Our Takis party

Last month, we filled our classroom marble jar and voted for a Takis party as our reward.

This led to more reflection on my part than you might think. Takis are HUGELY popular at our school, primarily among my many Mexican-American students, and they’re pretty roundly despised by me because their red stains are even more persistent than those of Flaming Hot Cheetos. Receiving permission to cover desks with butcher paper and nosh on flavored corn snacks is a high honor. One I’ve tried persistently but unsuccessfully to discourage.

But this was the second time they’ve requested a Takis party, and as there was no way to doctor the voting results, I accepted the inevitable. The students cheered. I went on a search for Takis.

I came up short after my trip to Safeway. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m totally at a loss,” I admitted at our class meeting the next day.

“Oh, Miz Houghton, you just need to go to Valley Harvest,” A said matter-of-factly from his post at the back of the room. “Or you can go to Anne’s parents’ store. They have the big bags for $2.”

Bouncing up to my desk (at recess, of course, not during instructional time), Anne handed me a business card and pointed out the address and phone number. “This is my parents’ store. We have all sorts of Takis!”

Ruby Payne stuck with me that evening, as well as the next morning, when I groggily parked in front of Valley Market on my way to school. My kids are pros at finding this spicy snack food. Ferreting out the best prices on snack foods is further out of my middle-class comfort zone than I otherwise would have been willing to admit.

After all, I like to think that I’m not THAT far removed from understanding the experience of my students of poverty — I dealt with the Food Stamps program during my service in AmeriCorps, I paid my dues as a semi-starving college student, and I visit all my students at home during the summer — but this experience proved that I still have a lot to learn.

So there I was sitting outside the newly-remodeled Valley Market. What if the signs were in Spanish and I couldn’t read them? (“Miz Houghton, don’t worry, your Spanish is really getting better.” ~J) What if the employees didn’t speak English and I was stuck there wailing and gesticulating for Takis at 7 AM on a Tuesday? It honestly makes me a little lightheaded even now, writing about it weeks later.

Your thoughts might be turning to the rights and responsibilities of immigrant families. I get it. Immigration’s a hot topic. I’m not looking to debate any of that — I teach whoever shows up in my classroom. But consider: my kids’ parents must have to swallow quite a bit of pride to take their kids to the doctor, to the library, or even to register for school. I don’t know if I could be that brave. I might not even make it out of my car to buy the freaking Takis I promised my kids.

Checking in at Valley Harvest on foursquare seals the deal. I shoulder my bag and step into the market. It seems half-lit to my eyes, but only because the fluorescent lights aren’t as blazing as they are at QFC.

I wander around in a daze, passing food labeled in Russian and Asian-language packaging. I find the Cheetos. Surely I’m close now, I think as I will my heart to beat slower.

There. On an end cap, about halfway down. “Why aren’t these in a more prominent location? They’d sell SO MUCH BETTER if they were!” Middle-Class-Shannon silently protests. Valley-Harvest-Shannon is mortified at this snobbery. The Takis are clearly perfectly placed right by the front of the store (how did I walk past them?) and right at Ms. Houghton’s students’ eye-level.

I can see my kids peering through the blinds after they leave breakfast in the cafeteria.

“You FOUND them!” A cheers as he walks through the door.

I admit at our class meeting that I was pretty nervous pulling up to that unfamiliar store. My students nod sagely.

“Well yeah, it’s going to be new at first, but if you look for the color of the bags, you’ll find it,” A reassures me. He flashes the best kind of smile. “And now you’ll know where to go for our NEXT Takis party.”

They’ve taught me so much. They’ve learned so much. They’re gone in a month.

I guess I take some solace in the fact that this year we’ve done tons of work in preparing these students to cross class boundaries and break the cycle of poverty. For their part, my kids have kept me honest, thinking, and challenging my assumptions. I hope I’ve done the same for them.

Take my shopping expert, A. He arrived in my classroom frequently angry, unconnected, and snide. But along the way, something clicked. Now he’s a Wildcat Leader (self-manager), reading at a third-grade level (advancing from Fountas & Pinnell level H to level M), and an enthusiastic contributor to classroom conversations (“Can we please read this version of Anansi? It’s by the illustrator of Arrow to the Sun, AND look, it says here that he’s from Michigan.”).

All that, AND he knows where to score the best deals on Takis.

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For Mrs. Melton’s Class

“Thank you for supporting us on the MSP,” Esther said.

“You were nice to give us a bunch of help and support,” Anthea added.

“Thank you, Mrs. Melton’s class, for giving us the Rice Krispie bars,” Miriam said. “Thank you for the snacks,” Payton said. They actually lasted longer than the MSP, and we’ve been continuing to enjoy them!

Alexis said, “Thank you for cheering us up during the MSP!” Juan added, “Thank you because of all the nice things you did for us.”

“Thank you for the snacks — we loved them,” Thalia said. “They were really good,” Ra’Seana said. “And, they are one of my favorites!” Annette agreed. “Thank you for the snacks; they were good!”

“Thank you for the snack and for the tips for the MSP,” Cecilia said. “We enjoyed them.” Ryan added, “Thank you for Top Tips.” Xavier also thanks you for the book.

“Thank you for the bookmarks because they had good colors on them,” Leonel said. We were able to use them on the MSP!” Julio also wanted to thank you for the bookmarks, and Deandre is thankful too.

“Thank you for all the support you gave us on the MSP,” Carlos said.

“You guys are a wonderful class, and we are thankful for what you gave us,” Jasmin said.

“Thank you for believing in us,” Gregory finished.

For Mrs. Melton's Class

“Thank you for supporting us on the MSP,” Esther said.

“You were nice to give us a bunch of help and support,” Anthea added.

“Thank you, Mrs. Melton’s class, for giving us the Rice Krispie bars,” Miriam said. “Thank you for the snacks,” Payton said. They actually lasted longer than the MSP, and we’ve been continuing to enjoy them!

Alexis said, “Thank you for cheering us up during the MSP!” Juan added, “Thank you because of all the nice things you did for us.”

“Thank you for the snacks — we loved them,” Thalia said. “They were really good,” Ra’Seana said. “And, they are one of my favorites!” Annette agreed. “Thank you for the snacks; they were good!”

“Thank you for the snack and for the tips for the MSP,” Cecilia said. “We enjoyed them.” Ryan added, “Thank you for Top Tips.” Xavier also thanks you for the book.

“Thank you for the bookmarks because they had good colors on them,” Leonel said. We were able to use them on the MSP!” Julio also wanted to thank you for the bookmarks, and Deandre is thankful too.

“Thank you for all the support you gave us on the MSP,” Carlos said.

“You guys are a wonderful class, and we are thankful for what you gave us,” Jasmin said.

“Thank you for believing in us,” Gregory finished.

Book of the Week: The Huckabuck Family

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

The Huckabuck Family, by Carl Sandburg

I believe this book is taken from Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories. You can read tons of the stories online here. Read more about Carl Sandburg here.

I have a special part in my heart for David Small, the illustrator of this book. Small, who also wrote the excellent books Imogene’s Antlers and That Book Woman, is pretty amazing at writing books about folks who live around the time of the Great Depression and usually spend most of their days in a rural setting. He also had a pretty insane childhood, which you can read more about in his autobiographical graphic novel Stitches.

 

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!

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Book of the Week: One Woolly Wombat

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

One Woolly Wombat, by Rod Trinca and Kerry Argent

Counting books are great. Austrailian counting books with adorable Australian animals are even greater. Especially if that counting book goes all the way up to 14 instead of the standard ten. You can find this book in the red “Math” bucket in the bookroom.

The numbers in this book are written out in word form, rather than in standard form. This might be helpful for second and third grade teachers working with their students on spelling the numbers correctly.

One Woolly Wombat is a recent addition to our mentor texts in the bookroom, so if it meets your needs, make sure you stop by room 301 and thank Anne and Tin for putting the most recent book order together!

There are no lesson plans included with this book. There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:

Comprehension

  • Determine and analyze author’s purpose and support with text. This is so much more than a counting book. It introduces students to Australian wildlife, shows them the word forms of their favorite one-digit numbers, familiarizes them with Australian slang, and entertains them with animals in silly situations. By the way, if you want to learn more about unique Australian animals, check out this fantastic web site.

Accuracy

  • Use the pictures.. Do the words and pictures match? This could be an important lesson on a time when this strategy can fail. If a student doesn’t know what a echidna is, looking at a picture of one won’t help them decode the word. This is a great opportunity to talk about what to do when one reading strategy isn’t working. This is also an opportunity to encourage students to read widely and engage adults in conversation — the more words they’ve heard orally, the better they’ll get at decoding them in their reading.
  • Blend sounds; stretch and reread. There are plenty of blends and digraphs in this book, both at the onset of words and in the middle. There’s not much text, so it would be relatively painless to type the text into a Word document and then project it onto a screen. I’ve typed the text for you here: One Wooly Wombat . If you project the document onto a whiteboard (or SmartBoard), you can then highlight or circle all the blends and digraphs.

Fluency

  • Practice common sight words and high-frequency words. I imagine it must get a bit tiresome in the primary world to use the same twenty or so numbers each year. If the text in this book isn’t at your students’ reading level, perhaps they can at least practice finding and writing the number words they see.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!

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Book of the Week: Stickeen

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Stickeen, by John Muir, as retold by Donnell Rubay

John Muir was a pretty neat guy. This book is told as narrative nonfiction, from John Muir’s point of view. I believe it’s taken right from his journals, but retold by Rubay. This would make an excellent mentor text for a biography unit, particularly for talking about what makes a story narrative nonfiction. (It’s told in such a way that it has a plot, just like a fiction story.)

If your students are working on biographies, there are a TON of great biographies at many different levels in the Benchmark series. Log in to www.librarything.com and look for the tag of “biographies.”

There are also several good book titles at the back of the book for further reading.

John Muir started the Sierra Club, which has a bunch of biographical information at its website.

You can learn more about Muir’s hometown of Dunbar, in Scotland, here. If you want pictures of Dunbar, contact me and let me know. It was one of my favorite places that I visited in Scotland.

Stickeen comes with a pretty high-level lesson about inferences, figurative language, and similes. Please leave this lesson in the book bag, as it is the master copy. The lesson suggests pairing the book with Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows. Both of those books are former SFA books, so 4th and 5th teachers should have 4-5 copies in each classroom if you wanted to use them in a shared reading.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:

Comprehension

  • Predict what will happen; use text to confirm. It would be interesting to see if students think that Stickeen will start out being John Muir’s best friend — so many books are written with canine pals, that this might be the case. If they do think they will start off with a strong bond, question them throughout the text as to how their prediction might shift or change.
  • Recognize literary elements (plot, setting, theme). As mentioned above, because this is a narrative nonfiction, it can still be used to discuss the importance of plot and setting. Additionally, the included lesson plan touches on the theme of determination.

Fluency

  • Adjust and apply different reading rates to match text. Although students are often advised to read fact-heavy nonfiction books in second gear (1st gear: memorizing, 2nd gear: absorbing facts, 3rd gear: reading as fast as one would speak, 4th gear: skimming), you could talk with your students about why it matches the narrative flow of the book to read it in 3rd gear, but to make sure to stop frequently to check for understanding.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!

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Book of the Week: Up North at the Cabin

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Up North at the Cabin, by Marsha Wilson Chall

This book is a featured text in Strategies that Work by Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey. There are several copies available for checkout in room 301 if you’d like to see detailed lesson plans around this book. If I’m feeling particularly energetic, I’ll see if I can copy the passage from Strategies that Work and add it to the book bag.

You can find a copy of this mentor text in the red “realistic fiction” bucket in the bookroom.

If you’re introducing your students to Caldecott winners, a good companion for this book might be Robert McCloskey’s Time of Wonder, which is about a child’s summer in Maine. (read the New York Times’ obituary of McCloskey here)

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:

Comprehension

  • Make a picture or mental image. There’s a lesson plan on visualization included in the book bag. Please return it, as this is the master copy.
  • Compare and contrast within and between text. This would be a good time to introduce Time of Wonder, mentioned above. For contrast, you might want to try The Snowy Day, which takes place in an urban setting during the opposite season, and is perhaps a familiar text for students already.

Behaviors that Support Reading

  • Increase stamina. This book works fine when broken into chunks, so it would be a nice fit for a lesson at the beginning of the year (or right after a break!) when you need to shorten your whole group lessons.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed! Please leave a comment if you’ve found this helpful!

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Ben Franklin myths

We talked today about the idea that Ben Franklin’s famous key and kite experiment was not actually struck by lightning. Instead, he felt a small zap of static electricity that was not enough to harm him, but was enough to prove that lightning was related to electricity.

We talked about the fact that nonfiction means not fake, but you still sometimes need to double check information, especially if the book is old. We then saw the Mythbusters video showing that Ben Franklin’s kite experiment was not quite what it seemed.

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Book of the Week: Jalapeno Bagels

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions.

Jalapeno Bagels. By Natasha Wing

You can find a copy of this book in the red Multicultural Fiction bucket in the bookroom.

No lesson plans are included with the book, but if you visit this site and click “Lesson Overview,” Kathryn Felten shares her ideas.

Learn more about the author at her Web site. You can even set up a Skype conversation with her!

If you’d like to see some vocabulary and comprehension PowerPoint presentations related to Jalapeno Bagels, check out this site.

If you’d like to study the vocabulary in this book, a virtual stack of flashcards is available here.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggestions:

Comprehension

  • Use prior knowledge to connect with the text. I have decidedly mixed feelings about this book. I like that it highlights a multiracial family based on an actual family in California. But I don’t know how I feel about some pieces that could be seen as caricatures or stereotypes (Does the Jewish Dad really need to wear owlish glasses and have full facial hair?). Wildwood has a pretty significant Hispanic population. I think it’d be interesting to see how our students feel about the portrayal of the Mom. Are they pumped because a Mexican-American family is featured? Or do they find the depth of the characters lacking? What are their experiences?
  • Summarize text, include sequence of main events. This book is short and simple enough that it would be a good resource for a lesson explaining the differences between retelling and summarizing.

Expand Vocabulary

  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses and glossaries as tools. Jalapeno Bagels has a multilingual glossary in the back. Talk with students about the fact that fiction books that contain multicultural or international components often contain supplemental material in the back. This could be particularly useful for intermediate students who have gotten out of the habit of doing picture walks before reading.

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!

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Tomorrow's Alphabet

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom, along with lesson plan suggestions.

Tomorrow’s Alphabet. By George Shannon, illustrated by Donald Crews

I yesterday e-mailed a list of environmentally-related texts in our bookroom, and I thought this mentor text would also fit into a theme of thinking about how today’s actions affect us tomorrow and in the future.

In Tomorrow’s Alphabet, A stands for Seed, B is for Eggs, and C is for Milk. What? Well, tomorrow, the seed will be an Apple, the eggs will be Birds, and the milk will be Cheese! How smart — you could use this text in so many ways! There are no lesson plans included with this mentor text, but there is a CAFE menu included in the bag, and it’s highlighted as follows.

Comprehension

  • Predict what will happen, use text to confirm. You can use a piece of paper to cover the righthand pages (I’d attach the paper with a paperclip or binder clip otherwise I think it’d be too much to juggle in a read aloud situation), or you could project the lefthand pages on the document camera. Students can guess what tomorrow’s word will be.
  • Determine and analyze author’s purpose and support with text.
  • Recognize and explain cause and effect relationships. I’ve been trying to figure out an uncomplicated way to explain cause and effect, and I think this just might do the trick!

Accuracy

  • Use the pictures… Do the words and pictures match?

Expand Vocabulary

  • Use prior knowledge and context to predict and confirm meaning. I’m thinking this will be particularly important on words like “embers” and “bud.” Speaking of “bud,” this might also be a good book to explain that challenging words aren’t necessarily the long ones.

If you’re following the units of study for the writer’s workshop, your students may have already been introduced to Crews’ work. Lucy Caulkins loves Donald Crews. I hadn’t heard of him prior to that, and my appreciation has grown rather slowly. It’s more of Toby’s style. His art is bright, bold, and accompanied by the Helvetica text that Mr. McKes adores.

If you’re interested in using more Donald Crews in your classroom, our bookroom has a big book copy of Freight Train. We also have three student copies of Freight Train, and three student copies of Truck. Both of those texts can be found in the blue bucket marked GR LB (where we keep wordless books and low-level books).

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!

P. S. We also have a book set by Donald Crews’ daughter, Nina. We have seven copies of Snowball, and they should be in the small office next to the bookroom. See me if you’d like the set.

P. P. S. I lost a little bit of respect for George Shannon when I discovered his entire Web site uses Comic Sans. Barf.

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