Saturday, April 18, 2009


OH, NO! is a simple game that Lauren modified from another game she saw once (but I cannot remember the original name). It is an easy game that motivates students to build their sight word vocabulary. Sight words are words that children recognize as soon as they see them. Their response should be immediate. The development of a strong sight word vocabulary leads to fluency and comprehension while reading. Conversely, if a child is expending a great deal of effort in trying to figure out an unknown word there is little cognitive functioning left for understanding.

OH, NO! encourages students to build this skill through continued repetition. Plus, they really enjoy playing. Here is all you need to do to play.

Get a shoe box, cut a hole in the top and cover it with colored paper.  Cut 5x7 index cards in half and write one sight word (or Dolch word) on each card.  Throw in a few cards with the words OH, NO! into the mix.

Now take turns pulling out a card and reading it.  If the word is new for the student support them by telling them the word but they must then put it back into the box. The object is to collect as many cards as possible. 

If you pull out an OH, NO! card you must put all of your cards back into the box.  However, the OH, NO! card is yours to keep.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


I was really interested in getting a child's perspective on the very broad topic of "Earth" so I asked a couple of children to share their thoughts.  

The happy 4-year-old I was holding in my arms laughed when I said the word and said that the earth was falling down on my head. BOOM!  

The 9-year-old took things a bit more seriously.

He immediately seized on the necessity to go green (see his artwork above).  As he meticulously drew the continents he discussed how his picture would include a speech bubble containing the word "Help" as well as indicating the effects of global warming. See the beacon of light on the right side of the picture? That is global warming.

He expressed concern about the state of our world but his worry didn't impact his ability to play with abandon when he was finished. 

That got me thinking...

Has the Inconvenient Truth of climate change and what it means to life on our planet become commonplace?  We were all up in arms a few short years ago asking 'what can I do?' but lately I don't sense that same type of urgency.  Is it because it does not exist or because it has become a way of life?

As we approach Earth Day (Wednesday, April 22) perhaps we can renew our vigilance in doing what we can to combat the terrible mess we've made of things. The point that folks tend to miss is that the earth will continue to evolve and find ways to survive with or without us. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Circus Clowns

When I was a wee, wide-eyed youth clowns represented merriment, joy, fun and wonder. I can picture the giggly innocent child I once was seated in front of the television mesmerized by the antics of Bozo the Clown.

Since then I have noticed a definite shift in the clown persona. Juxtaposed with those old happy images are others of creepy, evil clowns. These clowns dwell in the land of terror and nightmares.  

How did that happen?

When I was planning a school trip to The New Victory Theater on 42nd Street, NYC, to see La Famiglia Dimitri the clown issue was on my mind.

One adorable little tyke with big eyes and lots of curly hair told me in utter seriousness "clowns freak me out".  

Happily, Clown Dimitri (yes, that is his name) brought about no such fright. La Famiglia Dimitri is a small family circus.  The five members consist of patriarch Clown who at 74 years of age can still bring on the laughs, his three children David, Masha and Nina and son-in-law, Kai.

David is a talented tightrope performer and musician.

Masha is a slack wire walker and musician.

Nina plays the guitar like Charo. Believe me this is a huge compliment (Coochie! Coochie!). She also performs solos in Italian with a knowing twinkle in her eye. 

Kai is a clown and singer. One of his bits had a student in first grade belly laughing so hard he couldn't breathe.  For a moment there we were really concerned.

They will be performing at The New Victory until April 19th so if you are in New York City please check out this enjoyable show. It is time for clowns to mend their soiled reputation and return to the positive force they once were.  La Famiglia Dimitri is taking us a step in that direction.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Online Resources

Teacher share.

Teachers share a lot!

In the spirit of sharing I would like to pass along some of the fantastic, helpful websites that others have shared with me.

For starters, our school's library website is chock full of incredible activities. Once you have clicked over to the homepage look the Free and Recommended Software Downloads for PreK-6 header for Tux Type - Learn to Type. It reminds me of the old Atari Space Invaders game only here a penguin is trying to type his way to either catch fish or shoot down aliens. I must admit that it is fun, even for a grown man. There are many fun, educational links on this page so if you have the time go exploring.

For games, coloring pages, videos and more with popular children's book characters visit  I'll give a special shout out to the Curious George Pogo-A-GoGo game! Children develop computer skills, such as using a mouse, without any stress.


Between the Lions for books you can read along with and tips for parents.

There are many websites that allow you to print off traceable letter pages to give young ones a chance at handwriting practice. This link allows you to create your own sheets. 

For a multitude of other nifty activities check here, here and here.

The one I use the most however is Starfall. They have lots of activities for students at varying readiness levels AND they have a Greek Myths section under the I'm Reading header!

The final website I'll offer up is called Reading A-Z.  This is one that requires a fee.  I have not used it that often but I know many, many teachers who L-O-V-E it.

If you have any other please pass them along.

Thanks to Cheritha, Dawn, Sara, Mark and Rani for your contributions.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I have heard that the brilliant scholar, author and lecturer Joseph Campbell was a devout Catholic despite the fact that he constantly questioned religious dogma.  

Joe was an expert in comparative mythologies.  The origins of belief, the impetus that drove mankind to figure it all out and the similar threads that seemed to underlie our need to give meaning to the unknown.

It is my understanding that although his research was academic and seemingly at odds with the mysteries of faith he did not let his intellect rule his heart. 

I thought of this on Holy Thursday as I found myself unexpectedly and thoroughly moved while accepting 'the body and blood of Christ' during our communion service. Here I am with my healthy disdain & outright sarcasm for certain aspects of organized religion but when these moments arise, I feel. 

Something. A peace. A reassurance. A connection. A power. Even as I question the whole process I can be moved to tears and awe.

And it pleases me. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

How To Have Fun

Inspired by the words & illustrations of children's book creator Nancy Carlson (especially How to Lose All Your Friends and Life is Fun) our first grade students decided to create their own book. 

Below is a sample of their suggestions...

Can you think of any others?

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Eggs are seldom ever scrambled and gobbled up by the main characters in children's books. 

They are either the precious treasure(s) of an adoring parent or caregiver who is entrusted with ensuring that no harm befalls the living creature developing inside or they serve as the transitory dwelling place of a charming critter who is either a) lost b) in danger c) looking for its real parents or d) all of the above.

It is a formula that works, especially when the illustrator adds subtle nuances and ticks to the new born babe.  Consider for instance the lost little chick in Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman. With his spindly legs and inquisitive manner we quickly fall in love and hope against hope that this darling will find his real mom (he does).  

This was one of the first books I had to sign to a preschool class when I was student teaching 14 years ago and boy was I nervous. I kept signing "Are you my father" instead of mother.  

Eggs can also be found in the Caldecott winning children's book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.  In it Mr. and Mrs. Mallard go from hatching eggs to tending chicks all the while exploring Boston Public Garden.  Classic, amazing book.

Then there is the young adult literature of Eragon by the precocious young author Christopher Paolini that begins when the young hero finds a dragon egg for which he sacrifices much and cherishes beyond all things (I never made it past page 289 and I really wanted to like it).

Of course this time of year egg books abound as the Easter Bunny hippity hops his way to the baskets of some boys and girls.

There is Bunny Trouble by Hans Wilhelm about a soccer obsessed hare named Ralph who finds his place in the egg painting/decorating business after a rough start.

And Easter Mice! by Bethany Roberts.  An Easter egg hunt that finds the most, the biggest and the BEST eggs hidden in the grass.

Sample text: "CRACK! Surprise!  An Easter Friend!"  The last egg hatched a baby turtle.  The 5 and 6-year-olds loved this!

Thinking back, I may have to amend my previous statement. Maybe eggs do get fried in children's books every so often.

Consider Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. But then again, they are green and perhaps not the kind that would spring to life adorable little offspring. I guess we'll never know.

The top picture is taken from The Peace Book by Todd Parr.  The caption that accompanies it reads "Peace is keeping someone warm". 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Darling Reya of The Gold Puppy wrote a post entitled Gratitude for My Teachers last month that touched upon the fact that teaching is indeed a choice folks make rather than a last resort to fall back on when all else fails.

Her post, which I am grateful for, also stated that some teachers are more effective than others. 

In the Dynamics and Dimensions of Teaching class I took several years ago at Fordham University we examined three approaches to teaching; Executive, Facilitator and Artist.

We then were given an assignment that required us to examine our teaching style by transcribing videos of ourselves teaching and coding each utterance and behavior.

In my final handout I likened the Executive and Facilitator approaches to a Greek God and Goddess.  I couldn't resist. (I also had a great graphic that I can't seem to transfer to this post.)

I wrote: 
The owl is the symbol of the goddess of wisdom, Athena. She is a patron and ally and representative of the Facilitator approach.

The thunderbolt is the symbol of the Greek God Zeus, ruler of the Olympian Gods.  He wields enormous power and absolute authority.  This represents the Executive approach to teaching.

The teacher as Artist orchestrates both approaches.

According to my analysis I am an artist. A little bit of the Facilitator and a little bit of the Executive.  
Whew!  I was hoping for that one.

I wonder if a quiz like this will show up on Facebook one of these days.

The Thank You and Feed Me signs are taken from the children's book The Hungry Thing (top picture) by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler.  This is a wonderful book to share with young children who are developing phonemic awareness. For more on this read the Yopp & Yopp article.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'New' Favorites

Children's book author and illustrator James Marshall started his prolific outpouring of works in the mid 70s. I first came to know him through his retelling of classic fairy tales.

In 1989 his retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears was recognized as a Caldecott Honor book for his outstanding illustrations. That was followed by The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel and my personal favorite Red Riding Hood. The heroines in his hands are spunky, sassy gals who have no trouble defending themselves.

I kept these titles in my stock of must share texts that I bring out year after year. Somewhere in the periphery there were the Miss Nelson books, and the Fox stories.

However, it wasn't until this year that I became a huge fan of Mr. Marshall.

It started with the George and Martha series. These are very short stories, usually five to a book, about two portly hippopotami who share a close friendship. Children can witness as they negotiate the larger themes of honesty, friendship, loyalty, respect and privacy.

An added bonus is the rich, delicious vocabulary sprinkled throughout the texts. Sadly, there are only seven titles in the series. Lauren went exploring on the Internet to see if there were any more in the pipeline and that is when we discovered that this unique author/illustrator passed away in 1992.

Another recent favorite is Snake: His Story about a snake who, unlike his parents who are deaf, can hear. There is a bit of a dilemma about what to do with this little guy who swings to the music his family does not hear. Of course it all works out well in the end.

Other titles you might want to check out are The Guest about the friendship between a moose and a snail and a book series about The Stupid Family. The Stupids are really, really stupid but rest assured, it is okay to laugh at their antics.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pilot Study

I have spent quite a large chuck of time this semester working on the pilot study for my dissertation.  A pilot study is also known as a feasibility study.  It allows the researcher to test run the instruments, assessment tools and/or methodology that will be later used for the grand study that will ultimately bring you to the completion of a Ph.D. program.

The pilot study paper is written like a mini dissertation.  It generally follows the five chapter structure of introduction, review of literature, research methods, research findings and discussion.

The absolute beauty of reaching this level of scholarly achievement is that the focus of your research is entirely up to you.  So, you are free to delve deeply into an area that you are passionate about. This is a good thing as you will be living with it for years.  (I am reminded of the phrase that doctoral students often repeat as they near the end "A good dissertation is a done dissertation".)

The title of my pilot study is Case studies of first grade Deaf readers: Looking at knowledge of conceptual signs and reading comprehension.  I had a different, rather catchy title there for a while but it was deemed too vague - no one could tell what my study was about.  I decided to go with the above title (for now) and save my clever, witty title for a book or at least a chapter in my dissertation.  I won't give it away just yet lest it be borrowed by some other fledgling researcher, can you imagine the horror?!

I chose to do a qualitative case study of two culturally Deaf first grade students and simply observe and describe how they use their knowledge of American Sign Language while they read independent & instructional level texts.

The new challenge of this for me was going through the process of gaining approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB). In order to do any study with human subjects you must submit a proposal, gain permission from the subjects or their parents, the school (setting) and from the district.

I am told that completed pilot studies can be reformatted and submitted to educational journals for publication or academic conferences as presentations. It seems there are quite a few possibilities, especially if your area of study is the 'hot' topic at the moment.

We'll see.

For now, I am thoroughly enjoying the process and give thanks to those who are supporting me through it all; Dr. Marshall George, Dr. Joanna Uhry, Rebecca Marshall, Lauren Ridloff - Happy Birthday - and my fellow doctoral students (especially Cortney, Cayne and Linda).

What a fantastic journey!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Over the past several weeks we have been exploring non fiction books during reading workshop. I can state with confidence that our students are gaining expertise in identifying features of non fiction texts such as photographs, table of contents, diagrams, glossary and headers.

Now that they have been immersed in the 'reading of' we have began to delve into the 'writing of' factual material.  The key is to allow the students to choose a topic that is of interest to them and facilitate their learning, deepen their understanding and provide shape, structure & support.

To that end we asked our class to brainstorm ideas about possible topics.

Here is the list they created:
  1. Animals
  2. Lightning
  3. Dinosaurs
  4. Tigers
  5. Sea Lions
  6. Water
  7. Eyes
  8. Nail Polish
  9. Sushi 
  10. Makeup
And my personal favorite because it seems so un first-grade like...

High Heels!

In the end, high heels didn't make the final cut but I'm sure that would have been an interesting exploration.  

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Flip Video

Introducing Flip Video!

Have you heard about this product?

It is a tiny digital camcorder with a 'signature flip-out USB arm' that allows you to take pristine video with surprising ease.

Simply capture a moment and easily transfer it to any computer. No cords, no wires, no fuss.  


The technology is getting better all the time.

This product is new to me as well.  Lauren has one that she has been using and I saw that our school just got a delivery of several more.  

I find the idea of these little gems especially intriguing at the moment because I am currently videotaping my students as they read.  Over the years I have come to realize that doing a running record and miscue analysis with Deaf or hard of hearing students becomes easier if you can videotape it and analyze it at a later sitting.  

The Flip Video recorders are changing the landscape.  Now teachers can tap into new areas of documentation.  We can easily record and share daily happening, trips, reading and writing celebrations, use it as a teaching tool to show our students how they read or interact, improve our own practices through self reflection by watching ourselves at work and honor our students in countless unique ways.

I can't wait to experiment with it.  

As my nephew Randy would say "Yippee Skippie!"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Custard and Mustard

The colorful Coney Island adventure Custard and Mustard becomes available for purchase in May!

This is the second children's book collaboration by Maureen Sullivan and Alison Josephs to feature Carlos, the French Bulldog. In past posts I wrote about their first book, Ankle Soup, as well as sharing our class experience during a recent visit to Alison's Chelsea art studio.

Several days after our trip, Alison contacted me to ask if I would be interested in writing a short passage for the back cover of the book.

"Would I?!"

That weekend I sent her a 'short' blurb which was immediately posted on their website. And today I saw that they have added a picture of the back cover of the book as well.

Sure enough, there are my words in the bottom left hand corner.

Of course now this means that everyone in my family is going to get a copy of this book for Christmas or birthdays or whatever. I am sure to post more on this after the book launch on May 14th. But for now...

Color me excited!


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