Jan 12, 2017

What Does Growth Really Mean?

This week has been all about benchmark testing.  For my district that means Aimsweb assessments in the K-2 grades.  We also use the DRA to determine their reading level and analyze reading behaviors.  It can be a daunting task to see all the names to be assessed and the stacks upon stacks of DRA folders.  But...oh...it feels so good to see it slowly decrease in size and you begin to have a clearer vision of where you are headed in the upcoming weeks.

It is a reflection time for me.  Using LLI this year, I really know my students as readers.  The reading records that are used every other day give me a lot of insight into my teaching points.  The DRA helps me to see how it is all coming together through a "cold" read.  I am able to really look at what reading behaviors I need to focus on more, or phonics skills, or comprehension strategies.  I can also discover what strategies students have become very successful at using.  This reflection allows me to try to fill some gaps and realize some of the good work that has been done so far.

This is the positive side of my brain.

Then there is the other side.  The side that is telling me that I have not done enough to help them grow as readers.  The side that analyzes each student and realizes that they just did not quite grow enough.  They just fell short of that benchmark or they are making gains that are just so small.  Should I be doing this job?  Am I qualified?  Why aren't they growing more!?!

But then I have to step away from that side of my brain (or I have to be nicely encouraged to step away by my teammates).  And I have to remember that growth has a different meaning for each child.  Yes, DRA states they should be reading at a level XYZ and Aimsweb says that the norm is for a student to be reading Xwords per minute.  But if they don't hit that prescribed benchmark, it doesn't mean they have not worked their tails off to get where they are at, or that I have not come in each day and tried to instill a love for books while embedding the teaching of reading behaviors, phonics patterns, sight words, and comprehension strategies.

I have.  And they have.

Growth is going to look different for each student and they have to move at a pace that is going to work for them and their needs. If I stunt that love for the learning and reading, then that growth is going to come to a staggering halt.  I just want to give my all.  And I want to inspire, engage, and encourage my students to do the same.  Through this effort...they will grow.

And I will grow.


Jan 5, 2017

OLW 2017

I get excited to think about my "one little word" for the year because it helps me to strive and improve; yet, not be too overwhelmed.  When I would make resolutions in the past, many times I would feel let down or confined to my choice.  The last two years I have focused on the word time. There were a few different reasons for this.
1. My girls are getting older.  This means no more nap time (which was my blogging/creating time).  So I had to really examine my time and how I wanted to spend it.  I didn't want them to remember me behind a computer screen.
2. Me.  I was leaving no time for me.  My laptop was open late into the night, I was pushing myself harder, and harder at work.  I needed to step back and look at what I really wanted to be doing with my time.  This reflection has left me with more time for puzzles, books, and conferences/PD to push me in the direction that I want to go professionally.
3. And then there is death.  I know...morbid, right.  But it happens and all I can do about it is make the most of the time that I have and with the people that matter to me.  So I focused my time on forming memories with the people around me.  This meant that I have spent more time roller skating, hiking, swimming, and cuddled on the couch watching the British Baking Show.

And after two years of working on this word, I feel better.  There is plenty of room to grow but I feel better about the priorities I have established in my life.

This year I have chosen the word kind.  It is certainly a word that we have all seen floating around social media these past few months.  It is no secret that we need more of it in the world.  But I need to put more of it in my life too. I ask my girls each day before I leave for work to please be kind at school.  What am I doing to model this?  So what does this word mean to me this year?

And so that is exactly what I am going to find out in 2017.


Jan 1, 2017

A Mentor Text to Warm Up Your Winter

Happy New Year!  2017 is here and what better way to kick it off then to try out some new mentor texts in your classroom!  Today you can click through and find some lessons to help you "warm up" those long winter days.  I am excited to share a new favorite book, Bunny Slopes, by Claudia Rudea.

 This text is perfect for the PreK-1st grade age range (although, my second grade daughter really enjoyed reading it, as well).  The main character is a bunny and he is eager to go skiing; however, in order to do so, he asks the reader for some help.  In order for the bunny to go skiing, the reader must shake, tilt, and turn the book.  In the end, the reader is going on an adventure right along with the bunny!  It is simple, sweet, and (the best part) interactive.

Students make an interactive verb book

For this text to work, students must actually interact with the book and the characters.  What better way to introduce verbs!  A verb is an action and to make this type of book work, students must preform an action.  The lesson outlined below will work for a variety of classrooms, depending on their level of need.  Some students may be ready to discuss the different shades of meaning with verbs, while other classrooms may just be learning what a verb is.

Honestly, I would jump right into this book without an introduction.  It is such a fun book and I want the students to just enjoy it the first time that it is read without looking for verbs or predicting what is going to happen.  Just let them enjoy it the first time around.  But after that initial read, then the teaching can begin with one question, "What did the bunny ask us to do?"  By asking this one question, we can begin to help the students define the what a verb is.  It may be helpful to write the definition and the words "shake, tilt, and turn" on chart paper.

Then it is time for the next read.  But this time students need to listen for verbs, or action words.  When the verbs are found during the second or third read, they can be added to the chart paper.  But the students can also continue to interact with the book.  This brings the verbs to life and helps them to understand that they are action words.

Only a few verbs are used within Bunny Slopes; however, after reading the book the students can be invited to come up with some of their own action words to add to the list.  Students can even act out these words.  I always like to provide some non-examples, as well, to help them really distinguish between what is and is not a verb.

To help students have a better understanding of how to use verbs, they can create their own book.  And the best part...the readers will interact with the book using the verbs that your students choose!  This book can be used in several different ways (depending on student need): shared writing, class book, or individual books.  Here's how it works as an individual book...
Each students receives a four page book, a title page, and a bunny.  They must complete each page by writing the word "bunny" and one verb to explain what the bunny is doing.

a mentor text lesson

Then the character must be cut out and the title page constructed.  To make the title page, students need to cut out the image, fold, and glue the sides down.  This creates a "pocket" for the bunny to fit into.

a mentor text lesson

Once the book is complete, the reader can use the bunny to "act out" the verbs in the text.  It becomes an interact book!

A mentor text lesson

When choosing the scenes for this book, I had "shades of meaning" in mind.  Students are going to come with varying vocabularies and this lends itself really well to creating lists of verbs that could be used on each page.  Take the image above.  The bunny ______ in the snow.  The student above decided on sniffed.  But there are so many verbs that would work: romped, stomped, played, hopped, hid, etc.  Each student book could turn out very different, which allows for more vocabulary development to occur, especially since the books must be "acted" out with the bunny.

If you would like to use this lesson in your classroom, please click on the image below!  Or you can pin for later!   Thanks for reading today! -Em

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B3eyEJCd5J5kdmQzaFpRRGp0TjAInteractive verb book included

Don't forget to hop through and read about all the great mentor text lessons that can warm up your winter!  You can also enter the Rafflecopter and win ALL (yes...ALL)  of the mentor texts in this hop! My mystery word is SLOPES!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Dec 13, 2016

Making Interactivie Writing More Interactive

Many, many years ago, I attended a session that discussed the components of interactive writing.  At the time, writing was not even close to a strength of mine and I had a lot to learn.  I did learn that interactive writing is the act of composing text with your students; however, you "share" the pen with them.  One big take away from the session was to have ALL students writing during an interactive writing lesson with white boards, rather than one student at a time writing on the shared paper.

Looking at how to keep all students engaged during interactive writing
I loved this idea and (of course) played around with it as soon as I was back in the classroom.  But as my job has changed throughout the years, I have had less opportunity for interactive writing...until...now.

This year my school adopted LLI (Leveled Literacy Intervention).  Every other day, the students write about their reading and interactive writing is a part of this.  It has been a lot of fun for me to utilize this teaching technique in my routine.  The students and I decide on the sentence(s) that we would like to write.  Then we begin.  I share the marker with the students and it turns into a product like this:

As one student is writing on the shared board or paper, the other students are writing on their own white board.  If it is a sight word that I want them to recognize quickly, I will typically ask them to erase their boards and write it again.

What I have found: 
  • The student that I choose to "share" the pen typically needs some support on the skill that I am asking them to write.  I pick this child on purpose because it allows me to have a quick teaching moment with them.  For example: the work may be "take" and I pick a student that has not been consistently reading and writing words with the "vce" pattern.
  • Students that are not "sharing" the pen at that exact moment are still engaged in the writing because they are writing the word on their own boards.
  • I am still able to monitor students that are writing on their own personal white boards.  This allows for some quick teaching moments when they are struggling with a particular skill.
The struggle:

 For me, one of the struggles I had with adding personal white boards into the mix was wasted time that could occur.  What I mean by this....constant erasing of letters or writing excessively large.  Not that this is a huge issue or could not be remedied by some good behavior management.  But it was something that would annoy me.

But this year, I found a solution.  In the past I have used some of the smaller dry erase boards from the Target Dollar Spot.  These worked fine.  I also had some of the dry erase stickers on my table last year.  This did not work out well.  Lots of picking at it by students, left them looking very disgusting.
This year I found the dry erase tape. 

Looking at ways to engage All students during interactive writing

What I like about this tape is that I can cut it into smaller strips.  Then I can leave the back on (so it does not stick) and tada! I have small white boards that are big enough for students to write one word at a time on them.  They are also small enough for me to keep in a pocket right next to me.  So I can grab them quickly and we can get started.

Looking at ways to engage All students during interactive writing

Does this sound like anything that you already do or something that you could see yourself adding?


Nov 13, 2016

The Responsibility of Working for Children

This past week I made another trip up to the Mazza Museum.  It is a truly magical place that is filled with children's book illustrations from so many of the "greats" that we all cherish and love.  One of my personal favorites being a scene from Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel.  Oh!!  I can just stand and stare for hours. 

Aside from the museum, a weekend conference was held that showcased the following artists:

Nikki McClure
Dan Santat
Brian Biggs
Tony Abbott
David Wiesner
Sergio Ruzzier

Each author/illustrator gives a 45 speech about their process, their path, their work, or anything else that they feel is important to discuss.  And what I have found is that you get something completely different from each presentation that you witness. The audience is comprised of librarians, teachers, college students, and other enthusiasts of children's literature.  See...magical.  The feeling in the room is just positive and the "good vibes" are felt.

But, unlike other Mazza conferences I have attended, there was an underlying message to some of the speeches that moved me and reminded me of my job as an educator.

I was reminded of the responsibility that I have working for children.  And the literature that is there to help me do it.  So what exactly do I hold myself responsible for when it comes to my students?  Well, here are a few things:

I hold myself responsible for helping each of my students believe that they ARE, in fact, readers.  And that even though it is hard, I will help them to get there.
I hold myself responsible for opening up the eyes of my students to the worlds within books.  There is such power in understanding that books can take you places, books can teach you things, and books can change you.
I hold myself responsible for putting books into the hands of my students that will hook them in and they will never want to let go.
I hold myself responsible for using books to help my students to understand the world around them: the kindness that can be shown, the opportunities that are available, and the possibilities that are all around them.

Sometimes we have to step back from the test scores, the lesson plans, the day to day routines and remember what we hold ourselves responsible for and what drives the philosophies that we hold.  I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do that this weekend while being surrounded by the art of children's literature.


Nov 1, 2016

Book Lover: A Gift Guide

 It's true.  I am an early shopper.  Actually, it is not unusual for me to begin shopping for the holiday season as early as January.  And that's not all.  I have kind of become known as the girl that gives books.  My own children don't even ask what we are going to buy for cousins' or friends' birthdays.  They just know...books.
The books do not stand alone, though.  I like to engage the reader with a book pairing gift!

Book Pairing Ideas...

Oct 27, 2016

Memorable Moments

Today things happened today.
1. We went to a play.
2. We had a ribbon cutting ceremony.

And both reminded me of something very important.  Those big and small memories matter.

Watching their faces at the play (Piggy and Gerald play)...oh my goodness!  So much excitement, happiness, and wonder.  Hearing comments like..."that was my first play" or "I LOVED every part of it"...just made my heart beat with happiness.


We had a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate our very first "Character Hall of Fame." (You can read more about it HERE).  It was a simple thing, really.  Took about 5 minutes.  I put up a ribbon on the wall over the frames of characters.  After discussing the significance of a ribbon cutting ceremony, I used GIGANTIC scissors to cut the ribbon.  Then the students walked down the hall to check out the pictures they drew of kind characters we have read about this year.  Then I hear it..."I can't BELIEVE I get to do this!"

It is in these sweet moments that I remember the school experience is about so much more than the day to day.  It is the combination of all these experiences that we are able to provide.

What wonderful memories we were able to build upon today.