Saturday, October 29, 2011

I've Got The Substitute Blues

Well, I was planning to post more this week, but I did manage to at least get two in.  That's me looking on the bright side!  Fair warning.  I'll be leaving that side in a minute. . .

We had a workshop day on Thursday in the library of our school.  I was very happy because these in-district workshop days are usually held at our central office meaning I don't normally ever see my substitute.   Since I was in the building, I was able to meet with my sub in the morning and go over my plans with her.   I was able to explain each lesson in great detail.  WONDERFUL!   Color me happy when she told me she was a teacher but left a few years ago when she had her son.  A former teacher for my sub?  DELIGHTFUL! Could this be any better?

(Watch out.  Here is where I leave the bright side.)


HOW IS IT THAT MY FRIENDS DID A MATH LESSON THAT IS TWO LESSONS AHEAD OF WHERE WE ARE?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ummm, yeah, I did write down the page numbers I wanted them to do and actually reviewed that lesson in the teacher's guide with her.




So, can you figure out what I spent Friday doing?  Yes, all the work that was supposed to be done on Thursday.  My friends were totally confused.  The first thing one of them said to me Friday morning was that he didn't "get any of that science stuff we did yesterday."  It is so frustrating to lose an entire day of instruction this way. 

I'm not bashing substitutes. I think substitutes, lunch aides, and bus drivers are amazing! Those are jobs I know I just wouldn't have the patience for.  As for substitutes,  it has to be incredibly difficult to walk in to an unknown classroom, with a different grade level every day, and be expected to teach cold without knowing the curriculum or the students.  I've had amazing subs, and I've had subs in the past that may have taught a lesson incorrectly or given my friends some incorrect information, but I realize that happens.  No big deal.  This post is not about all those amazing subs that walk into classrooms every day and do their best.   This is about one substitute who completely ignored my plans!

Honestly, can anyone explain how this happens?  I don't leave complicated lessons for substitutes.   I don't ever leave a lesson that I know my friends will need my guidance to fully understand.  I leave work that can be done with a substitute.  How do you explain disregarding the teacher's plans?  Especially considering the fact that I actually explained those plans to her! 

So, what are your substitute experiences?  Am I wrong in my frustration with this particular substitute?  Ughh!  I'm leaving now to try and find that bright side again.  This might require large amounts of baked goods.

Disclaimer:  I am fully aware that many exclamation points were harmed in the writing of this blog post.  While technically one does the job, the frustration level of the author required excessive exclamation use!!!!!!!!!  ;-D

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oh, How I Love Mr. George Baker!

Do you know Mr. George Baker?  To know him is to love him.

This is one of my favorite picture books.  It's about a man who is 100 years old and just learning to read.  He rides the bus to school with Harry, his 7 year old neighbor who is also learning to read.  They become good friends. It's a great book with an almost musical text. 

You will love Mr. George Baker and his friend Harry.

One of the reasons I love this book is because of how short yet strong it is.  Picture books are not usually simple, easy books.  They are often many pages with a good deal of text.  It can make it difficult when you want to do a mini-lesson with a book that doesn't take forever read.  I also like to read the entire picture book if I can, as opposed to just a few pages for the lesson.  That's what makes this book perfect.  It's a fairly short read with simple text, yet it carries a powerful message and can be used for so many lessons.  I love books that apply themselves to a variety of lessons! 

By the way, if you aren't using your picture books for multiple lessons, give it a try.  For example, I use Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters on and off all year.  It's another strong picture book that applies to many lessons.  However, it can be a long read in one sitting.  The boon is that once you have read the book, you can use it in future lessons reading only the parts that apply.  Your friends already know the full text, so they will be on board.  Not only does this make your mini-lessons more concise, the repeated exposure to the text will really be helpful to your friends.  You will find that the more you use the book, the more they will take away from it each time.  It's also important to revisit familiar texts for your lower students.  They really need the repeated exposure to sort of imprint the text in their heads so that they can begin to really focus on applying the strategies.  That's my Quick Tip!

Okay, time to get back on topic! 
If this were a writing lesson, wouldn't you totally be
telling me that last paragraph is off topic! :-D 

Here are a couple of ways I use Mr. George Baker in my class.
  • Making Inferences - This is how I used it this week.  We made a chart of Mr. Baker's description, actions, and dialog.  Then, next to it we made an inference for each section.  At the bottom of the chart, we combined them all in to a character sketch.   My friends knew from his physical description that he takes pride in how he looks.  They knew from his actions that he is a patient, kind, talented, and intelligent man.  They knew from his dialog that he has a sense of humor and values education.  This is all derived from some fairly simple text.  Save this chart because you can use it in the Show Not Tell lesson below.
  • Show Not Tell - In writing, I'm always trying to get my friends to show through action rather than just tell.  This is great to do after you're done the reading lesson on inferences.  It's also where revisiting a text pays off.  We've already read the book, so we can really focus on the author's craft.  I will bring out the chart of the inferences we made and ask how we knew all those things about Mr. Baker considering the author never really said any of that.  On the chart side that lists his description, actions, and dialog, we've already identified how the author shows instead of tells.
There are other lessons you can do with this book, but those are two of my favorites.  If you want to have a look-see, I found the Reading Rainbow episode where they read this book on You Tube.  Yup, it was a Reading Rainbow book.  If that's not a good recommendation, I don't know what is!  I've embedded it below.  The actual book reading runs from about minute 1:40 to 7:00, a little over five minutes. 


See, I'll bet you also love Mr. George Baker now!

Monday, October 24, 2011


So, I think I've mentioned that I've been in one school district, one school, for the past fifteen years.  For the fifteen years I have been there, we have used an anthology (ahhh, can you say basal?) reading program.  I never liked it.  In fact, I've always hated it.  It never seemed rigorous enough.  Luckily, I had a great principal that allowed me to toss the anthology and teach with novels. 

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Insert Snoopy Happy Dance Here!!!!!!

Well, in the past couple of years I've morphed into using the reading workshop model with my friends reading books of their choosing.  I love it, but I work in a district that still uses an anthology.*  With no specific curriculum to follow, other than the district's and state's standards that must be met, I've had to build my own.  This is where the web has been invaluable.  By putting what I find out there together with what I know, I can say it's been going well. 

Last week, I did a lesson on self-monitoring.  It is a blend of a lesson I found online and the self-monitoring I've been teaching for years.   Now, I have to say that this is not the original anchor chart.  The original chart was made with my friends and was super messy not so neatly done.  I found that this is a chart we refer to often.  It was a chart I knew would hang in my room for a while, so after school one day I remade the chart to be way less sloppy a bit neater.  

I think self-monitoring is an important lesson. The first thing I do is ask if anyone has ever been reading a book and suddenly realized that they had no idea what was going on.  Everyone can raise their hand on that one, teacher included.  We then discuss how readers self-monitor to keep  meaning.  I find my most able readers do most of these unconsciously, while my getting there readers have no idea they should even be doing these things.  For my getting there readers, this is an anchor chart that often comes up during individual conferencing.  It takes a while for them to internalize these behaviors, so we briefly touch on one or two of them during most conferences.

To explicitly explain what these self-monitoring techniques are and how they help us as readers isn't enough though.  This is where the constant modeling comes in.  With any read aloud or shared reading we do, I'm sure to ask one, two, a few of these questions as I read.  It may not be the focus of the mini-lesson, but I want them to see that good readers constantly self-monitor.  It's also a great time to model how self-monitoring helps you make deeper connections to the text. 

Since this chart is going to be up for a while, I decided to hang it up on the wall.  Do you see it?

No?  Okay, look a little closer.

Yeah, I was up on a six-foot ladder after school last week hanging that chart.  You can bet that's one chart that won't be coming down for a while! 

*I should note that my district has been making some major changes in it's literacy program and is slowly implementing the reading workshop model over the course of this school year.  It's not been easy to take a school so firmly entrenched in an anthology to a workshop model, but I can tell you my coworkers are true superstars.  They are working so hard and doing great things!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nothing New Here. Orange you glad you looked?

Yeah, title says it all.  Nothing new here.  Just wanted to stop in and say hello.  This weekend involves lots of paper grading, doing some lesson plans, finding my darn fall wreath that I put away somewhere, some baking, some soup making, and more pumpkin picking. It is another great fall weekend here, and I plan to enjoy it!  I hope your weekend is fantastic.  Don't get too sucked in to your school bag!

Next week, I'm planning a few posts on some professional reading I've been doing, a new anchor chart, Halloween, a new picture book lesson, and a question or two.  That's the plan.  We'll see what happens!

In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Come on!  How can you not smile at the oldest joke in the world!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Picture Book Bonanza Continues!

It's part two of. . .
Picture Book Bonanza!
More picture books as recommended by you.
(No giant asparagus included.)

Becca of Whole Words uses Children Make Terrible Pets to teach plot diagram.  I love that title!

Fiona uses Diary of a Worm to teach point of view and voice.

"Dan" uses Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street to introduce narratives.  I love this book!  There is so much that you can do with it.  By the way, I write "Dan" because it's Dan's wife that actually posted under Dan's name. However, Dan is always welcome to comment, too! :-)

Jennifer likes My Great Aunt Arizona to help her students write about what inspires them.

Nari uses Charlie Anderson to teach questioning.  I don't care if this book is great or horrible!  The cover alone would make me buy it, and I'm not even a cat person!  How cute is that cat?

Tracy at Grade 3 Top Dogs uses Big Chickens to discuss story elements.

Allie-Gator of And so it begins. . .  likes to use Peanut Butter and Jelly to teach sequencing.

Prudence likes to introduce writing workshop with Born Yesterday, The Diary of a Young Journalist.

Stjstinn uses a Patricia Polacco classic, Thank You Mr. Falker,  to teach about the importance of reading.

Michelle likes to use The Important Book at the beginning of the year to help the students share things about themselves.  I like this book a lot.  Like Michelle, I've used it as part of a getting to know you activity.  Once you have introduced it though, it's great for content area lessons.  My friends have created "The Important Book" to wrap-up science units.  It's a great way to make sure they really know the content, and it's fun! (Michelle, for some reason I couldn't get to your profile from your link to see if you had a blog. Sorry.)Michelle also suggested The Worry Stone and Mrs. Spitzer's Garden

This is a list that could go on forever!  I love how my big, tough fifth graders get so caught up in picture books.  I love even more how much they learn from them.  This has been fun.  Expensive considering all the books I couldn't resist ordering, but still lots of fun. Thanks for all the great suggestions.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Winner, Books, and A Giant Asparagus

Thanks so much to everyone who entered my first give-away.  Without further ado, the winner is. . .

Kelly B aka Queen Bee!

Kelly commented, "Books!  Great giveaway!"  Well, thanks Kelly!  Since I have your email, I will contact you directly for a mailing address.  I hope you enjoy the basket.  Kelly is a kindergarten teacher with her own blog, Busy in K. Stop by and say hello.

Kelly may have won the basket, but your comments were all winners.  Some of these books you recommended I have used, but some were new to me.  My Amazon wish list is getting bigger by the minute!  I've listed some links to all the different books suggest by you.  By the way, I've linked them all through but I'm sure you can purchase them anywhere.  Or even better, visit the library.  I just use Amazon because it's easy to link to. 

It's a Picture Book Bonanza!

Lindsay at My Life as a Fifth Grade Teacher likes Owl Moon for personal narrative lessons.

Meghan at Third Grade in the First State likes A New Coat for Anna for sequence lessons.

Dana at Mrs. Gentry's Class likes I Wanna Iguana for persuasive writing. I also use this one.  It's very cute.

Amy at The Resource(ful) Room likes Memoirs of a Goldfish for teaching memoir and biography writing.  I can't wait to get this one!

MBriscoe01 likes "The Three Little Pigs from the Wolf's POV" for teaching point of view.  I couldn't find that exact title, but I have used The True Story of the Three Little Pigs for point of view lessons.  It's always a favorite in my class.

Shannon teaches ancient civilizations in social studies and likes Weslandia.  Love picture books in the content areas!
Mary likes Dr. Xargle's Book of Earthlets as an introduction to the differences between observations and inferences.  This is a new book to me. I feel the need to check this one out!
Denise at Mrs. Coker's Fourth Graders  likes The Giving Tee to inspire story writing about a gift you have received.  By the way, if you Google images for The Giving Tree you will come across this. . .

WOW!  I have nothing against tattoos, but you have to be seriously committed to a book to do this!  I have to say though, I can't help thinking it looks like a giant asparagus!  Oh well, back to more picture books. . .

KayloKatt of Diary of a Nonconformist Teacher likes Math Curse for first day lessons.  She also likes Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Nicole at Nicole's Crafting Adventure uses I'll Love You Forever for teaching six traits.  I have to say, Nicole wrote a very touching comment about how this book makes her cry every time she reads it.  I have many friends and teacher friends that feel the same way.  As for me, am I alone in thinking the part where in the dark of night the mother climbs in the window of her GROWN ADULT son's bedroom to rock him to sleep is just a wee bit creepy?  I probably am because I know how many people Love with a capital L this book.  So, it is highly recommended.  I personally just can't get over that one part.   :-)

Cristina uses The Humongous Cat to teach punctuation, fluency, and synonyms.

That's about half the books suggested.  I'm planning to list the rest of your suggestions tomorrow.  Hopefully, you saw a book today that you think would be perfect for your friends.  If not, check back tomorrow!
Have a great day!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Reading Notebooks

This year, I revised the materials in my reader's notebooks.  I'm using a combo of a binder and a notebook for reading workshop this year, and I'm not 100% happy with it.  I thought I would share some of what I've been doing.  Maybe you can help me tweak.

Let me first tell you how I've been working it.  In their binder, they have a section for anchor charts and handouts.  There's an index where they write the title of the paper so they can see at a glance what they have.  It' sort of like a mini version of my anchor chart binder, but they have only the few charts I give the entire class and the ones I give specifically to them as needed during conferencing.  There's also a section in their binder to keep track of books they have read, books they want to read, and a genre tracker.

Now, the notebook is more of our workhorse.  The notebook is where they take notes during mini-lessons, jot their thinking about their independent reading, and write their weekly letter to me for assessment.

These are the notebooks I use.  I got them at Staples during the ten cent sale.  My friends turn their notebooks in one day a week.  This way I only have to read 4 or 5 a day rather than all 24 at once.  As you can see, orange notebooks are due on Tuesdays.

When you open the notebook, you will first find this page:

I think the note is pretty clear.  Our focus this year is all about thinking deeper about our reading.  The next couple of pages give an example of friendly letter format and how to edit/proofread their letter.

We edited "idea chart" to read "thinking stems"
Next, there are facing pages that have the "thinking stems" we use.  A reader had asked me to post a link to these, but I just can't find it.  I pulled these pages from a file I've had for a few years.  I know I originally found them on the web, but when I tried to find them again this year I couldn't.  If you have ever run across these, please let me know where so I can credit the author.
This is glued on to the left page of the notebook.  The other pages is on the right side.  I like them facing each other so they can see it all at once.

For some reason, I took two half-page pictures of the other page,
Update! (7/22/12)   Special thanks to Marilyn who emailed me the link she found for these Thinking Stems.  This link should take you to a Word document you can print out.  I believe they are from the Calhoun School District, but again not sure.  CLICK HERE TO GO TO DOCUMENT.

These thinking stems are good for helping my friends who have difficulty coming up with something to write.  I used them as a springboard when I modeled writing a reading response letter not just once, but twice for my friends. I will do more modeling of this as time goes on and I expect more from their letters.

After these pages, I still have two blank pages.  One is for a rubric that I have yet to put in their notebook.  That's one of the things I've not yet figured out to my satisfaction.  While the kids know what I'm looking for,  I want a rubric in their notebook. The problem is I can't find one that fits exactly what I want and I've been too lazy busy to just sit down and make my own.  I guess I'm going to have to just do it this weekend.

The rest of their notebook is filled with notes from our mini-lessons, their independent writing about their reading, and their weekly reading response letter to me.  It's actually all working pretty well so far, but I just have this gnawing feeling that I'm missing something. So, I'm throwing it out there to you! 

What are you doing with your reading notebooks?
What do your friends do with their notebooks?
Do you use a rubric? 
What and how are you assessing them? 
What's worked for you?

By the way, don't forget to ENTER MY THANK YOU GIVE AWAY!  There are only about 22 or so entries thus far, so the odds are pretty good!  You have also been leaving some great ideas for picture books to use in mini-lessons.  Click over and check out the comments.  Even if you don't enter, you will get some great picture book suggestions.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Teacher Guilt

Not me, but I'm sure that's what I looked like to my friend.
Yesterday, I sent the wrong boy to recess detention. 

We were late for lunch, I was irritated that he hadn't done his work, and I was frazzled by the ton of work sitting on my desk that needed to get done. He was so confused when I sent him, but I ignored his confusion and sent him off to another classroom to work through recess.   At the end of the day he came up to me and quietly asked why he had to go to recess detention.  We had a quick, stern conversation as we were headed out the door. Stern on my part. Quiet on his. It wasn't until after school yesterday that I really had time to think about it and realize I had sent the wrong boy.

This friend is the nicest little boy who was too polite to ask or argue why at the time.  I kept thinking about how confused he was about the whole thing.  I know it was a mistake, but I truly felt horrible about it.  I just kept thinking that I know I ruined this kid's day. More importantly, I knew I had lost a little of his trust.  Can I tell you it was all I could think about all night?

So, how to try and make this right?  The first thing I did this morning was sincerely apologize in front of the entire class.  I explained that I had mixed him up with another student.  I told him he had done nothing to earn recess detention, he was 100% right, I was 100% wrong, and I was sincerely sorry for the mix-up.  The obvious relief on my friend's face was amazing.  It showed me just how much this had bothered him and just how much my apology meant to him. He was very gracious and told me it was okay, he understood.  I still feel terrible about the entire thing, but I'm happy I was able to make amends. While I couldn't take it back, I also gave him a token to the treasure chest in the Principal's office and a homework pass. His smile became even a little bigger.

So, why post about this?  I'm sure some of you may think I made a big deal out of something small.  Perhaps, but it really bothered me.  I don't run a "the-teacher-is-always-right" kind of classroom.  I really try to approach teaching as a partnership between my friends and me.  When my friends trust in me to treat them fairly and respect their ideas, I get it back from them tenfold.  When they feel our classroom is a safe place emotionally, they are more willing to take risks in learning and it builds a strong, supportive classroom community.

It was also important for me to apologize to my friend in front of the entire class, not just in private.  It let him off the hook with the class, and it let the class know that I respected him (them!) enough to apologize when I was wrong. So, tonight I'm finally able to shake off some of the teacher guilt I've had for the past 24 hours.

Lesson learned:  Even after 15 years of teaching, I will still make mistakes!

So, you ever have one of those days?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thank You!

Comments closed at 33 entries!
Winner to be announced tomorrow,
Tues., 10/18!

Woo Hoooooo!!!!!
It's a Thank You Prize!

I mentioned a few days ago that I wanted to do a little give-away to thank all the new readers who have decided to follow my blog and even those who lurk!  Any and all who stop by are greatly appreciated.  And to show you my thanks, I'm offering a little basket of some things I hope you will like.

Poor little pumpkin fell over!
 So, what's in the basket?  Glad you asked!  Well, besides the oh-so-fancy, green plastic basket, there are these goodies:

Of course, a brand new copy of Some Smug Slug!

Then, there's a pointer finger (not sure what else you would call this) for your friends and you to use, a blank notebook teacher journal, and just about the cutest folder ever.  I seriously fell in love with this two pocket folder when I saw it.  How fun are those giant pencils? 
A paperback "basic" thesaurus and dictionary from Webster's.  I don't think we can ever have enough of these in the classroom.

Another good book and some treats for you!  Are you familiar with Scholastic's "If You. . . " line of books?  They have to be a Scholastic classic. I must have a ton of them in my classroom, and my friends love each and every one.  It's a basic question and answer format about the event, and I think they have books on almost every event or important person you can imagine.  They are great books for a research center activity.  I think I've just talked myself into doing a post about them later this week!  Then, there are some Jelly Belly Autumn Mix jelly beans for you and a plastic foam pumpkin for a little fall decoration.

And finally, a great book for anyone just starting to use guided reading groups or anyone wanting to refresh what they are doing.  It's Guided Reading in Grades 3-6 by Mary Browning Schulman.  Now, I have to be honest.  This is not a new book.  Everything in the basket is brand, spanking new with the exception of this book.  In fact, there's a small tear on the back cover that I taped.  Here's the story.  When I wanted to start guided reading groups, I purchased a copy of this book and read it from cover to cover.  I probably wrote more notes to myself in the margins than the author wrote text!  It was invaluable as I started my guided reading.   It wasn't until I went to put the book on my bookshelf that I saw this copy sitting right there.  Yes, I had repurchased a book I already had.  So, this is the copy that was sitting on my shelf.  It's essentially new.  I didn't read this copy and there's no writing in it, but it's a little shelf worn.  Is it tacky that I'm including it in this give-away?  I hope you don't think so.  It's just a great resource I would rather share than have sitting on my shelf.

So, that's the contents of my little give-away.  I hope you are interested in entering.  Here's what you need to know:
  1. One entry per a person. 
  2. One basket for the one lucky winner!
  3. To enter, leave a comment with the word "BOOKS!"  That's it, but. . .   If you really want to be a sport, in your comment you could also share the title of your favorite picture book and what mini-lesson you use it for.  It would be a nice way for everyone to get a new idea or two.  Then, everyone is a winner!  Sadly, it won't improve your chances of winning the basket. ;-)
  4. The contest will be open from Wednesday, October 12th, 6:00 AM until Monday, October 17th, 6:00 PM Eastern Time.  Now, this is my first give-away, so I'm going old school on the drawing.  I'm just going to print out the comments, cut them into strips, drop them in a bag, and randomly pick one.  It probably doesn't get more old school than that!  Once I draw a winner, I will post their name and comment. The winner will be instructed how to contact me with an address to which I can mail the basket. 
  5. The winner will be posted Tuesday, October 18th.
I know how busy teachers are,
so this is just my way of saying thanks to
all of you that choose to spend some of
your time reading my ramblings.
Good Luck to All!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Smug Slug

I love a book about slugs!  That's right, slugs. Which is strange because slugs totally freak me out in real life, but not this guy!  Every so often, I like to share a picture book that has worked for me in a mini-lesson and is a hit with my 5th grade friends.  Today,  I want to share with you a little paperback picture book,  Some Smug Slug by Pamela Duncan Edwards. 

This is the story of a cute, YES! CUTE!, little slug that sees a slope he wants to climb.  As he climbs the slope, several different critters warn him to stop.  He keeps on his path to a very surprising end.  I'll tell you more about the end of the book later in this post.

Here are some of the ways I have used this book with my friends in the past:

Teaching Alliteration
This is perhaps the most obvious lesson for this book.  Every single page, almost every single word focuses on the alliteration of S.  Honestly, the first time I read this book, I was amazed that you could write a cohesive, entertaining story using almost all S words.  Here's a sample page: "Slowly the slug started up the steep surface, stringing behind it scribble sparkling like silk."

Teaching Variety of Dialog Verbs
You would think that a book so focused on the alliteration of S would use said as a dialog verb at least once.  Not this book!  Some Smug Slug does not use said at all.  Instead, there is a great variety of dialog verbs used such as:
  • screamed
  • shrieked
  • sighed
  • snickered
  • squealed
It's also a good book for just teaching action verbs.  The slug and other animals shift, shudder, sway, swing, slumber, and there are many more S verbs used.

Teaching Surprise Endings in Writing
Through the entire book, we follow this cute little slug as he finally climbs the slope.  Well, <SPOILER ALERT!> that slope turns out to be a salamander that promptly eats the slug!  It's an unexpected surprise at the end that gets my friends every time.  Now, my 5th graders totally find the humor in the slug being eaten, but I don't know how that would go over with a younger set. You'll have to make that call.  The surprise ending is something my friends are always eager to try right away in their writer's notebook.  It's a fun technique to use in spooky stories for Halloween.

Now that you know the slug is eaten in the end, you realize that all those animals that were warning the slug to stop knew it was a salamander and not a slope.  While you read the book aloud, you can model your thinking aloud, wondering why the animals keep warning the slug. Your friends can make predictions as to why they think the animals would be saying those things to the slug. I promise you when you get to the end of the book, your friends will be all, "That's why the animals were warning him!"  It's a nice simple lesson on foreshadowing.

This book is also just plain fun.  The illustrations, by Henry Cole, are so well done.  While they have different illustrators, these  remind me of the illustrations in The Great Kapok Tree.  Also, there is a hidden S in every picture.  To be honest, I never remember where they are and I never find them all when I search, but my friends are able to find them all every time.

In case you want to preview the book, I found a video on YouTube that I embedded below.  It's a reading of the book that shows each page, so you can take a look and decide if it's good for you.

I should mention that I ran to Barnes & Nobel to pick up another copy of this book on Sunday.  As I paid for the book, the clerk said sarcastically, "A book about slugs?  Nice."  If only she knew just how nice! (By the way, did you catch it?  "said sarcastically"  This S alliteration thing is catchy!  I know, I'm a total cornball sometimes!)

The reason I purchased another copy is that I am going to include it as one of the prizes in my little thank you give-away, which I will be posting about on Wednesday.  So, come back on Wednesday to enter the give-away and possibly win a copy of Some Smug Slug for yourself!

*By the way, this is just me sharing an opinion of a book I like.  Pamela Duncan Edwards, Henry Cole, and the publishers of Some Smug Slug don't even know I exist or that I can read! ;-)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Funny Friends

While working in my classroom yesterday morning, I came across a paper that brought this event to mind.  I just had to post it for your enjoyment.
Adventures in Research Reports on the 13 Colonies. . .

Last year, my class completed research reports on the 13 colonies.  In the midst of researching, one of my friends came to me from the laptop he had been working on with a puzzled look on his face.

Friend:  "Every time I search for my colony, I keep getting stuff about colonial cancer.  Is that one of the diseases the English gave the Native Americans?"

Me:  "Ahhh, wait. . . what?  You keep getting what?"

Friend, in an exasperated tone:  "Colonial cancer!  Is that one of the diseases the English gave the Native Americans?

Me:  "Ummm. . . let me take a look at your screen."

We walk over to his laptop, and I take a look at his search bar.

Me:  "No, that is not one of the disease the English gave the Native Americans.  In fact, why don't we start this search over and spell colonial correctly."

In case you were wondering, searching colon instead of colonial will give you many an article on colon cancer but not so much on colonial life!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Am I Crazy? Maybe!

Do you know where I am headed this morning?  I'm going to school.  To work.  By myself.  Uninterrupted.
On Saturdays, there is a children's program run in our building.  Local families can sign-up their kids for a variety of craft, hobby, and sports lessons.  This means, my building is open every Saturday.  I'm one of the lucky teachers who doesn't happen to have a class being held in my room.  I can sneak into my classroom, lock the door behind me, and get a ton of work done. Plus, I only live five minutes from my school making  it a quick trip in.  So, that's my plan for this morning.  Am I crazy? Maybe!

I've done it a few times before. I'm not alone as there are a handful of other teachers like me that have sneaked (snuck?) in.   But, I know most teachers I work with think I'm nuts to give up my Saturday morning to go into work.  I look at it this way, giving up my Saturday morning allows me to get everything done I need to.  I don't spend the whole day there.  Today, I have a lot to do, so I will probably be there from 9:30 to 12:30ish.  This allows me to have the rest of my weekend free and clear.  I'm not making plans or grading papers Sunday night.  Oh well, nuts or not, that's what I will be doing this morning. 

On another note, I just want to thank all of you that have been stopping by to check out my blog.  I owe a big note of thanks to you all and especially to
who was nice enough to direct her readers my way.  In a short time she helped send my followers from 4 to 112!  It's been great for me because most of you have blogs too, and I've been getting some great ideas from you.   I have to reorganize my method of following all you amazing teacher bloggers.  Right now, I technically only follow one blog, but I have well over 150 saved in my "favorites" bar that I read all the time.  I need to clean that out and just start officially following you all.

To celebrate the increase in readers, and to say a big thanks, I am planning to do a little give-away. I'm in the process of putting together a little package of things that I think would be fun to win.  So, stay tuned!  I'll be posting about it in the next couple of days. 

Have a great weekend!  Crazy me is off to school now!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Weekly Reading Response Letters: Part 2

Yesterday, I posted the first part of Weekly Reading Response Letters.  As promised, here is the second part.  This is the second letter I shared with my friends.  Again, written rather quickly on my prep, so it may not be my most stellar writing.  In fact, I forgot to put in the author.  Thankfully, my friends were quick to point it out.
We began again by noting the format of the friendly letter and the requirement of including title, author, and a super brief summary.  Then, we read.   The first letter I wrote was written after reading a book and focused on a few different thoughts.  This letter is written as though I was in the middle of the book and has one focus, character traits. 

I didn't tell my friends this.  We just read the letter.  Sure enough, one of my friends immediately raised his hand and said, "But, you only talk about one thing! In the last letter you wrote a lot of different stuff."  Gotta love a teachable moment. :-)  I praised him for noticing, and then we talked about why it is okay to focus on one thinking stem.  The key is, you really need to have some thoughts to share about it.  We then put up the sticky that named character traits as the focus of the letter.
We went on to read and discuss how I was using my thinking about character traits to think deeper about the story.
In this instance, I wrote about how the character is supposed to be the hero of the story, but his actions don't really show me the character traits of a hero.  In fact, they sort of show the exact opposite.  I went on to explain why I thought that using text examples.

Then, being a teacher, I couldn't help but throw in a prediction.  But, that's just what I want my friends doing. 

My prediction is directly related to my questioning and thinking of character traits.    This lesson wraps up with my friends talking with a partner about a book they have read where a character didn't act the way they expected.  I pick a one to share, and we brainstorm as a group how our friend could have written about it.

I should note that as far as mini-lessons go, this lesson is far from mini.  It takes a while, much longer than the literacy gurus say a mini-lesson should last. Personally, I find those quick mini-lessons to be great most of the time, but sometimes you have to teach with a bit more depth.  When I do a "mini-lesson" that I know is not going to be so mini, I have to change some things up in my literacy block.  It may be our independent reading time is a bit shorter, or maybe the writing lesson that day will be a bit brief.  I try to not do this too often, but sometimes it's just what the doctor teacher ordered!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Weekly Reading Response Letters: Part 1

One of the components of my reading class is a weekly reading response letter.  Each week, I ask my friends to write me a letter about their reading.  This is one of the more important grades I take, but more importantly they really provide great insight as to how my friends are thinking.  I can tell right away if there is just a lot of surface level thinking or if they are thinking deeper.  They know I'm looking to see how they apply what we learn in class to their reading.

What they aren't allowed to do in their letter is give a detailed summary of the book and simply say, "I did/didn't like it."  I tell them that I don't need them for that.  I could get a summary by Googling it or reading the back cover.  What I can't get without them is how and what they think about the book.  Only they can tell me their thinking.

Now, I would like to say that they instantly get it, and I get great letters right off the bat.  If only!  Getting them to write about their thinking of the book and not just about the book takes a lot of modeling.  Due to some new initiatives in our school, I'm just getting to the letters in my reading instruction.  We've done a lot of work on how reading is thinking and how it helps us make meaning and enjoy what we read.  This week, I've begun modeling the reading response letters they will begin doing.  I thought I would share one with you the letter I wrote yesterday and a second one tomorrow.

Here's the one I wrote yesterday.  Please keep in mind, I wrote it fairly quickly on my prep period.  I probably wouldn't use the word friends as much if I had time to revise it.

I put up the letter and read it to the class.  Then, we discuss basics.  Did I use friendly letter format?  Let's review the parts.  Those are what the yellow Post-Its note. We note how it is written in paragraphS.  I don't know about your students, but mine can be Kings and Queens of the One Giant Paragraph!   Then, I read the letter again asking my friends to think about how the letter shows my thinking as a reader.  This is where the pink Post-Its come in.

The letter has to begin by telling the title and author.  This should be followed by a BRIEF summary.  Remember, if my goal was to get a summary of the book, I wouldn't need my friends.  I'm clear to then that this summary is no longer than 4 sentences tops, and is just to give me a feel for what the book is about. 

We then go on to find how the letter shows thinking.  I chose to focus on making a connection, asking a question, and what my mental images were.  They have a section in their notebook labeled "Thinking Stems."  It has a huge variety of areas/topics they could focus on in their letter.   What I need them to do is understand that they have to show how those things shaped their thinking. 

As I said, it's not easy and that's why I spend a few days modeling different types of response letters.  In this letter, I wrote it as if I had finished the book, and I addressed a few different thinking stem thoughts.  Tomorrow, I will share with you the letter I wrote today.  That letter was written as if I was only half-way through the book, and I chose to focus on just one thinking stem: character traits.  It's important to model letters for students who are at different points in their books.  In a few weeks, I will also model a response for non-fiction texts, but for now we start out with fiction.

There was a time I didn't spend as much time on modeling the letters, and what I got wasn't good.  I found that devoting a little more time on what the letters should be in the beginning really pays off.  If you are doing something different with your reading response letters, please comment and let us know.  I'm always looking for ways to improve mine.  :-)

And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

You can find part two Weekly Reading Letters by clicking HERE.