Jun 6, 2016

Connecting Time to Values

Last summer my building did a book study today with Reading Reflex by McGuinness.  It was a lot of fun to get together each week throughout the month of June and talk about school but also work to build a better understanding for what we each do in our classrooms.  It turned out that we utilized a lot of the information that we gathered from the book study during our school year.  I saw little pieces of the book throughout the different classrooms that I work in.

This year we decided to hold another book study as a building.  We decided on "Creating Cultures of Thinking" by Ron Ritchhart.


 I know that several bloggers read this book last year and posted about it.  And I did start to read it last year but felt the impact of the book would be stronger if it was read as a school group.  It is one thing for me to tell my teammates what I read, it is another thing for them to read it themselves, but it is awfully powerful for us to read it together and discuss its impact.

One of the chapters that I needed to read this week is titled "Time."  Yes, Mr. Ritchhart, please help me with this!!  There was a paragraph within this chapter that I keep coming back to in my head again and again.  I wanted to share it with you..
He starts off the paragraph by listing some of the pressures that we have as teachers such as tests, curriculum, number of students, etc.  Then he says,
"These pressures are real.  Furthermore, it is certainly reasonable that an individual might not be happy with the way he or she is allocating time.  The key takeaway here is that our choices, even if we aren't happy with them, are sending messages to our students about what is deemed important and worthwhile in the classroom.  That allocation, even if it isn't what we want, is nonetheless shaping the culture of the classroom." (p.98)
Later in the chapter he asks two questions that connect really well to this paragraph and they say a lot about our values and priorities: "How am I spending my energy now?  How should I be spending my energy so that it is consistent with my deepest held values?" (p.108)

This speaks volumes to me not only in my teaching but in my home life.  What messages am I sending to my students, my two girls, my husband, my friends, my family.  I know there are moments when I allocate time for something that I do not value.  It is time for me to take a look at this and make some changes.

Jun 3, 2016

Flip Flops, Beach Chairs, and Teaching with Mentor Texts

Happy Summer!!  This time of year is wonderful because the sun can recharge us, our brains can reset, and we can continue to grow as teachers.  The link up today is all about great summer texts that can be used to teach different skills.  Even though I am not teaching for the next few months, I know that I like to use summer texts as we return to school in August.  It is a fun way for the students to reflect upon their summer vacation.   As I was thinking about summer books that lend themselves to be used as mentor texts, Summer Beat came to mind right away.

It is a simple text that describes a summer day for two friends, Emily and Joe.  Each page illustrates one event from their day: skateboarding, playing in the sprinkler, grilling out, watching fireworks, etc.  Each page includes sound words or an onomatopoeia for the different activities that they are involved in.  These words are not just part of the written text, but they are a part of the illustrations. Here are a couple examples:

Immediately, I thought about the support that this text could give to our illustration unit during writer's workshop.  Last summer, Maria and I, spent time reorganizing and rethinking the order of our writing units.  As we tried it out this year, we found that the illustration unit was a great addition because it helped to build oral storytelling and language in our students.  And these are much needed skills.

Students started off by drawing some illustrations and adding details to these pictures.  They would then orally tell a story about their picture.  This would then progress into a series of images to orally tell a story and then by the end of the unit students are adding words to tell their story.

Some students are more hesitate to add words than others.  This can be for a variety of reasons and many times language skills are involved.  But Summer Beat is a great mentor text to help my students begin adding words to their stories.  And for the students that are already comfortable writing words, it is a great mentor text to help students start adding some detail to their text.

This freebie can help to support students at the different stages of the writing spectrum.  Each page requires students to add an onomatopoeia to an image.  There is also room for them to writing about the picture.  The first page of the packet has several summer images on it.  Students are to write a sound word for each picture.  This can be done in a creative way!

There are three pages that have summer photographs on them.  Students can write the sound words on the photo and room is provided for them to write about the story.  There are also two summer scenes for the students to draw their own activities within.  Then they can add detail to their text with an onomatopoeia!  The final page is a blank frame for students that are ready to draw their own illustration and add writing with sound words.

This freebie includes a lot of variety with the hope that it can help to support the wide variety of learners in your classroom!  To grab this freebie, please click on the image below.


I hope your summer is off to a great start (or will be soon!)  If you cannot use this lesson during the summer months, I hope you find it helpful as school begins again.  Please be sure to enter the giveaway!  And hop through the links below to learn about more great summer mentor texts!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

May 29, 2016

Building Off Measurement Misconceptions

Last school year, I had a few favorite lessons.  One that really sticks out for me in math class was this one:


You can click on the image for the original post.  I could.NOT.wait to do this lesson again this year!  But as we all know....no two lessons are ever the same!

This year Jess and I decided to start our measurement unit out a bit differently.  We started with measurement mistakes or misconceptions.

We projected these task cards from Susan Jones and had a whole group discussion about what they thought went wrong with the measuring.  WOW!!  We were not sure how this was going to go because it was literally the opening lesson to measurement!!  But the students came up with great thinking for each of the images that we showed.  Then we tested out their new knowledge with some car (or carriage) ramps.  Jess and I even tried to measure using some of the incorrect examples, but we could not fool them!

To end our study of non-standard units, I was excited to create another town (just like the lesson above) for the students to "hop" into and measure distance.  Last year, we found that this lesson was a bit challenging for them.  Especially when it came to applying the knowledge:

But this year proved to be a bit different.  The actual measurement from one location to another was not a challenge.  They were able to problem solve over rivers and around grasslands.

What turned out differently was their desire to test out theories.  Jess and I asked them to find the shortest path from one location to the school (because you never want to be late to school!)  After one person would make a path, the other students would want to see if there really was a shorter route.  And in all cases...the first person always seemed to find the quickest route, even after lots of other attempts.

I felt like the town lesson was actually easier this year.  Could this be from the increase in constructive struggle that we added to our instruction this year?  Could it be from the misconception lesson that was built upon throughout the unit?  Or could it just be the group of students?

It is hard to determine one factor.  But I'll take it!

May 1, 2016

The Unknown Impact

Last summer my building had a book study.  We got together once a week to discuss the book at hand.  Some gaps were discussed.  And some possible solutions were brainstormed.  We were eager to try out some of these solutions and May is the perfect time to start reflecting on the impact of these changes.

Today I wanted to focus on the Readbox.  You may remember from earlier posts that this was a large bookshelf that my teammate, Sarah, and I rolled out at dismissal.  Families could check out a book to read at home and return it when they were done.  The books were not leveled.  Just high interest books that we hoped would hook even our reluctant readers.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching students check out the books all year long.  But what is even better is when they wanted to discuss the book with me at breakfast when it is returned.  Or that they read or heard a book in class and requested that it be put into the Readbox.

But this past week something else happened.  My first grade students were finishing a research piece on an animal of their choice.  They learned about how to write a table of contents and dedication page.  I enjoyed listening to them share their writing pieces during the "safari celebration."  And then I saw this:

 What I've realized...you just don't always know the impact that you may be having.

Apr 17, 2016

Teaching with Purpose

This is one of my favorite and least favorite times of year.  Let's start with least favorite reasons (just to get it over with)...
* Testing
* Testing
* Testing
Because of my position, I am pulled for the next three weeks to do state testing and benchmark testing.  This means no interventions, guided reading groups, guided math groups, or writing conferences.  It also means sadness for me.  It makes me feel like my year is over even though it is not.

That leads me to my favorite reasons (there is always a silver lining):
* Thinking ahead to next year
* Preparing for next year
* Getting excited about changes
* Organization
* Planning

I have a lot of things "cooking" at the end of this particular year.  My Title I teammate, Sarah, and I are trying to make the most of our minutes away from testing by rethinking our Readbox, Game Nights for next year, hallway decor, RtI process, and providing more purpose (my topic for today!)

Tammy from Forever In First has been sharing the wisdom of Regie Routman for years now, but I just recently listened.  I picked up two of her books...finally...and started with Teaching Essentials.  I have not quite finished the book, yet but there is so much that has already been tagged to be remembered and implemented.  This paragraph stuck with me:
...we must always question why we're doing what we're doing and why these students need to know what we're teaching.  We need to ask ourselves continually, So what?  What difference will it make?  Teaching something with more intention or finding out what students are really interested in is hard.  It takes thought, effort, extra hours, but in the long run we save time, because our students are engaged and want to learn. (p. 62)
Honestly, I read this paragraph and thought to myself, Yes, I do this.  I always set the purpose for our lessons.  But over the course of the next few weeks, Regie's words continued to come back. Forcing me to rethink what I was currently doing.  What I realized is that I do always set the purpose but I could do more.

And here's how...

In guided reading, we read a lot of leveled readers.  We do this to grow as readers, to enjoy reading books that are not too hard, and for me to work with students on their strengths.  But...I want to have better purpose when choosing the books.  When we read a book about Baby Bear, Father Bear, and Mother Bear, we are going to read because we have fallen in love with these characters.  When we read a nonfiction text, it will be because someone in our current reading group is interested in that topic and we will look to them to be our "expert."  And when we read a how-to, we are going to test it out.

Along with this idea, one goal I have for next year is to include more oral language activities.  This includes wordless books and asking students to orally tell the stories.  I want students to understand the purpose of their oral stories is for others to enjoy and learn from, while also improving their skill as a storyteller.  In the "Readbox," I plan to have some of these stories available (with a tape deck and headphones) for checkout.  Other families will be able to enjoy the story telling skills of our first graders.

For writer's workshop, I want the students to understand the importance and purpose that their writing plays in the lives in others!  To support this idea, I want to include writing pieces into our "Readbox" to be checked out at dismissal.  I want to use some pieces during guided reading lessons.  My hope is that these small changes, will have a lasting impact on the purpose that their writing serves for themselves and others.

In math, Jess and I work to set the purpose of each skill taught with a real world lesson.  For example, when we started our place value unit, we put out lots of Smarties.  After some good brainstorming, the students decided groups of ten would be the best way to count all the Smarties.  So this is what we did.  We made the Smarties into groups of tens and ones.  Not only did it help us to set a purpose to place value, but the students actually helped us to make the manipulatives that we would then use throughout the lessons.

I do realize that I will never reach a point when my teaching is the best that it can be.  There is always room for me to grow and improve.  So I will keep reading, learning and growing from my students, experts like Regie, from my fellow bloggers, and all the teachers that I share a space with daily.

Apr 10, 2016

Writing Reading Balance

I am so sad that my blogging brain has not been ignited lately.  I have been struck by the reading bug this year.  So bad, in fact, that I have started to write down the titles I have read because I am losing track.  This is a good thing...but...

One of my goals this year was to continue to work on the balance in my life: wife, mom, teacher, blogger, reader, friend, sister, learner, daughter, TPT-er.  That is one person being pulled in a lot of directions but I like the challenge.  But we also know that one person can only be pulled in so many directions before she snaps.

Well...good news...I have not snapped.  But books do suck me in.  And when I sit down to write or create or read blogs...I hear my current book calling to me.  I give in.  So I think that for now that is just where I am.

But I have some blog post fires starting to ignite and I know they will need to be released from my brain soon. For now, I am going to let the book suck me in because readers are better writers and writers are better readers (or at least that is my excuse for now).

Mar 28, 2016

Personal Narrative Anyone?

Prior to spring break, our little firsties were writing personal narratives.  I'm not going to lie to you..... they are NOT my favorite writing piece to teach.  I'd much rather teach something like nonfiction, how-to, opinion, something that has more structure. A writing piece that is more straightforward.

After a one year hiatus from personal narratives, I decided to add them back in.  This time was different though.  They were moved to a different time of year AND we only used Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (all three of them).  This year was also different because we used the nesting dolls to talk about how we have our big events, BUT..... those big events are full of smaller ones.

I tried and tried to get this across.  I'm not going to lie, I still have kiddos who can't get down to that one little event.  They are stuck in the big.  No matter what I say, no matter how we whittle it down, their little brains can't handle only talking about the small event.  This year, this time around.... I'm ok with it.

We worked on adding details to our sentences.  Again, I had a few risk takers, some just aren't there yet, again... it's ok.

Then, we talked about catchy leads and interesting closures. I had a few takers on each of these.  This little firsties had a terribly boring lead, but this is what she wrote after we had conferences.

Our personal narratives are finished, except we're publishing them.  I wanted to be finished before we left, but things happen, so we will finish that part up during writers workshop when we return.  I have the task of grading these precious little stories over spring break.  I have to laugh because near the beginning of our blogging career, I pinned a "Small Moments" rubric.  Each time I see it repinned, I just crack up because it is HORRIBLE!  I mean at the time I was like... "I'm awesome", but right now am so embarrassed by it I just want email the person who pins it to let them know I'm much better now!  And so you don't have to pin that horrible rubric, you can pin this one!  :)  It's MUCH better.  It's totally aligned with the common core standards and I love it!  It makes my grading life so.much.easier! And it's yours, just click on the rubric below!!!!

Happy Spring Break Friends!!!!