Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Understanding Six Million

Hi all.  I just wanted to stop in and explain my MIA status.  As I predicted, this week has been crazy with conferences.  I had some today and what feels like eight million to do tomorrow night.  To top it off, I had a lovely migraine on Monday which is still lingering.  I had planned to post some responses to some recent comments, but honestly I have just been falling into bed this week.  I know I won't be able to post tomorrow or Friday, but I am going to try to get back over the weekend. 

There was one comment about picture books in math that I want to talk about.  I love picture books in math!  In fact, one book we read is How Much is a Million? by David Schwartz.  I think everyone knows this book.  It's a classic. 

What was interesting about this book for me this year was the impact it had on a literacy lesson.  My friends are reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry  as part of our Holocaust unit. 

I've read this books so many times over the years.  It just happens that this year, we had read How Much is a Million? a week or so before starting the book.  One of the facts my friends learn is that about six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.  This is one of the few years that I could see my friends really grasp how many six million is.  It was one of the first years they truly understood the magnitude of what it means that six million Jews were killed.  It wasn't just a number they couldn't really imagine.  Thanks to How Much is a Million?, they had a very real idea of just how horrible it was.  I will definitely make it a point to read both books in conjunction from now on.

But, back to picture books in math.  I do have a bunch that I like to use when I can, and am happy to share my list.  Hopefully, I can get to it this weekend after the craziness and, hopefully, the headache have passed.  For now, I am off to bed.  Good night!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Individualized Spelling and Stuff!

Stuff First!
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  It was so nice to have a four day weekend and spend time with family.  The good food was also a plus.  My thighs, belly, and I are very thankful pecan pie only comes around once a year or else my belly would soon be looking like I was having a Pecan Pie Baby!

( I know nothing about this book, but it has to be good because it's got Pecan Pie in the title!)

There were some really nice comments posted over the long weekend that I will respond to tomorrow.  It is always nice to know people stop by.  I was hoping to have time to respond over the weekend, but didn't happen.  After Thanksgiving, I spent a couple of days decluttering and cleaning so that we could put up the Christmas decorations.  I love, love, love Christmas and all that comes with it!  I know this is a teaching blog, but I am so happy with my Christmas decorations I just may do a post on them.  Would that be a turn-off to you?

Then, it was back to work today.  We have parent-teacher conferences this week, so it's going to be crazy.  I'm not sure how much I will be able to post this week, so I thought I would leave you today with my take on. . .

Individualized Spelling!
I haven't used packaged spelling lists/program for a long time.  I find the kids memorize the words for that week, and then they are gone.  There's also a core of kids that are great spellers, so there's no challenge for them.  This brings me to individualized spelling.  It's a bit of work, but not as hard as it sounds. I only do about two spelling quizzes a month.  I don't feel the need to do one each week, and instead prefer to give my friends a little longer to work with their words.  So, here's how I do it.

At the start of the year, I make a spelling board.  You could use this for notes on anything, not just spelling.  I use an acrylic clipboard and two different colored stickies.  Use an acrylic clipboard so you can pull the Post-It notes on and off easily.  Just alternate the colored Post-It notes in two columns.  Then, write  your friends names at the bottom of the sticky.  That's what is under those colored blocks in my picture.
I keep this around when I am grading papers, writing assignments, conferencing, etc.  If I see my friend has misspelled a word, I write it on their sticky.  What's nice about this is that as the sticky notes fill, you can lift out their sticky and replace it with a new one.  This is where I get most of the words for my friends' individual spelling lists. Vocabulary from the content areas is also fair game. I will also sometimes take a note or two on something I notice about their writing.

When it's time to make a spelling list, I refer to these lists and write the words on a separate sheet.  I can get two on a page, so I cut it in half and each friend gets their own list.  They then get five homework assignments for the week, or however long I give.  Usually, I give the quiz about seven days after I give out the spelling lists and assignments.  The first homework assignment for the first night, is to write a sentence for each word that must show they understand the meaning of the word.

The next four assignments are student choice, to a degree.  Many years ago, I made a spelling menu.  I had seen a few on the web and thought it would be a good idea.  This menu was inspired by the ones I saw.  It is two sided and has four columns that divide the spelling activities in to four categories:  language activities, practice activities, meaning activities, and seeing/touching (kinesthetic) activities.

Now, before you ask I will tell you that no, I do not have a copy of this.  As I said, I made it many, many years ago and sadly have no idea where or if I saved it.  Thankfully, I had a bunch of paper copies in my files.  My friends had to select one assignment from each column to be completed and turned in on the quiz day.  They cross off each activity they have done.  This allows us to reuse the menu until all thirty-one spelling activities have been completed.

I have since revised the spelling menu to make it a tic-tac-toe board.  I pick nine different activities from the different columns and fit them in a tic-tac-toe board.  My friends then have to complete three activities for the week following a tic-tac-toe pattern.  They still cross them out which allows us to reuse the board a couple of times.
So, how do we quiz?  Well, remember the spelling sentences I collected the first night?  We use those.  I have already checked them over to make sure they make sense.  I then pair up my friends who sit across from each other.  They exchange sentence papers and take turns quizzing each other.  They read the word, then the sentence, then repeat the word again.  If they have trouble reading the word, or the quiz taker doesn't understand what they said,they just raise their hand and I come over and read the word and sentence.  It sounds kind of crazy to have them all quizzing at the same time, but it really does work.  The key is to model it first so they see how it is done. Isn't modeling always the key? I will say the first couple of quizzes will be a bit hairy, but I promise you they will quickly get the hang of it.

So, that's how I do individualized spelling.  I prefer it because my friends get ten words that are relevant to them, at their level, and are words I know they are misspelling.  It's much better than a standardized list of twenty words they either already know or memorize for just a week.  Since I am taking most of the words from their own writing, I can also hit words that they may have previously tested on but are still getting wrong.  We get back to the word, it's not just a one week quiz of a list never to be seen again.  The expectation is that once we have had a quiz on it, it should be spelled correctly from then on out.  I know, I live in a dream world! 

Do you do individualized spelling or follow a spelling program?  If you do individualized spelling, I would love to hear how you do it.  I'm always looking to tweak what I do!  By the way, if you find any misspellings in my post about spelling I apologize in avance adbanc advance!   ;-D

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States!
May you all have a wonderful day
and have much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm a Teacher, Just Not an Art Teacher!

My friends are studying Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion.  We've done some activities and experiments with balloon rockets, and it's been a lot of fun.  To summarize the laws, my friends made a flip chart.  They had to write each law in one of the three sections, and then create an illustration that demonstrates the law.  I think they came out very well.
Here are some of the illustrations they did to show their understanding of the laws of motion.

My friends' work came out great!  Their teacher's work is a whole other story. 
Take a look at the sign I made.  Yeah, that guy is supposed to be Sir Isaac Newton.

 Let's take a look at a more professional image of our friend Isaac and mine side-by-side.

Can we all agree that while I am a teacher, I have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am in no way an art teacher?  I think things went wrong around the eyebrows.  My Isaac looks like he's definitely up to something weird!  Then, there is the nose.  Apparently, the real Sir Isaac had a ummm. . .  let's just say proud nose.  My Isaac ended up with a bit of a piggie nose.  But, the hair is pretty close, sort of.
  The good thing about teaching 5th graders is that they are not art critics!

Monday, November 21, 2011

They're Back. . .

Next week, I have my first round of parent-teacher conferences.  I thought I would share some of what I do to prepare for conferences and how I mange to stay on time with a very tight schedule.

We have very good parent attendance for conferences in my school.  This is great, however it means we have to schedule each parent for ten minutes or we would be there for days. Ten minutes is not a lot of time.  My district offers two days for conferences.  One day are afternoon appointments, the other is for evening appointments.  To say that most of my parents request evening appointments would be an understatement.  In fact, this year I have ten minute conferences scheduled back-to-back from 5:50 PM to 8:50 PM with one ten minute break.

Needless to say, it can be tough to stay on time as the night goes on.  Over the years, I have found a way to manage it.  It is very rare that I run late.  I am usually able to keep my conferences moving acording to schedule while havng quality, informative conversations in a short amount of time.  Here are some of the reasons I think it has worked out for me:
I make a point at back to school night to let parents know I am always accessible and happy to talk to them at any time, not just at conferences.  I give out a magnet that has my name,  the school phone number, and my email address that they can stick on the fridge.  I find that if parents feel the door is always open, that they can always talk to me if they have a question, they are less panicked about getting it all in at conferences.  Most of my parents will email me if they have a question, and I make it a point to get back to them within a day. 

I'm fully prepared for the conference.  Each of my friends has a portfolio.  In it are examples of work, their most recent report card, and any papers or assessments that I want to address with a parent.  I also take the time to sit after school a couple of days before and fill out a sheet wtih the positives and negatives I need to address.  I make sure I have some student work in their portfolio that backs up any academic issues I am going to bring up.  It's hard for a parent to make an excuse for my friend when the proof is right in front of them.
Finally, I start all my conferences the same way.  I greet the parents at my door, welcome them in, and we sit.  I take out my friend's folder and pull out their most recent report card.  In my district, report cards always go home the week before conferences. I pull out my copy of the report card and place it in front of the parents.  I then say, "I know you've had a chance to look over Susie's report card. (Insert sentence here about something positive on report card.) She's done really well in science this marking period."  Then, here comes the magic sentence. . .   "Before we begin, are there any questions or concerns you have that you would like to talk about?" 

I find that by asking this question at the beginning of the conference, I have done a few things.  How many times have you gone through a conference only to have a parent drop some big issue on you just as you thought things were wrapping up?  Or, have you had a parent wait you out?  They have an issue, but they want to see if you bring it up first.  This eliminates all that.  It also lets the parent see that I am truly interested to know if they have any concerns and am willing to put them first. 

I find that most of the time the issue the parent wants to talk about is usually the very issue I need to discuss with them.  This allows me to get right to the heart of the conference.  Plus, I now know that parent is well aware of this concern, and I'm not in new territory.   There have been a couple of times where I've been completely surprised by what the parent brings up, but it's usually something I can easily answer.

For the parents that don't have anything they want to talk about, I can get right into what I need to say.  Either way, we save a lot of time.  There's no hemming and hawing around any issues.  They are on the table from the start. 

Beginning my conferences with this question has been a huge time saver over the years.  I also always end my conferences with the same phrase and a big smile, "You know our door is always open.  We don't have to wait until the next round of conferences to talk. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or concerns."  Despite what you might think, I don't get inundated with emails and calls.  I think they just like knowing that I'm open to anything they may have to say. 

Then, I go home and collapse from talking to so many parents so late after teaching all day! 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Desk is a Hot Mess!

Hi. I'm Nancy, and my desk is a hot mess!

Let's take a closer look.
  • See that coffee cup?  Has been on my desk since 7:30 this morning.  I took this picture at 5:00 PM.  And, yeah it's still half full.
  • The CDs?  Science videos I've been trying to show for three days, but my computer won't cooperate. 
  • Under the CDs?  Well, two picture books I'm working into my plans and a stack of quarterly reading assessments I have yet to grade.
  • The stack of yellow papers under my glasses by the computer?  Conference request appointment slips I need to coordinate and then send out new slips with conference appointments.
  • The brown bag?  The other half of my sandwich that I didn't get to eat because I spent half my lunch period tutoring two of my friends on how to divide decimals.  Who could imagine that one darn dot could cause so much confusion!
  • The blue flowered binder on the corner?  That's my plan book. Only it's not a book, but a binder which I have already outgrown.  Need to head to Staples this weekend for a bigger binder.    I feel like I totally understand that scene in Jaws when they say, "We're going to need a bigger boat."  To teach my friends this year, I am definitely going to need a bigger binder.
  • The metal mesh cup with big popsicle sticks?  Each holds the name of one of my friends.  Keeps things fair and square in so many ways when I can just pick sticks.  Of course, there are two sticks missing, but my friends don't know that.  I suspect they are buried under one of those other piles.
  • The bag on the chair?  All the many papers I brought home tonight to grade.  Well, I hope to grade.  Too many days I just take my school bag on a little field trip to my home and then back to school again.  Some days it doesn't even make it out of the car.
  • Everything else?  All the stuff of a daily teaching life.
Now, if you know me, you know that this drives me nuts. And if I were being totally honest, this is not even too terrible on the messy scale.  It's been worse. I like my desk to be organized, but it just so got away from me this week.  I haven't had a minute of down time this week to catch up with anything.  Then when I get home, I feel like this:

I was going to stay later tonight and clean off my desk, but then I remembered that my friends earned a reward for the marking period.  Remember the brownie points they earned?  Well, tomorrow is movie day, so I will have some downtime during my normal reading period.  No, I'm not slacking!  They are actually watching a movie that relates to our curriculum.  But, it will give me a chance to clean up that desk.

It's not all bad though.  There is one thing on my messy desk that makes me happy.  Can you find it?

It's my apple cozy! 
I know, totally silly and unnecessary but I love it!  It's actually pretty useful.  I love apples (See! Destined to be a teacher!) and with the cozy, I can throw them in my pocketbook and they never get poked or smooshed.  Here's mine up close.

If you are interested, I got it on at this store, Ollie's Boutique.  If you don't know Etsy, it's a site where people create online stores to sell handmade goods.  It's a great place to browse for all kinds of ridiculous fun stuff like an apple cozy!

So, that's my messy desk.  How's your desk looking?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Theme and My Friend Molly Lou Melon

Today, I did a lesson on theme.  It was so much fun!  My friends and I had a great time with it.  Last week, I posted a few anchor charts that inspired me.  Here is how my theme anchor chart came out:
We began by discussing what theme is in a book and how we can figure it out.

I had the themes prewritten but covered with chart paper.  My friends then worked with a partner to discuss common themes they have run across in their reading.  I charted them on another piece of chart paper, a sloppy copy of sorts.  We then uncovered the prewritten chart to see how many they were able to come up with.  They were tickled, as was I, that they came up with almost every theme I had already posted.  Now, my theme chart was inspired by the one I

This is when the fun really started.  I grabbed a handful of picture books that we had already read, and we determined the themes of each.  It was great for them to see how a book can have multiple themes.  It was even better to see my friends engage in lively discussion as to what themes were more significant to each book.  I love when you can almost touch the learning!

We started with one of my favorite picture books, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell.  If you don't know this book, just trust me and go buy it right now.  It's a must have.

I selected this book to use first because the theme is very easily identified.  Molly Lou Melon is a teeny, tiny first grader with some, well let's say interesting physical traits!  Here's a picture:

I know!  A bit scary.  But, don't be fooled.  She is simply adorable.  Here's a picture of her getting on the bus for her first day in her new school.

Do you see her?  She really is adorable.  And more importantly, no matter how much a bully makes fun of her, she remains proud of who she is.  The illustrations in this book are amazing.  My fifth graders love this book, and its theme is one all kids need to hear. You need this book! And so, this was the first one we started with.

My friends then went on to identify the themes for Mr. George Baker,  The Great Kapok Tree,  Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters,  and The Lotus Seed.  After that, I sent my friends off for independent reading.  When we came back to share, they discussed what they thought the theme of their books might be.  Now, key to this lesson is to extend identifying the theme by having them link the theme to their lives.  How does this theme relate to my life?  It really helps them understand theme and lets them see why books can be uplifting, teach lessons, and help us learn about ourselves when we apply some thinking.  Because time was short today, and because we got carried away discussing the themes of our picture books, I'm planning to do that part of the lesson tomorrow.

So, that's about it.  I just wanted to share how I teach theme and introduce you to Molly Lou Melon.  I love that girl!

*****Came back to edit post!!  I found a reading of Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon on Youtube.  You know I have to show you!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Just One More!

I should be grading papers, but of course I'm lost in Pinterest again.  Anyway, just saw this and had to quickly share.  LOVE the idea of adding a word-choice cloud to my traditional editing marks.  It's something they can use, or I can just go in and "cloud" a word or two for them to work on. My friends use the delete symbol when they change a word, but that doesn't easily identify word-choice actions.  This makes it easy to see on a draft where (if!) they have edited for better word choice.

This is from The Panicked Teacher's Blog.  She has a lot of templates and downloads on various subjects that are either free or available for purchase.  Take a look!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Bonza Bottler Day!

Check out the link.  Totally made up but totally fun for your friends!

Literacy Anchor Charts Via Pinterest

I think, if you are a regular reader, you know my love of PINTEREST by now.  It's the best site to lose yourself in.  While you can search for pins in a variety of categories, I often look for school ideas.  In fact, I have a board full of anchor charts others have found on the web that I liked.  I thought today I would share with you some of the literacy anchor charts I have pinned along with the link to the original post if possible.  So, in no particular order, here we go!

Heart Map for Writing
The picture is a little fuzzy and this is one I actually couldn't find a permanent link for, but I think you get the idea. I actually do this writing lesson.  It's on writing about the things you love.  You draw a big heart and then fill it with all those things. The teacher does one to model, and then your friends create their own.  It is writing topic inspiration for your friends.  I've always just drawn a heart and filled it in with words, but I love this idea.  I am planning to prepare one and laminate it.  Then, I'm going to give my friends a heart to do for themselves.  Wouldn't this make a great bulletin board?

**Edit:  Holly from Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade found out who made the heart.  It's the brainchild of Cara Carroll from The First Grade Parade.  Please stop by her blog, and tell her how much we love her heart!  By the way, if you are looking for some turkey flakes, check out Holly's blog.  Too cute!**

Deep Versus Flat Connections
This comes from Ms. Bonger's blog Life in 4B.  I can't begin to tell you how amazing this teacher is.  You will find many wonderful things in her blog.  I am working my way through all her older posts and loving almost everything I read!  This anchor chart really hits home for me because a few of my friends are still having a tough time with this at the moment.  You have to love her sense of humor, too.  Love the "Whoop dee doo. . . "

This chart comes from Jennifer Jones' blog Hello Literacy.  Jennifer's profile says she is an Instructional Teacher Leader.  I believe it!  Her blog is another that is full of great ideas and resources.  This chart about prediction caught my eye because of the way it relates it to so many other things our friends know about such as estimation in math and forecasts in weather.

Another one I couldn't find a permanent link to.  The link above takes you to a slide show, but I couldn't find any links to a blog or person.  I like this chart simply because I can never remember all the themes!  I'm always forgetting something.  This should be a handy reminder.

So that's just four of the anchor charts I really liked and two great blogs I found via Pinterest. I will probably post some more at a later date.  Besides anchor charts, Pinterest has tons of tips on other things.  For instance, I found via this link at the blog Learning Pavillion that
Had no idea! :-) 
UPDATE 10/21/12:   Thanks to Sheri at Learning Pavillion, a great blog with tons of great ideas! This idea and the pictures are from her blog.  I should note that the link I originally posted did not link back to Sheri's blog, but I have corrected that.  Sorry about that Sheri.  Thanks for being so gracious about my error!

By the way, thanks to all of you that commented on my post regarding Planning the Impossible.  I'm still thinking about your comments.  At this point, I might just email my principal, literacy coach, and director asking them to help me make it work.  I'm thinking if I go in seemingly befuddled as to how to make it work,they will have to come up with something other than expecting us to just make it happen.  If you haven't had a chance to read the post, please take a minute to read and comment if you can.  I would really appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Planning the Impossible

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but it's been a crazy week.  In NJ, we have off today and Friday for the New Jersey Teacher's Convention, and of course Veteran's Day.  I'm not going to the convention, mostly because I brought enough school work home with me to fill those two days plus some.  There just isn't enough time in the day. 

This is how I was feeling as I worked on lesson plans this morning:

I know the nature of our job is that we bring work home to grade each night and do more grading, planning, and preparing over the weekends as well.  From day one as a teacher, I knew this was the deal I signed up for.  I was telling a friend about the crazy amount of work I bring home, and she said that that's why we have prep periods and we could work during our lunch if we really wanted to get our work done during the day.   And before you ask, yes we are still friends. :-)

I tried to explain to her how my prep period can be totally eaten up with just one parent phone call.  Or busy gathering work for my absent students.  Or playing peacemaker for an issue my friends may be having.  Or in a meeting with the principal.  Or in a meeting with the child study team.  Or working on an additional project that our PTO thought would be fun for the kids.  Rarely am I able to spend my prep time planning, grading, or preparing.  That happens, almost always during my lunch, and after school or at home.  As I said, I understand that's the nature of the job.   And while it seems I have had to bring more and more home than ever before, my real issue today is the amount of instruction we are asked to do within a time frame that doesn't expand.  It seems that we are asked to squeeze more instruction in our day with less time than ever to accomplish it.

Specifically, I'm talking about my literacy block.  I would love your feedback on this.  I have literacy instruction from 10:45-12:40 each day. 1 hour and 55 minutes.  Here is how my administration requires us to break it down:

10:45-11:15  Centers-This is where my friends work independently on center activities while I pull small groups. (30 minutes)
11:15-11:30  Word Works with the full class (15 minutes)
11:30-12:05  Writing Workshop (35 minutes)
12:05-12:40  Reading Workshop  (35 minutes)

To me, this is an impossible schedule.  You can't possibly do Reading and Writing workshops effectively in 35 minutes each. And  yes, we are expected to fit in all the components of each workshop in that 35 minutes. Notice too that there is no transition time built in to this schedule at all. I can't even squeeze any time out from either end because my friends are at special until 10:40 and then have lunch at 12:45.  To say my colleagues and I are beyond frustrated with this schedule is an understatement.

I bring all this up because this morning I have been working on plans for next week.  To date, I've been fudging my plans a bit.  I've been skipping centers some days to make more time for workshop or doing one or the other workshop on some days.  Not ideal.  So, today I thought I would plan following the rules.  It just doesn't work. 

This is where I would really appreciate your feedback.  Do you think 35 minutes for workshop is reasonable?  Am I out of line? What is your literacy block like?  Any suggestions on how to make this work?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Respect and Brownie Points!

How do you motivate your class towards good behavior? 
I'm not one for a list of class rules. 
I just have one:

At the start of the year my friends and I brainstorm a list of good classroom rules.  I write down everything they say.  By the time we are done, the board is covered in rules.  We take the time to discuss each rule and why it is important.  I then relate that rule to respect.  After discussing each rule, I erase it and replace it with one word.  RESPECT.  It is amazing how respect covers pretty much everything.  Respecting classmates, property, feelings, pretty much anything you can think of.  It's a pretty powerful lesson for my friends because, by going over all the rules they brainstormed we've pretty much covered anything that can or could go wrong.  The best part is that in the end the board is covered with the word respect.  It's a powerful visual.  We finish the lesson by making a small poster of that one word and hang it in the room.

This pretty much gets my friends through the year.  This year, I decided to add a twist with some positive reinforcement.  This year, my friends can earn brownie points.  It's not easy, but they earn brownie points if they get a compliment from another teacher, a substitute, doing something above and beyond, and pretty much anytime I see something I really like. :-)  Here's our Brownie Points tray.
I tweaked a sign I found online to say "Sweet Behavior Earns Us Brownie Points!"  The brownies on the sign are from a box of Little Debbie's brownies.
For the pan, I went to the local dollar store and found the perfect pan.  Perfect because it's small and only cost $1.  Finally, I Googled "brownies" in search of the perfect brownie.  I just copied, pasted, and printed  a bunch of them on card stock. I made them smaller to fit twenty on the pan.  Twenty is a reasonable amount for my friends to earn.  How real looking are these brownies?

As you can see from the top picture, my friends are close to the reward.  I'm just not sure what the reward should be!  I told my friends that when they reach twenty brownie points, we would brainstorm a list of rewards and decide on one together.  So far, they keep telling me they want brownies.  How funny is that? I'm sure the list will get bigger when the actual time comes.

Oh, by the way, my friends can lose brownie points.  We did lose one from this tray for some misbehavior in the hallway.   I try not to take them away, but once in a while you need to practice a little tough love!

For some reason, in my school, the marble jar is very popular as a reward system.  There are a lot of teachers that use it. When the marbles reach a certain level, the class earns a reward.  As for me, it's all about the brownies.  How can brownies not be better than marbles? :-D 

How do you reward your friends?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Put on Your Reading FACE!

Yesterday, I posted about a writing board I have.  Today, I'm going to quickly tell you about a very similar board that I use for reading.  Get ready to, "Put Your Reading FACE On!"

Now, before I go any further with this, let me say that this board is totally adopted from The Cafe Book: Engaging All Readers in Daily Literary Assessment and Instruction by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. 

In their book, they use the term CAFE.  In searching the web,  it seems that almost everyone that uses it does a cafe theme.  I had also seen the same set up using the term FACE instead and liked it a lot.  I don't have a cafe theme, so this seemed a better fit.  The Cafe Book is ahhhhmazzzzing!  I highly recommend it for anyone teaching reading.

I did make one small change.  As you can see in the picture below, the "A" originally stood for accuracy. 

Teaching a 5th grade enrichment class, accuracy hasn't been a huge issue.  My friends, for the most part, are advanced readers.  Don't get me wrong, as texts get more complicated we do continue to work on accuracy.  However, I quickly found that my friends really lack experience with non-fiction text.  They LOVE to read, but they don't seem to be overly interested in non-fiction.  We will be doing a lot of work with that this year.  Knowing that, I changed my "A" to Awareness.  It will really help us address non-fiction text structure, among other things.

I use the board during reading workshop almost exactly the same way I use my "Use Your Writing VOICES!" board in writer's workshop.  The big difference is that the FACES board is all about reading strategies.  Yeah, you probably already figured that out!  If you want to know more, you can click on the link above there to find out how both boards function in my room.

Tomorrow, I have another quick post coming on class rewards.  Stop by if you have time.  If not, have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Use Your Writing VOICES!

Before I get on with the real topic of this post, let me thank all of you who were able to commiserate with me on the substitute situation.  It seems like many of you have been there too!  I think I finally have my friends back on track. It's amazing how long it takes to recover from one wacky day!  Now, on to writing. . .

At the start of the school year, I was looking for a new way to focus my friends on the six traits of writing and the reading strategies we use.  I came across the idea of using "VOICES" to emphasize writing traits while searching the web.  It seemed a perfect fit for what I was hoping to do in writing.  Here is a picture of my VOICES board that I took a little earlier in the year.  We have more cards under each category at this point in the year.
You can see that the six traits are listed at the top, forming "VOICES."  Under each one, we put a reminder of the writing skill or strategy we have worked on.  Here are a few up-close pictures of the different categories.

As we do a mini-lesson on a certain trait, I write a card that summarized the idea.  I then have a friend place it under the correct trait category. I find the best time to do this is at the end of the period, during sharing time. It's a great close to the lesson after my friends have shared how they used the skill in writing that day.

Ideally, it would be better if a different student wrote the actual card each day.  More participation and ownership for them.  However, my writing period is so short for all I have to do, I just don't have time.  I usually just prewrite them before the lesson or quickly between a conference. 

Here's why this bulletin board works so well.  It is right above my meeting table.  It's super easy to refer to during conferencing.  It's also pretty big which makes it easily visible from anywhere in the room.  If I'm meeting with a student at their desk, we can still both easily refer to it.  Also, having the strategies and skills we have been working on posted like that allows me to quickly draw a friends attention to a strategy that they may need.  For example, I can meet with a friend and say, "I notice in your paper that in this paragraph many of your sentences begin with I.  Look at our sentence fluency chart.  Which idea up there do you think will help with this?" As I noted earlier, there are more ideas/skills up there than the one in the picture at this point in the year. 

This works the brain of my friend in a couple of ways.  It forces them to evaluate the ideas/skills in that category to determine which one addresses their need.  It also gives my friend a starting point.  In this example, once my friend identifies varying sentence beginnings as the skill they need to work on, we can then brainstorm some ways do that.   It's higher level thinking for my friend than if I just said, "Oh, we need to vary how these sentences start."

I've also seen other teachers use this chart for goal setting.  If there is a specific trait goal you want your friend to work on until your next conference, you set that as their weekly writing goal.  On the board, you would leave the area under the trait title empty.  This is where, once your friend has set a writing goal with you, they put their name on a sticky and put it on the chart.  I kind of like this idea, but just haven't gotten around to doing it.  I think it would work well if only because it's quick reminder to you as to what trait each friend should be working on.  However, something about posting their names under areas of need for all to see doesn't sit right.  I'll have to think more on that use of it.

Obviously, all the different ideas/skills for each trait won't fit on the board, but that's okay.  I only want the ones that are relevant to what we are currently learning up. It also allows me to put up again the ones I notice we need to revisit.  Either way, it's always current and applicable to what my friends are working on.

So, that's how I've been using my VOICES board.  It's my first year using it, but I think it's a keeper for me!  Tomorrow, I will post the board I have for reading strategies.  It's fairly similar, but is all about FACES, not VOICES!

UPDATE:  I got a lot of requests for the headings I made.  I'm glad you like them.  There is a link for the "VOICES" headings in this blog post.   They will download in a PDF.  Enjoy!