School Visit - Author, Tim Federle

About a month ago, I received an email from Once Upon a Time Bookstore asking if we wanted to host Tim Federle at one of our schools. My immediate reaction - well of course!  Then I looked at the date and wanted to cry. It was right at the beginning of testing.  So, after a few more emails and some logistical tweaking, we worked it out that Tim would come after school and meet with the Middle School Drama Class at Marshall Fundamental. Phew! 

By the way, for those of you who don't know, Tim is the debut author of BETTER NATE THAN EVER.  I love seeing all those copies of his book just waiting to be picked up. 

I knew that the fantastic teacher/librarian - Mr. Butler - had read the book and would do his best to prep the students.  Finally, the day arrived and Tim would be visiting.

We met at the library at the school.  Since it was a small group, we just pulled up chairs and hung out.

I had never done an author visit with Middle School students before.  They're a bit different from those elementary kids I normally work with.  But Tim was great with them.

He read some from his book BETTER NATE THAN EVER

He shared all kinds of stuff from his dance and theater experience to writing advice.  I think the students really enjoyed it.  A few of the students bought books and had them signed.

And though I don't have any pictures of this, the after event chat with Tim and a few folks was definitely the highlight on my afternoon.

Thanks Tim for coming out and hanging with the students at Marshall Fundamental.  And thank you to Once Upon a Time and Simon & Schuster for making the visit possible.       

Check out Tim Federle talking about BETTER NATE THAN EVER.

Enter to win a signed hard cover of BETTER NATE THAN EVER a Rafflecopter giveaway

Literacy Café: The Harlem Renaissance

Back in January, Angie (parent volunteer extraordinaire) and I were talking about possible themes/topics for Literacy Cafés.  Our conversation went a little like this:

Me: What about doing a Café for 4th and 5th graders on the Harlem Renaissance?

Angie: *Pause of silence*

Me: Really, we can pull this off.

Angie is a former high school social studies teacher.  Even after nearly two years of running Cafés with me, we surprise each other.  She amazes me with how she inspires children to engage in learning, and write amazing poetry.  She also has mad decorating skills that would put Martha Stewart to shame.  My job - to find the books, brainstorm, and help make the magic happen when the kids come in even when the topic might be a bit of a stretch.

(If you want more information on the hows of our Literacy Cafés, check out my article for Scholastic Book Fair's Newsletter - Bringing Books to Life with Literacy Cafés or my post today over at the Nerdy Book Club. )

Once I convinced her that we didn't need to teach them everything there is to know about the Harlem Renaissance - just give them an introduction - we were off and planning.  Our Literacy Café for the Harlem Renaissance was probably one of our biggest endeavors.  There was probably 80 hours of planning time for about 9 hours of instructional time. (Don't worry - most of our cafés do not take this much time to plan.)

First, we decided that instead of using a novel, we would use a variety of picture books to start discussion about this time period.  Second, we realized that the students needed a pre-teach session prior to the actual Literacy Café.  This was something we had never done before but we felt very strongly that they needed some background information on the basics of the Harlem Renaissance and who were some of the key players during that time.  Finally, we decided that for the actual Café, we would focus primarily on the poetry of Langston Hughes, and some of the art and music of the time period.

The Pre-Teach Café:
When I did the pre-teach café, I had a few things I wanted all of the students to walk away with.  What was the Harlem Renaissance?  When did it take place? Why was it important to history? and Who were some of the key individuals of the time period?

Thanks to technology, I was able to bring in audio and video clips that allowed children to hear Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston read and speak about pieces of their work or to listen to the music of some of the greatest jazz musicians or to watch as dancers perform the Lindy Hop.

The Café:
When we did the actual cafe, we decided that we would split the class into two groups.  One group would begin inside with Angie.  They would look at Langston Hughes' poem - Harlem and then do their own writing response to what they could see or feel from the words of the poem.  The other half began outside with me (yes, in Southern California, we can do outdoor teaching in February).  I loaded up my iPod with different songs from Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Bassie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and more.  We had looked at various pieces of art from painters such as Douglas Aaron and Jacob Lawerence and Archibald Motley and Palmer Hayden.  They were to create their own Harlem Renaissance paintings inspired by the music of the time period.  After a designated amount of time, we switched groups.  At the end, we gathered together for a de-brief while we ate red beans and rice, corn bread and lemonade.  (Our school custodian was so excited about what we were doing that he actually made red beans and rice for the kids.)

Aaron Douglas - Jazz Roots

What did we learn:
Angie and I are never content to rest on the success of one lesson.  We did 3 pre-teach sessions that were all different in order to meet the needs of each group of students that came into the café.  This was the same with the actual Cafés.  As teachers, if we pay attention to our students, they will show us what we need to learn to better help them learn.  For example, we realized after the first session that the students needed assistance in focusing on what they were learning in the pre-teach and so Angie created a note-taking sheet to help all the students.  I learned that when children do not have a strong grasp of number lines they often don't have a good understanding of time lines.  Along with that, we have done such a good job of teaching about Slavery and Civil Rights that many of the students think it all flows together without seeing that there were years between one thing and the other. 

We were also struck by how this Café deeply impacted many of our students who were able to celebrate their own culture and history in a way they had never done before. We also learned that it was worth every hour we had invested into the prep time to make this Café a reality. 

I hope that you will consider the possibility of doing your own Café with your students.  For more posts on Literacy Cafés, and some of the books we used, type in Literacy Café into the search bar on this blog.  

CHALK - Bringing the Book to Life

If you follow this blog with any regularity, you will know that I happen to be a BIG FAN of Bill Thomson's wordless picture book CHALK.  It was released a year ago and though I would have selected CHALK for a Caldecott, the committee members obviously didn't agree with me.  Since I am unable to decorate this book with any gold medals, I will have to be content with what I can do. Which has looked something like this...

Emailed the illustrator -
Yes, I have completely been a fangirl when it comes to this book.  When I first discovered it, I immediately hunted down an email address so that I could gush about my love for CHALK with the creator/illustrator. This YouTube interview/video shares a little about how complex it was to create the book. (And how did this not get an award?!)

Bought lots & lots of copies for giveaway:
I was just so in love with this book that I gave it to several children for Christmas and to all of my teaching staff as their holiday present.

If I didn't giveaway a copy, I told everyone to buy it:
I am pretty certain that I have told every bookseller, librarian, and teacher I know about CHALK and that they should buy it. We also featured it at our school book fair in December.

Plan a school-wide Literacy Event around CHALK:
In chatting with Angie (parent volunteer, Literacy Café developer), we decided that it would be wonderful to do something school-wide with the book.  (I suggest that you plan this out several months in advance especially if you are doing something on a large scale.)

Mid-Winter ALA, stop by the publisher's booth:
While wandering around the exhibit hall, I passed by the Marshall Cavendish booth. I had that funny feeling like "I know this name".  I looked at the display of books...and then it hit me, CHALK is published by Marshall Cavendish.  Of course, I blurted out to the staffer my shock that he wasn't displaying CHALK but he appeared to forgive my "foot-in-mouth" moment, when I proceeded to gush about the book and tell him about our plans for a school-wide event centered around it.  (Note: I am not advocating that you tell publishers what books to display, but I do know they really love hearing about the books that you really like.)

Plan out the event:
This included picking a date, creating an invite (thank you Karen), sending out invites, putting out a press release, notifying local law enforcement (we held the event right in front of the school), working with volunteers on all the details (thank you to all my volunteers), and working with teachers on ways that the book can be used in class.

It also included ordering 1,000 pieces of chalk (thank you to the PTA for funding this).

And decorating little bags for the chalk so it would look like the book. (Noeleen, Jon, Irene, and any others I owe you big time.)

Sorting out posters, so that every child would have one.  (Thank you Marshall Cavendish for supporting the event by sending posters for the children.)

Notifying the police for possible crowd control.  Always interesting when you have 350 kids in the front and side of the school.  But everyone did wonderful and the police enjoyed watching the children draw.

We also invited local chalk artists to come to the event and we worked with our local Indie bookstore, Vromans, to provide a way for families to order copies of the book.  The Children's Manager even came over to help out. (Yay to Indie Bookstores and supporting local businesses.)

There were also lots of special visitors who stopped by.  A rep from our local Assemblymember's office and heads for various departments in the District including our Chief Academic Officer, our Director of Elementary Education, Director of Special Education, Coordinators of Visual and Performing Arts, and Language Development.  And toward the end a couple of our Board Members popped by for a visit.  Though we didn't see the local paper, our District's TV department also came out and interviewed staff, children and parents.

Of course, this student kind of says it all:

For more information about Bill Thomson and his incredible book CHALK, check out his website here: 

I also need to extend a huge thank you to Bill Thomson for his continued enthusiasm for what we were planning and his support of this event by contributing items for the school to use in a Silent Auction to raise funds for Literacy.

Though I don't have a picture of this, my favorite moment of the day was hours later when nearly everyone was gone.  The Children's Book Manager and I were chatting in her car and we watched one young student bring her father all the way over to the side of the school in order to show him her drawing.  You could tell by the gestures and actions that she was sharing all about the event with him.  Dad was beaming and clicked a few pictures with the camera on his phone.  It was definitely one of those "awww" moments, but one where you realize how significant the event actually was to the children.

Thank you Bill for inspiring all of the children and staff at San Rafael School.  Come visit any time you are in Southern California.  I can promise you that you will be treated like a Rock Star.