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?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Behavior- More then a flip chart!

When I started teaching over 10 years ago, I thought the three color flip chart was the answers to classroom management, but I never quite felt right implementing it.  I hated that kids could not reverse their flip. Once it's flipped you can't turn gotta go through with the consequence. What do I do if or when they get to the final flip (usually the red card)? Ugh! Call a parent? Send a note home? Go to the office? I like to avoid all of those options at all times. After a horrific outburst of behavior in my first grade classroom I knew something needed to be done.  I attended a behavior seminar with a few of my first grade colleagues and my attitude toward classroom behavior was changed forever. Good Bye three color flip chart!

The presenter explained a whole new rationale to controlling/correcting behavior in the classroom.  Think about this: The classroom is 95% procedures and 5% rules. What amazing sense that makes!  I went back to my classroom and I typed up a procedure for EVERY aspect of the classroom. From throwing garbage out, sharpening pencils, needing to use the bathroom, needing the teachers attention, to arrival, dismissal, and lining up routines.  I kept each procedure to no more then 5 directions and we studied and practiced them several times a day. As explained to both the students and parents, "When a child knows what to do in any given situation (pencils breaks, can't see the board, someone is talking to them during a lesson, needing help etc...) disruptive behavior is practically eliminated.

In addition to procedures we had only 4 Ground Rules. The word ground is very important. When you are grounded, your feet are down and you are aware of your surroundings and how you are effecting those around you. The Ground Rules are: 1. I will not hurt others 2. I will not hurt myself 3. I will hurt animals/pets 4. I will not hurt property. Now, as you may make behavior contracts or decrees in the beginning of the year, all the random rules you come up with will fit within these 4 ground rules. For example, I will keep my hands and feet to myself.  Well, what rule does that fit into? I will not hurt others. The same with I will raise my hand before speaking.  If you don't raise your hand you will be disruptive and hurting others.  We discussed these ground rules and talked about dozens of rule infractions and what ground rule it would fit into.  Using ground rules are also expanded to be applied at home.

I do understand that their does need to be some way to motivate and track the choices that are made in class. You'll notice that I did not say good or bad behavior. Children are not "good" or "bad". They make good and bad choices! It is important to encourage students to reflect on the choices that they make.  Now, this brings me to a wonderful alternative to a classic flip chart.  I call it a Smile Chart.  As you can see their is a middle column, Good Job and three moves up the chart: Super, Excellent, Awesome. There's also three moves down the chart: Oops, Not Here and No!. I love using this chart and most importantly I love that I am able to recognize positive/good choices that are observed. However, there are also times when I must call attention to bad choices that are being made. Trust me, students would rather move up the chart then down! Students keep a replica of the Smile Chart in their take-home folder and at the end of every day they must color in the smiley face that their piece is on.

This chat has worked in a 1st, 3rd and 5th grade classroom.  I love inviting students to move up the chart. It reminds me to make sure I recognize the individual in each child! If you have any questions about this chart or how to make it. please let me know! How do you think this would work in your classroom?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Picture Books Are Great As Mentor Texts

Picture books = MOTIVATION in the classroom! To build on my previous post about how picture books are for ALL grades, I'd like to talk about using "mentor texts" to aid in the teaching of reading and writing skills. The idea of a mentor text is that you choose a few exemplar pieces that you want to study that addresses the skill you're focusing on. A great resource to add to your professional collection is Mentor Tests by Lynne Dorfman. This resource outlines many mini-lessons that teach how to dissect a piece and use it as a model. A mentor text can be a picture book, an article, a well written paragraph from a chapter book, or even one of your student's pieces! Children love to be highlighted in this way.  Any form of text that you want to highlight as an exceptional piece can be considered a mentor texts.  This is great for teaching test taking writing, how to write sentences, paragraphs, complete pieces, vocabulary development, use of great details, or even character, setting, or plot development.

One of my favorite writing pieces to teach is the "Moment In Time" piece with using the book, In Mamma's Kitchen by Jerdine Nolen. This book takes you through specific moments in a little girl's life as she recalls important memories.  I combine this with another lesson outlined in Mentor Texts  that is about using an inverted triangle to narrow down a broad topic into a very specific, detailed memory, just like in In Mamma's Kitchen.  I start by reading the picture book just for enjoyment. The next day I use a part of the book and model the use of an inverted triangle. We do this several time (as there are several memories in the book to use) and then the students are let loose to try using an inverted triangle to narrow down their own memory. This writing piece requires many revisits to model how an inverted triangle works. Also emphasized in this piece is that less is more. A very focused moment in time, if written well, many only take a page and that is okay! Sometime children get too caught up in thinking longer writing means better writing.  This writing piece is great to tackle in September when you are just getting to know your students and their abilities.

What picture books have you used to teach lessons?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Picture books are not just for primary grades!

"I used to know an old man who could walk by any cornfield and hear the corn singing."..."Long ago a river ran through a land of towering forests."..."In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby."...Gerald was a tall giraffe whose neck was long and slim."..."Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair. Her paper was empty."... In just the opening lines of these picture books your mind is immediately filled with wonder, questions,  and beginning visions of what is to come. Who is this man that can hear corn sing? What animals once drank from the river that ran through the tall trees? Why was Vashti's paper empty and will it ever be filled? Picture books are not just for the Primary grades!

Some of the most detailed and moving stories are told within the the thirty-two pages of a picture book. These authors are charged with the challenging task of completely developing a story from grabbing your attention, to telling the problem, taking you through the solution, and tying it all up in the end.  To think all of this must be done within a very short amount of time!  If anything, picture books should be especially used in the intermediate grades.  Students in the upper grades can be taught to understand story elements in ways that go beyond just knowing the characters, setting, and problem.  They can begin to develop an understanding of "writers' craft" and how to study picture books, find elements of writers' craft and then incorporate those elements into their own writing.

Picture books are fantastic for small group/center activities.  Try this: Place 5-10 picture books from the same author in a center.  Have students read the books and complete a mini author study.  What do the books from this author have in common? What are their differences?  An activity like this can meet all the different learning levels of your class. Students that need more assistance may notice similarities or differences in characters or settings where the more advanced learner may find commonalities in plot development.  In the end, all students will learn from exploring picture books.

Picture books are perfect for improving the quality of students own writing. If you are working on teaching students how to write better leads that will grab the reader's attention then consider this. Place a basket of picture books in the middle of a group of students. Have students read as many opening paragraphs (only the beginning paragraph) from as many picture books as they can in a set amount of time. As you being the discussion, ask students what they remember about the leads they read. Which openings made you wonder? laugh? think "who cares"? Chart their answers and have them practice just writing leads to stories. Make sure they refer back to the chart and include only quality elements of an opening. Using picture books as quality models of writing will improve how students write.

I absolutely LOVE to read picture books when introducing a new unit, topic, or writing theme. Not only can they model the great quality of writing you are looking for, but they really get children motivated! To introduce a writing piece about focusing on a moment in time try The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins by Lester Laminack. Want to illustrate how non-fiction writing can have a fiction like flow and feel? Read Bat Loves The Night or One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies. Want to keep your kids guessing til the last page? Dive into books by Eve Bunting such as, The Wednesday Surprise or Someday a Tree. Patricia Polacco, author of dozens of books, celebrates the beauty of family, culture, and heritage in books such as The Keeping Quilt and Thunder Cake. She also addresses emotional times in history like in the book The Butterfly. There is a picture book out there to address every aspect of your classroom.

Remember, whether you are a primary or intermediate teacher, as you are sitting down to plan your lessons for next week, fit in as many read alouds or explorations of pictures books as you can. Your students will appreciate this time and it will motivate them to be better readers and writers.

What is your favorite picture book that you remember as a child or that your children like to read?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Why Motivate To Learn?

Welcome to Motivate To Learn! This blog is all about sharing what motivates the happenings of a classroom.  What will motivate children to learn? What will motivate teachers to grow? What will motivate the classroom community to be strong? You'll find postings about teacher resources, lesson plans, tips and ideas, pictures and much more. So, please join me on this journey and share along with me!

A little bit about me... I am an elementary teacher of 10 years who was recently laid-off.  This has been a tough blow for my family, but, like many other families, we are making due. However, this time has also been joyful in that I have been able to be home with my sons. Now, being away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom leaves me a little squirrely.  I thought about how I can still stay connected to education while being at home. I've started stores at Teachers Pay Teachers as well as, Teacher's Notebook, but I was still feeling like I wanted to share more resources, knowledge and be more connected to other teachers. So, along came Motivate To Learn.  I truly do believe that the classroom is an amazing place to be! With all the craziness that is going on in education from testing, Core Standards, budgets, teacher evaluations to the ever changing school culture, the classroom is what grounds the students. Behind the door of a classroom a teacher nourishes childrens' minds and social development. The teacher implements new ideas and perfects old-school ones. The teacher strives to become better at their craft. The classroom truly is an amazing place! What amazing happenings go on in your classroom?
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