Jun 10, 2018

No Year Is Created Equal

Every school year is completely different.  It is actually one of the things I love best about our career.  Each group of students brings their own set of strengths and challenges and we must change and grow with them.
This particular year brought many challenges.  I thought we were prepared.  My building had done a summer long trauma study.  We changed our thinking about behavior.  Created school wide expectations and even made t-shirts :)
We thought we were ready.  But as children always remind us...we do not have it all figured out.  We must grow and change with their individual needs.  So we do.

Although this year was rough, it is also over.  Time for me to reboot, rejuvenate, and sharpen my teaching brain.  Summer allows for this to occur.  I have taken walks in the early morning with crisp, cool air, the sun rising, and birds singing.  I have walked through the grass with no shoes on.  I have sat in the sun reading a book that I can't put down.  These small happy moments prepare me for the new year ahead and allow me to open my brain and heart to new challenges.

This summer I am reading several books to help me prepare for the year ahead.

What are reading this summer to prepare for your upcoming year?  Is there anything you do to clear your head and prepare for the children that you will meet in the fall?


May 7, 2018

Math Practice...What Should It Look Like?

Raise your hand if you have been traumatized by math in your life?  Do you have math anxiety?  I'm going to say that is a strong YES for me.  It was not until my adult life that I realized I was not taught math in a way that made sense to me; therefore, I just thought I was not good at it.  This is certainly not true.  But it took me way too long to figure that out.

Currently, I am reading Mathematical Mindsets.

I highly recommend this book.  It is helping me to confirm many things that I have been reading over the past few years about math and the way that it is taught.  This book has also helped me to realize that I was never given time to fully understand math.  Instead, procedures and rules were fed to me, which led me down a path of not having foundational number sense needed to play with numbers.
Boaler says...
Notable, the brain can only compress concepts; it cannot compress rules and methods.  Therefore students who do not engage in conceptual thinking and instead approach mathematics as a list of rules to remember are not engaging in the critical process of compression, so their brain is unable to organize and file away ideas; instead, it struggles to hold onto long lists of methods and rules.  This is why it is so important to help students approach mathematics conceptually at all times.
 What does this mean to me?  My students need to be playing with numbers.  Talking about problems.  And seeing a variety of problems and solutions.  Boaler goes on to explain that practicing a method over and over and over again is not helpful.  Students must see math concepts in a variety of different situations.  Isolating a method does not help students to apply those methods to actual problems.

So I need to continue to chew on this thought over the summer.  How can I continue to work with students on their number sense and application of understanding across a variety of problems?  As I read more of this book, I hope to gather some more ideas on this subject.


Apr 22, 2018

Students...Believe In You

As teachers, I think we work to encourage our students to become (and believe they are) readers, writers, mathematicians, athletes, artists, scientists, and so on.  But this is not a small task.  Students come to us with their own preconceived thoughts about themselves and what they can or cannot do.  (Especially as they gather more school experiences).  So we chip away at those negative beliefs and build them up.

But the year can also catch up to us.  We get into our normal routine.  We tick away at the standards that we need to hit.  Snow days occur.  Sick days get used.  And we get behind.  The nerves set in.
That is the exact moment when I need to step back and remember my goals.  I want these young kids to leave me with experiences.  I want them to have a thirst for learning.  I want them to believe in themselves.

This year we took a week to celebrate the readers, the writers, the mathematicians, and the scientists that our students have become (or continued to be) this year.

Each day of the week we zoomed into one aspect of learning:  Monday: reader,  Tuesday: scientist, and so on.  We had planned activities in our classrooms, asked our students to dress the part, and left them with experiences to remember.

One of these memories came from Scientific Mayhem, a local small business that comes into the classroom and provides hands on science learning. We asked them to focus on force and motion...that is just what they did! Each of our first and second grade classrooms received this opportunity through a grant that we were able to use!  And to say it was amazing is an understatement.

Our week ended with a Career Day.  We gathered up as many different careers that we could and invited them into our school.  These included: postal workers, mechanic, firemen, a podcaster, marketing expert, beautician, biodegradable engineer, a pilot, barn manager, graphic designer, photographer, yoga instructor, and so many more!

Each student was asked to provide their top three careers of interest.  Then individual "career paths" were created for the students.  I made personal bracelets for each kid so that they knew exactly where to go.

The buzz in the air was electric.  My hope is that at least one student came away from this week knowing that a whole team of people are rooting for them, believing in them, and that they can dream big.

Now....to keep the fire burning!

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.