Let’s Talk Writing Process with Cassie & Kate Beasley

Our fourth grade is immersed in the writing process using Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop. They are looking at mentor texts. They are studying author’s craft and developing their own style of taking a story from an idea to a published piece of writing. During this exploration, the fourth grade team reached out to ask if there was any possibility of connecting with an author to talk about the narrative writing process.  I immediately thought of the dynamic sister duo from south Georgia, Kate and Cassie Beasley. Both of these talented authors have visited our school in the past for their books, so I reached out to them to consider the possibility of connecting for an informal chat about writing.

Our @fourthgradebarrow learned so many tips about writing from Cassie and Kate Beasley. #author #skype #writing

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They enthusiastically said yes, and the whole fourth grade came to the library with writing journals and index card questions in hand.

Cassie Beasley is the author of Circus Mirandus and the recently released Tumble and Blue.  Kate Beasley is the author of Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and the upcoming Lions & Liars.  During our connection, they started out with an informal conversation about writing. They each took turns asking questions about writing process from the beginning to the end.  I loved how it was like a mini-interview conversation between the two of them and how we discovered that they both have different ways that they accomplish the same task of writing a story.

We learned many writing tips from the Beasley sisters including outlining. #author #skype

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Cassie shared that she often starts with an idea for a story and Kate often starts with a character and tries to put that character into a setting and a problem.  Both sisters shared that they do a good bit of outlining when they are getting ready to write.  One of the most surprising things to all of us was the amount of writing that they do that never makes it into a novel.  Circus Mirandus, Tumble and Blue, and Gertie’s Leap to Greatness all went through multiple rewrites. Kate even shared that she thinks that about 75% of what she writes doesn’t get used.  After our connection, we spent a bit more time talking about this and came to the conclusion that even though that writing doesn’t make it into the novel it wasn’t wasted work. The 75% was what was needed in order to discover the best story that was hiding underneath everything else.

 

I’ve heard several authors talk about how much they rewrite, and it’s important for students to hear that too because it’s really hard to start over.  I casually asked Kate and Cassie how they feel when they have to start again. I asked if they scream or throw things.  I mostly asked because that’s a bit how I feel when I have to start over.  I think it’s important that students know that it’s not always the best feeling to start over even when you know it’s the right thing to do.  Kate and Cassie both talked about the frustration. They shared how it’s a moment of panic. Cassie relies on Kate to talk her through the frustration so she can start again. Some deep breaths are involved and maybe some chocolate too.

Students had a chance to line up and ask their own questions to support their writing. One of the questions was about “where”.  Where do you write?  Kate has a very specific place where she writes.  It’s a house that doesn’t have phone or internet so that she can stay away from distractions.  Cassie also writes in that place but she does writing just about everywhere: a coffee shop, the pool, outside.  It was an important reminder to us all that sometimes it’s tricky in the crowded classroom to find writing spaces that feel supportive. I hope we can think more about how to give students a space where they feel productive in their writing process.

Another student asked about how many books they hope to write, and it was so great to hear that they have many more ideas for stories that are waiting to be told or are in the process of being drafted. Even though writing takes time and has frustrating moments, it still comes down to that magic of escaping into someone else’s life or some other magical place on the page.  It was so refreshing at the end of our skype to hear students who were excited to go back to class and write after hearing from published authors.

Thank you Cassie & Kate Beasley for taking time out of your writing lives to share your wisdom with us.  We can’t wait to celebrate all your future stories.

To purchase their books, visit here:  Circus Mirandus, Tumble & Blue, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness.

To learn more about Kate’s upcoming novel, click here.

Little Red & Rapunzel: A Skype with Bethan Woollvin

I’ve written about the magic of Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red a few times on the blog. It’s one of those books that captures an audience when it’s read aloud. The repeating lines, the bold color, the large scary wolf, the shocking images….all work together to speak to so many readers.

Our 2nd grade has been studying Bethan Woollvin’s work by reading Little Red, viewing some of Bethan’s art, and exploring some of the resources on All the Wonders. Students loved acting out scenes from the book using the story shapes from All the Wonders.

Students also loved putting the book over their face or using the cutouts to become the Wolf or Red.

Today, in celebration of her upcoming book Rapunzel, we skyped with Bethan to hear both stories and learn about her art and inspiration.

So fun to hear @bethanwoollvin read Little Red #author #illustrator #skype #childrensbooks @peachtreepublishers

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Rapunzel has some similar magic to Little Red.  There’s some repetition of the “snip, snip” of the scissors, and students love to put their scissor fingers up and snip along with the story.

Such a treat to hear Rapunzel. Coming soon from @bethanwoollvin @peachtreepublishers #author #illustrator #childrensbooks

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The witch and her polka dot underpants steal the show when the book is read aloud, and you just have to pause and give the students a moment to point and laugh.  Without giving anything away, I’ll also say that there are a few images that elicit that same shock from students that they have when reading Little Red.  I loved hearing Bethan read parts of both books that had something gruesome or shocking. Her bubbly personality paired with Grandma getting eaten by the wolf was delightful!

I always love Skyping with an author or illustrator because they usually have original art, notes, or other artifacts that they can reach over and grab.  Bethan showed us a few early versions of illustrations from Little Read so that we could see how much they changed in the final version of the book. I loved the reinforcement that artists revise just like writers revise.

We saw some panel sketches from Rapunzel.  Students immediately made a connection to our current study of panels in graphic novels, and we learned that Bethan thinks a lot in panels when she is working. She also showed us images from Rapunzel that didn’t make it into the book or images that slightly changed after feedback from the publisher.

Near the end of our Skype, students formed a line to step up and ask questions. This is always a special moment because it’s so personal for each student to get to speak directly to an author or illustrator.

When students talk directly to an author/illustrator, magic happens #author #illustrator #childrensbooks

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I loved that Bethan would often answer the questions and then direct it right back to the student to answer too.  For example, a student asked about what her favorite part of writing and illustrating was. After answering, Bethan asked the student what her favorite part of writing and illustrating in class was.  It reinforced that we are all working on our craft no matter what stage we are in. We have connections to one another.

At the close, Bethan talked to us a bit about how her books are published in the UK and US. Some of the words and illustrations change depending on the vocabulary or to help the flow of conversation. Since I had a copy of both books, we were able to take a close look while she shared this with us.

We are so excited to now have both Little Red and Rapunzel living in our library for readers.  Be on the lookout for Rapunzel coming from Peachtree Publishers on October 1!  Many thanks to Peachtree Publishers and Bethan Woollvin for making this Skype possible and to Avid Bookshop for our presales of books.

Announcing the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize with Flipgrid

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Our 2nd graders have been working on an interdisciplinary project since the beginning of January. The Barrow Peace Prize has become one of our favorite projects each year in 2nd grade.  Students select 1 of 6 people from history to research through online & print resources such as Capstone’s Pebble Go, write a persuasive piece about why that person represents various character traits, create art to accompany their writing, and record their work using Flipgrid. For the past two weeks, we have been inviting people to view the students’ work and vote on a winner.

Part of our tradition in announcing the winner of the Barrow Peace Prize is to connect with our friends at Flipgrid via Skype. Last year, we even had the great fortune of having Charlie Miller and Brad Hosack join us at our school for a red carpet event.

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Each year, Flipgrid enhances their product and it makes our Barrow Peace Prize videos even more powerful.  Ahead of the connection, the teachers and I select some student award winners.

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Dynamic Designers are students who create powerful art work to accompany their persuasive essays.  Outstanding Openers are students who created opening lines in their persuasive essay to hook their audience.  Prolific Persuaders are students who create the complete package of persuading their audience to vote for their person from history.  I print certificates for these students and send the list of names to the Flipgrid team to announce during our Skype.

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Also in advance of the Skype, I 3d print enough student-designed medals so that every student who researched the winner of the peace prize gets a medal.  Each classroom also gets a medal to display and the teachers create plans for how each student will have a chance to wear the medal.

When the Skype begins, the Flipgrid team gives the students a greeting and our students take time to explain the project to them.  We also take some time to look at some statistics.  I share the analytics map from Smore so that students can see on a map where people have viewed their work.

The Flipgrid team also share some statistics like how many seconds of engagement students have and how many views.  Then, we launch into awards.

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With 100 students, it is hard to individually recognize each student during the Skype, but we encourage students to consider the Skype and winner announcement to be a celebration of our collective work.  Even if  you don’t hear your name called, you should be proud to know that your voice was heard by people around the world and made an impact on individual viewers of the project.  Your voice came together with all of the other 2nd graders to create a  project that inspires.

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Joey Taralson at Flipgrid organized different members of the team to announce student winners.  Each person told a bit about what they do at Flipgrid and slowly announced each winner.  We had to take our time because of the roaring cheers and applause for each student. This was a powerful moment for us all because students really were cheering for and supporting their classmates even when they didn’t win themselves.

After individual students were announced, I introduced our student designers of the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize.

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Then, it was the moment of anticipation.  For the 2nd year in a row, the winner of the 2017 Barrow Peace Prize is…

Ruby Bridges!

We passed out 3d-printed medals to all Ruby Bridges researchers and then attempted to get a photograph of the winners from our perspective and Flipgrid’s perspective.

After the connection ended, the excitement continued as congratulations and pictures poured in from Flipgrid and Capstone, creator of PebbleGo.

These are the kinds of projects that I hope to continue to inspire in our school.  There are so many parts of this experience that I love.  Every student is involved.  Every student has a voice in the collective project. Every student gets to showcase an area of talent whether it’s writing, research, art, stage presence, design, and more. Every student’s voice reaches beyond our school walls to inspire projects in other schools around the world. Multiple teachers are involved in the success of the project from the classroom teachers to the librarian to the art teacher to the many support teachers in our school.  Finally, the company that gives us the tool that propels our voices into the world takes time to learn about, celebrate, and amplify our project.  Thank you, Flipgrid, for always supporting our work and for constantly thinking about how to empower the voices of students in bigger ways.  We look forward to next year’s project and the many projects that will develop in the future.

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World Read Aloud Day 2017

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Each year we looking forward to celebrating the joy of reading aloud during LitWorld’s World Read Aloud Day.  This year’s official date was February 16, but we celebrated the entire week.

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It takes a lot of organization to pull off a week full of Skypes and Google Hangouts.  Planning began back in December.  Shannon Miller and I created a Google doc where people could share their World Read Aloud schedules.  Kate Messner also did a great blog post with a list of authors willing to do Skypes during the week.

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I got my teachers to sign up for slots, and then I started looking for connections on the Google doc.  Other librarians also signed up on my schedule.  Once all of the slots were full, our connecting authors and schools started communicating to decide which books to read.  I made a separate spreadsheet for myself to keep times, books, Skype names, and email addresses organized.

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Of course, weather and illness was a factor and caused a few cancellations during the week. Even with some cancellations, we still had a full week of connections.

We also experienced many technical difficulties with our internet filter and I had to communicate with our technology director on a daily basis to make sure that Skype and Google Hangouts was not being blocked by the filter.  A growth mindset and perseverance really helped push through the issues.

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Over the course of the week, we connected with schools in Georgia, Washington state, Missouri, Vermont, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, Kansas, Texas, and Illinois.  We also connected with authors Dee Garretson (Boxcar Children), Hannah Barnaby (Bad Guy), Paul Fleischman (Seedfolks & Joyful Noise), and Jason Chin (Gravity & Grand Canyon).

The week was filled with many special moments.  Students were able to ask one another questions about their lives and make connections to students in another location.  Each connection helps us realize we are all part of the same world and have more in common than we realize.

Fun reading The Day the Crayons Came Home with students in Kansas. #powerofpublicschools #wrad17 #readaloud

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We wove in a lot of map skills my looking at Google maps to see distances from Athens, Georgia to our connecting schools.  Students were able to talk directly with authors and ask them questions about the writing process.

Authors like Paul Fleischman turned around and open his filing cabinets to show us the original version of poems like Whirligig Beetles.  We had fun performing stories with students in two schools and hearing special songs performed by PreK students.

We were entertained by middle school students reading Ballet Cat and chanting out the text of Yo! Yes! with students in Seattle.  We also got to connect with Caitlin Ramseyer who was a teacher at our school last year and moved to Maryland.  It was fun to reconnect with her and her Kindergarten students.

If you’ve never tried Skype or Google connections, I highly encourage you to do it.  These events lead you to collaborative partners around the world and help our students step outside the bubble of their everyday lives.

Let’s All Connect for World Read Aloud Day 2017

It’s time for us all to start making plans and building excitement for World Read Aloud Day 2017 with Litworld.  This year, World Read Aloud Day takes place on February 16, 2017, but many of us will celebrate the entire week of February 13-17, 2017.

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World Read Aloud Day “calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories.”  When we connect our students through Skype, Google Hangouts, or other web tools, they experience the power of the read aloud and realize that they are connected with a bigger world that is both the same and different from them.  By connecting our voices through reading aloud, we are reading on behalf of the 758 million people who cannot read.

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Shannon McClintock Miller and I invite you to start posting your schedules on our shared Google Doc.

 

http://tinyurl.com/wrad17

 

When you share your schedule, be sure to include:

  • Your name
  • Your contact info such as social media, Skype, and/or email
  • Your role
  • Your school and grade levels
  • Your location
  • List your time zone when posting your available dates and times

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After you post your own schedule, take a look at the other schedules and sign up on someone’s schedule to connect your students.  We’ve found that it doesn’t matter if same grade levels connect with one another. Often times, an older grade can read aloud to a younger grade or younger grades can find parts of a books that they can read aloud to an older grade.  There’s not just one way to connect.  Part of the fun is meeting new friends, planning your read alouds, and seeing what magical things happen during your connection that you weren’t even expecting.

We have many ideas from previous years on our blogs.  You can read more about previous World Read Aloud Day connections on Expect the Miraculous and The Library Voice.  Litworld also has several resources for you to use in your planning and connections including:

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Please let us know if you have any questions.  Happy connecting!

Shannon McClintock Miller @shannonmmiller & Andy Plemmons @plemmonsa

When Authors Connect: A Skype with Barbara O’Connor

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One of our amazing Barrow teachers, Ms. Spurgeon, is leading a book club with some 5th grade students.  To select their book, she read the summaries of several books as well as the first page of those books.  The members of the group unanimously chose Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog after hearing the opening line: “The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.  They have been savoring every moment of reading the book since choosing it.  They’ve taken their time because a book like this one deserves some discussion, and Ms. Spurgeon has shared that some of that discussion has been hard.

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How to Steal a Dog is about Georgina Hayes and her brother who have been evicted from their apartment and now live out of their car with their mother.  They long for a place of their own, and a “lost dog” poster suddenly gives them an idea.  What if they stole a dog and then collected the reward money after giving the dog back to its owner?  The plan sounds brilliant, but even though it is well planned out by Georgina, the duo face some unexpected challenges that complicate their hopes.

Ms. Spurgeon’s group has had some tough discussions about homelessness, poverty, stealing, and family relationships, but the students have embraced those discussions and in turn stayed connected and engaged in the book. When she shared with me how powerful the discussions were, I really wanted Barbara O’Connor to hear about it.

I shared some of Ms. Spurgeon’s observations with Barbara and wondered if we might connect over Skype for just a few minutes when they were close to finished with the book.  Barbara enthusiastically said yes, and we set a date to connect for about 20 minutes.

A small group in 5th grade connected with @barbaraoconnor to discuss How to Steal a Dog. #tlchat #authorvisit #studentvoice

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Ms Spurgeon kept the Skype a surprise until the day of the connection, and the 5 students were shocked that they would actually talk to the “real author” of the book they were reading. They prepared some questions over lunch and came to the library to Skype.

Meeting Barbara O'Connor #authorvisit #studentvoice

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It was a different kind of Skype because it was intimate. I pulled 5 chairs right up to the board so students could be close to Barbara on screen. Students each introduced themselves, and Ms. Spurgeon had a moment to talk to Barbara about their experience with the book.

Barbara took time to talk a bit about herself as a writer, how many books she has published, and where she lives. Then, it really became a conversation between the students and Barbara. I love author and illustrator visits, but often these visits are more presentation and less conversation because of the size of the groups we pack in for a visit. This type of visit built a connection between author and reader.

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Students asked about whether Barbara had experienced homelessness, why she wrote the book, how long it took, and more. Some students also came up with follow-up questions in the moment and because it was a small group, they could actually ask those.  We got to take a quick tour around Barbara’s house as she showed the students her dogs after they asked whether or not she had a dog of her own.

We closed our time by thinking about next reads. I had pulled the books from our library that weren’t checked out at the moment and asked Barbara if she would like to suggest any of her other books as a follow-up selection. She suggested The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis and showed students an example of a Yoohoo boat from the story. While she mentioned other books like Wish, one of the students reached out and grabbed Popeye and Elvis and started reading it. That’s one of the great rewards of an author visit whether it’s through Skype or in person.  The books come alive for the students and they can’t wait to read them all. Even though I can often recommend a book to a student and they will read it, the recommendation from the actual author is as good as gold.

Connecting with an author via skype means finding a new book to dive into. #studentvoice #authorvisit #reader

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When the students returned to their class, they continued to talk about the visit and how wonderful Barbara was to talk to.  Some of them said they couldn’t wait to read more of her books once they finish this one.  I know that Skype visits take time for authors, but it means the world to readers when they offer even a small amount of time to say hello, show off their dogs, and talk about the joys and challenges of writing and reading. Thank you for joining us today, Barbara O’Connor!

 

Exploring Pigloo with Anne Marie Pace

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Today Ms. Skinner’s 1st grade class had the great fortune to Skype with Anne Marie Pace to celebrate her new picture book, Pigloo. This book began when Anne Marie was in 1st grade, and now it is a beautiful picture book for our readers to explore. Pigloo dreams of going on an exploration to the north pole, and thanks to some snow, his sister, and some imagination, he is able to make his dreams come true.

This Skype was made possible through a contest that Anne Marie Pace held for librarians and teachers of 1st grade.  Prior to our Skype, students watched the book trailer to get familiar with where the idea for the book came from.  Anne Marie also sent us coloring pages for the students to color.

During our Skype, Anne Marie had students think about times they have waited on something just like Pigloo waits on the snow.  We heard stories of waiting on pizza and Pokemon cards.  We also talked about weather in Virginia where Anne Marie lives and in Georgia where we live.  We certainly don’t have as much snow as Anne Marie has, so it was fun for the students to think about opportunities to get out and play in the snow which is rare here.

Ms Skinner's class is having fun with author Anne Marie Pace. @barrow21firsties #pigloo #author #skype

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Next, Anne Marie read through the entire book.  She held it up for students to see, but luckily a copy arrived in the mail for us just in time for the Skype.  I held up the book so that students could see it on the screen or on the physical pages.

One of the things I love about connecting with authors is the chance for students to chat with them one on one.  Anne Marie took time to let students step up and ask a question.  Many wanted to ask more questions about Pigloo.  Why did his sister “trick” him?  Where did he get his sled and hat?  However, we also got to ask about writing.  She encouraged students to keep writing even when it’s hard.  She explained that sometimes writing has fun parts and sometimes it has hard parts.  She wanted them to always listen to their teacher and realize that feedback was a teacher’s wish for them to each become better writers.  This affirmation is always powerful for students to hear and realize that we all need to push ourselves to do better.

Pigloo will now be available for checkout in our library, but students have a chance to order it from Anne Marie’s local bookshop, The Sycamore Tree.  She will sign each one and the bookshop will mail them to our school.

Connecting with authors in person and virtually is always a treat for our readers. Each experience reminds students that there is a person and lots of hard work behind the pages of each book on our shelves.  Thank you Anne Marie Pace for stepping into our school for the morning.