Jul 24, 2016

What is Mazza?

I just spent the last week at Mazza.  Earlier in the year I had made the decision that my summer would be filled with new learning, books, and inspiration.  And this has held true through a large selection of library books checked out, new experiences in the West, through passion and energy at Nerd Camp in Michigan, and by listening and absorbing the power of illustrations at the Mazza.

The Mazza is within Findley University in Ohio.  The walls are filled with original works of art from picture book illustrators.  Their goal is to promote literacy through picture books and they do so through the free museum, tours, conferences, and many other learning opportunities.

To look at the original works of art by my favorite authors and illustrators...speechless.

When I stand in front of the images above...I get chills.

The Mazza Summer conference was filled with authors and illustrators.  Some I knew and some I didn't.  But I gained so much from each one of them.  I learned about their background, process, reasons, path, and future goals.

There are autographing sessions and dinners each night with the artists.  Which provides another way to get to know, learn, and grow from each of them.

But what is my take away for me to bring back to my teaching and students.  Yes.  It was cool to meet authors, hang out with my blogging buddy Jennifer, and see some of my favorite art works.  But how does that impact what I do in the classroom?

This was an important question for me to ask myself because I was away from my family for 5 days.  I had just returned from Nerd Camp, where I had a fire lit under me for the love and passion of reading that I want for my students and a long list of things that I want to add to my teaching this year.

My answer: Connection.  I don't think I realized how disconnected I had become from my love of picture books.  When I read a book, I am always looking for its teaching value in the classroom.  What can I use this for?  Will it teach inferring, predicting, or author's purpose?

By listening to each author/illustrator, I felt connected to why they wrote the text.  I was reminded to look at the color, the line, and empty space.  I was reminded to pay attention to the words that were chosen and not chosen to be used.

By listening to each author/illustrator, I was reminded how powerful it is to feel connected.  That I can take this back to my classroom.  When we feel connected to the books we are reading, our love and passion grows. Our students love and passion grows.

I am thankful to Jennifer, the Mazza, and the authors/illustrators for reminding me of what it means to be connected.

(This post was purely from my love of Mazza.  There was no other reason that I wrote this post.)

Jul 5, 2016

Big Rocks

As our school book study of "Creating a Culture of Thinking" by Ron Ritchhart came to a close in June, I was reflecting on my big "take-aways."  And what I decided was that I need to...
  • add more collaborative learning into my small group instruction
  • pay attention to the my language and ensure that it promotes thinking
  • my time needs to reflect what I value
  • analyze thinking routines to determine what I can utilize consistently in small groups
  • use language that provides feedback rather than just praise
Time seems to be a big focus for me these past few years because it is a tricky thing.  Balance is challenging.

One story that Ron Ritchhart shared was about a professor that used big rocks, pebbles, and sand to demonstrate the usage of time and values. (Click here for a short video explaining this.  Or click here for a short story about it.) Now, I have heard this story before.  But sometimes when we hear things at different points in our lives, we have different reactions.  This story really struck me at this point in my life.

And so I thought about it.
And thought about it.

Finally, I came with my "big rocks" or the things that I value the most and want to spend the majority of my time on.  I tried to word things in a way that would reflect my personal and professional life.

Rock 1: Varied Experiences
One thing I focus on with my own children and in my life is trying out new things, going to new places, or traveling (even if it is just to a different road I have not been on in my town).  These experiences can happen within the walls of our home or outside them.  But I want the same for my students.  It just looks a little different.  These experiences come through books, experiments, or games.  But for both my personal and professional life, I want to experience what is around me.

Rock 2: Love for Learning
This encompasses my hopes for my two girls, all my students I have taught and will teach, and myself. I want this to drive my instruction.

Rock 3: Professional Development
This may seem like an unusual rock.  But when I blog, read blogs, attend workshops, and read...I am growing.  And I want to keep growing throughout my career and life. The growth that I make in the professional sense, impacts me personally and vice versa.  So this rock is important to me.

Rock 4: Mental Healthiness
Mental health can encompass a lot. I want to help others (including myself) to believe in themselves and to be kind.  This is going to help their inward and outward health.

I want to be sure that I focus on these values as I schedule my time. Below is a link to a graphic that I will be using to help me display these "rocks."

Big Rock Graphic by Emily Marko

What are your big rocks?


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.