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!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Missed It!

First time since I've started it that I missed Weekend Words. Sorry about that!  That picture pretty much sums up the craziness of my life this past week. 

With school ending this week, it has been a mad dash to not just pack up my classroom, but to totally organize it from the inside out. My goal is to hit the ground running in September with very little room prep. I have no plans to go in before our first official workshop days!

Add to that, lots of crazy but fun home stuff going on at the same time, and I have just run out of days! I feel like I have been running non-stop at school all day only to come home and do the same until I crash into bed at night! I could have totally used that eighth day for blogging!

But, I do have some posts coming this week! In the process of cleaning up an old computer I found pics of a bulletin board reading project I don't think I've shared. I also attended a workshop by Douglas Fisher I want to tell you about. (No links as I'm blogging from my phone right now!) and there are a few other posts in the works!

This morning. I am off to school for our last Monday!! Woo Hoo!!!! Just four more days!! Summer vacation is so close!!!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Weekend Words: Did I Say That?

Things I've said this week as a teacher 
that normal people say:

Tie your shoes.

Put the cap back on the marker when you are done.

Please wait your turn.

Did you finish your work?

Don't forget to wash your hands.

Things I've said this week as a teacher 
that normal people don't say:

No, licking your hands is not the same as washing your hands.

Take that pencil out of your nose right now.

Please don't be upset. I promise he was just kidding with you 
and isn't really going to Mars for his summer vacation.

We have tissues for that!!!!!

Just because the owl already digested what was in the pellet 
does NOT mean it is clean enough for you to eat.

Stop sniffing his socks!

Yogurt is a great snack, 
just not after it has been sitting in your desk for two days.

And, I actually found myself saying this one. . . 

Just 9 more days, 9 more days, 9 more days. . . 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June Currently

It's the June Currently!
With special thanks to Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade!

Listening:  Not sure where I would be without all the podcasts I listen to!  Do you download podcasts from iTunes?    I listen to them in the car, while cleaning the house, during walks, etc. Some are short, just a few minutes, while others can be an hour or so long. Some education related podcasts I listen to are:
Voices of Literacy 
Choice Literacy Podcast 
K-12 Greatest Hits: The Best Ideas in Education 
The Whole Child Podcast: Changing the Conversation About Education
National Writing Project

Those are just a few!  You can find them on iTunes by searching for the title.  There are also a bunch of podcasts not education related that I like. Some of those would be:

Radio Lab
Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me
For Crying Out Loud
10th Avenue Podcast
The Jillian Michaels Podcast
Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips
Dave Ramsey

  No matter your interests, there's something out there that will catch your interest!

Loving:  I have been a decluttering fool both at home and at school.  I looked around and realized that there was so much stuff taking up space that I just don't need.  At home, I've been a regular at the Goodwill drop off!  In school, I think the custodian is beginning to dislike me.  I have recently filled my trash cans to overflowing several times over on a daily basis!  Basically, if I haven't used it in the past two years, out it goes!

Thinking:  Summer school.  Why, oh why, did I say I would do it?  Actually, I know why. It is just 2 1/2 hours a day, Monday through Thursday for four weeks.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy and good money!  Plus, I will still have a month off before school starts in September.  Plenty of beach time!

Wanting: A new couch!  Yet another reason why I said yes to summer school!  Did you ever just look around your home and realize that your taste and style have totally changed since you bought your furniture?  That's kind of where I am.  The decluttering and new couch will be a good start to a new look!

Needing: Time! I am in the process of totally rearranging my classroom for next year.  If I get it all reorganized and set up by the end of the school year, the cleaning crew will put it back the same way after summer cleaning which means less work for me in getting ready for the start of the school in September. The past week has been filled with moving furniture, reassessing my class library and purging books, reorganizing closets, moving computers, and more.  I still have a lot to do, but I will be done by June 26th!  That's my last day!  I just need to use my time wisely if I am going to get it done.  I'm sort of excited about the reorganizing because I have been able to create a small teacher corner for all my books and supplies that I can easily access during the school year.  I will post about my "teacher corner" in September when it is all set up.

Summer Bucket List:  So much!  I want to finally finish all the blog items I haven't gotten to just yet; about me page, cleaning up the labels, organizing the freebies, and more.  I also have a huge summer reading list to get to.  Living so close to NY, I am planning to explore some different parts of town in more depth; SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy, East Village, etc.

I find when I go to NY I tend to stick to the Midtown-Times Square-Upper East & West Side-Central Park areas. This summer, I feel the need to branch out!  Also on my bucket list is more beach time and the continuation of my decluttering spree!

Are you a podcast listener?  
What do you listen to?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Weekend Words: Smart is not something you are.

"Smart is not something you are, smart is something you get." So true!  This was a quote from Stephanie Harvey that I heard at her workshop in May.  I think this resonates with me as a teacher so much because I have worked many years with enrichment students and now several years with struggling students.  And, I have seen this quote reflected in their thinking and achievement in very different ways.

My struggling students tend to think "smart kids" are just that way.  They see smart as an inherent trait "smart kids" just have.  They don't see being smart as something that requires some action to achieve.

The so-called "smart kids" often take being smart for granted because they are often naturally inquisitive.  They want to know more so they don't see the work, the actions of reading, writing, listening, investigating, etc. as work.  They see it as a means to an end tin satisfying their curiosity.

I guess then, our goal is to build that inquisitive nature in our students.  To guide them in living a curious life!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Hanging Out With Stephanie Harvey

I'm going to start this post with an apology for the pictures.  I totally take all my blog pictures with my iPhone.  No fancy cameras here!  So, while my pictures are never amazing quality, they are usually a little better than these.  I think it's because they are pictures of photocopies that themselves were not super clear.  Oh well, it's the content that matters!

At the end of May, I went to an amazing workshop by Stephanie Harvey.  You probably know her best from her book Strategies That Work.  It is well worth checking out if you don't know it.  On this day, she was giving a presentation on comprehension.  

I'm not really going to dissect the entire workshop here, because I couldn't do it justice.  I will, however, share a small hodge-podge of ideas and thoughts.
  •  First, much to my surprise, it was a small gathering. There were only about 30 or so people there.  We were able to interact and converse with Stephanie in a way that you just can't when you are in a large crowd.  It was great to be so up close and personal with an educator of her caliber.
  • One of the things stressed was the importance of living a curious life.  The best learning happens when there is a genuine desire to know something new. Stephanie went on to stress the importance of teachers modeling this by being inquisitive ourselves and sharing this with our students.  She told a story about a teacher that was telling her kids how she knew it was Spring because birds had come back and built a nest in the eaves of her house.  She wondered why they always picked that particular eave to build every year.  She wondered if it was the same birds that were coming back every year.  This was a conversation she had with her students which led to them asking questions as well which led to investigation, research, reading, and writing to find the answers.  Because the topic came from a genuine question, there was genuine interest in finding the answers.                                                                                                                                                                                    This sounds great, but if you are like me you are thinking that we have specific curriculum to cover and birds in eaves doesn't exactly lend itself to what I need to teach.  Well, it's not about the exact content.  It is about approaching any content with a good measure of curiosity. What is it about this subject that I want to know?  As the page in her handout below noyes, ask questions and care about finding the answers.  Perhaps rather than approaching those content area topics with a "this is what I have to cover and I'm going to do it in x number of lessons with this topic on day 1, this on day 2, etc." we might be able to get our students better invested if we find out what they are curious to know about the topic.  I would imagine that what we "have" to cover will work its way in.

  • Stephanie related a quote by P. David Pearson that I also liked. "The questions a student asks after reading a text are a better assessment than the questions a student can answer about that text."  So true if you really think about it.  To ask a good question about a text requires you to comprehend and synthesize that text, which absolutely requires higher level thinking skills. When a child asks an awesome question about a text, you know they got it.  You know they understood, thought about what they read ,and were able to move beyond to think outside the text.  When a child doesn't ask those great questions, but asks questions that show basic understanding or misinformation, you know there is still work to be done.  Stephanie suggested that asking something as simple as, "What questions do you have about what we read?" will provide you with a nice assessment of the reader, perhaps better than a story quiz will.  (If you want to know more related to Pearson's quote, this blogger did a synopsis of his speech from which this quote comes, and you can view the slides he used in giving the speech by clicking here and going to the link "Reading Assessment: Still Time to Change." There are also a lot of other interesting articles linked on the page you might like.)
  • The amount of time children spend reading on an average day was also discussed.  There are so many studies that show the more time spent reading in a school day, the higher the reading achievement.  Stephanie did point out the significance of other factors such as socio-economic status, but one of the largest factors of success was the amount of time spent reading in the school day.  She backed up the importance of this siting many different studies that support the correlation.   One study showed that the lowest performing classrooms spent about 30 minutes a day reading while the highest achieving classrooms spent almost half the day reading. My first thought was that half a day reading seems like an unachievable goal with so many demands on our instruction time.  The most obvious solution is that our students need to be reading across the curriculum to get in that reading time.  Stephanie went on to say if we teach science and social studies in a day, taking the first ten minutes of each class to have the students read a topic related text and write down a question is twenty minutes done and added to that total reading time.  In my school, we don't teach our content classes every day so increasing our reading time in this way is still somewhat of a challenge.  However, any increase in student reading time that we can make happen is a step in the right direction!
As I wrote, there is so much more I could write about, but I will end my recap with one more thought from Stephanie Harvey.  She ended the workshop discussing some of the difficulties we face as teachers these days; curriculum demands, time constraints, the overall attitude towards teachers these days, common core, and more. As teachers, we are pulled in so many directions and given so many directives that impact our teaching.  In light of all that, her final advice to us was this:  Good instruction is good instruction, so stay the course!  In case you can't tell, it was a great workshop!

I am also going to do a little plug here for Rutgers University, specifically their Center for Literacy Development at Rutgers Graduate School of Education.  I'm lucky enough to live close enough to the university that I am able to attend their literacy workshops and experience amazing literacy leaders like Stephanie Harvey.  Below is a flyer for an upcoming development day this summer; Children's Literature in the Elementary & Middle School.   I am planning to attend because I love Seymour Simon's books and would like to hear him speak.  He is a great author of science books that just grab my students' interest every time.

But, what I am most excited about is their next literacy development series.  They are always able to get great literacy leaders to come and present.  You can sign up for the entire series or as many presentations as you like.  They aren't two day workshops, instead they offer two options.  The first day is a full day workshop, or if your time is limited, the second day is what they call an after school series which usually runs 4:30-6:30 and offers an abbreviated presentation of the full day workshop.

You can see from the flyer below that they have some phenomenal speakers coming up.  Harvey Daniels wrote, among his many publications, a great book about literature circles you might be familiar with.  One of Debbie Miller's more recent books, No More Independent Reading Without Support, is on my summer reading list.  Beers and Probst have a great book out now about close reading that is also on my to-read list.  Kylene Beer has a blog you might want to check out if you have an interest in literacy, which I have to assume you do if you are still reading this! I especially like her post on the importance of summer reading.  Finally, the last presenter in the series is Donalyn Miller author of The Book Whisperer.  I love that book!  If you need one professional book for your summer reading list, I would suggest that one. It is an easy read for the summer and will change how you think about reading.

My plan is to attend all four workshops.  I'm hoping I can get my district to pay for them or at least a couple of them.  If not, I will pay out of pocket because they are so worth it! When I find a good thing, I like to share a good thing.  That is why I am telling you all about these upcoming professional development opportunities.  If you are in the tri-state area, I encourage you to try and attend one.  They are never less than amazing!

On a different note, I wanted to let you know that I updated the post on t-shirt book talks.  Even though the post is two years old, it is still a popular one.  And, despite noting that I don't have a rubric available for the project, I still get emails asking for one.  So much so that I decided to find you a rubric.  I found a great one!  I updated the post to link to the rubric.  It is a Teachers Pay Teachers product, but it is only $1.50 and well worth it!  So, if you are still looking for a book talk rubric, click HERE to go to the post and the link.

Finally, I will see you Sunday for some new Weekend Words! My weekend words this week come straight from the Stephanie Harvey workshop and just may be my favorite so far! Check back on Sunday to see what she said.  If you've missed some past Weekend Words, you can see them here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Any thoughts on the Stephanie Harvey workshop?  
Any one interested in attending any of the Literacy Center workshops?  
We can have lunch together! :-)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

End of Year Favorite Book Activity

First, let us all take a minute to admire the creativity of this post title!  I am so lame at coming up with post titles. Most of the time I just put up the topic.  So, can you tell that this post is about an end of the year favorite book activity? :-)

As you may know, I teach in a building that was a middle school prior to being an elementary school.  This is why the hallway I teach in is lined with lockers instead of bulletin boards.  The kids use them as cubbies with no locks which is kind of nice because it keeps a lot of coat and book bag clutter out of the classroom itself.  However, it does pose a problem for displaying things.  We are constantly vertically challenged!  Whatever you put out has to fit on a locker, and you can't overlap because the kids need to be able to open them.  I've posted here and here about some different ways I've used vertical displays on the lockers.

The end of the year favorite book part was an idea I had to have our entire hallway do a common display for the end of the year and encourage summer reading.  What if each child in every class told about the most favorite book they read this year?  We would have a long hallway full of book suggestions for summer reading.  I made this big display at one end of the hallway on a bank of lockers that isn't in use.

I designed a sheet where each child could tell a bit about their favorite book and design the cover.

If you want to get lots of teachers involved in a project, make it as little work as possible for them and something they can do easily! I made a class set of copies for each classroom and a quick Power Point that teachers could use to explain the activity.   Teachers could have students do this activity in class or for homework.  I was really happy that almost everyone was on board!

The kids did a great job.  It was an activity that spanned every reading and interest level, so all could participate.

In addition to the activity sheet, I made a quick poster for each teacher to hang outside their room with some summer cut-outs I picked up at the dollar store.  Since this was just for use in our hallway, will be thrown out at the end of June, and are not for sale or anything like that, I just googled different summer reading clip art to make some simple posters. It is a long hallway, so I thought this would help keep it all more cohesive.

When done, each class hung their posters on the lockers and we had a long hallway of book recommendations.  There are 15 classes on this hallway with about 25 kids per a class.  That is a hallway of 375 book recommendations!  The last thing I did was create a quick book list sheet where teachers could take their classes on a book walk to "shop" for books they might like to read this summer based on classmates recommendations.  Give each kid a clipboard and the blank sheet and they can walk around and read the hall to create their own personalized book list.

Finally, that big sun I made for the end of the hallway?  Turned out to be a little easier than I thought.  I projected the image on my Pro Board and hung some yellow fadeless bulletin board paper to trace it on.  

The only problem was, once I traced it I couldn't figure out how to get the blue book, white teeth, and sunglasses.  I thought it would look kind of messy if I colored it in.  Then, I looked over at my science tub and saw a roll of wax paper!  Now, you may already know this trick but when I realized I could trace the shape of the book on wax paper and then use that as a template to cut it out in blue paper, I was delighted.  Once I cut out the blue paper, I just glued it on the yellow paper.  I did the same for the teeth using white paper and the sunglasses using tin foil.  I wish someone had shared this wax paper trick with me years ago!  As I've written before, I'm a teacher just not an art teacher!  

If you would like a copy of the blank book form, you can download it here. It should be printed on 8.5" by 14" paper. The font is a little different than what you see in the photos, but still the same content. Well, except that the only one I saved is the original which says, "The Best Book I Read This Year."  I did revise it to say, "The Best Book I've Read This Year." So, if the I instead of I've will bug you like it did me, don't download it! Sorry, but for some reason I didn't save the revised copy.  So, that is the not-so-cleverly-titled "End of Year Favorite Book Activity."