture of the lovely poem I received in the mail last year and keep posted right above my writing space:

I really love this poem. Don't you?

So how does poetry relate to the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series? Most of the stories in the series are essentially rhyming poems.

One of my favorites is, "Four Seasons! Five Senses! Sign Language for the Seasons and the Senses."

Here is one of the stanzas:

It is Spring!

I see pink blooms on bright green trees.

I hear the buzz of bumblebees.

I feel wet puddles with my feet.

I smell the air. It's fresh and sweet.

I love the taste of homemade
bread on a rainy springtime day.

I've been writing poetry since I was a young child. My first book was a collection of poems that I wrote for my mom as a gift for Mother's Day when I was in junior high. One of the manuscripts I've recently started submitting is called, "There Once Was a Poet." It is a cumulative picture book that inspires young writers to awaken their creative voice and silence the noisy thunder of self-doubt. I've shared this manuscript in some of my young writers' workshops, but can't wait to be able to share the published version with you some day.

April 2, 2013

Creating Picture Books with Kids: Researching Other Authors' Books

Today I return to the topic of, "Writing Fractions Stories for First Graders," a project that I originally mentioned in my March 22nd post. In that first post I described the project and the initial research that the students conducted. In this week's post, I describe the next step in the project, which entails a more thorough research and review of other authors' books.

In advance of our class meeting, I requested a pile of picture books from the library:

For the research phase of the project, each student read at least three different picture books from the books available (noted in the list above). While they read, they each took notes about the following: 

1) What we liked

2) What we didn't like, and

3) What ideas the book gave us for our own writing project

There were very strong opinions about several of the books, and there were several themes that emerged in terms of comments and reactions. For example, the students felt some of the books were too complicated for first graders, some were too boring, some had confusing or boring stories, but the pictures were colorful and appealing, and some had illustrations that were very helpful in explaining fractions.

"Jump, Kangaroo, Jump," by Stuart J. Murphy and "Cuddly Kittens," by Megan Atwood (which, incidentally, is published by Abdo Publishing group, my publisher), were the agreed upon best examples of what we aimed to create with our own picture books. They use simple text, with a story and illustrations, and they each incorporate several examples of very simple fractions.

Other titles of mention included:

"A Fraction's Goal--Parts of the Whole," by Brian P. Cleary. Many students felt this book was as good as "Jump, Kangaroo, Jump," but it is a rhyming book, and we discussed that rhyming is more difficult to pull of effectively. We agreed that if students want to rhyme, they might create a single rhyme that repeats in several places throughout the story vs. writing an entire story that rhymes throughout. (Note: This book does not have a search inside feature via Amazon, but you can click on the title to link to a "google ebook preview"--although the layout in this view is not exactly like a picture book, you'll get the general idea).

"Give me Half," also by Stuart J. Murphy, also received good student reviews, but since it only incorporates 1/2, and it is a rhyming story, it did not rate quite as highly as the other favorites. 

"Whole-y Cow! Fractions are Fun," by Taryn Souders is an example of a story in the form of a quiz. Some of the kids had difficulty with this book because there was some confusion in how the "dots" that portrayed the fractions were incorporated, and the fact that "half a cow" is not literally "one half" (there were a lot of literal kids who were sticklers for details in this class!). 

"The Doorbell Rang," by Pat Hutchins and "Full House," by Dayle Ann Dodds are examples of stories that incorporate fractions in a subtle way, but the kids agreed that they wanted to create stories that incorporated fractions in a more explicit way.

Lastly, a book that kids found very fascinating is, "Ed Emberely's Picture Pie." This is a REALLY COOL book that shows how different illustrations can be made using "parts" of a circle. 

We wrapped up the student meeting with a plan to summarize the research findings and begin drafting our stories at the next meeting. By the end of the class, several students had ideas brewing for their own stories, which I'll share in a future post.