Monday, September 5, 2011

Giving our writing a push

My goal this year: my students will write at least four times more than I can physically grade. They need more practice, not more grading.
8/30/11 6:43 PM

This quote got me thinking...

     Jumping into third grade this year after a small hop in literacy support and a long-ish run in second grade has been exciting and...crazy! Switching grade levels was not as easy as I thought. Encountering new standards along with new goals for a new year after much reflection is exhilarating/exciting/overwhelming/will I make it through the year?!

One goal I have for my students is to get them writing, writing, writing. I read this summer on twitter from @pamallyn "reading is breathing in, writing is breathing out." I hope we breathe in or read voraciously this year and breathe out with just as much enthusiasm and energy. My goal is for kids to realize that their words hold value, have importance and can change lives.

I've always loved writer's workshop and will continue to use this model to teach, write and share our work but I have some new goals to get us writing even more beyond our daily workshop time.

1. Blogging - I will try blogging with kids this year for the very first time. I'm hoping that having an authentic audience will get writers excited and motivated to share information and stories from their lives beyond our classroom walls.

2. Writing about reading. I always have kids write their thinking in reader's notebooks but I want to build in more time to share these important "thinking tracks" or evidence of where their brains have been. I want to model more of how readers show evidence of what is happening inside their brains as they read to remember, understand, and extend meaning.

3. Wonder Block - using, I want to get kids wondering, researching, and recording and sharing important/interesting facts from nonfiction

4. Meaningful morning work - Every day will begin with a message on the smartboard and each message will end with a question for students to respond to in writing. I'm hoping these will be questions that will get us thinking, talking (and writing!) more

5. Mathematical writing - I say every year I will have students write more about how they solve problems but I really mean it this year!!

6. Discuss together how students can show endurance in writing, and continue on even when it's hard or they don't know what to say, or how to say it

7. Highlighting "golden lines" from authors that inspire us as authors. I want to post these lines we want to remember to revisit author's craft.

Through all of these goals I want to instill a love for language, for words and for how writers can change the world around them, and the way others think with what they have to say.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wonder Block

How to incorporate wonder into the classroom has been a question on my mind this summer. I want to use this year to inspire our class to wonder, research, read, discover, collaborate, share and create. (Just a few small goals...) 

My wonderful librarian suggested today that we have a "wonder block" every other week in the library! I LOVE this idea. Every other week students will come to the library with wonder notebooks in hand. This will be a time when they research wonders they have, record important thinking in their notebooks, record important new wonder words, and ask further questions. I want a share time to be built in where we will share the process of our research, wonderful new facts, strategies to help us understand non fiction, wonder words that are important, ways to hold thinking, etc. I'll have a short mini lesson to guide us along the way. 

My librarian is going to do lessons at the beginning of the year on how to find books you need on nonfiction topics independently. The library is a great place for us to spread out. We are surrounded by reference materials, technology (8 computers and a smart board) and of course great non fiction. Our school just opened last year so our books are all very new!  I hope this special block of time will take us great places this year!  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 for 10 Great Read Alouds

Thank you Mandy Robek and Cathy Mere for organizing 10 for 10 picture book event!
I LOVED reading everyone's choices last year! I'm very new to blogging but thought I would jump in and contribute this year!

Must have picture books to me are books that..

  • Have powerful language that can inspire us as authors (Lots of golden lines that make us say wow...I wish I could have written that!)
  • Beg readers to TALK and discuss what is happening (hopefully building bigger and better understandings through listening to each other's ideas)
  • Keep readers talking and thinking after the story is over
  • Have strong characters
  • Make readers want to inquire or WONDER more about a topic
  • Have themes that teach, inspire, and make us think about our own lives 
  • Are delightful to the ear and meant to be read out loud
  • Make kids smile-instill a love for books and language!
Okay, okay I'll stop writing and get on to the great books I can't wait to share this year!

1. That Book Woman by Heather Henson is a beautifully written story about a Pack Horse librarian who helped bring stories to a family in the Appalachian Mountains. Patrick Allen has me thinking about stories that show endurance and this one is perfect. Cal is a young boy who hates books. He says "I was not born to sit so stony-still a-staring at some chicken scratch. But me, I am no scholar boy." He sees a woman travel through all types of weather to bring he and his sister books. At first he thinks she is a fool, until he changes his thinking to see her as brave. Eventually he learns to read. The book has beautiful language and is written almost in verse? I think later in the year we can take out pages and discuss the authors use of language that helps the readers get to know the character, infer and visualize. In writing this is a great book to teach word choice and voice. And of course it tells the tale of how reading changes lives! I want to read more about the Pack Horse librarians now...maybe a lesson in how books lead to further inquiry about a topic?

2. I have added Amy Krouse Rosenthal to my favorite author's club! This Plus That; Life's Little Equations is going to be a fun read to get kids writing and talking about their own equations for life and for our own learning in the classroom. I think this will be great community building throughout the year to come up with our own equations. Some of Amy's are wishes + frosting = birthdays, bird + buds = spring. I want us to have fun with language this year to create our own equations.

See full size image

3. If I Never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade will be an anchor text this year for endurance, believing in yourself, and trying new challenges! It is a short read about a bird who must decide whether or not to use his new wings. He weighs what might happen if he fails with the great possibilities of what could happen if he is successful. I love the message. I'm hoping kids will see the connection to giving our best in school and FLYING even when we are fearful.

4. I love Patricia Polacco. She inspires me to tell stories about my own life. Aunt Chip and The Great Triple Creek Dam Affair tells the tale of a small boy whose town uses books to block the dam and turns to tv to get all their information. His Aunt Chip warns the town "there'll be consequences" of too much tv. I love to discuss how much tv is too much? Could a society that doesn't read have grave consequences?

5. Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley goes in the meant-to-be-read-out-loud category. Voice leaps out on every page through the tale of mean Mrs. Sump an orphanage director, an itty bitty orphan Sweetness and the Sheriff. This book is just plain fun-it always gets laugh. You can use it as a mentor text for reading strategies as well as a mentor text for writing.

6. Sophie's Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli. I love this story. Sophie is a spider who goes out into the world to create a masterpiece. She struggles as no one appreciates her gifts. As she ages she finds a beautiful way to create a final masterpiece. The language in this book begs for discussion. The illustrations give all readers much to discuss. This will also be a mentor text for our beginning of the year study of endurance! Sophie's perseverance is inspiring.

7. I read Big Blue by Shelley Gill and learned many amazing facts about blue whales. Did you know a newborn calf (baby blue whale) is the fastest growing creature on Earth?  A mother blue whale has to feed her baby 160 gallons of milk a day. Babies will gain 250 pounds a day! Kye, the main character is a young girl who dreams of swimming with a blue whale. She loves to research information about blue whales. Her dream comes true when she joins her mom on a whale research project in Baja, Mexico. I loved that this book told a story and gave lots of facts about whales. The author used great descriptive language to talk about the ocean. Her words left me wishing I was near the ocean.

8. The Dot by Peter Reynolds is another great text to inspire kids to try even when something is hard. A little girl Vashti is discouraged because she believes she can't draw. Her insecurities hold her back as she proclaims, "I CAN"T". Her art teacher finds a way to help Vashti believe in herself and make original work that she can be proud of. I hope this story encourages kids to try and take risks even when they feel insecure in themselves.

8. Courage by Bernard Waber is a wonderful book. Every page describes what courage is, I love all the examples. Kids (and adults) can relate to so many of them. It will also be a mentor text for writing in our classroom using other words...(endurance, kindness, wondering, collaboration, empathy, creating!) I want us to write examples of what these important words look like to us.

9. The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Burns. This is a book I read this summer because I was wondering about why bees were disappearing after talking with a honey farmer at the farmer's market. I will use this book to show how a WONDER I had led me to inquire further. I will also use this book to model what happens when readers are confronted with a hard non fiction text. (This is definitely an upper elementary book) I had to do a lot of close rereading, reading in short chunks, studying of pictures and captions, and I had to stop often to think about new vocabulary I encountered.) This was a great book that I'd love to share bits and pieces of throughout the year as we look at nonfiction.

10. This is a great nonfiction book ... or books, there are two stories in one book depending on which direction you choose to start reading. Tadpole to Frog and Egg to Chicken by Camilla de la Bedoyere. The photographs in this book are amazing and enhance the reader's learning so much! I must balance my nonfiction reading choices better with fiction this year. Kids need to build bigger background knowledge and non fiction hooks so many kids-this is a great book to enjoy and to teach non fiction comprehension with.

10 for 10 Books for Toddlers

I loved participating in 10 for 10 picture book event for must have classroom books so I decided to keep going and write an additional post, my 10 must have books for toddlers! I have a 2 year old and much of my time spent reading this summer has been with her and my eight month old. (The younger one is more content eating books so I'll focus on the ones my oldest loves). So here is my list of books that she wants to hear over and over again.

I had to include a picture of my sweet little reader!

1. Farmyard Beat by Lindsay Craig and Marc Brown

2. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxbury

3. The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews

4. The Sleepy Little Alphabet

5. No, David! by David Shannon (she loves all the David books)

6. Fairy Tales by Mary Engelbreit

7. Where is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox

 8. Goodnight Gorilla

9. A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker

10. Potty by Leslie Patricelli (Okay, I'm pushing this one!) 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Promoting Inquiry

      I have been thinking a lot about how I will promote inquiry in my third grade class next year. I've been reading lots of great blogs, professional books, and even tweets on this subject and hope that my classroom next year is one where real authentic learning propelled by authentic purpose and intrinsic motivation is encouraged as well as valued.
     I read about in Choice literacy this winter and immediately emailed the site to my fellow teachers. I started thinking about how I would use this site. Then I stumbled upon a  great blog that gave me so many great examples of how to use the site to get kids motivated to learn and to inquire.          

Here are some goals for next year....

  • I want to model for kids how a WONDER or a question or an interest can lead them to dig deep into topics, inquire and research based on their individual questions and interests.
  • I want to set up a wonder station in my classroom. I am hoping this can be a spot to read wonderopolis articles online, record wonders kids are having, provide lots of non fiction books to read, research facts and record important thinking as well as further wonders they have. 
  • Each kid will have a wonder journal where they will list wonders and record new important learning.
  • I am hoping that through looking at the structure of Wonderopolis articles as mentor texts to do some non fiction writing of our own through! I think blogging is going to give us some authentic purposes for writing. I am excited to get kids writing for a real audience and not just me the teacher.
  • I want to build in lots of sharing time for kids to talk with the whole class, small groups and partners about their wonder learning.
  • Another great blog, gave me the idea to create a whole class wonder jar at the beginning of the year and have kids bring in artifacts that represent their wonders.
      Kelly Gallagher got me thinking this year about students prior knowledge and how the experiences they bring to the text help them understand and make meaning. He encouraged teachers to bring in more social studies, more science, more content area reading to close gaps in understanding. I am hoping through year long inquiry projects this will help kids build more background knowledge. 
     Thank you to everyone who gave me such great ideas this summer and posted great ways to use Wonderopolis to promote Wondering and inquiry!!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

So What Do They Really Know?

I have to confess I had been feeling a little burn out from talking about and thinking about assessment and formative assessment. We've had lots of great pd about formative assessment the last several years in my district and it wasn't really a topic I thought I needed to read more about this summer. But then..... I started browsing Cris Tovani's new book, So What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning  online. I was reading the free online preview of this book when suddenly I realized I was on chapter four, and had started taking lots of notes and getting lots of ideas. Hmmmm, maybe this was a book I should buy! So I did. It was an easy read. Two little girls + 2 synchronized naps (this NEVER happens) got me through it in one sitting. It confirmed a lot of prior knowledge but also gave me some new ways to think about formative assessment within my classroom. Franki, at A Year of Reading posted a great review of this book as well.

Here are some quotes and notes that got me thinking further about assessment...

  • "I knew there needed to be multiple pieces of evidence to tell me the stories of the learners in my room so that they nor I would ever be judged solely on a test score" How will I use what students say and do to get their story, and to know where to celebrate, help improve, and to take them next in their learning?
  • "Formative assessments help teachers name areas of strengths for students. Teachers can also adjust their instruction and give targeted feedback so students can improve their performance. Formative assessments nurture hope and say to students, You might not get this yet, but you will. Here is something else you can try that might help you understand and improve." This affirms what I believe that formative assessments aren't only used to figure out what kids DON'T know but are a way to figure out what to CELEBRATE what they do know and inspire and motivate them to try the next challenge! I love her positive outlook and message to kids that they WILL eventually get it with guidance from her as their teacher.
  • Formative Assessments feed teachers and, more important, feed students so they can grow. That is a lot of control, and a lot of power. Cris got me thinking about next year and how will I use data I collect to provide just in time instruction to not just categorize students but improve their performance?
  • Cris talked about the workshop model as being so important for her to be able to assess and immediately address student needs. She talks about in her workshop whoever is doing the most work is the one getting smarter. The workshop model gives the majority of her class time to read, write and discuss. I started thinking about who is doing most of the work during my reading workshop. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to teach, teach, teach during guided reading and individual reading conferences, that I wonder if I am giving kids enough time to talk to show me the ways they are thinking about what they read.
  • "Smart coaches model for their players the skills and strategies they want their athletes to master. They plan their practices so they kids have lots of time to rehearse what they are taught. Coaches know that it's not efficient or effective to 'grade' everything their athletes do in practice. I'm wondering how well do I model what I want kids to master? Is there enough time to practice alone, together as a class, or with partners and small groups what they are taught?
  • As Cris described her workshop model she always has a "catch." This is during the work time when she pulls kids back together to re engage learners, give feedback based on patterns of confusion she may be seeing in the class, or model strong or weak work. I'm going to start implementing this in my workshop next year. I love stopping in the middle for a catch to reenergize, reteach or reconnect what we are doing during the work time.
I had lots more important thinking while reading and my highlighter was running a little dry. It was a great book to get me motivated to REALLY get to know my students as learners and strive to help them know themselves as learners. Even though it is marketed for grades 6-12 Tovani wrote about assessment in a way that any teacher could connect with and get ideas from. Her passion for teaching and connecting with kids is so evident through her words.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Conferring - The Keystone of Reader's Workshop

I first heard about Patrick Allen's book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop when I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Allen speak at the 2011 Dublin Literacy conference. I loved listening to Patrick describe how the readers in his classroom knew themselves as readers. It led me to start thinking...what would my readers say about themselves and the processes they go through to understand text?
Here are some notes I took while reading this great book...
What does it mean to be a wise reader?
I love how Patrick uses the word wise. He talks about how he encourages his readers to make wise decisions about what they read, about what they're thinking about as they read, and about choices they can make to get better. I loved this quote he included, "Knowledge is gaining and storing information. Wisdom, on the other hand, is knowing how to act on that knowledge." I love this! I am starting to think about how I will nudge kids to not only gain knowledge through their reading but to take action...create new understandings! I will begin the year talking a lot with my third graders on how we can become readers that are wise.

Mr. Allen gave four focus questions/principles to guide beginning of the year discussions...
1. What does it mean to understand? As readers, what does understanding look like?
2. What does it mean to remember? As readers, what might remembering look like?
3. What does it mean to extend meaning? As readers, what might extending meaning look like?
4. What does it mean when something is memorable? As readers, what does memorable look like?
My plan is to create shared language and understanding within my community guided by these questions.

Another great section in this book was about strengthening endurance and stamina within kids. I have taught stamina for several years but again I love Patrick's vocabulary-endurance. He uses beginning of the year read alouds to discuss endurance and students record signs of endurance they notice through read alouds. 
This is such a big thing for kids - getting them to endure, care about what they are doing, learn with a spirit of passion! I went to Cover to Cover bookstore today and asked someone to help me find a good read aloud for endurance and I found an AMAZING book that will be an anchor text for endurance.

If I never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade is a very short but meaning filled book about a young bird who is considering using his new wings. He thinks of bad things that could happen if he fails, but then imagines the great possibilities of flying. He encourages the reader at the end to FLY! I am so glad that I found a text to follow Mr. Allen's lead, and learn with a spirit of endurance.

Mr. Allen also teaches his students the what and why of a workshop. He calls the three components crafting, (seeds we plant during the workshop that hopefully will emerge in independent reading) composing (the practice, time to be WISE, trying things out, and the reflecting (share what you have discovered). Mr. Allen asks kids to find the purpose of each component.

I follow this model in my readers workshop but I don't think we ever as a class have dissected the parts of the reader's workshop like this and discussed the importance, purpose of each part...Again...Brillant!! 

Through reading the rest of the book I began to think...
  • How can I take better notes during my reading conferences to "uncover students strengths, struggles, and genuine wonderings"?
  • How can I "shut up and listen to know what I need to teach". (I have never listened to a conference but I am positive I do more talking than students!!)
  • Do my kids have a "walk away" after our conference? Allen describes a walk away as a tool or strategy used or discovered as students negotiate text and develop the capacity for independence.
  • How can I get kids talking about themselves as readers the way Mr. Allen's kids did throughout the book? Reading their quotes about reading you can hear his voice guiding them through their own language. So powerful and inspiring!!
Finally, I had the best thinking about this book when I read all the other blogs about it from teachers. I heard about these great blog posts from Cathy Mere  All of their thinking was so important to my own learning. I even jumped into a twitter chat about this book with other teachers and Patrick Allen himself. I had to be a very fast reader and thinker but I left with new understandings. I had been struggling (well I still am) with the balance between guided reading and conferencing time and I loved how Patrick looks at conferences as guiding other readers through listening in or through reflecting experiences. Great stuff to think about starting out the year!