Special Edition Literacy Café: Author Visit with Danika Dinsmore

As our Literacy Café has been growing, we have been offering up some specials on the menu.  For our latest Café Special, we hosted author Danika Dinsmore for a Creative Writing Workshop around World Building.  Danika is the author of Brigitta and I will be posting a review of her Middle Grade Fantasy novel, Brigitta of the White Forest shortly. 

On Tuesday, students welcomed Danika to the Cafe and learned about her book.  After an initial introduction, Danika creatively read several pages from her book to draw the children in and to set the stage for learning about World Building.

Danika has a very energetic and creative reading style.  She nearly acted out all of the scenes.  After she read the passage, she asked the children questions about what they had discovered about Brigitta and her sister.  Children learned that one important thing in writing is to show rather than tell.

When she talked about world building, she began to help students understand where you can start and what are critical things to remember when building your world.  First she helped them understand three different kinds of worlds:
Children then had to decide whether the world they were creating for their books was imaginary, an alternate reality, or a portal to another world. She set them the task of working as partners or table groups to share their ideas.  With heads together, students excitedly chatted about their ideas.  So much so that at times it was hard to bring them back.  How cool that a topic being discussed is so excited that they wanted to keep going.

After the children had created their worlds, they learned about about creating their characters. Would their characters be human?  Human with powers? Or completely made up?  Each table group had a challenge to create a new creature by combining to other creatures.  So what would you call a snake/eagle?  Or a scorpion/giraffe? 

Students also had a chance to see Danika's special notebook.  One of the pictures she showed students were her sketches for the wings of her faeries.  She encouraged them to keep their own notebooks of ideas, and sketches.

Danika's brought along a special Felt Faery that she had made in a workshop.  

Thanks Danika for visiting our school and providing students with such great information about writing.  Students generated such amazing ideas about their world and main character and what would happen in their stories.  I am certain we have some budding writers in this group and your visit will be something they remember for a long time.

Literacy Café: Tortilla Sun Redux

Last July, I discovered Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes.  (To read my review, click here.)  There truly was something magical about this book.  When I finished reading it, I just knew that I had to share it with my students.  As I read the book aloud to one of our fourth grade classes, I became excited about the connection the students were making to the characters in the story.  I then started giving copies way to teachers and parent volunteers who in turn became excited about the book.

Of course, one thing led to another and before you knew it, we were planning a Literacy Café.  Our Café first opened it's doors on Monday, November 1, 2010.  We welcomed 34 fourth graders into our Café.  We were well prepared and had many enthusiastic volunteers to assist us with the activities.

Our hosts led children through activities that pulled out key concepts in the book and allowed children to interact with those ideas at a different level.  Children used their senses while nibbling on apple empanadas to talk about sensory adjectives.  At another table, children played with the symbols in the story in order to create a visual representation of the book.  And at yet another table children wrote poems about the characters.  When they finished, each child received a homemade tortilla with butter and honey just like Izzy eats them.

However, we weren't through with Tortilla Sun or with Literacy Cafés.  We learned so much from that first experience and have since put on over a dozen more Cafés centered around different books.  When word got out about the success of Tortilla Sun, I had requests from other teachers to read the book aloud to their classes and to hold another Café.  While I read to the students, my Literacy Café partner Angie busily revised activities.  We discussed other ways to explore the themes.  Tweaked activities that didn't work as effectively and tried to add in some other ways to work with the concepts in the book.  This time we even added in a session of folklorico dancing.  And of course our bakery bought apple empanadas became homemade empanadas, and Angie perfected her tortilla making.  Nana would be proud.

What we also learned through the experience is that paying attention to details is critical.  When children arrive in the Café, we want them to be transported into the book.  A piñata hanging from the ceiling or black crepe paper hanging from the door or even the smell of tortillas warming help children feel more a part of the story.

Was this Café better than the first one?  Yes, and no!  Both were wonderful on their own.  Both inspired children and helped them see books in a new way.  And also both times we learned things that would help us make another Café even better.  Take a look at this short video to get a better feel for the whole event.

Here is Jennifer Cervantes reading from Tortilla Sun at an author event in Glendale, CA.  I had a blast meeting her and telling her how much I loved her book.

For more information about our Literacy Cafés, you can check out my blog post here.  To visit Jennifer Cervantes website, click here.

Author Visit: James Burks

On Friday, March 11th, we had a very special visitor at our school.  Illustrator turned author, James Burks stopped by to chat and have some fun.

First Up: Lunch with Read-a-thon Winners -
The prize for the top four readers in our first annual Read-a-Thon was to have lunch with James.  We started off with a Gator Pizza (pepperoni) and a Gabby Pizza (Veggies) and a cheese pizza just in case.  Around the table, students asked James lots of questions about how he came up with the idea for Gabby and Gator.  And of course, why does Gator like to eat dogs.
James gave us all kinds of secrets at lunch.  I had to sit on my hands so as not to grab my camera and take pictures of things I can't post yet.  The students were so excited.  They got to see a book trailer James made that won't be out until September, and a sneak peak at his new graphic novel to be released in 2012, and he even flipped through his journal.  He then showed the girls how to draw Gabby & Gator.  There is some surprising talent in this group.
Next Up: Special Edition Literacy Café:
After lunch, we invited a group of students to participate in a modified Literacy Café.  We rotated groups of students through 3 activities.

One activity was centered around No Name Calling and how to respond when you are bullied (one of the themes in Gabby & Gator is around bullying and standing up to a bully).  Children created their own comic strips talking about how to respond to a bully.  They also made Gator bookmarks saying "My name is _______. Not _______." They filled in the last blank with a name that they had been called in the past.  (In the book, Gabby says to the bully "My name is Gabby. Not Freak.").

In the book, Gabby is very pro recycling and loves playing the Tuba.  Gator enjoys dancing with her.  Our Café participants made musical instruments out of recycled materials.  Gabby would be proud.

Of course, the students loved learning about how James' creates his characters and were mesmerized by watching James draw.

No author visit would be complete without an opportunity to get a book signed by the author/illustrator.  James was kind enough to sign books for students and draw in each book.

If you want to know more about James Burks and his art and books, check out his website here.  You can find James on twitter: @jamesburksart and on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/james.burks

I leave you with a fun little video from our event:

Grandma's Pear Tree Part 1: The Literacy Café Experience

For those of you who have been following me on twitter, you have heard me refer to Book Cafés or Literacy Cafés.  The Café was developed from a brainstorming conversation I had with a parent (Angie) who was a former High School Teacher and Literacy Coach.  One of my goals for my school this year was for children and teachers to come together to form a reading community.  A place were books were important and where children were inspired to pick up a book and read.

After three years at my school, I was frustrated in the reading progress being made by the children.  Each year, the teachers and I discussed the concern of how to build greater reading comprehension and greater reading abilities in all children.  Each year we tried new strategies and techniques, and each year our students seemed to show less interest rather than more interest in reading.  Then came the concept of a Literacy Café.

What is special about a Literacy Café?
 Cafés are always centered around a book.  Cafés always include food.  Cafés are created to assist students in synthesizing the information that they have learned in the book and to take it to a new level.

How does a Literacy Café work?
Recently, Children's Author, Suzanne Santillan stopped by for a school visit.  In order to prepare the children in Kindergarten to Second Grade for her visit, a Literacy Café was developed.  Each Café is unique and often, we have learned so much from doing it that if we were to repeat it, the Café would look different the second time. 

In the case of Grandma's Pear Tree, we developed the Café to work with children in kindergarten to second grade.  Children rotated between the following three activities (remember each café has different activities).

Activity One: Retelling and Sequencing Grandma's Pear Tree
A kindergartner draws the beginning, middle and end of the story.
Objective One:  Children will be able to verbally sequence the events in the story using complete sentences.

Children were read the story Grandma's Pear Tree.  With the support of picture cards, children retold the story checking to make sure that all of the items were properly sequenced.

Objective Two: Using a flow map, children will be able to draw picture representations of the beginning, middle and end of the story.
Following the retelling/re-enactment of the story, children were given a flow map and asked to draw pictures representing the beginning, middle and end of the story.  The above map was created by a kindergartner. 

Activity Two: Pear Science
Children had a chance to feel, smell, look at, and taste pears vs. avocados.
Objective One:  Children will be able to compare and contrast the features/characteristics of a pear and an avocado. 

Children were asked to think like a scientist and to use all of their senses in comparing a pear to an avocado.  They looked at and held each fruit, compared the outsides and insides of the fruit, measured and weighed the fruit, and in the end got to do a taste test. 

Activity Three: Sensory Adjectives & Cooking
Recipe Card used by a child to make the salad.
Objective One: During a cooking project using pears, children will be able to generate sensory adjectives for all of the foods/tastes in a Pear Salad.  Children will use these adjectives in developing a name for the salad. 

Objective Two: Children will be able to follow simple directions (a recipe) in order to make a pear salad.

Children were assisted in creating a pear salad.  Once they had a chance to eat some of it, an adult led them through a process of identifying sensory adjectives that best fit their taste experience.  When done with that, they were encouraged to create a name using at least one of the sensory adjectives.

What we have discovered about Cafés? 

Here are just a few of the things that we have learned about cafés over the course of this year:
* Cafés bring books to life and make what a children has heard or read take on new meaning.
* Cafés allow teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners - children with special needs, English Language Learners, and even Gifted children.
* Cafés develop a sense of community and shared experiences between learners and leaders (volunteers, staff, etc.). 
* Cafés are living and evolving all the time.  We are always trying to figure out new ways to help children grasp a concept and apply it in a new way.

I am thankful to Angie for her willingness to go on this journey with me this year.  Her creativity and passion has helped me put wheels and a mega-engine on my literacy goals this year.  Without her, I am certain I would be still floundering around.  I also want to thank all of the parents, community members, teachers and students who have been on this journey and who have taught me so much about learning and books.  And I want to thank Suzanne for letting me use her book and her visit to talk about our cafés. 

Tomorrow:  Suzanne Santillan visits San Rafael School to talk about Grandma's Pear Tree