Friday, August 31, 2012

Taking Care of Yourself

August is now closing and with it the beginning of the school year is turning into the regular days that make up 2012-13. As the long weekend approaches, it would be a good time to take care of yourself. It is time to think of how you are going to take care of yourself so you can be the best teacher you can be. By promoting your own personal well being, you will in turn imporve your teaching.  Here are a few ideas you can do for yourself and share with your students.

Be thankful every day for at least three consecutive days. Keep a "Three Good Things Journal" to record three things that go well each day and what you think caused it. It will amaze you at how much happier you will be at the end of those three days!

Make time to laugh. Schedule times for laughter and then laugh during those times whether you feel like it or not! If you need reasons to laugh, here are a few: go to a funny movie, listen to a comedian, make funny noises with your dog. Give yourself permission to laugh.

Make room for exercise. Research has shown that exercise relieves stress. If you aren't already doing so, consider a more extensive program of exercise outside of school.

Sustaining greatness as a teacher means taking good care of yourself.
What are you doing for yourself? What else might you do?

These ideas were taken from: When Teaching Gets Tough by Allen N. Mendler.
Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Complex Text For The Common Core

I am Ivan.
I am a gorilla.
It's not as easy
as it looks...
Today I want to share with you the book I'm currently reading. I first heard about it from several people I follow on Twitter. This is a great Read Aloud book for 3rd-6th grade students. The title is:The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.
The books' blurb says, "Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all."
The story goes on with Ivan meeting Ruby, a baby elephant. She makes Ivan see their home through new eyes. It is a story of friendship, art, and hope.
"Humans speak too much. The chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say,"  says Ivan.
This book will be one teachers use as a complex text. It isn't a high lexile level book, but it is a deep meaning book.
Another way this book is one to add to your common core library is in technology. There is a trailer for this book, just like for a new movie coming out. You can show this to your students before you do your Read Aloud. The interest you will develop will have all students excited about reading!
So, join me in reading this life-affirming story!  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Procedures and Routines

Since we are now in the last week of August, most of the procedures and routines of writer's workshop have been set up.  Many of the students have been introduced to workshop in their previous grade, so this launching process consists of getting used to the new procedures at this grade level and in this particular classroom. At times it seems a waste of time to go over and over just how to come to the gathering area or how to work quietly during the writing time. However, if these routines are set up now, it will make for much easier writing in the future.  I can't emphasize enough how important the management of writer's workshop is to having successful writers.

Sometimes just the simple things get overlooked when setting up the workshop. One of those is how students come to the area and leave the area. One class I worked with last year was still struggling with that in May. When we got that procedure in place the whole workshop started off better and the children had more time to write. At that time we had to go over and over the procedure of coming to the area several times in one sitting! Don't be afraid to do that. It seems like wasted time, but actually it is time well spent!

How students sit at the gathering area is another simple idea, but not always clear. Many times children are told to "Circle up" when they come to the whole group time. This means they are to sit in a circle so everyone can see each other. This is great for class discussions. Each student can then see the person speaking as they turn to look right at the speaker. Another command that I have learned to love comes from a teacher I worked with several years ago.  When coming back, the teacher would say, "Get in Mashed Potatoes today." That caught my attention right away. What was she talking about? The students would simply sit in a great big group with no particular order. It made more room and the students could see the teacher better in this position. What ever order you want your student in, you need to think it out first. What would be best to keep them engaged and make sense for their learning.

When students go back to their writing spaces to begin their process of writing, it is again important for them to know what the procedures are. Some teachers allow students to sit where they want. It could be on the floor, under a desk or in a corner. It just would depend on what helps that student to be a better writer. Most of the time, I would keep my students in desks or tables. Knowing your students and what works best for that group helps you make that decision.  Some teachers have "No Walk, No Talk Time" for the first few minutes of writing. This allows the students to get into a writing mode and have time to think about their writing or go back over what they wrote before to get started. Some teachers use music to send them off to write. This inspires the students and allows them to get into the mood to write.

Sharing time is not to be forgotten or put off as not important.  Writers write so others can read or listen to what they wrote. That is why you, as my readers, are so important to me. Students need an audience, someone besides their teacher. This gives them purpose and a reason to write. The sharing time is also a time to get the feedback from others. Again, authors do this all the time. Sharing time also needs to be thought out. A friend of mine used the 'whip share' in her back to school night with parents. She had each parent give their favorite sports team. That was just to show them one way their children would be sharing in her classroom. Think about what you want the children to get out of the sharing time. Is it a time to simply let someone hear what you wrote? Then a partner share would work. Is it a time when you want the mini lesson to be revisited? Then a "make them famous" share would work. Is it a time you want the students to get feedback from peers? Then an author share would work.  Sharing time is important.

As you work through these last days of August in launching your workshop, take time to be sure the procedures and routines are in place. In May you will be so glad you did!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's A Vivaldi Day!

As I woke up on Monday morning, I heard the rain hitting the window panes. Right away I knew it was a Vivaldi day. I went to my new office space and put the Vivaldi CD in the player. As the rain continued, I was content to write with the music playing in the background.

Using music in my second grade classroom became a familiar happening. Rainy days and Vivaldi were standard. Students would enter the room with raincoats, boots and umbrellas and say, "It's a Vivaldi day!" Classical music was important to all of us.

Another composer I used was Mozart. The children knew that before any test we would all be listening to that music. I'm not sure how much research has gone into the theory of Mozart raising test scores or brain power, but I figured it couldn't hurt. So, before math tests, spelling tests, or end of the unit assessments, we heard Mozart.

Many teachers use music during writing time and we were no different. Our usual pieces were by Beethoven, Debussy or Bach. There is just something about listening to classical music spurs relaxation and the words to flow.

I always wondered if my former students ever remembered our classical education.  Then one day a few months ago in a Facebook post, a former student said, "I hate storms and it is storming today."

I wrote back and said, "You need to play Vivaldi!"

She said, "You are right! I loved when we listened to that music!"

So, now that my student is a freshman in college, she still can remember and use what she learned in second grade. You just never know what your students will take with them into life!

Monday, August 27, 2012

What's Ya' Thinkin' ?

My two-year old grandson has a new phrase. He says it when he thinks he might be in trouble. Actually, that is what others have said to him and he is just repeating it. When he ran into our home office the other night while visiting us, he had a remote control from our t.v. He knew he wasn't supposed to have it. When I went into the office to find him, he looked up at me, grinned and said, "What's ya' doin'?"  That is what teachers need to be asking students only changing it to: "What's ya' thinking?" First of all, students need to realize they are supposed to be thinking! Second, they need to be taught how to think and express that thinking.

As teachers, we need to build a community of learners who know how to think. We need to help them become strong speakers and listeners. Using interactive read-alouds to teach the skills of discussion will help students do this.  Martha Heller-Winokur and Marcia Uretsky in Fourth Grade Readers say: "The ideal interactive read-aloud text invites discussion, provokes thinking, and provides opportunities to view a situation from several perspectives." It is the teacher's job to first choose a book that will stimulate discussion and interest. Modeling what this thinking sounds like is important for the teacher to do.

When starting the read-aloud, the teacher will stop and share what she is thinking at that point. Sharing the evidence of this thinking will help the student to know how to do that also.  Using open questions will show the students that they are expect to be thinking. Questions like: "What are you thinking?" or "What do you think about such and such?" will solicit ideas.

Some students have a difficult time expressing their thoughts or even just talking in a large group. Having reading partnerships would help these students to feel more comfortable and safe in sharing their thoughts. This strategy helps struggling readers to contribute to a conversation immediately. Other phrases that would help these students might be: "How many of you had this same smart thought?" or "Who had another idea?"

After the interactive read-aloud and plenty of practice in sharing their thinking, it is time to send the students off for independent reading time. The students are asked to apply the strategies to which they have been introduced in their independent reading time. The teacher will confer with them and ask them to share their ideas about characters or situations in their stories. When the reading time is over, the students will gather again to share highlights of the strategies they have been using. It is also important to celebrate the work they have done.

If your students are already familiar with interactive read-alouds and discussion time, remember to review the expectations and routines and go into deeper discussions. A book I have begun to use and learn from is: Fourth Grade Readers by Marth Heller-Winokur and Marcia Uretsky. It applies to all grade levels, not just fourth grade!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Data Doesn't Lie---It Helps!

Yesterday, Darrell and I went to a Tiger's baseball game in Detroit. It was a day-trip. One of those--"let's-do-it-because-we-can" kind of trips. The day was picture perfect and the game exciting. In the 9th inning the score was tied: 2-2 against the Blue Jays. It went into extra innings.

Hoping for some runs so the Tigers would win, I began analyzing the stats of the players. Brennan Boesch was up to bat and his Home Run record was eleven, with the RBI-49. Looked pretty good, but no hit!  Then came Prince Fielder with Home Run-22 and RBI-89. Looked pretty hit. All of a sudden, I realized I was analyzing data. That's what people in sports do!

Actually, I did that when I was a high school track coach. When I worked with distance runners, I helped them make goals based on past races.  After that we set strategies to use in practice to reach those goals. We were using data to drive their behavior.

This week when I went to the dentist for my teeth cleaning, my dental hygienist not only cleaned my teeth but also took measurements of the pockets in my gums. Since I have a history of gum disease, that is important. She finds what areas need more work and gives me strategies to use in those areas. I use her data to drive my behavior.

That's exactly what teachers are doing at the beginning of the year. As they give Dibels, mclass math, Acuity, NWEA tests and also look over IRead3 and ISTEP scores, they are checking data. With the information they gather, they will know what strategies to use to drive their instruction with each individual.

Yes, it is doesn't lie AND it actually HELPS us be better teachers!  By the way, the Tigers WON!!!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Expectations for Readers

One of the lessons from Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor that I really enjoyed doing was the one on fake reading. So many times children know words and can "read" through a piece with no mistakes.  They feel like they are readers! I actually remember doing this in Sunday School. I would volunteer to read a scripture and read those long words with no mistakes. Everyone praised me and thought I was wonderful. However, I really had no idea what I read. That is fake reading.

Students that do fake reading are not focusing on making meaning and interrogating the texts. They really do not understand the reading process.  That is why I would start off the year by letting students see me as a reader. I would talk to them about what I was reading. I would share with them the fact that I actually read many books at the same time. I might read a book for enjoyment, another book to learn more about teaching and also a newspaper to find out the latest news. I read at different times for different purposes and so will they!

Over the first week of school I would read a series of picture books. I liked to start with the book Wolf by Becky Bloom. This is a story about a wolf that comes across a farm for educated animals while he is searching for some food. He quickly develops the desire to become a reader and spends time and effort to develop his reading ability in order to become friends with other animals. The discussion after we read it together would focus on what the characters do as readers.

After reading and discussing, it is time to start a chart about what we think being a reader means to us. The children are then sent out to read in pairs selections of books the teacher has provided about readers and reading. They will then bring their ideas back for share time to share and discuss. As the week goes on the class will listen to more Read Alouds and add to their chart of what readers do.

Other books that can also be used for this purpose are:
  • The Library by Sarah Stewart
  • Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora
  • Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook by Michael Garland
  • Souperchicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
  • The Librarian of Basra-A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
Remember, reading is about making sense of texts and making sense of our world! Ideas for today's blog came from Lessons in Comprehension - Explicit Instruction in the Reading Workshop by Frank Serafini

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Choose Your Attitude

Yesterday was Slice of Life Tuesday on the blog by Two Writing Teachers.  After I posted my blog, I began reading what others had posted. While doing that, I found a new blog that caught my attention.  It was from the blog Education Everyday. It is now one of my favorites. The article was about choosing the right attitude.

She talked about how attitude for students is one of the most important measures of their success for the year. She wanted to introduce this concept to her students and decided to do it through the book: Underwear by Mary Elise Monsell.It's the story of two friends, a zebra and an orangutan, that love underwear. They have so much fun buying, and wearing outrageous, undies. Then they meet Bismark Buffalo, who is a gloomy grump. The zebra and orangutan have a plan to cheer him up, could it involve underwear? Buffalo is skeptical, but he gives their plan a try... Bismark has to choose his attitude. He can either be gloomy and unhappy, or he can join in the fun with zebra and orangutan!
That reminded me of another book I used for community, but would be perfect for choosing your attitude.  It is The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill.  Mean Jean was the recess queen and nobody said any different. Nobody swung until Mean Jean swung. Nobody kicked until Mean Jean kicked. Nobody bounced until Mean Jean bounced. If kids ever crossed her, she'd push them and hammer them until Katie Sue came to school. The way Mean Jean changed her attitude is a perfect way to help students see it can make a difference.
Hope these two books help you get your school year started with the right attitude!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Building Community Through Books

One of the most important things a teacher needs to do in those first few days of school is to create a community.  The classroom needs to be a place where the students feel safe. It needs to be a place where students can take a risk and know they will not be laughed at or ridiculed. When a child enters the classroom, he needs to know they he has joined a family of learners.

A way to build that community is through Read Alouds. Every year for the last several years, I would receive an email or phone call from the fourth or fifth grade teachers in one of my elementary schools. The call would be asking if these teachers could borrow my "community" books.  I would pack them up in a box or basket and head over to deliver them personally. There was just something about actually seeing the children who would be interacting with these books.

Now that I am retired that phone call never came. I still have those books in one of my baskets here in my "space" at home.  I glanced through them today. Here are a few of my favorites and why they were picked to go in this beginning-of-the-year basket!
  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes: I always started my second grade year with this book. It was a way to show students that everyone is special and names are important. We then would do a study on where our names came from and where our parents got our name.
  • Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud: what a wonderful book on helping children to look outside themselves and think of others.
  • Don't Laugh at Me by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin: this actually is a song. It again helps children to treat others as they would want to be treated.
  • Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna: This is an old story retold, but with a wonderful message everyone needs to be reminded of again and again. Be careful what you say, you can never get those words back.
  • Wolf! by Becky Bloom: This is a great book to show the power of reading. A great one to start off your independent reading time!
  • The Conversation Club by Diane Stanley: with the common core state standards emphasising the art of conversation, this book is a perfect way to kick off discussion about talking!
The last one I recommend for everyone. I used it many times in professional development as well as classrooms. Walk On! A Guide for Babies of All Ages by Marla Frazee. As you begin your new year, don't be afraid to take those first few steps. Yes, you may fall down, but get right back up and keep walking!

Let me know how your community of readers and writers is doing!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Story is a Part of Narrative, Informative, and Opinion Writing

As Dave, my golden retriever, and I had our Tea-on-the-Deck time this morning, I read the blog from Two Writing Teachers. Ruth was reminding us that the genres in which the common core standards are addressing: narrative, informative, opinion, are not to be put into segregated boxes. This was new thinking for me.

Usually, I would start the year out by teaching narrative writing with any grade level where I was working. We would start there because that seemed to be the easiest way to create interest and have children want to tell their story and then write it. I had never thought of how story was also a part of informative and opinion writing.

Looking out at my rose garden from the deck, I was thinking of those roses blooming so beautifully in the late summer sunshine. I remember when we decided to turn that space into a rose area. My story about that would include our thinking and some discussion and lots of action. But along with that part of the story, there is also the things we learned as we created this space. The various types of roses and which ones we thought were best for us. The vast amount of names and styles was another decision-making trial. I could  also include in my story about roses, their types and names for the informative part of the story. Along with that would come our opinion of what was best for us. Yes, all three modes of writing easily could be written in this narrative.

One fifth grade classroom I will be working with this year, is starting off with research and informational writing. Normally I would not think of including narrative in this form of writing. However, if I decided to write about the Civil War, I might want to include a story about how I found several Civil War veterans grave sites in a local cemetery last spring. As Ruth Ayres says in her blog: "All three modes of writing--narrative, opinion, and informative--influence everything we write."

Many of the grade levels will be again starting their writing workshops with narrative writing this fall.  It might be interesting to collect books that use information and opinion within the narrative. It might be interesting to find books that we think are simply informational, but also have facts and stories to influence the project. By reading these books, we could see how the authors message was written and then use the books as mentor texts throughout the unit of study.

As you begin your writer's workshop this year, can you imagine including all three genres? It doesn't matter what grade level you teach. It would work for kindergarten through middle school. If you try it or find some great mentor texts, we would love to have you share!

Happy Reading and Writing!

Two Writing TeachersTwo Writing TeachersTwo Writing Teachers

Friday, August 17, 2012

Learing FROM Preschool

Thanks to all of you who wrote nice things about my first blog. It is important to writers/bloggers to hear from their readers. If you would like to respond to my blog or let me know what is happening in your classrooms, email me at, comment on my facebook page, or simply comment below my blog!  I LOVE hearing from you!
Also, I had someone ask if I will be posting at certain times.  Well, since I am retired I make it a rule to NOT have a schedule. So, I will try my hardest to blog every school day. BUT...I can't promise when I will do the blogging! Thanks for following me!

Today I had the privilege of visiting a preschool classroom as it was being set up for school in a couple weeks. One of my former colleagues is setting up her class for 4/5 year old preschoolers and invited me to see her room. As I toured the facility, I was amazed at what I was learning. So, here it is: what I learned from a preschool:
  1. Organization is important!  This classroom had crayons in baby food jars organized by color...various shades of the basic colors. There must have been 25-30 jars. It is important for the children to think about exactly what color they want. There were baskets filled with individual things: buttons, shells, corks, stones. After each thing is introduced to the children, they THEN can choose just want they need to complete their projects.
  2. Children need to set up the room. In this classroom there were picture frames on the walls. Yes, frames.  Not pictures in frames. The frames were empty, just waiting for children to create the art work that would fill them. There were bins of all sorts of things. None of the bins had labels. The children would be labeling them as to what they think the label should be. After all, they will be the ones using them!
  3. Look at things with the eyes of a child. Think of where they are seeing things. How will it look from their viewpoint? On one wall there was a long mirror, placed horizonally, that was only about ten inches from the floor.  The children could sit, read a book, and see themselves and the whole classroom from that level. How does the child see it?
  4. Take time to see possibilities. As a child investigates this room, there are many, many possibilities. Their imaginations will be stimulated and encouraged. This takes time. You can not rush imagination! That is true of adults, too. As teachers, we need to be sure we are taking the time to see possibilities in everything we do with children. Don't limit them!
  5. Most important: enthusiasm!  I saw this today in the teacher's attitude, speach and posture! She can't wait for those little ones to enter her room. She can't wait until they are exploring and investigating. She can't wait for school to begin!
As you begin your first days of the new school year, are you ready to learn from a preschool? Special thanks to Connie and her 4/5 year old preschoolers.
Happy Learning...can't wait to come back and visit you with children there!!!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Starting a New Year

Today was the first day for teachers in the school district I retired from last spring. As all the teachers headed to their schools for special professional development, I sat on our deck with a cup of tea and my golden retriever, Dave. The air was crisp. The sky was picture perfect blue. I simply sat and meditated on the awesome view.

The teachers were thinking of the new students they would be meeting in just a few short days. Many of them were wondering how they were going to start their new writer's workshop and if the new common core state standards would make a big difference in their instruction. A few days ago, I received an email from a third grade teacher wondering just that. I thought that might be an interesting way to start my blogging experience as a non-teacher/consultant.

Having students love writing and feel comfortable putting their thinking on paper is the most important part of teaching writing. Things really have not changed in what we are to be teaching now with the new standards. What is different is that we are now expecting MORE out of our students.

With all that said, my suggestion is for third through fifth graders to start with their writer's notebooks. Beginning with lists of ideas is always a good was to start. Turn to the first page and at the top of the page write: FAMILY.  Under that heading students would list titles of stories they could write about their family. This has to be modeled orally or written by the teacher. For example the teacher might say: "My first story might be about the time my  mom braided my hair.  I will write---'Mom Braiding My Hair'.  The students would only need about three minutes to get a list started. Time to add to that list would come on other days.

Other titles for other pages might be: FRIENDS, PETS, PLACES, FAVORITE FOODS, etc.
Each list would only take no more than three minutes. No stories would be written today, just the gathering of ideas.  I like to think of these as Seed Ideas. One teacher is even adding seed packets to the front of their notebooks to remind the students that like seeds their ideas will bloom into stories.

Sharing for this day would be a "Whip Share". Students gathered at the sharing area in a big circle would tell ONE of their ideas...simply giving the title they wrote. Again, no actual stories would be shared, just titles.

Again, remember: Having students love writing and feel comfortable putting their thinking on paper is the most important part of teaching writing!  Happy Writing!!!