Thursday, June 13, 2013

Top 10 School Year Reflections...What Worked

     I realize that I haven't blogged in awhile. Life gets crazy is all I can say:) I appreciate my colleagues who blog regularly because they stretch my thinking and give me new ideas which I appreciate so much! The next school year brings lots of changes. I'm moving to a new school district in an effort to bring more home/school balance into my life. Luckily I am staying in third grade. My drive will be cut down by 30 minutes each way. I want to be a great teacher but I'm hoping a closer distance will help me also be a better mom. This was a hard decision, as I had helped open my school just three years ago, but I'm really excited for a new adventure!

   Now that the year is over I was thinking about what worked. I have a very long list as usual about what didn't work but I'll choose to focus on what I think did go ok!

1. This year I had a better overview, or plan in place for reading units. I liked the flow, it just seemed to work. In reading I taught in genre units for the second year in a row and really liked it. As we tackled each new genre together, the main focus was always focused on how we could use the text structure to help us determine what is important in this book. We also thought about how we could think about what was happening, putting the details together to understand, to build meaning. Within each genre we thought about the big picture. We asked ourselves, why do the details matter? So what?

Here was our sequence

1. We are readers! Building a community of readers that read, talk, write, reflect and THINK!
2. Fiction texts - plot, characters, theme, series books, compare and contrast characters and plots
3. Nonfiction texts - looking at each text structure to save and think, learning how to make important thinking "sticky" by taking notes.
4. Biographies (My favorite unit - so many great PB texts! Great way to review character traits and theme while continuing on nonfiction)
5. Traditional Literature (myths, fables, folktales, tall tales)
6. Historical fiction - I loved having this at the end to mesh fiction and non fiction reading strategies

2. In writing following the common core and using Lucy Calkins as a resource kids we focused on three genres for a long amount of time. Staying within narrative, informational, and persuasive units for extended amounts of time seemed to work well. Within each unit for the first time I pushed kids to write with lots of volume, creating many new pieces. In the past I used to focus on one good piece for a long time. By having students write many smaller pieces within each genre, I think this helped developed their final piece. I also think it pushed them as writers to write more.

3. We wrote informational books about a topic kids knew about before writing about a research topic they didn't know anything about. I had never done this and I loved the project. Kids are all experts on something and this was one of my favorite projects. My struggling writers were motivated to share what they knew and kids had fun trying out different text structures within their books.

4. Morning meeting. I love it - can't start a day without it. Stopping each morning to come together and say hello to everyone is a great way to start the day. Everyone feels valued and welcomed. This year I began having a short time after the greeting for students to envision their day and to goal set. I asked them to close their eyes each morning and to picture themselves having the best day possible. I asked each of them every morning to think about how they might feel at the end of the day if they had given their very best and treated all others around them with kindness.  I asked them to picture what it would look like to work hard to reach learning goals even when it was hard. This small routine in my opinion, gave a great shared vision and goal to each new day.

5. Beginning the year with picture books that focus on a theme of endurance and perseverance (idea stolen from Patrick Allen). I love starting out with great picture books that get kids thinking and talking while also motivating them with these important themes.

6. YET. After last summers Cyper PD on Peter Johnston's book, I emphasized the word yet. We learned how to have growth mindsets believing that things we struggle with are things that we are not good at YET. I tried to instill a belief that hard work and a goal oriented mindset would help kids over come struggles. I tried to break down as many fixed mindsets, or the "I'm just not good at... as possible".

7. My team. I love them. We worked so well together. We all did things a little differently but we shared some great ideas and collaborating with them made me a better teacher. Last year our principal made us put together a sequence for teaching reading and writing using the common core. We complained at the time, but having everyone teach the same standards at the same time allowed for great collaboration. We were able to laugh together and we may have had a 5 hour happy hour the Friday after the OAA:)

8. Pushing kids to annotate. I love using readers' notebooks to have kids record important thinking and pushing kids to jot thinking on articles, as they read through them a second time. I didn't push everyone to jot all the time as I have in the past. Some kids need to be left alone to read! They were required to write sometimes but I loosened up my expectations because I wanted the goal to be the reading and for some kids stopping to write too much took the joy out I felt.

9. Read Alouds. We shared lots of picture books and articles together. As for longer books we read, Lulu and the Brontosaurus, The One and Only Ivan, and Little House in the Big Woods together. It was to my amazement that the kids LOVED Little House in the Big Woods. (I knew they'd love the other two!) I have some boys continuing the read the series this summer. BOYS! They loved the history in the story and we had some great conversations that tied into our social studies curriculum.

10. Techie Tools

Blogging. I love using kidblog with my third graders. I love that they write for real audiences. let me access my lesson plans from any computer. I loved being able to add in common core standards. It saved SO. MUCH. TIME. You can bump and extend lessons you've already typed out. No more erasing and rewriting.

Evernote...I love this app. It let me record student observations and conference notes in an organized way. I took pictures of student work to save in each child's digital notebook.

This was long, I guess I needed to get writing again. Like I said there are MANY things that didn't work and have room for improvement.... (Notice math was nowhere in the what worked list! Tried a new program this year and it was definitely a work in progress. Going to try another new program next year!)

I'm excited for lots of summer reading and putting a new classroom together, as well as lots of time with my two girls at the pool! They were playing nicely and did not fight the whole time I was writing this post and that in itself is a miracle:) never happens!