Happy New Year!

What will 2017 bring for you? Hardly anyone knows. We begin each new year with new hopes, dreams, and goals of making changes to our lives. Or perhaps our lives are perfectly fine and there isn't anything we want or need to change. Whatever your mindset, change requires effort, determination, and tons of perseverance. Rewind back to January 1st 2016, I made 3 goals for myself: get published, get organized, and lose 10 pounds, which just so happened to be the same 3 goals I set for myself in 2015. And embarrassingly enough, if I'm being perfectly honest, those were probably my goals in 2014 also. So if I've been working towards the same goals for at least 2 years, why haven't I achieved any of them? Laziness? Fear? Maybe a little of both? Or perhaps sheer overwhelmedness (yes, I know that's not a real word). You know the feeling I'm talking about, where you have so much going on that when you do have actual free time to get something accomplished, you don't know where to start or even have the energy to do anything else? Or maybe that's just me. Or perhaps it's the feeling when you try hard at something for a short period of time, but you don't see any results and you give up or become discouraged.

As a side-note, my 2016 was nothing to be sad or mopey about. It was actually pretty awesome. I went on four great vacations. Visited 5 states, traveled in 4 different countries, took my children on their first plane trip. I completed my first year in a new position at my school. Played, laughed, ran, and made many memories with my family and friends. Not to mention that I am blessed with two beautiful, healthy children, a wonderful husband, a great job, and a fantastic family and friends.

The truth is, achieving your dreams is not possible without heart and a whole lot of hard work. I will never reach my goals without making a conscious effort to work towards them. I will never publish my first book without spending time writing, each and every day. Although, I made a start in 2016, three blog posts and an outline aren't going to get my novel published. Likewise, I'm never going to get organized by doing the daily chores that need to be done and nothing more. I'm going to have to put in hours of time to get things to a functional point and then I'm going to have to work to keep things organized. And those ten pounds, well, I'm likely never to lose them unless I change my eating habits permanently. Instantaneous results will not happen and in all honesty, 365 days may not be enough to get my goals accomplished, but hopefully by this time next year, I will have made some progress toward these goals.

Why am I telling you all of this? You probably have goals and dreams of your own to focus on that differ from those of my own. My purpose in writing this is two-fold. A few months ago, I read a book called Living Well Spending Less by Ruth Soukup. When I was reading what she had written in her book, there were many times that I thought, “wow, she’s talking to me.” Although I knew that she wasn’t writing this book for Amy Fields, there were many things that she wrote that really stuck with me. So my thought in writing this blog post is that maybe there is someone out there who reads this post and feels the same way that I do, overwhelmed and scared of their goals, but ready to put in the hard work that it takes to accomplish those staggering goals. Maybe we can lean on each other and push each other to achieve those goals. The other reason I’m writing this is to hold myself accountable.  By putting my goals out there in the wide-open world of the Internet where anyone can read them, I’m more likely to be working towards them. I honestly hope that I if I run into you on the street sometime soon that you’ll say, “Hey, Amy. How’s your book going?” Hopefully, my response will be positive and more than, "I have an outline."

Happy 2017 to you! May this be the year where your dreams come true!

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians

My school year has taken off in whirlwind fashion once again, my Reading Lab groups are in full swing and I'm trying to re-organize my reading lessons in order to maximize student progress. I've also managed to get myself involved in a Special Education cohort focused on reading disabilities so that I can answer the new, popular reading question: Is my child dyslexic? Needless to say, although I've been on a quest for simplicity, relaxation, and finding more time for writing, I can never seem to get there. In order to fix this problem, my new mantra is "put writing first". So, even though I have laundry to fold, yard-work to do, lesson plans to write, and e-mails to respond to, I'm going to sit in this chair and not get up until this post is publishable.

Beginning of the year assessing is finally finished and last week I began working with my small groups of Kindergarten-3rd grade students. One of my goals this year is to provide my students with more targeted instruction based on their needs. This will be quite the tall order, since I work with close to 40 students each day, however, my job is reading intervention and I need to be doing more explicit teaching of strategies than students are getting with their regular classroom reading program. I also, want to provide them with strategies that they can take back to their classrooms and homes to apply to their reading.

Last week my lessons focused on classroom rules, getting to know the groups, and learning how to pick out "just right" books. If you have a reader in your house, you probably know that when your child reaches a certain age, usually by 2nd grade, he/she if very aware of his/her reading ability compared to others. He/she is also, usually very aware of what other children are reading. It only takes one student "reading" Harry Potter to make a whole class of 2nd graders think they should be "reading" Harry Potter too. While I see the value in a good healthy challenge and I would never discourage a child from reading, more reading growth will happen if students are consistently placed in books with just the right amount of challenge.

Earlier in the year, I observed in my school's 3rd grade classrooms and witnessed a series of lessons on choosing "good fit" books. They brought in a bag of shoes of different styles and sizes and showed students that although there are a variety of shoes, you have to think about size and purpose. What shoe fits one person, won't necessarily fit another. For example, you might love fancy heels, but you wouldn't want to wear them to go for a run. Also, all sneakers aren't the same size, so a size 10 running shoe probably isn't going to fit you if you're a size 7. So although your buddy might be reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that doesn't mean it would be a good fit book for you. Their lessons also focused on using the acronym I PICK (Puporse, Interest, Comprehension, Know-words), to help students learn to pick "good fit" books.

Although, these lessons are fantastic and I loved the way they used the shoes as an analogy to picking books, I didn't want to step on any toes (no pun intended), by using the same lesson with my 1st and 2nd graders. So I googled "picking just right books" and came across a variety of anchor chart images. Several of them used an analogy of riding a bike to choosing a "just right" book and I thought many of my students could relate to riding a bike. I drew a picture of a bike going down a hill on my classroom white board and asked my students to tell me about riding a bike down a hill and what happens, I wrote "too easy" beside the picture and we listed what happens when a book is too easy (you go fast, don't pay attention, know all the words, boring). Then I drew a picture of a bike going up a hill and wrote "too hard" beside it. We listed what happens when book is too hard (slow, hard work, 5 finger rule-miss more than 5 words on a page, don't understand). Lastly, I drew a picture of a bike on a straight road and I wrote "just right" beside it. We listed characteristics of books that are just right (know most of the words, not too fast or slow, understand the story).


The next day, I read the story Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians written by Jackie Mims Hopkins and illustrated by John Manders to my groups. Now, I did borrow this book from a 3rd grade teacher and I'm pretty sure she read it to her class, but as a teacher it's really hard to pick a book that no one in your class has ever heard or read before, so hopefully they'll forget by the time they're in 3rd grade. Plus I always tell my students that I read my favorites over and over again, which is the truth. In Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians, a little girl takes a shortcut through the forest on her way home from school and finds a house made of books belonging to the three "Libearians," (Papa bear, Mama bear and baby bear). In the house, she finds books that are too hard, too easy and just right. It was a great review for what we had talked about the day before with the bikes and books. Goldie Socks even used the 5 finger rule strategy to find good books for herself. After finding her books, she also found a nice cozy reading space, which is equally as important as what you are reading. You don't want to be too uncomfortable while reading, or too comfortable for that matter.

Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians
By Jackie Mims Hopkins

The day after my Goldie Socks reading, I showed my students an Anchor Chart that I made using our white board notes outlining How to Pick a Just Right Book. I plan on laminating this gem and hanging it in my classroom for reference.

Every night my students are invited to pick out a book from my leveled book baskets to take home. I know my students are taking home books from the library and possibly from their classrooms, but I just want to be sure that at least they have one book on their reading level that they can read. Each day after they choose their books, I have my students read me the first page of the book to ensure they are picking something they can read. If he/she knows all the words, I encourage him/her to choose something a little harder. If he/she misses several words on a page, then I make them choose from a different lower level basket. For now, many students are choosing easy books, but I'm hoping with a little guidance, they'll be choosing Just Right books all on their own.

I Broke My Trunk

One of the most rewarding experiences as a parent happens when your child begins to read. It's no secret that I read to my children every night before bed, something I've been doing since they were babies. But the last few weeks have been a mixture of the usual Mommy reading with a smattering of 6 year old reading. Tonight as we were reading Henry and Mudge Puddle Trouble, I felt such pride to hear that little guy reading. I listen to children reading all day long, but there is something magical about hearing my own son sound out, read and discuss books.

The ah-ha moment when I realized, wow, my son can read really well, came a few weeks ago when he brought home the book I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems from the school library. I am a huge fan of Mo Willems! When I taught first grade we did an author study on Mr. Willems. One of my all time favorite children's books is Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale and you can't go wrong with Elephant and Piggie's silly stories. I was actually really excited that my son picked out an Elephant and Piggie story. As we pulled the book out to read before bed one night, probably the night before it was due, I told my son he should read the book to me. His initial reaction was, "No, I can't read this." (For some reason, early readers always seem to assume they can't read.) So, I actually talked him into trying it out and he read the entire book. Not only did he read the entire book, but he started cracking up about halfway through the book, when Gerald, the elephant is explaining to Piggie how he broke his trunk, which was fantastic because it told me that not only was he reading, but he was understanding what he was reading. Now don't worry, I'm not going to tell you what was so funny or how the elephant broke his trunk. You're going to have to check this one out yourself!

This book is also a great partner read. After my son read the story by himself, we chose parts. I was Piggie and my son was Gerald. The story is written through a series of speech bubbles, so I read the Piggie speech bubbles in my best Piggie voice and my son read the Gerald bubbles in his best elephant voice. The second reading brought just as many belly laughs as the first read and also helped with my son's fluency. I promise, you won't be disappointed. Another Elephant and Piggie book made it's way home this week and I can't wait to read it!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, it's been a while. Almost 6 months to the day since my last post. Yikes! How do you start blogging again after such an absence? Well, I'm not sure. I've planned and actually started several posts, but they just came off sounding cheesy, so I'm just going to jump right back in with two feet and pick up where I left off, with a Monday night book review.

One of my missions as a parent, teacher of reading, and lover of books is to share great books with others. Often, when looking for books, we are on the hunt for something new; however, there are many fantastic books out there that are classics. I loved reading as a kid and constantly had a book in my hand. I literally read almost nonstop, but there are a handful of books that are ingrained in my head from my childhood: Charlotte's Web, Wait Til Helen Comes, The Little Princess, and The BFG are just a few that pop into my mind. Although we still read some picture books here and there, we've started expanding our bedtime reading to include more chapter books. 

Chapter books are fantastic read alouds even when your child cannot read them him/herself. They help build listening comprehension skills as well as ideas about story structure, plots, characterization, and vocabulary development. I will give one caveat, think about the content of the read aloud and the ages of the children your will be reading to, before reading. I have abandoned chapter books in the middle because I didn't like the direction they were heading for the age of the listeners. Ideally, you could read the book yourself prior to reading it aloud to check the content, but if you're anything like me, you probably don't have loads of spare free-time laying around to preview every book out there. Just be thinking of the overall content of the book and your audience. For example, my children are 3 and 6 so Wait Til Helen Comes (a ghost story) will probably have to wait a few years. As a side note, this book was my absolute favorite when I was in 5th grade, but it terrified me at the same time. However, that didn't stop me from reading it over and over and over again.

Anyway, back to reading chapter books aloud. We've read a smattering of chapter books recently ranging from Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne to E.B. White's Stuart Little to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I initially thought of reading James and the Giant Peach (also by Roald Dahl) to my son, but then remembered that it's a little strange so I opted for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead.  As many young children do, my children love candy and I thought my son would get a kick out of all of the cool different kinds of candy and rooms described in the book. I mean honestly, who wouldn't want to go for a swim in a chocolate river? Making connections with books is fundamental to reading and comprehending text, so if for example, your child or audience is a group of rough and tumble 6 year old boys, you may not want to read them a book about Barbie Princesses. But that kind of goes back to what I said before about content and your audience.

I really chose this book for my son and being 3, I wasn't really sure what my daughter would get out of the book. Don't get me wrong, I could be reading a text book on teaching literacy strategies and my daughter would sit and listen to me read, but I wasn't sure if she would be able to understand and remember what was happening in the story. However, while we were reading the story she would actually talk about the characters in the story, Veruca Salt actually became one of her babies' names that week and she was very entertained by Augustus Gloop. So don't discount chapter book reading because your child is small.

I don't think my son or daughter really understood how poor Charlie and his family were in the beginning of the book or why they were only eating cabbage broth soup each day, although I'm always telling them how lucky they are and that they should eat all of their dinner because there are plenty of children who are starving in the world. But they loved that Charlie found the final golden ticket and were very entertained by the events in the Wonka Factory. I also loved the overall message of following directions and not being too greedy or whiny or spoiled. I did omit language from the book occasionally because I thought it was a touch too rude. But the beautiful thing about reading aloud from a chapter book is that you can edit a little as you read, and as long as you are smooth about it no one will know.

After we read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, over the course of several weeks, we went to the library and checked out the DVD Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). There is a more current version called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) with Johnny Depp, but it's a Tim Burton version and although I could be wrong, because I haven't actually watched it, I wasn't sure about how dark and potentially creepy the movie was. Although, it's pretty dated, I thought it would be neat to show my children the differences between the book and the movie. If you didn't already know, almost all great books are made into movies, which leads to great conversations about books and movies. Throughout the movie, my son kept saying, that didn't happen in the book showing me he had a strong understanding of the book and was able to make connections to the book. Showing the movie after reading a book also shows children that there can be a visual of the story. One of the best ways to connect with a story is to visualize what's happening like a movie is playing inside your head. You don' t need a movie to visualize, but for early readers it can help them begin to see visualizing and to help them create their own images. Picture books are awesome, but there is something very powerful about opening your mind to chapter books.