I’m not sure what everyone else is reading, but lately I have been addicted to my “Educational Leadership” magazine. This is ASCD’s flagship publication and I highly recommend it. Currently, I’m reading an archived issue, ‘Reading-The Core Skill’. (You can purchase these for approximately $8-$14.)
As some of you know, I am teaching summer school and working with teacher candidates, a.k.a. student teachers. I have had the pressure-I mean the privilege!- of sharing everything I can in regards to literacy in 5 weeks. Gulp.
As if the stars were in alignment, I just happen to have finished Richard Allington and Rachael Gabriel’s phenomenal article, “Every Child, Every Day”. This article highlights the six elements of effective reading instruction that do not require much time or money. Please take the time to read the article linked above, but for this post’s sake, I’ll post the six elements of instruction that every child should experience every day.
Every child reads something he or she chooses.
Every child reads accurately.
Every child reads something he or she understands.
Every child writes about something personally meaningful.
Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.
Let’s take some time to focus on element #1. How can teachers consistently make this happen in their classroom? Is it possible? Is there time? The answer is yes. It can happen and it must happen. But we all know the realities of the classroom, and the struggle is real–assemblies, fire drills, sick days, students taking longer than expected on a unit, and the list goes on. I get it. So what might we do?
In my next post I will share with you the strategy that finally worked for me. In my last years in the classroom, I was able to achieve a meaningful reading time every single day.
If you have been paying attention to the transition to common core, you know that collaborative conversations between students are ESSENTIAL to student learning. Learning is social; always has been, always will be. And quality teachers know that quality lessons should include all 4 components of literacy: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. (Some might argue viewing, as well. Meaning incorporating other forms of media such as video, photographs, etc.) Many teachers, pre-common core, were incorporating and fostering these types of meaningful conversations. The common core expectations have simply validated that practice. It is not new.
In an effort to assist students in participating in and initiating quality dialogue, I decided to create these table toppers for each of my groups. (My classroom desks are set up in groups as promoted by Kagan.) One side of the display is taken from the genius guru of vocabulary, Ms. Kate Kinsella. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of her professional learning sessions, do look her up. Her work on vocabulary, and her own vocabulary might I add, will have you scrambling for a thesaurus. It’s remarkable. Anyway, using her sentence frames , I simply formatted them to fit in an 8 X 11 table topper, purchased at Staples for around $8.
The reverse side of this document is “Kiss These Words Goodbye“. It’s much like a ‘Dead Words’ or an ‘Instead of _____, Say ______’ poster. The problem with these posters, I found, was that-when posted on the wall- they were too far away from students, inaccessible, really. I selected some commonly used Tier 1 words that students cling to..you know the ones, sad-mad-bad-nice, etc.—-then, wrote some synonyms for each. In my opinion, this table topper worked WAY better than any poster I ever hung on my wall. The students would CONSTANTLY refer to it, I mean physically pick it up, and read from it. Amazing!
What do you use to expand your students’ everyday vocabulary? How do you foster collaborative conversations?
So… what does an educator that has been out of the classroom for a year JUMP at the opportunity to do…why, teach SUMMER SCHOOL, of course! Yes, you heard me right. I was given the opportunity to teach a summer enrichment program for upcoming 5th graders and I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. The gig is a dream! I thought, not only can I get back into the classroom to do what I LOVE (teach!), but I also get to mentor 2 student teachers. I thought I can put all of this professional development that I have had the luxury of receiving to the test! I’m 4 weeks in, and do not regret the decision.
So first things first, I had to go back into my ‘bag of tricks’ to determine what intro activities I would plan for these students. Now, mind you, it’s not all day. The program runs from 8-12 and it’s the students’ summer-all very important things to take into consideration when planning. The other factor when planning has been ‘what is essential for me to demonstrate to these teacher candidates’? The entire program is only 5 weeks with the goal that by the end of our time together, they can be deemed ‘intern ready’ and begin applying for teaching jobs. So I was definitely feeling the pressure of creating the perfect balance of fun (for the kids) and meaningful content (for the student teachers).
Because the program was in a completely different district and I no longer have access to what used to be endless supply of materials, I was also limited in that area. This 5 weeks was definitely going to sharpen my own instructional planning skills and force me to stick to activities that get the job done in the most inexpensive way possible. Pretty much every teacher’s goal anyway, right?
One activity that made the cut was one I found on Pinterest a couple of years ago. It’s pinned on my “Beginning of the Year” board, if you need to reference it. It’s pretty self explanatory. I purchased my giant bag of M&Ms from Costco, projected the picture above on the doc cam, gave each group one hard copy for reference (for any students with vision issues or simply those that like it in-hand), and distributed each group a cup of candies.
There you have it! A quick and easy way to get the students talking and, of course, eating –after they shared. We modeled what quality conversations look like and sound like prior to the start of the activity. I find this method a better way to model collaborative, productive, and respectful conversations. Rather than explain to the students how to talk with a long, drawn out syllabus, actually let them speak and then model, praise, and correct things that you see.
A couple of years ago, I was validated and inspired by Ms. Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. If you have not yet read this book, it is a must. Immediately after turning the last page, I went straight to my computer and tried to format and create an effective and explicit way to begin a book challenge. I cannot express enough how this program has not only liberating me, but also my students. See you later points, benching students with a book in hand, read only at your level regardless of your interest, ugh. I’m over all of it. And Ms. Miller’s book allowed me to feel confident to do what I knew was right all along.
Let’s teach and treatour students as real life readers, so that there just might be a chance for them to unlock and cherish the joy of reading as we all do.
This post will be a number of pictures to better visualize how this might work in your class, tips and lessons learned over the years.
Tips for the 40 Book Challenge:
Composition Books were assembled and explained in class during the first week of school. (St. HW was to bring in photos, mag pics of things they loved or were interested in, already cut out in a plastic bag. We modge podged the covers in class.)
Read Alouds are a must! Let the students experience the joy the picture book. (Patricia Polacco, Chris Van Allsburg, Dr. Seuss are some of my favs.)
I made sure to have 15 minutes of silent reading time everyday! It was sacred-never missed. (I still feel 15 wasn’t long enough. Would have liked 20, but we had SSR during intervention block as well.)
Get rid or your “extra” stuff. You know, the “What can I do when I’m finished?” type work. Just let them READ if they finish tasks early.
Start reading children’s books now! You need to be able to recommend and guide students to fit their interests and needs, and you can’t do that unless you have read a great number of your grade level’s books. This was my favorite part of this endeavor. I now choose to read young adult or children’s novels because they are sooooo amazingly crafted. It’s been enlightening and kept me “in-touch” with my students.
Make your first order with Scholastic Books the MAX, meaning over $250. You’ll get the most points at the BOY and that’s how you build your classroom library. (I’ll post more on that later.)
Allow students to abandon a book. It’s up to the teacher, but my “rule” was that students could only abandon 2 books a trimester. They had to write a letter explaining why they wanted to abandon this book, only after they had given it a solid try (i.e. read 50 pgs. or a couple of chapters).
Any book you read aloud to the class whether it’s a picture book or novel counts towards their challenge.
Share what you are currently reading energetically and often. Let them recommend books to you and actually read them!
Start a book club. Mine was once a week before school. (I’ll post details later or see earlier posts.)
Make a book recommendation wall or system. Because you are requiring reads of certain genres, this will help students select ‘good’ stories. Seeing what their friends have read is great motivation.
It’s time for another school year. (For those that work at a year-round school, you might have long since settled into your classrooms. Hope it’s going well.) As I mentioned before, I have taken on a new role this year as an instructional coach. I’m currently on Day 6 and have attended a total of 5 trainings. I’d say it’s going rather well! (I’ll speak on the trainings at a later date because I got some really juicy tidbits to share.) Anyway, even though I don’t have my own classroom, I will still be posting things I have done in the past. You know, those things that I always said I would blog about…and didn’t.
The most important thing a teacher can do during the first days of school is to build a positive and supportive classroom culture. The students need to feel safe in order to take academic risks throughout the year. If the students are not comfortable, collaborative conversations cannot occur and learning will not reaching its optimum potential. We all know that learning is social. So if the social environment is not there, students will not achieve their full greatness.
One of my brilliant professors taught me a motto which I have since stolen and slapped on a poster. He would say, “Everyone participates, everyone learns. You either do it with us or in front of us.” He would make us repeat that each day. So when students felt like not participating in an activity (I like to incorporate dance moves, songs, cheers, etc.), that would be their choice. But I would remind them that their only other option was to do it ‘in front of us’. I have yet to have a student come to the front.
Below are some pictures that I will briefly explain. The “FAIL” poster was always a hit. Students glanced at it with scary eyes until I explained that failure was welcomed and encouraged in this class. When we fail, we learn and try again. Each day I had a different activity for the students to try to practice this concept (i.e. house of cards, math challenges, domino buildings, any fun thing found on my pinterest board).
Above was my revised book recommendation wall. Originally, I had the books only sorted by fictional and informational text. But because my “40 Book Challenge” required readings of different genres, I needed to categorize the recommendations for the students.
I always took pictures of my kids on the first day of school and made about 6 copies per student. You’ll notice in my classroom that I have their faces on everything. I like that personal touch, more so than name tags. Personal preference. The Raining Compliments was a way to teach the students how to give and receive meaningful compliments. One of my classroom jobs was a compliment coordinator. This person would let me know when each student had at least one compliment in their bag. Only then would students be able to collect their compliments during dismissal.
I know, I know. Multiplication Jail might be considered too negative. It depends on the relationship you have with your students. This is always when I used to give timed math tests (operational drills). I stopped that practice a couple years ago. Strain your Brain was simply a fun, critical thinking challenge (usually math) that students tried to solve each week.
Love this science challenge of the week. Again, it was a student’s job. The less I have to remember, the better for all. The visual for monitoring the writing process really helped me keep track of where everyone was and who needed help.
Pictures on the writing wall too! I wrote out the steps of the writing process depending on text type so the students could reference it as needed.
P.S. Love the “Please excuse our bare board. Our writing is under construction.” sign. I always felt guilty with a bare board, but this sign liberated me.
The beginning of the year is full of many things, but the one thing that comes to mind for me is PAPERWORK! All of those emergency cards, contact information for mom/dad/legal guardian, email addresses, phone numbers, allergies, things the teacher should know, students’ likes and dislikes, etc.
And the majority of it exists simply so we know the best way to contact the parents throughout the year. Really, that’s all we’re looking for. Can we text you? Email you? Call you? Or should we just send a note home? Which do you prefer? Help us out, parents! Can you please write your email address and/or phone numbers a little more clearly so that I do not enter it incorrectly in my contacts (like I inevitably do every year)? It’s all so overwhelming….,but if done correctly, saves so much time throughout the year.
Well, because I work at a year round school, my “beginning of the year” is now two months behind me–thank goodness! I thought I might share some of the beginning of the year forms that I use in hopes of lessening the burden for some of you out there just beginning your school year.
These two forms are copied back to back and given to the students on the first day of school. Parents complete only the student information sheet, as the parent contact log is used as needed throughout the year. I hole-punch these forms and keep them in one small binder. This way I can easily access a parent’s contact information and quickly turn over the paper to document the date, time, and reason for the contact. Not only is it handy, but I feel it’s important to document everything as an educator. You never know when you might need it.
This sheet was created to move myself and colleagues into the 21st century. Parents are asked if it is ok to text them and to provide the best number to do so. It’s been amazing! You would not believe the power you hold when a student knows that you can text their parent(s) right before their eyes. And now that I have a google voice number— (I’ll discuss that at in future post), the possibilities are endless. I have had such positive feedback from the parents and I feel that my parent/teacher communication has become more effective.
And finally, this form was created for all the email addresses that I CANNOT READ! It never fails. Every year, I take the time to input all my parents’ email addresses into one group contact. (This way I can send out email blasts to everyone at one time.) Well, every year I enter addresses incorrectly because I cannot read certain email addresses. Is that the letter “i” or the number one…? I mean, really, no matter how many time you write, “Print neatly please.”
Anyway, after I send out my test email. The parents’ email addresses that come back “failed to deliver” receive one of these notices. It’s the first year that I was able to correct all my mistakes! Whoooohoooo!
Welcome back to a new school year! I know many of you are just now getting into “school mode”, but those of us that teach at year round schools have been at it since the beginning of June.
This year I am still teaching 5th grade, but a HUGE change has occurred. I am now team teaching with an amazing colleague so that I can focus my instruction on my great loves: social studies and language arts. Whoohoo for me! We are five weeks in and so far, I’m loving it. I already can’t imagine going back to planning lessons for ALL subjects. No thank you.
Anyway, my first post is just going to share a couple of fun “intro” activities I did with my students this year. (I’ll share more in my next post.)
The first activity of the 1st day was our “Welcome to 5th grade” Survival Guides. My previous class made a survival guide for each incoming student. I placed on guide on each student’s desk and we did a Round Robin read. I let each student read a guide for 2 minutes (they weren’t that long) and then yelled “Pass!” so they passed the guide to the person on their left. Another 2 minutes, then “pass”….until everyone had read multiple survival guides. I then had the groups share their thoughts about 5th grade with their team. As they discussed, I placed a small piece of chart paper on each teams’ desks. They had to come up with one prediction statement about their 5th grade year. Some needed sentence frames so I posted them. For example, “I predict 5th grade will be _____ because ______.” Or “After reading these survival guides, I predict 5th grade ________.”
I prefer to do activities like this as opposed to handing out a packet of rules/routines and reading through it. This way, the students can actually get a feel of how the class will operate and my rules/routines are demonstrated in action. No need for long lectures.
Next, the students were to create “Hands and Feet Art”. This activity is done for two reasons: it’s an ice breaker for students to work closely with a partner and it the results are always hilarious. I love being able to post the final products for Parent Information Night. (I’ll post photos soon.)
The last activity was the “House of Cards Challenge”. I have a poster in my classroom that says….”It’s okay to F.A.I.L. First Attempt in Learning”. I like to give the kids a challenge that I know they will not be able to figure out or succeed in their first try. I use this as a way to let my students know that it is OKAY TO FAIL!! What is most important in any task is our attitude, our plan of attack, and our perseverance.
So the first challenge of the year was to use a deck of cards to build the tallest structure. That was it. No other rules except they had to work with their partner. The results are always entertaining. We did this the first day and again on day 2 and 3. The kids, of course, got better and better. I even assigned a follow up for homework: they had to find a strategy of how to build a house of cards, whether that was online or asking a family member. They loved it! And they got better!
Happy beginning of the year everyone— Until next time…
Really quickly—- just going to post some pictures of my new classroom. Once my student work starts going up, I’ll spend more time explaining each part of the classroom. I LOVE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT!
Students love when they can read at places other than their desks.
The Writing Wall — now complete with pictures of each student to accompany their work this year.
The blue bags get filled with compliments. Once each student has at least one compliment, the students are able to collect all the compliments on their way home. The compliment coordinator keeps track of this. New this year: Book Recommendation Wall–we’ll see how this works out.
This is how I keep track of where my students are in writing. As the students progress at different rates, they move their heads to the step they are on in the writing process. Because we are just beginning summaries on Monday, all faces are in the prewriting stage. (I used to keep track on paper, but this visual is soooo helpful!) Also pictured is the science challenge of the week. I believe I bought it at Lakeshore and it’s a purchase I have never regretted. My science monitor manages this for me.
Multiplication Jail, Strain your Brain, and Unanswered Questions will be further discussed in a later post.