Saturday, May 4, 2013

Calming the Chaos

A huge THANKS to Kristy at 3 Peas and a Dog for arranging this great blog hop. Check out my fun lesson idea for reading about and making a dreamcatcher (step-by-step directions and pictures included) and then hop on over to the other creative blogs that are partiipating and sharing end-of-the-year ideas.

State Testing is over (except for the Science exam in May)... the end of the school is near... time for some fun! I like to end the school year with a few inspirational lessons and a fun craft. Yes, I said craft! Read aloud one of these great books about dreamcatchers and follow it up with your students making their own dreamcatcher (step-by-step directions click here).  It's amazing what you can make with a paper plate, yarn and a few feathers. You can even tie it into Native American curriculum.  What a great way to spend an hour or two of class time. Have Fun!

Isaac's Dreamcatcher by Bonnie Farmer

Grandmother's Dreamcatcher by Becky Ray McCain
Blog Hop Participants
Check out this Great Giveaway!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Bunny Blog Hop

A Tisket, A Tasket, Freebies for your Basket!
Several phenomenal teachers and bloggers are joining forces for an amazing bunny blog hop!  As you follow us along the bunny trail, you will visit some of your favorite blogs and discover a few new blogs too!  Each with a fabulous freebie just for you!

Thank you for hopping on over to my blog!
I am so happy to be participating in this hoppin' good time! Spring is a wonderful time in the classroom and what better to celebrate then with a good book.  I am sharing with you a few of my favorite
Springtime reads and activities here.

Rosie Sprout's Time to Shine by Allison Wortche

The Listening Walk By Paul Showers

The Alphabet Tree By Leo Lionni

Included in this download are several thinking and writing activities that meet ELA learning requirements. So, go ahead and use these activities in your guided reading groups, center activities, writing workshops or independent work time. They are also perfect to leave for substitute plans.
Thanks for stopping by and visiting!  If you are new to my blog and liked what you see, don't forget to follow me.  A Tisket, A Tasket, next up with a Freebie for your Basket is Lola from Preschool Wonders.  Hop on over!
Preschool Wonders

Just in case you didn't join us from the beginning, here is an ordered list of all the participating blogs.

Stephany from Primary Possibilities
Sally from Elementary Matters
Lory from Fun for First
Linda from Primary Inspiration
Nicole from Mrs. Rios Teaches Second Grade
Brian from Hopkins' Hoppin' Happenings
Liz from The Happy Teacher
Jennie from JD's Rockin' Readers
Sarah from Learning is for Superstars
Teresa from Fun in K/1
Nikki from Teaching in Progress
Faith from Kindergarten Faith
Renee from Fantastic First Grade Froggies
Amy from Happy Teacher Heaven
Leah from Learn with Leah
Nicole from Teaching's a Hoot
Kristy from The Phonic's Phenomenon
Rich from Mr. Giso's Room to Read
Susanna from Whimsy Workshop
Amy from Motivate to Learn
Lola from Preschool Wonders
Kimberli from Mixing the Next Batch

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Creating and Achieving Goals

I am super excited about this post because I love when things start to click! I just returned to the classroom several weeks ago and some routines I've continued to implement from the previous teacher. The 4th grade team decided to have the students write weekly academic and personal goals. Piece of cake... not exactly! The students were writing goals that are very typical of 9/10 year olds such as, I will do better, I will study more, I will be nicer to my sister, I will behave.  They did not realize what the true purpose to goal setting is. To keep this post focused, I'll outline what we have been doing the past few weeks.

  • Defined setting goals as: Identifying something you want to improve on, deciding on steps you can take to work towards it, and making sure the goal can be measured (NOT VAGUE!).
  • Charted what we learned about goal setting.
  • Posed possible goals and then talked about if it would be measurable. Example: I will do better on my timed test- To vague and not measurable because how will you be able to tell if you did "better" or not. I will get a 80% on my timed multiplication test- Good goal because it is specific and at the end of the week you can yes, I met my goal or no, I did not - its measurable!
  • Discussed how to choose a reasonable goal.  If you are getting 60% on your timed tests you shouldn't choose your goal to be to get 100%. Choosing 70 or 75% would be more reasonable.
  • Students wrote their goals, we conferenced and then they made any changes necessary.
  • The students had difficulty looking at their work, work habits, behavior etc... to create a goal. We brainstormed what possible goals we can create for our self such as, completing homework before dinner, writing neater by staying on the line, remembering to put books back in my backpack when I am done with homework...
  • I modeled Choosing 2 goals for myself and I also model the reflection at the end of the week.  They really like seeing that I am trying to improve too.
  • On Fridays, we sit on the rug with our goal sheets and we discuss if we reached our goals or not.
  • This takes a a lot of time, but it is time well spent.  Next year, I will focus on this more in September when there is a little more time in the day to develop this procedure. I feel this will help them in future grades.
  • Weekly Goals Graphic Organizer
I would to hear if your practice this in your classroom or something similar. Post and share any anchor charts you made1

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Read Like A Writer

A successful way to help my students become better writers is to teach them how to critique pieces or read like a writer. This post builds on an earlier post about using student work as mentor texts. The best way for me to create authentic writing pieces to use during lessons is to use their own work! Their pieces create/inspire mini lesson topics which makes my planning easier.  

Recently I had students read a Time For Kids article on cheetahs and then write a quality (which means organized at this point in the year) paragraph about the information.  I wanted to see if the students would copy facts from the text or attempt to mix different parts of the text together to create writing that flows better. The results were about 50/50. Some still wrote info at face value while others tried to create interest. The best way I can think of to get students to see the big picture of paragraph writing is to have them critique both quality and improving pieces of writing.  I created a checklist for them to follow and then retyped 3 of their classmates paragraphs (usually I photo copy their writing and then cut & paste it to the template, but their paragraphs were to long for that this time). They then read the examples "like a writer" and were able to point out both good and needs improvement examples of organization, repetition, unnecessary facts, facts directly from the text, interesting leads, good word choice, boring words etc... This activity was a positive learning experience because I was not just telling them what to look at. They had to critique while thinking about each writing skill. I have used this "read like a writer" template (their are two templates for singular or plural examples) several times now and the students really like reading each others pieces.
I'd love to hear if you use these in your classroom and how your students respond. Our next writing piece is comparing & contrasting. Posts soon to follow!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Student Writing = Mentor Texts

There are so many wonderful published books to use as mentor texts when teaching a skill or concept, but try looking closer to home. When a strong classroom community is created, children love to share their own work whether it's a "4 star" piece or a "work in progress". We can learn from great examples of writing, but more importantly we can learn from pieces with imperfections.
When I was conferencing with a child, I noticed that she used you at least ten times in the first paragraph. I asked her if I could share this with the class and she was more then happy to have her writing used as an example. I immediately put the piece under the document camera and had an instant mini lesson on repetition and word choice. I asked a student to read the first few paragraphs and then we had a discussion on what they noticed about the piece and how the piece sound while being read (I often say to my class that if it doesn't sound right then something is wrong and you must try to figure out what it is). Many noticed the repetition of words and we also discussed other examples of writers' craft that needed to be addressed such as paragraph organization and the flow/sequence of ideas.
The class responded very well to the lesson and applauded Marissa for sharing. The key point here is that the class can learn from each other. When children can look at "real" examples of peer work it makes the assignment more approachable and kids get a sense of "If they can do it, so can I!"

You can also use student work as mentor texts before or during the draft stage of writing. After I introduce the piece that we will be working on and conduct a few mini lessons on writers' craft (such as, writing a lead, using text features, word choice...), I then have students read like a writer and evaluate writing pieces from the previous years.  The students fold a piece of paper in half and make a 2 column T-chart with the headings Great Examples of Writers' Craft and What Can Be Better.
(You can download or print this graphic organizer here Mentor Text T-Chart.) Students must read the mentor texts and look for examples of good writing as well as, what is it about the writing that does not seem quite right. I instruct students that they cannot be vague! Students cannot just write word choice in the great examples column. They must write down what it is that makes the word choice great by recording the descriptions used.  The same goes for finding what can be better. Students cannot just write punctuation. They must site exactly what is wrong such as, does not use capital letters  or  periods are needed to stop long sentences. This is not an easy skill to learn. Many examples of thinking aloud will be needed. After students get a hang of it, it is fun to see them act like the teacher and really think about elements of writers' craft.

After the students complete their T-charts, they keep it with their writing piece.  They must refer to it throughout the writing process to make sure they focus on good examples of writers' craft and stay away from the mistakes that they recorded.

Their are a few writing pieces that I tend to have the students complete every year and that is why I have a build up of student samples. However, you can use many forms of writing as mentor texts to a number of different topics. I often photo copy pages from writer's notebooks, essays from science/social studies class, short responses from guided reading groups and copies of other thinking/writing assignments. Determine the skill that you want students to focus on and find student samples that address it.  Trading writing samples with other teachers is also a great way to expand your collection of student mentor texts!  E-mail me if you are in need of samples for a specific genre or writing piece. I would be happy to see if I have samples to meet your needs.

I am interested to know, how do you use mentor texts in your classroom?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Writer's Notebook: Truly A Wonderful Thing!

I don't know what to write, I have no ideas, I can't write a whole page... Have you heard these lines in your classroom?  I have a solution for you...incorporate a Writer's Notebook into your weekly writing routines.
 A Writer's Notebook is a personal place for your students to create and keep their ideas, wonders, topics, and memories. I started using Writer's Notebooks a few years ago and since then I have seen a marked improvement in the quality of writing that my students produce. The greatest benefit that I have found in using this writing tool is that students no longer have the excuse of, "I have nothing to write about!" Ideas are already collected neatly in a decorative bound book. It truly is a wonderful thing!
I was first introduced to this concept by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater. She is a wonderful poet and exceptional writing instructor (check out her blog Poem Farm). When I first started teaching 5th grade, Amy recommended that I use The No-Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing by Sharon Hill. This is a must have to add to your professional development shelf. Among other topics outlined in the book, their is a detailed chapter on introducing and implementing a Writer's Notebook into your classroom. Included in the lessons is the concept of "harvesting" an idea from your notebook.  A story, poem, article or any other genre of writing can be inspired by a whole entry or even just one word. Here is a sample of an entry that a student wrote and part of the published piece that it inspired.

In September I have students spend a few day collecting personal and magazine pictures that tell about their family, likes, dislikes, pets, hobbies, collections, dreams etc... The students then arrange them on the cover of a composition notebook. I give students gems (found in any craft store) to add to their cover. They really like the bling! When they are done I slather on a few coats of Modge Podge (decoupage glue found in any craft store) for durability. When the students get their notebooks back it really is a celebration and they love to show off their books to each other. The most important tip I have learned about keeping a writer's notebook is to be consistent! Make sure kids are writing in them daily or at a minimum of 3 times a week.  The years when I have had students write in their notebooks ALL THE TIME produced the best writing pieces.

Give it a try or if you already have students keep Writer's Notebooks then share your successes! As I get back into the classroom I'll share many more posts about using a Writer's Notebook. Stay Tuned!

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Classroom Community

This week I found out I was called back to work after being laid-off. Although, I will miss my 4 month old and being home when my 9 year old gets off the bus, I am very fortunate to return to a job. Starting in a classroom 5 months into the year comes with a whole new set of nerves. I know I can teach, I know I have a huge repertoire of skills and activities to choose from, but I wonder what I will be walking into. What type of structure has been put in place? What are the class rules? Homework policies? Morning routines? I know one of my biggest obstacles will be to not "throw out" all that has taken place in the past 5 month, but adjust where necessary and make a smooth transition. My first order of business is to observe what type of classroom community is present. Then make it even stronger!
Why is setting up a classroom community so important? When children feel like they are in a safe learning environment, where they can be free to show their personality, make mistakes in front of others and show emotions without fear of being ridiculed - real learning can take place!
Two resources that I have found to be exceptional in the area of creating a classroom community are The Morning Meeting Book and The First Six Weeks. Both books teach why and how to create a classroom community as well as, explains activities to use. The First Six Weeks is also great in teaching structure and the power of routines. I've used these two resources in 1st, 3rd and 5th grades. Certain years the children take to it better then others. Some classes couldn't wait to do a "greeting" activity and other years the kids were like,"You want me to do what?!" So, needless to say I made adjustment that year, but regardless of the intensity all classes learned from this structure, brought some laughs, and we learned to respect each other more.
What activities do you do in your classroom to promote a classroom community?
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