Showing posts from April, 2014

PBD: Picturebooks by Kadir Nelson

The picturebooks of Kadir Nelson feature the lives and stories of famous African Americans. His artwork has won numerous awards and is featured on his website at:  and in a new gallery exhibit at His realistic paintings and extensive research bring to life the joys and struggles of these historical characters. I eagerly await every new picturebook that features his illustrations.

PBD: Some Favorites by Leo Lionni

Everyone is familiar with Leo Lionni's books Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse and Swimmy , but here are a few more of my favorites. Born in Italy, Lionni was a graphic designer as much as a children's book artist. His colorful images blend drawing and collage and are delightful to share with young readers. His stories often revolve around being different, getting along and expanding one's creativity and imagination. There couldn't be any more important things to do these days in the dreary landscape of many classrooms than foster curiosity and expand children's imagination. Read on and let the mind wander!

Fostering Comprehension: Some Guidelines

             Reading comprehension instruction has assumed a prominent place in educational conversations of late, and for good reasons. With the recent release of the Rand Report on Reading Comprehension, Reading for Understanding: Toward an R & D Program in Reading Comprehension, and the increasing focus on reading instruction as a topic of national concern, we need to understand how reading comprehension is defined, taught and assessed.  First, let me share the definition set forth in the Rand Report for reading comprehension; the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language. So if we are extracting meaning, then it must reside IN the text? Though I do not agree with this, we shall move forward nonetheless.  This definition focuses on meaning residing in the text, and refers to reading comprehension as “text-based thinking.” The three elements of the reading event are described as the reader, the text and

PBD: Tree of Life & Starry Messenger

Two fabulous picturebooks by Peter Sis highlighting the lives of Charles Darwin and Galileo. Sis treats the controversial nature of the lives of these two historic figures with balance and accurate details. He seems to promote science over religion in both books without clubbing the reader over the head with the possible implications for each.

Some Excellent Resources for Literacy 2.0

In today's post, I am sharing four books that have been very helpful as I work on my new book for Heinemann entitled The Reading Workshop 2.0: Teaching Reading in the Digital Age that will be out in 2015. There comes a point in preparing for your own writing where you feel saturated with what is available. Of the 40 or so books I bought and read, these 4 were the most informative in terms of pedagogical quality and a solid theoretical foundation. I feel ready to write my own version of this concept, but as always, we stand on the shoulders of others as we work on our own writing.

PBD: Humorous Picturebooks Focusing on Writing

In today's Picturebooks of the Day, I share some of the new, funny picturebooks about writers and being a writer I have enjoyed recently. The Day the Crayons Quit is a humorous look at what happens if we mistreat our crayons by not attending to their sensitive nature. Little Red Writing plays on the traditional tale to share some insights into being a writer. Ike's Incredible Ink is about some ink gone wild. Each of these books offers opportunities for discussing the nature of writing with our students and children. Great lesson possibilities and great literature makes a wonderful combination.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model Revisited

Since 1984 when Pearson and Gallagher wrote about the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (GRR), it has served as a framework for many literacy instructional programs and approaches to developing comprehension lessons. The GRR model is based on the transfer of responsibility for a particular learning task (eg. reading a text) from the teacher or more proficient reader to the novice reader or student. The focus of this model is the level of responsibility the teacher must maintain to ensure a successful learning outcome or completion of a particular task, or the amount of responsibility the teacher releases to the student. It assumes that responsibility initially resides with the teacher and is given over to the students or learners. By focusing on the amount of responsibility released by a teacher this becomes a model for teaching, not learning. In the opening chapter of Lessons in Comprehension, I wrote about a different perspective, namely an Emerging Expertise Model

PBD: Flora and the Flamingo

My last wordless picturebook review for awhile is the Caldecott Honor book Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. The lovely pink art deco designs and the reflection of the flamingo movements by Flora are a visual delight. This wordless picturebook is highly interactive, flaps and half pages to open. Young readers will really enjoy playing with this lovely book.

PBD: Locomotive

I have been exploring Wordless Picturebooks for my upcoming column in The Reading Teacher (IRA). Locomotive is one of my favorites so far. The detailed information and settings explored in this wordless book are rich in American History. Learning about the history of trains in America through the stunning visually rendered narrative would entice boy and girl readers alike. Brian Floca's website contains lots of great information for further exploring this picturebook and his other works (especially Moonshot ).

Rethinking Comprehension: Some Thoughts

Some excerpts from: Serafini, F. (2012). Rethinking Reading Comprehension: Definitions, Instructional Practices, and Assessment (pp. 189-202). In E. Williams (Ed.), Critical Issues in Literacy Pedagogy: Notes from the Trenches. Illinois State University Press. It may be useful to reconsider the term comprehension (as noun), referring to comprehension as a commodity that is individually acquired, or some amount of knowledge that is literally taken away from every successful reading event. Instead, it may be more appropriate to use the term comprehending (as verb), to suggest reading is a process, a recursive cycle of generating meanings that changes each time readers transact with a text across particular contexts. This shift from comprehension as a noun to comprehending as a verb would also require comprehension assessment to take place during the act of reading and discussing a text, rather than simply measuring how much of a pre-determined amount of meanings a reader accumulated and

PBD: Desert Seasons - A Year in the Mojave

About ten years ago, I illustrated my first picturebook with photographs from the Mojave Desert. Working with a teacher friend, Ruth Devlin from Las Vegas, NV, we created this multimodal journal to share with children our love of the desert. The book is out of print now, and some of my images were not well reproduced, but it was still my first, and as they say you never forget your first!

Instructional Trajectory

             Numerous educational publications of late have described in arduous detail the characteristics or components of effective reading comprehension lessons. These descriptions have included lists of resources, including children’s literature and other texts, lesson plans, instructional approaches, and even suggestions for assessment techniques to ensure   students are understanding what they are reading. However, one aspect of these comprehension lessons seems to have gone unnoticed; what these lessons should do for novice readers in the future, after the lesson is over. As classroom teachers and literacy educators, we need to consider the residual effects or the consequences of our reading comprehension lessons. It is this residual effect that I am calling “Instructional Trajectory.”             Instructional trajectory is a concept that looks at the effects of a lesson to consider what range, depth and support these lessons provide. Let me explain in more detail what I mean

Building Capacity for Effective Instruction

             Let me begin this post with an assertion: the quality of the classroom teacher, not the instructional program, is the primary variable in determining the effectiveness of a comprehensive reading program. This assertion is often hidden beneath the glitz and packaging of many commercial programs. It is not the quality of the wand, but the magic of the teacher that makes reading and writing come alive in today’s classrooms.             In addition to this primary assertion, I would assert that no significant changes in instructional practices will occur until corresponding changes take place in one’s theoretical understandings. In other words, unless we rethink why we do what we do in the name of literacy education and instruction, most changes will be cosmetic and superficial. The resources teachers select may change, or the daily schedule may be rearranged to accommodate new program components, but the core of one’s instructional practices remains intact.             What d

PBD: Favorite Postmodern Picturebooks

Just a few of my favorite postmodern picturebooks.  A more detailed book list is available at: What is interesting about postmodern picturebooks is not necessarily what they are, but what they can do for readers and literacy educators. Postmodern picturebooks invite students to navigate non-linear structures and attend to the various symbolic representations, literary codes and conventions in order to make sense of the complexities inherent in these texts. Some characteristics of postmodern picturebooks: expand the conventional boundaries of picture book formats  contain non-linear structures and storylines  offer multiple perspectives or realities to the reader  may be self-referential – they discuss their own creation or existence  contain elements of ambiguity or irony  often contain surrealistic images  include the juxtaposition of unrelated images  mock traditional formats  are often sarcastic / cynical in tone  contain overly ob

PBD: Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores

A good friend reminded me about Horace, Morris and Dolores (my Mom's name) recently. I have always been a big James Howe fan from his Bunnicula (Rabbit Vampire) series of funny chapter books. In this series, Howe talks about gender and friendship and how the two should not interfere with one another - a great lesson in this day and age about acceptance and tolerance.  I have created a booklist about Books for Addressing Social Issues on my website at:

Rethinking Reading Comprehension Strategies

Just Some Random Thoughts A significant amount of research conducted on effective reading comprehension strategies has focused on the cognitive operations readers selectively employ when reading to construct meaning in transactions with texts. This research, based primarily on verbal protocol (self-reporting) research, has provided literacy educators with a list of approximately seven comprehension strategies that proficient readers have identified as ones they use to comprehend texts. This list generally includes; summarizing, predicting, inferring, monitoring comprehension, visualizing, asking questions, and making connections. These strategies have been referred to as “goal-directed cognitive operations” that are taught through teacher directed instruction. With an increasing focus on reading strategy instruction, teachers need to continually monitor how the various reading strategies they are demonstrating in their reading workshops serve the primary goal of supporting readers’ con

PBD: Chalk and Fossil

Two of my favorite new wordless picturebooks are by Bill Thomson: Chalk and Fossil . He is a Professor of Illustration (what a cool job that must be) at the University of Hartford. His website is an excellent resource: The illustrations for Chalk and Fossil look almost computer generated in their detail and saturated color palette. They are humorous stories that I am sure young boys would love (I do).

PDB: A Walk in the Park

Although Voices in the Park (2000) is one of the most well known picturebooks by Anthony Browne, many educators are unaware that it is a second version (not exactly a sequel, but more like a retelling in a different format) of A Walk in the Park (1977) which has recently been re-released. In the original version, we learn the names of the parents - Mrs. Smythe and Mr. Smith - who go nameless in Voices in the Park . The variations among SES and class distinctions are equally pronounced in both versions, though A Walk in the Park is not told in four separate voices. Both versions are highly recommended.

Talking Our Way Into Comprehension

           Particular patterns of interaction between teachers and students have dominated traditional classroom instruction. One pattern of interaction that involves traditional roles for teachers and students, and particular ways of talking and responding, has been referred to as the Initiate – Respond – Evaluate (IRE) or Recitation Script (Cazden, 2001; Gutierrez, 1994) . In this interaction pattern, the teacher initiates discussion, generally by posing a question, students respond to the teacher’s prompt, and the teacher closes the interaction by evaluating what the student has offered.             The IRE or Recitation Script generally involves the use of “pseudo” or display questions, in other words questions with predetermined answers used to ensure students can recall a specific bit of information from a text. Through numerous studies, display questions have been demonstrated to dominate literacy instruction (Alexander, 2006; Myhill, Jones, & Hopper, 2006; Nystrand, 1997)