Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Green Day and Natalie Merchant Came to School!

I love the feeling I get when a student completely NAILS an assignment. It is an amazing moment when you read a student response and they explain their thoughts with depth and feeling. I am so proud of the responses my students shared during this lesson.
During our unit, Following Characters into Meaning, we read the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. Several times in the book, the author refers to songs or uses songs as chapter titles. She uses quotes from songs to divide the book into sections. She cites certain songs that relate to certain characters. Two of the songs she happens to use are in my list of favorites on my iPod. They are songs I have heard live in concert. They are songs that my students had never heard.  So I felt it was my duty to change that. 
That is why my students grooved to Wonder by Natalie Merchant and rocked out to When September Ends by Green Day!
One of my professional goals this year is to make a concerted effort to spend more time exposing my students to a variety of genres. I'm not just going to teach the typical units that are required. I plan to incorporate genres throughout all of my teaching. Music is poetry so it fit perfectly into my plans!

I gave students the lyrics so they could follow along as they listened to the songs. The first time they simply listened to the song. The second time they sang along (if they wanted to), danced, and played air guitar and/or drums. The third time they made notes on their lyric sheets. For the first song I simply had the lyrics printed on the sheets. For the second song I added in guiding questions.

You can tell this student takes music lessons by his notations.

She made a personal connection to her religion by commenting that God should be capitalized.

He labeled the poetry pattern in the stanzas of the lyrics!

A Sticky Situation

My students keep collections of their jottings in a portfolio. When they learn a new strategy, sometimes they struggle to write about it. They may understand how to use the strategy, but they may have trouble citing text evidence. The students (and myself) can see how their jottings improve over time. They also have a collection of my comments to them.
Well, I teach 49 students in my two blocks of Literacy...
               and that can be time-consuming and tiring to write comments on all of my students' jottings.
So I type specific comments regarding the strategies I am assessing and I print them out on address labels. This makes it easy for me to select the comment I want to share with the student. Then I just stick it on!

When I am done reading all of my students' jots, I have a visual of the group as a whole. I can see which strategies they are successful with and which ones they need to practice.

WONDERful Jottings

Jottings are an important part of a Balanced Literacy framework. Yes, the sticky notes are abundant and can be found everywhere! How can you manage the jottings and use them for instructional purposes? When I assign students specific jotting topics, the students turn their writing in on the Parking Lot. I have students design the Parking Lot to reflect the current unit of study.
During our unit, Following Characters into Meaning, we read the book Wonder by RJ Palacio. Students designed their parking spaces in the style of August, the main character.

I can get an instant visual of who did not complete their jotting. I can quickly read over their jots to see who needs to conference with me. I will conference with students who used the targeted strategy incorrectly.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I Got a Pocket, Got a Pocket Full of Sunshine

I am weird...I adore a great pocket chart! I love bright colors, various sizes, interesting shapes, and different pocket dimensions. When I started teaching 19 years ago there was 1 type of pocket chart--blue and large. Now I have one that is apple shaped, some that are simply 1 pocket, a long one that can hold books, and I even have some I made myself out of file folders folded in half.
Pocket charts are my go-to organizational tool because they are simple to use and you can easily change the information on display.  We have completed one week of school and here are the tools that adorn my classroom walls:
Every student in my class has a job. We are a community and every student is expected to participate. Students chose their jobs and this charts reminds them what roles they have. It is also useful when a substitute is in the room. If students want to switch jobs, I can easily change the cards.

This pocket chart has little individual compartments so it is perfect to post how students go home each day.  This one is displayed by the exit. I use this chart every single day!

This is my Wish List of items that could help enhance our classroom activities and atmosphere. Guests to my room can take a card and then return with the item. I have checked off the items that people (including my own mom) have donated.  Thank you so much to everyone who has made a donation already!

This display reminds students of their Writing Partners. It keeps me organized, lets administrators see how my students are paired, and allows guest teachers to have a way of knowing which students can work together well. In a week or so (after we determine reading levels) I will fill in the Reading Partnerships pocket charts.
This is our Book Shopping schedule for the classroom library. I like to use colorful paint sample cards to differentiate between my Block I and Block II students. Students can reference this chart to know when it is their day to choose new books for their Reading Baggies.
I will end this post with a tip--Dollar Tree and Target have terrific $1 pocket charts throughout the year!  Just keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Honey, We Think Reading is Wonderful!

I teach 2 blocks of 4th grade Balanced Literacy. My students are at- or above-grade level. We use the Lucy Calkins units of study.  Our first unit is Building a Reading Life.For Lesson 1, I chose to use the book The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco. During this lesson, students reflect on what makes reading wonderful for them. They think back over their lives as readers and identify pitfalls and peaks. In this book a young girl would rather be outside running than sitting inside reading. So her grandfather takes her on a journey to find a tree where bees make honey. Several people join their adventure along the way. Students learn that reading is as sweet as honey, but it takes hard work, support from other people, and some stickiness to become a successful reader.

At the end of the book, grandfather puts a drop of honey on the girl's book to remind her that reading is sweet. Right before I got to that part, I put a drop of honey on each child's finger. I told them not to do anything right away...I told them they would feel what to do when the time is right. They all started licking their honey as I read grandfather's words to the girl...perfection! The smiles and head nods told me they understood! For my Teach Like a Pirate colleagues, this Chef Hook was certainly a hit.  I hope these students will always remember that reading is sweet.

During Independent Work Time, students made jottings about a time in their lives when they discovered that reading was sweet and wonderful. I keep the blocks' sticky notes different colors so they each have their own identity.
Here are some of their jottings:


Building Classroom Community

The first day of school is filled with procedures, procedures, procedures. It is very important to schedule in time for your students to get to know you personally and for them to get to know each other.  You are all about to spend 180 days together so make your time together special.  Make that personal connection to each other and your relationships will be stronger.  Students will be more successful if they have a personal connection to their classmates and teacher.
After labeling supplies and reviewing school expectations, I shared my Me Bag with my students. I pulled objects out of a bag one at a time and revealed information about my life. I like to cook, listen to the Beatles,  and go to the beach. I love my family and was proud of myself when I finished a mud run. The students will bring in their own Me Bags to share with the class.

Yes, I gave my students a quiz on the very first day of school! Some of my students from last year remembered some of the information about me, but I had purposely created questions that I hoped would be new them.
Students completed a Student Scavenger Hunt by having classmates sign squares on grid. The squares contained activities a student may enjoy or descriptions of a student. They completed this activity silently so they had to rely on facial expressions and hand gestures. This was a great activity for the 2 students new to our school. They were not intimidated that everyone else knew each other and didn't have to be nervous to talk!

Following the Scavenger Hunt, students wrote about themselves on an index card. This first writing activity of the year was plain and simple for them. I think it had much more of a purpose for me because it showed me their handwriting, their use of capitalization and punctuation, grammar, spelling, and how well they compose complete thoughts.

We ended the day by filling out Time Capsules. Students filled in their current likes and interests. They will revisit it in May to see how they have changed.
We will continue to build and strengthen out learning community throughout the year, but these are a few of the fun activities we did on the first day of school.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Switcharoo With No Snafus...So Far!

I'm moving you. I usually hear these words every 4 or 5 years. Teachers are THE most flexible professionals I know!  A hospital administrator would not go to a pediatrician and say, "I'm moving you to brain surgery." Teachers though...we do it all!  This year I have moved from teaching 3rd grade inclusion Literacy to teaching 4th grade catalyst Literacy. Last year my students ranged in reading levels from A to O at the beginning of the year.  This year my students range from O to U at the beginning of the year!  Quite a switch...
Not to mention I have also been moved out to a mobile unit. This means I have had to totally reconstruct my "perfected" Balanced Literacy classroom setup that I had created in my former classroom...carpets, tables instead of desks, individual reading sweet spots.  But it is ALL good! I have a new plan, new setup, new ideas, new requests, and a new attitude! So let's get started with the first blog of the 2014-2015 school year!
There wasn't enough room for me to do tables in the mobile so I went with longer rows in an H configuration. I haven't decided what to do with the meeting area yet because I don't have a large carpet. I also am not sure about the size of my students so I am not sure if all 25 of them will sit comfortably in the front meeting area. I will just wait until our first Reading Workshop mini-lesson on Tuesday and see what the students think. Hey, I have my rocking chair and easel so I am ready!

One section of the classroom is devoted to Word Work and Writing. I have my hanging baskets ready for students' Words Their Way folders. I have my Writing tubs with dictionaries, thesauri, frequently misspelled words list, rhyming dictionaries, and other reference materials. There is a variety of paper on the shelves along with my writing anchor books and exemplar texts.

The classroom may look bare right now, but I think it is important to put your anchor charts up as you teach. Behind my desk I display my diplomas, teaching license, and awards because students should be able to see what makes a teacher a professional. Show them what it means to have a career. The purple pocket chart by the back door has cards in it that parents can take if they would like to make a donation to the classroom. I currently would like: jump ropes, kickball bases, bathroom mats, cloth tablecloths, Smarties, decks of cards, chess/checkers sets.

Last year I used Stone Fox for my first unit (Building a Reading Life) read aloud. This year I am going to read Wonder. I chose this book because I want to start the year out teaching the importance of accepting others' differences in life. I put this bulletin board up for Open House to spark an interest (Teach Like a Pirate)...students and parents were talking about it!

The most important part of a Balanced Literacy classroom is the classroom library. I packed away by low level books and dug out my high level books. My co-workers are amazing at sharing! Plus I reaped the benefits of a retired teacher who left me MANY high level books.
This year I organized my library into chapter books (N-Z), fiction picture books (N-Z), nonfiction books (N-Z), and several topic-related sections.

I saw the idea for "readboox" on Pinterest, so I cannot take full creative credit for it!  The example on Pinterest was much more elaborate, but I like the message it presents for students.

The special topics for this section of the library are based on 4th grade interests from a survey I read on Twitter (I'm sorry I can't find the link):
Star Wars
Series of Unfortunate Events
Animal Ark
Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys
Beverly Cleary
Who Is?
I Survived
Strong Females
Award Winners
Fairies and Magic

In the nonfiction section, I also added in a collection of animal books called Nature's Children and the Magic School Bus series (I know this is narrative nonfiction, but I will address it in a mini-lesson).
The organization part of my classroom is ready for the year to start on Monday, so today I will spend my time at work preparing for the academic events!