Sunday, July 1, 2012

My summer #bookaday challenge

A few books on my #bookaday reading list
School may be out for the summer, but my learning is not going to end.  Once again, I will be taking part in the summer #bookaday challenge where I'll be reading, reviewing and learning.  I can't wait. 

For those of you not familiar with the #bookaday challenge, read about this annual event in Donalyn Miller's blog.   Then ask yourself if you are up for the challenge.  I know that I am... not only because I believe reading will help me connect my students to books they will love, but because I am a reader. As Miller states, "Ultimately, it doesn't matter what we read, or how much, or when. What matters is that we celebrate reading, share our book love with other readers, discover new titles, and enjoy ourselves." 

So celebrate with me this summer.  My challenge begins on Monday, July 2nd and will end on Sunday, August 12th when I will likely be back to work in some capacity.  A book a day, 41 books!  Time to get reading.

Conversation with an 8th Grade student in my library this spring....
"Mrs. Denomy, I have an emergency!" 
"What is it?" I ask. 
"I need a book ASAP." 

Saturday, June 18, 2011


After a hectic but very rewarding race to my Master of Education degree (awarded this past Monday), I am thrilled to reclaim time for leisure reading in my life. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate my love of literacy than joining the #bookaday challenge. My book-a-day goal begins this Monday, June 20th and will run through August 15th when I'll trade my reading challenge for a new challenge: a new library and a new vice principalship!
I won't be blogging about all my summer reads, but I will try to blog about a few that most inspire me as I go. However, follow my journey on my LibraryThing account.
Here are some of the books I can't wait to read:

Join me in my challenge!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Play for Literacy"

Alphabet Twisterphoto © 2005 Mack Male | more info (via: Wylio)
Today is Family Literacy Day and this year's theme is "Play with Literacy"! Playing games can boost numeracy and literacy skills, and it's FUN, too!

Our family literacy event (Saskatoon and Region Family Literacy Advisory Group) was held this past Saturday at Saskatoon Public Library and was a great success.  200 guests spent the better part of an afternoon reading and playing together. 

One game, Twister-Spell-a-Word, was the proven favourite!  It's easy to create. All you need is Twister board and a marker.  Write a letter in each circle (take away X and Z, or combine with other letters to equal 24). Then create 3 or 4 letter word cards.  Perhaps "play", for starters.  All together, you'll want about 30 or 40 cards. That's all there is to it. Children and adults will have fun spelling the words with their hands and feet!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lost your blog voice?!

One key piece of my own learning this term while blogging for my Web 2.0 course involved my continual search to locate that lost inner blog 'voice'. Did I discover the remedy? If 2 page views on my blog today and the 1 view yesterday are any indication, let's just be kind and say I am "beginning to meet".  But I have been thinking, experimenting and reflecting. And thankfully, with blog views this low, I can only go up from here!

So feeling a little guilty this week after reading Will Richardson's chapter on blogs in his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2008), along with the fact that my last blog post here was some time ago, I have decided to write about this very important topic in such a 'voice'ful way that maybe, just maybe, I'll get my Literacy Lady blog noticed.  Okay, realistically, at the very least, maybe it'll help me sort out what I need to do to get my blog read. And I think I am beginning to discover that voice is the one trait that will set your blog apart from all the rest. 

Voice brings personality, energy, and perhaps most importantly individuality to your writing.  Just ponder this: how many books are there on teaching reading? Personally, I have read quite a few. Why is it then that despite often equally great content some of these books put me to sleep instantly while others keep me awake at night with grand inspirations of becoming a better teacher? This summer I fell in love with Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer (and even blogged about it one day here so it must have been inspiring). I thought hard about what separated Miller's book from all the other books about teaching reading: Why did I love this book? Why did I recommend it to colleagues and write about it in my blog? Voice. Miller's voice was real and authentic. I felt like I knew her, who she was and what she believed in. I loved the way in which she honoured her readers and their backgrounds; she acknowledged that many of her readers were still covering the 'whole class novel' but she didn't judge; instead she gently nudged. Like many of you who may have also read and loved her book, I wanted to teach next door to Mrs. Miller.

Bottom line, Miller understood the importance of establishing her voice through her writing.

According to Culham's scoring guide (2006) for the trait of voice, a strong use of voice can be identified when:

"The writer speaks directly to the reader in a way that is individual, compelling, and engaging  The writer crafts the piece with an awareness of and respect for the audience and the writing purpose.
A. The tone of the writing adds interest to the message and is appropriate for the purpose and audience.
B. The readers feels a strong interaction with the writer, sensing the person behind the words.
C. The writer takes a risk by revealing who he or she is consistently throughout the piece.
D. Expository or persuasive writing reflects a strong commitment to the topic by showing why the reader needs to know this and why he or she should care.
E. Narrative writing is honest, personal, and engaging and makes the reader think about and react to the author's ideas and point of view."  (p. 12)

Writing Fix
In my opinion, Miller is an expert at the trait of voice. Now the big question: How do I find that voice in my own writing?

I think I may have just discovered the remedy. One word. One that would even make Mrs. Miller proud.


As I thought further about 'voice', I went back to how I would teach this to my students. I'd use exemplars.  I'd make them read blog posts until they had all found a half dozen or more blog posts that they loved.

So, I guess I had better do the same. I may be a teacher, but I am still a learner first (remember if I already knew this I would have more than two hits on my blog post, after all!) So, I went off and found several blogs that I loved. For me, this was pretty easy. All I had to do was look at my Google Reader account and ask:  Why are some of those blogs all caught up while others have double-digits in posts waiting to be read?  Yes, time may be a factor, but time alone does not account for it all! Some blogs I just enjoyed reading more than others.

So, using my Google Reader as a stepping point, I decided to create a bank of blogs that are genuine exemplars of quality voice! I asked: What made this a great blog post? Why is this writer a great blogger? What did the writer do to create his/her voice? How did they interact with me (humour, questioning, sarcasm)? Did they spark curiosity or debate?  I listed the attributes. Now, as I write this very post, I will try to include some of those attributes in my own writing. Then, I'll reread, reflect, receive feedback, compare against my criteria and revise as necessary.

So, here's my favourites list. What's yours?
  • Doug Johnson's Blue Skunk Blog.
    • Attributes: humour, sarcasm, word choice i.e. "It is spam if... Replace your written e-mail address on webpages with something that looks like gullible(at)" from Email to staff on spam
  • Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed.
    • Attributes: honesty, opinionated (that's a compliment, Mr. Richardson), thought-provoking, love his parent voice i.e. " I want so badly for my kids to be learners, not knowers first." from Better Learning or Better Learners
  • Buffy Hamilton's The Unquiet Librarian
    • Attributes: No nonsense talk, gets to the point, thoughtful, tries to engage librarians and others in conversation... although I think all my favourites do this i.e. "Needless to say, I’m still dumbfounded this evening.  While I appreciate the laws of supply and demand, I don’t understand (and maybe I’m naive here) why Amazon is not being more accommodating in helping educational institutions continue to order the Kindles in bulk." from Our Kindle e-Reader order is Snuffed Out by Amazon
  • Dr. Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant blog
    • Attributes: always poses questions (You know he loves to question. By the way, did you notice how I titled my blog, too?), his frankness, a little attitude (another good thing), i.e. "The best dissertation is a done dissertation; you're not going to save the world with your dissertation" from Struggling with your dissertation?
      •  By the way, Dr. McLeod, I will remember your suggestions next term as I write my major paper for my M.Ed in Teacher-librarianship! Thank you for your very sensible advice.
I tried a little attitude, some humour (it's the best I can do, sorry), honesty and opinion. How did I do? Now, I'll put these skills to work on my course blog: 

For further reading about creating blog voice, check out:

For teaching strategies, lessons and links to further resources:

Finally, for a great teaching resource:
Culham, R. (2003). 6+1 traits of writing: The complete guide grades 3 and up. Portland, OR: Scholastic.
Culham, R. (2006).  100 trait-specific comments: A quick guide for giving constructive feedback on student writing.  Portland, OR: Scholastic.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Authentic Questions in English Language Arts

Photo by 姒儿喵喵
 Yesterday, I read Doug Johnson's post entitled "What is an authentic question?" and was feeling once again inspired to write.  In just a few short words, Johnson gets to the root of the reason that so many 'research' projects fail... there is no authentic question to investigate!  If there is already a list of predetermined outcomes and right or wrong answers, why bother inquiring?  If you have never listened to Jeff Wilhelm talk about inquiry in the Scholastic Professional series, take a few minutes to do so.  Then, think about the big questions, authentic ones, that will get real inquiry rolling, and more importantly, your students engaged in thinking.

Here are just a few of my personal favourite examples:
  • What enables some people to endure/survive horrible circumstances? (Holocaust, War/Peace, Survival units...)
  • Why do we always want/need a happy ending? (fairy tale unit)
  • What is worth fighting for? (Personal Best, Life Challenges units...)
  • Is conflict necessary?
  • What makes a good relationship? (Wilhelm's big question for Romeo and Juliet)
For great examples, check out Wilhelm's book, Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry (p. 54-55)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Make What You Teach Matter...

Do you want to get your students engaged? Then make what you teach matter to your students.

I can't begin to tell you how much the work of author Jeff Willhelm has changed the way I think about student learning, good teaching and student engagement.  If you want to begin to understand how, just watch this 4 minute clip and listen to Wilhelm get to the heart of what matters in good teaching.

Inquiry-Based Instruction: Jeff shares how to use inquiry in any subject you teach.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Book Whisperer

How many books do your students read in a year? Ten? Twenty? Forty?! I recently completed The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller (2009) and I am feeling very inspired.  Miller sets the bar high by having her students read 40 books in her grade 6 classroom! 

Why so many? The research is clear. The more you read, the better reader you will become!

Some self-reflection... as I thought back to my past teaching practice, I know that I never gave my students enough time to actually read, and I never supported their reading selection in a powerful way as Miller demonstrates.  Miller offers a wealth of tips and alternatives to whole class novel practice that we know is not successful practice in our classrooms.  Miller will certainly challenge your beliefs about these practices by providing solid evidence and strong alternatives.  Of course, what it all comes down to: Know your readers and be a reader yourself! This is a must read, in my opinion, for every teacher of reading.