Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12

I don't have the kids on Christmas Sunday, so the girls and I pretended today was it!!  We dressed up and thanks to photoshop I was able to create a picture for a Christmas Card! Card template is from Becky Higgins.

December 9

Sometimes I think I'm the Grinch, especially when life gets really stressful around the holidays. I have had trouble wanting to decorate until Gracie asked where our tree was. So Thursday evening, with help from Nana and Papa, we put up the tree. It ended up being quite fun. My favorite part was when Gracie asked when Santa was coming and Nana said in 15 days. She waited for a small amount of time and then asked, "Nana has it been 15 days yet?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Documenting Life

I encourage you to document the little things. Last year I participated in Ali Edwards' December Daily.  Then this last summer I took the same approach, but not documenting daily, but periodically.  This December I plan on doing the same, but not stressing over the little things, but truly capturing life. Life tends to not go as a planned so here are Day 1 and Day 4 of my December Daily Album.

You can get the PNG format for the digital photos here at Designer Digitals

Friday, December 3, 2010

Quick Search

So after my students finished their cross curricular project I wanted to see how quickly they could apply what they learned in this two week project.  We reviewed the strategies of researching we learned and applied to our current unit of social studies-Colonization.  Students chose  one of the thirteen colonies.  We decided we needed to know...

  • reason for founding of settlement
  • geography/climate
  • job opportunities
  • government
Some optional additions were
  • important historical figures
  • religion
  • economy

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Goods--the Two Page Spread

Please, please, please I beg of you to reconsider writing a 5 paragraph essay as the final product for research and try this!!  It is called a 2 page spread. Think a magazine layout.  My kids totally got it. They were excited about it too. When they were finished with their research and working on their final drafts the room was SILENT.  Active engagement; automatically differentiated; PRICELESS!!!

We generated a list of Must Haves

  • title
  • author
  • at least 2 paragraphs
  • 2 headings
  • a fact box
  • picture
  • caption
  • neat
  • colorful
  • border 
  • beginning capitalization
  • ending punctuation
  • words spelled correctly

Then we organized a draft on 8 x10 paper. I approved it and they made their large sized spread. This was by far the best research project I've done and I didn't want to pull my hair out while completing it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taking Note
Note cards? Notebook paper? Organizers? I have tried many different ways through the years to help my students organize notes. I think I have figured out what works for me and my students.



For my students to truly understand what they are researching we had to establish the purpose of our research.  The project at hand was a cross-curricular project so my teaching partner and I were tag teaming lessons.  I taught note taking lessons and she allowed additional time for researching in her room.  This worked out great and allowed us to finish the project in two weeks.

Students generated a list of questions on the planet they were researching.  They understood they needed key facts about their planet, but knew to keep it interesting to their reader.  Majority of students worked on finding out the following information

  • where the planet is location in relation to the earth
  • could the planet sustain life 
  • did the planet have or has water
  • the number of  days/years it take to orbit the sun
  • size in relation to the sun and earth
  • how it was formed
  • if it has rings how they were formed and what purpose they have
  • how old the planet is
Some students took things further and others did less.  It really depended on what they were interested in knowing.  These questions guided their research.  Now it was time for students to learn how to find these answers. I then taught how to skim and and scan. I used a lesson from Read, Write Think and adapted it to fit my topics.  This was huge for the kids. Giving them permission to not read the entire book was such a relief to them.  We did however have to have some practice. Students had to really think about what they were looking for and where to possibly find it by using the Table of Contents and Index.  This was NOT mastered, but I plan on using this same researching outline later on in the school year so students can acquire more experience using this method. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Slice of Life

"I would have been sad if you didn't choose us."

That sentence still echoes in my ears as I sit and ponder the next days activities for my writer's workshop.  Today my class and I discussed moving in time-flashbacks as our goal for writing for the day.  I described a scene from Wicked. Elphaba singing the last bars of Defying Gravity and giving  me goosebumps as I watched her rise in the air defying the odds.  All the while I looked upon the stage wondering what if? What if I had decided to not marry? To not stay in Oklahoma? To do what I had planned as  my 18 year old self?  Where would I be? Could I be where those actors are? Would I be teaching in New York like I had planned?

The sea of faces staring at me looked puzzled. What if? Ms. S is losing it they seem to say in their stares. Then the one sentence escaped from the young ladies mouth,"I would have been sad if you didn't choose us."

Me too too.

Getting to the Gist of It

One of the hardest things for students to understand at this level is how to read informational text and summarize in their own words. The lesson I taught has to do with getting to the gist of it. I wanted my students to be able to read the information and then summarize in 10-15 words the paragraph they read. We had been practicing summarizing in our novels at the time, so moving into the informational text wasn't hard, but for some students they still wanted to write the author's words which is plagiarism.

I choose an article on Saturn from Time For Kids and I read each paragraph and then summarized in 10 words or less on a note card. I used Book 6 from the Comprehension Toolkit to model my lessons after. However, I used articles about Space because the kids were studying this.

We spent 3 days practicing summarizing in articles about Space. Each day students would turn in their best card for an informal assessment to assess their progress.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What is Informational Text?

As we teach students to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction we need to understand that non-fiction is a broad area (just look at the Dewey Decimal System).  So I have begun to refer to content material as Informational Text.  The day I introduced informational text writing. I brought in about 30 different informational books that I like and let the kids explore. As they explored I asked, "What do you notice?" I began to generate a list.
  • title
  • author
  • table of contents
  • pictures
  • bold words
  • index glossary
  • color
  • vivid description
These are just a few things my students came up with.  Then we discussed the purposes of the text features.

The next day I had the following poster up (basically their list) and we reviewed the text features and the purpose.  The task at hand this day  was to locate at least 4 features of the list  in one of the informational books in the tub. They  made a t-chart as they browsed their book finding these items listed and identifying how it helps the reader. At the end I have students sticky note their favorite text feature in the book and share it in a sharing circle.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Dreaded Research Project

You know what I'm talking about. "Just wait, 5th graders!! Soon you will have to do a HUGE research project."  Later on in writer's workshop you find yourself saying, "Think this is rough...wait until your research project!!"

This is how research was introduced to me, as a student,  followed by the AWFUL five paragraph essay.  I detest the formulated 5 paragraph essay so my classes the last few years have done various forms of presentations in place of a research paper following the research experience. My students have made PowerPoint presentations, written free verse poems, made epitaphs, brochures, name it.  But, I now have a new form of presentation---the two page spread (think magazine).  My students are wrapping up their projects, so I will begin posting lessons and how-to's soon!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

SOLC~Just little bit obsessive

So where I do start? I  mailed THE BOX.  The box is gone. I took THE TESTS, and enjoyed my summer with my kids.  Suddenly NOVEMBER arrived.  The month that all the national board forums predict we will find out whether we passed or failed.  Or what is it some people say it's not that you failed it's, "You should be proud of yourself for just trying".  Well, guess what that doesn't help me much. I am a teacher. A person who was born first in her family and has thrived under I am a driven person and I will do it and I will do it well. Well, this person has realized waiting causes her to become OBSESSIVE.  I have checked my profile online on the off chance I missed the email that said when scores are posted; EVEN though I know they are not posted because everyone else is obsessing over them on the forums.  The funny thing is my rational side understands that I have finished the work and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it now.  The papers and tests are graded.  So instead I wait like all the other thousands of applicants across America wait and wonder will I be with the 40% who pass or the 60% who "should be proud because we tried" group.  So after writing all my thoughts out there is only one problem left--I am still waiting. The rational side has officially has it's booty kicked by the obsessive side. :-)

Re-Evaluating for Second Nine Weeks

I have two groups of students: one group is ready to move on and the next group still needs time with narrative writing. I didn't just guess this. I looked at my conferring notes, my data from the grade level rubric, and discussion with my fellow colleagues in my grade level.  So some of my students are writing descriptively within a small poetry unit and others are focusing on telling a small moment using dialogue, inner story, and word choices. What I absolutley love about data driven instruction is the guess work is gone or willy nilly "I think I'll teach that..." doesn't exist. I know exactly what each student has or has not mastered. 

 This nine weeks I have been using less of Lucy's Units of Study and more of Ralph Fletcher's work. So these are some lessons that have been taught in my room since mid October.

  • writing descriptive leads
  • using sense of humor in  endings
  • describing the setting
  • using redunant words
  • outer story vs inner story
  • confusing pronouns
  • using FANBOYS with run-ons
  • using white space in poetry
  • using fragments in poetry
  • the power of words
Where are your students at on the writing continuum?  What are you doing to monitor their progress and find out where they are going? What lessons are  you teaching for second quarter?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

SOLC~Mommy Moments

Getting ready for parent teacher conferences, starting up new writing units, and getting grades finished leads to one tired mommy.  Tonight the girls and I were just playing. Giggling. Having fun. The girls dressed in their new fall pjs.  Hair drying from their bath.

"Mommy, C'mere."

"What do you have, Emma?"

"This." Emma points to a piece of paper that she has used at school. It has her first and last name on it along with Gracie's, Nana's, Papa's, and mine (Mommy).

"Hmmm..well what does this say?" I ask as I point to Emma's first name.

"Emma, " she states then she grins really big and points to her last name. "'Nowsbarger."

My mouth gaped open. I think she just read her last name. I squealed picked her up and twirled her around. "Say it again, Emma!"


My eyes fill with tears. She recognized her last name in print. Her difficult, long last name.  Gracie and I danced with Emma around the living room saying "Snowbarger, Snowbarger!"

These are things mommies are made of.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Celebrating Writers!!!!

Today as my kids put the final touches to their writing, I am in awe of their hard work and dedication. Tomorrow is their day. Celebration of the weeks of revision, partnerships, and writing.  Can't wait to see their reaction tomorrow as my group of writers celebrate themselves!!

“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.”
~John Jake~

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Slice of Life

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter.”

~James Earl Jones

Today isn't so much a slice of life, but more of my musings.  When I read the quote by James Earl Jones, "One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter" I first thought how true.  Then as I began to think about October and it being Down syndrome awareness month I began to ponder on these words even more.  

Last night I watched Ty Pennington's Extreme Home Make Over. It featured a family who had adopted 6 children (who are now adults) with Down syndrome.  The love I saw on all the members of this family made me cry with joy. The pure joy on the workers as they help this family build a home so that the adults with disabilities feel as if they are living on their own, yet have the safety of a care giver near by.  As  a parent of a child who has Down syndrome, I firmly believe that it is my job to speak for her and others that truly cannot.

But, I also believe it is the same for the classroom. It is my job to advocate for my students, for myself, and for my profession.  Right now education is being reformed, bashed, or however you want to word it.  But, I can firmly say that some things do need to change.  I don't have the answers I can only say what I know. 

I know majority of teachers teach because they have desire in their hearts to teach children.
I know not all students are not on grade level--it's my job to make them grow.
I know daily assessment should be driving instruction, formal and informal.
I know the problems will not be fixed over night.
I know we need to work together to change things.
I know both sides have the same driving force--what' best for kids.

My musings may be messy, but it's what is on my heart now. 

Want to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge? Two Writing Teachers would love to have you!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Grammar Rulz

Gone are the days of the only writing you do is out of the grammar book correcting and diagramming sentences. Grammar should be taught within the writing unit.  Teachers need to use the child's writing. Practicing the endless sentences only teaches them to look at certain parts...or in my case it taught me to really dislike the English Grammar Rules. (Thanks to my Comp I professor) Grammar should be used within the child's writing--either in the notebook or in their drafts. ( I do lessons within my drafting and when we go back into our notebooks to practice. ) My lessons this week were from Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined on beginning and ending punctuation and dialogue. 

First I introduced dialogue with Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.  I love to use this book because of the speech bubbles.  Then my students and I look at a typed copy of the book and talk about things they notice.  Then we discuss the "rules" of dialogue.  I follow it up with making comic strips of their own.  I have comic strip examples that we make into written dialogue and then they practice with their writing partner.  After that they make comic strips and then a peer will write the dialogue in paragraph form.  This has been hugely successful in the past.

Hope it works for you!

This is an exciting week for my writers!! CELEBRATION OF OUR PUBLISHED DRAFTS!!!

What are your writers working on?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ways to End Our Stories

As we continue our revision process, my students worked on their endings. We talked about how stories about our lives need to have all the lose ends tied up nice and neat so that the reader has the complete story from beginning, middle, and end.

A few things we put on our chart for ending
  • our stories tie up all the lose ends.
  • can end the same way it begans (repeated line or phrase)
  • don't use "the end"
  • don't end in "happily ever after" that is reserved for fairy tales
  • reflect the mood of the author and what they were thinking
We looked at my writing and that of our mentor text.  Then I had students meet with their writing partners to discuss what type ending would work for their piece and then revise three different versions of an ending.  I have found that allowing students a time to play with words and work on endings in their notebooks  helps them see things from a different perspective and really use the notebook as a place to revise before putting it on draft paper.

Happy Revising!!!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SOLC--It's the Little Things

I love my job. I love watching kids grow themselves as readers and writers, but I know I am missing out on watching my own kids grow.  Today as Emma and I came home with fries in hand from Mickey D's we heard Gracie playing in the backyard. I told Emma to go on outside and I put the "pile-o-stuff" from the day away.  Within in seconds I hear a small voice excitedly saying, "My mommy's here!! She's really here!! I love her and miss her!!"

My heart literally skipped a beat as I turned and eneveloped my Gracie goose girl.  She grabbed with all of her mighty might and kissed my face, "I love you Mommy! Miss you!"  She squeezed me and then told me to go play outside.

I miss her too when I'm gone. I hope my girls will understand when they are older that sometimes Mommy's work, but we make the most of it when I'm home!!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Art of Seeing Again

The revision process of writing used to be grueling and gut wrenching for my writers until we had George Ella Lyon speak at our school.  She brought the many revisions to her picture book Mother to Tigers taped together and had the students hold a piece until the completed strand decorated the entire media center. I remember being in awe that day as I looked at this published author and how she slashed through pages of prose to ultimately have the perfect edition of the book.  My writers were astonished as well. One of the conversations in our room after was how we use different lenses to revise. That  revising means to see the piece in a different way.  Today as I began this process with a new group of writers I explained that sometimes to grow as  a writer it hurts a little bit.  Letting go can provide a new opportunity for a better sentence or mental image for the reader.  Meaningful revision, albeit sometimes painful, opens the door for a better writer and a published piece worthy of celebration.

from Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SOLC-Thank You Mommy

You too can participate in a slice of life at
Princess lovin' Gracie. All things glittery, tiaras, scepters. My princess.  I have been on the hunt for Cinderella. I had sticker shock when it cost 35.99 for a dvd.  Last week on Amazon, I was getting a new book for my classroom and decided to just see if there were any used ones cheaper.  Guess what!  I brand new store opened and had the platinum 2 disc set for 19.99.  It arrived in the mail 2 days later.

"Guess what Gracie!"

"Yes, Mommy."

"I got you Cinderella the movie!"

"Oh, thank you mommy." She squeezes me tight. "I love you soooo much!"

My three-year old dirt dauber princess sat and watched the whole thing.  Uninterrupted.

It is true. Cinderella is perfect. Perfect for us!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Conferring With My Writers

Conferring time has become one of my favorite pieces of the writer's workshop.  It's taken me a few years, but I've finally figured out what works for me.  I make appointments with all my kids M-TH.  Each day I meet with 5-6 students.  These are the same each week.  Before I begin conferecing I ask if anyone would like to sign up for a conference. If I have a list, I will try to get to them after I finish with my scheduled appointments.  Typically at the beginning of the year not many students request one, but by the end of the year it can get quite long. The format I use when keeping notes is below.

Basic Conference Form for a Student                                                              

During my conferences, I stick with teaching one thing. This one thing will need to be something that will make them grow in their writing craft.  We discuss their writing goal and look for evidence that they are working on it withing the piece they share with me.

This time is something that I have grown to cherish. What is your favorite time in writer's workshop?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Drafting A Piece

On Friday, my students and I began looking at the ways we use our notebooks on a daily basis and deciding when it was time to move from our notebook to drafting a lesson.  My activity idea stemmed from a post last year from Two Writing Teachers.

As we began to brainstorm what works in our notebooks and how it looks different outside the notebook. I realized how far these kids have come in four short weeks.  As we began to discuss the importance of choosing a seed idea to grow their excitement began to take over. At this point in the workshop I stopped and we made the plan for our writing time together and I was then able to watch as my fifth graders dialogued with their writing partner about their notebooks and why certain entries are in the running to draft and others were not.  By the end of the 20 minute session most of my students had an idea and were writing away adding to the entry and discussing with their partners how to make it better.

This next week students will be drafting and honing in on their writing craft in whole group and small group instruction.  I will also meet with kids daily to confer about their writing and growing real writers.  Where are you at in writer's workshop? Generating ideas?  Honing the craft through drafting?  Publishing? 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Awesome site:Tagxedo

I love Wordles, but it's very difficult to save. Here is a great site TAGXEDO that does the same thing!! So excited to use this with my students. I made the word cloud below using the text from this site.

My Own Writing: Draft One

Working on a presentation not as an educator, but a parent.  The presentation is for special education staff and informing them of how it feels in the parent seat.

Shhh…It’s a Secret
I can’t allow myself to think and feel the reality of what it means to have a disabled child.  I can’t allow myself to stop and listen to my heart break as the dreams I had for her before she was born float from my grasp daily. I can’t allow myself to let anyone see that I am not as strong as I pretend to be when dealing with the dailies of our lives. I can’t allow myself to believe that the only job she will have is sweeping up trash. I can’t allow myself to stop fighting for one minute because the world will believe that I too have given up on her.  I can’t allow myself these thoughts. 

The thought that this child could have died before she was even born. The thought that when people see her they don’t see a child, but a child born broken with too many chromosomes and too many doctors and too many problems.  The thought that she will never leave my home. The thought that I will always have a child with the emotional IQ of a six or seven year old.  The thought that if I die her life would never be the same because others might not be able to see her potential. The thought that she will be the butt of someone’s joke and not even be aware. Instead smile at them because they are smiling too.  The thought that her three year old sister already talks circles around her and she is half of Emma’s age.  The thought that people see a happy Downs kid instead of a child who chooses to smile in the face of adversity when she should be whimpering at the task ahead.

 I want people to realize that each day and each night I face the reality of my world of the disabled. Sometimes it crushes my heart and soul and I can hardly breathe.  Often times it looks like I’m angry, it looks like I’m in pain, it looks like I’m afraid,  but often it is the overwhelmingnes off it all.  Often times I think will she ever read?  Will she always refuse to write?  Will she have friends even when she pushes them and hits them?   Do teachers and other parents understand that each time I talk with her about her misbehavior I wonder if she truly understands because she can’t tell me if she does?  Do I even know how to be a parent? I didn’t expect parenthood to be easy, but I never thought it would be this hard.

I wonder if other parents feel as I do.  I wonder if they too fear that their child will be ostracized and made fun of because her eyes are shaped differently or her gate is jumpy or her speech is slurred?  I wonder if I am alone with worry about her future?  Do they wonder if she will be able to cook for herself  or live alone or drive a car or find the one true friend of a lifetime?  Do other parents grieve when their kid can’t ride a bike or swim or refuses to eat because she can’t stand the texture of meat?  Do other parents want to cry at back to school night when you realize she will not accomplish ¼ of the objectives for first grade? 
I can’t allow the fears, the worries, the what ifs to consume me.   I can’t allow myself to stop and pause. If I did my heart would break.  Instead I put up my walls, I walk proud and strong even if it is a fa├žade.  I do not show my shaking hands, my weary heart, my tear stained cheeks. If I did, what would those teachers say?  I don’t want comfort. I don’t want pity. I just want my kid to be normal.  The problem is I am that teacher. I am her.  I know normal doesn’t exist, but I would give anything to have it.

My job as an educator is to have all the answers on how to properly educate a child, yet, I often feel at a loss as to how to help my own child learn.  I know the data, research, and best practices. I can recite them in my sleep and teach them daily, but I am faced with the realization that I fear nothing will  work with my kid. I fear that she will be a statistic.   A number.  Someone who exists, but does not contribute to society.  Some of my fears are rational…most are irrational, but yet they are there in the back of my mind when I read every email, answer and return every phone call, attend a parent teacher conference, look into the eyes of her teacher and lie when I say I think it’s going to be the best year. Because when it comes down to it I am just a mother. A mother of a fantastic kid who happens to live with a disability.  The fears don’t win everyday. So please when I come in and act normal, crazy, sad, happy or just funny understand these fears are also there.  We just don’t tell.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mentor Text

Today my students and I looked at the book Saturdays and Teacakes with the purpose of what can I learn as a writer from this author. We discussed how when we read we can use a writer's eye and see what lessons we can learn from the author.  A few things we discovered that we want to work on this week

  • our writing has meaning
  • our writing should create mental images so our reader can picture it
  • we write to remember
  • we use similes, onomatopoeia, alliteration
Our  focus this week is realizing that our writing must have meaning for the writer and a message to the reader.   With small moment writing this is a key piece to the concept. The piece must have meaning.  Meaning is getting to the heart of the story. So I ask you, what message are you sending your readers today?  What is your idea to the world?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Monday Musings

Remembering the past is vital to our being. Honoring those that have fallen a patriotic tradition. The fifth graders I teach now did not experience September 11, 2001.  How I remember that year. My first year teaching.  The realization that everything changed in one moment.  I was headed to Jenks Wild (an environmental camp) and it was three days before I saw the horrific pictures of people jumping out of the towers and the airplanes heading toward the towers.  Nothing prepares a person for those images.  My question is how do you delicately teach this to students who are so impressionable? This wasn't a video game. People died.  Perhaps it can be taught through my writer's workshop--through a memoir entry.  Our lives as Americans changed that day. I hope the zealots wanting to burn the Quran realize that burning this book will not bring the people who died that day or in the Wars back.  We have spent nine years trying to heal.  Let's continue it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Goal Setting

After spending time getting to know my students and completing my pre-assessments for the district, (STAR and I did an on demand writing piece) my students are working on reading and writing goals. We are talking about what strategic readers do as they read and what good writing looks like, sounds like and how it makes the reader feel.  We talk about how not only do we need to have goal, but a plan to put it into place.  My district uses Quality Tools and one of my favorite tools for goal setting is the Plan-Do-Study-Act. 

For reading we begin with  a chart entitled "What Strategic Readers Do" and go from there. Then I have each child work through their strengths and weaknesses as a reader. Next, they write their own goal with a plan of action. We review it together during our reading conference. I will go back to this as we continue to meet throughout the nine weeks. (Keep in mind I am also writing my own reading goal with them. So they see me work through the process also)

In Writing, we brainstorm what 5th grade writing sounds like, looks like and how it makes a reader feel as they read it. Then we make a class goal for writing for us to accomplish by the end of 5th grade.  After I've modeled with the class goal,  they write their own goal.  This tool is great to use because it keeps the students focused on one area to grow, much like our writing conferences.  My writing conference begin with Let's take a look at your goal and what are you working on as a writer to accomplish it. 

We revisit the goals during writing conferences and at the end of each published/graded writing piece. With reading we revisit during reading conferences and after we take the STAR assessment.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Data Driven Instruction

Do you know how to take the guess work out of instruction? Using Douglas Reeves' work to support my formal and informal assessments allows me to know exactly where each and everyone of my students are on the curriculum continuum. There is no reason to make "guesses" as to where my students are on their educational journey.  Making data decisions is easy using a variety of formal and informal assessments.
  • STAR reading scores
  • exit cards
  • reading conferences
  • writing conferences
  • grade level rubrics
  • using classroom work to decide the next day's lessons
My assessments are ongoing and mostly informal. My two formal assessments are the STAR reading scores and the grade level rubric. This data will help you understand where your students are and where they need to go. So take the guess work out of the next day's lesson and use data driven instruction!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Best Practices and Testing

I was the guest blogger at Two Writing Teachers today. Please check it out. Also pre-order Ruth and Stacey's new book from Stenhouse.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Have Classroom Bloggers

Today my students launched their on-line blogs. I could not have done it without the help of Mrs. G! My students are very excited about their new blogs. I am sure we have hiccups to work through, but I am so proud of them for being patient and listening attentively.  The exciting thing for me is that some of my students who weren't so pumped about at home writing are now very pumped!  I highly recommend Weebly's services!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Native Techno Users

One of the great things about the world today is there are over four different generations in the work place and we are teaching students who are born into the techno world. We on the other had are immigrants into this world.  I wish I could say I was super techno savvy. Yes, I have a SMARTboard and yes I try to not make it a glorified white board, but this year I really wanted to take the step next with student involvement.  With the help of my fabulous media specialist Mrs. G, I am off to a great start. We are using Weebly for education as our host.  I have set up my students' accounts and my account. The goal of this class site is for my students to write at home using the blog feature. It is set up to be a private blog and only users with the password can enter the site.  It isvery easy to set up and I'm very pleased to say that on Monday my students are going to jump in and begin creating their sites and hopefully we will have blogs going by Friday. 

My overall purpose for the blogs is to engage my students in Writing Outside of the School Day (calling it W.O.O.T.S).  Writers don't just write at school. They write at all times of the day.  My expectation will be for them to write 3 days a week.  So here's hoping the techno-savvy 5th graders will buy in and write, write, write!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SOLC~Grief Happens

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With the excitement of the new year comes Back To School Night. Tonight I get to be mommy and not teacher. Tonight I am able to sit back and listen and soak all of the elementary-ness of it. I absolutely love a primary education classroom. The color. The newness. The learning I know takes place. I am in awe when I realize the first graders in this room are going to LEARN to read in this room. As I fill out the paper work and Mrs. T begins her presentation the new report card comes around. I take a look and realize that my little one is up a creek. Just last week I was explaining to my students what it meant to have a genetic disorder that my kid is no different from them except that she learns at a slower pace. It's one thing to say this to my students and another to see it in black and white. To know that my first grader is actually on the same cognitive level as my 3 year old. To see it in black and white makes it so real. I do realize this sounds like I'm in denial. I am fully aware of what Little E can and can't do. But a few times a year the realness hits me like a wall. But in the realness of it all I was able to see my daughter's heart topics that she chose and remembered the conversation I had with Miss L today about this writing activity. How Emma was able to tell her using her own words what was important to her: her mommy, her daddy, Gracie, school, music, crowns (aka princess) and Izzy Bea. It shouldn't matter that she is delayed. I am so thankful she is happy and healthy. But I do wish the realness of Down syndrome didn't have to hit me so hard.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One Little Word

As the new school year begins to rush about I have begun to really reflect on my one little word for 2010--PASSION(see here) Today as my students and I were buzzing around ticking things off our daily to do list I realized that I have been so focused on "feeling" passion that I have not stopped to see if my kids think I exhibit passion. As we were in the computer lab trying to type up our baseline on demand writing pieces, I realized that at that moment I was not exhibiting passion. Even in the midst of trying to get 27 fifth graders typing I should at lest exhibit something besides frustration. I guess the O.L.W wasn't ideally achieved today, but I hope in May my students are able to say they saw passion within me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Grand Conversations

As we begin the new school year and our routines, I encourage you to make sure that you participate in what Lucy Calkins calls Grand Conversations. A time for the community to come together and discuss their reading. Today we had our first grand conversation. Right now it is teacher directed, but I know as time goes on students will gradually take control, but today I witnessed pockets of student driven conversation as they discussed the possibility that Lynsey and Dave from No Talking are taking the boy/girl cootie battle a little too far. What I like most about grand conversation is it student owned and teacher facilitated.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reading Is Thinking

Reading is no longer a passive activity in my room. This week I have been reviewing the comprehension strategies. According to the pre-assessment I gave earlier in the week. Only a handful of students needed a review on visualization and making connections. I will continue to briefly review the remaining strategies this week, but my first areas of focus will be asking questions as we read and inferring.

I have been making charts for the class as we review.

Chart 1:
Lists all the strategies with a phrase to help them remember the purpose

Chart 2:
I see the movie in my mind because I know to visualize.

Chart 3:
Making connections to reading
Use schema
schema=background knowledge=the things I already know
text to self t>s connecting what I am reading to my life
text to text t>t connecting what I am reading to another text I've read
text to world t>w connecting what I am reading to world (ie movies, what's in the news, famous leaders)

Chart 4:
Asking Questions
I wonder...
Ask questions BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER reading

Thin questions: can be answered within the text...usually one word answers
Thick questions: can't be answered easily

Chart 5:
background knowledge + evidence from the text=inference

Chart 6:
The main idea of book.

Chart 7:
Creating new meaning from the text

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SOLC~New Beginnings

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The beginning of the school year is more like a New Year's Celebration.  We see the new faces and the excitement of what is to come hits! August for me has many more emotions such as the anniversary of my cousin's passing and the anniversary of the finalization of my divorce. I never imagined I would do all of this as a single parent. When I got married I didn't think this would even be a possibility. And this August was extremely difficult personally. I had gone on Family Medical Leave in May so I was home for 3 months before I went back to work. We are adjusting. Emma adjusted quickly. I adjusted ok, but Grace on the other hand is still adjusting.  Amongst all this life commotion I decided to get a new family member for our household. I am so glad I did. She is a wonderful addition. Sweet. Loving. Cute. I haven't had a dog since I was kid and she passed when I was 20.  I've always said that my family was complete with just the girls and I, but I was very wrong. It is now complete...with the our newest puppy addition--Izzy Bea.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On Demand Writing

This week as I introduced the concept of Writer's Notebooks and getting to the kids, I have realized that I truly don't need to start at the beginning.  I am lucky that our feeder school shares in our same philosophy of best practices and teaches Writer's Notebooks. On Monday as I began my lesson on watermelon topics and seed ideas, my students began to take over the lesson. I giggled with excitement and immediately changed my course. I usually do a run down of the fundamentals of small moment writing, but have now decided to do an on demand writing piece Thursday and Friday. I plan on giving them  two days to produce a small moment rough draft. I will collect these and read them over the weekend to determine what the next course of action will be taken with writing. I am anticipating only a handful to need lessons on capturing the seed idea and would rather hone their writing craft than teach whole group lessons on seed ideas. 

I am looking forward to reading their small moments and determining the next round of lessons. :-)

Goldilocks Reading

My requirement for my fifth graders is they must have 2 books checked out from the library.  One of them must be a just right reading book and the other I allow them to be a book of their choice. Many of my students love the Guiness books or drawing book and those are great, but a little difficult to write reading responses on.

Just right reading books are the perfect reading level for the individual reader.  I teach this by relating it to the fairytale-Goldilocks and the three bears. I inform my 5th graders that really the story has changed through the years and the original was all about finding the perfect book. I retell the story about ol' Goldilocks going into the bears' home. She went straight to the library upstairs across from baby bear's bedroom. She is astonished by all the books she sees on the shelves. Fiction, non-fiction, The books are everywhere. On the table in the middle of the room are three books.  The first book had all these big words she couldn't pronounce. It was way too hard to read.  The second book on the table was her favorite Dr. Seuss book. In fact, she knew it by memory. It is an easy book, but fun to read. The next book was a chapter book. How Goldilocks loved chapter books. She picked it up and began to read.  Never stumbling over difficult words.  She was able to see the movie in her mind as she read. She loved this book.  She had found her just right book.

Now, I don't stop there. Students have to see me in the library before they check out and we look at the book together. They essentially have to prove to me why it is their perfect book.  I meet with students regularly and check on the books they are reading independently.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Procedure, Procedure, Procedure

This week as we started school I was reminded of the importance of procedure, procedure, procedure. I was secretly coveting the teachers who loop because they are just reviewing procedure instead of practicing it over and over and over.

A few things we are working on in my room

1) Reading actively during silent reading time.
2)  Finding our perfect reading and writing spots.
3) Transitions and lining up.
4) Coming to the carpet from our assigned seats.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recommendations for Your Professional Library

Books that have changed my teaching life.

Carol Ann Tomlinson's  The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners

This book teaches you how to differentiate appropriately and respectfully for all the learners in the classroom. Let's face it, you will have 20 or more students and none of them will be at the same place. This book teaches how to address it.  My favorite way to differentiate is through tiering.  This method makes it easy and efficient to adapt lesson plan and address the learners in the room

Ellin Oliver Keene's Mosaic of Thought and To Understand

These books revolutionized the desire in my heart for teaching reading and writing in the classroom. I knew I wanted something different which is why my curriculum resource instructor pointed me in the direction of Mosaic of Thought. It was exactly what I needed. To believe that reading is more than just answering questions about a passage is exactly what I wanted someone to say. And not only did she say it, but then later produced a second book after I started reader's and writer's workshop that changed the way I look at the entire model in my classroom in the her latest book To Understand. 

Cris Tovani's I Read It, but I Don't Get It

This is an enjoyable read. It does address the older reader, but I have found it is easily adaptable to lower levels.  However, you can also read Debbie Miller's Reading With Meaning and it will provide a great framework for reader's workshop especially for the primary classrooms.

Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis Strategies That Work

This is the book I read after Mosaic of Thought. Every teacher MUST read this if he/she plans to implement reader's workshop.

Ralph Fletcher's Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices

Being a mom of girls, it has always been my fear that I would misunderstand the boy in the classroom and not provide appropriate mentor texts and modeling. This book is a must read! I laughed out loud more than once as I read and had immediate strategies at my fingertips on how to help my boy writers succeed in writing.

Lucy Calkin's: Now she has TONS of books. Big, thick, luscious books.  I will never forget sitting in a National Board meeting and a fellow scholarship recipient informing me she was going to read both editions in 7 days before school started. Without even thinking I began to laugh (I know not one of my better moments) and said, "YOU'RE kidding! That's a lot to digest."  That being said her books on teaching writing and reading are powerful, but for a reader like me I digest them one chapter at a time looking for what I need information on. However, I do use her Units of Study for Writing.  (She also has a primary set.) I would be lost in my writer's workshop without them. I read through the lessons and adapt, change, modify to fit my goal.  I have found these to be a great starting point. I am now on my third year with the set and I notice I am not opening them as much at the beginning of the year. Hoping this is a sign that I have synthesized her work or maybe just channeling Lucy. :-)

If you are a new teacher or new to literacy workshop these are a must read!  I will follow up in a few weeks with more of my favorite books, but these should get you started.