Monday, January 12, 2015

Civil Rights in Action~Post #2 Free Timeline Activity

I have updated my Civil Rights Timeline activity. It's a freebie on TPT if you need something engaging for Civil Rights. This mini-research unit takes about a week to complete in my classroom. {If you missed yesterday's post, it contains a Civil Rights Image Gallery activity, another freebie, that is perfect to do prior to the timeline research activity.}
Students research one of 25 events or people from Reconstruction to Civil Rights that help them develop an understanding of why the Civil Rights movement was necessary and what events led to this being a "movement" versus a few small protests. If you know of events you want students to research, you can easily include them in this mini-research project. After all students complete an illustration and summary of their event on the timeline card, we jigsaw the events onto our Civil Rights timelines. (This is one of the aspects of the freebie that I improved--using less pages by omitting years where no events are included in my timeline and stretching out years where many events took place).

I used the African American World Timeline from PBS to create this timeline activity. The website only gives a short description of the event and many of the links within are now unavailable :( So, this week, I had to quickly find other websites that would help students complete their research.

One website that has been popping up when I type "for kids" is Have you used this website? It seems pretty useful and on a kid-level for was even useful in our biome research during science today. are links to some of the websites we are using:

Freedom: A History of US
Civil Rights for Kids
Civil Rights Events Resources (a few)
Learning History through Art (lots of background)
16th Baptist Church Bombing
Montgomery Alabama bus boycott
Plessy v Ferguson
President Truman's Executive Order
Greensboro Sit-Ins Homepage
Ruby Bridges
Civil Rights Video Links
Ruby Bridges goes to School

Did you know that you can copy and paste links from one webpage to another? If you want these on your own class website, just copy and add! Just keep in mind that I have not explored the sites fully, but believe that the pages I have linked to are appropriate for 4th graders. 

Head over to TPT to download this updated FREEBIE!~~! The download has lots of extras, like a one-page timeline for teacher and/or student reference, a one page Civil Rights vocabulary handout, directions for the teacher, and a list of suggested picturebooks and novels. If you like this activity, show me some love here and on TPT :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Civil Rights in Action!-Post #1

In reading, we began a historical fiction unit focused on the Civil Rights. I always want to launch new units with an engaging activity, duh!, although sometimes this is hard to pull off. Luckily, the idea to start with photographs popped into my mind as I was planning. I have used this technique for talking about propaganda used by Hitler during the Holocaust and found it to be really effective and powerful. Images immediately increase students' background knowledge and (especially for studying a new time period), students can get a sense of the setting and the climate of the place at that time. Not only does it provide an awesome way to launch a unit, but we constantly refer to the images in our future discussions as we increase background knowledge and move through specific topics and events.
Without announcing the topic of our study, I had students respond to the images in their reading response notebooks. I wanted students to be able to write any thoughts or questions they had, but I also gave them a few questions to give a little extra support for students who might not know how to respond to this open-ended activity. I kept students in whole group to write about image #1 to make sure they knew what they were supposed to do when they began the "image walk."
-I see...I wonder...
-What's your reaction?
-What knowledge do you have about this image?
-What questions does this image bring to mind?
-Can you connect this image to another image?

You can download the set of images I used. I chose 14 images that are pretty famous for the Civil Rights movement, age-appropriate for 4th graders, and some that are specific to events in North Carolina. The download is editable so you can modify it to fit your needs {or just roll with it with plans ready!} I planned for students to analyze the images for about 30 minutes and they could have used 45 or more. It really depends on whether or not you want students to get to write about them all. If so, I suggest choose just a few images from the 14. 

My procedures: 
-Preparation: Post images in hallway or other space around the room. I printed two sets of the images so that with 21 students, 28 images were available for analysis. I also printed the images 4 to a page for students to refer to later in their discussion groups. 
-I allowed students to do a silent walk by the image gallery before beginning the written response. This way, if they didn't get to all images, at least they got to see them. It also was a way to trigger some prior knowledge on the topic.
-Students responded to the images independently, trying to get to as many as possible in the time allotted. I traveled around the room reading their responses and noting individual students' background knowledge and pushing students who were not going beyond describing the pictures (literal thinking) to go into deeper responses. (Each image is numbered so that students can record the image they are responding to).
-After the allotted time, students met in groups of 4 to share and discuss what they saw and what they thought. I had them choose a recorder to take notes using a t-chart where they listed "questions" and "thoughts" from their group. 
-Finally, I wanted us to meet in whole group to discuss and chart our questions, but we ran out of time and had to do this the following day. 

Now, each day, I choose one or two images for us to discuss prior to beginning our minilesson and activities for the day. I try to choose something related to what we will be discussing. For example, I'll choose the Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges on the day I read The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. Use this as an opportunity to elicit questions to see if the read aloud (or video resource) answers those questions.

Stay tuned for post # 2 tomorrow where I share my Civil Rights timeline activity and a list of appropriate books for a study of the Civil Rights. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

One Word~2015 Style

One-word. I know you've heard about it. I love this concept of figuring out one word for the New Year. So many of us have SO~MANY~GOALS we want to work on. Let's face it, our lives are not simple. We are busy. We are teachers, lesson-planners (those are two separate jobs!), home-based chefs, housekeepers, bill-payers, going organic, organizers, sleepers--yes, sometimes, coffee-drinkers, "sharpening-the-saw"ers, commuters, runners, business owners, mothers or fathers, significant others, daughters and sons, volunteers, (ah-hem~over-extenders), friends, the list goes on!

And dang, I want to make goals to be Ahhhh-mazing in all of those things! But, just reading that list was a little overwhelming wasn't it? "One word" for goal setting (@ New-Year's or anytime) is awesome because you can really choose something that generalizes to all areas of your life. My "one-word" for 2014 was:   
SIMPLIFY is my PERFECT word for 2015. How did I come up with my word this year? To be honest, I wasn't even sure I was going to have a resolution or word...I'm always still working on the goals I had last month (haha)!

I follow the blog 99u on facebook and one of the articles I caught related to New Year's really stuck with me. The article's called "5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits that Stick." #3 is Eliminate Excessive Options.  In the explanation, Gregory Ciotti says there is great willpower in being boring. He shares an anecdote about Barack Obama and his grey and navy suits--that these are the only color suits he has in his closet so that he can spend his time making the important decisions. Research has found that "making repeated choices deplete(s) the mental energy." Ummm, yes. Yes, it does! And, I think we just found out the reason why teachers are so dang exhausted at the end of the day!

Well, being that decisions weigh me down constantly, that caught my attention. And being that 2015 is 99% certainly going to be one of the biggest decision making years of my life--think sell house, buy new house, possibly transition to a new school {again}, live with the {LOVES} of my life,--yes, in the same house, and choose a great school for a 7 year old, I need some SIMPLICITY in 2015 so that I can make the big decisions that need to be made.

As a teacher, I have a tendency to over-think (or shall I say "over-complicate") things. Not making decisions quickly enough, not keeping things routine and simple enough, and not prioritizing effectively make up my teacher "Achilles heel." And then I end up wanting to pull my hair out, or cry, or pull my hair out and cry, because I'm not planned for the day, the week, or even the next minute! It's like I never learn from my past successes to---hey---just do that thing again! 

How do I plan to simplify in 2015? Well for starters:
-eat the same thing for breakfast, snack, and lunch Mon-Fri (yes, I over think food, especially since I want to cook for myself and eat healthier, and I like to eat, but I am also satisfied eating the same things over and over--this will also help with my "get back in shape" goal!) I found an awesome list of 50 salads on pinterest and I plan to just pick a different one each weekend and make my salad bowls for the week. (Routine, but varied just might work!)
-make teaching decisions faster based on what I've done in the past. Stop over thinking it and looking for "new" things. If it worked, do it again. If I have time to re-think something, fine, but don't make re-inventing the wheel the only way I do my job. K.-I.-S.-S.! Keep It Simple Smart teacher! At work today, I pulled out this old-goodie and got to planning my historical fiction unit (yes-based on what I had done in the past!!) It's a freebie if you need something for Civil Rights!
I introduced my 5th graders to "one word" last year and they came up with some amazing (and very fitting, full of reflection) ideas. I gave them 1 page and 1/2 page clip art frames to write their word on. The idea was for them to post the 1/2 page sign in their locker and the other at home as a reminder of their "one word." I will probably take the time to have my 4th graders create "one-word" next week because it's such a valuable opportunity to reflect and commit to some changes.
Are you following me on Facebook? I wish ya would, because reaching out to my followers more is another one of my goals for 2015 ;)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Multiplication Intervention: "Count-By" Activities to Improve Number Sense and Fact Fluency

I have been on a journey this year to ensure that my 4th graders master their multiplication facts. When I used the term "master," I mean with fluency and automaticity--no tricks, no fingers, no count-by's down the side of their page--just automatic fact recall. {Although, I will admit, I still use some mental tricks for a few of my math facts ;)} Being a 5th grade teacher at heart who is teaching 4th grade, I know how critical multiplication facts are. I know that students who know their multiplication facts have an easier time learning how to multiply and divide larger numbers, how to recognize fractions that need to be simplified, noticing patterns in numbers, and using algebraic reasoning. Other concepts that are embedded in knowing our multiplication facts include prime, composite, common multiples, finding common denominators, and divisibility.

Multiplication fact fluency is SOOO important for continued math success. Students who know their multiplication facts are more confident when learning a new skill. Students who do not know their multiplication facts may feel that they don't understand new concepts (everyone who can multiply quickly is already ahead of them in solving the multiplication, division, or simplifying fractions problem), when in actuality, they are so hung up on figuring out a multiplication fact that what comes next in the process goes on the back burner and they have most likely forgotten what the teacher has just shown them to do next. I know what you are thinking {maybe}--give them a multiplication fact chart that they can refer to. Great idea, but is this a "forever" solution?

This year, I implemented Rocketship Math, a math facts program that I was trained on a few years ago and had implemented into my 5th grade classroom once. I'll share more about Rocketship in another post, but you can click on the program's website to learn more. For the purposes of this post, you just need to know that it's about a 10 minute fact fluency routine that my students do each day.

So, we have been using Rocketship since the second week of school and I have students who have already moved on to division...I also have students who seem to have flat-lined around levels I-L. Students get 6 tries to pass a level before something else needs to be implemented. Often, the something extra is that my students choose to study at home when they have tried 2-3 times without passing. However, some students do not choose to study at home and are just not moving.

One day, I watched a student write "4 x 9 = 37" and it hit me...this student doesn't even realize that all multiples of 4 are even. This student lacks number sense and has perhaps not had the "obvious to me" pointed out to her. I have students who count-by to get to their facts, but their count-by's aren't even efficient (like in the image above "6, 12, 18--19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24--24...what was I doing again?"). This student doesn't realize that they can count by 6's then add 3 and 3 or have other ways to efficiently count up to multiples they do not yet have memorized.

Somewhere in my research, I read that to master multiplication facts, students need lots of experiences with "county-bys." I follow Donna's blog Math Coach's Corner {like a stalker ;} and read this blog post that suggested a "Count around the Circle" activity. That sounds great for the younger grades. I read that wishing my students could go back in time and have that circle experience, but  I couldn't see myself getting my whole class to sit in a circle and productively play this game when only about 5 of my students really need it.

I realized that a handful of my students need a separate intervention that is a few steps back from the fact memorization I'm aiming for. These students need extra time working with "count-bys" and looking for patterns in their fact families. Out of this realization, grew my Number Sense Intervention Tasks, fun ways for students to look for number patterns and practice "count-by's" so that they become more efficient. I have finished all of the sets and made Multiplying by 2's and 7's FREEBIES.

In every set, you will find the following activities:
Which of these Does Not Belong? Students use number sense to figure out which number does not make sense for that multiple, maybe it is too close to a multiple students know, maybe it is odd and should be even, maybe it does not have the correct number in the ones place, etc.
Which of these Does Not Belong~Extension Pages
Find the Missing Multiple-forces students to "count-by" for a purpose and to become more efficient doing so by noticing whether or not the next multiple is in the chart. Use these cards a lot and hopefully it will break students from counting up to the next multiple one-number-at-a-time.
Multiple Search: another fun reason to "count-by" to find three strings of multiples from the 1st multiple all the way to 12th.
120's boards for analyzing patterns and having aha moments (like all multiples of 4 are even!)

I hope you take the time to check out these Number Sense Intervention Tasks:
Multiplying by 2's TRY IT FREE
Multiplying by 3's
Multiplying by 4's
Multiplying by 5's
Multiplying by 6's
Multiplying by 7's TRY IT FREE!
Multiplying by 8's
Multiplying by 9's
Multiplying by 10's
Multiplying by 11's
Multiplying by 12's
Number Sense Intervention Bundle

In my next post, I will go through a format for using these tasks {with repetition} in a small group intervention setting. Happy New Year to you!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

~Words their Way Word Derivational Relations Notebook~

If you have followed my blog, you know that I am a big fan of Words their Way. {You might take a minute to check out my detailed post including 10 tips for implementing word study and a detailed explanation of my routines--this is great info for Word Study/spelling programs even if you do not use Words their Way.}

Today, I'm focusing in on my Derivational Relations Spellers (the blue group). Students who fall into this group are your best spellers. I have always felt that the Derivational Relations Group needed a little something more for their word study activities. Students who fall into the Derivational Relations Spellers group can often spell the words provided in their sorts with much ease. Typically, these students also find it easy to quickly attain word meanings and spellings for new words. In the past, I have had them complete Frayer Model-type activities (pick 10 words, record synonyms, draw an illustration, make a personal connect, write a definition or a sentence, generate other words that contain the word part, etc). I have also had them create crossword puzzles for others in their group to complete. However, these default activities never felt organized or worthwhile enough, so this year, I decided I wanted to get ahead of the game and have extension activities that made sense for each Derivational Relations Unit.

I created Word Study Notebook Activity sheets to go with each sort to help my Derivational Relations Spellers analyze spellings, sound changes, and meanings of their word study words. The activities are designed for independent exploration and reinforcement of concepts that are embedded in the unit of study. However, these activities could also be used to guide a lesson in a small group meeting. {Side note, I also think that the Derivational Relations Spellers sorts would be perfect for 5th-6th grade as a whole-class vocabulary/word study program combined with differentiated spelling/word study. If I were teaching 5th grade this year, I would be using these activities whole-group to expose students to prefixes, suffixes, and Greek and Latin roots--the main focus of the blue book.}

Using the Activity Sheets

These word study notebook activity sheets are meant to be a companion to Words Their Way: Derivational Relations Spellers (Templeton, Johnston, Bear, and Invernizzi). You really need the word sort books to implement this differentiated word study program.

Based on the level of difficulty of the activity pages and how progressed your students are with being “independent thinkers,” you may choose to have them complete some of the sheets independently and save others for their small group meeting with the teacher. These sheets can also be completed in partners. (You might specify how you want the activities completed prior to students beginning the set for each sort.) Allowing students to work in partners at the beginning of a unit (say the first and second sorts in the unit) and then expecting students to complete later activities in the unit independently is another way you can provide extra support and scaffolding. This week, I had students pair up and share their work after they completed the activities.

The Routine for Derivational Relations Spellers

I set aside 20 minutes for word study with the goal of having our word study block consistently 3-4 times a week.

Day 1 and Day 2: My students begin their individualized Words-Their-Way word study routine with my “blind” Word Search activity. Because I want students searching for word patterns and increasing their ability to recognize correctly spelled words—a major key to spelling improvement—these word searches do not contain the word list. (Word searches for each Words Their Way Level can be found in my store.) This routine activity is meant to be an engaging, fun way for students to discover their word study words. As students find words in the word search, they are required to record the words they have found, sorting them categories based on sound and/or look of the word, just as they do in other Words their Way sorting activities.

*At end of day two/beginning of day 3, you may give students their word study word list from Words Their Way: Derivational Relations Spellers to provide students with feedback on the words they have not yet found. I don't have my derivational spellers cut the words apart. They really just need the word list.

Day 3 and 4: Students work on the Word Study Notebook extension activities to build deeper understanding of word spellings and/or meanings.

Day 5: Meet with teacher: This meeting provides an opportunity to go over activities that students had difficulty with and to reinforce specific the word study concepts based on the word list students are working on.

Day 6: Assessment: Call out words and take a “traditional” spelling test OR complete a “blind sort” spelling test (this means students cannot see the words but sort the words into categories as they record them.) I love blind sort assessments because as I watch students categorize words, I see them actively thinking about spelling—erasing, moving words around, and correcting spelling.

I cycle my students through a staggered word study routine. Keep in mind that if sort activities require additional time or if my word study time is limited, I can have students cycle through the same routine twice for one sort. (Based on difficulty level and students’ prior knowledge, some sorts may require an extra cycle while others may not.)

Word Study Routine Tip: Stagger It!

I have found it helpful to stagger word study groups so that each of the activities (like “meet with the teacher” and “Spelling City”) happen on a different day for each word study group. This has allowed me to better manage the needs of each group and focus most of my attention on one group on their “teacher” day . Staggering the activities also allows me to further differentiate and tweak student activities without stigmatizing certain groups (usually needed for the highest and lowest groups). For example, my lowest group completes Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check with their words and I embed their assessment into their teacher day, while my higher group has a whole set of additional activities to complete.

Staggering my word study routine also allows me to target a major word study issue—the fact that organizing our schedule based on Monday-Friday often fell apart. In the past, I have created my word study routines/schedule based on a 5 day week, but we rarely get an uninterrupted 5 day week for word study. In my classroom, this usually meant that the assessment day didn’t happen and students just moved on to a new list AND it also caused students and me frustration because it was hard to be dedicated to the routines I had trained them for.

To visually represent this change in thinking, I display our word study schedule and place a magnet above the day we are on that says “We Are On…” This way, if we have a short week or a scheduled interruption, we don’t have to completely cancel word study or skip activities for that word list. Although we might take a week and a half to cycle through the activities for one word list, we value word study more because we know ALL of the routines are going to happen for that word list. When we are almost at the end of a quarter or close to a long break, I can start staggering groups out of word study.

Side-note: At the beginning of the year, it is important to model and complete these routines whole-group so that students understand the routines and expectations for each activity.

Words Their Way Derivational Relations Spellers Word StudyIf you are interested in taking the Derivational Relations Activities for a test drive, I have uploaded the activity sheets for Sorts 1 and 22 on teacherspayteachers. If you download, I would love some feedback!

I would also love to answer any questions you have about Word Study!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Whole Numbers Estimation: Real World Math Freebie

Math is a subject that I love to teach. I was a math nerd when I was in school. It just made sense to me and I could usually find the "right" answer. I also enjoyed problem solving and would push myself until I got it. There's just something about math that never makes me want to give up. As a teacher, I have always wanted to make math a "real-world" subject. I mean I always want to be able to answer "Why am I learning this?" when I'm teaching students. (My 4th and 5th graders rarely ask that question, maybe because most of them enjoy math, but aren't they lucky that I always want to make the real-world connection for them?) Now, I will admit, I spend way too much time stressing myself out about this, especially when it is an objective where I am the one saying "Why the heck do my kids need to know this?!?" And sometimes, I just have to move on with my life and just teach the concept at the highest level possible without addressing the "why we need to know this" question. 

Rounding and estimation are two topics that I now introduce with a "real-world" experience. This year, I wanted students to round larger numbers and estimate a total. I scoured the internet for good catalogs to use. Lego catalogs would be really cool if you had enough for the whole class. (I signed up for their mailing list, but plan to call and ask them to send me 25 of one catalog for future lessons). I asked parents for any suggestions--I really wanted the activity to be fun for the kids and for the catalog to contain things that they would enjoy shopping for, and I just didn't want to go the clip-art catalog route yet. FAO Schwartz was the perfect answer for my needs. 

For the lesson, students are guided through a number of "rounds" that have different constraints. In round one, we are just introducing rounding and estimation. Students: 1) have $1000 to spend and must buy three items, 2) have $1000 to spend and can buy as many items as they want, and 3) have $1500 to spend and can buy as many items as they want. They calculated the estimated amount and exact amount by hand and then checked it with a calculator. (These directions are all provided on the student handout in a chart format. After each part of round 1, I am sure to ask students to discuss the strategies they used for estimating. One of my students shared that they were looking for combinations of numbers--they chose an item that would round to 100 then they chose two items together that would round to 200 (like a $160 item and a $40 item). As I walked around and helped them fill out their charts, I asked how they were choosing their items. In the first rounds, of course, students are looking for things they want in the catalog, but by the end, they are challenged by the criteria to consider the costs more.  
My favorite part of the lesson (which spanned a few days) was when students were challenged in Round 2 to get as close to $1500 as possible with only 5 items. I did the challenge with them and many strategies came about that provided for interesting math discussions. For example, I was $4 away from $1500. I challenged them to see who could get closer than I did. Then, I started trying to figure out how I could get closer. Well, if one of my items cost $169 and I needed $4 more, then I needed to look for items that cost $173. I took my list of items and made added $4 to each one to see what exact cost I should be looking for. We loved this so much, it hit me that it would have been an AWESOME, engaging way to practice addition skills without students actually realizing it. 
Click here to get your free download of the FAO Schwartz Shopping Catalog and here for the student worksheets/guide I used for my lessons. 

In 5th grade, rounding decimals is huge, so I like to use a grocery store advertisement and follow a similar process as I did with the whole numbers estimation lesson. (You might want to go through the ad and change some of the prices to make the rounding task more challenging).  

Happy math teaching!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Will I Ever Feel Like I'm a Better Teacher?

(Or more accurately, "Will I ever feel like I have my $*** together?!?!") Do you ask yourself this question as much as I do?

This year is my TENTH year of teaching. I left the school where I started my teaching career 9 years ago and am now at a new school. I am teaching 4th grade, which I have done twice before, but our science and social studies standards are new. It's also the first time I have taught 4th grade Common Core standards, but I don't feel like that is too much of a leap from 5th grade. Still, I regularly feel like teaching kicks my butt.

I follow Gretchen at Always a Lesson. Gretchen writes a lot about improving teachers through coaching and ongoing support. This month, she posted an article entitled "No More 'Tell'; It's time to 'DO'!"  Gretchen wrote about the "Get It/Do It Gap." Basically, teachers get feedback, are told what to change (or often in my case--have ideas for what to change themselves), but rarely put that feedback or those ideas into action. And then, there's little to no follow up or accountability, so the gap gets wider and the practices that might improve our teaching or impact learning in our classroom are a distant memory. Wow, that's amazing. I'm in a gap. I think all teachers are...some of us may stay in that gap longer than others, but I think all of us can fall victim to the "Get It/Didn't Do It" cycle.

When I skimmed through Gretchen's article, I was immediately reminded of my handy-dandy planner I'm using this year. I usually just purchase a month-by-month planner but this year, I got one with monthly and weekly pages. I decided I wanted the weekly pages because I am T-e-R-r-I-b-L-e at "to do" lists. I use tons of sticky notes (guilty) to remind myself of things to get done and then lose them. Find them, realize I didn't do that thing (or I did) and throw the notes away. I wanted to get more efficient at using my planning time at school, with prioritizing my tasks, and have a place to jot down what I wanted to get done at home. The day-by-day pages work great because I can put something on my list, but write it down for a day in the future when it's more critical instead of having everything on my mind in one long list. When I get something done, I can highlight it off of my list.

Now, back to "the gap" and what it has to do with my planner. I have had a number of classroom "to-do's" on my list that just keep moving to the following week. I caught myself in this trap and finally told myself "get these dang things off of your list right now or stop writing them down!" The tasks that I keep pushing aside (or running out of time to complete) very well might be things that would improve my classroom instruction or students' understanding of what we are learning. Do you have this problem of not implementing the ideas you come up with? I started questioning how teachers are supposed to deal with this. I mean, we are WALKING IDEA FACTORIES! We have ideas all day long (and I love being a TPT seller, but this also just keeps the ideas coming--new things to create, new things to blog about, new ideas we see on pinterest, etc). These days, our ideas are ~endless~ as teachers...but how do we decide what should be the focus of our energies? One resounding question came to mind: what can I do right now that will impact student growth the most?

Gretchen also talked about accountability partners. That got me thinking. Who do I really need to be accountable to? I am the one that feels the most guilt when I think I am not doing my best. I am the one I need to be accountable to...and my students and my promise to them to do the best that I can to help them grow.

So, you know how much I <3 my planner this year? I thought, what if that space I keep writing my to-do list in became my reflective space?!?!? And, what if I took ten minutes each afternoon to reflect on the day. I can think about my frustrations, successes, and begin to have a record of what I should keep doing and what I should change. I dare say, after 9 years of teaching experience, I feel pretty comfortable watching someone else's teaching and coming up with ways for them to improve. But how often do I turn that critical eye to myself in the same way? (Don't get me wrong, I'm reflective...the whole car ride to and from school for sure!) But sometimes it's so much easier to help someone else than to help myself! Maybe it's because I don't take the time to sit down and process in a way that moves me forward. I don't take the time to step away from all of the "noise" and follow my gut!

So, I've decided to start a reflection log. What is it that I know how to do that I can implement or change in order to create effective change in my instruction and student learning? My goal is to decrease the space between my "get it" moments and my "DO IT!" actions.

Here are some reflective questions that I may choose to journal about from time to time:
-Right now, what is the most crucial thing I can do to improve my students understanding of ____?
-What changes can I make in ________ to create the most improvement/make the biggest impact?
-When are the times that I really feel I am teaching well/students are really learning? How do I increase those times in that subject and other subject areas?

I also want to choose one main subject to focus my reflections on and move through a process for focused improvement in that area. For example, I'm not really happy with my writer's workshop or my writing instruction right now. It always gets sticky for me once it gets going, but what can I do to fix that?

In the end, I hope this opportunity to reflect makes me feel more empowered to control what happens in my classroom and the progress my students make. Being a happy teacher was a definite struggle last year and moving into a new environment has created amazing improvements in job-satisfaction for me, but teaching is still hard and frustrating a lot from time to time. To put in 9 years and not feel like I am ever going to get a "system" that works and allows me work-life balance definitely adds to my frustrations and disappointments with my chosen career. However, I know that I do a lot of things right. I think a reflection journal is a perfect shift as I move into a decade in this career. I hope I learn without a doubt 1) Keep doing ______ because this works and 2) Stop beating yourself up so much! and 3) Prioritize: What 's the most important task on my list that will benefit students most?

Gretchen also provides a great reflective process and list of questions at the end of her blog post. You should stop by and check it out. And, I'm sure you will get a peak into my reflections from time to time!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mighty Writers Society~Writers Workshop as a Club!

What if writer's workshop became a classroom club? What are the characteristics of a club and how might it change your typical writers workshop? This year, I decided to create some excitement around writing with my writers workshop by calling it a "club." I began by discussing the idea with students and asking them to help me figure out some characteristics a club might have. Here's the list we generated:

-needs a name
-needs members
-needs places to meet
-needs a common purpose/goal
-needs an agenda/plan of what to talk about
-leader (many people can take on leadership roles)
-may need specific jobs to be filled (notetaker, etc)
-voting and choices
-planning-discussing and getting ideas
-has committees
-has parties and celebrations
-may have a contract to sign
-may have fees
-needs supplies related to the club's purpose
-may have special objects or tools

Next, we needed a club name. Students gave me ideas for names (I also had a list that I had brainstormed in case we got stuck) From this, came the "Mighty Writers Society." I have to say, I wasn't so sure about the "mighty" part, but I liked it more than "The Mama Llamas." And, now that I have been calling my students "Mighty Writers" for a few weeks, it really just sticks and means something. {Of course, the "society" part reminds me of Robin Williams and the Dead Poets' Society...Oh Captain, My Captain, how fitting for creating a love of writing and literacy!}

Now, how do you show that your club has been established? You create a logo of course! I gave students a week to turn in possible logos. and I got a good range of ideas. We again voted as a class and here's the logo we ended up with:
I love that this design won because it was the only hand-drawn logo. I loved the computer designed ones too, but I thought it sent a nice message that my kiddos preferred the hand-drawn over the computer-perfected images. I told the students who made computer images that we would need their skills later when we publish books and class projects.

I had already planned for us to cover our writer's notebooks with pictures and cover them with contact paper, but I was able to spin this as a way to make our "club tools" special. I had held off because I didn't want to say we were covering our writer's notebooks until the club was established. So, after establishing our club name and logo, we spent a morning covering our notebooks.

Once the club was set up, I thought, where do we go from here? And, how do I continue to give students ownership? (This will be a work in progress all year, of course!)Well, writers learn from other writers like artists learn from other artists. I launched my "reading like a writer" unit {reading like a writer is an inquiry based approach to writing which really puts the control in students hands}. You may have also heard about Reading Like a Writer as a "Mentor Text" unit.

As a club, we decided that having deadlines to push for is really motivating. So we set our first writing deadline for the end of the quarter. A few days later, I told students I was thinking that since we were writing picturebooks, maybe we could turn our celebration into 1st/2nd grade reading event and share our books with them. They are totally game! I am also messing around with and will probably have students publish a digital version of their much Mighty Writer's fun to be had!

How do you keep writers' workshop interesting in your classroom? Any ideas for how to make our "club" more clubby?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Belonging Theme Lessons in Action~Morning Meeting Made Easy

My goal at the beginning of the year is to introduce the morning meeting themes that I plan to focus on throughout the year. Then, I plan to spend at least a week on each theme to go into the ideas in more depth. This week, we focused on belonging. {My students use a marble notebook for Community Meeting. I used the coverpage image to create label stickers for them to place on the front of their notebook). 

I have a quick 15 minutes each morning before my students go to special area classes. As I think about morning meeting for the week, I know that I will have some quick days and on other days, we will have a longer block of morning meeting that continues after students return from special area classes. Morning meeting can take as little or as much time as you have, but I think it is nice to have the flexibility in my schedule to have some days that are quick and some that are longer where I can push for deeper thinking  and discussion. You will see this alternating change of pace in my week's outline below.

I had already read aloud Big Al by Andrew Clements during the first week of school. We watched how Big Al, the ugliest fish in the sea, tried many things in order to fit in. Finally, when a fisherman's net captures many of the fish, he saves the day and gains a sense of belonging. He has the most friends of all the fish in the sea.
On Monday, I quickly shared our focus theme for the week, shared the related quote, and went over key words. I post these on our "community themes" bulletin board and give to students in a journal page format. Then, students completed the self-assessment and goal setting pages. (I print these as 1/2 pgs for students to glue into their marble notebooks).
Tuesday/Wednesday: After introducing the theme to students, I spend time building the theme with as many examples as possible. I read aloud Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco on Tuesday and Wednesday. If I had pushed it a little, I could have finished the book in one day and read Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli. However, the beauty of my morning meeting is that I can spiral back to these themes again and again, adding new texts to push students to add to and enhance our understanding of the theme with another author's take on it. (For example, when we do return to Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, I think that we could learn that sometimes a person's isolation keeps them from having a sense of belonging, but if they could or would step outside of their shell and take a risk, others are more than happy to welcome them with open arms.) You can see what we learned from the other stories in the chart we made on Friday.

Thursday: We watched The Lost Thing and discussed what we saw in the video and how it related to belonging. (There is SOOOOO much to talk about in this video. I could do an entire week of lessons just on it, but I mostly stayed focused on the idea of belonging in this lesson, knowing that I would be able to go back to it and use it later in other lessons. For example, why is "the lost thing" a lost thing--who says he is 'lost'? Is it really lost? Do we have to find others like us (or assimilate) to gain a sense of belonging? What does "the lost thing" symbolize? etc. This is a rich video for "close reading" lessons! It is also sending a message about individuality in a society of sameness, so I plan to use the video again during our Individualism theme.)
Friday: We have met many characters this year that have tried to gain a sense of belonging (especially this week with it being our theme focus), so it was time to start comparing our story lines and identifying generalizations. Students worked to fill out this simple chart and then we created a class chart on the smartboard. This was one of our longer morning meeting lessons this week. We could call this stage "synthesizing" :).
Drawing Conclusions and Going Deeper: Since completing our chart took a little while, we are going finish up our belonging theme on Monday by reviewing the information we put into the chart and drawing conclusions about belonging as a theme and a desire. I have lots of questions for my students, but here is what I hope they notice:
-In stories, sometimes characters "save the day" and gain a sense of belonging from that act. Is this realistic for a student who does not fit in or seem to belong?
-Does changing yourself to fit in with others seem to work? (Is this "fix" long-lasting? Is this fix sustainable?)
-Is it possible to accept others for who they are, give them a sense of belonging and love, without expecting them to change to fit our idea of "normal" or what's popular/cool?

I love having "The Lost Thing" as an example in the mix of our analysis because how he gained a sense of belonging is much different from how the Baba Yaga and Big Al gained a sense of belonging. (Basically, the narrator finds a place where other things look like the "lost thing" and drops him off there. Instead of the "lost thing" actually being accepted into mainstream society, he goes to live with others of his kind.)

If you want to pick up my "Belonging Freebie," it's in my teacherspayteachers store. I also have my first Morning Meeting Made Easy set available now.

This week (and probably next), our theme will be Achievement because it's mid-way through the quarter and time to set some goals. I'll post about those lessons soon!

PS: I am working on Pinterest boards for each of my morning meeting themes. If you decide to start implementing theme-based morning meeting lessons, you can follow my boards to have all of the video resources in one place. I will also be adding other goodies I find that may not be linked in my Morning Meeting Made Easy product.
Follow Tammy's board Belonging (Classroom Community) on Pinterest.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

~Morning Meeting Made Easy! Set 1 Ready~

It's finally finished! My Morning Meeting Made Easy set is ready to go for your classroom community meetings!

First, let me say, I call my morning meeting by a few different names: morning meeting, classroom meeting, and community meeting. Having our classroom meeting in the mornings doesn't always fit into our schedules, right?

Last year, I decided to try a theme-based morning meeting and loved it! I created a list of themes for personal development, came up with related vocabulary words, and found quotes to match the themes. I created posters for each theme so that I could display our community themes all year for us to refer back to. I also used key read alouds to initiate my discussions with students about the theme. From this idea grew "Morning Meeting Made Easy." Not only does the set include the posters for each theme, but I created student journal pages and teacher overviews that suggest read alouds, possible activities, and videos or songs that connect to the theme. This product is seriously READY to GO, except for grabbing the picturebooks! I'm so excited to have this set completed because Morning Meeting will be so much easier for me to plan for this year!

My morning meeting may be a little different than what you are used to seeing (google morning meeting and you may find calendar lessons, name games, get-to-know you activities, and morning messages). I have found morning meeting to be more typical of a lower-grades classroom, but I wanted my morning meetings to focus less on getting to know each other and more on getting to know ourselves and more about humanity. How do humans treat each other, why do we act the way we do, and what can we do to act more like how we believe we should? I also use classroom meetings to problem solve any classroom issues that have popped up.

My first morning meeting set focuses on belonging, kindness, compassion, conflict, and perseverance. I think all of these themes are important to discuss at the beginning of the year!
The shift in how I use and plan for my mornings meetings actually aligns perfectly with what I have done in past years with personal goal setting. For each theme, students have a journal page where they self-reflect and set a personal goal for improving in that theme. At the end of the week, students return to their goal to reflect on how they have improved or how their thinking has changed. (Students should have lots of ideas and opportunities to make improvements on the goal because you have continued the conversation all week!) Through our classroom meetings, I encourage personal improvement, character development, and community building.
Each theme's journal pages include a cover page with the theme, quotations, and key vocabulary, a self-assessment/reflection page, a 3 questions and illustration page that helps students analyze the theme and think of real life examples, and a quotation and video reflection sheet. Other goodies include sheets for making connections between read alouds and quotations, word brainstorms, and beginning middle, and end sheets. You will surely see many ways to extend the lessons and journal pages for your students. These journal pages are meant to support your instruction and classroom discussions.
To have a quick reference for teaching through each theme, I put together teacher overviews. Instead of having to search for read alouds, videos, and related songs to use, you have a quick list to get you started and can add to this with books you are already familiar with.
In my next post, I will go through a possible teaching sequence. I have plans for two more sets of Morning Meeting themes that I have already started working on! If you want to check out the theme sets up close, you can download my belonging set freebie!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Classroom Makeover 2014-15

If you read my last post, you know that I am at a new school this year teaching 4th grade. When I walked into my new classroom, I had a few reactions--it's a little on the small side, so get rid of everything that is not necessary for students and PAINT!!! So, I spent quite a few days over the summer weeding out the former teacher's stuff, deciding what furniture I could get rid of, and then painting and decorating my walls. Here are a few before pictures:
The most hideous desk ever. It ended up the same color as my walls.
And here are the exciting results!
I'm trying a focus wall this year. These are themes, concepts, and skills that could
be found throughout many subject areas and concepts this quarter.
Reader's Workshop: Ready!
This area still needs a rug, but I have a really cute one on the way from amazon!
These awesome inspirational notes came from a Dollar Store Calendar! ($1 bulletin board, yes please!!)

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