Monday, June 6, 2016

Skyping with Jeff Gottesfeld

On Wednesday, the fourth graders at Williams Elementary School were fortunate to have the opportunity to Skype with Jeff Gottesfeld, author of the beautiful picture book, The Tree in the Courtyard.  To say that our video chat was incredible would be an understatement!

Jeff actually attended Colby College, so he is quite familiar with our local area.  After chatting with the students about McGrath Pond and his love of fishing, he offered to read the book to our five fourth grade classes.  Although the teachers had read aloud the book to their students prior to our Skype session, it was powerful to actually hear the author read the book the way he intended.  You could have heard a pin drop, even though we were sitting in the cafeteria with more than seventy students.  Everyone in the room was moved as Jeff became emotional at the conclusion of this beautiful text.  It meant the world to us when he shared that reading aloud to us was his favorite time sharing The Tree in the Courtyard.

For the next thirty minutes, students took turns asking Jeff questions about his process and The Tree in the Courtyard.  We could tell he was impressed with the depth of our students' thinking!
Our readers wanted to know:

Why was the tree a she?

You used third person narration but it also seems that the story is told through the tree's point of view.  Why did you decide to write the story that way?

Why was the girl so important to the tree?

Why did people try so hard to save the tree, but not the girl?

Why did you choose to write about Anne Frank?  What inspired you?

How long did it take you to research this topic?  How did you get all of your information?  Did you have help researching this book?

How old were you when you decided you wanted to write this book?

When did you become an author?  How many books have you written?

Why did the illustrator choose to do the illustrations in black and white?

When/how did you become interested in becoming an author?

For thirty minutes, Jeff provided our readers with detailed answers to each and every question.  He made each child feel important as he continued to say "That's a great question!"  In his responses, he shared many inspirational messages that will stay with our students for days and years to come.  The hour passed in the blink of an eye.  At the end of the session, Jeff explained a few things that he would like to revise in the book.  Our advice would be to not change a thing, as we love The Tree in the Courtyard just as it is!

On Thursday, I sent Jeff an e-mail to thank him for his time and for making our readers feel so special.  He responded with the following message:

I will tell you what I told the Morning Sentinel in the letter-to-the-editor that I submitted to them yesterday afternoon: I am no rookie at the book biz. I've done hundreds of school visits over the years. I have never, ever had an encounter with a group of students who were as thoughtful, well-prepared, focused, and interested. Those questions! I really had to think about some of them, because they were probing into the deepest and most fascinating depths of the creative process. Those kids were just delightful in every possible way, and all credit goes to them, to the educational treasure that is you, and all of their teachers. 

Here's a link to Jeff's letter-to-the-editor that appeared in our local newspaper this morning.  Jeff is right; our students are lucky to have outstanding teachers at WES who model a love of learning each and every day.  Thank you, Jeff for your time and for inspiring our students to be better readers and writers.  We will be forever grateful for the opportunity to "meet" you!  I can promise you that The Tree in the Courtyard will be a treasured read aloud in our classrooms.

If you have not read this book, I highly recommend it!

Goodreads Summary:
Told from the perspective of the tree outside Anne Frank's window—this book introduces her story to a young audience.

The tree in the courtyard was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink. Seagulls flocked to her shade. She spread roots and reached skyward in peace. 

The tree watched a little girl, who played and laughed and wrote in a diary. When strangers invaded the city and warplanes roared overhead, the tree watched the girl peek out of the curtained window of the annex. It watched as she and her family were taken away—and when her father returned after the war, alone.

The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eighty-one, but its seeds and saplings have been planted around the world as a symbol of peace.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Previewing My Summer PD Reading

Thanks to Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers for hosting this meme!

For #IMWAYR, I thought I would share the titles in my summer professional book stack!

Who's Doing the Work?
I actually finished this book two weeks ago and loved it!  Burkins and Yaris stretched my thinking and made many outstanding points about how teachers should be doing less so that students can do more.  I found myself writing "YES!" in the margins of the text on many pages.  I love that the book is organized around chapters for read aloud, shared reading (close reading), guided reading and independent reading.  My plan is to reread portions of this book this summer to prepare for sharing it with teachers in the fall.  I know that classroom teachers will enjoy the classroom snapshots at the end of each chapter, as well as a list of ideas to try.  I highly recommend adding this title to your summer reading stack!

The Construction Zone
I am currently reading this book in order to connect Terry Thompson's ideas about scaffolding to Who's Doing the Work?.  This text is organized around the four common conditions that apply to any scaffolding scenario: focus, flexibility, feedback and responsibility.  I believe the messages in these two texts will be important to share with my colleagues in the fall.

DIY Literacy
I was excited to see the announcement of the 2016 #cyberPD book selection this weekend!  DIY Literacy is the perfect choice.  I'm looking forward to participating in the discussions around this text in July. One of my colleagues was so excited to get her hands on this book that she borrowed my copy soon after it arrived!

Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts and Strategies
I started reading this text a few months ago when one of our fourth grade teachers was interested in implementing the three key questions for nonfiction from this text.  We read the introduction and the chapters for the essential questions as she worked with her students on using the big questions to deepen their understanding of informational text.  The teachers at our upper elementary school have selected this text for a book study next year, so I'm looking forward to finishing the book this summer!  It's full of many outstanding ideas, so I find it's best to read it in digestible bites!

Visible Learning for Literacy
This new text from Fisher, Frey and Hattie has been recommended to me at a number of literacy events this spring. The high-impact literacy practices in this book will be valuable to me in my role as an instructional coach.

Writers Are Readers
I believe in the importance of connecting our reading and writing instruction, so this book is highly appealing to me!  The goal of this text is show teachers how we can flip our reading lessons to writing by exploring the same segment or mentor text with the lens of a writer.  It's well organized around text structures, strategies for weaving meaning and story elements.  Each chapter includes clear ideas for how to flip our instruction from reading to writing workshop.

Text-Dependent Questions
This professional book has been in my reading stack all year, so I plan to dig into it this summer.  Two of our third grade teachers started using the the four phases outlined in this text in their close reading lessons this spring.  They loved the framework, so I'm excited to learn more this summer so I can share this book with the teachers at our primary school who are continuing their work with close reading next year.

Close Writing
I've known Paula Bourque for many years through our literacy work with the Maine Department of Education.  I was thrilled when I saw the publication of her book Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2-6.  In January, I attended a session with Paula at nErDcamp NNE where she shared a number of the strategies in the text.  I can't wait to dig into Close Writing this summer!  I know it will be full of outstanding ideas to share with teachers next year.

Opening Minds
I read this book a few years ago, but I feel that it's time to realign my compass with Peter Johnston this summer.

Big Book of Details
I love the layout and organization of this text!  It reminds me of the The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Seravallo, which has become an incredible resource for teachers.  For each lesson, Rozlyn Linder explains how she introduces the move, as well as ideas for guided writing and mentor texts.  I know this book will provide additional support to teachers during writing workshop next year.

Learning From Classmates
Next fall, the teachers in our two elementary schools will begin using Lucy Calkins' Units of Study program in writing workshop.  I know that Lisa Eickholdt's ideas for using students' writing as mentor texts will connect well with our work next year.

As you can see, I have a summer full of professional reading ahead of me!  I hope to share my thinking related to these books on my blog as I work through the stack.  I also have my eye on Craft Moves by Stacey Shubitz.  Still Learning to Read is one of my all-time favorite professional books for reading workshop, so I would love to check out the second edition this summer to share it with our new teachers.  Becoming A Literacy Leader by my friend, Jennifer Allen, is also coming out with a second edition that I would love to share with the instructional coaches in our district.  I'm sure this stack will continue to grow in the weeks and months ahead!