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.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reader's Workshop

After reading Ellin Keene's book To Understand, I changed the name of my Language Arts class to literacy workshop.  My day is designed with 1 1/2-2 hours of literacy and 30-45 minutes of direct instruction for social studies. Often times my social studies reading is embedded within my literacy block. My students write every day and have mini-lessons in reading and writing. My first novel of the year is Frindle by Andrew Clements. I will draw upon the First 20 Days from Fountas and Pinnell's Guided Reading and Writing and review the comprehension strategies and really stress to my students that reading is not a passive activity, but one that is full of thinking and engagement. 

I am very lucky to have a district that puts thinking first and my students have been working on reading comprehension strategies for many years. Usually, I preassess each strategy prior to teaching it then begin my  the strategy lessons.  This year I plan to assess before I even begin my quick overview of the strategies.I haven't finalized my pre-assessment, but I know it will have some of these questions.
  1. What does it mean when you are asked to visualize while you read?
  2. What are the ways you make connections to the text?
  3. What do you do when you don't understand what you are reading?
  4. What is an inference?
  5. Why is it important to ask questions as you read?
  6. What does it mean to think while you read?
  7. How do you feel about yourself as a reader when you read?

Some mini-lessons that I plan on teaching the first week of school are

  • Just Right Books: How to use the Goldilocks Method
  • How to Keep a Reading Log
  • Fix Up Strategies when I Lose My Way
  • Silent Reading Expectations

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oh The Places We'll Go!!

"Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!"
Dr. Seuss from Oh, The Place's You'll Go

In honor of those starting their first day of school today! And to my little E as I send you off to 1st Grade!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Building Stamina

I use an adapted/modified version of the Daily 5 in my room, and I love their chapter on how to build stamina in reading and writing.  At the beginning of the year, we start out at 20 minutes, but my goal is to get to 45 minutes  to an hour of uninterrupted writing by February.  My 5th graders take a state mandated writing test and it is untimed, but I have found this to be very helpful in their stamina on the day of the writing test. They aren't surprised by the amount of energy exerted if we have rehearsed it daily.

How to Build Stamina

1)  Set a timer for 20 minutes.  After the day's mini-lesson explain to students that they are expected to write for 20 minutes today.  Review the writing goal for the day and release them to write.
2) During this time I am conferring with students and listening. Writing means silence. When I begin to hear a buzz in the classroom or the timer ends I stop them and bring them back to the carpet.
3) We make our goal for the next day for how many minutes to write and move onto the next activity.

The hardest part for me while building stamina is ending early on the days the kids choose not to focus.  I kept wanting them to "shhhh." But, if you keep track with a bar graph and record it, the students WANT to make the goal set for the day.

What do you do to build stamina for writing and reading in your classroom?

Monday, August 9, 2010

SOLC~Burning Excitement

August. One of my favorite times of the year. The supplies arrive by truckloads to the hot spots for school supplies. Then I see pens...sharpies, Bic, crayola markers. I admit it. I have an addiction. My mission: the perfect pen. It varies from year to year, but right now it is the fine point sharpie. The new ones that don't bleed through the paper.

But really I think that I choose on focusing on the perfect pen until I meet THEM. The chosen 53 students assigned to me--their teacher. Tonight I met THEM. Now, I'm no longer thinking about the pens or school supplies, but the beautiful faces I spoke to tonight. The hands I shook while smiling and saying, "Welcome to my room!!" All the while excitement brewing. A new year has begun. Welcome, August; welcome students. Bring on the pens!!!

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Two Writing Teachers

Where to Work?

As I began to set up my classroom this week,  I kept in mind the choice that students will have in where they will work.  I have designed my room to fit the needs of those that like a work station and the ones who like to sit around the room. When establishing routines and procedures one of my mini-lessons will be about the place you choose to sit and work.  I have tables in my classroom instead of desks and and the tables are in a U-shape on the outline of the edge of the carpet. This provides a huge space for my teaching time (always done on the carpet up front by the Smartboard) and for individual writing time.

Procedure for Choice Seating

1) Think about what you like. Do you prefer to lay on your stomach to write or sit up right?
2) Choose to sit somewhere where there aren't any distractions for you.
3) Make sure it's comfortable and you are able to write or read for at least 20 minutes.
4) Each day try a different spot until you find the right fit.
5) Once you choose a spot for the day, stay there.  You may return to your seat if you find your chosen spot is uncomfortable but do not change locations in the classroom. (This prevents moving close to a friend after they  have chosen a seat.)
6) Write, write, write.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Boy Writers

There is a great post on Boy Writers at Two Writing Teachers. Take a look. This is one of my top 5 favorite books and it really changed how I get my boy writers to work in my room. I read this book in one sitting and laughed and realized what I needed to do to help my boys reach success in Writer's Workshop.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Calling All Writers

The beginning of the school year means a clean slate with my writers. At the end of the year I always grieve that I have to start anew and fresh with writer's workshop and miss watching my current writers grow, but when it actually rolls around in the fall I overflow with excitement as I begin to look at what the journey will be for my new writers and me. I have a few lessons that are my favs that I start with at the beginning of the year.

Beginning Activities to Write

1) Listing: This has become one of my favorite activities to do when I am stuck and don't know what to write about. Lucy Calkins talks in her book Launching the Writer's Workshop that listing can be about people, places, feelings, and issues, but I also add important events, funny happenings in your life, and holidays. I model this process for my students in my writer's notebook and then I begin a small moment off one of the brainstormed ideas.

2)Mapping: I am not an artist...let me just clarify this now, but I love color so I tend to make my maps very colorful and I allow my students to spend lots of time on their maps. A few maps I have done in the past are neighborhood maps, house maps, and heart maps.

-Neighborhood Maps are drawn on paper pointing out key places and people where stories from growing up occurred. I have done a map of my childhood home and my house I live with my kids. The key to this type of map is not to list everything in your neighborhood, but as you are drawing stories pop up and you begin to mull over the memories which lead to stories.

-House Maps are intended to do this same. Last year when I drew my house map the students noticed I begin just writing key phrases onto the paper. This happened because as I was talking to them about the different things in my house stories kept coming to mind that I wanted to write. I felt this was very important. They were able to see that the purpose wasn't to draw a pretty picture but truly brainstorm ideas.

-Heart Maps are designed to brainstorm what I call watermelon or big topics. Then I have the students share these big topics with their writing partners. Then as they discuss the big topics they write down seed ideas from their discussion of the big idea.

For more ideas about different maps you could use read the book My Map Book by Sara Fanelli.

3)Quick Writes: I hesitate even bringing these up so early because many people associate quick writes with writing prompts and that is not what I mean. The idea comes from Donald Graves' book My Quick Writes for Inside Writing. My students have loved several of his ideas. My favorite to start with is the hand brainstorm. You draw a picture of your hand and think of different stories that have touched her hand. For example, the first time I held my daughters, holding my grandmother's hand before she passed, giving a students a high five after they've accomplished a hard task...

I do not make all my writers brainstorm each time we practice. I do ask they complete the maps and the quick writes during the small moment unit of study, but I do not require them to do it each time they sit down to write. Sometimes kids come to you with many stories they want to write about. After my mini lessons for the day I tell my students they have a choice. Choice 1 is to go and write a story that is in their mind and heart. Choice 2 begin with the strategies I taught today (or previously they are listed on chart paper) and see if a story emerges. Choice 3 finish a story in their notebook. As teacher of writer's workshop I have evolved from all must do what I taught for the day each day. I let them move at their pace and write about their topic.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Journey As Writers

Journey of a Writer

pencils scribbling
eraser flecks
we are writers
pages rustling
minds engaging
we are writers

dream, hope
believe, breathe



As my students begin their writing journey, I need to model for them and help them find ways to think about the stories in their hearts, but most importantly students must develop a sense of community within the classroom so they feel safe enough to share their writing.

1)MODEL, MODEL, MODEL: Not only should we as teachers model writing, but model what is sounds like to talk to another writer about their writing. I do this in my conferences, but I also do this when kids share their writing. I model by saying what I liked about their writing piece.

2) CHART PAPER IS YOUR FRIEND: Make a list of appropriate ways to compliment someone's writing. I keep my chart posted so that all students can see it. Most of the time I start of the chart with my own favorite prompts.

"I like the way you..."
"My favorite part was.....because..."

At first students will use "This reminds me of..." I explain to my writers that it is a compliment when their writing helps the reader make connections to their own life, but as we progress through out the year I try to make the students focus on the craft of writing.

3)SHARING IN SMALL GROUPS: I have students share in a smaller group before they come to the carpet for the sharing circle involving the entire class. This helps those that would not normally share in a large circle still have an opportunity to shine in a smaller setting.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Creating Writer's Notebooks

I love, love, love my writer's notebook! It is the place I put mementos that I cherish, stories that are in my heart, poems that echo in my mind and many other items that mean something to me. Students need to see what Writer's Notebooks are and what you do with them. The Amelia Bedelia books are ideal for introducing this type of writing.

Writer's Notebooks are a treasure chest of stories and ideas. To help remind students of this I give them a poem typed by by Brad Bogart. Students glue this into the cover of their notebook and then decorate their notebook. Then I use contact paper to cover and protect the notebook.

Writer's Notebook Poems by Brad Bagert

After we decorate our notebooks we take a look inside mine. The students and I sit on the carpet and take a stroll through the favorite pages of my own notebook. My goal with this day is to create a desire for them to write and save ephemera for their own notebooks. (If you would like a detailed post about what can go inside a notebook Ruth Ayer's at Two Writing Teachers has written a wonderful post about it.) Writer's Notebooks are a great way to rejuvenate writing in the classroom. It certainly changed mine four years ago!

Monday, August 2, 2010


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Looking at their faces tonight as they sleep I wish time would stand still. The hustle and bustle of our last days before school begins seemed to take hold today as Gracie screamed, "Princess dress!" down the aisles of Wal-Mart.  But, now, now you rest. You are angels given to me and I am truly blessed and hopefully next time you are skipping down the aisles at the checkout yelling, "Nana kisses! Not Mommy kisses!"  I will remember how sweet and QUIET you are when you sleep.  I am tired from the day, but it is these days I cherish because I know soon, very soon you will be 16 asking for the car keys and not wanting any kisses unless they are from your boyfriend.  How I wish time would stand still.  Time, precious, quickly moving and tick-tick-ticking away.  

Monday Musings

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Maya Angelou

About a month ago I started preparing for my new school year and this quote popped out at me. One thing I want my students to realize is that we all have something to tell others whether it is a heartbreaking story of loss or a story of love---parents finding love after a bitter divorce or the day a new puppy arrived in the home and all the stories are important. The story doesn't have to be painful, heart wrenching, or over the top filled with excitement. What matters is telling the story. What Ms. Angelou wants us to realize is it is painful to not tell others the stories in our souls and hearts. There is no greater celebration to watch than a group of writers who have put a small piece of themselves on paper for others to savor and enjoy.

Some of the ways I plan to begin are simple

1) Writer's Notebook Creation: Set aside a few hours at the beginning of the year to create the notebook so students have a place to cherish their words.

2) Create a Community: Build a sense of sharing within the class community so all feel safe to share their stories that are essentially a piece of their heart.

3) Brainstorm: Show students ways to brainstorm the stories in their heart by listing important people and places in their life.