Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hero vs Celebrity and Some Picture Books

I am currently working on putting together a new unit for my 4th grade literacy class.  I've basically been given free reign to do what I want as long as I can align it with common core.  It is almost a hindrance to have such free reign because I have been having so much difficulty coming up with a theme that would work with the materials I have available. 

Then, while on hall duty last week, I listened to two fifth graders have a conversation about Justin Beiber.  The girl has a huge picture of him in her locker.  The two were talking about his recent misdeeds.  The conversation was a full-on recap of the drunk driving, resisting arrest, the foul language he used, his use of marijuana, and now being out on bail. It was a conversation I would hope two ten year olds would never have to have.  The part of the conversation that was most disturbing to me was towards the end when one of the students said she didn't care what he did.  He was still cute and will always be her hero.  Hero.  Yes, she said hero.  Now, I know this is ten year old thinking, but it is still disturbing to know that this is her thinking and probably the thinking of many preteens. 

It was then and there that I decided my literacy unit was going to center on the theme of heroes.  And, an important part of the unit was going to be a lesson on the difference between a hero and a celebrity.  In looking for some resources, I came across this quote:

"A sign of a celebrity is that his name
is often worth more than his services."
by Daniel Boorstin, Historian
Such a true statement.  If you think about it, the deeds of a hero are greater and longer lasting than their name while the name of a celebrity is usually greater than their deeds.  A hero's deeds will usually transcend time and spark a change in thinking, innovation, or behavior for the greater good of many in society. 
This is not to diminish the contributions of a celebrity, but I believe there needs to be a distinction between what makes someone hero as opposed to being a celebrity.  Another quote I came across that I feel explains that distinction well says, "A hero creates himself.  A celebrity is created by the media."  Hmmm, tell me that doesn't make you think of the Kardashians!
I think seeing how children can be considered heroes will be of great interest to my 4th graders.  Once I get the book, I will do a full review for you.  For now, I'm still pulling it all together.
Speaking of picture books, here's a true contrast in what is out there.  I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and was stopped in my tracks by this book:

I honestly couldn't believe they made a book based on the YouTube viral video.  I thought, no.  There must be more to the book.  Nope.  It's just the song lyrics.  The illustrations are okay, but I really couldn't find anything that would make me buy this book.  It might have to do with the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the song! But, if you have a child that loves the song or are looking for just a silly book, this is it!
So, let's flip the coin.  
What would be the exact opposite of a silly, fun picture book? 
Can I tell you that I cry every single time I read this book.  It is about a boy, around 4 years old as best I can tell, and his father who are homeless and live in an airport.  It tells the story about how they live day to day.  The father is working, but simply can't make enough money to afford an apartment.  The title comes from a bird that is trapped in airport and catches the attention of the boy.  The bird is trapped for days and eventually finds his way out, a symbol of hope for the boy and his father.  Honestly, I'm teary just typing this.  For some reason, this book just gets me every time.  Published in 1991, it isn't a new book.   However, if you aren't familiar with it, I've linked below to a reading of it from YouTube.
Your reaction will probably not be as emotional as mine always is, but you can't help but feel something when reading this book.  Fly Away Home is a great book to introduce important topics such as homelessness and types of families.  It's not What Does the Fox Say? but you  might want to read that after this for a smile!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Prefixes! Roots! Suffixes! Oh My!

Guess what we've been studying? 
Pretty much what it seems everyone else has been studying! 

As I finished my Greek Mythology unit with my 4th grade enrichment friends, we closed by studying Greek word parts. The picture above shows the standards we met and a quick view of the big letters.  Take a look at the finished display below, and I'll explain just what we did.  Ignore my pocketbook and mess on the table!

After finishing reading various myths and completing projects related to them, we went on to finish the unit with a study of Greek roots.  I found a great resource for this on Teacher Pay Teachers.  It is a unit of Greek roots that comes with illustrated examples.  Below are just some of the cards that come with the unit.  My friends got the biggest thrill when they connected the fact that in the myth The 12 Labors of Heracles the water serpent he killed was named Hydra which related to the root hydr/hydra and means water.  It all sort of clicked like magic for them.  There's a lot that comes with this resource including the making of a tiny box which holds a tiny version of all the cards.  Each of my friends had their own box of cards and we wrote additional words we could brainstorm on the back of each card.

Once we had studied most of the cards included in the unit, we went on to look at more common prefixes, roots, and suffixes that fourth graders will run into that may or may not be of Greek etymology.  I created a packet which listed some of each, their meaning, a couple of examples, and a column for my friends to work with a partner to brainstorm more words they knew which fit.
I had drawn some of them freehand (which is why some of them look a little wonky!) on white oak tag and spread them out on the floor.  After we had reviewed and discussed our packets, the kids were given a Sharpie and a highlighter.  They wrote their words on the corresponding poster, underlining the prefix/root/suffix.  We then hung them in the room.

I got the inspiration for the big letters from a Pinterest picture posted by the blogger of Smitten with First.  She was doing a lesson on suffixes and made some big letters of the most common ones. 
When I saw her picture, I knew it would work perfectly with my friends.  Some lessons just span the grade levels!

This lesson turned out to be a lot of fun for us all.  Having the display in my room has encouraged all the kids to constantly try and think of new words that could be added.  I told them we would create a chart to add the words to.  There is not way I am climbing on top of those shelves again!  :-)  While I did the is lesson with enrichment students, it is very much a great way to teach word parts to children of all grades and ability levels. 


On a different note, Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! 
It is a day to remember a great man and the courage and grace he showed in the face of intolerance and discrimination.  Last year, my friends and I had school on this day in order to make up days lost to Hurricane Sandy.  It prompted me to write a post on some of the activities I was planning to do in remembrance.  This year, like many of you, we are off today.  I know it is a little late, but if you are looking for something to do tomorrow, you can click HERE to see the post I wrote.  It includes several links to videos, activities, and lessons.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reading Tables: Horseshoe or Kidney?

Perhaps, you might remember a while back my excitement about getting a new guided reading table.  I wrote about it here and here.  I was delighted to get my new guided reading table.  It was bight yellow and kidney shaped.  It was close to perfect!  The only thing I wasn't loving was the color.  I started out loving the bright yellow, but as it turns out it shows every little pencil mark, finger print, and even ink from paper. But all in all, I did love it.


Then, I taught summer school.

While teaching summer school, I had the opportunity to work at a horseshoe table.  It seems my love for the kidney table was sorely misplaced!  As it turns out, my true love is the horseshoe table! So much so, that I set out on a quest to get myself one.

Okay, obviously I'm being a little silly about it all with you, but I really did decide that the horseshoe table was a much better option for me. I approached my admin about getting a new table totally expecting to be told to forget it.  After all, it wasn't that long ago that I received the yellow, kidney table.  Instead, I was told if I could find another teacher in need of a guided reading table, I could order the horseshoe and pass on my kidney table when it came.  I was all over that offer! Thankfully, I found a teacher in need, and we were able to swap.  Here's my new table.

Notice it isn't yellow!  I learned that lesson.  Instead, I chose a bright blue that would hide marks.  
So, why the switch?  It wasn't for the color, but for the shape.  I found the horseshoe to be much more conducive to my guided reading groups than the kidney shape.  Here's a picture of the two tables from above.

Using both, here's what I found, the good and the bad of each:
  • The kidney table is very wide at the center.  I found that the child sitting across from me was just too far away.  Now, I should mention that I'm short and that just made the span seem even larger.  I often had difficulty seeing what the child was writing without actually standing up and looming over.  In the horseshoe, every child was close to me.  I could unobtrusively monitor and/or assess all the students' work with no problem. 
  • The width of the kidney table definitely makes it better for demonstrating something or showing a book.  There is room to lay it out in front of the teacher while still giving the students room for their materials.  With the horseshoe, I find that I hold demo things up if I want everyone to see them.  There is enough room to have a book or papers in front of you, it's not that small.  But, it definitely doesn't give the teacher as much room as the kidney table does.  
  • In line with the last bullet point, I do still have plenty of room for materials at the horseshoe table.  Generally, I can fit more kids at the horseshoe than the kidney table.  I usually meet with five friends at the table.  At the kidney, that was the whole table.  With the horseshoe, we still have room.  In fact, the last seat to my right is never used.  That allows me to organize materials I need on that portion of the table. I used to have my table in an area where I had shelves behind me for materials, but when I had to reorganize my room in November for the new reading program, my guided reading table is now sort of free floating.  So, having that extra space at the end of the table works for me.
  • If I have student working on completely different things, it works better at the horseshoe.  I can have a student complete missed work or finish an assignment in the seat over to my far left while I work with three other friends on the other side of the table.  At the kidney table, there wasn't enough space for that kind of separation.
  • A minor con of the horseshoe is that the U shape where the teacher sits is deep and can put you in the way.  If I am working with a full table of students and want them to have a real conversation about something we are working on, I have to be sure to pull my chair back so that the child seated at the ends can see each other.
There are actually so many different shaped tables you can choose from.

A lot depends on the age of the children.  I know our lower elementary teachers generally have horseshoe tables and some flower tables, while our upper elementary teachers generally use kidney shaped tables. You also need to take into account how it works for the teacher.  For me, the kidney table just wasn't a favorite.  All of our classrooms also have an extra rectangular or trapezoid table in them. When I push-in to other classrooms for guided reading, those are the tables I generally use. However, when I am working in my classroom, I am happy to have my horseshoe table to work at!

Do you have a type of table you prefer?

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By the way, I am well aware that I posted on January 1st about posting more regularly and them promptly disappeared for 19 days.  I actually have posts ready to go but totally forgot to schedule their posting.  Blogging fail!  Sorry about that. The good news is that there are posts already written and ready to be published. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Blog Goals

And, we all know a new year brings new goals!

I haven't been too happy with my blog lately and have even contemplated more than once on giving the whole thing up.  A big part of my unhappiness with the blog comes from having some trouble coming up with content. For many periods of the week, I am required to teach a scripted program. Also, traveling in and out of other teacher's classrooms all day long doesn't allow me to do as much as I would if I had my own homeroom.  In all, it really puts a damper on creativity.  I look around at other teacher blogs and am awed by all the creative and fun projects they come up with.

However, I like blogging!  I really enjoy posting and sharing ideas. I like the support and encouragement found in the blogging community.  I also like looking back to see what I've done in the past.  It's like having a digital scrapbook.  And, I do have lots of ideas that I would love to share even if I am not able to implement them all in my own classroom at this time.  So, I am going to keep blogging.  

Having made that decision, I have come up with some goals for 2014 to spark things up around here. 

1.  Finally finish the blog redesign I've been promising.  Yeah, kind of let go of that one as I was seriously considering closing down the blog.  However, being recommitted, I am on it! Before I gave up on the idea I found three blog designers I really liked.  I'm going to do a little more research and hope to have the new design up and running by the end of March.  Hopefully sooner!

2.  Make at least 6 literacy based printable resources/projects.  I've done a few printables for the blog in the past:  
However, there are so many things I make for my own use that I don't blog about.  Deciding to do at least six this year is a very modest goal.  I wanted to focus on the quality rather than number.  It may be my first step in starting my own Teacher Pay Teachers store, but I'm not committing to that just yet! Baby steps!  For now anyway, anything I make will be posted on my blog for free download. 

3.  Blog at least twice a week.  For me, that seems about right, about what I can reasonably keep up with.  I tip my hat to those of you out there blogging daily.  I don't know how you get it done!

4.  Step up on the social media aspect of my blog.  This is part of the blog design.  I want to add all those buttons that allow you to connect to my blog through social media.  I also have to figure out how to separate my personal social media from the blogging social media.  For example, I have a Pinterest account for the blog, but I also have one for myself.  I find it a pain to have to log out of my account and then log into my blog account every time I want to pin something, so I usually don't.  I have to figure out a way to make it all a bit simpler.  I also don't want to do the Facebook page until the blog design is done so that I can keep it all similar in looks.

5.  Organize all previous post with better labels and possibly content specific pages.  My labels are all over the place!  I mean, I have reading workshop and reader's workshop as two different labels.  I really need to sit and clean up all the labels in a way that makes it easier to find what you are looking for.

6.  Connect with other bloggers.  There are some blogs I read all the time and I'm terrible about commenting.  And, we know bloggers love comments! :-)  In fact, for me seeing that commenting dropped off on my blog was tangible proof that I was slacking!  I am going to try and comment more on the blogs I read and support other bloggers.  There is so much great stuff out there deserving of a good comment!  Another idea I've been tossing around is organizing a blogger meet-up over the summer.  Maybe!  I live in the tri-state area (NY, NJ, Conn.) with PA not far away.  I know there are lots of teacher bloggers in the area and thought it might be fun to actually meet up in person this summer.  Just an idea at this point, but one I'm seriously thinking about!

So, those are the blog goals for this year. 
What do you think?  Any advice?
What are your school and/or blogging goals for 2014?