Archive for December, 2009

Hope everyone is enjoying time off with family and friends. My daughter, Jessica, and I spent time together making cake balls to give as gifts this season over the holiday weekend. They were a lot of work, but we had fun making them. We started creating them on Christmas Eve and finished on Christmas night. Of course, we did other things in between… like going to Christmas Eve services and opening gifts on Christmas morning. It was a very special holiday for all of us just spending time together.
Jessica’s Cake Balls (and Pretzel Rods, Too)
1. Use a boxed chocolate cake mix. Bake according to directions. Cool for 30 min., then crumble cake. Mix in 1 can icing. (We like cream cheese frosting, but you can use any flavor that goes with your cake.) Mix well with electric mixer to blend well.
2. Chill in fridge overnight in bowl.
3. Roll chilled cake/icing batter into small balls and place each ball in a mini muffin tin. Freeze balls for about an hour.
4. Melt chocolate coating. We used almond bark. Dip each ball in melted chocolate to coat. We used a toothpick and a fork.
5. Place each coated cake ball on waxed paper. Immediately sprinkle with toppings to decorate. Our favorite toppings: crushed candy cane; crushed Heath Bars; chopped almonds or pecans; crushed peppermint almond bark from Ghiradelli; Christmas sprinkles.
6. DO NOT refrigerate. It will make the chocolate coating sweat.
7. If you have extra almond bark, lightly coat pretzel rods with the melted chocolate. (I held one end of the rod and used a spoon to coat the pretzel.) Then sprinkle favorite toppings on each (I like crushed Heath Bars). Let set on waxed paper, too. Makes a pretty party tray!
We did a little research on cake balls before making them. Seems like they originated in Texas. They are really pretty, but I forgot to take a picture of the finished product!
Happy New Year to everyone! You’ll see us at the gym… after eating those cake balls and pretzel rods!

Jessica making cake balls

Jessica with "cake ball hands"

Rocco dons his Christmas garb, unhappily

With Jessica and Jon on Christmas Eve

Relaxing at home with Tom


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Fun finds in Lititz, PA

While I was in PA, I visited my family again. It’s always fun to go home, especially when you grew up in an idyllic little town. To get there, I took the train from Philly to Lancaster after NCTE, and my sister picked me up at the train station. We drove to Lititz, my hometown, and got to do a little shopping in the wonderful boutiques (that did NOT exist when I was growing up there).

One of my favorites is the Sassy Tassel, a unique gift shop at 35 E. Main St. My sister and I poked around finding Christmas gifts and interesting things that might be used in classrooms. Look at what we found! Love the Home Stickers  and Amy Butler fabrics. Wouldn’t these be fabulous in a classroom library?

While at my mom’s house, we went digging in the attic. I found a real treasure– a certificate awarded to my mom in the 1940’s for completing the Palmer Method of Handwriting. I’m going to hang it in my office.

Amy Butler fabrics are amazing. I love the laminate ones for the classroom!

Love this framed piece of fabric and Home Stickers for the wall.

My sister Sandy, holding giant wall stickers.

See how the stickers peel right off the sheet? A stencil is left behind!

My sister holds an old handwriting certificate we found in my mom's attic.

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Here are some more amazing classroom spaces from my trip to Cabot, AR. This time they are from Ward Elementary School.

Feast your eyes and be inspired to create a place of beauty for your students!

Michelle French’s faculty room at Ward Elementary in Cabot, AR was decorated like a French bistro. Of course, she’ll never be able to retire.

The school library is just as lovely as the classroom libraries.

Looking in on partners working at literacy stations.

These lucky kids have a loft for reading. Love the lights!

Love this listening station!

Don’t you just want to curl up and listen to a book in this space?

Note the fun lamp lighting up the word wall in this writing station.

Another lamp in a word study station. Illuminating, isn’t it?

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When I visited a couple of schools in Cabot, AR recently, I was amazed at the wonderful classroom environments teachers created.  At Northside Elementary, their use of lamps and lighting created calmness and ambience in their rooms. Color choices were thoughtful and deliberate. Upon entering their spaces, I felt at ease and wanted to stay for a while. Imagine how their children respond!

But this wasn’t just limited to classrooms. I saw it in the principals’ offices and even in the faculty lounge. When I visited principal Suzanne Proctor’s office, I was greeted by the sign, “Pretty is as pretty does.” It’s so true!

The principal’s daughter listens to a book on tape. Before the shot, she was playing gently with the fringe on the lampshade.

Funky lamp has a playful effect in this fun retelling station.

Light covers diffuse light to create a calming effect in classrooms.

Lamps light up special spaces for students in a resource classroom.

Sunlight streams into this beautiful, purposeful room.

Sign in the principal’s office says it all!

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Have any kids who need practice with forming letters? Here’s a simple idea you might want to try from a teacher in Ward, Arkansas I worked with last week. She shared her magic formula for creating bags filled with hair gel. So fun and easy!  (By the way, this is an idea I’ve tried to pull off in the past—unsuccessfully.)

Cut a piece of white foam board the size of a clear plastic zip lock bag. Fill the bag with a thin layer of colored hair gel. (Dollar stores and discounters like Wal-Mart are good sources.) Then cut a piece of white foam board about the same size as the bag, but a bit shorter, as shown in the picture below. Wrap the top edge of the zip lock bag over the white foam board, and fasten with clear packing tape. Tape the edges, too, so the hair gel bag stays in place.

Provide samples of the alphabet or letters you want students to practice forming as models. You might create several of these hair gel bags for handwriting with different colored gels in each. Students will love them!

A student uses a hair gel handwriting bag made from a zip lock bag for letter formation practice.

Back of the hair gel tool is made with white foam board taped to the zip lock bag for support.

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More NCTE fun

This is a bit late, but I just wanted to share some more of the fun times I had at NCTE in Philadelphia. I saw old friends. Made some new ones, too. A big thanks to Laura Robb and Carol Varsalona with whom I presented a session on Saturday. They are fabulous educators who care deeply about children and learning to read.

It was great to be back in Philly and be able to walk across the street from the convention center to Reading Terminal, a huge farmer’s market. Enjoyed Philly cheese steaks with my editor, Philippa Stratton. She’d never tasted one before and was an immediate convert. They are delicious!

Watching Philly cheesesteaks being made

The Reading Terminal farmer's market

There is nothing like a soft pretzel made by Amish bakers!

Fellow authors Donalynn Miller, Jeff Anderson, Kelly Gallagher, and Robin Turner congregating at the Stenhouse booth

Statue at the 30th St. Station en route to visiting family in Lancaster County, PA via train

Laura Robb, Carol Varsalona, and me at NCTE

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A snowy day…in Houston?

Yes, it snowed in Houston on Friday. Amazing! Having grown up in the North, I’m typically not impressed by the hoopla that accompanies possible wintry weather in Houston. But today it snowed big ole flakes for about 4 hours. I must admit, I got a bit excited, too! Snow in Houston is a rarity.

I was in first grade this morning, and Mary Brown, the teacher, said, “Look, kids. There are big white snowflakes falling!” All the kids turned and looked out the windows with their mouths open wide. When we started math stations today, a bunch of them gathered by the window to watch. When I got home, the golf course by our home was turning white. An unheard of sight in our city!

So, it was quite a day here. Hope you’re enjoying winter (even if a bit early) wherever you are.

First graders gather by the window to look at the snow

Snow falling outside of Martin Elementary

Snow on the golf course behind our house

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Fourth graders sit on the floor in the whole-group teaching area to read a story from Tumble Books together.

Recently, an upper grade teacher told me she couldn’t have a whole-group teaching space where kids gather close to her, because she uses a document camera or projection device. She told me her students need to stay in their desks to see what’s projected on the interactive white board.

Yes, there are times when you might want students to stay at their seats when teaching with this kind of technology. For example, when teaching a math lesson with manipulatives, I often have kids sit at their desks or tables while I model with the document camera.

But there are other times, such as those on the pictures, where I bring students up close to read something together. They simply sit in front of the screen. This enables us to feel like a part of a group, or a community of learners.

Tumble Books highlights words being read aloud in blue. Kids can read along with the text.

I love having a whole group teaching area, even with older students. They like to sit together on the floor for a change of pace. And, by being closer to the teacher, are often more engaged in the lesson and learning. By the way, in this class, they were using Tumble Books. Teachers told me that they shared this new technology with parents in conferences. Some of their parents who didn’t have the Internet at home told teachers they were going to get the Internet just so their children could read using Tumble Books at home, too. The power of technology!

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Last week in York, PA I saw students involved in lots of reading at drama work stations. This is a station that has great potential to develop reading fluency and comprehension, since kids love to act out stories!

Teachers used readers’ theater from a variety of sources, including their core program (Harcourt) and www.readingatoz.com. The pictures below show the variety of ways drama stations were being used.

First graders use their core program books and retelling pieces to practice rereading familiar text at a drama station.

Kids in fifth grade read readers’ theater scripts from Lakeshore Learning.

Second graders read readers’ theater scripts and use puppets at a drama station.

Readers’ theater scripts from Harcourt are enjoyed by these 4th grade girls.

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