Monday, 29 October 2012

Spooky Poe for Reading & Media Study!

This time of year is inherently SPOOKY and it is thus a great time of year to read Edgar Allen Poe!

As mentioned in a previous blog, Poe is  referenced numerous times in the novel I am reading aloud to the class (Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carmen). It references both his poem The Raven and his short story The Tell Tale Heart, among others.

I was originally going to just brush through these Poe pieces and use them simply as a matter of comparison to Skeleton Creek...but I have instead decided to linger awhile. They are just such fabulous works, beautiful crafted. They have influenced other writers for over a hundred years and they still resonate in today's culture. They are well worth lingering over!

Thus, we are going to read through both The Raven and The Tell Tale Heart, translating the 'old fashioned language' into our own modern day language and adding a picture to help us visualize the scene.

Then we are going to work on writing summaries of each, determining the main idea/theme of each, plus use each as a way to determine characteristics of narratives (all three areas are often referred to on CASI reading comprehension assessments...the next of which is administered in December).

Then we will take a look at media representations of each work. There are some clever youtube adaptations! (Not to mention that both the writers of The Simpson's and Spongebob were influenced by these works, enough to do their own cartoon adaptations!).

This ties into the media curriculum...interpreting media images (by comparing media to media and media to text).

We have also been looking at book cover design as a form of media/advertising. Students will get to choose either The Raven or The Tell Tale Heart and craft a book cover design. I hope to post these in the hallway and will include a picture here when I do so!

Monday, 15 October 2012

More About Writing

"Writer's Voice" is one of those things, like inferencing, we understand best in context. We usually need an example to help us see what we mean by 'Writer's Voice'.

This week, I provide three samples of writing (written by me) to demonstrate Writer's Voice. In the interest of saving space, here are two:

Sample A
In the summer, I went to Iceland. It was awesome! I took an airplane to the capital city. Then we took a bus to the hotel. Then we booked into our hotel. We had a view of the downtown area and the ocean. We took lots of day trips. On one trip, our car broke down in the middle of nowhere! I also saw a geyser explode into the air, strange extinct volcanoes, and lots of black lava rock.  We went to the Blue Lagoon, which is a famous hot mineral swimming pool. The food was really, really good! I really had a great trip. It was so awesome!

Sample C
Don’t Panic!
The wind was so strong that day on the west coast of Iceland . We could barely stand upright. We took our pictures of the stark lava rocks, the vast, stormy sky and the waves crashing to shore at the beach in the distance, and then hurried back to the car.

“Are we almost there?” asked my youngest son from the back seat. We were touring around the Snaeflellsjokell peninsula, a remote, rugged, mountainous area about two hours from the capital city of Reykajvik. He was getting bored and hungry.

“Just about!” I exclaimed.  The restaurant we hoped to stop at was about a ten minute drive down the highway. “I just want one more picture!”

I pulled over at the side of the road. My husband was the first to open his car door. WHAP! It happened in a flash. The wind pulled the door right out of his hand, tugged it back in the opposite direction, smashed into the side of the car—and then hung there, broken.

“Forget taking a picture,” I said. “Let’s get out of here!” I turned the key. Nothing. I turned the key again. Nothing. The car wouldn’t start!

“I don’t believe this!” I said. We were in a foreign country, stranded in the middle of nowhere, in a powerful wind storm.

Outside, cold rain started to pelt the side of the car.

Luckily, we had a cell phone and the emergency number for the car rental agency. We called and in an hour a man came to pick us up. He couldn’t fix the car but he did drive us to the nearest town so we could get a new one.

Both pieces discuss my trip to Iceland...but I'm sure you noticed in sample C:
-a more specific focus with increased detail
-vivid description
-inclusion of quotes and 'sound words' (WHAP!) (official term: onomatopoeia) to bring drama to the event
-more intriguing title which raises curiosity in the reader
-opening sentence raises questions in the readers mind (I didn't give it all away!)
-repetition builds suspense
-it is organized into paragraphs

In terms of Writer's Voice, I think its clear that Sample C has more 'sparkle' than A.

I like to sum up Writer's Voice as: personality and vividness.

Students have been reading novels or short fiction pieces in class. They have been experiencing 'Writer's Voice' and also the power of vivid description (reading comprehension strategy: visualizing a scene).

Now, as writers of a personal narrative ('Life Event'), they get to create that for other readers to experience.

Below are the curriculum areas this current task addresses, as posted in my classroom:

Students are currently revising their Life Events to include more vividness and 'writer's voice'.

I am looking forward to sharing their revised pieces with home! A copy of both versions will be eventually sent home so you can see their progress!

PS For more information on 'writer's voice', check out this great site!

Technical Difficulties...

Just to make you aware, we have been having internet access issues at the school, as have other schools in SCDSB.  The IT department is working hard to resolve this issue. It does mean that I can't  currently access my blog, media/tech and web links while in class! Hopefully this will resolve itself soon, but in the meantime, I may be asking students to puruse those links outside of class time.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Extension Material for Skeleton Creek! POE & THE RAVEN!

As mentioned in a previous post, we have been reading the novel Skeleton Creek.

In this novel, there are references to short stories by Edgar Allen Poe (House of Usher, The Raven...and there are more to come!)

Nearer to Halloween, we will be reading the famous story (and listening to the radio play retell) of Poe' The Tell Tale Heart and looking more closely at poem The Raven.

In the meantime, I'm asking students to extend their learning at home by:

a) reading about the author Edgar Allen Poe here on Wikipedia
b) watching this you tube video retell of his poem 'The Raven' (as read by Vincent Price) OR try this version (with text) as read by Christopher Walken
c) watch this youtube animated version of the poem (I love how this 'ordinary youtuber'  has been inspired to retell the poem visually)

Here is the full text version if you'd also like to read it.

Poe has inspired countless authors...and as become a part of our culture.  Even the writers of The Simpson's included The Raven in one of their Halloween episodes. 

Patrick Carmen, author of Skeleton Creek, has similarly been inspired. He is including Poe references VERY deliberately in his book. They are there for a purpose and I'd like us to go deeper into what that purpose might be.

The 'raven' seems to hold specific significance  It has been mentioned more than once and in fact, a future book in the series is called 'The Raven'.

We can't really discuss it properly without understanding Poe, who he is, his body of work...and his poem, The Raven.

Students, next week we will be shifting our literacy focus to writing for a few days....but we will return to reading by weeks end (hopefully, by Thursday) please review this material at home to support future in class discussion before that time!

Thank you!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Preparing for Math Quizes! Math Games!

Our current math focus is on decimals and fractions. We are comparing decimals to decimals and decimals to fractions...and also making sure our fraction answer is a 'simplified fraction'. We are also going to start looking at percents!

Next week there will likely be a decimal-fraction-percents quiz!

One way to study is to use the math links I provide. Here are some great online sites for practicing decimals/fractions/percents!

Comparing DecimalsCompare Decimals Game,  All About Decimals

 Fruit ShootConverting Fractions to Decimals,   Millionaire version    Jeopardy version

You might also want to watch this Khan Academy video on comparing decimals or  this Khan Academy video on converting decimals to fractions.

Another way to prepare yourself is to use the Frayer 'math dictionary' sheets like we use in class. Pick definitions related to the topic, such as 'decimal', 'comparing decimals', 'simplified fraction' and review your knowledge by filling out the sheet. You can always compare your answers to the math dictionary bulletin board in class, where all the Frayer math dictionary entries are posted!

Extra copies of the Frayer math dictionary sheet are available HERE on my download page for easy download and use at home.

A fourth way to prepare yourself is to look up previous math questions on my math page, such as the ones on Oct. 4 and Oct. 9 etc. and give those a try at home.

Remember to consider the four criteria when working on an answer to those questions:
Knowledge and Understanding

These are defined in a previous blog if you need to refresh your memory! But we will continue to look at samples in class to refine our understandings of how to use these four criteria to achieve 'better answers' in math.

PS Before we do the decimal/fractions/percents quiz, the previous quiz will be returned to students so they get feedback on what they have done thus far. This should also help them refine their understanding of how to best communicate their math ability. As usual, this will go home for parent signature and review.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Skeleton Creek & Reading Comprehension

As part of the reading curriculum, we are pursuing this learning goal: identify and use a wide variety of reading comprehension strategies. 

I have posted on the wall a wide variety of reading comprehension strategies. Recently, I added CASI type questions to the list.

On a regular basis, students individually read their chosen novels and then pull out their reader notebooks to try one of these strategies. Then we share and discuss them as a class!

I am so lucky to have a class full of avid readers! They love to read and discuss books, just as I do, so this time of day is pure pleasure. In the context of this discussion, we also typically examine a variety of book covers (as a form of do they promote the book? What inferences can be made about the book based on the images and text on the cover, etc?). The tricky part is knowing when to stop this 'book talk', or we risk running out of time for anything else!

To further model the various comprehension approaches, we are also in the midst of a class read aloud. We are reading SKELETON CREEK, a very spooky mystery story by Patrick Carman that also includes media footage to complement the text (in the form of Sarah's on-line videos that you access via a password protected website).

I read a section aloud and then students again turn to their readers notebooks to try out a strategy. This time we do the same strategy and we again discuss our responses. I complete my version on the board to show, for example, how I might make a prediction, an inference, define and prove character traits, etc. This is a good way for me to model the strategy, so students get a sense of what an effective response looks like.  I often accompany my version with a 'think aloud', sharing my thought process on how I approached the strategy and the text, etc.

To find out more about Skeleton Creek, click HERE.

Friday, 5 October 2012

The Solution to the Imail Mystery!

I have solved the mystery as to why no one can log into their imail from home! SCDSB IT services has informed me that you cannot log in to imail without first logging onto the network at school. Because our laptop cart has not been available for class use, we have not logged on yet as a class! However, today or next week I will grab us a couple of extra laptops and get us logged on so students can access their email properly!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What Do I Mean By 'Deeper Connections"?!?

Students in this class know we are working on 'inferencing'...meaning the ability to develop a logical conclusion based on known facts and our own knowledge. It is way of interpreting, making meaning out of the context clues provided.

We started inferencing right on Day 1...with the Who is Mrs. J? game (see page link above or click HERE). I provided pictures and students had to infer something about me based on the facts those pictures contained.

We infer all the time, in all levels of literacy: in what we read, what we see (media texts) and hear (oral texts) and we create inferences when we write.

We started with 'stating the obvious'. If a book cover has a dog on it...probably the book is about a dog!  (We have been using book covers as our main source for inferring media images because students in this class love books and we have so many samples at the ready!)

But what DEEPER CONNECTION can we make about this 'dog book' based on the evidence on the cover? What kind of dog is it? What is the pose? Anything else on the cover? What does the title imply? What colours are used and what are the associations with those colours?

I  want students to make deeper, more complex connections. Today, I returned their CASI reading comprehension assessments...many of the questions require students to INFER. We looked at the difference between level 1 thru 4 responses. The higher end responses typically involved an inference that was MORE COMPLEX. So, yes, we can infer that a character is athletic because they play basketball but a more complex inference is to say that that character is responsible  or trustworthy because they fullfilled a promise to return to college. The first example is an obvious connection...the second example less so.

Here is another great example of a DEEPER CONNECTION that happened in class this week totally by accident.

As our reward for Terry Fox fund raising, we watched a movie and had popcorn. The movie we watched was "We Bought a Zoo." I asked the students to notice who wrote the screenplay...too often, the writers are overlooked and go unnoticed in media, though they are the backbone of the entertainment industry (no script = no movie!). We ended up looking it up via google and ended up at the imdb movie site...where we saw THIS movie poster.

"Hey!" One of the students exclaimed. "Why isn't the son in the poster?" The teenaged son, Dylan, is missing from this poster. Why was that?! Spontaneously, we started to look at the poster critically, as if it were a book cover. What message is this trying to convey? What meaning is assigned to those images? Why is the cute little girl so prominate but not the gloomy, moody teenage son? What do they want the viewer to INFER about the movie based on this poster? Some of the associations included: family (man, woman and child), happiness (they are smiling, the girl is in yellow, which is associated with happiness),

Someone in the class noted that the girl was 'like the sun'. BINGO! Level 4 connection! Yes, she is like the sun! She is in yellow, she is high in the sky. What do we associate with the sun? Explain what you mean by 'the sun' and you have inferred at a DEEPER level.

I love when learning happens spontaneously like this. It wasn't something I planned but our interest took us there and we extended the skills we have been practising outward, to this movie poster.

We will continue to look at inferences in reading, writing, media and oral texts and I will continue to push students to look beyond 'the obvious'.

PS. The screenwriters of "We Bought a Zoo" are Cameron Crowe and Aline Brosh McKenna, in case you were wondering!

Just a few updates...

Those of you that are trying to log in to imail at home...I understand it is not working for you! I have put a request into the school board's technical help desk to find out what is going on! Stay Tuned!

Today a letter went home about the CASI. Please review, sign and return! Thank you!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Math Assessment

Tomorrow we are having our first math quiz on comparing fractions.

Before we do the quiz, I wanted students to understand how math is being assessed...and consequently, how one can obtain a level 3 (expected level) or higher in math.

Today's lesson thus focused on how math is assessed. We looked at specific student examples and assessed them according to the criteria explained below.

In the past, math has been assessed primarily based on one's knowledge and understanding: i.e. did you get the answer right? But in real life, there is so much more to our use of math than just the 'right answer'.

Often, we must communicate our methodology for achieving that answer (think of the example Ms. Abernethy provided the other day to the class: "Mrs. Johnson, how did you get that percent for my mark on the report card?" I better be able to explain my reasoning!).

Often, we must apply our math knowledge to different contexts. Often, we must creatively problem solve.

Math is thus assessed according to four criteria:

  • ·      Knowledge & Understanding: demonstrates knowledge of content and concepts
  • ·      Thinking: uses planning and problem solving processes
  • ·      Application: applies and transfers knowledge and skills in different contexts; makes connections
  • ·      Communication: expresses & organizes math thinking; uses proper terms and conventions
These are clearly outlined in the Math Curriculum document provided by the Ministry of Education. Here is the link to that document. The rubric and levels are on page 22-23.

Students were given a copy of this rubric and we used it to assess some of our previous math responses that we have done in pairs in class. Some scored a level 1 in one area (such as communication); a level 4 in another (such as application).

This is the sample we decided was the closest to a level 3 in all areas. It is now posted in our room, along with a few others I selected. Now I'm hoping students will look at these samples, look at their own work, know what to look for, and shout BINGO! I got it!

Sample 1
Sample 2
Sample 3
After school today, I added this feedback to the samples, which notes the areas of success...and includes some suggestions for improvement. Students, tomorrow I'd like you to take a 'gallery walk' and see what I observed about them!

We will continue to do this kind of self/peer assessment through out the year and will continue to refine our understanding of level 3 and also start to better understand level 4 work.

You'll notice these samples share common characteristics and I think as a class we need to look more closely at what those shared attributes are...we will do this another day.

Students were informed that questions on tomorrow's quiz will be clearly associated with at least one of the four math criteria  (the criteria will be noted in the margins)  and levelled accordingly.

One's total math mark on the report card in January takes into consideration these levels and also progress made over time.

Once any quizzes/tests  have been marked, it will be sent home for your review and signature (and please return to class so they can be placed in the in-class student portfolio.)

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this assessment process! My email is

Current Learning Goals

In case you did not notice, I include the month's current learning goals in the sidebar. Please scroll down to see what we are focusing on this month.

This gets updated on a monthly basis. Please continue to check back to see what the latest goals are!

Math follows a course of study laid out by SCDSB. A copy of this course of study is available HERE on my downloads page.

My overall literacy plan for the year is also available for download HERE.

Please keep in mind that the pace of instruction and learning is fluid. I respond to how the students respond to the material. It is thus not cast in stone but by its very nature must remain flexible.

As always, please email me if you have any questions!

Monday, 1 October 2012


Our class pledged to raise $100 for last Friday's Terry Fox Run...and we surpassed that goal, raising $133!

The reward for obtaining that goal was "movie and popcorn".

So today students are going to watch a movie in the afternoon...with popcorn!