Darth Paper Strikes Back

I found myself engrossed in book #2 of the Origami Yoda series.  Not a personal genre favorite of mine, but highly recommended (and I needed a break from the civil war book!) I only wish I had the opportunity to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda first so I would know the characters and the back story.

Thinking about my take-aways from The Book Whisperer, I know exactly the students who I would love to hand this book to.  Star Wars fans?  Absolutely.  Creative/artistic kids?  Absolutely.  Students who are overwhelmed with too much text on a page?  Absolutely. Students who love comics or graphic novels?  Absolutely.  I could go on, and on, but more about the book …

The first book in this series was about a 6th grader named Dwight and his advice-giving, origami, finger puppet of Yoda.  This book continues the story, but now it’s Dwight and Origami Yoda who are in need of assistance, and the students of McQuarrie have taken up the charge – all except Harvey and his origami Darth Vader, a/k/a Darth Paper.  Darth Paper is insulting, possibly evil, and the root cause of Dwight and Origami Yoda’s troubles!

Darth Paper Strikes Back is written as a case file, with more than ten different students offering his or her perspective on Dwight and Origami Yoda.  There are numerous entries from Tommy, and a few with Kellen, but it’s in the offerings of the other students where the readers truly see the story of Dwight and Origami Yoda.  Two case examples:  Lance writes, “Origami Yoda and Exploding Pizza Bagels of Love” while Cassie’s entry is entitled, “Origami Yoda and the Body Odor in Wonderland.”

For readers to successfully navigate this book, they must not only read the text, but also follow the drawings, diagrams, and comments written in the margins, all the while tracking which narrator is telling the story at any given point.  Also, if a reader isn’t familiar with Star Wars, it might be difficult to understand many of the references and innuendo – but for those Star Wars enthusiasts, and those up to the challenge of navigating the textual features, then this is the book for you!

Here is the Amazon link to Darth Paper Strikes Back, written by Tom Angleberger. (He also narrates this how-to on making your own Darth Paper.)

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The Book Whisperer

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller has been on my to-be-read list for quite a long time, but only recently came into my hands. Mrs. Miller teaches 6th grade and is highly respected by all educators as a guru who remains in the classroom fostering a love of reading for her students!

I read this book in one night, but know I will return to it again and again. While valuable for teachers and other educators, I believe many parents would find it helpful in understanding upper elementary and middle grade readers. I actually found my copy on the shelves of my local library, so it should be fairly easy for you to get a copy of as well.

Mrs. Miller discusses many of her ideas about students as readers, including her worries about:

  • Developing readers (a/k/a struggling readers) and says, “…these students have the ability to become strong readers. They may lag behind their peers on the reading-development continuum, but they are still on the same path. What they need is support for where they are in their development and the chance to feel success as readers instead of experiencing reading failure.” (p.25)*
  • Dormant readers (a/k/a reluctant-readers) feel that “Reading is work, not pleasure. Without support for their reading interests and role models who inspire them to read, these students never discover that reading is enjoyable.” (p.28)
  • Underground readers are “… gifted readers, but they see the reading they are asked to do in school as completely disconnected from the reading they prefer to do on their own.” (p.30)

Donalyn Miller’s premise is simple … children will become readers if we give them ample time to read, help put interesting books in their hands, and model for them what a reading life looks like! She highlights how to recapture lost instructional time during the day** and how to repurpose a few “traditional” classroom activities with independent reading. Her book is practical, straightforward, and has challenged me to reflect on what literacy looks like across a school building.


(*)In thinking about developing readers, I keep coming back to this quote from Kylene Beers which I’ve happened on repeatedly over the past few weeks. “Do I think reading books is the only way to help struggling readers? Of course not! Sometimes I suggest reading more books.”

(**) In thinking about repurposing time I was reminded of this post by Howe Elementary School Principal, Matt Renwick. Matt is a true literary principal and has many ideas worth stealing!

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller at Amazon

Step-Up Activities

All students in grades K-4 “stepped-up” today to meet the team of teachers that will be at their grade level next fall.   At Winthrop this involves some staff moving into new roles and positions, so it was important for students to be able to match names and faces before receiving welcome letters in August!

  • Rising 5th graders met Mrs. Harris, Mrs. Lewis, and Mr. Yeaton
  • Rising 4th graders met Ms. Bruce, Ms. O’Brien, and Mrs. Ogiba
  • Rising 3rd graders met Ms. Bates, Ms. Hatch, and Mrs. Herook
  • Rising 2nd graders met Ms. Gorevitz, Ms. McElligott, and Mrs. Orlofski

and

  • Rising 1st graders met Ms. Hurwitz, Mrs. Twist, and Ms. Wilcox

All students were given information* to bring home about grade level supplies, and our almost 2nd-5th graders also received packets of information* regarding summer practice for literacy and math.  Having sat through each session, the resounding plea was for students to become more automatic with basic facts (addition and subtraction in the lower grades, and multiplication in the older grades!)  One teacher reminded students of their younger days when learning the alphabet.  The teacher asked the students to think about how hard they worked to recognize their letters, and how easily the alphabet comes to them now.   She then related that to practicing and becoming automatic with math facts!

Yesterday, children’s librarian Marianne Stanton presented to students and sent home information regarding summer reading, summer programming, and a suggested book list for Dream Big – Read!   The Melrose Public Library will not charge children this summer to replace any lost library card, and all were encouraged to visit Monday-Thursday from 10-8, or on Fridays from 10-5.  Books from the library are a great way to keep busy this summer, and an inexpensive way to reinforce learning and academics from the school year.

*All supply lists and summer packets will be posted on the Winthrop website within the next week.

The Great Book Swap of 2012

This year Field Day will also serve as the kick off for our summer reading push!  During a break in the games, activities, and performances, all students K-5 will be able to attend The Great Book Swap.   This new event will take place on the grassy area outside the main office, and will be run by Mrs. Herrera and some literacy loving volunteers!

The rules are quite simple – for every book a student donates (up to ten) he or she will be able to swap for the same amount of new reading material.  Students can bring in books from Monday through Wednesday, and there will be donation bags set up in each classroom.

Families with overflowing bookshelves or personal libraries may donate excess books (that is – over the 10 book student maximum) at the main office!  If we have enough “extra” donations, we’re anticipating every student will be able to go home with at least one new book to read over summer break, regardless of participation.

Just a reminder that field day is Thursday, June 7th.  All students who chose to participate in The Great Book Swap should have books to their classroom teacher by Wednesday, 6/6/12.

Further Book Swap 2012 Information

A Closer Look at “Co-Teaching”

Over the past few years in Melrose there has been a push to adapt classroom instruction to better address student learning.  “Meeting the Needs of All Learners” has brought assessments for gifted and talented, along with cluster grouping of those identified as G&T.  Additionally, many schools have adopted a “co-teaching” model of special education support, although the models are quite different across the district.

Co-teaching is when two licensed teachers share responsibility for teaching some or all of the students assigned to a classroom.  One teacher is typically a general ed teacher, and the other a special ed teacher.  The responsibilities for planning, instruction, and assessment are divided between these adults, and students benefit from the opportunity to learn from teachers who may have different ways of thinking, teaching, or interacting.   The key to co-teaching is the division of labor:  general educators are responsible for the content of the instruction and special educators are responsible for facilitating the learning process.

Any student can be in a co-taught classroom, and indeed these classrooms should contain heterogeneously grouped children.  These teachers utilize a variety of groupings, and both teachers work with all students.  All students have strengths and these are put to good use throughout the day!

Over the past two years Winthrop has had the student population to support fully co-taught classrooms at 1st grade and 2nd grade, while having partially co-taught classes  in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades.  We  have had success with both models, as teachers spend more time planning and talking with each other about curriculum, learning strategies, and student growth.  As our students rise to the following grade each year, and that new group of kindergarten children get ready to join us, time is spent assessing the needs of our special education students, looking at staffing, and reconfiguring the make up of our classrooms.  Additionally, we look for ways to better utilize paraprofessionals, and increase support for struggling readers, writers, and/or mathematicians (who may or may not be on IEPs.)

The calendar is busy with school events and social functions, but please know that every day the Winthrop staff is actively planning and preparing for the fall of 2012!

“The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” Elizabeth Hardwick