Monday, November 11, 2013

[Mentor Text Monday] A is for Abecedarium

I was tickled to learn the work "abecedary" recently.

Even more ticklish is the pronunciation. I was trying to make it fancy--/ab-ced-ar-ee/--but no. If you look in the definition page there, and even click the video it is /ay-bee-see-duh-ree/. It truly is a word made from the first three letters of the alphabet. A-B-C-dary. I'm in love with this word (only slightly disappointed with the pronunciation not being fancy-pants).

Then I realized that my new favorite magazine, UPPERCASE (see here and here for my posts extolling the virtues of this magazine), has and abecedary in the newest issue as well. I'm using my context clues here and am thinking there may be one each issue?  Sweet! I loved the one on sticky things last issue, and this one is just as amazing. 

Mentor Text Idea #1:  I referred to this here, but using the ABC structure to present or review concepts has been around for ever and a day. These UPPERCASE Abecedaries remind me that we can stretch the learning within that structure. Reach for a series words that stretches the subject in all directions. Challenge students to add new learning and show creativity within the 26-letter structure. The structure of the alphabet can serve as a jumping-off point for any grade level to develop and create a series or theme. As early as TK or Kinder, students can use them to create meaning about other topics. A 5-year-old friend of mine once spent an evening designing an alphabet book of things you'd find in a school. At first he was just imagining how the letters would be made.  For instance, the letter A could come from swingset and the letter N could be from part of the monkey bars. As he created though, he decided the letters had to somehow include the letter it formed. The letter B became "Boys playing on the monkey bars" and the letter P was formed from pencil shavings. This could be done in table groups or pairs at any grade level! My 5-year-old-friend fell asleep taht day designing and redesigning his "The ABCs of Schools" book (we had already made an ABCs of Dinosaiurs book).
Later in the issue they share a variety of alphabets inspired by office supplies.  Here are a few. You'll have to get the magazine for the rest, or go to their website and have a looksee:

Mentor Text Idea #1:  I referred to this here, but using the ABC structure to present or review concepts has been around for ever and a day. These UPPERCASE Abecedaries remind me that we can stretch the learning within that structure. Reach for a series words that stretches the subject in all directions. Challenge students to add new learning and show creativity within the 26-letter structure. The structure of the alphabet can serve as a jumping-off point for any grade level to develop and create a series or theme. As early as TK or Kinder, students can use them to create meaning about other topics. A 5-year-old friend of mine once spent an evening designing an alphabet book of things you'd find in a school. At first he was just imagining how the letters would be made.  For instance, the letter A could come from swing set and the letter N could be from part of the monkey bars. As he created though, he decided the letters had to somehow include the letter it formed. The letter B became "Boys playing on the monkey bars" and the letter P was formed from pencil shavings. This could be done in table groups or pairs at any grade level! My 5-year-old-friend fell asleep that day designing and redesigning his "The ABCs of Schools" book (we had already made an ABCs of Dinosaurs book).

As if this wasn't enough, let's add some technology! I saw a post on Edutopia with short videos using the ABC's.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Mentor Text Idea #2:  Videos like these could be made by students. Even if your classroom doesn't have 1:1 technology, creating a video like this takes many participants, planning, and very little actual technology (one smart phone to take the photos would be enough if that's all you have). Maybe take aminute and imagine a project like that. How could you extend student thinking about a topic, their skills with technology, and their collaboartive skills? My head is spnning just thinking about it!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

[Mentor Text Monday] Guest Blogger--This Plus That

Wear the Cape proudly welcomes our first guest blogger!  Jeni Cass is caped teacher from a charter school in San Diego. Jeni truly does wear her cape each day in her kinder classroom. Enjoy this amazing mentor text form Jeni!

As a kinder teacher the thought of doing a mentor text in the beginning of the year seems pretty daunting.  I tend to stick more with illustration and author studies (see Katie Wood Ray's work for more information onm those).  But I haven't given my kids the credit they deserve as learners.This summer I searched for texts that have concepts and writing that my kids could do.  I found the perfect one to start with.  It's super simple but the students really got into it.  Here is what I did to help them be successful:

First we read the book...a couple times.  We talked about the concepts, the illustrations and just generally enjoyed what it had to show us. 

Next, we discussed what the author was doing, taking two items and adding them together to make something new.  Then as a class we talked about possible combinations of things.  Here is where I really had to help them out.  I gave them at least 10.  

Then I started with giving them just one thing and they had to tell their neighbor (knee to knee) what they would add to it.  Finally it was their turn to orally tell their neighbor an entire phrase. 

Together as a class we listed them on a chart paper so everyone had a chance to share out and see the different possibilities.  Students then went back to their tables to write their sentence.  

By the end of the year I let them spell it out themselves and leave the chart up for support.  This time I actually cut the chart paper up and had them take their own phrase back to their seats to copy.  After illustrating them, they were done!! 

My littles were so excited to see themselves as writers and make our own This Plus That book.  It is a favorite in our class library!

Monday, October 28, 2013

[Mentor Text Monday] Creative Collections--more from UPPERCASE Magazine

Last week I talked about using UPPERCASE Magazine and their focus on "sticky things" as mentor texts. I also alluded to the fact that I would use more from this magazine.

While the theme of this issue is collage, there is a "Creative Challenge" on page 75 that suggests collecting artifacts. There is a great page on which you can cut and paste images physically or digitally.

From UPPERCASE: In our current issue, we provided a page with an image of an empty typecase. Since this is our collage and assemblage-themed issue, we encourage you to glue and modify this page, take a picture or scan of it and send it to us!

The process of collecting items, like in the abecedary in the previous post, has many possibilities in the classroom.

The UPPERCASE blog is showcasing reader collections.  Here are some of my favorite--with an eye to teaching possibilities:
Another creative challenge submission! This box of treasured things is by Lisa Fitzhugh of Wideyed.

Read Vanda Vilela submitted her response to our earlier creative challenge.  Thank you to all who submitted over the past couple of months. I guess it is time I issued a new challenge! I will be posting all the open calls for participation very soon.
Kathryn Cole submitted this one: "Inspired by your call for creating a shadow box, I created one with my favourite shells that I collected at the my favourite beach in Florida and some fresh roses from my yard."
UPPERCASE subscriber Cornelis vanSpronsen writes: 
"I received my copy of UPPERCASE today and was immediately inspired to respond to the creative challenge on page 75. For many years my wife and I have collected special mementos that were both of great importance as well as those that were memorable for just a small moment in time. This is some of that collection. Going through these is like leafing through a photo album but only better because there are memories attached to these things that photos could never capture."
As springboards for writing, illustrations for published pieces, or even the act of collecting and labeling as a writing task. I am tickled by the idea of this simple wooden type case and the fun of filling it up.

Some of us are participating in a photographic collection--SDAWP Photo Voices. On a weekly or monthly basis, we curate our images from a designated time period and display them in a collection (of one or many). Previously I've collected images on symmetry,  the color green, and the color yellow (I did well with colors).

For the month of October, we have the theme "writing." Oddly, I've struggled. Combining my SDAWP Photo Voices theme and this idea of collections, here is my "writing" collection so far:

Where do you think you take this in your classroom? What collections do you have or would you have? How would you fill in this amazing wooden typecase? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

[Mentor Text Monday] "An Abecedary of Sticky Things"

UPPERCASE Magazine, Issue No. 18, "Cut it Out" is all about collage. Yup.  you read that correctly, collage. It's a beautful magazine printed on amazing paper.  The tagline is "a magazine for the creative and curious." Well that's us in a nutshell is it not?

Keeping "creative and curious" in mind, I thought I'd share some mentor text thoughts that crossed my mind during my "1st Draft Reading" last night. I have about a gabilllion ideas, so I'll start with my favorite.

"An Abecedary of Sticky Things" pg. 14

First, a word study.  Abecedary--an ABC Book.  What an amazing word! A-Be-Ce-Dary--see it? Even more fun, it's an ABC book of... sticky things!  The list is creative and gives pause for thought multiple times. I imagine this as one in an array of ABC book mentor texts, though the depth and vocbaluary used in this one makes it my all time favorite. Just look at this list!

I know, right?  What a rich and thoughtful list of... sticky things! We're not talking a Level 1 or 2 DOK (Webb's Depth of Knowledge) list here. Historical reference, science, Dr. Seuss, candy, toilet plungers, and, of course,  bubble gum. This two-page magazine spread is chock full of learning, thinking and creativity.  I can't wait to use it! 

That's pretty cool in itself, I'll grant you. But let's take it up a notch.  On page 101 of the same issue is an article called "Sticky Business: A Brief History of Glue."

Looking for a piece of complex non-fiction text for upper grades? Try this one out.  It's a challenge, most certainly, but link it with the Abecedary of Sticky Things above and you have two texts on a similar topic Common Core State Standards CCR R.9), one is more accessible than the other (differentiation!), one serves as a practice in deeper reading (Common Core State Standard CCR R.1), and one provides a jumping off point for an informational writing assignment (CCR W.2) that also uses write-to-learn strategies. Use technology to draft and display your finished abecedary and you've got a hat trick!

There is only one teeny tiny itty bitty downside to this brilliance. UPPERCASE Magazine is not what you'd call a budget publication. Each issue runs $18. I rarely allow myself to buy it. It is a marvelous publication and worth the money, I swear, but there is a budget option. The folks at UPPERCASE are very thoughtful and provide their articles online for free.  I don't know how long they leave it up, but this issue is on the blog right here.  Pretty cool, huh? So maybe go out and try an abedecary with your own learners? I most certainly am!

Please share here if you do!

Next week... Creative Collections as mentor texts, A.K.A. more ideas from UPPERCASE Magazine

Linking up to the #113Texts Mentor Text Challenge on

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

[Learning] Danger! Curves ahead!

I remember my thinking clearly. I had gotten it into my head that I was meant to be a motorcyclist. My dad had instilled the appropriate amount of fear of what he called “hundreds of pounds of hurtling steel” and I knew the safety class had to come first.  This shows growth on my part since I typically dive in feet first and learn things the hard way.  

I signed up for a one-day introductory class with a class the following week if it went well.  I was nervous, but ready. I had, in my mind, a vision of riding along the beach like Tom Cruise did in Top Gun.  I conveniently ignored the learning curve I was about to climb. I also conveniently ignored what I know about myself as a learner. I need time to observe, time to calculate, time to choose my path.  Learning difficult things in a public and structured way is difficult for me. I knew this, but I ignored it.

We were  a small class—eight people or so.  Most of them had been on some sort of two-wheeled vehicle before.  I… had not.  At least not since I fell asleep on the back of my father’s moving  motorcycle nearly 30 years earlier (don’t worry, he caught me.  Then he banned me from the back of his bike for EVER).  I started to wonder if I had made a good decision.  I was there though. The learning curve had begun.
We read some pamphlets, talked about how dangerous motorcycles were, how they worked, how to have eyes in the backs of our heads .  Then we were allowed to sit on our loaner bikes.  We couldn’t start them yet, but we could sit on them.  I’ll admit, the learning curve was going a little slow for me at this point—my mind was starting to wander. My Tom-Cruise vision was taunting me.  After some practice getting on and off the bikes, we finally got to start them! Vrooom!  I was back on track and engaged immediately. Top Gun, here I come!

That first day we managed to get our bikes started, ride around in 15 mph circles, and do some zigzags. I determined that I was making progress since I wasn’t the very worst learner in the group. By my count, I was in the bottom third, but at least not at the bottom.  I was tense, and felt like I needed more time, but I left that day feeling like a learner!

Two weeks later I went back for my second class. I immediately realized my previous learning had not stuck.  I felt brand new again. I was rusty, to put it kindly.  As we started back into our 15mph circles, I couldn’t get the hang of it.  I was nervous and unsure—making me squeeze the handles too tightly , rev the engine, and squeeze the brakes when I shouldn’t have been.  I was being corrected each time around the circle, and I felt my stress level rise.  My face was hot, my spine tingled, and my heart was beating more loudly than it should have been.  I used my same method of self-measurement as before—was I the worst in the group? Um… yes.  Most decidedly yes.  I just couldn’t get it. I felt my conviction and energy drain and I started marking time until the class was over. I was getting angry—irritated at what seemed like the constant corrections. My learning curve had gone flat and I wasn’t handling it well.

Once class ended it took me over a year to regroup and get back on track with my goal. I ended up deciding to learn in my usual way—feet first.  I saved up and bought a 150cc scooter.  I took it to a parking lot and rode that thing around until I had the feel for it.  Then I rode it every day on the back streets of my neighborhood, then the larger streets, then out into the big bad world.  My learning curve was steep, but on my terms.  I still had the sweaty palms, the tingly spine, and the frustrations, but I was able to work them out on that parking lot and on those streets at my own pace.

I always remember that tingly-spine feeling when I am teaching.  Challenging learning takes an extra dose of focus, of courage, and of perseverance.  While we all agree that we need to push our student to learn in new and challenging ways, it is also true that we need to respect and their learning process.  We can support and guide them in the process of learning while still ensuring that the learning itself is real and rigorous.

This winter, I’m taking that motorcycle safety class again.  I’ve done the prep work, the pre-learning, and I feel ready to learn at their pace. I still have my Top-Gun dreams to achieve!

Friday, October 11, 2013

[Personal Accountability] My Double-Standard

Okay, I admit it.  I have been a hypocrite.  Ooooh, what an ugly word.  I even looked up synonyms to try to soften the blow, but no.  That's the word. Although, on a side note, this definition is pretty lame...
I digress. It's time to admit my hypocrisy.

I have been presenting, coaching, going to events, and talking on blog radio about digital literacy, Connected Educator Month, and the importantce of being connected learners.  All the while, my blog is sitting idle since August, my SDAWP Photo of the Day posts have been barely trickling in, and I tweet only when reminded.

So, today I am making a committment to my corner of the world.

I, Barb Montfort, will post on the blog, post on Edmodo, tweet, or upload to Instagram at least one time per day, every day, for the rest of forever. 

Yes, I said for the rest of forever. I almost changed it to some lesser commitment, but really--I need to walk my talk, right?

Please, hold me accountable. You may follow me on Twitter at @barb_montfort, or on Instagram at @bypenorbythread, or on Edmodo as Ms. Montfort.  Please do.  And nag me.

I aloms

Thursday, August 15, 2013

[#leadershipday13] What if?

It's Leadership Day at Dangerously Irrelevant! To celebrate the author has given a throw down:
On Thursday, August 15, 2013, blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, resources, ideas, etc. Write a letter to the administrators in your area. Post a top ten list. Make a podcast or a video or a voice-narrated presentation. Highlight a local success or challenge. Recommend some readings. Create an app, game, or simulation. Draw a cartoon. Do an interview of a successful technology leader. Respond to some of the questions below or make up your own. If you participated in years past, post a follow-up reflection. Whatever strikes you. 
And, so.  Here. I. Am.

I want to start by asking you to take a minute and list all of the reasons you can't use technology.  Every one.  List them all. Embrace your Negative Nancy and reach for the... not stars... but the pit of despair (bonus points if you know the movie). Indulge yourself. List them, celebrate them, bow down to them.

Now. Ask yourself a new question.

What if?
What if it scared you and you did it anyway?
What if you did it, failed, did it a new way, failed again, and learned exactly what not to do next time? What if you have no idea how to do it and have to ask someone?
What if it takes you an hour to do something your students can do in a minute?
What if you don't know the answer and you allow your students to teach you?
What if they have to teach you more than once, you get frustrated, and they see that?
What if?  What would happen if all of that were true?

Many of us have heard or quoted the famous line, "What would you do if you could not fail?" most commonly attributed to Robert H. Schuller. In this age of technology and innovation in our schools on the starting line (first lap?) of the Common Core State Standards, I have started asking another question:

What's the worst thing that could happen in you failed, and why don't you try it out and see?

We learn from failure. We learn what not to do, what to do differently, what to do instead, how to work around things. We learn from mistakes much more powerfully than from successes, in some ways. I wrote and rewrote this line a few different times.  It's risky because it can be taken out of context, but here goes:

Let's embrace the possibility of failure in our learning and even in our teaching. Let's make every mistake we can think of! Let's fail right in front of everyone and celebrate the learning that happens.

Pick up a computer, a new device, an app or program you haven't used and use it! Learn how with your students, with your teachers, by yourself behind the shed.  Struggle through it and learn something--anything. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

[Teaching Ideas] Vocabulary Development--Greek Roots

A coworker posed a question to me on Friday and I stewed on it all weekend.

How would I teach Greek and Latin roots to middle grade students?

This sent my mind to spinning. I've never been a strong proponent of weekly spelling or vocabulary lists and quizzes. I found that my strong students memorized them for a period of time, my middle students memorized them for less time, and my struggling students struggled to memorize or use them and this was compounded each week--they knew it was coming, they knew it was hard and they began to know they would fail.

As I began to work with the San Diego Area Writing Project a couple of years ago I was introduced to the work of Katie wood Ray, Jeff Anderson, Kelly Gallagher and others. I was also lucky enough to learn from my Summer Institute fellows one Summer. Through multiple participant demos I was able to crystallize my thinking about this issue. What follows is a brainstorm of ideas combining what I have learned from practice, from the authors listed above, and from other SDAWP Fellows.

I posted awhile back about a method of vocabulary development I adopted after working with Abby--an SDAWP fellow. Click here for more information and examples of that process.

Now... THIS is how I'd approach the teaching of Greek or Latin Roots:

I would start by initiating a conversation using nonsense words. There are low-stress, no-right-answer kind of words and students can wrestle with them with less risk. Two of these texts do provide "answers" that definite the nonsense words, but I use these texts for the process of inquiry as opposed to the act of getting the right answer. Here are three that work well listed in order of least challenging to most challenging.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll (this is a fun picture book version)

Allow the students to explore the words, possible meanings, maybe parts of speech, patterns they find, and most importantly to explain their thinking. Many of our students are lacking experience in this kind of problem solving and their answers may be seem wild or unfounded. This is time for them to practice reasoning, for teachers to practice letting students figure it out, and to allow space for the wrong answers. Even in the cases were the author or literary critics have provided a "correct" answer, it is okay to be wrong in a lesson like this.

After this exercises use a similar model to introduce Greek or Latin roots.  Provide 10 or so roots in a list or embedded in an article or story (even better) and let the students wrestle with it. I suggest starting with just enough roots to provide the opportunity to discover patterns or connections to prior knowledge, but not so many that it becomes a "vocabulary list" in the traditional sense.

Guide them to come up with patterns and to provide evidence for their decisions. It is okay for the initial guess to be wrong, and even for the evidence to be faulty at this point. They will get to the correct answer either from their peers or, in the end, from the teacher. For now, let them stretch their brains.

If appropriate, you may use this video clip as a humorous way to transition from the inquiry above to the final list of roots and meanings. It is a short video clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding showing how Greek roots work.

 **Note--the first word is a correct Greek root, but the second example is not.  This may lead to a discussion about how not all words have Greek roots.  This is also an excellent opportunity to have students look into both examples (arachnophobia and kimono) and come up with their own answers as to their veracity and why or why not.

If your students are doing well with this kind of inquiry or thinking you might consider NOT handing them the correct answers with the first list. Maybe challenge them with the task of coming to a group consensus on each word and  maybe after that they can look it up on their own (a great opportunity to use your technology). This might be a time that you never do have to lecture or hand out answers. You can spot check or do an exit ticket to make sure they have them by the end, but this is something they can do!

After all of this, you will still have more groups of words to present. I suggest a few options. If the model above worked well, try it again with a new list! If they struggled or it came easy to them, here are a couple more options you could use with future groups of words:

--The No List option--have students bring you new words. You can set the stage by providing opportunity or appropriate texts and objects, but have the students "discover" them and add them to the group list.  Each new discovery is a class find.  Perhaps assign a visual and a kinesthetic motion to each as you go and post them on the list. Practicing the list can become a bell-0ringer activity, or entrance or exit slip material. This is similar to the protocol I used here.

--The Short List Option--provide a list of a 5 or so words with the same root or similar roots on a Monday and thread them in your texts throughout the week.  Students can add to their list all week and present a completed list to you on Friday for a privilege or a grade. Bonus points if they remember them without their notes!

--The Longer List Option--Provide 10 or so words that you know can be grouped into some sort of pattern or set. Use an inquiry process similar to the one above to identify the meanings.Refer back to the list each day and sneak it into texts, sentences, classroom directions.  Inundate your room with them. You may give a "for fun" quiz at the end.  Each correct answer gets a bonus point.

--The Longest List Option--hand out a huge list of Greek Roots and spread the investigation out over a series of weeks. Students will see the list, maybe have it placed prominently on their binder, iPad, Chrome Book or other classroom device and if they see a word in a text or hear it, they can highlight it and fill the info out.  This turns the learning into a long-term scavenger hunt.  As above, I suggest taking a minute each time one is discovered (and you may have to plant them throughout your lessons), assigning a visual and a kinesthetic memory tool to each and adding them to a larger list.

So there you have it.  My brain dump on how I would teach Greek or Latin Roots. Whew!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

[#pb10for10] Picture Books, Picture Books, Everywhere Are Picture Books

I heard about the 10 for 10 Picture Book event a few times today and finally, just now, realized I needed to get off of my tookus and add my own in.  Here are my 10 favorite, can't-live-without picture books.

Poetry and Art
1. Life Doesn't Frighten Me by Maya Angelou (art by Jean-Michele Basquiat)
Jean Michele Basquiat illustrates this poem by Angelou. The poem stands on its own as a strong mentor text for a variety of writer's craft tools--my favorites are juxtaposition and repetition for effect, but is augmented beautifully by Basquiat's art.  This is a great springboard for an artist study as well--and a possible model for a writing assignment linking a poem (existing or student-written) and the work of a particular artist.

2. Jabberwocky  by Lewis Carroll (art by Christopher Myers)
I imagine you might be sensing a theme already in the kind of picture books I'm drawn to. Again, Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll stands alone as a mentor text. I've used it often as a word study springboard. Add the art of Christopher Myers, and the link to the origins of the game of basketball and link to current athletes, and you've got a winner! I've used the author's explanation of the book as a mentor text in middle grades in a variety of lessons.  The first two paragraphs give you a hint:

3. If by Sarah Perry and from the Getty Trust

A series of "What if's" accompanied by gorgeous art.  Yes... I have a distinct style of favorite.

4. Imagine a Day by Sarah L. Thomson (art by Rob Gonzalves)

I used this book and others by Magic Realism artist Rob Gonsalves in lessons focused on incorporating Magic Realism in writing in class, in writing camp, and for my own writing.  I wrote about in this post here.


This book is new to me, but quickly earned a spot on my favorites list. I heard about it on the NPR show A Way With Words. Co-host Grant Barrett talked about how his son was comforted by the message in this biography that sometimes, as artists or wordsmiths, we have a vision in our mind and it is so difficult to get it on paper in a way that matches the image in our head, or the models we have seen in our lives.  That is a message our young writers need to hear.

6. Frida by Jonah Winter

This book also explores the idea of an artists mind while sharing biograpical information about Frida Kahlo.  I love the rich and colorful illustrations and the story of Frida's childhood and how she turned to art to help her deal with her own health issues and pain.


Monsters and math? This book explores the math concepts of factoring and prime and composite numbers using monsters and bold illustrations. What more could you ask for? Here is an illustration from early in the book:

Hee hee.  Math and Steinbeck. That just speaks to me. THis books explores math by looking for patterns, symmetries, andnumber combinations and guides students through an inquiry into how math works.

Just Because--I just love the stories, illustrations, authors, concepts, and overall amazingness of both of these books.  This is just pure books love.

10. Albert by Donna Jo Napoli

Wednesday, August 7, 2013