Book Review: Navigating Early

Navigating Early

You know how sometimes you hear a lot of folks talking about a book, and then it goes on to win some major award, and for some reason, you never get around to reading that book? That’s been me with Moon Over Manifest. Heck, even my son read it and raved about, and the book is sitting in his room. What’s wrong with me? Well, writer Clare Vanderpool has her second novel out, and I read Navigating Early in a week (Thanks to a strong recommendation by my friend, Colby Sharp), and I have to say: I need to dig out Moon Over Manifest and get reading!

I won’t give away the story of Navigating Early but I will say that Vanderpool weaves a powerful narrative of many strands and with such creativity and touching passion for her main characters — the narrator, Jack Baker, and his friend, Early Auden — that you can’t help but get drawn in, if only to see how Vanderpool is going to pull it off. She does, and she does so magnificently, in my opinion. In particularly, she deftly handles the character of Early Auden, whose quirks come to light early and establish the narrative push forward that sends the two boys onto a Quest into the deep woods of Maine. I never felt as if Vanderpool was anything other than compassionate to Early, and to Jack, who has his own struggles. It’s a story of friendship, and family, and finding out what makes your heart tick.

I am still thinking about the story and the characters, and the story within the story, days after putting the book down. Reading a book like Navigating Early reminds me of why I love to read — it’s the mystery of experience and the magic of writing.

Peace (in the navigation of the inner world),


The iAnthology Book Shelf

I led a writing prompt last week at our National Writing Project iAnthology space, asking folks what they were reading. I took cover images and created this as a gift back to those who were writing with me:

Peace (on the shelves),

Struggling to Write with 10,000 Words

Have you heard for the Up-Goer Text Editor? It is an online tool that was inspired by an XKCD comic that explained space travel in a comic with writing from the 10,000 common words list. Now, you may think: so what? 10,000 words is a lot of words. What’s the rub? Actually, 10,000 words is not a lot of words, particularly when you are dealing only with common words, and it is quite difficult to explain a complex idea (like space travel) in that way. I guess someone was inspired by that comic and created the Up-Goer Text Editor, which provides you with a box to write in and alerts you when you have slipped the bounds of the 10,000 words. It’s pretty interesting.

Check out how I did:

And this is what it looked like when I corrected it:

How did you do? Give it a try.

Peace (in the words),

PS — thanks to Doug Belshaw for sharing this site in his most recent newsletter.

Book Review: The Periodic Table Elements with Style

Now here is a book with some sass! The Periodic Table of Elements with Style, by Simon Basher and Adrian Dingle, is an interesting mix of informational text about the periodic table of elements mixed with fictional stories, as told from the viewpoint of the elements themselves as a way to provide insights into each elements. I didn’t realize it until I turned the small, square book over, but this is one of a series of books in science that the two have done that keeps the theme of light-hearted informational text going.

Here, each element has a funny little drawn image that reminds me a bit of Pokemon, and the text is manageable and lively. Take this opening to Arsenic (one of the Nitrogen Elements), as an example:

“Make no mistake — I am a deadly element. A murderer’s delight and a master of disguise. One minute I’m a grey-colored metal, the next a yellow-colored non-metal, and my furtive ability to hide with ease and avoid detection makes me a favorite choice of the poisoner.” (86)

Or how about Calcium?

“They call me ‘The Scaffolder’ because I make up a large portion of the parts that hold you together — your skeleton and teeth.” (26)

Each element page includes not only the short, accessible text (although you can see some vocabulary words that might need dissecting), but also the year it was discovered, the density of the element, as well as the melting and boiling points. From a science perspective, the book is an engaging informational text. From the literacy perspective, the book nicely demonstrates how we can weave in fictional, point-of-view writing with science information, with some fun art thrown in. I could see this book being a nice mentor text for a science class activity around literacy. Which is exactly what the Common Core is requiring us to do, right? Bring literacy into the ELA classroom and bring content-area learning into the ELA classroom.

Peace (on the table),

I Write …. (on HaikuDeck)

Haiku Deck is the best application for creating presentations on iPad

I’ve been playing around with HaikuDeck on our iPad. It’s a presentation software, so it works like Powerpoint or Keynote. The difference is the “feel” of the app (it is only available on iPads, I believe). It’s very design-conscious, and works best with short text superimposed over beautiful pictures. The app searches Creative Commons for images that you can use (or you can upload your own). I need to play around with it some more, but I like the way it works.

I decided to explore the question of “why I write” with images and simple text.

Peace (in why I write),



Ten Things I Think About When Sitting Silently During Benchmark Assessments

(Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago and forgot to post it. So ..)

I am finally nearing the end of the first round of Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Reading Assessments with my students. It takes forever! The data is very useful and the one-on-one work with students is enlightening and helpful in classroom practice. It does give you a pretty good snapshot of a student as reader. But it takes forever! Mostly, this is because there is a piece of silent reading that the students do. For the slow readers, this can take a long time. And the teacher just sits there.

So, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek effort, here are the (not-quite-real) Top Ten Things I Think About When Sitting Silently During Benchmark Assessments:

  1. Why in the world is she looking up at the wall? She should be reading the book. Eyes down, kid. Eyes down! Oh wait, she’s done and waiting for me to say something. Ahem.
  2. Those three teachers on the F/P box are old friends of mine. Hello, friend. How is your day? Boy, you sure look happy there, giving that reading assessment to that smiling kid. Look at that smile! Just look at it! You look like you and that kid are reading a comic, not a book about “The Internet” or “The International Space Station”!
  3. Oh. No. Not the tsunami book again. No. Please, dear lord. Not that one again.
  4. I wonder how I would do if I were the student and old Mr. Dudak (my sixth grade teacher) were sitting next to me, trying to look busy, as I read silently, knowing that he would be writing notes about my reading as I read and talked. Maybe not so well. I’d wonder what he was writing about me.
  5. What’s that humming sound? Where’s that coming from? Wait. Now it’s gone. Wait. Now it’s back.
  6. I wish they would add a few graphic stories in the mix. That would shake things up a bit.
  7. Come on, kid, how long does it take you to read five paragraphs about animal adaptations? (Looking at the clock out of the corner of my eye so as not to make him nervous.)
  8. What if the reading pieces here were multimedia? A F/P video game? An interactive video story?
  9. Yikes. Will I even be able to read my handwritten notes later? Will anyone else be able to read my notes later? Double yikes.
  10. This kid is way below my expectations. Now what? (Corollary thought: this kid is way above my expectations. Now what?)

Peace (in the F’n P),


Gooru: Another Research Project Resource

It’s been some time since I checked out Gooru, and boy, it sure has grown since. I went back to the site, which is a sort of filtered/collected search engine space, this morning because I know my National Writing Project friend, Paul Allison, is going to be talking about Gooru tonight on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast.

This is what Paul sent out, in case you can join him. (I am going to try …)

How do you teach with Gooru? We’ll be talking with teachers who use Gooru in their classrooms and want to connect and collaborate with other teachers. Hear from Gooru power users, share best practices, exchange ideas, and tell the Gooru team what we can do to improve Gooru for you.

Check out Gooru through the lens of this analysis of OER Project Blue Sky: Big Boost to OER From . . . Pearson?

We’ll be joined by @jackcwest @gooruteacher  Xenia Shiah: , Jody Donovan, @leahousdIT and YOU!
Join us at at 9PM ET/6PM PT/World Times: on Wednesday 1.16.13

So, this morning, I went to Gooru to poke around a bit and remember what it is about. When I had been there last, the site had recently launched and I wasn’t quite sure what they were up to. There didn’t seem to be a lot of content. Now I understand. The site is another way to help students streamline their research queries (sort of like Instagrok, which I use) and for teachers to build up “collections” of resources that can be shared. I like the overall feel of the site — it takes a few minutes to get a sense of what to do, but once you understand it, you will see there are powerful paths to follow.

First, there is the basic search, which breaks down queries into categories, such as video, lesson plans, resources, etc. And along with peeking at the collections of other teachers, you can begin to create your own, too. (I started building one about Civil Rights, and then added in some collections of other teachers who had already been doing some of the same work, so that I did not have to do it all over again). There are places to add interactive quizzes, study areas for math and science and social studies (they note that ELA is on the way) and … more stuff that I had time to play with.

In the end, I think Gooru is another interesting research tool that can help students find information they need, in a meaningful way, and might allow teachers another opportunity to teach web-based search for projects. My history colleague is teaching Cuneiform writing right now, and so I did a search on the site for him, and what came up would be very valuable for his work with students, I think. Same thing for my science colleague, who is teaching volcanoes and has students doing some basic research right now. (In fact, we had a discussion at lunch about how so many of our students don’t have the basic search skills — even though I did a whole unit around it with them at the start of the year! Ah.)

Peace (in the share),


Connect the Pop: Exploring Webcomics for the Classroom

Bitstrips for Schools1 Comics Creation & Critical Thinking: From Doctor Who to Bitstrips

Peter Gutierrez, over at Connect the Pop blog (part of the School Library Journal site), has been running an interesting series of posts in which he is interviewing the folks behind some of the more popular webcomic creation sites. Gutierrez, always thoughtful, is trying to explore how comic writing is different from traditional writing, and how webcomic platforms might allow entry into writing for some students through non-traditional transliterate ways.

He began with an interview with one of the founders of Bitstrips (and I use Bitstrips for Schools fairly regularly in my classroom). Bitstrip’s Shahan Panth explains where the idea for the site came from and how it connects to literacy.

I liked this observation from Shahan:

“Making a comic is not simple. You need to figure out the visual composition of each panel, the sequencing and pacing of your story, the body language and facial expression of each character in each shot. It’s a synthesis of so many different things, and for most kids, these are elements they haven’t had to think about before. Suddenly they find themselves in the role of comic auteur, responsible for considering and communicating every detail of a story.” — Shahan Panth, Bitstrips for Schools

Gutierrez also talked with my friend, Chris Wilson, of The Graphic Classroom (where I do reviews of graphic novels through a classroom lens), and Chris talked about the balance between students writing and reading traditional (paper-bound) comics and graphic stories, and digital platforms.

“Electronic comics creation is especially helpful for students who are not artistically inclined. In such a case, the differentiation of the online comic offers those students a chance to focus more on the story, characters, setting, plot and style more than the art. Online comics do not require expensive art supplies. Assuming the technology is readily available, students can create comics electronically as a way to demonstrate learning of any particular topic. Those can easily be shared on a teacher’s website. If technology standards are part of the objective, then online comics would be the way to go. I recommend varying the approach depending on the objective, class culture, student needs and resources.” Chris Wilson, The Graphic Classroom

The next interview was with Bill Zimmerman, whose Make Beliefs Comic site is a great way to introduce students to comic creation. The site is very simple to use, and has a translator built in for multiple languages. Bill also regularly posts a “rewriteable” comic that you can adapt right off his site, and then print out.

Bill notes that comics tap into the graphic culture that permeates the world of kids.

“All educators are desperately looking for ways to encourage youngsters to read and write and have discovered that comics, with their glorious drawings and the wonderful talk balloons that help move stories along, provide a vital resource to engage young people. We live in a very graphic society where children constantly see moving, comic images – sometimes on television and movies, sometimes on computer games. Kids feel very comfortable with these comic images and are hungry for more. ” — Bill Zimmerman, Make Beliefs Comics

MakeBeliefs Civil Rights 479x500 Comics Generators and Literacy: Edtech and Nontech Insights from Bill Zimmerman

I am really enjoying Peter’s exploration of comics, and look forward the next post.

Peace (in the frames),