Sunday, April 23, 2017

Announcing Our 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Champion!

Our second annual March Madness Nonfiction Picture Book tournament was quite an anticipated event at Williams Elementary School.  When students returned from February vacation, they quickly noticed that our 2017 March Madness book bracket had been posted on the bulletin board in our entry way.  We kicked off this year's event with a school wide assembly announcing the sixteen outstanding picture books in this year's bracket.  Teachers held copies of the sixteen books in our tournament as we separated them into brackets in the corners of our gymnasium.  After the assembly, the kids were ready to READ!

During the month of March, our fourteen classroom teachers read aloud a nonfiction picture book each day.  After hearing each book pairing, students voted to move their favorite book to the next round. Many students shared that the voting was difficult this year because the books were so awesome!

Elite Eight

Final Four

After a month of reading and voting, students selected Anything But Ordinary Addie and  Pink is for Blobfish as the finalists. On Wednesday, March 29, students and staff filled the gymnasium of WES excited for the announcement of our March Madness champion!  

Of course a March Madness assembly wouldn't be complete without a light show and basketball themed music! Thankfully, I work with two creative colleagues (Jason Pellerin and Amanda Levesque) who coordinate the lights and music. Jason is a varsity boys' basketball coach (and a March Madness basketball fan), so he continues to the be the perfect master of ceremonies as he masterfully energizes the crowd.

We started by announcing the 14 picture books that were part of the original bracket.  Each class selected a student representative who marched in our parade of books in front of the school.  Jason announced each title and author while the students cheered for their favorite titles from the tournament. After the parade, we announced each finalist.  Fourth grade teacher, Sydney Langis dressed as Adeline Herman from Anything But Ordinary Addie.  She even performed a magic trick for the crowd!  

One of our third grade classes dressed as the creatures in Pink is for Blobfish, which was adorable! 

Now it was time for the moment we were all waiting for... the announcement of our 2017 Nonfiction March Madness Champion.  As a special way to reveal the winner this year, one of our teachers enlarged a copy of the book cover for us. We covered it in black butcher paper to build the anticipation!  With a spotlight shining on us and the entire school counting down, Valerie and I prepared to rip the paper to reveal...

Pink is for Blobfish ~ The Williams Elementary School 2017 March Madness Champion!

I contacted Jess Keating a few days before the event letting her know that her book was selected as the winner of our reading tournament.  She graciously sent us this special message and a picture of Blobby, which we shared with the entire school.  The kids felt so special to hear from the author!

March Madness has unified our entire school community around a love a books and reading.  The best part of this project for me is watching students in front of the March Madness bulletin board discussing their favorite books.  I've even witnessed a heated conversation between a group of fifth graders about why certain books were contenders!  There is nothing better than being stopped in the hall or on the playground by a student just to let me know which book they voted for and why.  

The day after our assembly I received this e-mail from a parent, which perfectly captures our goal for the March Madness book tournament:

I also wanted to mention that J-   has been so excited about all the books you have read during March Madness, and yesterday's assembly took the cake for him.  He specifically asked me to pick him up from school yesterday so that he could show me the bulletin board in the lobby dedicated to the winners of your March Madness books.  He has been rooting for Pink is for Blobfish, and when that was revealed the winner, his excitement for school was so apparent!  I love that you bring the school together to celebrate reading and school spirit!  J-   REALLY was proud yesterday and that brings so much joy to me as his mother!  Mostly, thank you for making reading fun, memorable, and meaningful!!

To see our school as a community of readers excited about nonfiction is a true gift.

We are already collecting outstanding titles from 2017 as contenders in next year's reading tournament.  Here are a few of our top picks so far!

We are already excited for next year's event!

Author Visit with Tamra Wight

This year our staff voted to use their limited PTA funds to host Tamra Wight, author of the Cooper and Packrat mystery series.  See this post for a description of the launch of our One Book, One School event!

After literally waiting months and surviving a record-breaking three cancelations due to inclement weather, Mother Nature finally cooperated with Tamra's visit on April 5th.  It was a truly a day to remember at Williams Elementary School.

As students streamed into the building in the morning, Tamra was given a rock-star greeting as students bombarded her with hugs exclaiming "You're finally here!"  To add some excitement to the day, I created a contest for students to guess the number of marshmallows in a mason jar.  The winner would receive a basket of s'more goodies and a signed copy of Mystery on Pine Lake, which was graciously donated by Tamra.  The contest was a huge hit!

Tamra spent the day presenting to each grade level on the importance of descriptive language in our writing.  The students absorbed every word and were completely captivated by her beautiful photographs.  I love that she explained to our writers that "You are authors, too."  Tamra may be a published author, but anyone who picks up a pencil and spends time writing each day is an author ... such a powerful message for students. As she shared her beautiful photographs, Tamra explained the inspiration for her mystery series.  She encouraged students to ask "What if..." in their writers' mind as strategy to find a potential story.  

Her game "What's in Packrat's coat?" was a favorite part of the presentation for many students!  Tamra called up individual volunteers who selected a pocket from Packrat's coat.  The audience used clues to help the student guess the item hidden in Packrat's pocket.  Kids used descriptive language to capture everything from string to a cell phone to duct tape.  The game had a clear message to students that our words matter, especially for the audience visualize our writing.

My absolute favorite part of the day was the time Tamra spent with our Title 1 readers.  I met Tamra three years ago at an author event for nErDcamp Northern New England.  My son, Jacob, was a huge fan of Tamra's book series and was so excited to have her sign his book. That moment had such an impact on his life as a reader.  I wanted to replicate that feeling for each one of our readers in the Title 1 program, so as part of her visit, I purchased a copy of Mystery on Pine Lake for each one of the readers in the program.  Tamra took the time to sit with each child and sign his her or book.  I took a picture of Tamra with each reader so they could take the photograph home to share the moment with their parents.  It was powerful to see some of our striving readers absolutely mesmerized as they chatted with Tamra. Even our most reluctant readers clutched their signed books as a sacred item.  Tamra also crafted a special presentation for our Title 1 readers and parents to end our day together.  The feedback was outstanding!

April 5th will be a day to remember at Williams Elementary.  We would highly recommend Tamra to any school who is looking to host an author for the day!  The readers at WES are already counting the days to the release of Mystery of the Bear Cub!  

Our school funds are limited, but the best money we spent this year was to host Tamra Wight for the day.  We can't measure the benefits in test scores or on a rubric, but the engagement from our readers and writers at the end of the day was palpable. In their thank you notes, students wrote that Tamra inspired them as a reader, a writer and a nature geek. Many students have shared that they now plan to read the entire book series! 

For our students to thrive as readers and writers, the value of time spent with an author is priceless.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

#nf10for10 - Nonfiction Read Alouds for our March Madness Bracket

In the spirit of the annual March Madness basketball tournament, last year my colleague, Valerie Glueck and I designed a literacy related March Madness bracket of nonfiction picture books to foster a love of nonfiction in our reading community.  This "Nonfiction Tournament" has not only created an energy and excitement for read aloud; it has also exposed students to more nonfiction, which can be a neglected genre.  Teachers have used our March Madness bracket as a springboard for discussions of text features and structures, vocabulary and author's purpose.  For more information, check out my posts from last March!

2016 March Madness Bracket

Valerie and I spent the last year collecting titles of outstanding nonfiction books published in 2016.  We focused on topics and formats that we thought would be appealing to students in grade three through five.  Another important criteria for our teachers was that the book could be read aloud in one session, which eliminated a few of our favorite books from 2016, such as Some Writer by Melissa Sweet.

We are excited to reveal our 2017 March Madness bracket to our school community on February 27!  It was very difficult for me to select ten books from our collection of sixteen outstanding titles!  I love all of the books in our bracket, but for now, here are my 2017 Top 10 March Madness Nonfiction Picture Book Contenders (in no particular order)!

Honorable Mention:

Stay tuned for updates on our 2017 March Madness Nonfiction tournament!  Which book in this collection would get your vote?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Community Read with Tamra Wight

For the past few years, our school has participated in a one book, one school event where all of the teachers read aloud the same book in their classrooms.  As teachers, we've shared read aloud ideas for The Miraculous Journey of Edward TulaneWonder and Fish in a Tree, but we've never gathered our school community together to share the true spirit of a community reading event.  That all changed on Wednesday, January 11th.

This year instead of reading one book as a school community, we are preparing for an author visit with Maine author, Tamra Wight on February 7th.  We were unable to get grant funding this year for an author visit, but our teachers pulled together to share their individual PTA funds to support a visit from Tamra.  Instead of reading one book as a school community, we are excited to connect with one author by reading texts from the Cooper & Packrat series. 

The third grade teachers are reading aloud Mystery on Pine Lake with their students, while our fourth and fifth graders are reading Mystery of the Eagle's Nest.

Our goal was to kick off the New Year by announcing the author visit with Tamra to our students on Wednesday, January 4th when we returned from our winter break, but a snow day caused us to reschedule to January 11th.  The teachers did an excellent job keeping our special announcement a surprise for one more week!

After gathering more than 210 students on our gymnasium bleachers, we were ready to Skype with Tamra.  I reminded students of our past community read book selections and shared that this year we were going to read books by one author.  Some students were familiar with the Cooper & Packrat series because a few of our third grade teachers had used the book as a read aloud in the past two years.  A number of classrooms have Skyped with authors in the past, so when I announced that Tamra was going to join us for our assembly, there was a new buzz of excitement in the gym.  

Tamara started by introducing herself and telling us about her many roles including campground owner, teaching assistant at Whittier Middle School, photographer and of course, author!  Next, she shared information about two of her books, Mystery on Pine Lake and Mystery of the Eagle's Nest.  She spoke to each grade level by sharing not only the book but also a sample of her amazing research photographs.  Finally, it was time for the big announcement!  Tamra told the students to keep track of their questions so she could answer them when she came to our school on February 7th!  There were audible gasps as the gym erupted with foot-stomping applause on the bleachers!  The kids couldn't believe Tamra was planning to visit to our school!

After leaving the gym that afternoon, I had a number of students stop me to tell me how awesome it was to "meet" Tamra.  Teachers shared that after returning to their classrooms after the assembly, students wanted to immediately start reading the book!  One teacher shared that her students took out their reading notebooks and started recording questions for Tamra that afternoon.  The benefits of our launching our community reading event and author visit with a Skype announcement are so clear.

*Our students are energized about the Cooper & Packrat books!  They are motivated to read and discuss the texts.

*They are discussing the books more deeply as they know they are going to meet the author.

*There is a real audience for their questions - the author!  They are excited to have their questions answered by Tamra when they meet her in a few weeks.  

*The immediate energy and enthusiasm are palpable.  Seeing Tamra during our Skype visit created more excitement about her author visit!

Teachers are digging into the Cooper & Packrat books in powerful ways. 
Karen Mayo's students charted their "Thinking BEFORE We Read" which was an idea we found on a blog post from Franki Sibberson.  After their rich discussion, they couldn't wait to start reading Mystery of the Eagle's Nest!

Samantha Veilleux's students are recording the characters, as well as their notes and observations about events while reading Mystery on Pine Lake.  They are also tracking important vocabulary words they've discussed together while reading.  Other classrooms are recording the elements of a mystery, including clues and suspects while they navigate the text.

Our visit with Tamra is 15 days away!  Stay tuned for photographs and updates from our community read and author visit in February. For more information about the Cooper & Packrat series, visit Tamra's website at