Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Quick Tip: Bind Your Professional Books!

Notice anything different about my Reading Strategies Book?

Yes, I had that book bound!  
This might be the best thing ever.  

I have to give credit to Jennie Motes Smith who posted about doing it to some of her books on the Notice and Note Facebook page.  I saw her post and literally got off my couch, grabbed my book, and went to Staples.  It was done in 20 minutes and for less than $4,  The twenty minutes was good because I was in such a rush to get there I actually left my wallet home and had to go back for it!

When you get the book bound, just hand it over. They will take off the binding, put in the spiral, and add a cover to the front and back.  I got the clear cover on both sides. This is great for increasing its durability and protecting it from the coffee drips and spills I always seem to have when I'm reading.

I think binding is the perfect addition to this book.  You can lay it flat much easier, and fold it over to view just one page as shown below.  I covered the page as I wasn't sure how much of the book content I could show.  I think being able to fold the book over like this makes it much easier to handle during a lesson.  It is easier to refer to while teaching if you need to.

Unfortunately, there was one down side.  This particular book is a little large for the largest spiral Staples has.  If you look at the picture below, you can see that the book curves around the binding a bit and isn't exactly even where the book opens.

Having said that, I don't see this being a real problem.  The book handles fine, and when you have it open flat or folded in half you don't even notice it.  This book is on the thicker side.  I looked at a lot of my other professional books and most would fit without any problems.  Staples also has spirals in smaller sizes for thinner books.

On another note, I had planned to do a review of this book, but I'm sort of on the fence.  There is already so much out there about it right now.  Let me know if you would like to see a review. I will say that I do highly recommend the book.

So, that's the quick tip.  Get your favorite PD books bound!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Abandoning Post-It Notes During Independent Reading

I have been a long time user of Post-It note annotations during reading.  In fact, I've written posts, like this one and this one, where I mention using them.  However, the nature of teaching is that we continue to learn, grow, reflect, and change our methods and instruction for the better.  That's sort of where I am now with Post-It note (which I usually refer to as sticky notes) annotations. I think we are parting ways when it comes to independent reading.

I have to be honest and share my teacher fail here.  I had done all the right things in implementing this.  We did lessons on what was worth writing a sticky note, the different types of things they could write a note about, etc. We practiced it in guided reading groups, I modeled it many, many times. However, it just didn't seem to stick (pardon the pun!) for many of my students. Oh, there were a handful that got it and did well, but many seemed to struggle with using them in a way that helped them as readers.

So, I tried to fix the problem. When I noticed the friends that would sticky note almost every page, we had one to one lessons reviewing their notes and learning why some were good while others were just filler.  We revisited the lesson on "sticky worthy" events. I had many frustrated days conferencing and reteaching with some friends that wouldn't write any sticky notes at all because, despite my exhaustive lessons, custom sticky notes with prompts, and the anchor charts hanging in the room, they would say they didn't know what to write.

I knew it was time to rethink this. How effective was having my students use sticky notes during independent reading?  Was it working?  In a word, no.  It wasn't working for enough of my students that I could say it was effective.  And, what really were my ultimate goals for my students?  I wanted my friends reading.  I wanted then to be immersed in a book they enjoyed.  I wanted them to have sustained reading time, to be excited about reading and talking about books with their friends.  What I had done by enforcing sticky notes was getting in the way of all of that.  My students are children reading 1-2 years below grade level.  Reading has been a struggle for them and not something they consider enjoyable. I was just making it more like work than the joy I know it could be for them.

Then, I thought about myself as a reader.  I read.  I read a lot!  And, I rarely stop to jot a note when I'm reading fiction.  Instead, I let myself be immersed in and carried away by the story.  I live the events with the characters and become invested in what they do.  I "feel" the book; laughing, crying, worrying, wondering, anticipating as the text pulls me in. This is what I want for my students. When reading nonfiction, I generally don't annotate unless I have a purpose of using the information in some way.  For my students, this would be if they were working on a research project or found some information so interesting they wanted to share it with a friend later. But, what would be my purpose in forcing them to write Post-It notes on a nonfiction book they were reading for enjoyment?

The last two months of school, I decided to give it a shot and abandon sticky notes.  Here's what I noticed immediately.  My friends spent more time reading.  Their enjoyment of reading increased. My most reluctant readers were no longer fake reading or complaining about having to read. They were talking more to each other about the books they were reading. They were spontaneously coming to me to talk about an interesting or funny part of their book. All those goals I had for my students were happening!

This September, I will not be using Post-It notes during independent reading.  That's not to say I won't be using them at all. Post-Its definitely have their place in the classroom.  We use them a lot during guided reading.  They are perfect for jotting down an answer, a great spot for a student to jot down something they want to share, something they notice, etc.  I will sometimes prewrite individual questions on them to differentiate for my students.  There are a million places where they work well.  I just no longer think independent reading is one of those places.

But, I do have to have something in place.  My district is all about accountability, so as much as I would like to set my friends free to go read and just enjoy their books, there needs to be more to it. Because I have my notes from student conferences, goal setting, and lesson observations, I knew I could keep this fairly short and simple.  Currently, I am thinking of having the kids do a single response when they finish a book.  I  plan on calling it Just One Thing! where students have a chance to share just one thing about the book they read.  It can be a book review, something in the book events they want to comment on, etc.  The point is they just have to say one thing about the book and it can be as detailed or as simple as they are capable of constructing at the time. This allows them to read without interruption or worry about writing Post-It notes.

Originally, I thought I would provide them with small, soft cove notebooks where they could write and I could respond.  But, then I realized this would be perfect for technology integration.  In the past, I've done a class blog where the kids responded to our read alouds.  It worked out so well. They commented on each others post and had real conversations about the books. I am leaning toward using a blog again for this.  A couple of suggestions from Instagram were to use Edmodo or My Big Campus. I am not super familiar with those sites, but I plan to check them out over the summer.

So, that's where things stand now.  I would love to know your thoughts.  What are you doing with independent reading?  Are you using sticky notes or have you found another way?  Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why I Took A Year Off From Blogging

Can you believe it has been a 
(school) year since we've last said hello?  

To be honest, I have no idea where the time went.  My blog absence didn't begin as an intentional decision.  I was overwhelmed by work, family, and other responsibilities that made blogging something I just didn't have time for.  I kept meaning to do it, but as my daily to do lists got longer and longer, blogging kept getting moved down the list. When I look back at the last few posts I did write, you can sort of see it was coming.

At one point, I realized I hadn't blogged in a couple of months.  That was when I did make a conscious decision to take the school year off.  It was not an easy decision.  I like blogging.  I really, really like blogging!  I like sharing ideas, having a place to express myself, and the interaction with you all through comments. I share, but I also learn so much from you.  However, when blogging became something I no longer looked forward to, I knew it was time to take a break.

It had been, for me, a difficult couple of years at work with some changes that had me feeling somewhat uninspired.  I found myself with fewer and fewer ideas on what I wanted to blog about.  If I wasn't energized and excited about what I was doing, how could I possibly come here and share?  I knew that I needed to refocus and find a new way to look at things.  It was all about "reframing" the situation.  Happily, I can write that I am in a totally different mindset now. I want to write a post about reframing and recharging your teaching.  I think we all hit that slump at one time or another, and I was able to find some strategies that really helped turn things around.

So, do I regret taking the year off from blogging?  I can 100% say it was the best thing I could have done!  It really gave me a chance to recharge.  So, what did I do with all that time?  Lots!

I found time for all those school related things I would usually struggle to fit in. . .

I went to several out of district workshops that made my literacy loving heart sing!  I was able to listen and learn from Donalyn MillerHarvey "Smokey" DanielsDebbie MillerDouglas FisherKyleene Beers, and Bob Probst. Tell me that isn't an amazing year of PD! Being able to learn from these literacy leaders has recharged my teaching and definitely made me refine my methods.  It has also given me so many ideas for blog  posts.  There is so much I want to share with you from these workshops!

I finally got to read some of the books in the giant pile I've been meaning to get to.  Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller was a really good one, but I've been on a big Jennifer Serravallo kick.  I love her books. If you are a literacy teacher, she is a must read.  In particular, her latest book, The Reading Strategies Book, is one that should be on every reading teacher's desk. I'm planning to post reviews of the books I've read this past year.  Most were fantastic like the two below, but there were a couple of duds.

I worked on cleaning up and reorganizing my classroom.  This included taking the time to purge all those files I haven't opened in forever and reorganizing my closets and drawers that seemed to be filled with things I've sort of just thrown in there. I took a true tough love approach and got rid of anything I knew I haven't used and probably wouldn't.  One of the biggest projects I took on was reevaluating my classroom library.  I have a HUGE class library. After attending the Donalyn Miller workshop, I was inspired to make some big changes. I have a couple of blog posts planned about this with all the details and rational, but I can tell you I ended up purging 271 books and then completely reorganizing it all.  The pic below is from my Instagram that I posted as we were in progress. By the way, Instagram is without a doubt my favorite social media! I must be a visual learner :-)

There was also time to have a life outside of school. I found time to join a gym and workout.  I had time to spend with friends and family.  I read many (GASP!!) non-teaching related books. I went to movies, I slept, I cooked, I went to concerts, fairs, and festivals. I watched TV,  I had a life!  And, it wasn't that blogging took that much time.  I mean, it does take time.  If you blog, you know it can be time consuming.  But not blogging gave me nights  and weekends free to do more without the guilt of thinking I should be blogging.

The one area I had hoped to work on this past year was my presence on Teachers Pay Teachers. Yeah, that didn't happen.  I still have just one or two lonely, simple freebies hanging out on my TpT page.  I had lots of ideas and projects in mind, but never got around to it.  It is still a goal for me.  Being able to share products and ideas that work for me and I hope will help others is something I still really want to do.  I just have to realize this is going to be a slow moving goal.  I still have a lot to learn about creating products and how TpT works.  I have July and August to do some learning and creating, so I'm hoping to have at least a couple of things ready to go for September. But, I'm not
going to be pressuring myself to do it all.  It will happen as it happens.

One thing this year off did help me realize is just how much I missed blogging. Even though I'm glad I took the year off, I'm excited to get back to it.  Also, I have to give a huge thanks to those of you that continued to pop in during the year despite not seeing new content. To be honest, I was shocked anyone was still checking in on my little blog!

Moving forward, I have a better balance now with work, life, and blogging. I don't have a blogging schedule planned.  I just have things I want to share on occasion.  It might be twice a week, it might be once a week.  I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that I am  happy to be back to blogging! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I Have a Blog??

Just popping in with a quick post from my phone. I know it has been forever since I've posted! Big, long stories that include a crashed motherboard, family things, and (if I'm being honest) a bit of laziness! But not 2 months of laziness! 

However, assuming anyone is still checking in, I will be back to regular posting on October 1st.  Until then, check out my Instagram! Since I'm essentially working off my iPhone for the time being, it's been my favorite place to be! Just search "Teaching My Friends" and my account should pop up. Look for the pink apple!

These are just some of the pics I've shared there:

There are blog posts to go with most of these pictures, but technology has not been my friend lately!  But, fingers crossed, we should be BFFs once again by October!

So, thanks to all that have been checking in even though I've been MIA.  I do appreciate it! I will see you on October 1st!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Weekend Words: "There Are Many Ways of Being Smart."

I have no Weekend Words that can top this letter from a principal to her students. You can read the full article about this letter HERE.

Friday, July 18, 2014

ThE MOst DisJoiNteD bLoG pOSt EvEr! (and some affixes!)

This really is probably going to be the most disjointed blog post ever! There were a few different education and non-education topics swirling around in my head, and I'm just going to lump them all into one post.

I haven't blogged in a bit for no good reason than it is summer, and I'm being a bit lazy.  
Every morning, this is the plan:
But, then I get distracted.  One of my biggest distractions this summer has been this little app:
Yes, that devilish little Kindle app on my iPhone!  It has been so nice to have time to read fluff.  I am still in the middle of two different professional books, but I just lost interest for a bit.  I might need to delete this app for a couple of weeks so I can get something done! Like blogging and working on my TpT stuff.

Figuring out this whole Tpt thing was is one of my goals this summer.  I have some things I want to get done, but the time-suck that is my Kindle app has been getting the best of me.  It was so fun seeing all the pics of bloggers who attended the Tpt gathering (convention?) in Vegas last week.  It looked like so much fun.  I've been reading lots of blog posts on it, and I have yet to hear of anyone that didn't have a great time, meet some amazing bloggers, and learn lots of helpful tips.
In fact, I posted this pic on my Instagram account during the festivities.  More on Instagram later!  My goal is that by next year my Tpt store will be up and running and I will attend the next gathering  

One thing I am getting done is summer school.  I have the best group of kids this year!  I truly love them to pieces.  They are so sweet, just really nice children who are willing to learn.  No attitudes!  They really make heading to work on nice, sunny, beach days not so bad. And, there are only 7 of them which has let me get so much done.

  My summer friends will be entering 4th grade in September but have reading levels 1-2 years below that.  One thing I learned right away is that they are unfamiliar with the most basic of affixes.  I know they were taught them in 3rd grade, but the recall is not there at all.  So, when deciding what to do with them for word study this summer, affixes it is!  I wanted to get the most bang for my buck.  They certainly need help with spelling patterns, but as soon-to-be-4th-graders I feel mastering some basic affixes will help them more with decoding the grade level words they will encounter.

For visuals with my lessons, I've been using this beach themed packet of 31 different prefixes and suffixes by Rachael Parlett that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It is awesome. And, free! She actually has this same pack available in different themes (pirates, jungle, Hollywood, and more) along with other for sale resources that compliment them.  We've been doing one a day.

 I write the affix down, and then I give the kids a basic word that has that affix.  I then let them try to figure out what it means.  Once they do, we write the definition on the chart we've glued in our notebook.  We then work together to brainstorm a list of words.  After that, they select a word and use it in a sentence that shows they know the meaning of the word.  Finally, they sketch a quick picture showing their sentence.  This form is another freebie I also found on Teachers Pay Teachers created by Gaily Girl.  It's a pack of various materials, including this chart/organizer.  I will say that I did tweak it a bit, but it is essentially the same.  I just changed the font, made one line dotted, and changed the center box to put in the particular affixes we are using.  The form is editable, so it was easy to do.
 I only have my friends for five short weeks this summer, so we are spending two weeks on prefixes, two on suffixes (there they are below, ready to go!) and on our last week we will be combining the two.  The best part of it all is that I can really see this clicking for the kids.  They are using the new words they learned in our conversation and have stopped me during our read aloud more than once to point out that I said a word that had a prefix we learned.  Score!!!

After summer school today, I went to my school to grab some materials from our supply room.  If you are not a teacher and wonder what schools look like during the summer, here it is!
I really feel for our custodians in the summer.  Our school is not air conditioned, and it is hot as blazes in that building.  They are busy clearing out the classrooms, stripping and freshly waxing floors, cleaning the rooms, making repairs, and actually working to retile some classrooms this year.  It is hot and sweaty work! They have to empty every room, do all that work, and then put it all back again.   But, it all very much appreciated when we come back to shiny, clean classrooms in September!

So, frozen peas.  Yup, that's me driving home from school last week with a bag of frozen peas on my knee.  At dismissal last Thursday, I tripped on some uneven sidewalk and did a full-on face plant (really more of a knee injury) in front of all the summer school staff, students, and parents.  It was so bad, I literally couldn't get up for a minute.  I was going to post a picture of my knee today, but it is so ugly I didn't want to subject you to it!  It is blue, green, purple, black, red, yellow, and every other color you can imagine.  I honestly can't believe how bad the bruise is.  It is still really sore, but I'm just glad I didn't break anything.  And to prove how sweet my kids are this summer, I can't begin to tell you how upset they got when I fell.  I was so busy reassuring them that I was fine that it wasn't until after they were all gone that I realized how bad it was.  

To keep on with this disjointed post. . .  I might be mildly obsessed with getting some Jamberry nails.  I'm seeing them all over the web.  When I first heard of them, I thought I could just pick them up in the store.  But, I think it is some kind of home party sales thing.  I do see though that I can order some on their website.  They aren't cheap, but I think it would be a fun treat. Have to look in to this some more!  Do any of you do Jamberry nails?  How do you like them?  Where do you get them?

My other mild obsession this summer has been banana frozen yogurt.  I tell you this for no reason other than I feel more people need to know about banana frozen yogurt.  (You know I'm an elementary school teacher because I can't even type the word banana without thinking of Minions and laughing!)  I posted this picture of some on Instagram a few days ago.  It was a bit disappointing due to the lack of toppings. Notice there aren't really any?  I wanted some fresh fruit, and there was none!  When is the last time you went to a fro yo shop that had no fresh fruit?!!  

Speaking of Instagram, I have just started using my blog Instagram.  I find I am much more of an Instagram person than a Facebook person.  I use FB in my personal life for friends and family, but I find it really difficult to switch back and forth between my blog FB page and my personal FB page.  As a result, I sort of don't pay any attention to my blog FB page which isn't good.  Some of you have been so nice to follow me on it which means you are probably on it more than I am!  However, I find it much easier to blend my personal and blog Instagram in one.  I think I'm more of a visual person and just find Instagram more appealing.  I need to add an Instagram link to my buttons up top, but you can find me HERE. I've only posted a few pics, but I think IG is one social media I will keep up with.

So, that's my disjointed post. Which seems about right for summer blogging! :-)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Weekend Words: Happy Belated 4th America!

The week has just gotten away from me!  It's been my first full week of summer vacation, a holiday, and I've been prepping for summer school.  I'll be back next week with some new posts.  Until then, I hope that you all celebrated a wonderful 4th of July if you are here in the states.

We had terrible rain storms on the 4th due to Hurricane Arthur.  The lightning was amazing.  You could just watch it streak through the sky as it lit up the night.   However, today has been beautiful.  We just got back from watching our local fireworks display on the lakefront.  Always fun except for the 10,000 mosquito bites! I am one itchy lady!  Tomorrow promises to be another sunny day and a day filled with postponed 4th of July celebrations.  I am going to try to not eat my weight in bbq chicken, corn on the cob, smores, and watermelon!

This picture is from the Ann Taylor Instagram page.  I just couldn't resist it!  I remember getting those ice pops off the ice cream truck as a kid.  A perfectly cool treat for the 4th of July! Their clothes are pretty darn nice, too! :-)  Happy Belated 4th, America!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weekend Words

And, that's my plan on this first weekend of what will hopefully be a great summer vacation!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Putting the Pieces Together: A Novel Activity

In cleaning up my computer, I came across these pictures of an activity I did three years ago with my friends.  I didn't remember posting about it, and in searching the blog I couldn't find it.  So, better late than never!

This activity was done towards the later part of the school year.  We had spend time learning all the story elements and vocabulary that goes along with it. We had learned how to effectively write summaries and peer edit.  We had plenty of practice working in cooperative groups where collaboration and good conversation are a must.  It was time to put it all together.

After we had read the novel Frindle by Andrew Clements, I broke my friends into strategic groups of five.  They were going to work together to identify the important details of each story element and summarize their section.  We were putting the puzzle pieces (of all we had learned) together!

Each color represents a different group.  Each puzzle piece, from top to bottom, represents a different story element: characters, plot, problem, solution, setting.  Using a graphic organizer, my friends worked with their group to outline what from the book (working on important information and detail vs. unimportant) must be included in each section.

Once the graphic organizers were completed and agreed on by the group, each member took one element and turned it into a written summary on their puzzle piece.  Some were longer than others and required us to staple a couple of pages together, but it all worked out. It was a nice mix of cooperative work combined with an element of personal responsibility for the finished product. If they had room, they also created small illustrations that went along with their writing. These are some samples below.

When all were done, we glued them on to a column of construction paper in order. To finish, they added some extra illustrations.  Each group then presented their summary of the book. When we were done, I hung them on the lockers outside my room.  If you are a regular reader, you know of my never ending quest for vertical display ideas for those darn lockers!

I can't remember where I got the puzzle pieces, but honestly they are something you could draw free-hand on white paper and just make some copies.  If you wanted to get fancy, you could make it so the puzzle pieces fit together in a rectangle and actually put the pieces together for a display that doesn't have to be vertical.  I did minimize two puzzle pieces on the copier for the top of each chart, one had the book title and author while the other listed the kids' names.

All in all, this was a good activity that allowed the kids to pull together all we had been learning in reading and writing.  You can also make this as simple or involved as you want depending on the ages group your are working with. Another plus is that it works with any book!