Archive for the ‘Storytime Standouts Shares Early Literacy News and Commentary’ Category

Reading with and to your kids every day – Why Bother?

Posted on September 6th, 2013 by Jody


Our guest contributor shares great reasons to read aloud to children

Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor shares her thoughts on reading with your kids and why it matters.

In the summer it is easy to let routines flounder. Well, if you’re exceptionally lucky and both you and your spouse are teachers and therefore have your vacation together as a whole family. We spend our days doing day trips, staying in pajamas, the girls playing while I write; it’s pretty sweet. The kids go to bed a little later, you socialize more so the bedtime routine isn’t always predictable. I’m often tempted to just tell my ten-year-old to go ahead and read on her own. My seven-year-old, with a great deal of warranted pride, always wants to read to us. She reads us her three stories with unique and funny accents and expressions that never fail to make me smile. My ten year old reads her own book, a series with her dad and a series with me. There’s no lack of reading going on in our house. She was given the green light to read the rest of the Harry Potter series this summer (something I was torn about allowing as she is only ten). This made it even more tempting to just say goodnight and get to the quiet time early. We could probably convince our seven year old to read to herself too in exchange for being allowed to stay up later, reading in her room. So why do we bother? Even, or maybe especially, in the summer when we feel lazy and carefree?Why Bother Reading With Your Kids a Guest Post by Jody Holford

  • BECAUSE READING WITH YOUR KIDS MATTERS.
  • Because it’s a way to connect with them through something you can both enjoy.
  • Because it gives one on one time.
  • Because it gives a reason and topic for conversation.
  • Because it’s enjoyable for both of you.
  • Because it helps them to be better readers and listeners.
  • Because it engages their mind and imagination.
  • Because there’s nothing better than getting lost in a book with characters you adore and taking someone along for the ride.
  • Because in an age of “go-go-go”, stopping matters. Stop, sit, read with your kids.
  • Because as they get older, they won’t want you to lay on their bed beside them.
  • Because you never get this time back.
  • Because it will matter to them and they will look forward to the daily routine of mom or dad curled up beside them, sharing a story.

So why bother? Some days seem especially long but in reality, time speeds by and we need to do what we can to form strong bonds and relationships with our children. I love the opportunities that present themselves through reading with my girls, particularly the older one because it lets me see how she would problem solve or resolve an issue. “What do you think of the way they treated that girl?” “Have you ever been part of a rumor?” “What would you do if two friends were fighting over you?” We spend so much time figuring out how to teach our kids to be prepared for life and how to handle stress that we forget that some of those very lessons are in the books they’re reading. Rather than fearing what they may face in middle school and high school, I like having the opportunity, through books, to talk to them about things rather than lecture. It’s one more way to be proactive in helping your child be the strongest, most capable person they can be. And that’s our job.

 

Top Ten Literacy Highlights of My Middle Grade Year

Posted on June 12th, 2013 by Jody


Top Ten Literacy Highlights of My Year including SlobWe all have our strengths in the classroom. Mine, as you may have guessed it, is Literacy. It’s because we are good at what we know and love. This is my area of passion so it translates well to most of the kids. That doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing all the time or effortless; but when you love something so much, even the struggles can seem engaging. So, to recap another year that has gone by incredibly fast, I’m sharing my top ten literacy moments from this school year.

10. Almost every student in my class of 30 improved their reading level.

9. Several students recommended books they thought I should read and told me why

8. Forgetting the first book I read this year and having a student bring it up while making a connection the other day. Ellen Potter’s Slob left a lasting impression on them.

7. Starting a blog site where the students talked about their favourite books, questions, predictions, and started writing a group story.

6. Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper.

5. Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

4. Writing Every Day. Especially on the days where I say I’ll give them a break and they say “NO! We want to write.”

3. Listening to the creative ways students express themselves. One of my students made a list called: Ten Reasons I hate to write. Another wrote a Wanted Ad for a perfect teacher.

2. Our class did a write and pass. So each student wrote one sentence then passed their sheet. The next person read that sentence, added a new sentence that made sense and continued the story. We did this in two groups of fifteen.

1. One of my two main reluctant readers (the boy) asked me if he could skip the free time they’d earned so that he could read (**insert teacher doing cartwheels here**). My other reluctant reader (the girl) came to me and said I need a book. I said, ‘Okay. How about this?” She’d read it. “This?” She’d read it. This? Read. This? Read. This went on for several books. She’s read over a dozen books since September.

There is absolutely no better feeling as a teacher than knowing you helped a child connect to books. Books open doors, minds, hearts, and worlds in a way nothing else can. These journeys are powerful and I feel so grateful for the ones my students took me on this year.

10 Ways to help upper elementary students enjoy reading

Posted on May 25th, 2013 by Jody


Storytime Standouts Shares 10 Ways to help upper elementary students enjoy reading

There’s a great quote by Oscar Wilde that says: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”. It’s a powerful quote and similar to the question: “Who are you when no one’s watching?” Both quotes/questions, I think, speak to being yourself, in your actions and in your choices. This includes reading and writing. One of the best ways to get middle grade students involved in reading and writing is to encourage them to learn more about themselves and go with what interests them.

What are some other ways to engage your middle grade / upper elementary students? Here’s what’s worked for me this year:



1. Get to know your students and their interests. Most kids who say they don’t like to read haven’t found a book that fits with who they are. Sometimes they are a little unclear on what appeals to them. They might not realize how many genres there are or that even if they are into sports, they might prefer mythology to sport related books. Case in point: I play absolutely no sports and have no athletic ability, but love to read books and watch movies where atheletes are the main characters.Storytime Standouts' guest contributor shares an Oscar Wilde quote and 10 ways to help middle grade students enjoy reading

2. Choose with them. Students like attention and we don’t get much chance for one on one or small group. When you go to the library with them, utilize the library time. Look through the shelves with them. Ask what some of the kids have chosen, show interest, show them some you’ve found. Check in with them or pick a few you think they might like. It gives you a chance to connect with them and get some insight into how they choose.

3. Take their suggestions. It is a big thing when a reluctant reader comes to you and says, “I think you would like this book I read.” READ IT. They read it and now are furthering their connection with you; even if you don’t like it, you can discuss the parts you did or didn’t enjoy with them and engage them in comprehension, oops, I mean conversation.

4. Be honest about your struggles and strengths as a reader. I have two struggles that constantly come up: I am a terribly slow reader and I don’t read aloud very well. Picture books are one thing but I stumble a lot reading novels aloud. The kids feel more relaxed about not being perfect if we’re honest about the fact that we aren’t either. We don’t encourage kids to only play sports they excel at if they get true joy from a certain one. Likewise, you don’t have to be ‘the best’ at reading to enjoy it.

5. Challenge them in unique ways. Kids love competition (well, most kids). Do a teacher vs. student challenge for who can read the most, give prizes or reading points when milestones are reached, celebrate reading at an individual and classroom level. I do Reading Bingo with my class and depending on how many bingos they get, they can get out of an assignment or choose a brand new book from scholastic. The bingo is mandatory but what they do with it (bare minimum or all out) is up to them.

6. Read a book to your class for the simple pleasure of reading. For my read aloud, I tend to shy away from making them do writing activities or exercises. I want them to see that books can be just for fun and the excitement of getting involved in the character’s story. Generally, if I have a writing assignment, I will use our read aloud as an example. This week, we made character pamphlets. I chose the character from our read aloud to demonstrate the process but they chose from their guided reading books.

7. Read them picture books. Kids of all ages (and adults) love picture books. They have strong messages, great rhythm, and are often funny. They enjoy looking at the pictures and there are endless activities at the upper grades you can do using picture books.

8. Teach them how to decide if a book is not working for them. Kids think that adults expect them to finish everything they start and lots of times, we do. But, I’m unlikely to finish a book that I really don’t connect with or enjoy. If it’s curriculum related and it must be finished, then that’s just life. But, if it’s for silent reading or read aloud, it’s perfectly fine to pick up a book, realize it’s not for you, and take it back. In fact, it shows strength as a reader to recognize what appeals to you.

9. Just let them read. We focused on non-fiction a lot this year as an intermediate team at my school. Until this year, I’ve always said that silent reading was for reading our ‘within our reading level’ books. Once we started focusing on how to teach non-fiction and how to get kids to choose these books, I wondered why, especially when I just want kids to READ, I was limiting them. Now, they can read anything that is appropriate at school. We do need to make time for their ‘grade-level’ reading but in the end, if they read, they improve at reading.

10. Show them the connection between reading and writing. In my class, we use writing every day to do this. They have become stronger readers and writers through the process. Those that struggled with reading out loud are getting stronger. They are recognizing errors in their writing, finding topics to write about because they have broader interests, trying new genres like poetry and non-fiction. They don’t have to write something every time they read but ask them to think about and share the connection they see between reading and writing.

My goal is for students to realize the amazing journeys they can have just from reading a book. We live in a digital age and yes, technology is essential and important. However, if we can get kids curled up with a good book, turning pages, reaching for the sequel, we are encouraging them to become stronger at a skill that is not only essential but can bring them endless enjoyment. Never underestimate the power of a great book.

Working with a Speech Delayed Child by Storytime Standouts

Posted on May 18th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

Since late winter, I have been working with a speech delayed child.

She is five years old and she will start kindergarten in September. Initially, I worked with her for one hour each week. After a month or so, her parents were delighted with her progress and they asked me to double the frequency of our sessions. Currently we meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for one hour.

Storytime Standouts shares suggestions for working with a Speech Delayed Child My goals in working with her are to (1) expand her vocabulary (2) increase her speech from one or two word answers to full sentences (3) improve her phonemic awareness (4) increase her understanding of concepts (i.e. opposites, positional words).

Initially our sessions included (1) a wordless picture book (2) nine words that are related to a theme (i.e. Bedtime) (3) a rebus poem / chant ( i.e. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star).

Now, our sessions also include (1) pictures of words that begin with the same sound (i.e. fish, flag, fingers, flower, five, fork) (2) concept books (3) puppets (4) stories for beginning readers (especially the Oxford Press Read At Home series)


So far, my sessions with my speech delayed student have included the following themes:

Birthdays, In the Neighbourhood, Valentine’s Day, Feelings, Weather, Clothing, Families, Farm, Bedtime, Music, Fruits and Vegetables, Colours, In the Kitchen, in the Bathroom, Toys and Counting. All of the themes are intended to introduce new and reinforce her existing vocabulary. Once the individual words are mastered, we add description: blue umbrella, brown blocks, green grass. image of words that begin with F used with a speech delayed child
More recently, we have added concepts to our sessions: Words that Are Opposites, Positional Words (in, beside, under, over, behind, in front of).

A typical session with my speech delayed student includes –

  • Chatting about a simple Wordless Picture Book. Breakfast with Jack created by Pat Schories has been a favourite.
  • Reviewing the vocabulary introduced in previous sessions. My young student proudly gives herself a “check” each time she correctly says a word.
  • Reviewing the rhymes and chants introduced in previous sessions. She tracks across each line, using rebus picture clues to ‘remember’ the words. She loves to ‘read’ Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Grandma’s Glasses all by herself.
  • Sorting pictures into words that begin with the /F/ sound, the /M/ sound, the /C/ sound and the /S/ sound.  I mix picture cards for two sounds, she sorts them and then we mix up two more sounds.

To further encourage speech, we play with puppets and we play Simon Says and we sing If You’re Happy and You Know It. My student loves to be Simon. She giggles and laughs as she tells me what to do.

I can’t tell you how rewarding it has been to work with this young girl.  Her vocabulary and her ability to converse has blossomed.  It has been so exciting to witness the transformation in this beautiful, funny, enthusiastic child.

Child Trying out for Rep Hockey? Tips for Hockey Parents

Posted on May 11th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


Child Trying Out For Rep Hockey - Storytime Standouts Shares 13 Tips

My youngest son has tried out for rep hockey for the past seven seasons. Here are my suggestions for families who are already thinking ahead to rep hockey tryouts…

  • Believe in your child and his/her ability to go through the rep hockey tryout process, accept the coaches’ decisions and keep working to improve (whether he/she makes the team or not). Your steadfast confidence in his/her resiliency will make a difference.
  • Will yourself to remain outwardly positive throughout the process. Notice your child’s effort, a great pass, his/her ability to do crossovers. You do not need to critique his/her tryout. Your job is to be a support team for your child.
  • The player who excels in Atom is not necessarily the player who will excel in Midget. Whether your child makes Atom A1 team or not, believe it. It is true and the same applies to PeeWee. The success a child enjoys initially may be fleeting and the disappointed child may one day be a 6’2″ star.
  • Keep in mind that the tryout process is stressful for the players, the parents and the coaches. No one likes to tell a nervous, possibly tearful ten-year-old that he won’t be on the team. No one likes to face the stares of annoyed parents. Encourage your child to understand this is difficult for everyone.
  • Check and double check your child’s hockey bag and make sure that everything that should be in there, is. Don’t let missing garments or equipment add to an already stressful situation.
  • If at all possible, avoid using brand new equipment for the tryout. Check that your child’s skates are the right size and that they are sharpened. If he/she is wearing new gear, get him/her used to it in a preseason conditioning camp or save the new elbow pads for mid September
  • Sharing tips for trying out for rep hockey

  • Remember water
  • Understand that there are many factors that go into a coach’s decision. The A1 coach does not necessary keep all of the best players. In minor hockey it is not unusual for some younger players to ‘make’ the team while an older (possibly more skilled player) gets ‘released.’
  • ‘Released’ players can be called back up and players who think they have ‘made the team’ can be released. Don’t assume anything, just encourage your child to continue doing his/her best.
  • Playing on an A2 or A3 team or going to ‘House’ is not necessarily a bad thing. Unless equal playing time is mandated, a third line player on the A1 team can see much less ice time than a first line player on an A2 team.
  • Be careful what you wish for. It is great to ‘make’ an A1 team but often there is more ‘drama’ on A1 teams and frequently the demands in terms of expense, travel and time commitment are much greater on an A1 team. On more than one occasion we have encountered situations where parents were thrilled to have their son/daughter make the A1 team and later wished he/she hadn’t.
  • Allow plenty of time for traffic and getting into gear. Remind your child, never be the last one onto the ice or the first one off. Avoid leaning on the boards.
  • Remember that your child is having an opportunity to tryout because of a huge team of dedicated volunteers. Be sure to take time to thank the folks who make minor hockey happen in your community. They are probably living at the rink during tryouts.


  • After reading my Tips for Hockey Parents, it may not surprise you to know, the first year of ‘rep’ hockey, my son played on an Atom A3 team. In his second year, he made it to the Atom A2 team. First year PeeWee, he made the A3 team and first year Bantam, he made the A2 team. Last season, he was a first year Midget player and he played on the Midget A1 team. He is determined, he has never given up and he works every day to become a better hockey player. My husband and I believe in him and we believe that all of his hard work and determination will be rewarded.

    It is a long road. Best of luck to you and your child. Remember to use these five words whenever possible, “I love watching you play.”

    Library Let Down ~You Had Your Chance, and You Blew It

    Posted on May 1st, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


    Storytime Standouts Shares Commentary About insensitivity Shown at a Public LibraryAlmost three weeks ago, I drove forty five minutes from my home and met up with my eighteen year old nephew. He had just disembarked from a forty minute ferry ride. Our purpose in meeting was to spend the day together and make progress with his online Communications 12 course work. My nephew is a remarkable young man. Orally, he uses words like ‘pristine’ and ‘colleagues’ but, when he comes to writing those words on paper or typing them into a computer, he is challenged. Working his way through Communications 12 has not been easy. It is not offered at his high school. He is forced to work independently, completing assignments online.

    When I say that graduating from Grade 12 in June will be a spectacular achievement and one that the entire family will celebrate joyfully, I really mean it.

    To my nephew’s enormous credit he has persevered with the online course and even came and stayed with me over Spring Break so we could work together on it. We managed to make a good deal of progress during Spring Break but there was still a long way to go. We decided to meet on a Monday.

    I drove to the ferry terminal and picked my nephew up. Because we needed WIFI and a place where we could optimize productivity, we drove to the nearest public library. It was not “my” public library nor was it “his” public library. It was the closest public library to the ferry terminal.

    Although I had been to this library previously, it is not one that I know well. When we arrived, we explored the first floor, looking for a suitable place to work together. There were “Quiet” rooms and individual study carrels but we didn’t find anything suitable for the two of us. We walked up the stairs and found the Children’s Section to our right and the Teen Room to our left. Just beyond the Teen Room, we could see a group of four people who occupied a glass-enclosed meeting room. The Teen Room was empty and we decided it would be a good place to open our laptops and get to work.

    We settled ourselves at a counter, signed into the WIFI and got started. It probably would not surprise you to know that the Teen Room was lovely and quiet on a Monday morning. In fact, the entire time we were in the Teen Room, we did not see another patron. We worked our way through a couple of Communications 12 assignments and were surprised when a librarian approached us and informed us that we were in “THE TEEN ROOM.” We explained that we knew we were in the Teen Room, that my nephew is 18 and that we were working on Communications 12. Seemingly satisfied, she left us.

    We got back to work and continued to make progress with his coursework. We were completely alone. Not one other person came into the Teen Room until, a half hour later, another librarian approached us. “This is The Teen Room,” she said. It was pretty clear that she knew we had already had a similar discussion, “We don’t allow anyone who is over 18 into this room. Not parents, not tutors.”

    It was not even worth mentioning that I am neither a parent nor my nephew’s tutor. I am just someone who loves him and will do anything to help him succeed. We were told to move downstairs or into the Children’s Section.

    We packed up the laptops and moved to the Children’s Section where preschool-aged children happily chattered about picture books and distracted an eighteen-year-old who was desperate to get as much work done as possible.

    I would not have minded being asked to move out of the Teen Room if either librarian had offered encouragement or support. In my opinion, rather than ensuring that no adult ever steps foot into an otherwise unoccupied Teen Room, librarians ought to be delivering a message of support: ‘We are here to help you,’ ‘If there is anything you need, please let us know,’ ‘Congratulations on your upcoming Graduation’ would all have been great messages under the circumstances.

    It may not be immediately apparent to a librarian, but my nephew’s upcoming graduation is a momentous, life-changing accomplishment that has been earned the hard way. The fact he is choosing to spend a day, holed up in the library, with his aunt is also awesome. You could have made that day brighter. You could have made that day more productive. You could have delivered a message of support. Instead, your disapproval was clear. Your lack of enthusiasm was clear. Your lack of interest in a young man who is admirably dealing with challenges you have never known was clear.

    Regrettably, I left feeling that I would rather not visit your library again. How sad.

    Our guest contributor asks, Is there such a thing as too much reading?

    Posted on April 1st, 2013 by Jody


    Our guest contributor asks, Is there such a thing as too much reading?  We all want to see our children reading. Even parents who don’t love to read, (such as my own dad who refuses to) like to see their children enjoying reading. We know that it’s part of what makes us successful in life. Reading and comprehension open not only figurative doors, but literal ones as well. Having your child be able to read and understand what they are reading is a necessity. However, having your child read just for pleasure and the magic it provides, is a gift. As much as we try or don’t try, we can’t always determine whether our children will love the act of reading; of falling so far into a story that you feel like you’re part of it.



    What if, however, your child is falling so far into the story that they refuse to come out of it. For those of you that struggle to get your children to read their 15 minutes a night, this might not sound like a problem. However, I’m facing a dilemna that I don’t know how to solve. My husband, myself, and our children LOVE to read. We read constantly. Both of our children read far above their grade level and while I would love to say that’s our influence, (and, in part, it might be) I don’t think that’s the only factor. I say that because I know parents who foster a love of reading and it’s still a chore to get their kids to read. So, I’m very grateful that my children love their books. They are more likely to choose a book for a long car ride than their iPods. They’d like the iPods too, but are content with a pile of books. So how can this become a problem?

    This morning, my oldest daughter, who is caught deep in the trenches of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Lightning Thief saga, came downstairs, hugged me, went straight to the couch and crawled back into her book. When we spoke to her, she didn’t hear us (most likely because of how loud the cyclops and strange animals in the book are), when her sister asked her to play, Polly Pockets seemed a ridiculous choice over the half man-half dog that she was reading about. When we made her put down the book, she was less than impressed, in the way only a preteen, emotional girl can be.

    Cover art for The Lightning Thief

    Now I’m hovering between pride, that she loves this book so much, and irritation because she won’t do anything else. I felt absolutely ridiculous telling her to put down her book and spend time with her family. I told my husband that I felt like I was punishing her for reading, which is the very last thing I want to do. How can I be irritated that she’s reading?

    Then I started to think about the books that I have on the go; several, as always because I can’t read one thing at a time. Also, I currently have two manuscripts I’m working on open on my computer. I’ve got cleaner on the table because my plan is to spend some, much needed time cleaning. There are waffles on the counter because my youngest was desperate to have them. It would have been nice to stayed tucked up on the couch reading my own book, but the youngest is rather persistent. The point is, even though we want them to love reading and know that it will give them so much pleasure as they get older, balance is still the key. We have to still be able to attend to our lives, even in the midst of a great book.Reading and Comprehension open not only figurative doors but literal ones as well.

    I understand my daughter’s obsession very well; she gets it from me. When I get into a book, reading or writing, it can consume me. If my characters are unhappy, my mood is affected. Likewise, if they are happy, so am I. It’s wonderful to feel this much a part of a book and a great cudos to an author that they brought you into their world so completely. Still, we cannot forget the world around us that inspires and creates these stories. We cannot lose ourselves so completely that we miss out on what is right in front of us. It bothers me to tell my kids to put down a book but I have to sometimes, the same way I’d tell them to put down their DS or iPod. Okay, maybe not the same way; I’m far more likely to let hours go by just reading than I would be to let hours go by on the electronics. All the same, the world is still going on around us and it is very easy to forget when we aren’t paying attention.

    I don’t think I’ve solved my quandry because I still feel both guilty and justified over making her put down the book. Plus, now I have to see what’s got her so hooked. She has not loved a set of books like this since Harry Potter. Anyone who knows how obsessed my daughter has been with Harry Potter knows: that is saying something. She has decided that Rick Riordin is her favourite author and is reading anything she can get her hands on by him. She talks about his characters as though I’ve read every page with her; she starts telling me about something and only when she mentions half-animal bodies do I realize she’s not telling me something about her friends at school. She is IN those books. I love that; more than I can possibly say. But I still need her to be IN our life; playing with her sister, helping around the house, laughing and talking with us, and being a part of our day.

    I suppose, like anything else, we have to teach her how to employ that balance. If the author didn’t come up for air sometimes, hadn’t had the experiences he did, if he hadn’t loved mythology, or had a desire to share stories with his own kids, she wouldn’t be reading these books that have her so captivated. Living our lives is what makes for great stories. While it’s an amazing treasure to get lost in the stories that someone else has created, we have to remind ourselves that real life is pretty cool too.

    Percy Jackson and the Olympians website

    The Lightning Thief at Amazon.com

    The Lightning Thief at Amazon.ca


    Speech Delay and ESL – Making Progress With My Student

    Posted on March 27th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


    Speech Delay and ESL, Reading Breakfast for Jack and Making Progress With My StudentFor the past six weeks, I have been working with a four year old girl who is learning English as a second language and who has a speech delay. We meet once each week for one hour.

    I have been using a variety of materials and techniques to support her learning. Today I thought I would highight a few of them.

    Wordless Picture Books
    During each of our sessions, we read one or two wordless picture books. These are books that have little or no text. Readers use picture clues to decide what is happening in the story. Wordless picture books invite discussion because, as you turn the pages, the story unfolds and there is plenty of opportunity for meaningful talk.

    Although we have read several wordless picture books together, Breakfast for Jack has been our favourite. The book is a good size for sharing one on one. The story is relatively simple and yet the illustrator has included many interesting details. It is morning, the sun is rising. Jack wakes up and stretches. Soon Boy is awake. He and Jack go downstairs. Boy feeds the black and grey cat but, each time he starts to get Jack’s breakfast, he is distracted. Poor Jack is very hungry.

    When my young student and I first started reading Breakfast for Jack together, she was only able to talk about small snippets of the story because of her speech delay and limited vocabulary. Now she explains that Jack is orange and white, the cat is black and grey, Boy wears purple pyjamas. We talk about the family’s breakfast of toast and cereal. We also talk about the cat enjoying a bowl of milk and then snoozing under the telephone table.

    Breakfast for Jack is engaging. The illustrations ensure that the reader understands exactly what is happening. The story and illustrations draw young readers in and keep those same readers involved in telling the story.

    Puppets
    Since Breakfast for Jack has become a favourite, last week I added dog finger puppets to our session. You may be aware that hand puppets and finger puppets are frequently used for play therapy because children often feel safe using a puppet to express themselves. In working with a child with a speech delay, it seems very logical to include puppets and encourage her to play with them. On Thursday, our three little dogs played together, they talked and raced at the park.

    Illustrated Vocabulary
    Keeping in mind that my student is not only dealing with a speech delay, she is also learning English as a second language. Each week I prepare one page of vocabulary that is related to a theme. The page introdues nine words that are illustrated and related by theme. We have done ‘Weather Words,’ ‘Things Families Do,’ ‘Clothing Words,’ ‘In My Neighbourhood,’ ‘Valentine’s Day,’ etc. We review all of the vocabulary each week. As well, she reviews the vocabulary at home each week. Her progress with these words has been quite dramatic.

    Rebus Poems
    Each week we add a new rebus poem to our program. Usually the poem is related to the vocabulary we are learning. For example, when I introduced ‘Weather Words,’ I created a rebus version of ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ When I introduced ‘Things Families Do,’ we learned ‘Grandma’s Glasses.’ I like using rebus poems with young children very much. We track the text with our fingers (reinforcing that we read left to right and top to bottom). When reading rebus poems, we use picture clues to help us remember the poem / chant, we hear rhyming and we learn new vocabulary.

    My young student’s mom and I are thrilled with the progress she has made to date. She is an enthusiastic learner and she is happy to enjoy stories, chants and learning new words. Next week, I will write again about our session together.

    Breakfast for Jack at Amazon.com

    Breakfast for Jack at Amazon.ca

    Spring Break and Winter Break – An opportunity for homework?

    Posted on January 10th, 2013 by Carolyn Hart


    Spring Break and Winter Break - Should they be an opportunity for homework?

    Last year we visited the Mohave Desert on Spring Break

    My sons’ school district is currently conducting a survey about Spring Break and whether it should be two weeks (or one). This year and last, the students have been afforded a two week Spring Break. When the change to the school calendar was initially approved, it was subject to review every two years.

    I completed the school district survey. I love spending time with my kids and I feel that we usually manage to use these breaks well. I am solidly in favor of a two week Spring Break.

    After answering three “yes” and “no” questions, I was asked if I wanted to share any comments. Those who know me well will understand that I could not let an opportunity to express my opinion pass. This is what I said about homework assignments while high school students are on Winter Break and Spring Break:

    I would like to point out that “Winter Break” and “Spring Break” should be considered “breaks” for students as well as for administrative and teaching staff. I do not expect my children’s teachers to be working during these breaks. Having said that, I feel strongly that these breaks ought to actually be breaks from school work for my children. My eldest works (almost full time) when he is not in school and my younger son is involved in Rep hockey. Neither boy benefits from homework assignments over so-called breaks. “Winter Break” and “Spring Break” homework assignments create pressure and defeat the purpose of taking a break.

    It is one thing to ask students to do reading while on holiday – mine would do that anyway – but asking for lengthy reading responses is ridiculous and counter-productive. One does not instill a love of reading by forcing students to write responses after every chapter they read. For goodness sake, just let them read for pleasure and have a break from “making connections” and analyzing everything they read.

    My eldest son had a group project to work on over Winter Break. Fortunately for him and his group, we had not planned an out of town holiday. I do, however, wonder what might have happened if we had gone away for two weeks. Would he have lost marks? Or, would his group have had to do his share of the work?

    We never “waste” breaks from school. We travel to interesting places, we like to go to the theatre or sporting events and we enjoy family time together. Teachers do not need to add onerous homework assignments to the mix.

    I would be interested to know your thoughts on whether students should be given homework assignments to complete on Winter Break and/or Spring Break.

    A new year to set an example in my classroom

    Posted on January 7th, 2013 by Jody


    I always feel some apprehension when returning to the classroom after a break. I wonder how I’ll go back to planning lessons, implementing them, assessing student growth, understanding, and engagement. I think about what I haven’t taught yet (a lot) and what I have. I ask myself what it is I really want the students to know. Then, because thinking about all of this causes apprehension, I distract myself by reading online, playing on my iPad, or writing. Over the break, I have read a variety of truly awesome articles and blogs. Fantastic words by a selection of online and print authors, by psychologists, teachers, and parents.

    Don't Give Me That Attitude - Storytime Standouts' guest contributor explains how she will set an example in her classroomI have spent most of my life writing in some form or another. It’s my outlet, solace, hobby, one of my very favorite things to do. Yet, after reading some of these articles, I was truly enlightened. I read about writing and publishing, about motivation, engagement, and other topics that I feel like I should be somewhat of an “expert” in. After all, I teach with the intention of motivation and engagement. Also, I write constantly and have published numerous online articles so one would think, that I have some prior knowledge and understanding. And I do. However, I’ve barely scratched the surface. The common thread in the articles I read was that you can always be better. You can edit more, add more, do more, learn more; always. This morning, while on Twitter, scanning more blogs and articles, I came across a quote from Jim Henson, tweeted by Dr. Michele Borba. For those of you that don’t know her, she is a psychologist, an author, an educator and an expert. Of all of the experts I’ve explored since I picked up my first What to Expect When You’re Expecting, she has been my go to in the classroom and my home. Her books, and now her blogs and posts, make me feel like not only am I normal but for all those things that feel overwhelming, there are solutions. My admiration of her is making me digress but I strongly recommend her to any parent, educator, or person who has social interactions.

    The quote was this: [Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. (Jim Henson). She then adds that ‘how you live [your] life is the best kid lesson.

    This is how I will ease my apprehension about returning to the classroom tomorrow. I will remember that kids learn best from the examples they see. This means the good and the bad. By being my best, I encourage them to be their best. That means I have to be ready to learn, grow, and adapt, just as I expect them to. I need to show them that just because we feel like we are really good at something, we always have room for improvement. Likewise, I have to model feeling good about the successes that I have but show them that even so-called experts are always growing and learning and that is what makes them stronger in their fields. As well, I have to show them how I am accountable for the mistakes I make if I want them to step up when they make mistakes. I have to show them it’s okay to make mistakes (I show them this quite often). I have to remember that five years from now, those same kids are unlikely to recall which novels I read them but hopefully, they will remember how we worked together as a class to make our school and the world a better place. I think what we often forget is that we are teaching people, not curriculum. The content of what we teach our kids is not as important as our delivery. Are we teaching them strategies to apply to reading problems in later grades? Are we teaching them how to deal with the first bully they meet in the workplace? Have we taught them how to put others first but know when to step up for ourselves? Have we taught them to not only accept others as they are but themselves as well? There’s so much more to teaching our children and our students than just making sure we’ve loaded them with specific knowledge. As parents and educators, we teach them to greet the world, face challenges, and be a positive member of society.

    As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ve increased or decreased my apprehension. It seems a tall order to fill and there’s the risk of mistakes. But, as I will tell them, we’ll all do the very best we can, for ourselves and for others. We’ll try to remember that people will remember US, not the books we read. They will remember how we, as people, impacted their lives. Hopefully, that impact will have been genuine and positive.

    Happy New Year everyone!

    Interviews with Two Reluctant Readers by our Guest Contributor

    Posted on December 10th, 2012 by Jody


    Interviews with Two Reluctant Readers by our Guest ContributorThis year, I have a few students who don’t love to read. They and their parents have been honest about this. Of course, when a nine or ten-year-old tells me they don’t like to read, I wonder “How is that possible?” For those of us who love to read, or find it easy, it seems impossible. It’s not; if reading is difficult for you, it becomes a chore. For parents, it becomes an argument with your kids because you know they need to be reading, but it’s hard to make them. Over the years, the students in my class that haven’t enjoyed reading are not being denied the opportunity to read. They have access to books, loving parents (who enjoy reading and model it), they live in print-rich environments, and have capable oral language skills. So, it is not for any of these reasons, necessarily, that they have become reluctant readers.

    Engaging students in conversation is a very simple and easy way to learn more about them. They like conversing with their teacher; telling stories and sharing information. I asked two of my reluctant readers ten questions on Friday.

    1. Did you like reading when you started the school year?

    2. Why or why not?

    3. Do you like reading now, at least more than you did? Why or why not?

    4. What makes you not like a book?

    5. What makes you like a book?

    6. Do you think reading is important?

    7. Why or why not?

    8. What makes you stop reading a book?

    9. What makes you not want to put a book down?

    10. Do you have any particular books you enjoy?

    I asked this of one boy and one girl who I knew had some reading struggles but in the past month have increased their time spent reading considerably.

    The answers were surprisingly similar. Obviously, the sample size is small and the conditions are not “test worthy” but I found the results made me wonder “Are they really reluctant?”Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Interviews Reluctant Readers

    1. They both admitted to not liking reading in September. It wasn’t something they wanted to do when they had free time.

    2. Answers ranged from it wasn’t fun to it was boring.

    3. In the last month, they have both started to enjoy reading and said it was because they’d found books that they liked and enjoyed.

    4. A book disengages them when the story isn’t good or it’s hard to follow. If they aren’t interested in the topic, they don’t want to read it.

    5. Much like myself, one of the first things that draw them is the cover. Then the story and what’s inside. Are there graphics? Is it fast-paced? Is it funny?

    6/7. They both agreed that reading is important because you learn things and need to do it for school. Sadly, neither of them said that it’s important because it can transport you to a new world or because it can change the way you look at someone or something. Or because it is important to do things you enjoy. We’ll get there.

    8. A boring plot line and a lot of words are enough to make them silent stare rather than silent read.

    9. They both found books that appealed to them individually, which revealed a bit about who they are. The boy loves hockey and has recently discovered books like Rink Rats. The girl is a curious sort (though she’ll admit to the term ‘snoopy’) and has begun reading through Carolyn Keen’s graphic novel version of Nancy Drew. She has read seven in the last two months. This is proof that we read what appeals to us as people; what compels us personally.

    10. As mentioned, books on hockey, mysteries, and graphic novels are on the list. Books that are long can be intimidating. A series, such as Nancy Drew, keep them hooked because they know there’s more on a character they’ve already connected with.

    It’s not exactly a research-based understanding of what makes kids turn away from or toward reading, but it gave me valuable information. I don’t want to overwhelm them. I gauge their reactions and am honest about it being okay to not have a book appeal to you. I share my own reading struggles (I read painfully slowly) and tell them what makes me want to read. I know, now, that I’ve opened a doorway and we need to go through it now, while they’re engaged.

    How does this transfer to reading the science textbook and getting valuable information? If they’re reading for their enjoyment, they’re reading! They’re practising and decoding and comprehending. This is powerful and will eventually transfer. In addition, the skills we learn as readers (to question, predict and connect) will hopefully transfer too. Once they are not stalled at the actual process of reading, they are free to move forward, enjoy, and learn.

     

     

     

    Our School Book Fair – A winning opportunity

    Posted on December 2nd, 2012 by Jody


    Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Shares Her Experiences With a School Book Fair

    Today was the end of the Book Fair at our school. I love the Book Fair (perhaps a little too much). I love walking in and just browsing the tables, running my hand over the covers (I’m sure the librarian loves that), reading the backs of the novels, flipping through the picture books, and seeing all of the different books, just sitting there, waiting to be chosen.

    I had already made several purchases this week and had promised myself I would not buy any more. Luckily, I was able to keep that promise because at the end of every book fair, one student wins $25.00 worth of books for their family and $25.00 worth of books for their classroom. That student was in my class this year.

    I’m sure it was mostly amusing to the students to see how excited I was over the books, but it was genuine, so it’s okay. Winning something always feels good; winning books felt great. I took two students with me and we chose a ‘boy book’, a ‘girl book’ and a ‘class book’. Truthfully, I think all three books will be enjoyed, regardless of gender. It was very gratifying to have students pick out books they thought we’d all like. Was it just the cover that appealed? Was it the synopsis? The author? In the end, I think it was a combination. An inviting cover always gets your attention. A good summary of what the book is about will make you want to know more.

    Cover art for Genius FilesWe chose Line Change by W.C. Mack, The Genius Files by Dan Gutman and Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Having two students help me choose made me realize how much they are learning about each other. It’s one thing for me to know them and find ways to help them achieve success, but it was very powerful for me to realize that they know their classmates as well. They chose Line Change because they know a couple of the boys are reluctant readers but love hockey. They chose Breadcrumbs because they thought we might all enjoy it as a teacher read aloud. We also started learning about fables and morals in fairytales today so it was very fitting (Breadcrumbs starts with Hazel and Jack, best friends, who meet some trouble in the woods. It is based on a Hans Christian Anderson story). The Genius Files was a rather amusing pick; it does sound like a funny story but really, they chose it because the main characters are named Pepsi and Coke. I may have a slight addiction to Diet Pepsi that my students like to tease me about. They decided it was a must have for our class. I guess they know their teacher pretty well too.

    Cover art for BreadcrumbsBack in the class, we excitedly shared our choices. The student who actually won, shared his $25.00 with his brother. This boy had fun picking out his book, even though reading might not be his top choice activity because he was caught up in the class excitement. Both he and his younger brother chose a novel and some fun scholastic trinkets.

    So, because of my natural enthusiasm for 1) winning anything and 2)  reading, the students had the opportunity to get caught up in the simple pleasure of books. They took part in adding to our classroom library after considering our class needs. As most of the class had to stay behind while we visited the Book Fair, I left with the expectation that I would return to a quiet room. A bit surprisingly (they’re ten-year-olds), I did! They were quiet, and patiently, waiting to find out what we bought. I know that on Monday, when the students who were away today return, they will relive that enthusiasm and want to share our new books.

    It’s good for kids to see us enjoy something and be excited. Having it be related to reading is a bonus.

     

    A reader’s dream…the Surrey International Writer’s Conference

    Posted on October 21st, 2012 by Jody

    Imagine if you didn’t just love to wrap yourself up in a book and all of its characters; imagine if you loved the simple look and presence of books; if you loved the different sizes and shapes and the different graphics on the covers. If you just loved the feel of sliding your hand over a brand new cover.

    I’ve missed these things because I am bound to my Kindle. And I do LOVE my kindle. It’s got just as many positives for reading as my library of books, but because I spend so much time reading it, I forgot the simple pleasure of walking amongst stacks of books. I relived that pleasure this weekend at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. But there’s a second part to the amazing dream I described above; what if, surrounded by these books you love, you were also surrounded by the authors who wrote them? Well, that was just over-the-top incredible. Truly. I sat across the room from Diana Gabdalon, Chris Humphreys, Michael Slade, and Sam Sykes. I walked by and got to smile and head nod at Eileen Cook, Sean Cranbury, and Linda Gerber. I got to sit down and talk to and share work with Tanya Lloyd Kyi, whose books I had not read but bought two of before the end of the day. I got to shake hands with literary agent Michael Carr and talk with Carly Watters. As I said, it was a reader’s, but also a writer’s, dream.

    What amazed me, as I wandered past the various tables and sat waiting my turn in a room full of authors, agents, and publishers, was that I don’t read nearly as much as I thought I did. I’m a 3-4 books at a time kind of reader; I can’t help it. I currently have 5 books on the go. I jump back and forth and depending on my mood, might even backtrack and reread a favourite in the middle of all of these. Fair to say, I read a lot. And despite popular opinion, I read a wide variety of genres. But looking around the conference, seeing all of these authors or the lists of authors to later appear, I realized how much is truly out there. There were, literally, dozens of authors I had not heard of before. Prior to this weekend, I felt like I had a good grasp of current authors and the latest fiction; our librarian introduces new books several times a month. I expect there to be many authors and books I’m unaware of in different genres, but since I spend a fair amount of time immersed in fiction for children and young adults, I was blindsided by how much more there is available.

    Attending professional development workshops is an important part of being a better teacher; staying current and being on top of what propels student success is vital. Sometimes you walk away from a conference with useful strategies and tips for the classroom or ideas on how to further engage your students. Even if it adds one small positive to your teaching, it is time well spent. For me, this weekend was incredibly valuable but one of best parts is knowing how much MORE there is for the kids. Reluctant readers, powerful readers, and those in between have so many more choices than I ever could have imagined. It goes beyond our school library and the Scholastic catalogue and it’s important for us, as teachers, parents, and as readers, to know what is out there.

    What I will take back to my classroom next week, is the new author I had the pleasure of speaking with, Tanya Lloyd Kyi. As I browsed the stacks of books, several of her titles caught my eye; Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood, 50 Underwear Questions, 50 Poisonous Questions
    and Rescues! (True Stories from the Edge). Blood, underwear, poison, and danger? That’s right up the alley of a fifth grade boy. The boys in my class will be happy to learn about the first autopsies performed and the girls will enjoy the graphics and facts in 50 Poisonous Questions. They will be excited, once again, to get their hands on new books, by a new author, and for a little while, they will forget reluctance or the idea of ‘having to read’ and just lose themselves in stories and facts and fascinating tidbits of information. They will get lost in a book and really, what could be better?

    Another new start… introducing different styles of writing, authors, genres

    Posted on October 9th, 2012 by Jody

    Still searching for “my” reluctant reader this year…but I have a plan

    Unbelievably, we are already six weeks into another school year. I enjoyed writing Journey of a Reluctant Reader last year, but like to switch things up. I am still looking for “my” reluctant reader this year, but so far, seem to have a very enthusiastic class when it comes to reading (even if I happen to be teaching at the time).

    After a great workshop by Cindy Strickland last summer, I used Reading and Writing Bingo in my classroom last year. I used it term by term and the students had a goal to work toward. This year, I am focusing on the Reading Bingo as a preemptive strike against anyone showing signs of becoming a reluctant reader. Each of the Bingo squares has a specific reading goal that, when met, will introduce the students to different types of writing, different authors, and different genres. For example, some of the goals include reading a novel by Andrew Clements (that you have not read before), or reading a book of poetry by Shel Silverstein. The goal is to expose the kids to new styles and authors that they may not have tried otherwise.

    Introducing different styles of writing, authors, genres in the middle gradesAnd yes, my preemptive strike involves bribes. We all work a little harder with incentives and I see nothing wrong with showing appreciation for hard work in different ways. So for one Bingo line (which is necessary for their reading marks for each term) they receive a small prize from the prize bin. For an X, they receive a “get out of one assignment free” card. For a 7, they get a Scholastic book. What surprised me, and pleased me, was that when I asked the kids what they thought would be an awesome reward if anyone got a Blackout, they didn’t say Slurpees or movie days. Instead, they suggested that if they get a Blackout, they get three more of the prizes they already received. So if a student does get a Blackout, they basically get 2 prize bin items, 2 get out of one assignment cards, and 2 books from Scholastic.

    I’ll see how this works this year and maybe do it again, or maybe not. What I love is that the kids (and I know there’s at least one reluctant reader there, even if they’re quiet about it) are already excited about reading. They know they have to read, most of them love to read, but those that need a little nudge will be more inclined to do so, even if it’s just to achieve the line. Those that are enthusiastic about reading by default, have the added opportunity and challenge of working toward a harder goal, like the Blackout.

    My focus this year is getting the kids to understand themselves and their own learning. This will be a great opportunity for me and the students to see what motivates them. We are all motivated by something. Intrinsic motivation is essential and I am in no way suggesting reward for meeting expectations, but I think that extrinsic motivation has its place as well. I’m going to make them read. They know this. I’m going to make them do Math and Science, tests, reports, and research. They will do this because they undersand their jobs as students. But if providing a bit of fun, entertainment, or challenge gets them reading even more, perhaps their journey will be one with less reluctance and more enjoyment.

    Jody Discovers Story People by Brian Andreas

    Posted on September 22nd, 2012 by Jody


    Jody Discovers Story People by Brian Andreas

    On a trip through an airport, Jody discovers the work of Brian Andreas and his Story People

    While passing time at the Sea-Tac airport, I wandered into one of those everything-and-then-some stores. In between the hand-crafted cards, joke gifts, and eclectic jewelry, an interesting and colorful print caught my eye. Really, it seemed more like a scrawled version of a stick person. But it was the words that accompanied the image that grabbed me. It said:

    I read once that the ancient Egyptians had fifty words for sand & the Eskimos had a hundred words for snow. I wish I had a thousand words for love, but all that comes to mind is the way you move against me while you sleep & there are no words for that.

    Just like that, I was fascinated. Along with dozens of prints, all showing oddly shaped figures and sketches and sharing beautiful words, there were books. I had never heard of the author, Brian Andreas before. Flipping through his books, I was amazed at the power of his words and the fact that he could be so moving without truly defining characters. Somehow, without even giving them names and using, what seem like, pieces of conversation, he pulls you in and makes you feel like someone understands. I used all of my “mommy-needs-a-few-minutes-to-look-around-by-herself” time standing at that small shelf reading everything I could and trying to decide which print was my favourite. It’s not often you can read a few paragraphs that have the power to make your heart skip or your eyes tear; well, for most people, anyway.

    As I read these little snippets of conversation between unidentified characters, I felt completely drawn in and captured by them. Some of the conversations had an almost “Time Traveller’s Wife” feel to them. Then there are sketches that accompany the words; sketches that should be amusing, but with the words, just seem beautiful. There’s so many times in life, as kids and adults, that we feel alone, that people don’t ‘get it’. It’s part of what makes a good book so important~connecting to characters makes us feel validated, understood, accepted, and “normal”. Reading through Mr. Andreas’ book Trusting Souls, I felt that way. It was so compelling that I bought it for my husband, who I’m sure would have rather had something else, from another store entirely. However, sometimes someone else has already written the words we feel we can’t express properly. When that happens, as adults and as children, it matters. It stays with us.

    On his website, Mr. Andreas says “we are all story people”. I like that. Because we are. We’re all just trying to do our best, make connections, and make sense of what we see and think and feel.

    His books and prints show the power words can have and I think that, in the classroom, that’s a strong message. Words matter. How we say them or write them or think them. The words we hear or see can leave a lasting impression on us. This is why it’s important to choose wisely what we say and what we read.

    Here are a few pieces that will stay with me; that matter:

    “Is there a lot of things you don’t understand? she said and I said pretty much the whole thing and she nodded and said that’s what she thought but it was nice to hear it anyway and we sat there in the porch swing, listening to the wind and growing up together”

    With this phrase, he draws an interesting picture and scribbles that it is a “doorway that only lets some stuff through, but you never know what it’s going to choose so it’s hard to plan for the future”.
    “Remember to use positive affirmations. I am not a dork is not one of them.”

    This one is called “Anxiety Break”:

    “things have been going so well that she’s taking an anxiety break to keep centered”

    One more, from “Mostly True” :

    “We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.”

    Story People at Amazon.com

    Story People at Amazon.ca

    Trusting Soul at Amazon.com

    Trusting Soul at Amazon.ca

    Mostly True at Amazon.com

    Mostly True at Amazon.ca

    Young Adult Fiction Today – Different worlds…or not?

    Posted on July 21st, 2012 by Jody


    Storytime Standouts' Guest Contributor Looks at the Morbid Storylines in Young Adult Fiction

    I brought home 5 young adult fiction books from the Scholastic Book Fair to read this summer. It is always difficult to make a choice and I could easily get into serious financial trouble if given free rein in a book store. But since I’m fairly fond of my marriage, I limited myself. While making my choices, I was struck by the rather morbid story lines.

    The selections included plots that dealt with the afterlife, ghosts, sibling deaths, parent deaths, autism, disease and similar horrible afflictions and topics you can think of. Most of the books sounded excellent, despite the rather grave subjects. More than that, the books were definitely capturing interest; many of my students chose stories that I had decided against because I wanted something lighter.



    Young Adult Fiction title Heaven by V.C. AndrewsI started thinking that maybe we shouldn’t be exposing the students, our kids, to these topics. I don’t really want my daughter reading or asking about the afterlife, wondering what terrorism is, or thinking about the dangers that exist for kids trying to find themselves in middle school. It’s one of those balance issues again because if my kids ask me about things, I’d rather be honest. I don’t want them completely unaware or in the dark, but a little unaware until they’re older seems okay with me. But most kids aren’t; unaware that is. They have access to far more information through social media and technology than I ever did at the same age.

    Young Adult Fiction title Sweet Valley HighIt was this thought that made me think about what I was reading at their age. Surely it wasn’t about disease, terror, and end of the world chaos! I had to have been reading something that protected my unjaded 12 year old view of life. Only it wasn’t. I didn’t watch the news or have access to high speed internet at 12 so maybe I wasn’t as “aware” as kids are today. However, I was reading Heaven by V.C. Andrews and vividly remember reading it over and over again. No terrorism there. Just a girl growing up dirt poor, in a shack, hated by the father that eventually sells her, forcing her to go out into the world and discover the truth about her past. Nope. No terrorism there. Of course, I was also reading Sweet Valley High. What could be more innocent than Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield? The perfect Wakefield twins and their friends who experienced drugs, death, kidnapping, and a whole host of other over the top tragedies. I say that fondly, as I remember being completely addicted to the series. Just as, I would imagine, today’s young adults are addicted to the engaging plots and twists found in Hunger Games, Speak, Twilight, Abandon, Sold, Stargirl, Slob, and so many other well-written, attention-grabbing, heart-twisting young adult fiction titles on the best sellers list.

    I didn’t take enough Psychology courses to truly dissect why, as both kids and adults, we are  drawn to stories that present that edge of darkness. Having said that, you don’t need Psychology courses to recognize that each of these books have common elements. The main characters are flawed, allowing the audience to connect with them. The crisis or darkness that each of them must confront seems overwhelming but they manage. They don’t escape the darkness without scars but are stronger for what they have faced. They aren’t perfect, but they survive. So maybe, the solace we all find in the dark is actually hope. Hope that we are strong enough to face what comes our way. Strong enough to be the people we want to be, despite the obstacles in our way.

    In light of recent real-world tragedies, it seems to me that hope is never a bad thing. We can’t control real life and we can’t predict the outcome. But there’s a comfort in knowing that when the darkness comes in the book, somehow everything will be okay. I wish we could make the same assurances in life. I wish that in life, like in books, we knew, in the end, that the boy will get the girl, justice will be served, and good will trump bad. But life’s not like that. And sometimes, the only way to deal with that reality is to fall into a good book, with amazing characters that maybe remind you a little of yourself, and know that, in the end, things will work out.

    Artificial Food Dyes, Behavior and My Son – Dealing with Intolerance

    Posted on July 3rd, 2012 by Carolyn Hart


    Artificial Food Dyes, behavior and my son - StorytimeStandouts.com





    Carolyn shares details of her son’s sensitivity to artificial food dyes

    About five years ago, I managed to figure out what was “wrong” with my youngest son. Some of the time he was a happy, relatively polite, relatively well-behaved, active kid but (and this was a huge issue), some of the time he was unpleasant, miserable and defiant.

    We were at a loss to understand what was happening with him. It was completely illogical and sometimes scary. Frankly, at times, my husband and I worried it was a mental health issue. We consulted our family doctor and attended family counseling.

    After one particularly miserable evening, I sat at my computer and started searching “kids and anger”. I think the first website that gave me hope was that of The Feingold Association of the United States. My son’s symptoms couldn’t be described as ADHD but there seemed to be “overlap” in some of their descriptions and our experiences.

    Anyhow, we decided to try a one week elimination diet. We removed all coal tar food dyes from the foods he ate. Although we had planned to experiment for seven days, we knew in three or four that we had identified and solved the problem. He was a completely different boy when not consuming artificial food dyes – especially those derived from coal tar.

    Now, fourteen years old, happy and healthy, he does not eat any artificial food dyes derived from coal tar or petroleum and he also avoids Annatto (which is technically considered “natural”).

    Artificial Food Dyes and How they can impact childrenRed dye derived from coal tar can be called Red Dye 40, Red Dye #40 or Allura Red. In addition to eliminating Red Dye #40 from his diet, my son also avoids Yellow Dye #5 (also known as Tartrazine) and Blue Dye #1 and #2.

    Basically, if a food, medicine, toothpaste or beverage has an artificial dye or Annatto as an ingredient, he does not ingest it.

    Interestingly, after we figured his intolerance out, we had one professional say to us that kids who are sensitive to artificial food dyes are likely very sensitive to alot of things. It is part of their “make up.”

    On the “good news” front, the issue of sensitivity to color is now much better known than it was five years ago. President’s Choice (Real Canadian Superstore) has recently announced that they are eliminating artificial dyes from their products by the end of this year. McCain also seems to be moving in this direction. Some products, especially in the United States are now specifically labeled “No Artificial Colors.”

    We have also discovered a few rather interesting differences between Canadian and American products. Miracle Whip produced in Canada has artificial food dye in it, American Miracle Whip does not. Jug chocolate milk, sold in Canada, has artificial food dye in it, American jug chocolate milk usually does not.

    We don’t trust anything – we have found artificial dyes in vanilla ice cream, in chocolate pudding, in French fries, in cheese, in salad dressing and in snack crackers. I read every label before I put a product into my shopping cart or before he eats it. We have even asked to see labels when eating in restaurants.

    We are very fortunate because he is equally committed to avoiding the artificial food dyes. He never asks to eat anything with dye even when tempted by cupcakes decorated with sprinkles or the cherry on top of a milkshake. Obviously, artificial food dyes and Annatto make him feel terrible.

    There is not a day that goes by without me feeling grateful that we solved the mystery of my son’s behavior. What once seemed illogical and frightening is now completely understood and avoidable. We wonder, how many other children and their families are unknowingly dealing with sensitivities like his. We wonder how many children are having difficulty sleeping or managing their anger because something they ate was made to look “pretty” by adding an artificial food dye. This desire to create a more attractive food at less cost is unnecessary and is hurting our children. I continue to advocate for (at minimum) better food labeling but I would much prefer an outright ban of coal tar based artificial food dyes.

    Some products we purchase (in Canada) because they don’t include artificial food dyes or Annatto:

    Cavendish Farms frozen potatoes, Fanta soft drinks, Colgate regular toothpaste, (some) Sudafed cold tablets, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes but not Kellogg’s Vector (seems crazy), Smarties, Bryers’ Natural Ice Cream, Powerade Clear and Kirkland Organic Chocolate Milk, available at Costco.

    Our Artificial Dye Pinterest Board

    Websites with helpful information about Artificial Dyes and Behavior

    Red Dye 40

    Center for Science in the Public Interest – Urges FDA to Ban Artificial Food Dyes

    Artificial Dyes and Behavior on YouTube

    Tiffany Kenney’s report

    I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. It is one that I am passionate about.


    Middle Grade Students and the Power of Poetry

    Posted on June 7th, 2012 by Jody


    The Power of Poetry - Storytime Standouts Guest Contributor writes about exploring poetry with middle grade students

    Storytime Standouts’ guest contributor writes about exploring poetry with her grade five students.





    I often save Poetry until the end of the school year. The students have learned the mechanics of writing at this point; form, conventions, organization. Poetry allows them to start adding voice to their writing and I want to send them to grade six ready to use that skill. Though I focused on writing about reluctant readers this year, I actually have more reluctant writers. They are hesitant to justify, embellish, or go out on a limb with their writing. I’m glad that I didn’t forgo Poetry this time, in light of that. I can teach metaphors, similes, and idioms without teaching Haiku and Limericks, but generally, pairing the instruction makes it more engaging. I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm for their Poetry projects, which I suppose, I shouldn’t have been. Through Poetry, the students can express themselves in a very unique way. They have to conform their own work to the “types” of poetry they were learning, but essentially, the topic, the ideas, the tone, and the message are theirs. It’s not a Science Report or a Socials Essay. It’s not a Journal or a paragraph.

    The students definitely have favourites when it comes to types of poetry. While they learned about Haiku, Limericks, Quatrains, and Couplets (the favourite), I was saving the best for last. As we approached the end of the unit, I introduced the students to Lyric and Found poems. There were so many questions regarding these two types. I think it surprised some of them that they could just choose a song…”Any appropriate song? Whatever we want?”…and explain their reason for liking it. More surprising to them, I think, was that I recognized and knew many of the songs they chose. That, alone, is a powerful thing. I shared the song “Stop this Train” by John Mayer. One of my favourites. I was impressed by how well they “got it”. It encouraged them to find their own songs and share why they were drawn to them. It’s a unique way to see another side of your students and vice versa.

    The Found Poems were equally enjoyable to explore with the kids. I learned about this type of poetry in University and it stayed with me as one of my favourites. Take a regular passage of writing, from anywhere, and blacken all of the words except the ones that stand out to you. This was a very engaging process for me. I loved watching them choose words they found powerful. I liked seeing their surprise when, at the end, this jumble of words that they had chosen, actually represented something to them. Their job with the Found Poems was to find a passage, blacken out unnecessary words, and then name their Found Poem. The process of finding a name for the words they found made them responsible for identifying the tone and impact of the words they felt belonged together. As an example, I chose a passage from the beginning of one of my favourite novels, Tuck Everlasting. I knew many of them had read this in grade four, so that was important. When we went through the words I’d left, I asked them to give them a name for my poem. They chose titles like “Alone”, “Homeless”, “Lonely”…names that identified the sadness and sorrow of the words I chose. They were very surprised when I revealed the whole passage. They recognized the beginning of the book, where Natalie Babbitt describes the road leading to the main character’s house. The tone of the passage is empty and they picked up on that, just from the words I left visible.

    Perhaps the poetry unit was more powerful for me than for them. I love words and writing and poetry and music. I love when an author conveys amazing amounts of emotion and feeling just through carefully chosen words. Seeing the students recognize this, utilize their abilities to choose powerful words, and show understanding of their significance, was very powerful for me.

    I think, maybe, for them, the powerful part of the poetry unit is the freedom they have to express themselves. They simply can’t be wrong. That allows them a freedom other types of writing may not. That, in and of itself, makes Poetry a powerful tool for engaging students as writers.

    A common greatness…. Journey of a Reluctant Reader

    Posted on May 12th, 2012 by Jody

    Looking at a reluctant reader’s experiences with books and reading

    Magic Johnson. Albert Einstein. Cher. John Lennon. John F. Kennedy. Hans Christian Anderson. Orlando Bloom. Tom Cruise. Johnny. These people have a few things in common. They have a presence, they made a difference, and, for a variety of reasons, didn’t love to read. For some, Orlando Bloom and Tom Cruise, reading was difficult. Learning Disabilities affect not only a child’s ability to read but their confidence in doing so. Though it may be true for many of these well-known individuals, it is not always a learning disability that affects a child’s desire to read. For Johnny, it was lack of interest, not ability. For others, it’s lack of time or exposure. Though he’s not a basketball player, a singer, or an inventor (as far as I know) Johnny has something in common with all of these people. Though he said at the beginning of the year that he would rather do anything other than read, he made a great effort. He will be remembered by me and by his classmates because, despite his aversion to reading, he stood out in the class. He embraced his own attitude and felt good about himself. He was also open-minded enough to try new books and authors. He had enough presence in our classroom that the other reluctant readers were willing to try as well. That matters.

    Storytime Standouts guest contributor writes about a reluctant readerIt’s hard to believe we’re at the end of the road for this school year. This will, in fact, be my final entry about Johnny. I’ve enjoyed watching him unfold as a student and as a reluctant reader. I don’t know that we turned him around entirely. He claims that he still does not love school or reading and would much rather ride his bike. However, with less and less prompting and suggestions each month, Johnny has managed to read more than a half a dozen books since September. Not only that, but two days ago he came to me and showed me his latest library book: Lunch Money. I had no part in him choosing this book. In fact, when I told him that I had some other students who LOVED Andrew Clements, he said, “Well my friend told me it was good so I’m reading a book he liked and he’s reading one I suggested”. And I thought, wow. Johnny and his friend, two hockey boys who like to goof around and have fun, had a conversation at some point that entailed each of them sharing their thoughts on a book and recommending one they enjoyed to each other. To me, that seems like an excellent place to “part ways” on this journey. I say that rather than “conclude” the journey because Johnny is going to wander a different path now, one toward grade six and I am going to get a whole new group in September. But I hope that Johnny’s path will continue to include reading and that he feels good about the reading accomplishments he made this year. I hope that he becomes less and less reluctant over time to pick up a book and fall into it. Even if he doesn’t I hope he thinks back about this year and realizes that his willingness to try regardless was stronger than his reluctance to read. That too, matters.

    A Way for Parents and Children to Connect Through Books

    Posted on April 23rd, 2012 by Jody

    Making connections with preteens and teens by reading the same books that they are reading.As a want-to-be writer, I find it fascinating that some authors can slip back and forth between genres and age groups. It shows a wide range of talent when an author produces a best selling thriller and then follows it up with a highly entertaining graphic novel. James Patterson and John Grisham are powerful examples of authors who show this flexibility on a regular basis. What really shows their strength as writers, however, is that the books they write for their younger audiences are so appealing to adults as well. Aside from providing more great reading material, authors such as these are also providing a unique way for parents (or teachers) and children (or students) to connect.Storytime Standouts suggests a Way for Parents and Children to Connect Through Books

    Patterson’s latest young adult novel is Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life. The quick and fun chapters, along with the sketch graphics and the humor of two friends trying to get through their first year of middle school make it a great read. I laughed out loud at parts, remembering my own middle school days. While it connects with many of the students in the upper elementary grades, it definitely reaches out to boys.

    Finding things in common with our kids (and students) is extremely important. They live in a fast-paced world of texting, Facebook, and instant messages. They are “connected” in ways that we never were. We need to jump on the opportunities to share meaningful conversations with them whenever we can. Taking an interest in what your kids are reading can be a way to start these conversations.

    I had a Teacher on Call come in for me last week for a half day. I showed up right before the lunch bell and we were discussing how the morning went. I asked about a few students in particular and she made a comment that got me to thinking about this post: she had brought in the book The Mocking Jay, the third in the Hunger Games trilogy, so that she could read it while waiting for a friend after work. When a few of the students noticed she had it, they began asking her whether she liked it, had she finished it, did she like the others. The fact that she was reading a book that many of them are absorbed in right now created an instant connection, which is not always easy to do as a teacher on call.

    Kids always find it a bit surprising when they realize that you may enjoy some of the same things they do. I have had wonderful conversations about Harry Potter, Holes, Twilight, Hunger Games, and a variety of other books that kids are hooked on. My enthusiasm is real and the kids respond to that. They want to know what you think, what you liked, and if you got to a certain part yet. I tell the kids how I feel about the books that we have in common and they feel open to sharing their thoughts. My class knows that even though I really liked Hunger Games, I stopped reading the trilogy because, for me, it was too sad. We ended up having a conversation about what makes us put down a book, what makes us go back to it, or what makes it so we absolutely cannot put it down.

    I believe that connecting with kids strengthens our relationships with them and makes teaching them more successful. Try reading something your child is reading; aside from connecting with your child, you’ll likely find yourself reading a great book as well.

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