Penny Kittle Says It All

Not much needs to be said here, watch the video.  She says it all.
Not much needs to be said here, watch the video. She says it all.

This is a stand alone post, something that should be viewed and reflected upon at the beginning of the school year.  Thank you, Penny Kittle.

Take 5 minutes to sit and listen.

Thoughts?

 

Advertisements

Donalyn Miller: The Hero that Liberated Me

Screen shot 2015-08-09 at 10.59.39 AM

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.

Click Here for formatted documents:  Book Whisperer: 40 Book Challenge

Weekly schedule for Reader's Notebook to hold st. accountable
Weekly schedule for Reader’s Notebook to hold st. accountable

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 3.24.32 PM

Let’s teach and treat our 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.

Doesn't have to be pretty. A blank composition book gets the job done. :) 40 Book Challenge
Doesn’t have to be pretty. A blank composition book gets the job done. 🙂
40 Book Challenge
On display for Open House! Students were so proud of all their hard work. Tchr beaming!
On display for Open House! Students were so proud of all their hard work. Tchr beaming!
We tallied up the total number of books read for each group then the entire class. Fantastic!
We tallied up the total number of books read for each group then the entire class. Fantastic!
Love to celebrate our reading accomplishments as a whole!
Love to celebrate our reading accomplishments as a whole!
At the end of the year, we tally all the books we read as a whole. It's an amazing feeling of accomplishment! Sts are so proud! We sort of make the
At the end of the year, we tally all the books we read as a whole. It’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment! Sts are so proud! We sort of make the “reveal” of the total number an event in our class. All our celebrated for their contribution.

Tips for the 40 Book Challenge:

  1.  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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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).
  8. Any book you read aloud to the class whether it’s a picture book or novel counts towards their challenge.
  9. Share what you are currently reading energetically and often.  Let them recommend books to you and actually read them!
  10. Start a book club.  Mine was once a week before school.  (I’ll post details later or see earlier posts.)
  11. 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.
St. samples of Reader's Ntbks in action!
St. samples of Reader’s Ntbks in action!
Rd. Ntbks used throughout the year. I loved the 40 Bk challenge!
Rd. Ntbks used throughout the year. I loved the 40 Bk challenge!
Check out how SHE marked, on HER own, that she needed to change her schedule for the week. This is exactly the goal I wanted for my sts.--to be able to assess if they're schedules worked for them a week at a time. Self-monitoring to become real LIFE Readers!!
Check out how SHE marked, on HER own, that she needed to change her schedule for the week. This is exactly the goal I wanted for my sts.–to be able to assess if they’re schedules worked for them a week at a time. Self-monitoring to become real LIFE Readers!!
I annotate the letters to show I read them and model how that is diff for everyone. I also write a short response to kids each week. Sometimes they are a couple of words or a question, sometimes it's a longer response.
I annotate the letters to show I read them and model how that is diff for everyone. I also write a short response to kids each week. Sometimes they are a couple of words or a question, sometimes it’s a longer response.
Another example of my tch annotations or notes to sts each week. I learned more about my st than I EVER had with this 40 book challenge
Another example of my tch annotations or notes to sts each week. I learned more about my st than I EVER had with this 40 book challenge
Some sts preferred to type their letter (or were asked to due to illegible handwriting). No problem here! Note the tchr-st exchange on the left side. IT was awesome! Sts. loved communicating to me through a letter each week.
Some sts preferred to type their letter (or were asked to due to illegible handwriting). No problem here! Note the tchr-st exchange on the left side. IT was awesome! Sts. loved communicating to me through a letter each week.
Another example of a typed letter then glued into their reader's notebook. Up to tch discretion.
Another example of a typed letter then glued into their reader’s notebook. Up to tch discretion.
An example of simple annotations made by the tchr. You don't have to write a novel to each st every week! That would be impossible. Especially with more than one period.
An example of simple annotations made by the tchr. You don’t have to write a novel to each st every week! That would be impossible. Especially with more than one period.
St. sample--simple notes by me again.
St. sample–simple notes by me again. “Not sure. Let’s explore that.” Short, sweet, and to the point. Sometimes I simply wrote “See me” if my question was too long to write.

Welcome Back Everyone!

Here we go again, people!

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).

First Attempt In Learning--create a culture where it's ok to fail!
First Attempt In Learning–create a culture where it’s ok to fail!
Changed around my bk rec. wall because st were struggling with the genres. Needed to bring clarity.
Changed around my bk rec. wall because st were struggling with the genres. Needed to bring clarity.

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.

Take a pic of kids. Staple each face to a bag to leave throughout the school year.  Teach students how to give quality compliment and st. collect them when everyone has at least one in the bag.
Take a pic of kids. Staple each face to a bag to leave throughout the school year. Teach students how to give quality compliment and st. collect them when everyone has at least one in the bag.
St. filled out a form when they read a book they wanted to rec.  Super easy and st. used as a resource when they didn't know what their next book choice should be.  Power of the Peers!
St. filled out a form when they read a book they wanted to rec. Super easy and st. used as a resource when they didn’t know what their next book choice should be. Power of the Peers!

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.

Keeping track of fast facts results and weekly brain challenge.
Keeping track of fast facts results and weekly brain challenge.

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.

Take pics of your students. Slap a magnet on the back and voila!  The students move their head to mark which stage of the writing process they are in.  A perfect visual for both st. and tchrs.
Take pics of your students. Slap a magnet on the back and voila! The students move their head to mark which stage of the writing process they are in. A perfect visual for both st. and tchrs.
Beth Newingham we love you!  After we read any story, I printed out a small image of cover and we placed it in app. spot.  We could then refer to past reads throughout the year.
Beth Newingham we love you! After we read any story, I printed out a small image of cover and we placed it in app. spot. We could then refer to past reads throughout the year.

IMG_6550Pictures 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.

 

Questions critical readers need to ponder when reading news, history, etc. Thanks Teaching Channel!
Questions critical readers need to ponder when reading news, history, etc. Thanks Teaching Channel!
Added my own flare to this quality SIOP strategy to mark the text.
Added my own flare to this quality SIOP strategy to mark the text.
Kids LOVED the reading cave!  Also had a couch and cozy chairs in the room.  So easy to please!
Kids LOVED the reading cave! Also had a couch and cozy chairs in the room. So easy to please!

I’m Baaaaack in Action!

I’m Baaaaack in Action!

My apologies to all for the lack of content and update on this blog.  I had some minor, ok major, things going on in life and I just couldn’t keep up.  I am happy to announce that I will be back in action committed to sharing thoughts, ideas, lessons, content, etc. on this blog.  And I can’t wait to connect with other educators and/or just plain thoughtful people that can help me grow.

First, a little “me” update.  I AM NO LONGER IN THE CLASSROOM!  What??!!  I know.  It’s like I’m experiencing a sort-of-career-identity-crisis. It’s summertime and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself or where to begin preparing for this new role.  (Perhaps, someone out there can offer words of advice.)  I have accepted a position as an English Language Arts Instructional Coach for the district.  What does that exactly mean, you ask…?  Not quite sure yet.  Job description is a work in progress as this is a pilot program.  But from what I understand, I will basically be a teacher’s support system, a partner to aide in enhancing their greatness!  Nothing evaluative about it.  I truly hope to be an asset to teachers and relieve some of the constant stress they feel as they work tirelessly in the trenches.

Fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted.  Successes and failures to come, I’m sure.

Moving on from that topic, over the next couple of months my goal is to post lessons and projects from my last couple of school years.  You know, the lessons that I learned a ton from that I made a mental note to post right away.  And then I never did. Ya! Those ones.

I couldn’t help myself, but share some photos of my final Open House.

Sniff.  It was a great ride, and who knows? I may return.

Shoebox State Floats! Shoebox state floats!  Voting time!

Loved, loved, loved how these shoebox state floats turn out as their final product.
Loved, loved, loved how these shoebox state floats turn out as their final product.
Follow me for upcoming posts about all Open House projects!
Follow me for upcoming posts about all Open House projects!

Love me some Open House! IMG_6405 IMG_6418 IMG_6421

Follow me for upcoming blogs and free sharing on all Open House lessons/projects!
Follow me for upcoming blogs and free sharing on all Open House lessons/projects!
Saved all the EQs we worked on throughout the year.  Follow me for upcoming post on all EQs and lessons!
Saved all the EQs we worked on throughout the year. Follow me for upcoming post on all EQs and lessons!
Free 40 Book Challenge--and I'll upload the Reading Ribbon final project FREE soon!
Free 40 Book Challenge–and I’ll upload the Reading Ribbon final project FREE soon!
Follow me to see lesson on which event would have pushed your students over the edge! So fun.
Follow me to see lesson on which event would have pushed your students over the edge! So fun.
Follow me for all free sharing on projects and lessons!
Follow me for all free sharing on projects and lessons!

IMG_6461

I love this job-follow me for all free lessons and projects shared for Open House.
I love this job-follow me for all free lessons and projects shared for Open House.
Used mentor texts during our slavery unit to identify quality sentences, then analyzed each of them.
Used mentor texts during our slavery unit to identify quality sentences, then analyzed each of them.
Such a good lesson having students read quotes then determine who said it.  POV project
Such a good lesson having students read quotes then determine who said it. POV project
Follow me for free lesson shares!  Text connections
Follow me for free lesson shares! Text connections
Keeping it relevant for our kids!
Keeping it relevant for our kids!

IMG_6487

Contacting Parents…Help!

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.

This student information sheet is sent home the first day of school.  I have condensed all crucial info. to one sheet of paper.  The parent contact log is then copied on the backside to be used as needed throughout the year.
This student information sheet is sent home the first day of school. I have condensed all crucial info. to one sheet of paper. The parent contact log is then copied on the backside to be used as needed throughout the year.

 

This log is copied on the back of my student information sheet.  I keep all of these in one binder so that any time I contact a parent, it's easily documented.
This log is copied on the back of my student information sheet. I keep all of these in one binder so that any time I contact a parent, it’s easily documented.

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.

A simple sheet created to obtain parents' phone numbers and permission to TEXT THEM!!! Yay 21st century!
A simple sheet created to obtain parents’ phone numbers and permission to TEXT THEM!!! Yay 21st century!

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.

 

I finally made something to send home when I can't read the email address parents write on their contact forms!  Success!
I finally made something to send home when I can’t read the email address parents write on their contact forms! Success!

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!

Student Information Sheet

Parent Contact Log

Technology Contact Sheet

Incorrect Email Alert

Book Club Begins!

After being in school for a month, the time has come.

Mrs. Cortez’s Book Club will officially begin next week.  If you have ever thought of starting a book club with your students, just do it.  Don’t hesitate.  You will not be sorry.

I have been running a book club for the past 5 years with my 5th graders.  Now that I have two periods, it might get a little crazy, but that’s ok.  The pay off is too rewarding.  I have the kids meet once a week before school.  I select the first book which in the past has been Matilda, but since 4th graders read it last year, I changed it to Firegirl (an amazing book).  The students then nominate and vote on the rest of the books we read for the year.  *If a movie is made of the book, we usually schedule a time after school to watch it and compare it with the book.  It’s awesome to hear the students say that the book is better than the movie, because that’s usually the case.

Book Club Notice-- Can't wait for next week.
Book Club Notice– Can’t wait for next week.

The students bring a mug for hot chocolate and we make a treat rotation schedule for doughnuts. I used to provide the hot chocolate, but that became too costly so now I ask the parents for donations. I pick up the slack when needed. And then…we just talk about the book. No assignments, no tests, no stress. Just a good book shared with good people. Amazing.

Until next time…

Click below to see the letter I send home to parents.  Hope it helps so you don’t have to start from scratch.

Book Club Notice

 

Book Club-- hot chocolate!
Book Club– hot chocolate!
Gotta love doughnuts with a good book!
Gotta love doughnuts with a good book!

Welcome Back!

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.

Click on this link to see the survival guide– End of Year Project

1st day of school and reading the survival guides made for them by my previous class.
1st day of school and reading the survival guides made for them by my previous class.
Reading the "How to survive 5th grade" guide my previous students made
Reading the “How to survive 5th grade” guide my previous students made

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.)

Getting to know each other through Hands and Feet Art!
Getting to know each other through Hands and Feet Art!

 

Tracing each other's feet and hands to create their self-portrait.
Tracing each other’s feet and hands to create their self-portrait.

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…

House of Cards Challenge!!
House of Cards Challenge!!
You got it!! House of Card Challenge-- Easy Ice breaker activity
You got it!! House of Card Challenge– Easy Ice breaker activity
Working together- Easy ice breaker activity...building a house of cards
Working together- Easy ice breaker activity…building a house of cards