Thursday, December 6, 2012

Non fiction Anchor Charts

Here are some anchor charts we've created to guide our journey into non fiction.  

Should say steps!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Informational Writing and Choice

     A shift I've seen in writer's workshop this year is the volume of writing from students. Using Lucy Calkins' third grade writing resource for common core as a tool, I began the year having students set volume goals for their writing. We wrote "fast and furious" trying to create a new narrative everyday during our personal narrative unit. We talked about having stamina, the concentration to say more, and to have the endurance to stay focused. We learned together that every writing piece doesn't have to be great, but writers have to get in the habit of letting their words and ideas out, they had to practice writing everyday to get better.

     This brings us to our non fiction writing unit. Students were ready to write once again with a purpose in mind. To teach, to inform. Fully equipped, (well some are anyway:) with some background on writing a quality paragraph, jotting a plan for main ideas and details using boxes and bullets, writers got to choose a non fiction topic to write about that they were interested in and felt that they were already experts on. I told them about the project three weeks before they got to choose their topic. I wanted to create a "buzz" for finding the perfect topic. I knew the writing would only be good if students had a topic they felt passionate and excited about. As Lucy says, "writers can only engage readers if they themselves are engaged in the topic."
     Fast forward, the kids seem to be loving this project. They seem to be loving the freedom to choose the structure of how each page will go. They were excited to create a table of contents of their own based on the main idea of each subtopic. As we learn about text structures in non fiction we discuss how pages in our informational books might mirror those of authors and books we enjoy. We looked at several good introductions. We learned that an introduction is like a movie preview, getting a reader excited to read the entire book. Students wrote their own introductions. They are creating their own headings and crafting their own designs for how they will present the information on each subtopic. We are trying out descriptive paragraphs, sequence charts, labeled diagrams, and finding words that should go in a glossary.

     I love seeing kids take risks in their writing by trying out sequence charts or lists. They are dabbling in using companion sentences to tell readers what the important, or new words in their pieces mean. The power of our workshop seems to lie in the sharing. As we look at chapters from writers' drafts, we are noticing what they do well as a writer and giving each other next steps to take. My hope is that through the sharing conversations they are lifting strategies they will try out in their own writing.

    My next steps as a teacher are to work on organizing the conferencing. I feel like an overstretched octopus during writing, a crazy ping pong ball, stepping to help, one child, the next, the next. My next goal is to model for students how to rely on buddy coaches to help to get feedback on their writing:) Or maybe some group conferencing on kids who are working towards the same goal?

    I am excited to see how students will choose to teach our class about baseball, having an older brother, Christmas traditions in their home, taking care of triplets, martial arts, swim team, and fishing to name a few topics. I love to hear the buzz in the room as writers try out new text structures, decide where to put a diagram, or decide on the best way to organize their descriptive paragraphs. The enthusiasm, I believe, lies in the choice, the freedom to make their writing their own.

Here is the rubric I created for this project using the common core standards. It's a work in progress, but a starting point for goals we are working towards:)


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Precise Language ...and pictures!

     With the common core in mind I have been thinking a lot about how to help students use precise language and textual evidence when supporting their ideas about what they read. Last week we put hand motions in place to help us realize when we are thinking about a book and when we need to support our thinking, or back it up with specific evidence from the text. 
     When students shared their thinking about a book, they had to point to their head. (Or sometimes we use a thinking bubble prop to hold up while talking). Then, when asked what made us think that, when pushed to give text evidence, students had to point to the palm of their hand, or "the book". 
     When partners turn and talk they are trying to point to their hands after someone shares thinking and nudge their partner to share what in the text made them think that. 
     We are also trying hard to use precise, exact language when giving evidence. This is tricky because students often want to summarize or give a general answer to explain their thinking. The key to all of this is finding great books that get students talking! 

Finally, I love seeing classroom pictures others share that hold important learning, so here are a few of our anchor charts from September. (Much anchor chart language is stolen from great resources such as Patrick Allen and Lucy Calkins!)

Friday, August 10, 2012

10 for 10 Picture Books

Thank you Cathy and Mandy once again for organizing Picture Books 10 for 10! I love reading everyones titles to get good suggestions for my classroom.

My list includes titles that were all highly engaging to third grade students last year. These are all titles that got us talking and thinking!

I Want My Hat Back by John Klassen was a book that I read with my class at least 10 times. We did shared reads of this short and hilarious book and laughed and laughed every time. We debated on whether we were on "team rabbit" or "team bear". This book became a community builder as it was an "inside class joke" all year long. I love it and will read it again with my new group.

Queen of the Falls
 by Chris Van Allsburg was a favorite. (As is almost every book this author writes!) We had great conversations about the main character Annie and her perseverance towards her goal. Great book for character study, theme and inferring. I did it as one of my very first read alouds and it was great to build our reading community to practice jotting and sharing our thinking about what we read,  

 by Patrick McDonnell was another books I fell in love with. It is the story of Jane Goodall. My class was inspired at how Jane worked towards her dreams and didn't let anything stand in her way. She was dedicated to her passions. 

 by Nic Bishop ignited a passion for great informational text in my classroom. I hadn't planned to do an author study on Nic Bishop but after reading this book we kept going with several of his others. We had great conversations about his "author's fingerprints". We were able to try out many thinking strategies using his books. We determined importance for chunks of text. This book has no headings so we thought about each section and discussed what heading might make sense to sum up the main ideas. We were able to determine important vs interesting information. Nic Bishop does a great job of including both in his books! I was glad to have found a new non fiction favorite author. 

That Book Woman
 by Heather Henson made my list last year as I read it last summer. It makes the cut again because the conversations we had about this historical fiction tale of a pack horse librarian and a boy who couldn't read were so lively and engaging. This is a great tale to stop, think, and discuss. This year I will follow the story up with non fiction about Appalachia and the Pack Horse Librarians who brought books to their community.

Gold! Gold From the American River! was a great non fiction read about the California Gold Rush. It was a great text that was right at their level to understand and think about this time period in history. We spent many days reading, jotting, thinking and discussing this text. We compared many changes in daily life from this time period to today as well. 

When Marian Sang is a fantastic biography about the life of Marian Anderon. We read this during a genre study of biographies. We worked on sequential text structure but also again were able to infer and discuss often what we thought about what was happening in this story. Marian inspired our class to believe in our dreams and to endure when times get tough or things stand in our way. After reading we watched real clips of Marian singing opera on You Tube which enhanced our learning. 

Balloons Over Broadway
by Melissa Sweet was one of my favorite non fiction books I read last year. I never knew the history behind the Thanksgiving Macy's Day parade! It had our whole class thinking about this parade in a way we never had before. This is what readers do when they read non fiction... they understand the world they live better! 
Soar Elinor! was another great biography based on the true story of Elinor Smith the first woman to fly under four bridges in New York. My kids did not want me to put this book down. The tale of Elinor's rise to greatness was both exciting and inspirational. We were able to do some deep thinking about what motivated the people in the story, inferences and questions we had, as well as finding the theme. We looked at photographs from Elinor Smith's actual flight. 

Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night
 was a favorite poetry books that I read often during poetry transitions. (This is a good way to squeeze in some poetry as kids move from place to place!) After each poem about a nocturnal animal was a non fiction paragraph that gave more detailed information to add to the reader's schema. Poems have a lot of good vocabulary to stop, notice, and determine meaning of.

Sidenote: Almost all of these books I picked up at the Jr. Library Guild sale in Columbus. Great $5 hardcover books!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

First Read Aloud


      I think I have found my first read aloud...through the influence and power of Twitter! I watch for recommended titles from the many educators I follow. This summer I ordered three great young adult books because I kept seeing the titles pop up again and again and again. 

      I read Wonder by RJ Palacio. I won't read it to my third graders but it helped me think deeply about how to inspire students to choose kindness.

     I read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I have never cried harder through a book. I think because I read it through the eyes of a mother and it made me think about life. This is for middle school students but I am so glad to have read it.

     Finally, I read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I think my third graders will love it. More importantly I think it will get them talking, wondering, feeling, inferring, in other words...thinking deeply about text.

     I'm choosing this as an anchor text to show the importance of book partnerships or book clubs understanding making meaning through talk. Every ending chapter or section sentence made me want to grab someone and talk about my thinking. I'm hoping these section endings make my students want to pause, talk, listen to one another, learn from one another and understand. My goal through this read aloud will be setting the stage for the importance of talk while using the text as an anchor to return to.

     I think boys will like the book as much as girls.

     I think students will find character empathy as they explore Ivan's setting and his relationships.

     A theme I didn't expect to find was the idea of a fixed mindset vs a growth mind set. An important event changes Ivan's belief about his destiny. This is an important beginning of the year theme.

     This book was also based on a true story about a gorilla who lived in a shopping mall. Maybe we will squeeze in some non fiction articles to deepen our understanding:)

     What will your first read aloud be???

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Opening Minds 7-9

     Social action...moral development....problem solving. I read chapter 7 the day after I finished Wonder by RJ Palacio. My mind was already turning before I began this new chapter of Opening Minds about teaching kids to choose kindness, about teaching empathy. (Side note if you haven't read Wonder, you should. If you have kids in middle school, you must read it with them. I know this will be a book I will save to read with my own kids when they are old enough to discuss choosing kindness in our world.)
     Nurturing moral development isn't something that I will be assigned a color on, based on my performance but it is something that we all know is essential to build, discuss and teach in the classroom. We may never know how we touch student's lives by building their character, but we know we do when we help them look at situations differently, and help them solve problems, and chose kindness. When we talk about books or study writers we aren't just developing reading and writing skills we are learning about people and thinking about our own lives as well as the lives of others in a larger context. Yes, these talks build comprehension but I want kids to read books as a way of understanding themselves and others. Big comprehension is found when kids can take their thinking to the next level after reading and think about how what they read applies to their own lives, to their own world.

     As the heading in chapter 7 reads, "Taking moral development seriously", this chapter was a good reminder of how we as teachers can do this and help kids solve problems through language.

"Conflicts offer opportunities to make clear that we value considerate, empathetic behavior and disapprove of non considerate behavior, making casual links to emotional consequences." 

     My hope for my own daughter is that their teachers all take moral development seriously. It is not enough to just learn the content, I want my children to also learn how to be good people, productive members of society that care. I know that what I teach at home may not be enough. They will need teachers helping them problem solve along the way when school conflicts arise. This reminds me that I am teaching kids throughout the year to choose kindness, and nudging them to understand others who are different from them.

     Chapter 8 reminds us of the power of thinking together. It reminded me of how I need to model what it looks like, sounds like to REALLY listen. (I myself need more practice at REALLY listening to others in my life!) To have dialogue with each other that is meaningful. I hope to as the chapter says, to teach my students to become adept at listening, set goals to learn their partner's views. This is something I worked hard on last year. We talked a lot about how other people's comments, thoughts and experiences help build our own understandings whether we agree or disagree. Hearing another point of view makes you think more clearly about your own point of view, whether it changes your mind or not.

I loved when Johnston reminded me that "turn and talk" doesn't mean merely turn and talk; it means building a conversation. Building a conversation means building on each other's ideas. Listening is the foundation of our conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking.

I LOVE this language for introducing turn and talk at the beginning of the year!

Thank you to everyone who has been posting about this book. This reminds me of the power of sharing refelections. So many posts have made me think about this book in ways I would not have done on my own.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Opening Minds Chapter 4-6

     These two posters came up on my Pinterest page last week and seemed like the perfect companions to sum up my thinking about part one of Opening Minds. The word yet.... keeps echoing in my brain. 

     My three year old daughter LOVES to draw. I am constantly telling her how good she is at drawing, coloring, painting, etc. She loves to draw the same things again and again such as flowers, a sun, butterflies, etc. This week with Johnston nudging me in my ear... I started to tell her how hard she works on her drawings. She drew a dragon and I told her I noticed how she tried something new. I commented on what she did specifically in her drawings and what effect that had on her pictures. I don't have this down ...yet!

     Chapter 4 
     This was an important chapter on the reminders of process vs person oriented praise. I think I give process oriented feedback often BUT I love to praise, praise, praise to keep kids confidence and motivation high and I know that at times my praise is person oriented. "You're so good at...I'm proud of you...., etc"

     My big takeaway here is to keep my feedback process oriented and to focus on the effort, perseverance, strategies kids are showing and trying. Their effort and the strategies they take risks to try matter, and I must show the value of these through my language. In turn their language with each other will mirror my own. 

     I need to continue to use language that shows the consequences of process or effort. I need to notice small shifts students are taking as readers, writers, or mathematicians. "[You did this] and if you [tried this], then [it would have this effect]" These are the comments that hold power to make an impact on students climbing towards goals. 

     The big take take away.... I can give feedback where kids leave feeling positive without giving constant praise. 

Chapter 5
     This chapter defined a lot of my goals for the year. I want to have a group of students who ask lots of questions, think critically about topics and have dialogue with each other. I want students to focus on meaning making in book discussions and to listen intently to one another. Last year we really stopped to take notice when someone else made us think about something in a new way, whether we disagreed or agreed was not important, it was the fact that the person sharing made us think in a new way, which in turn stretched our own understanding. 
     I like the point of how disagreeing can help us learn. Johnston reminds us that interesting discussions help us think more deeply. Thinking deeply happens when we listen so carefully to one another. I know modeling how to listen carefully to one another is an important first nine weeks goal. I want to help students understand the value of listening carefully and participating in group discussions to become "critically literate".

     I kept thinking about book partnerships, whole class interactive read alouds and book clubs (reading groups). I want to use language to guide students to have these deep conversations with each other. 



Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Opening Minds Chapters 1-3

     We are teachers. We put our heart and soul into our profession. Our words are our tools in which we build learners. The words we use inspire, motivate, encourage, change, and teach. Our language matters. The messages we send our students matter. I was excited to start reading Opening Minds by Peter Johnson to learn more about how to talk to students in positive ways. I loved his book Choice Words. It is one I often flip back through to remind myself of positive ways to talk to kids. 
     As I read chapter 1-3 tonight I kept thinking about my language with kids. Do my words allow kids to take risks, to put forth effort, to have a mindset that they can learn if they try? Do I feed into children's fixed characteristics about themselves? Our most powerful tool as a teacher is our language and these chapters have me reflecting on how I can improve the messages I send to kids to empower them to want to change.
     "A single comment can profoundly change the academic and moral choices children make." This is powerful. Words can build or break students.

    "I also show you that our language choices have serious consequence for children's learning and for who they become as individuals and as a community. I help you make productive choices, because the language we chose in our teaching changes the worlds children inhabit now and those they will build in the future. Make no mistake wehn we are teaching for today, we are teaching into tomorrow."

     I also thought hard when reading about the fixed performance frame vs the dynamic learning frame. This is a mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes that people are born with certain traits. I kept thinking about my upcoming third graders who already have beliefs about themselves as learners. These are the kids coming in who have already have fixed mindsets about themselves such as, "I can't write. I'm bad at math. I hate reading because it's hard for me."  How can I change these fixed messages? How will I use my language to get kids to believe that their hard work matters and this year can be a new year full of new possibilities and outcomes based on their hard work and perseverance?
     A person with a dynamic learning frame or a growth mindset believes that their effort will result in success. They work hard when faced with a difficult problem. They feel smart when encountering a challenge. How will I use my language to send the message that effort is more important than achievement?  We all know these kids too. These are the kids who work so hard at what they do. They place value on their own learning and try, try, and try again when faced with challenges. Johnston describes placing emphasis on process vs performance.

     I like the idea of telling kids at the beginning of the year, "Your brain is changing and so is the way you experience ideas. Expect to change."
     Johnston says we want kids to say, "I'm not good at this yet." and to take steps to change that.

     I thought about a beginning of the year activity while reading chapter 3. Johnston talks about deciding which things in life are "essentially fixed, beyond our power to change, and which things we can change (even if it's just a tiny bit)." I was thinking students could as a group brainstorm things in the classroom that they could change vs things that were beyond their control to change. We could brainstorm stereotypes or fixed mindsets kids have about themselves that they could have the power to change...through hard work and effort, perseverance! Last year Patrick Allen inspired me to do beginning of the year read alouds on the theme of persistence. This talk seems like a perfect companion. While reading I kept hearing myself ask kids, "How will this year be different? How can you change the messages you tell yourself about your abilities" I keep thinking about how I will honor hard work and effort. 

     "Children must experience many things as at least potentially changeable, not just aspects of the world outside them, but also aspects of themselves-their learning, their identities, their intellect, their personal attributes, and their ways of relating to others."

      I'm excited to keep reading to hear examples or nudges to use my language to change messages kids have fixed abut themselves as I read on.

    Thanks so much to the organizers of #cyberpd. I can't wait to read other's thoughts!


Friday, July 6, 2012

Pathways to the Common Core

     To prepare for the switch to common core this year I have begun reading Pathways to the Common Core. I've also been reading Lucy Calkin's Curricular Plans for Reading and Writing Workshop. I love Lucy Calkin's voice in her writing. I find myself always nodding my head in agreement while I read. She has a way with language that seems to capture my thinking in such a wise way that I myself could not articulate. I can imagine her using this wise language with kids, guiding them always to keep growing as readers and writers.

Here are just a few big points from the first few chapters of this book I want to save or "make sticky".  My thinking is in the purple:)

  • "Students need to become strong writers, and to do that, they need expert instruction, time to write, and meaningful opportunities for writing a wide range of informational, argumentative, and narrative texts. They must also become proficient readers of many complex texts, and that means they need expert instruction and opportunities to read a wide range and very deep volume of texts."  Time!!! Students need time to read AND time to write. My goal for this year is to talk less and let kids read and write more. I am famous for taking a mini lesson and turn it into a MAXI lesson! 
  • "It is very possible that your readers are mostly reading for plot, grasping the gist of what they read, moving rapidly across book". Model, model, walk together through deep reading, what it looks like, sounds like. Give multiple opportunities to make meaning together through discussion so readers read to extend meaning.  
  • "Students should be doing lots and lots of in school reading. Students learn to read by reading. Watch your strong readers. One factor they have in common? They read a lot." Calkins often references time for eyes on print. I think setting up a culture or community of readers, creating a buzz in the room for reading is the #1 priority in month 1 of reader's workshop.  I want to rev up their eyes on print time at school AND at home! 
  • Other big "sticky points" are balancing fiction reading with nonfiction reading, having students provide evidence to support their thinking and placing equal emphasis on both reading and writing. 

     At the beginning of the book Calkins tells teachers to read the common core standards as if they were gold, knowing that they are not perfect. Attitude matters and I think approaching change with a positive attitude is important. Is change stressful, overwhelming, and scary? Yes, yes, and yes but I know many other teachers are going through the same challenges. I'm hoping the changes bring about lots of conversations as teachers tackle them together.