Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Made It

Hey, Carrie... What did you make this time?

Just a giant mess in my living room.  That's all. ;)

Hey, guys.  I'm linking up again with Fourth Grade Frolics for today's Monday Made It.  I also have big plans of actually updating my blog today.  As well as cleaning up my apartment.  My living room seriously looks like Michael's threw up all over it.

I got this frame from one of those garage sale Facebook groups.  The lady gave me several because she learned that I was a teacher and I was looking for frames to make a few things for my classroom. Well, she gave me a few 11x14" frames and this giant one!  Sorry, I don't know the dimensions.  I'm sicking with giant!

So, I painted it green.  I went to Michael's to pick up some letters.  Those are painted sort of a sky blue, but it doesn't really look that way in the glare of the sun.  Anyway.  I then just hot glued it all together.  Thanks to a comment from another first grade teacher, I might pop that "1st" star off and reattach it with Velcro.  That way, I can make another star for "100th" and another for other days during the year so I can use the same frame.  That was a genius idea, and I wish it was mine.  Sadly, it was not.  

The colors in my classroom are various hues of greens and blues.  This works out well.  I want to add more yellow in my classroom library, but the accents of the stars here go along with the yellow accents in my classroom.  It is what it is for now.

So then there's this little gem - that has absolutely nothing to do with school.  Parents' Day is, I believe, July 26?  Whatever that Sunday is.  When Leila and Dylan were younger, I would take them for several days before Mother's day, and we would knock out a Mother's Day and a Father's Day gift.  Well, I don't live close anymore, so that doesn't happen.  So a Parents' Day gift happened instead.  (My sister doesn't read my blog, so I'm fairly certain this is safe.  Unless the kids already told her what it is.  They stink at secrets. Ha!)

The frame was seriously discounted at Michael's.  This was great because I'm pretty parsimonious.  I found the one gold frame that had a blemish on it (bottom is scratched), and made sure there were no other frames like it in the store.  Got a $40 frame for $16! The paint was done directly on the back of the glass, the letters are stickers stuck directly to the front of the glass.  The photo was glued on to the back of the glass after the paint dried.  (Lesson learned from this one:  Mod Podge is good for a lot of projects.  This is not one of them.)  And finally, the glass was hot glued into the frame so I could trash the cardboard backing.

So now, back to school.  Jaymee Laymance posted a cute gift tag for bubbles.  (You can get it from her TPT Store.)  Well, I originally planned to pick up several bottles of bubbles from the Dollar Tree while I was in the Lower 48.  I did not.  Fail for me.  But, I got a better deal in the party favors aisle at Target!  Twenty-four mini bottles for like $4!  Yes, please.  I'll take it.

But then I had a dilemma.  The tags in Jaymee's store are larger than the mini-bubbles.  They are more appropriately sized for standard-sized bottles.  No big deal.  I decided to shrink the .pdf and print 24 tags on the page!

I planned to use some fancy ribbon and tie those tags to the bottles.  But, look.  By the time I cut all of them out, I didn't want to look at them anymore!  Seriously!  So, I remembered I had these glue dots in with my scrapbooking stuff!  

And voila!  "I'm bubbling with excitement that you're in my class this year!"  And all but one fit back in the little box they came in.  I'll pass these out as I meet my students at the back-to-school block party the night before school begins.

Just some simple felt pieces cut into 3x3" squares.  This way, the kids can keep their "whiteboard eraser" in their pencil boxes with the marker.  Listening to them argue over the whiteboard erasers that I only have about 10 of is enough to make you want to rip out your hair!  I thought about hot glueing these to thick pieces of foam or maybe even some 1/4" plywood for durability, but I think this is fine.

I'm hoping that my sister-in-law doesn't read my blog because that would ruin this since I haven't mailed it yet.  She isn't a teacher, so she might not.  However, she read it last Monday.  Hmm... I don't know.  I won't post the link.  Then she won't know where to find this.  #winning  I already know my brother won't read it. Ha!

I finally finished my nephew's scrapbook.  (He was born in January.  Haha!)  I won't can't show you much of it because my SIL might see this post even after my attempts to avoid that.

Here are just a couple of examples of what this book includes:

I have to admit, this isn't my best work.  Living in this teeny, tiny apartment is definitely taking it's toll on my creative bursts.  All of my scrapbooking and craft stuff was in storage.  I went to pick up a few things to get these projects done, but I didn't have full use of my materials.  I miss the house that I paid a mortgage for when I lived in Louisiana.  I had a craft room there, so I could do these types of things all of the time!  And everything had it's place!  That craft room is definitely on my list of must-haves for the house I buy here in Alaska!

The other issue making this task a little difficult was that I wasn't able to take my own photos.  My brother is in the Air Force, and he is currently stationed in Guam.  That's not exactly an easy trip to take, especially when this girl has to go to work.

Well, there you have it.  I won't be doing anything else until August.  I'll hopefully get back into my classroom at the start of the month and have some time to get my room set up.  But next week, I'll be out in the middle of nowhere (i.e., the Katmai, my boyfriend's concession land) with a raft and a tent.  [Click this link] to see a live video feed of part of the Katmai!  I'm not sure if I'm nervous or excited, but I certainly do love living in Alaska!

Don't forget to link up with Tara and check out what everyone's been up to!  Leave me your link in the comments so I can come see what you've been making!

Side note:  My brother, his wife, and my nephew, Liam:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Inside September

About a month ago, I introduced you to my storage solution for my classroom.  (You can see that post [here] if you missed it.)  The underbed storage bins.  Guys, they are great!  If you pack them just right, they hold everything!

Since then, I've added a few things to my August bin, but it's all Conscious Discipline stuff, and it's all going into a separate bin labeled "Safe Place" when I pack up my room at the end of the upcoming school year.  I'll post about that stuff later.  I need to actually figure out what I'm doing with it first.

Did you know that Scholastic Reading Club flyers have these nifty little boxed sets that focus on sight words and specific phonics skills?  Of course you did.  You're a teacher!  You look at the flyers before you even pass them out.  Silly me.  (In the off chance that you're a new teacher - or a seasoned teacher that has just never used it - and you want to use Scholastic Reading Club flyers with your students, hit me up for some bonus points!  I will have 1,000 bonus points to give away next month, but only if you're a first-timer at the whole book clubs idea.  Sorry, veterans.)

Anyway.  Scholastic.  Boxed sets.  Definitely worth it!  It makes the phonics and sight word practice more meaningful to the students than those silly blackline master decodable books that come with our reading series.  (Yes, I use those, too.)

As for the other things in my September bin...

Pardon my dog.  She likes to get in the way and does not like when she isn't the one getting the attention.

Three ways to read a book goes up on the wall once we talk about it.  I used to write an anchor chart, but a giant three is better... Well, it was last year.  I don't know how I feel about it now.  I'll decide later if I want to use it or something else. 

"What to do when I'm through" is for writing.  There are three things my students may do when they 'finish' their writing.  They may add details to the picture, add details to the words, or start a new piece.  I ordered No More "I'm Done!" by Jennifer Jacobson, and I should get it this week.  We'll see what she says about those tiny friends that say they are finished.

"I can write a sentence that" has always been something that goes up in pieces.  The first one says "uses spaces between the words."  Then it goes on to include capital letters, end marks, spelling, etc.  Each piece goes up as we talk about it.  This takes time to get everything up.

The pink cards are high-frequency words from my basal series.  I also have a different color for Fry's sight words and Dolch words.  Math words, student choice words (interesting words found in reading), science words, etc. all have different colors.  They will go on the word wall as we learn them.

The rest of it is games and books.  Classroom library books as well as read alouds.  (My brilliant idea of the summer:  Skip-Bo at the start of the school year as math buddy games!  They have to put the numbers in sequential order... That's number recognition and rote counting to 12.  Review = check!)

The theme for the books in September's bin is "Books about School."  There are other books in the library already when the kids walk in the door, but these are books that I put out specifically in September and take them back out of the library at the end of the month.  They include:

The Librarian from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler

Don't Be Silly, Mrs. Millie! by Judy Cox

Flat Stanley:  Show-and-Tell Flat Stanley! by Lori Haskins Houran

Miss Mingo and the Fire Drill by Jamie Harper

Picture Day Perfection by Deborah Diesen

There was an Old Lady who Swallowed Some Books! by Lucille Colandro

What I Saw in the Teacher's Lounge by Jerry Pallotta

My New Teacher and Me by Al Yankovic

Clifford:  Time for School by Gail Herman

Our Cool School by Judy Katschke

Biscuit Goes to School by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Annabelle Swift, Kindergartener by Amy Schwartz

If You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff

Amelia Bedelia's First Day of School by Herman Parish

Skippyjon Jones Class Action by Judy Schachner

Mittens at School Lola M. Schafer

David Goes to School. by David Shannon

Splat and the Cool School Trip by Rob Scotton

And because September begins moose season here in Alaska and we need to talk about moose safety...

Moose! by Robert Munsch

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff

And because we are beginning to talk about nouns and verbs as critical parts of sentences...

A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink:  What is a Noun? by Brian P. Cleary

To Root, to Toot, to Parachute:  What is a Verb? by Brain P. Cleary (sorry, no link)

Slide and Slurp, Scratch and Burp:  More about Verbs by Brian P. Cleary

When I put these books out at the end of August, I try to talk them up.  Give some incomplete summaries of a few of the books; tell them which books are my favorite.  It helps with the book selection.  I'll even choose read alouds from this stack if I need a time-filler.

Well, that's my collection of random things that happen in September.  Part of me feels like there is a lot that I didn't pack up... like things are missing from this box...  It was probably the dogs! ;)

Always wanting to be in the middle of everything... ;)

I'm looking forward to hearing about your ideas for rolling out the new year!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Notebook Know-How

Have you read this book?  It's an old one.  I've had it for probably about six or so years..?  I'm only just getting around to reading it.  It's Notebook Know-How:  Strategies for the Writer's Notebook by Aimee Buckner.

Now, if you know me at all, you know how I hate to spend my time reading professional texts that have nothing to do with what I'm trying to do.  To be honest, this one was probably a giant waste of time for me as a First Grade teacher.  (I wish I would have read it six years ago when I was teaching fourth grade!)

But, guys!  There is so much great stuff in here!  I decided earlier this summer that I am going to have my Firsties keep a writer's notebook.  I just wasn't really sure how that would work being that they are so dependent young.  This book didn't really give me any ideas on that.  I'm still working on it.  But there is a lot of stuff in here that can be modified to work with younger kids.

I love that the chapters are organized in such a way that they correlate to the steps in the writing process.  Chapter 2, "Launching the Notebook," is all about teaching students how to gather ideas.  Then, Chapter 3 provides more information on gathering ideas through expanding topics and building collections of ideas.  Once this is done, students draft.  Chapter 4, "When Writers Read," discusses drafting in a way that includes using mentor texts. (Have you heard about The Writing Theif?  I read that one earlier this summer.  If you haven't, you should check it out, too.)  Aimee goes on to describe revising and editing strategies in chapters 5 and 6, respectively.  Chapter 7 she dedicates to assessing the notebook.

I want to use a writer's notebook with my Firsties because it will give them a place to keep all of their thinking.  Aimee writes, "A writer's notebook creates a place for students (and writers) to save their words - in the form of a memory, a reflection, a list, a rambling of thoughts, a sketch, or even a scrap of print taped to the page" (p. 4).  I am not sure exactly how this will look with such young students, but why can't they get started this early?  And why can't they carry it on year after year?  (I am going to be working with the teachers at my school over the next few years to implement a school-wide writing initiative.  I'm not sure what that will look like yet, but I feel like it should include writer's notebooks!)

"The purpose of a notebook is to provide a place for students to practice writing.  It's a place to generate texts, find ideas, and practice what they know about spelling and grammar" (p. 5).  I'm not sure what form the notebook will take in my classroom given that the students are so young.  I don't know if journaling is appropriate, but I don't always want the kids writing to a prompt.  That's completely opposite from what a writer's notebook should be!  I have some thinking to do about this...

"... [T]he most important aspect of a notebook is that it allows students the practice of simply writing..." (p. 7).  And isn't that, after all, what we want our students to be doing?  It's what I want my students to do.  The only way to get better at something is to practice doing it every day!  Without practice, we can't be our best.

How do you feel about using a notebook with your class?  Have you read (or heard of) this book?

Aimee Buckner also wrote Notebook Connections:  Strategies for the Reader's Notebook, which I also planned to read.  However, I'm a little apprehensive because, like I said, I don't like wasting my time on things that aren't useful to me.  Especially when there are so few precious days left of summer!  Maybe I'll put it off until the end of my reading list.  (It's a long one. Haha!)

Monday Made It

You guys... My boyfriend is so cute sometimes with the things he just doesn't understand... He's out commercial fishing right now, so I haven't seen him for a little over a month. No big deal. I get to talk to him sometimes, and he always asks me how my homework is going and how my school stuff is coming along.

This time, the conversation went like this:

Him: "What are you up to?"
Me: "I'm working on a new sign for my library area."
Him: "Why do you always give yourself new projects?" 
(I'm not finished with the other eleventy-billion things I started. Haha!)
Me: "Well, I saw a sign that I liked, I didn't want to spend the money to buy it, so I'm making it."
Him: "Oh. Good idea."

Guys!! "Good idea"? No questioning what I was thinking? (Maybe it's just because he doesn't see the current state of my dining room..?) Doesn't even matter; he's a keeper! ❤️ 

There has been talk about moving in together. I think he has forgotten just what stuff he helped me move into a storage unit only five short months ago. My crafting stuff doesn't have a home in my teeny, tiny apartment (along with my tools, garage-type stuff, etc.). If we found a house that we both like, I'd have a whole room dedicated to the mess that he doesn't see right now. Haha!!

Anyway. I linked up with Fourth Grade Frolics for today's Monday Made It.

I've only been home from vacation for a day, so I only got one project finished.  Maybe I'll have a few more of those "eleventy-billion" projects done next week. ;)

My sign. I started with some letters from Walmart. I probably should have splurged for the letters from Michael's. These are great! 

I painted the backs and outer edges. Just some plain ol' acrylic craft paint. 

And I got some old books. (I wish I would have thought of this when I was going through the books in my library chucking recycling all of the books that were beyond repair.) A little (just kidding - a lot of) Mod Podge later, and I've got these letters to hang above my bookshelves!

I'm not sure exactly what my classroom layout will be this year, so we'll see if they go on a wall or mounted somewhere else.

What are you up to?  What have you made lately?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Launching Read to Self - Book Study

Welcome to Chapter 5, Launching Read to Self - The First Daily 5!  I'm back with the book study led by Brenda over a Primary Inspired as we walk through The Daily 5.

First, let me tell you, I am so tired!  I spent the last week down in Louisiana for my niece's birthday.

My sister and me at Spirits on Bourbon & House (the bartender) and me

As soon as I got out of the airport, my sister, her husband, and I hit up Bourbon Street.  This place, Spirits on Bourbon, was on that show Bar Rescue.  I don't watch it, but I'm totally claiming to have been somewhere and met people who are famous! ;)  If you go there, the best drinks are the Resurrection and the Barber Beer.  I can say that because I tried them all! Haha!

My nephew, Dylan, my niece, Leila, and me at the Baton Rouge Zoo

The real reason for my trip was my Little Bit there in the middle.  Her birthday was last weekend.  I'll be headed back in the winter for the other one.  

So I spent the whole week going to sleep at about 2am (because that's only 11pm in Alaska) and waking up between 5:30 and 7:00 each morning (because I was, after all, there for the kids not the sleep).  I am surprised I lasted the week!  On top of that, it was so hot!  At least it wasn't raining.

Anyway.  Back to this book.

I have heard many teachers say that they got a little overwhelmed by the ideas presented in the launch.  "Do you really do all of that on the first day of school?"  "My literacy block isn't long enough to get all of those lessons in!"  "How do I do this with my basal series?"  There were several other questions, but I don't remember them and they didn't all have to do with the start-up.  I'll give my input, but keep in mind that I'm just a teacher, not an expert in D5 by any means.

The Sisters discuss what their first day of school looks like.  They give the students time to choose books to fill their book boxes, they teach the Three Ways to Read a Book lessons (both of them), they go through the 10 Steps to Teaching Independence, they teach the I PICK Good-Fit Books lesson, they teach the Underline Words You Can't Spell lesson (Work on Writing foundation lesson), the Check for Understanding lesson (Read to Someone foundation lesson from CAFE strategies), and the Set Up and Clean Up Materials lesson (foundation lessons from Listen to Reading and Work Work).

Holy mother of I-don't-have-time-for-that!!  The good news:  You don't have to do everything exactly like The Sisters.  We can't all be at that level of rock star status right away, and that's okay.  I personally, don't teach any of that on the first day of school.  Instead, I focus on a few other things required by my school, like the emergency drills (because we always have a fire drill and an earthquake drill on the second or third day) and setting the rules and expectations for class - not to mention a few fun "getting to know you" and community building activities as well as dealing with supplies and such.  I get started with D5 on the second day of school.

My instruction on the first day of school includes no lessons from D5.  Instead, my lessons pertain to the following:
  • Introduce the meeting place
  • Signal for coming to the meeting place
  • Meeting place behaviors
  • How to do a turn-and-talk
  • Book care
  • Handling a book box
All of that seems pretty common sense, right?  Well, I forget every year that my students coming to me are not the students that left me in May.  I get so upset because I feel hopeless.  These kids can't do anything that I'm asking, let alone do it quickly!  So I leave these lessons for the first day of school because I know they need them.  If I get a quick group, we can move on to some of the lessons that I had planned for day two, but I always start with those.  My second day includes:
  • Three ways to read a book (part 1)
  • Read to self iChart (this includes creating a rubric for guidelines for behavior)
  • Listening behavior
If we have time, I continue with:
  • Three ways to read a book (part 2)
  • Review meeting spot behaviors
  • Review iChart, add behaviors
  • Respectful manners and language
  • What readers read
  • Active listening
  • Patience and polite words
  • I PICK good-fit books
  • Practice turn-and-talk
  • Work with book boxes
  • Book box choices (review I PICK lesson)
  • ... 
I obviously don't have time for all of those lessons on the second day of school, but I do them over the course of the first week in that order.  Some classes move faster than others, but I find that all of my classes have needed all of the "common sense" lessons in order to be successful.  My reader's workshop launch usually happens over the course of the first three or four weeks of school because I also have to fit in the content lessons.  I have about 49 lessons in my launch.  Once I get my plans in a more user-friendly format, I'll share.  Right now, it barely makes sense to me.  (I feel like the kids when they are writing... I ask them to read their stories to me, and it's just a bunch of letters... "Umm... I don't actually know what I wrote.  I need more time." Haha!!)

As for the D5 book, I have been making notes on how to best accomplish some of the tasks.  For example, The Sisters have the kids choose some books on the first day.  For the first week in my district, K/1 students come one-at-a-time for Fall benchmark assessment appointments while grades 2+ have already begun class.  I think that, while I'm going over the results of the assessment with the parents at the end of the appointment, I'll have the kid choose books.  Then it'll be ready to go for the first day of school.

As for the book choice, I was wondering about leveling my books.  However, I'm not going to because my con list has always included the fact that books aren't leveled at the book store or public library.  After reading The Sisters' story about Pedro, it's settled.  No leveling the books!  (I teach a lot of ELL students, and I know this will be a concern for them in even our school library.)

For the record, I absolutely LOVE the I PICK lesson.  I do it every year.  It really drives the point home, especially when I have the kids put on each other's shoes!  Lyndsey over at A Year of Many Firsts has a cute "Make It a Good Fit" activity that I've never used because it seems time consuming, but it might be good for a station later or a reinforcement activity on another day.  I don't know.  I'll think about it.  The activity is in her The Daily Five {Free Classroom Resources} pack.

My only question is the K - know the words.  What do you do with the kid that thinks he knows the words?  You know the one... He invents words based on the first letter and just moves on without checking to make sure the word makes sense.  He's just calling words rather than reading for meaning.  He takes the book anyway.  How do you help him stop and pay attention to the whole word rather than making a best guess?

I have decided to make classroom library a choice for D5 stations, though.  Once they choose their book, they can transition to Read to Self.  I'll have to figure out how to make it work so everyone has the opportunity to go once a week.  Maybe two kids for each round?  I don't know.  Another thing to think about.

So back to those questions I mentioned before...

     "Do you really do all of that on the first day of school?"

Like I said before... I don't, but it's whatever you feel comfortable with.

     "My literacy block isn't long enough to get all those lessons in!"

Again, stick to what makes you comfortable.  The best part about teaching is that we are all learning as much as our students every day!  It will work out, honest!  Just follow the sequence as best you can; you don't have to try to cram everything in.

     "How do I do this with my basal series?"

This takes some practice - and probably your grade level team.  You go through the lessons in your basal to find the most important pieces.  Sift through all of the "cute" and the "fun" and the games and the activities, and ask yourself "What am I being expected to actually teach?  What do the students need to learn?"  Teach that in your focus lessons.  Once you get the workshop up and running, you will have plenty of time to teach content.

All that's left to say is that you need to make sure to watch out for the negativity:
This is taking too much of my instructional time!

It does take time... In the beginning!  Once your students are completely independent (which could take anywhere from two weeks to two months depending on your group), you will have so much time for instruction!!

(Haha!! It made me think of this...)

If you have a blog, leave me a comment with your link so I can find out what you think about this chapter.  If you don't, leave me a comment anyway!  I'm looking forward to learning from you!

Did you miss anything?

Monday, July 6, 2015

What do I need to get started? Daily 5 Book Study

I'm once again joining up with Brenda over at Primary Inspired to talk about what you need to get started with the Daily 5.

I have to admit that getting started with the Daily 5 was a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. Mostly because I hardly had to actually do anything all that much differently from what I was already doing!  Here's what you need:

Quiet Signal

I have always used the same attention signal for this that I use for everything else, but you don't have to.  I am a stickler for my attention signal being all of three things:  visual, audible, and portable.  If it's not, I can't use it everywhere and I can't make sure to get everyone's attention.  I use a simple "Give Me Five" where the students see my hand going up and they hear me begin counting "1-2-3-4-5."  As the students hear me, they join in.  Students put their hands in the air and pick up counting wherever I am.  This makes it easy for me because I don't have to yell use a loud voice.  The kids that don't hear or see me can hear and see their neighbors.  I can use it anywhere as long as I have at least one hand.  It's always a keeper for me.  However, I've been playing with the idea of using something more fun like chimes (which is what The Sisters use).  I don't know, though.  I don't like that it doesn't meet my three requirements for an attention signal.  But I could give the job to a kid... Things to think about.

Chart Rack or Interactive Whiteboard

I use a chart stand.  I use the SMARTboard for some things, but I find that I can do more with instruction on the chart stand while the whiteboard is more used in my classroom for independent or guided practice activities.

Tools, Not Toys

I'm having trouble with this whole idea.  It's just a personal problem, not an issue with the use of scaffolding (which is what this is).  I am just personally struggling with the idea that other students will begin to act up in order to get the "toys" that they see other students using during this time.  It will take some serious training in the beginning to address this.  A few lessons on "fair is not always equal" should cover it.  Like I said, it's me.

But some things you will need in your tool boxes:

  • timers - sand timers would work well because they are silent (maybe a stopwatch for older kids)
  • small fidget toys - I plan to talk to my OT/PT to see what she can let me borrow
  • Legos or some other small toys
  • pattern blocks
  • hexifix cubes
Book Boxes

Kids are going to need a place to store the books that they will be reading!  I've heard teachers that use plastic bins from Dollar Tree or tote bags or magazine boxes from IKEA.  I don't have those stores where I am.  I do, however, have a Post Office.  I use Priority Mail flat rate boxes.  I put them together and cut them in half.  They are a little bigger than the magazine boxes, and they don't cost anything more than about a half hour of my time.  I'll post pictures of this later, as I won't be able to get into my classroom until August and I don't really need 24 book boxes in my teeny, tiny apartment for the next month.

A Gathering Place and Focus Lessons

Please don't overlook this if you teach older grades.  When I taught fourth grade, my students still loved to come to the meeting place.  I usually let them bring their chairs so they weren't sitting on the floor, but this concept is important in all grade levels for several reasons:
  • students are more engaged because they can participate in lessons that include accountable talk,
  • behaviors are minimized because of the proximity, and
  • distractions are limited because the students aren't playing in their desks.
It's all win-win in my book!  Even with the older kids.

The only issue is that you will need a space large enough for all of your students.  This would be the carpet area in our primary classrooms.  In my fourth grade class, I taught the students how to move their furniture to the perimeter of the classroom to make space.

Remember to make your focus lessons short, sweet, and to the point.  Remember the brain research... keep the focus lessons to 5-10 minutes, depending on the age group.


Do you remember the i-Charts you created when you were working to build independence?  You'll need to have a place to post those in the classroom.  I post mine above the bulletin boards that I use for my CAFE, VOICES, and GNOMe menus.  It is necessary for reference later when you need to go back to the expectations.  There are a lot of ways to reduce "wall clutter" with other anchor charts, but these charts are critical to teaching and maintaining those expectations.  They should be up all year.  I know.  It's hard, but you'll be thankful you left them up when you can easily reference the charts.

Classroom Design

You don't really need a special classroom or an elaborate layout to make Daily 5 work for you.  You need some space for your gathering place, you'll need places for students to read and write independently, you'll need space to store your materials for your focus lessons and the like... Otherwise, your current classroom design is probably great!  Personally, I plan to make at least one big change in my classroom design... I plan to get rid of about half of my desks.  Stay tuned to see how that fiasco little piece of brilliant works out of me, or even if I actually go through with it.

Keep in mind that you will need to have space for the kids to do the work for the Daily 5, and that space isn't all desks and chairs.  When was the last time you sat in a rigid chair at a desk to read for pleasure?  Probably when you were in elementary school, right?  If we're trying to encourage reading for pleasure, we should provide students with pleasurable reading places.  Small rugs, fun chairs, bean bags, pillows, etc.  Let the kids lie down, sit at a desk if they want to, hang from the ceiling (just kidding about that last one), as long as they are reading!

When I get into my classroom in August, I'll post about the status of my classroom design.  We'll see if I am actually brave enough to move away from a class set of desks or if I'm just all talk at this point.  

So, how do you feel about getting started?  Overwhelmed?  Hopefully not.  If you have questions or concerns, let me know.  I want to help you get your reading block up and running!  You won't regret it!  

If you haven't gone over to see Brenda, head on over.  She's got a Daily 5 Starter Pack giveaway going on.  Don't forget to link up with your blog if you haven't.  If you don't have a blog, leave a comment anyway!  I'd love to hear from you!  If you missed the earlier posts, use the pictures at the bottom of the page to navigate through.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What’s Coming Apart So It Can Come Back Together?

“There are always gaps between our expectations and those of students, misunderstandings born of cultural differences, and bureaucratic constraints, plus the frantic rush of the school day… Many teachers have found the process of generating research questions to be a healthy way to stretch toward new understanding and to avoid having the gaps become gulfs between students and colleagues.”  (Shagoury& Power, 2012, p. 23).

We, as teachers, have a tough job.  We want so much for our students to be successful, and we often times forget that they aren’t like us.  They don’t have the same backgrounds.  They don’t have the same experiences.  They don’t have the same values.  Generally speaking, teachers come from a middle-class background with strong values in the power of education.  I don’t know about you, but I teach in a high-poverty area in a Title I school where the families might value education but struggle to get the kids to school on time.  I could go on and on with this whole idea, but I’ll save you from that whole soap box.  Needless to say, with all of the “stuff” that is piled on the plate of a teacher, the policies and the school day in general do get in the way!  This whole idea that generating research questions will help close the gap, so to speak… I’ll bite.  I’m telling you; I think this teacher-researcher thing might be something!

I was thinking as I was on the plane yesterday (I’m headed to my niece’s birthday party in Louisiana.  She’s turning 8 on Sunday.). I spend a lot of time reading about different things to inform my teaching.  Mostly about how to teach… better.  My focus has always been on improving instruction.  The same is true still.  I mean, look at what I decided to read this summer.  But I need to learn how to change my thinking to improve student learning.  How do I change my thinking?

Then I started thinking about something one of my instructors was asking at the beginning of this class.  She asked, “What do you really want to know, in your heart?  And why?”

Like I mentioned previously, I was honestly just going to pick a topic that was easy just to finish the requirements of this course.  (Don’t judge; we’ve all been there! Haha!)  But I couldn’t really get into those easy topics because I don’t really want to know.  I think what I came up with instead is quite meaningful.  It’s definitely something that I’d like to see resolved.

I really want to know about interventions that can be done in the classroom, either whole-group or small-group, to work on closing the achievement gap before it gets to the point that students are being pulled for “Tier 3” interventions.  Pulling students out of the classroom for interventions means they are missing time in the classroom.  Whether that time is during core instruction or small-group work or community building activities is irrelevant; they are missing that time in class!  Maybe it’s not an actual intervention that I’m looking for.  Maybe it’s just a structure.  I just want my students in class, and I need to know how to keep them there.

So from that and with the support of my colleagues and instructor, my research question is “What happens when interventions are done in the classroom?”  It seems pretty vague, but it’s researchable.  I will document the use of the workshop model in reading, writing, and math instruction.  I will use intervention groups during that time to reteach, reinforce, and enrich the students’ understandings.  I use use the ELL teacher and the ELL tutors that come to help within my classroom rather than having them pull the students to work outside the classroom.  My focus will be on student achievement, but I will also collect data on classroom community, students’ identity, and instructional consistency.  (I’m not really sure how I could collect data on some of these.  I plan to interview students and maybe do something like an anticipatory set, but I’m open to ideas as well!)

In my imaginary world where everything is glitter and rainbows and goes according to plan, my first graders will go to second grade as readers and writers.  They will understand mathematical concepts on grade level.  They will be supported more because I will know exactly what supports they need.  I will be better at keeping data in regards to anecdotal notes.  (I’m sure you wish you lived in my world, too. Haha!)

This is what I plan to work on during the upcoming school year.  I have a lot to do in the next month before school starts to get ready, starting with getting everything organized to start workshop from day one.  What is the one big change that you plan to make this year?

Friday, July 3, 2015

"Things I Learned Last Week"

As some of you know, I have been working on this grad cert for teaching ESL.  Part of the course requirements is an action research project, so I bought a book to help me with that.

I read the first chapter in an effort to get started on this project.  I honestly intended to just b.s. my way through this whole thing, get the A, and move on.  After all, when am I ever going to use all of the random things we've done?  I just wanted to learn some strategies for teaching ELLs.  (Honestly, the only reason that I even applied was that my district was paying 80% of the tuition.)

Anyway.  After reading the first chapter, I have decided that I am really interested in becoming a teacher-researcher!  Not just for the purposes of this class, but because I think I could learn a lot from actually paying closer attention to the data that I'm analyzing anyway.  By thinking about said data a little differently.  By thinking about it as a researcher that happens to be a teacher.

So to keep myself motivated to do this project the right way, I've decided to sort of document my journey through the whole process here.  Some of it might be boring.  Some of it might not apply to you.  But maybe you want to be a teacher-researcher, too!  Maybe you want to and you just don't know it!  (That was me.  I just didn't know that I wanted to seriously document the changes that I was planning to make anyway.)

The book is set up in such a way that includes a "Research Workshop" within each section of the book.  (I wonder if that's supposed to be comparable to a Reading Workshop or Writing Workshop that I do with my students...)

The first "workshop" was designed to get the teacher-researcher thinking about things differently.  It's titled "Celebrating 'Things I Learned Last Week.'"

On page 9, the authors write:
"In the pages that follow are examples from new and veteran teacher-researchers who explain how they dig into their data and cope with the messiness of their evolving research.  Some of the advice deals with the little things we learn that can get us through the day, if we pay close attention to them, and help us reconnect with the research questions that intrigue us.  It takes practice to notice the small details.  It may involve looking through a new lens, readjusting our focus, and celebrating what we see as we document what we have learned.

"The poet William Stafford believes that these details in life are the 'golden threads' that lead us to what he calls 'amazing riches.'  In his poem 'Things I Learned Last Week,' he celebrates the learning that comes from close observation, from reading, and from reflecting on his own actions:"

The authors of Living the Questions then discuss teacher-researchers' attempts at taking on the challenge of looking closely at "what we learned last week."  I decided to take on that challenge myself.

It was a lot harder than it sounded when I was reading that part of the book!  Holy cow!!

You should give it a try, too!  Here is the format:
  • Title
    • Write "Things I Learned..." and then the increment of time of your choosing.
    • Under your title, write in parenthesis, (with apologies to William Stafford)
  • Couplet 1
    • Start with a living thing (animal, plant, insect),
    • and something unique, quirky, or little-known about that species.
  • Couplet 2
    • Begin with, “Sometimes” and follow with some small noticing or observation.  It could be poetic, about life, or something literal, like something you discovered recently just going about your business in everyday life.
  • Quatrain 1
    • Begin with “A man/woman” and something he/she does.
    • Then, write two lines that reveal some irony or contradiction about what the man/woman does. This can allude to a specific person, or be more general.
  • Couplet 3
    • Write about a famous person or institution,
    • Then write something that contradicts the previous statement or makes it ironic.
  • Couplet 4
    • Same as above.
  • Quatrain 2
    • Follow this format: 
      • If I ever die, I’d like it to be
      • (time, place, month, etc). That way, I’ll have
      • (something in nature/natural phenomenon) to go with me, and
      • (a thought about why you chose the ‘something’ above)
  • Quatrain 3
    • Write about a place (could be a building, city, country, type of climate or geographical landscape, etc.)
    • Then "one person's job is to..." then some description that you find interesting, sad, ironic, funny, or surprising.  Ideally, this should refer to allude vaguely to the first couplet.
Good luck!  Let me know how yours turns out!

I really am thinking about teacher-research in a brand new way.  I'm looking forward to beginning the school year so I can get this project off the ground.  Of course, I look at all of the work that I still need to do and realize that I'm running out of summer.  But it will all come together in due time.

Here are some things I've learned about research (the "little r" kind)...