Readers’ Notebooks – Revision 1

Because our school’s literacy program is tightly tied to Fountas and Pinnell (and whose isn’t?), my students have actively used Readers’ Notebooks for quite a number of years. The conveniently packaged sets from Heineman are sold in 5 packs for $28 (web price, regular price $40!). Multiply that $28 by at least 5 for a minimum class size of 25 and add on shipping and nearly half of my classroom supply budget has been expended. The cheapskate in me just couldn’t pay that amount of money for convenience. And so, my eternal hunt for the perfect notebook configuration was born.

Beth Newingham, a third grade teacher from Troy, Michigan and Scholastic contributor and advisor, has shared her organization of Readers’ Notebooks on her school website and on the Scholastic web.  For the past 2 years I’ve used flexible 1-inch binders, purchased for about $1 each (on summer sale at Staples). Then I’ve added some of Beth’s forms for tracking reading and responses. The binder system works, but I see 2 problems for me: one is that the students are also required to have a Writers’ Binder – which makes another bulky item to store – and I would like my students to be able to refer to our conferencing goals more formally.

So before this school year ends, I am working on developing a self-assembled Readers’ Notebook which will be bound with GBC bindings (those plastic spiral things) and utilize section dividers made from cardstock. The sections of the notebook under consideration are:

  • Reading Log (a new page for each month)
  • Mini Lesson Materials (How To References)
  • Personal Reading Goals and Progress Record for Student
  • Response to Reading (once each week – required)
  • Readers’ Notebook Assessment (one for each marking term)

Will this work? From the reading I’ve been doing, I think it will – the big question is will it work for the students?

Our next school year promises to be one where the draconian budget cuts have a profound impact on classroom support. Whatever is put into place needs to be something I can manage without support as it looks like our Title I Reading program is being picked to the bone. Experience tells me the need is to keep it simple; to leave the grand and complicated plans behind. If it can’t be implemented successfully without help, let it go.

Genealogy Again

Being school vacation week, I spent some of my down time on genealogical pursuits. Unraveling family mysteries is nothing short of breath-taking when (and if) those mysteries are unraveled. This week, there were no grand discoveries, however, just more questions.

This week, I had hoped to pin down my great-great-grandmother, Sophronia’s death date and burial. She lived in Indianapolis, Indiana for much of her life, but seems to have moved to Peoria, Illinois in the 1900s.

My great-great grandmother Sophronia Lee Wyant was married a second time after her first husband, William Orrin Wyant,  died. Her new spouse, Roswell Beardsley, was a fire insurance agent in Indianapolis. When Sophronia married Roswell Beardsley in 1878 she had been a widow for about 10 years — and given her actual birth year (not the “corrected” one in the Lee family Bible) she was 42 at the time with a teenage son along for the ride. Family stories are that Roswell was not a very kindly step-father and that my great-grandfather Frederick Wyant went to live with relatives shortly after Roswell and Sophronia married. This is borne out by researching census information.

Things seemed to have soured rather quickly for Sophronia and Roswell: according to the Indianapolis City Directory, Roswell was boarding at the Emmett Hotel and Sophronia, who made her living as a music teacher, boarded at 204 N. Illinois Street. As far as I can tell, neither party ever lived together again, although Sophronia kept the name Beardsley for quite a while even after Roswell died in the 1890s.

And here is where things get a bit messy. In the late 1890s, Sophronia lived with her younger (and presumably more connected – a physician’s wife), sister Julia in Indianapolis. Sometime in the early 1900s, Sophronia left Indianapolis and seems to have lived with my great grandfather Wyant, who by that time was a hotel baker and had a family of his own in Peoria, Illinois. During this time, Sophronia used her first married name – Wyant. I have a scrapbook that she created during this time and the name in the front is indeed Sophronia Wyant. Did she go back to this name when she moved in with my great grandfather? Or is that how an unofficial “divorce” worked in the early 20th century?

With all the mystery surrounding Sophronia’s last name, it is proving to be quite a challenge to trace her last years. Was she buried in Peoria? Was she buried in Indianapolis? So far the answers are alluding me.

Earth Day 2010

Forty years ago – on the first Earth Day – I was still in high school. Today, 40 years later, have we come any closer to a sustainable environment? In my family, we do our best to separate recyclables and garbage. Can we do better? I am sure that we can. For starters, we could be more mindful of over packaged, over processed foods.

Last night, PBS’s documentary program, Point of View, broadcast Food, Inc. This 90-minute video is available through April 29th on the link, but is also being rebroadcast on local PBS stations.

The fallout caused by faster, bigger food – will affect our earth for many, many years. This video is not for those with a weak stomach; even though Adrien and I have been mainly vegetarian — and from time-to-time vegan, we have consumed some of these improved “foods”. Food Inc. is making me look again at our consumption and talk with my wallet. Have we become suckered into the cheaper foods and larger portions? What price do food conglomerates and agribusiness exact from our Earth? Do we really need faster fatter bigger cheaper foods?

On this Earth Day 2010, I plan to re-examine my food consumption. Smaller portions of real foods will affect my own health. And it will break the cycle of cheaper, mass-produced foods that have become my family’s habit; we can slow down and be more mindful. We need to be more thoughtful about our consumption and that can begin with me.

Poiint of View’s website: filled with web resources

World Peas CSA – Locavores take note

Local Harvest Web Resources


Teaching third grade is just about as good as it gets in my humble opinion.  Over the span of my teaching career I’ve taught every level from pre-school through 12th grade. There are inherent challenges at each level – and rewards as well.

Last Friday, my students begged and begged and we finally convinced my husband Adrien, who had been their community reader, to visit us. Friday was a special occasion in Room 207; our school has a large Southeast Asian population and we celebrate Cambodian/Lao/Viet Namese New Year every April with a Whole School Meeting. Students bring in tons of delicious homecooked Southeast Asian foods to share and we have a troupe of dancers who perform a traditional dance. Adrien was invited to taste some of the food my students brought to share.

This week was a big one for Adrien as he was one of several artists from Western Avenue Studios interviewed for Chronicle. I shared this with the kids and about half of them actually watched the broadcast!  It was not assigned as homework – honest! Without prompting on my part, some of them mentioned the art they had seen and talked about seeing “their” Mr. Bisson on television. Rock Star status was conferred.

One of the best things about teaching third graders is their unabashed enthusiasm for everything. Some days I even get a “thank you” when I give them a test. And usually there’s quite a bit of cheering when we change things up and go “off  task”. So when the office called the room to tell us Adrien was coming to visit, the excitement was electric. Students were practically airborne when he entered the door — and quite a few ran up to him with paper and pencil for his autograph.  I have to tell you I’ve never seen THAT before.

So when you’re feeling under-appreciated, here’s my prescription: Get yourself to your local elementary school and find a group of third graders.  You’ll feel much better in no time.

Taking chances

Last night, WCVB TV in Boston, featured three artists’ communities in Massachusetts. The one that I am most familiar with is Western Avenue Studios where my husband Adrien has studio space.  Western Avenue Studios is a unique and wonderfully diverse collection of over 250 artists who work in almost any medium you can imagine.  So much talent! And even more impressive, so much collegiality. It is truly a unique community.

The video, features several of the talented artisans, including Adrien, and it was broadcast last night, April 14th on the locally produced show, Chronicle. Here is the video segment featuring Western Avenue from that broadcast.

As Adrien and I watched the video for the first time last night so many things ran through my mind. First of all, when Adrien first started to talk seriously about working as a photographer, I wondered about his sanity in quitting his software job — partially two years ago and completely last August.  When he purchased his first pro equipment, I actually thought he was in the middle of a mid-life crisis — how wrong I was! Over the next months, with determination and purpose, he updated his skills as a photographer, invested in the time to explore what kinds of subjects he found fascinating, and worked at refining a portfolio of work that today blows my mind. As he says in his interview, he tries to capture the subject through the eyes — and oftentimes it is as if he has looked deep into a person’s soul and captured the person’s very essence.

Taking a chance on leaving a sure money-maker that allowed us to live quite comfortably over 25 years was a giant leap of faith. Building a service business is not easy and doing so in the wake of one of the worst economic crises in our recent history is even more difficult.

But I don’t think either of us would have traded one minute of uncertainty for the reward of following your heart into an art that you not only enjoy but you love. Last night’s Chronicle segment completed and affirmed this transformation.

To do what you love and to do it well is awesome. The eloquence of the talented artists at Western Avenue and on this broadcast simply takes one’s breath away.

A Tuesday Smile

There are days when teaching energetic 8- and 9-year old students is a challenge; there are times when it is most definitely enjoyable.

On Tuesdays, our Morning Meeting is somewhat abbreviated. The students begin the day with a 10-minute grab and go breakfast followed by Art Class while I am meeting with my grade level team. We facilitate the need to start our day with a welcome by doing a “one minute” greeting – a chance to walk around the meeting area and shake a classmate’s hand. I noticed today how wonderfully the students looked each other – and me – in the eye and said “Good Morning!”. Definitely a great way to start the day! How awesome it was to notice the students who for a variety of reasons previously had been unable to look a classmate or me in the eye. To be able to do so  now, along with a firm handshake, well that’s growth that no test will ever measure.

A bit later in the Morning Meeting, I allow 2-3 students to share something with their peers. Today, one of my quiet kids signed up. When it was his turn, he reached behind his back for a cardboard box liner – pink velveteen if I recall correctly – with about a one-inch hole right in the middle.”What now,” I wondered silently.

Presto! To our delight, he inserted his finger through the hole in the box liner and with a sly smile said “I found this box in my sister’s car so I faked my Mom out. I told her I found this finger in a box.” Believe me when I tell you this is primo third grade humor – the kids could hardly contain themselves and the thought that a Mom had been fooled. Well, that was the the BEST!

I imagine that as we speak, there are 17 children scouring their homes for a box just like the one that was shared today. And probably there’s a rash of finger-in-the-box fake-outs as well.

An April Gift

One of the warmest days since last summer crept up on us today. We’re not even in April’s double digits yet and the thermometer read 85 degrees. How wonderful it was to throw open the front door of our school building and go out into sunshine and warmth this afternoon!

Because the weather was so wonderful and because the last month has been filled with relentless rain, we stayed outdoors an extra ten minutes. Sue me time-on-task police. My students, and the other third graders, were having so much fun playing tag, jumping rope, playing kickball, basketball and catch that none of us wanted it to end.

This day was an unexpected gift for April. When we finally had to go in and back to the classroom, every single student seemed to be smiling.

And so were the teachers.