Jan 6, 2018

My Word

For the past few years,  I have not had a new year's resolution.  Instead, I have focused on a word--One Little Word (OLW), a power word, a goal word.  And what I have found is that this one small change of moving from a resolution to a word has given me more focus.  It has motivated me to make small changes to my world.

In 2015 and 2016 I chose the word "time."  My life was not in balance and I wanted to allocate my time to things that were important to me: family, experiences, reading. 

In 2017 I chose the word "kind."  What I found is that I read many books to open me up to be more understanding.  This led to conversations and changes.

In 2018 I am choosing the word "create."  As I have mulled this word over for the past few weeks, it fits what I believe my life needs right now.  My creative side has been a bit lost.  Time on the couch with books, time for exploring new places, time to learn some "new ropes" within my job have all been important along my journey in 2017.  But it is now time to be inspired.

So in 2018 I hope to create:
memories worth remembering with my little family
room for friendships to flourish
fun and pretty sewing and craft projects
space for students to grow as readers
time for me to continue to grow as a reader and as a writer

I think there is more to this list.  But it has not been discovered...yet. 


Jan 5, 2018

Staff Book Club

After completing some staff book studies through the summer, we decided we wanted to keep the connection going.

The book conversations and the time together have really been a shining light in our year. It has made me feel more connected to my teammates, new friendships have been formed between school buildings, and it has stretched my reading comfort level.

Here's how it started:

After attending the diverse book panel discussion at Nerd Camp:

My teammate, Sarah, came up with some book titles for the year.  The goal was to read books written by a diverse group of authors.  Our hope was to open us up to a variety of characters that would, in turn, lead us to have deep conversations and push us, as educators, to be more aware of the students and their possible perspectives.

These were the books that Sarah decided on:
(This is a bookmark that we made for all of the book club attendees)

We have met each month (and even met to see Wonder on the big screen).  One person volunteers to be the facilitator to keep us on track.  Plus they come with some book club questions in hand.  This has proven to be really helpful because it is super easy to get off track and talk about school, students, or district stuff.

Personally, I feel that the original vision for the book club, has been a reality.  Talking with others about the characters, plot, or the voice of the author, has helped me to grow as a reader.  It has opened my eyes to other perspectives.  And made me feel part of a community.

Some books that are on my list as possibly readers for next year include:

Sometimes, we don't see the path that we are headed down.  But through some small changes in my life, through some new friendships I have made this year, and by stepping outside of my comfort zone, I feel that I have a community of readers around me (online and in person).  It is a change that I needed.

Books suggestions?? We would love to hear them!


Dec 30, 2017

Uping My Fluency Game

You know those skills that you love and you can't wait to teach them each and every year?  Our whole group fluency lessons is one of those for me.  The fact that my teammate and I make it so visual and our mentor texts are fun, silly, and super engaging is what pulls out the excitement in me.

But the lessons this year...took a turn.

As I reflected on the year to determine what changed, of course it was the kids.  But it was also our instruction thus far in small group.  And this stems back to the Benchmark assessment from Fountas and Pinnell.
We adopted that assessment this year and it has changed me.  The literacy continuum included in the assessment (especially the types of questions asked about, within, and beyond the text) have really helped me to grow as a teacher.  In turn, much fluency instruction has occurred through the strong conversations that we are having during guided reading and in the writing talks that occur daily.

The effect: my whole group fluency lesson that I love so much, had to grow and change too!

In previous years, our focus was on what fluency is and the phrasing that you need in order to sound fluent.  We would create a chart to help them understand the progression.  It looked like this:

This year...we ended up really letting them guide the chart based on what they have learned thus far in the year.  It turned out like this:

The focus shifted from what fluency is and the progression to get there to what a fluent reader pays attention to and how they sound.  When I write that out in a sentence, it doesn't seem like much of a difference.  But it felt like a huge difference.  It was more about the students sharing what they know about what readers do versus us teaching them about fluency.

Here are our books that we like to use to teach fluency:

We start off the week with Wolf!  I love the way this book illustrates different ways that we can sound as readers.  I showed my students how the author wrote the words so that I knew how wolf sounded.

Students talked about not reading too fast or too slow.  Of course this led to a great discuss about spaces between words when reading and writing. 

On the second day we focused on different ways that authors add "voice" to their writing and how we, as readers, need to read it.  Students have seen bold words and speech bubbles in some of their guided reading text but The Monster At the End of This Book takes it to a whole new level.  There are large words, bold words, tiny words, colored words, interesting facial expressions, and more.

The discussions about matching our voice to the words and facial expressions were so exciting!  This is a change from last year and I think it comes from all the conversions that my entire school is having around feelings (zones of regulations).  Each student seems more "in tune" to how characters are feelings versus just happy or sad.

On the third day, we focused our attention to Ball! This book has only one word..."ball."  But in order to understand the meaning behind the book, students must read the pictures and analyze the way that the word "ball" is written.  This built off the conversations from the previous day.

Day four included a video from State Farm Insurance.  It is perfect example of the need for readers to pay attention to voice of the author.  We started with a copy of the script from the commercial:

After reading through the script, we showed the commercial.

In order to understand the meaning behind the words, students had to read the pictures, pay attention to feeling.  We discussed how the scripts for these two characters had to be written very differently, in order for them to understand how they needed to act.

Finally, we put together all of this great learning on day five.  Students were asked to pay attention to the way the words were written, the phrasing that was being used (the ribbon swoops), and the picture (which was my facial expression).

Each year I grow, my students change, and reflecting upon this makes me just a little bit stronger than the previous year.  As I learn through Fountas and Pinnell, professional readings, and watch the strong teachers that surround me, I look forward to seeing where I can help to guide my young readers.


Nov 28, 2017

Note Taking Reflections

It is almost December!  How does the year fly by so quickly?  Today I found myself in a mess of papers.  It was all for good reason.  Or at least I hope so.

My OCD comes out in many ways...reflections is one of those ways.  I am probably too hard on myself in many cases, but this has also led to a lot of personal growth. 

Today was no exception.  Last year I wrote a post about my need for better note taking with my LLI prompting.  It looked something like this...
I still love the concept behind this because I was trying to look for overall patterns that would guide my instruction.  And it has.  But what I am missing is the big picture.  How are my students reading when compared to the literacy continuum?  Are they exhibiting the reading behaviors that are appropriate for them and how can I push them to grow?

So this led to a mess: the emptying of my binder, new dividers, more labels, and a continuum checklist.

 I believe this will help me as I continue to intervene with my young readers.  But if I had not reflected on how my note taking process was going, I would have continued on the path I was on.  And it was not a bad path.  But I am hoping for a more effective and responsive system.

This is what teaching is all about.  Learning right along side our little learners.


Nov 25, 2017

Adding More Positive Too

Last month I shared some ways that I have been working to highlight positive actions that occur in my small groups.

 Through our school wide discussions about creating trauma sensitive classrooms, we decided that between intervention cycles, we needed to do some celebrating.

Let me back up just a bit...

After six weeks of intervention, my building wide interventions stop.  My RtI team reassesses each student in intervention to ensure that they are receiving exactly what they need.  This does mean that groups and interventions change.

What we realized is that we were not giving our students enough "closure" between the groups.  I personally felt like I needed to do a better job explaining why they were changing groups and celebrate the work they had done to improve!

Our first intervention cycle recently ended.  To celebrate, I asked each group member to tell me something positive that another student did or added to our group.  Then they wrote a note to that student with that positive thought on it.

It was a really nice way to transition groups.  Each student complimented someone else, but left with a compliment for themselves.

I am thankful that my teammates continues to push me to improve my teaching skills.  It is having a positive impact on me, as well as my students.


Oct 15, 2017

Working on Positive Actions

We all like to hear positive things.  And children are no different.

After reading and having discussions about working towards a more trauma-sensitive classroom, I continued to think about what I can do in my small groups to highlight the positive actions that occur.

After a running record, I have always talked to my students about what they are doing really well and what they can work on.  Always emphasizing that they are not alone and I tell them what I am going to do to help them with that skill.

But I wanted to do a bit more.

I am still having this conversation with them.  But I am also writing down one positive thing they are doing in a card to their families.  I write it quickly as I am taking notes on their reading. The note may say..."Ruby was looking at beginning sounds when reading today!" So this is not taking a lot of time.  But my students are really excited to have a little note to take home!

We use LLI as an intervention in our school.  Every other day, students write about the text during our small group lesson.  It is so easy to point out everything they are doing incorrectly when writing.  But, of course, this would be so deflating and pointless.  So this year I started pointing out some of their positive actions with little stickers in their books.

It is really simple.  And probably a bit silly.  But I want them to feel good about what they ARE doing so that hopefully they will keep paying attention to those details.

I also want to share something I observed in Maria's room.

These are golden frames that hang on one of her bulletin boards.  She hangs up work and writes down what the student did well.  I love how specific it is and it models the behavior for other students.  It is a simple, quick, and easy way to point out the positive for a student.

I completely recognize that none of these ideas are ground breaking.  But I know I needed a little push to add more of these actions into my daily routine.

Now I just need to just keep it up!


Sep 27, 2017

Literacy at Home

We know literacy at home is important.  To be successful at anything in our lives, we need practice.  And reading is no different.  For our students to become stronger readers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers, they must be able to practice those skills during school hours and outside of those hours.

There are so many fantastic ideas out there to help engage families in literacy, such as: events at the school, game nights, conferences, open houses, curriculum nights, and newsletters.  Many teachers send home books bags or homework.  All of these decisions are a way to engage families in educational conversations with their children.

Then I had my own children.

Many things I do with my girls has an educational spin.  Literacy is ever-present in our daily home.  Since they were very little, my girls have carried around the grocery list and checked off the items we put into our cart. Even before they were able to talk, I was pointing out words and colors on the trucks that passed by our car.  As they got older, we were reading the trucks and bulletin boards or discussing the meaning behind the lyrics that we were singing.  None of these ideas are ground breaking.

But it made me wonder...what are my students doing at home that are literacy based activities?  Do all families think to discuss the grocery list?  Do families collect as many acorns as they possibly can during a walk and then count them by ones, twos, or tens?  Is this just what you do with your own children naturally or does it come from my educational background?

So I asked around.

And what I found is that it is probably both.  Each family is unique and provides different learning experiences for their children based on their comfort level.  But there may be some things I do with my kids, that do come from my background of constant reading of educational blogs and teacher books.

This got me thinking...

I want literacy to be enjoyable for my students and their families.  I know for some homework and nightly reading can bring back some unpleasant experiences for parents that struggled to read.  So to help promote some positive experiences, I decided to create a quarterly newsletter.  It is not meant to replace reading, homework, literacy nights, or anything else.  I simply wanted to provide user friendly fun for families.

 Fun literacy activities for families

There is one newsletter for each season.  Three activities are introduced.  There are some "important dates."  Most of these are authors' birthdays or national literacy days.

I would love to get your thoughts.  Do you think families would appreciate some fun ideas to incorporate literacy into their everyday lives?  If you want to check out all of the sheets, just click on the image above.  It is FREE!