Visual Literacy with Wordless Books

I’ve been meeting with a group of students from 3rd & 4th grade to talk about our reading lives. The purpose of these groups, which are facilitated by 2 of our gifted-certified teachers, is to have a space for students to read books of their own choosing and spend time talking about those books together and sharing them with the larger reading community. We’ve been trying many different things to support students in having meaningful discussion together. For this session, we decided to focus on divergent thinking using images from wordless books. We wanted students to practice moving through an “I see….I think…..I wonder” sequence to discover many possibilities from one or two visual stimuli from each book.

To start, we looked at an image from Christian Robinson’s book Another. Students shared things that they saw without assigning any opinions or interpretations. They quickly realized that this was harder than it sounded because I followed up most observations with questions.

Common noticings were “there’s a girl walking down stairs” or “there’s a cat chasing another”.  I asked them to describe what they saw that made them think the image was a girl or a cat.  This took several tries until they really got to a point of describing without interpretation.

Then, we moved to “I think” and “I wonder”. This was a chance for them to make interpretations about what they saw in the image as well as wonder about the possibilities of what might happen in the future of the book.

What we’ve noticed in student discussions of their books with text is they often stay at the surface of their book. They give a summary or name the characters/setting. They aren’t always naturally thinking of how the story sends their mind in many different directions. Our hope for this visual exercise was to practice this divergent thinking in a small way.

Ahead of our lesson, I took photographs of 1-2 pages from 20 different wordless books and put the images on separate slides. As students left the carpet, the teachers emailed the presentation to the students and I turned on editing rights. I also assigned each student a number.  They found their corresponding slide and used the notes section of the slide to practice their “I see….I think….I wonder”.  The teachers and I rotated around to talk to students about their noticings and wonderings.  Some of our conversations weren’t ever documented in the notes section, but the most important piece was the conversation that was happening.

Many students quickly discovered that seeing just 1 or 2 images gives you a unique perspective on a book. You don’t have the context of the rest of the story. They wanted to see the rest of the book, so at the end of our time together, students had a chance to read the rest of the book to see how their assigned image fit in with the rest of the story.

The teachers plan to revisit some of these slides in the future and make connections to the other books students are reading to hopefully have them think beyond just what is happening in the text to think about many possibilities and wonderings for their stories.

 

Exploring Georgia Habitats with Third Grade

Our 3rd grade is currently learning about the plants, animals, and habitats in the 5 regions of Georgia. The teachers wanted students to have an opportunity to gather some background knowledge prior to their lessons in the classroom, so I worked on a series of centers for students to rotate through and experience these standards in a variety of formats.

S3L1. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about the similarities and differences between plants, animals, and habitats found within geographic regions (Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, Coastal Plains, Valley and Ridge, and Appalachian Plateau) of Georgia.

  • a. Ask questions to differentiate between plants, animals, and habitats found within Georgia’s geographic regions.
  • b. Construct an explanation of how external features and adaptations (camouflage, hibernation, migration, mimicry) of animals allow them to survive in their habitat.
  • c. Use evidence to construct an explanation of why some organisms can thrive in one habitat and not in another.

S3E2. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information on how fossils provide evidence of past organisms.

  • a. Construct an argument from observations of fossils (authentic or reproductions) to communicate how they serve as evidence of past organisms and  the environments in which they lived.
  • b. Develop a model to describe the sequence and conditions required for an organism to become fossilized. (Clarification statement: Types of fossils  (cast, mold, trace, and true) are not addressed in this standard.)

To make instructions easy to access, I put everything on a Google doc with a short link. As each class arrived to the library, I split the class into groups of 3-4 students by having them sit on color dots on the floor. We briefly talked about the main goal of the standards being to compare and contrast the plants, animals, and habitats of the 5 regions of Georgia, and then I sent color dot groups to centers. I kept a timer on my phone for 8-10 minutes per center and students rotated to the next center in number sequence.

Center 1

Georgia Public Broadcasting has an amazing set of virtual tours on a whole range of science and social studies standards. For this center, students explored the physical features of Georgia including the Okefenokee Swamp, fall line, various mountains, Providence Canyon, and the Barrier Islands.  The purpose of this center was for students to explore the physical features through pictures, maps, text, and video and think about what adaptations plants and animals might need in order to live in these areas of Georgia.

Center 2

In addition to regions, students learn about fossils and how those fossils tell us about the past. At this station, I wanted students to see that fossils aren’t just about dinosaurs and that we have fossil discoveries right her in Georgia. Students visited a Georgia fossil site which includes a map of where fossils have been found and what time period they are from.

The site also included lots of text to skim and scan for details about what was learned from the fossils. Students also had access to several books from our library about fossils and how they teach us about the past.

Center 3

This center featured another GPB virtual tour. This one focused on the 5 regions of Georgia. Students could visit as many regions as time allowed and read the text, look at pictures, and watch videos to identify animals and plants that live in each region.  Students could also look at the land and see the possible habitats in each region.

 

Center 4

Since a piece of the standard is about comparing and contrasting, this book featured print books about the regions and habitats of Georgia. Students chose 2 books, which were about 2 different areas of Georgia.

As they read and looked at photographs, they thought about what was the same and different about the 2 regions.

Center 5

This center had the most pieces but the most popular part of this center was looking at various posters that featured groups of animals in Georgia.  There was a poster for bats, snakes, salamanders, dragonflies, lizards, and butterflies as well as a poster of plants.

On the back of the poster, students could see a highlighted map for each plant or animal that showed where it could be found in Georgia. Students identified plants and animals found in specific regions as well as ones that could be found in all regions. If students found a particular animal they were interested, they could use the computer to research more info on that animal. I included links for various animal groups to get them started.

    1. Butterflies/Moths https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org
    2. Dragonflies https://www.insectidentification.org/
    3. Lizards https://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/index.htm
    4. Salamanders https://srelherp.uga.edu/salamanders/index.htm
    5. Snakes https://georgiawildlife.com/georgiasnakes

I also included some books about animal adaptations such as camouflage, hibernation, and migration.

 

Teacher Role

In each session, the teachers and I rotated around to all the centers to have conversations with individuals or groups of students. We helped students focus on the question of each center and asked follow up questions as needed. I loved seeing what each student was discovering and having me plus a couple of teachers helped us have many conversations. This format had structure, but it also gave students freedom to choose what interested them at each center to spend the most time on. The timing was also fast-paced so there was no time to be bored or be “done”.

When students finished visiting all 5 centers, we came back together on the carpet and students had a chance to share some of the most interesting things that they discovered. Overall, this format served its purpose of gathering background information and it held closely to the wording of the standards. I loved that students were able to explore the standards in a variety of formats and there was variety from one center to the next. This is something I would definitely repeat, but I do wonder about what might be added to help students remember some of the interesting nuggets of information they learned along the way. I wouldn’t want to add too much writing because that slows down the gathering of background knowledge, but it would be nice to have some means for remembering a few facts.

If you have ideas or you try this and add something new, please leave a comment.

Studying the Art of Mike Lowery (Plus a Contest)

 

We are eagerly awaiting a visit from author/illustrator Mike Lowery on October 24th to celebrate his new book Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve held a design-a-dino contest. Interested students picked up a blank design sheet from the library.  They could design a new type of dino and list out it’s many features in the style of Mike Lowery’s new book or they could research an actual dino and include true facts.  This was a very popular contest with students and we had to make additional copies of the entry form on numerous occasions.

It has been really fun seeing the student creativity in each grade level. Most students chose to create new dinosaurs and some of the designs and “facts” have been pretty humorous.

It’s going to be a hard decision as we choose 10 winners to receive an autographed copy of Mike Lowery’s dinosaur book.  Every design will be displayed in our library windows at Mike’s visit. Take a look at just a few of the entries.

 

The art teacher and I are also collaborating together with our 3rd graders. Each 3rd grade class came to the library during art time for a cartoon study.

We started out by learning a bit about Mike Lowery and his new book through these two videos.

We watched this video up to the point where Mike talks about the new book:

Then we switched to this video to learn about the new book:

Then we set students up for their work session.  Students were split between 3 tables.  One table had books written and/or illustrated by Mike Lowery.

The other 2 tables had a variety of graphic novels from different authors and illustrators. At each table, students were supposed to see what they noticed about line, shape, color, simplification, and how text was incorporated.

As students looked at books and talked, Ms. Foretich and I rotated to each table and had conversations with students about their noticings.

If a table was having trouble picking out observations, we offered some models.  For example, we noticed that many of Mike Lowery’s illustrations use dots for eyes and lines on eyebrows or mouths to create expression.

After students rotated to each table, we collected books and introduced a project. Students got to choose from 4 final products based on their observations from the tables.  They could:

  • Create an informational poster in the style of Mike Lowery
  • Create a character and book cover for a comic in the style of Mike Lowery
  • Create a self portrait in the style of Mike Lowery
  • Create a one page comic

For this first session, students had time to select the project they were most interested and then create some initial sketches, notes, or story lines in their artist sketchbooks.

Now, students will begin working on their final project in art class and the final products will be displayed on the walls of our school during Mike Lowery’s visit.  We can’t wait to meet Mike Lowery.  Look for a post at the end of October about our visit.

Movie Makerspace: Exploring Green Screen & Stop Motion

September has come to an end and our 1st month of makerspace is complete.  We hold an open makerspace every Tuesday and Thursday. Students choose to come to makerspace as an alternative to their recess time.  We weave makerspace projects into the curriculum throughout the year, but this Tuesday/Thursday time is more open-ended. Our makerspace is also a collaboration with Gretchen Thomas and her students at the University of Georgia.  This class evolved organically out of some very small collaborations a few years ago. Now, 8 UGA students visit our library every Tuesday & Thursday from 10:45-12:15. Students sign up with their teacher via a Google Doc after watching an introductory video to the month’s topic. Each teacher is allotted a certain number of spots.  If they don’t use all their spots, another teacher can claim them. We have a staggered schedule: 3rd grade 10:45-11:15, 4th grade 11:00-11:30, 1st grade 11:20-11:50, and 5th grade 11:45-12:15.

For September & the first week of October, we focused on making movies. For week 1, students rotated to three stations to tinker. They used Stop Motion Studio on the iPad along with our library Legos to tinker with stop motion animation.  They used Do Ink green screen app on the iPads to experiment with green screen. This included using green gloves, green string, green plates, and the green cushions in our library to create small green screens and green screen effects.  At the final station, students explored iMovie trailers for making regular movies as well as editing movies made in other apps.

During the 2nd week, we asked students to commit to what type of movie they wanted to make.  This could be done alone or in a group. Before students jumped right into filming, we wanted them to storyboard or create a quick script. Most students chose stop motion with just a few choosing green screen.

For the stop motion students, we took a quick look at a new book from Capstone Publishers called Create Crazy Stop Motion Videos by Thomas Kingsley Troupe. I was fortunate to pick this book up at the SLJ Leadership Summit. I love how this book goes step by step through the movie making process: casting, script writing, storyboarding, prep, filming, editing, and final touches. This is a Capstone 4D book which means it also has videos that accompany certain pages.  Since it was most students’ first time making a stop motion, we tried to get a few ideas from the book and give it a go. In the future, I would love to come back to this book and really spend more time with each step.

For 2 weeks, students worked on their movies. We put their names on the backs of the iPads with tape so that they could continue their project each time. We also stored any lego creations they made on our makerspace shelving. The UGA students sat with groups or individuals and helped with tips on storytelling, keeping the iPad and background stable, and helped keep our legos as organized as possible.

As usual, students were super excited to come to makerspace and they developed many skill sets while having fun. I loved the storytelling that students put together in such a short amount of time and it made me really think about using legos even more in conjunction with writing. We have a long way to go before creating stellar stop motion videos, but it was fun to see what students learned from one another through trial and error, chatting with UGA students, looking at stop motion videos online, and looking at our new book from Capstone. My hope is that students can take the skills they learned in this project and apply it to future projects in class. We saw so many students get excited about their movie creations which could easily spill over into curriculum areas.

Students who wanted to share their movie worked with me to upload videos to Youtube. Please enjoy these first attempts at stop motion videos. If you have any of your own tips to share, leave them in a comment.  We hope to do more stop motion videos as part of curriculum projects in grade levels.

 

 

 

The Forgotten Girl: A Visit with India Hill Brown

Thanks to Scholastic Book Fairs our fourth and fifth graders were introduced to debut author India Hill Brown.  Her new book The Forgotten Girl releases in November, but it is a featured book on Scholastic’s fall book fair allowing readers to enjoy it well in advance of release day.

The Forgotten Girl is about 2 friends, Iris and Daniel, who leave their home one night to play in the first snowfall of the year. They sneak away into the woods to get to some fresh snow and to be out of sight. Iris decides to make a snow angel, and when she gets up, she realizes she has just made a snow angel on top of a forgotten grave. This action awakens a ghost named Avery, who needs help being remembered. Iris and Daniel launch into a research project to remember the deceased members of the segregated African American cemetery and to have the area cleaned up. However, Iris is put in some dangerous situations due to her new ghostly friend.

Our local Athens history has some interesting connections with this book. We invited local expert, Fred Smith Sr, to speak to students ahead of our visit with India. He shared the history of segregated cemeteries in Athens, including the slave burial grounds at the University of Georgia. He also shared how UGA moved some of the remains as well as built on top of the burial sites. Fred Smith Sr has been active in the process of acknowledging and honoring the forgotten graves.

He then shared about our 2 black cemeteries in Athens that were created after slavery ended. The Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery is where Harriet Powers is buried. She is well known for her Bible story quilts which now hang in the Smithsonian and the Boston Museum of Art. I brought in my replica of her quilt for students to see.

Scholastic sent books for pre-ordering ahead of the event, so we were also able to read the first chapter before the visit.

Our library windows transformed into the cover of the book with a the title sign, trees, and tombstones representing some of our Athens graveyard residents.

India Hill Brown spoke for about 30 minutes to our 4th and 5th graders. She shared some of her favorite books as a child as well as her love of writing from an early age.  She also surprised us by sharing that she really doesn’t like scary stories. However, she said one way to get over your fear of something is by doing it or by turning it into art.

 

India showed us pictures of the cemetery in her own community that inspired her to write the book. She wanted to weave in the history of forgotten cemeteries with a ghost story. We always love it when authors share the creative process of a story, and India showed us how the story went through multiple revisions and edits to reach the final version. I loved how she explained the different kinds of changes she made from the content of the story to spelling mistakes. Students are always surprised how long the entire process takes. Even though the first draft was done in about a month, the entire process of creating the finished book took over a year.

Students had a chance to ask India lots of questions about writing and her favorite things in life.  I even got to ask a questions about any ghostly happenings she has encountered in her own life.  After her talk, India took time to greet students as they exited. I loved seeing students making connections with her and even doing chants and hand clapping games with her.

Many times when we host and author, they are in a hurry to get to their next event. We usually do signing without students and then deliver books. India wanted to greet her readers, so we had students wait in the library and get in line for greeting and signing. I loved watching students glow as they met her and shared their excitement about her book.

Now that the visit is over, we have 5 copies of the book in the library and all 5 have already been checked out. Every classroom also has a copy in the classroom thanks to our PTA. I have a feeling many students who missed out on pre-orders will want to purchase the book at our fall book fair.

Thank you Scholastic Book Fairs for bringing India to our school.  Thank you India Hill Brown for sharing your historically important story with our readers. I can’t wait to hear the conversations that take place as students read this book.

The King of Kindergarten: A Visit with Derrick Barnes & Vanessa Brantley Newton

We are 3 weeks into the new school year and we are so thankful that we were able to host an author and illustrator for students in PreK-1st grade. Derrick Barnes, author of the award-winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, and Vanessa Brantley Newton, illustrator of numerous, stunning books such as The Youngest Marcher, Mary Had a Little Glam, and Grandma’s Purse came to our school thanks to our local bookshop Avid Bookshop and their publisher Penguin Random House.  They came to celebrate their newest picture book together called The King of Kindergarten, which has received numerous starred reviews.

Getting the students ready for an author visit so early in the year was a challenge, but most K-1 students heard 2-3 stories by Derrick and Vanessa including The King of Kindergarten, Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut, Mama’s Work Shoes, Early Sunday Morning, and Mary Had a Little Glam. 

 

We also took pictures of every student in K-1 and put their pictures on the windows of the library with clip art crowns to welcome Derrick and Vanessa to our school.

Families had an opportunity to pre-order a copy of The King of Kindergarten for autographing, and thanks to our pre-sales and a generous donation from an anonymous donor, every student in Kindergarten received a copy of the book.

When Derrick and Vanessa arrived at our school, they were greeted by two of our 5th grade Barrow ambassadors. These students welcome visitors to our school, give tours of our school, and make sure special guests are well taken care of.  They took their job very seriously and helped Derrick and Vanessa get settled in the library and helped deliver all of the signed books to classrooms.

As students entered to get seated, their excitement was palpable. Some of them saw Derrick and Vanessa waiting in my office and said, “Mr. Plemmons!  Look behind you! They are here. They’re really here in Georgia!”  It was a celebrity sighting for sure and one of the reasons it is so important to read books and talk about authors and illustrators before a visit.  The kids felt like they knew them and they were able to connect the books we’ve experienced with a real, live person who created them.

Derrick shared a little about himself and his family. He also shared that his own children are the faces of characters on the covers of his books. We looked at Crown and The King of Kindergarten covers to see his sons. During this time, Derrick talked about the importance of every person being able to see themselves on the cover of a book and that he felt his job was to fill in some of the gaps that exist in the publishing world.

Vanessa also shared about herself. We learned that she is dyslexic and she talked with the kids about working with that challenge in her life. She also stutters, so she talked with the kids about how that has impacted her and asked for their help in staying peaceful while she talked so that she could formulate her words. It was so important for kids to hear about these challenges she faced in her life but was still able to do something that she loved.  Vanessa also showed us some of her art books and shared that she loves to leave pieces of art everywhere she goes so that people can find her work and add some art to their lives.

Before Derrick read The King of Kindergarten, he offered our young learners some advice. 1.  Always greet your teachers and classmates each day with a good morning (which they all turned and did right away!) 2.  Be kind.  3. Represent your family name. Make them proud.

As Derrick read the book, Vanessa drew the king of Kindergarten.  I loved hearing students filling in the parts of the text they remembered as Derrick read. They also noticed that Derrick and his wife are in the book too. Vanessa also included a couple of students from our audience in her drawing. She shared that she has a photographic memory and uses people she sees as characters.

As Derrick and Vanessa said goodbye, so many students came up to smile, wave, point out parts of the book, touch Derrick and Vanessa, or give them a hug. I was so thankful that all of our young learners got to hear their message, see their faces in person, and be inspired by their work and stories.

What happens after an author visit is always special. Kids recognize the books in the library and immediately check them all out. Kids get inspired to create their own art and stories.

This time because so many kids received a copy of the book, we saw kids excitedly putting books into their backpacks to go home and read with their family and many brought the books back to school to read here too.

Thank you so much Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley Newton for sharing your talents with our students. Thank you Avid Bookshop for bring author and illustrators to our school.  Thank you Penguin Random House & Nancy Paulsen Books for choosing our community and our school as a stop on the tour.  The impact will last well beyond this 30-minute visit.  Thank you.

 

 

 

The Night Diary: A Visit with Veera Hiranandani

We are so fortunate to have an amazing independent bookshop in our community, Avid Bookshop. This year, they have brought 5 authors/illustrators to our school. That means that every student in grades K-5 has experienced 2 author/illustrator visits this year. For our final visit of this school year, we welcomed Veera Hiranandani, author of the 2018 Newbery Honor book The Night Diary. Veera is on tour for the paperback version of the book which was released on April 23, 2019. She visited our school thanks to Avid Bookshop and her publisher, Penguin Kids and Kokila.

From the Publisher:

The Night Diary

 
Next, we listed to Veera’s interview with her editor. https://youtu.be/6Q5Tzyjl8iU
The publisher also has a thorough Educator’s Guide for the book. It is packed with ideas prior to reading, during reading, and after reading. In classrooms, students examined 4 statements that had a connection with the content of the book.
  • Being smart doesn’t have to be about reading or math. It might be about artwork or being able to understand others.
  • When people are separated into groups, they start to believe that one group is better than the other.
  • Quiet voices sometimes get people’s attention even better than loud voices.
  • Everyone should dress the same, enjoy the same foods, and practice the same religion.

Each student choice a statement that resonated with them and wrote a diary entry to explain why they agreed or disagreed with the statement. These diary entries were displayed in the windows of the library to welcome Veera.

During Veera’s visit, she took time to give us even more background on the partition of India.
Then, she read another excerpt from the book that took place right when the partitioning happened.
Veera took students into her writing process a bit and then gave us a glimpse into her family and why telling this story was important to her.
 
We got to hear about her dad experiencing the partition. She also shared additional pictures of family members.
We learned about the importance of food in Veera’s life and why she wanted to include food references in her writing.
 
I loved that she closed by asking students to consider their own stories and allowing them to ask questions. We were so impressed at the kinds of questions students chose to ask.

Questions ranged from how to decide on characters to how her father came to America to which religion she identifies with to how she gathered information about the partitioning. When sensitive questions arose, students respectfully asked if it was ok to ask about religion or money or other topics, and Veera didn’t shy away from any of their requests.

Before she left, Veera chatted with a few individual students and signed several books. Thanks to our PTA every 5th grade classroom has 6 books as well as a set of 15 books to be used in 5th grade book clubs. The library also has multiple copies for student checkout.

Students are eager to read the book before the close of the school year and we look forward to using this book next year with book groups. Thank you again to 5th grade teachers, Barrow PTA, Avid Bookshop, and Penguin Kids for making this visit possible. Thank you Veera Hirananadani for sharing your story with all of us.