Monday, April 25, 2016

Melisandre Monday: Game of Thrones, season six premiere!

Yesterday was April 24, 2016. And if you're like me, you know exactly why that day is so important.
In case you're not a nerd (although I'm not really sure why you'd be reading this blog), I'll tell you:
Game of Thrones, season six.
I. Love. Game of Thrones.

I listen to podcasts about Game of Thrones. I talk to my nerd friends about Game of Thrones. And I read books called Game of Thrones. And now I plan to write a blog post every time I watch Game of Thrones in season six. Today is Melisandre Monday.

I can't stop won't stop...loving Game of Thrones. 

I spent the last week rewatching seasons one through five. By now, I've seen them each more than once (except for season five), but they're highly re-watchable. Last Saturday, my GoT buddy George came over and we watched pretty much all of season one. My husband watched sports in the other room.

Yes, you heard that right. My husband does not like Game of Thrones. I know. We're seeking counseling and I've already spoken to a priest.

On that day of season one, George and I did Tyrion proud and polished off a bottle of wine each (and then some). So I knew I'd need more fortifications for the season six premiere.

This is me and my cat, Jeannie, watching GoT. I look exactly like Jeannie, but on a couch instead of a loveseat.
I spent the next week blowing through seasons two through five. On the morning of the 24th, I went shopping and bought various cheeses, crackers, grapes, and of course, wine. I figured we had to Lannister this shindig up. As I prepared my buffet of Westerosi fare, my husband asked me a few questions about the GoT phenomenon. 

Him: I thought Jon Snow was supposed to be a good guy.

Me: He is. He's one of the best, really.

Him: But then why did he die?

Me: (Refraining from saying, 'When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die') It's the Game of Thrones. The best people die first.

Him: What? Why?

Me: That's just how it is in the Seven Kingdoms. And besides, I know he was killed, but I don't think he's dead.

Him: ....................................

And then he left the room. 

He doesn't get it. 

The Big Day
On Sunday, George arrived early. We watched the last three episodes of season five. And ate soooo many cheeses.

And then, it was time. For. SEASON SIX!!

This is what I thought of episode one:

Jon Snow
I have been insistent that Jon Snow isn't dead. George R. R. Martin has brought people back in the books, and I am absolutely certain (good thing blogs are editable) that HBO will decide to bring Snow back. After declaring this loudly to George, glass #1 in hand, we opened up HBO Now and read the episode description. The first sentence is: Jon Snow is dead.

"But not for reals," I told George. "Just wait. He's coming back."

And then the episode started and the first fifteen minutes were all about just exactly how dead Jon Snow was. Which was very, completely, and totally dead.

"It's coming," I said. "Melisandre will bring him back."

And then she didn't. Honestly, Melisandre is one of the most frustrating characters on this show. One minute she's declaring the Lord of Light as all-powerful and all-knowing, and the next minute, she's burning up Stannis' kid and losing half his soldiers in the process. What's that about?

The one time she could actually be useful, she does nothing!

So Jon Snow is still dead....but I haven't capitulated yet. He's coming back. Mark my words.

Podrick, the best squire in the history of squires
How do you feel about Podrick Payne? Because I love him. He's such a decent human being in a horrible place. How did he come to be so great? One of the most stressful moments of this episode was when I thought Ramsey's men would kill him, but it was all ok. Theon finally earned his existence.

And then, of course, Brienne pledged her fealty to Sanza. Pledging fealty is one of Brienne's favorite things to do. She's done it, like, five times already.

Meanwhile, in Dorne...
the Sand Snakes exact their revenge on the prince. And the prince's guard. And the prince's son. For one brief moment, when the sisters approach Prince Trystane, I had a flashback - my mind jumped back to season four and I imaged his uncle, the Viper, leaping and spinning around the Mountain. I turned to George and said, "Wouldn't it be awesome if he was like the Viper?" "Yeah!" George agreed. And then he unsheathed his sword, and it became very clear. This boy was no Viper. That was right before the spear came through the front of his face. 

And then, Melisandre. Who is now seared into my brain. When Melisandre unveiled her...self, I seriously did a double take. I think I squeaked a little. And my head flooded with questions:

How old is she?
When I'm as old as her, will I look like that?
Does she look like that every night?
What if someone walks in on her while she's asleep?

It just didn't seem like a good plan.

Random thoughts
If I had a girl band, I would name it Brienne of Tarth.
When did Jaime Lannister become one of the good guys? Is it just me or do you L-O-V-E him?
Can you please tell me how Jorah found that teeny tiny ring in the middle of a valley? The whole previous conversation was about how old he was. How was it even possible for him to see that?
When Arya gets really good at fighting while blind, she'll be like Daredevil.
Do you love Game of Thrones, too? Is Pod one of your favorite people? Stay tuned next week for more Game of Thrones talk!
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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Making Inferences in Expository Text: Test Prep *Freebie!

So it's official. 
It's test prep season.  


Good test prep has a few characteristics: it's precise, it's engaging, and it helps kids bridge all the awesome stuff you taught all year to the boring stuff they'll have to do on the test. 
Sometimes kids can do all the big thinking: making connections, making inferences, synethesizing, and more. But you put a test in front of them and it's like they've learned NOTHING all year. Because it looks different (and doesn't really serve as a measure of what they know) and they have trouble interpreting what the test is asking them to do. It's all about the format. 

So I used this lesson with a fifth grade class (and then a third grade class tried it out) to help them take the awesome learning they'd done about making inferences and apply it to the test-taking situations they're likely to see. Because here's what a lot of kids don't realize. When it comes to making inferences, the test is likely asking them to do two different things.

They need to:

1. Use evidence from the text to make an inference. OR
2. Locate evidence from the text to support an inference that has already been made.

These are two inverse operations. So what do you do? Well, here's what I did.
First, we started with a text. To help students bridge what they've learned to the test, I used an expository passage from a released test from a few years back. It was about how a specific kind of pine tree survives in its harsh environment.

I provided each kid with a copy of the graphic organizer (provided in the freebie below!) and I charted it. We reviewed the strategy - making inferences using evidence; supporting inferences with evidence. We previewed the text, read the first couple paragraphs and decided on the topic: Bristlecone Pines. Then I asked students to find details in the text that were about bristlecone pines. I wanted them to focus on the topic - that's what readers do!

They came up with three things: The pines are the oldest trees in the world, the conditions the pines live in kill other trees, and the roots of the pines help them survive. These were taken directly from the text. I had students write them on post-its and stuck them in the "Text Evidence boxes."
Then we talked about how to make an inference - you put clues together (details) to think about something that's not directly stated in the text. That's why it happens in your brain, and why I wrote "BRAIN" down the side of the inference box!

We put the clues together and realized that there was something special about the bristlecone pine that other trees didn't have - that was our inference.

Here's the tricky part. How will this look on the test?

Here's how I did it:

For example, in the question, "Based on the details in paragraph 4, the reader can conclude..." is asking students to use the evidence in paragraph four to create a conclusion. This means that the right answer will not be directly stated in the text; it will be created in your brain based on the details in the text.

Another type of question sounds like this: "Which statement from the text best supports the idea that bristlecone pines have special adaptations to survive in their environment?" In this question, the inference is provided - Bristlecone pines have special adaptations to survive in their environment is the inference that has already been drawn for you. Your job as the test-taker is to find the evidence that supports that statement, or proves that it is true.

After we practiced identifying this on a few questions on the anchor chart, it was time for students to practice in partners (or so I thought).

Each student, on the bottom of their graphic organizer, had a two-column chart. One column is labeled, "Questions where I have to make an inference or draw a conclusion," and the other is, "Questions where I have to find the evidence to support the inference or conclusion."

As you can see, the first time kids tried this, they did not have an understanding of what the question was asking them to do.
I gave each student a stack of test questions that were asking them to make an inference based on provided evidence OR support a provided inference with evidence.

They sorted. Badly. Like, really badly. It brought up so many misconceptions, misunderstandings, and struggles with sentence structure - a huge underlying issue in reading comprehension. So we retaught, intervened, etc. But the fact that they struggled so much to identify what the question was asking them to do tells me that we needed to do this lesson!

Happy Teaching! I know test prep is torture, but it will all be over soon...

Want more practice in making inferences? Check out this freebie Reading Strategy MiniPack on TPT!
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Sunday, April 3, 2016

The day Marc Brown came to our school

This is so weird. I made a video. Of myself. Talking. About Marc Brown.

Honestly, I don't even know what to say. Here it is.

Apparently, the Candlelighters (an organization to provide support to families of children with cancer) have been hosting an amazing fundraising contest for years. The contest is that the school with the most pounds of clothing donated wins a visit from a guest author. 
So throughout the month of February, my Facebook posts all looked like this: "Please please please, if you have any old clothes/shoes/linens you'd like to give away to a good cause, give them to us! We are collecting clothes for the Candlelighters charity and a chance to win an author visit from MARC BROWN!"

I told my husband, "I don't care if you have to go to work naked! Fill these bags with clothes!" I harrassed my neighborhood and my family with similar messages. I demanded that everyone clean out their closets. I'd given so many clothes that I keep forgetting what I have left in the closet. We HAD to win! 

I obsessed over gathering clothes for weeks. And I wasn't the only one. My teachers and kids were obsessed, too. We did our best and hoped it would work.

And then, two days ago, we got the call.


We collected 12,800 pounds of clothing. Out of 42 schools in our city, we collected the most.
Marc Brown was to visit our two days! Our school erupted into a flurry of Marc Brown-i-ness. There were Arthurs everywhere. We paused our other plans and did the most fun stuff.

I, for my contribution, immediately did the most important thing I could think of. My buddy and I made an Arthur photobooth and a bunch of props to use, like Arthur ears, glasses, D.W. hair, and Buster ears, too. 

And then I took pictures of everybody in it and made a bulletin board: Find Your Inner Arthur.

We ordered shirts (to be done in two days!) and someone made an incredible cake and balloon arches. We made silhouettes of the characters to put on the windows and every grade level worked on Arthur projects.
We had so much fun getting ready for this visit. My buddy and even I drove to various spots to buy as many Arthur books as we could with a giant PO. And do you know what? NOBODY carries Arhtur anymore! We were horrified! Barnes & Noble, Target and the (very few) other bookstores in our town were like, "No, we can order them, but we don't carry them." What a disappointment. (Fortunately, when Marc Brown came to our school, he brought some of his own books!)

When I left work on Thursday evening, the hallways were blossoming with Arthurs, Busters, and D.W.s in every possible spot. Kids were gesturing to their work and saying, "I made that! We all did that!" They brought me to tears with their pride.

This morning, we were expecting Marc Brown at about 8:15. He showed up at 7:45! We already had the Arthur theme music playing over the loudpseaker. I was walking down the hallway, taking pictures of the kids' work and trying not to cry when I heard the news that he'd arrived.

My principal guided him down the hallway and he (with his kind personality) stopped and admired all of the kids' work, commenting on how incredible and wonderful it was. (Which really just shows me how incredible and wonderful HE is.)

We were downright giddy. I hung on his every word. Any time he praised the work the kids had done, I wanted to cry!

And then Arthur and D.W. arrived.

Right before his presentation, I got up the nerve to ask him to take a picture in our photo booth. AND HE SAID YES!

And this happened:

Marc Brown put on the Arthur ears that I made and stood in front of the backdrop that we made and took a picture! AAAAAAAAAAAA! I can die happy.

Once he was in the library, we set him up in his spot and made sure his equipment was ready. Our first group, K-2, buzzed into the library, complete with Arthur ears on every last kid.

Marc Brown's presentation was incredible. He drew Arthur (both original Arthur and modern Arthur) and told us the story of how Arthur came to exist. Then he asked the kids to help him brainstorm animal parts to create a brand-new kind of animal character. They had a blast! They demanded the leg of a chicken and the leg of a hippo. The ears of an elephant and the neck of a giraffe. The nose of a pig and the wings of a dragon! 

Actually, one of the kids asked for fish know.

The kids laughed and asked questions and just generally had their little minds blown.

He shared pictures of his house (I want to go to there) and of his goat named Hillary Clinton, who apparently met the real Hillary Clinton. And she didn't think it was that funny. (The person, not the goat.)

After his presentation, he signed books galore for teachers, kids, and parents. He did it all with a smile on his face. It was truly amazing. I don't think the man had twenty seconds to himself. He didn't have a drink of water, he didn't go to the bathroom, and he didn't even get to stand there quietly. He talked and smiled the whole time.

And then he did it all again for 3-5.

Marc Brown is an example of a kind, humble person with great talent who takes the time to make people feel good about who they are and what they can do and be. We were blessed to have such an experience.

And today, as I stand in front of my closet and try to figure out what to wear to school tomorrow, I keep asking myself, "Where's that green sweater? What happened to my blue blouse?" and I realize that I stuffed all of them into a bag in a frenzy to donate.

I guess I have to go shopping!

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