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.