Monday, July 30, 2012

A Rainy Day at Barnes & Noble

Summer in NJ can sometimes mean spells of unpredictable thunderstorms when its been really hot.  This past week or so has been one of those times.  Last week I was out shopping when a big, angry storm rolled through.  Since I wasn't gong out in the crazy rain, I decided to pop into Barnes & Noble to wait it out and look at some of the new children's books.  Surprisingly, the main display was full of books geared toward intermediate readers.  It must be all the required summer reading lists because this section is usually filled with new picture books.  I decided to wander over to the picture book section and see what was out.
When looking at picture books, I tend to look for books that work with lessons I do with my 5th graders.  This time, while I did keep an eye out for that, I wanted to just look and see what was available in general.  I came away with a list of great books.  I even ended up purchasing a picture book I really have no use for myself, but I had to have it!  Since I found all these gems at Barnes & Noble, I thought it only right that I link to them.  I've also included some blurbs about the books from their pages.

Let me share with you a couple of brand new books that are out.  The first one is by Patricia Polacco.  That should be enough to sell you on the book right there!  There isn't a book of hers that I don't just love, this one included.  Her newest book is The Art of Miss Chew.  It's publication date is April 12, 2012, just a little over three months new!
Here is the blurb from B&N web page:
  After spending the summer with her artist grandmother, Trisha knows she wants to be an artist, too. She's thrilled when her sketches get her into Miss Chew's special art class at the high school. A substitute teacher tells her she's wasting time on art when she should be studying - but fortunately, this is one battle that Miss Chew and Trisha are up for!

What the blurb doesn't tell you is that Miss Chew realizes Trisha has a reading problem and takes her to a reading specialist.  They find that Trisha just sees words differently and one of the modifications they make is to allow her more time on tests.  You also see what extraordinary talent she has as an artist.  What a great book to read to your friends to show that reading "problems" can be helped and that we all have different talents.  I won't even go into the subplot of her teacher's father.  Yes, even picture books can have a secondary story!

The other new book I found was Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills.
While The Art of Miss Chew is fantastic for your older friends, this one is really perfect for beginning writers.  It is a sequel to the book How Rocket Learned to Read.

In How Rocket Learned to Read, a little yellow bird captures Rocket"s interest in reading by reading him a book about a dog looking for a bone.  However, she leaves him hanging and Rocket must come back to hear what happens next.  Finally, Rocket joins the little yellow bird's school where he learns to read.  Here is one of the pages from the book.  If you click on it, it will pop up larger.

In Rocket Writes a Story, Rocket has trouble thinking of a writing topic.  The same yellow bird from the first story encourages him to look around.  In the end, Rocket is able to find ideas and details for his writing from the world around him and his daily life.  It might be a bit simplistic for older friends, but it is a perfect intro on idea gathering for beginner writers.  Also, a perfect book for how to add details to a story.

This book couldn't get any newer!  It was just published on July 24, 2012.  I went to my local library to borrow it (sorry Barnes & Noble!) and it wasn't even done being processed for the shelves yet.  However, if you teach beginning writers, I think this is a must buy.


While at B&N, I took a picture of one display in particular as a few books caught my eye.  I circled them for you.  Three of the four are classics (in my mind, anyway!) that I use in my classroom every year.

The three books I use are:
1.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett  I use this book for teaching word choice and descriptive language.  I got the idea from  That link will take you to a full lesson plan using Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as your mentor text.  If you don't know, be prepared to spend a ton of time going through their site.  It is a goldmine for lessons using picture books that incorporate the six traits.
2. Click! Clack! Moo! Cows That Type! by Doreen Cronin  I use this in my persuasive writing unit.  I came across this book while snooping around a while back.  THIS LINK will take you to a great lesson on using persuasive techniques.
3.  The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry  I also use this book in my persuasive unit. In addition to being a great example of the persuasive techniques pathos, logos, and ethos, it is well written and has amazing illustrations.  I mentioned this book once before in this post I did about schema.

The fourth book is Rat and Roach, Friends to the End,  This is another new book, just published on July 5, 2012.  I didn't get a chance to read it and know nothing of it other than what the Barnes & Noble page for it says.  I bring it to your attention because of the conversation I heard two moms having while I was looking at the books.  One mom picked it up and read it silently, laughing the entire time.  She took it over to her friend, telling her she had to read it.  The other mom read it and also laughed out loud.  I thought it must be a pretty good book.  The second mom then said, "This is too good to be wasted on a kid!  It's so funny!  They should put it in the adult area."   Wasted on a kid?!!! Hmmm, I wonder how she thinks adult readers begin?  I guess I should just be happy she was in a book store buying books for her kid!  

Anyway, those are some of my picture book finds.  I have many more I will share in another post to follow.  Not tomorrow!  But, soon!  By the way, if you are familiar with any of the new books I shared, please feel free to share how you use them in the comments.  More ideas for all!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Have Cart, Will Travel!

One of the things I realized is that in September, as a push-in teacher, I am going to have to travel with materials I need.  Since I am not co-teaching with any one teacher all day but instead working in several different classrooms during the day, I am going to need something to haul my goodies around in.

Some of the teachers in my building who travel use a cart.  I totally jumped on that bandwagon!  Before I left in June, I ordered one of these.

Yup, that will be me next year! 
 No, that's not really a picture of me.  The pictures are from the School Specialty catalog that I ordered it from.  The pictures show two different versions they sell.  They are essentially the same except that the configuration of the compartments is a bit different.  I got the one in the picture below.  The organization freak in me is beyond excited to fill all those little compartments!
I know if I were to ask the teachers I will be working with for a spot to leave some materials, they would be more than willing to do so.  And, I might do that for some basic items I will be using.  However, I was thinking about my prep periods, when I will be in my room.  I don't want to have to run around from classroom to classroom every time I need something for planning or need to see what my small groups have done. Plus, there are things that will always have to travel with me like my plan book.  It will be much easier to have the cart with me.  I can just check it each morning to make sure I have what I need for each class and be on my way.  

Now, if only it had a cup holder! :-) 
Just kidding!  
Kind of. . . 

Does anyone else out there use one of these?   
If you have a push-in teacher come to your classroom, how do you make it work?
Any tips? 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Teaching Enrichment Students

This September, as most of you know, I am about to leave my classroom to work with basic skills students.  It has me thinking about how very different this will be from my current teaching position.  Let’s backtrack for a minute.

When I first started teaching, I had multi-level classes.  Within my classroom there was always a wide range of abilities.  Because of this, I’ve had classes mixed of students with the following designations:  special education, basic skills, regular education, enrichment, and gifted.  Not sure what’s left!  The mix was always different every year.  One year, I had a class that was exactly half enrichment students and half basic skills students.  It was challenging to say the least!  I was always trying to find the balance between moving too fast or too slow. I wish that at the time I had more knowledge of how to effectively differentiate.  Looking back, I see how I would have done some things very differently.

After a few years of this, I was assigned a position as an enrichment teacher.  My classes consisted solely of the top ten percent or so of students in the grade level.  Talk about a change of pace!  I have since been teaching enrichment students for several years now.  I want to take a minute to dispel some misguided beliefs about teaching enrichment or gifted students. 

Here are three of the most common remarks I get from other teachers (Yes! Other teachers!)  when they find out what my student population is:

Oh, they teach themselves!
Lucky you, no discipline problems!
You sure don’t have to worry about test scores!

Okay, let’s look at these one by one. 

1.        “Oh, they teach themselves!”  
      Ahhhh, NO THEY DON’T!  Yes, my friends are high ability students.  Yes, I could put some worksheets on their desk and let them work independently while I kick back at my desk.  There’s just one thing.  THAT’S NOT TEACHING!  That’s not what I do!  I teach!  My students may have the basics down that other students may still be working on, but my job isn’t to keep the status quo.  My job as an enrichment teacher is to make them think, to take them beyond what they already know, to tap into their higher level thinking skills.  This is interactive teaching.  This is lots of conversation.  See, here’s the thing.  These kids need to be challenged and that’s the challenge I, as their teacher, have to meet.  It would be a disservice to give them anything less.  And frankly, it’s a bit insulting to have other teachers tell you your kids could teach themselves.

2.       “Lucky you, no discipline problems!”
I’m sort of torn on this one.  I have to concede that I do see more severe discipline issues in classes with larger numbers of lower ability students for whatever reasons.  I actually think there are a myriad of reasons for this (many of which are NOT the fault of the student) which I won’t go into now.  However, I do have my fair share of discipline issues just as any other teacher does.  Enrichment student does not equate to an angelic student!  They are kids.  Kids think like kids.  Kids don’t always make the wisest decisions.  Kids don’t always realize the consequences of their actions.  Kids will be kids.  There are bound to be discipline problems in every classroom.  I also firmly believe that most, not all but most, discipline problems can be tamed with established routines, consistency in enforcement and expectation, and praise for the positive behaviors.  Those are nonnegotiables in my room.

3.       “You sure don’t have to worry about test scores!”
Yeah, I do!  These children are at the top of their game.  While they definitely show growth over the course of the year, they generally don’t show huge gains in benchmark testing.  This past year, I had some 5th graders who were reading at 8th grade levels.  When taking a standardized test, they often test so high to begin with that the growth they show is small.  I’m not teaching them a basic reading strategy that will make a big difference if they apply it on the reading test.  They generally have those down.  Yes, we continue to practice and refine the skills but once you are beyond your grade level by a few years, the gains you make don’t really show as much on these types of test.  

Here’s what those same teachers never seem to say:

1.       Wow, you really spend a lot of time grading.  Yes, I do!  Let me tell you, enrichment students can write!  And, almost every test they take in every subject has some open response c component.  I don’t have the problem of getting them to write enough.  I have the problem of them wanting to write too much!  Give them an essay on a test and they will write and write and write!  No matter what test they are taking, they will always ask if they can get more paper to finish their writing. When it comes to writing, I have been known to say on occasion that I will stop reading after five pages.   Teaching these students to be concise in their writing without killing creativity and attention to detail is one of the most important lessons I do.

2.       Those poor kids really put a lot of pressure on themselves!  Enrichment students are often kids with an inner drive to do well. They will put more pressure on themselves to do well than either their parents or me will.  I have had children burst into tears because they got an A- rather than an A on numerous occasions.  I have 5th graders get very angry when they don’t understand a concept the first time they see it.  I see hand wringing, hair tugging, and many other assorted nervous behaviors.  Being an enrichment teacher is often being part teacher and part counselor!

3.       Gee, they can be a bit stubborn!  When you are a smart cookie, and for most of your school career work has been easy, you’ve gotten good grades, and you think you are always right, a funny thing happens.  You begin to think you ARE always right!  As a 5th grade teacher, I find that this is the year where they start to see that they really don’t know it all.  The curriculum gets a bit tougher and the demands a bit more rigorous.  Some handle it well while some really struggle with it.  So many times I’ve had students argue why I marked something as wrong, tell me the book is wrong, tell me they KNOW they are right, and simply try to wear me down persuade me into thinking their wrong answer is correct.  The idea that they might not be right is inconceivable to some of them.  As I wrote, some are able to handle it well, but some don’t (see number 2!)

Here’s what I would like to tell those other teachers:

1.       Enrichment parents can be tough! In a good way!   I never have the problem of parents not being involved.  There is a reason these children are successful.  More often than not, they have very involved parents.  These parents know exactly what I am doing in my classroom.  They look at every paper that is sent home.  They ask questions.  They don’t hesitate to call me on a grade or a lesson.    These parents come to conferences.  They come to conferences prepared.  They have questions. These parents are willing to do the work at home. They will ask what they can do at home to help their child better understand a skill. They support what I do in the classroom.  Now, sometimes it can be a bit much.  I can tell you that for every test I send home, there will always be one or two notes or emails that come back asking a question about the grade or a particular answer that was given.  I will often have to remind a parent that their child is ten and that low grade they got on a test will not keep them out of college!  However, I will take involved parents any day!

2.       My enrichment friends are funny!  These children often have a very quirky sense of humor.  They often find humor in the oddest things.   Have you ever had something completely ridiculous said by one student, and you just want to say, “REALLY?!!!”  You wish there was another adult in the room to commiserate on just how ridiculous it was?  Well, enrichment kids get that.  Not that I say a word, but they will!  I’ve often had one kid call out another on ridiculous statements or behavior.  Many times it is like having little adults in the room!  And, as mature as these children may seem, they are often tickled to death at the most silly things.  They are, after all, just kids!  I should say, kids that love to spew odd facts!  I think Discovery channel is going to be the death of me.  These kids love shows on the Discovery channel.  Because they are by nature inquisitive, they have a schema jam packed with random nuggets of information.  Whenever I ask a question, the response is generally, “I have three things to say about that.”  Umm, yeah, we could be there forever if I let that happen!  Many times I will have to say, “Well, pick the most important to tell me.”  But, I have to say, I love those odd facts!  I can’t say they are always factual, but they can be fun to hear as they are sometimes so obscure and weird you can't help but laugh!
5.   You do a lot of curriculum work!  My district does not have an separate curriculum for enrichment students other than placing them all in the same class.  Then, it's up to the teacher to enrich.  This means that I have to take the regular curriculum and decide what I can skip, where I can compact, where I need to add content, where I need to infuse projects and technology.  Now, I know that all teachers do this to some degree, but I believe you can do it more as you want to.  In my case, I have no choice.  If I want to keep my friends engaged and learning, I have to modify almost every aspect from what I'm teaching to how I teach it, as do, I believe, teachers of lower ability students.

      This is really what I had intended to write about today, how similar it can be to teach basic skills students and enrichment students.  Next year, I will be teaching those students at the other end of the spectrum, which is  the level of students I am currently working with in summer school.  And, that is what started this post!  It was going to be about how working with my skills summer school kids has been very helpful in preparing me for September.  Then, I started to think about how teaching enrichment children is different, yet still very much the same.  Then, I totally got off on a tangent thinking on the misconceptions about it.  Hence, the blog post above!  I do plan to get back to those similarities in a different post.

A quick disclaimer:  It seems to be the nature of education these days to categorize children based on their ability, i.e. basic skills, enrichment, etc.  I’m never really comfortable with this and think there must be a better way, but I use the categories in my post as it seems to be a common vocabulary we all know and understand.  Also, the post above is based solely on my personal observations, thoughts, and opinions and not on any scientific data. So, take it all with a grain of salt! It's just one woman's opinions!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


I love ya if your are, but I totally understand if you're not! 
It's been FOREVER since we last chatted!  I went back and looked. 
My last post was June 22!  Even I was shocked to see it was so long ago.    

So, let's catch up!
Be warned, below is a combo of school stuff and personal stuff.

Summer School - Oh my!  What can I say?  It is so disheartening to see children headed into sixth grade (middle school!) reading on second and third grade levels.  That is the reality for the seven friends I am working with this summer.  Here's what I know.  Miracles don't happen!  I can't raise them two reading levels in five weeks, as has been suggested by administrators.  Umm, can we all look up the term realistic?  As in, let's be realistic!  Nope, no miracles like that are going to happen.  But, I know what does work.  I know what my friends need and can do.

My friends need explicit, one-on-one direct instruction and practice.  These friends need to be explicitly taught a skill and see it modeled repeatedly.  They need someone to work with them in small groups of 2-3 students or, better yet one-on-one.  They need to practice, practice, and practice some more. They need constant cheer leading, encouragement, and a triple scoop of "I believe in you! You can do this!"  They need to be showered with praise when they do get it, and then they need to revisit it and practice it some more until that skill becomes internalized. 

This is not easy work.  For them, this is very hard work. This is time consuming work.  This is the mountain my seven little friends are climbing this summer.  And, I see progress.  It is slow, but it is happening.  Will I meet the expectation of raising them two reading levels in our short five weeks together?  No.  I can't even say probably not.  It's a no.  But!  I do see them more encouraged, asking questions, and showing me small successes along the way.  I see them understanding how certain strategies help them as readers, and I see them trying to apply those strategies.  I see that I've been able to ease some frustration and build some confidence.  I see a willingness to try. For these friends, who for so long have not seen themselves as "good" at reading or seen themselves as readers at all, this is huge.  I'm proud of my summer friends.

So Tired!  The last month of school was really tough.  In addition to major changes in my building, which include my assignment change for September, I was just dog tired!  I'm not talking your run of the mill tired.  Tired as in I would come home from school, take a nap, wake up to eat dinner, then go to bed.  In the morning, I would get up for school and feel great for about the first two hours, but then I would be extremely tired the entire rest of the day.  At least one of my weekend days was spent napping on and off all day.  When school was out at the end of June, I literally fell on my couch and didn't really move for three days.

I started to realize that something was wrong beyond just being tired.  To make a long story short (I know, too late for that!) it turns out I was severely anemic with very low vitamin levels.  My iron was so low I ended up in the hospital twice for iron infusions and then had to go for a whole bunch of testing to see why I was so anemic.  Turns out everything is fine, I just have a malabsorption issue.  So, now I am on a crazy vitamin regimen and a new diet.  Can I tell you I feel a million times better!  I know that was a big part of my blog break.  I just didn't have the energy or enthusiasm for anything, and that is so not like me!  I honestly didn't know how bad I was feeling until I started to feel better.  The funny thing is I have a bunch of things I want to blog about now whereas before, when I wasn't feeling myself, I really couldn't think of a thing.  I couldn't think period!  Never take your health for granted!

Professional Reading - I knew I was sick when I was too tired to even read! ;-)  I have a stack of professional books I wanted to get to over the summer, and I've just now picked up the first one.  Currently, I'm reading Small Group Reading Instruction: Differentiated Teaching Models for Intermediate Readers, Grades 3-8 by Beverly B. Tyner and Sharon E. Green. 

I actually posted about this book when I got it back in February.  So far, I really like what I'm reading.  I think it will be helpful with my new role as an in-class support teacher.  I'll give you a full report when I finish. 

Staples - Oh my! It seems a lot of teachers are just catching wind of the new policy at Staples. The post I wrote about it, Staples, Why Have You Forsaken Me? , has gotten a lot of comments recently. The comments are interesting. Overwhelmingly, you seem to be no happier with it than I am. While I am sad I won't have a homeroom next year, it works out with regards to Staples. As a push-in teacher, I don't need to supply a class. Let's hope that by the time I do have my own homeroom again Staples has amended their policy.

E-Mails   I had a couple of requests to answer some questions via email.  I put up a link for my blog email.  However, I've been a total slacker about it.  I've gotten a few emails, and I promise to get to them within the next week.  So, if you emailed me, I promise I am not ignoring you!  I really appreciate that you took the time to write to me, and I will get back to you all shortly.  I will say though, every time I look at my blog emails, I can't help but sing (out loud and badly) the mail song from Blues Clues!  I have no idea why, but it pops in my head every time! :-)

Summer!!  Still haven't gotten to the beach yet.  BUT, tomorrow it is going to be 90 degrees, hot and humid.  I am taking my Small Group Reading Instruction book and hitting the sand!  I've already got some grapes in the freezer.  Try it! Frozen grapes while sitting on a hot beach is a nice treat.

Be back soon!  Promise!