Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Finally Inspired! Back to School :)

So, this week is flying by and next week will be my LAST WEEK of summer break :( Today, I finally got inspired to start working on some products and now my mind is spinning with lots of ideas and that "OH MY GAHHHH, I HAVE SO LITTLE TIME" panic. But, that's usually when I do my best work, so here's hoping I can stayed fueled and going today and tomorrow to get a lot done before the weekend begins.

One quick thing I did today was update my Back to School logo for the 2013-2014 year. If you click on the logo above, you will find all of my posts that I have labeled as "Beginning of Year." Check it out to see if I have written about any new ideas you can incorporate this year.

In addition, I have a pinterest board for back to school called "Get Ready!". Come follow me there as I will be pinning important ideas and products that are worthy of beginning of the year time or year-long usage. I will also pin all of my future "Back to School" posts there.

Hope you are having a FANTASTIC summer! I know I am :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Series: 1-1...with Class-Getting Started in Reader's Workshop!

In a few weeks, I will be a 5th grade teacher with a 1-1 classroom. Wow! That sounds like a lot of responsibility and a lot of change. But, I am SOOOOOOOOO ready for it. Well, ready, but not exactly prepared I guess. As I was planning over spring break, I couldn't help but think how this or that lesson or unit would be so much better (or different) if I had easy access to laptops in my classroom. (We have a computer lab and a few classroom computers, but the ability to differentiate is just not the same as it will be with EVERY child having access to a computer within seconds.)

So, I'm going to start blogging about my journey through the 1-1 classroom initiative. Sometimes I will talk about how I see things changing (like how reader's workshop will look in my 1-1 classroom), while other times I will highlight a website or resource that I have found. (For example, in upcoming posts, I will share and evaluate websites that I will consider foundations in my 1-1 classroom.)

FIRST UP....Online Conferring Notes and Student Reading Logs

In my 1-1 Reader's Workshop, my students will complete their reading logs in a google spreadsheet and I will log my conferences with them on a separate tab in the same document. In the above pic, I will use the list of reading areas (highlighted in mint) to note the student's main reading goal(s). Moving these documents to an online format will be fantastic for collaboration (the AIG teacher comes in to confer with some of my students) and for sharing conversations around books with parents. My student reading logs tend to drop after first quarter, and I'm fine with that as long as I know students are reading, but with an online spreadsheet, students will be required to either complete it at night or in the morning before the bell rings.

Benefits of an online conferring form and student reading log:
* Increase collaboration and documentation of AIG/inclusion teachers' work with students
* Given that students have completed their reading log, you can take a quick scan of what they have read before starting the conference (make observations like range of reading choices, progress through books, how much time is being set aside for reading at home, and compare pgs the child is able to read at home with their school stamina)
* Students now have access to your confering notes and ideas that you expect them to continue thinking about (this also means that you have to make sure you write all of your comments in a kid-friendly, positive tone)
* The document can easily be shared with parents so that they stay in the loop
* How about upping the ante on your informal record keeping--you have documentation for report cards
* You have access to your "conferring binder" everywhere that you have internet access WITHOUT having to carry around a chunky binder (WIN-WIN-awesome!)
****I can already envision myself adding a tab for documentation of a student's progress towards a specific goal (I use CAFE-ish goal setting in my reader's workshop). How easy to chart some fluency or words per minute progress in one of these files :) ****

If you like this google spreadsheet, you can go to file, make a copy, and have it for your own students. When the year begins next year, I will share the spreadsheet with students, teach them how to make a copy, and then have them include their first name in the title. I also have a classroom laptop, so when we confer, I will be typing notes instead of handwriting.

If you kind of know your way around google docs, here's how I plan to organize these files. I will have a "Reading Conferences" folder in my google drive that I share with the AIG teacher and any other staff members who work with my students in reading. Next, I will place the spreadsheet that I have already made in the "Reading Conferences" folder. Then, I will copy the spreadsheet and add student names until I have made a spreadsheet doc for all students. Last, I will share each individual spreadsheet with the student it belongs to (they have google drive accounts!).

Is your school 1-1 yet? What are you thinking about? How did your implementation go? What "must have" sites have you found? 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fabulous Feedback Linky

I'm linking up with Christina at Bainbridge Class for her Fabulous Feedback on the 2nd Friday's of the month. (I know, it isn't Friday! :) In this post, I get to share two great feedback comments I received on two different products. We TPT'ers especially love thoughtful feedback and as you will see below, good feedback doesn't always have to say that our product was perfect to make us smile. I especially like feedback that is more than "great," "thanks," and " :)" and I always try to provide at least one specific sentence when I leave feedback for products I purchase. 

1st up...
I love this feedback and really appreciate that mccaigwright took the time to leave a comment that was so specific. I am so glad that my Classroom Timeline has helped her pull together historical topics and concepts for her students. I love how she mentions exactly what my goal for my timeline products is--to anchor what happened and when--to begin to understand the order of important historical events in US History. I also made a flub when I created the student sheets for the timeline overview and left out the Revolutionary Era. Today, I worked on updating this product AND came up with another version of the student overview sheets.
I love this new option so much, it might be exactly the revision I need this year for my students' US History Timeline binder projects.

Here's what our finished timeline looked like this year:
 Next up...
Now, I said that I often appreciate feedback that does not say my product is perfect (when presented in a helpful, respectful way, of course :)). I totally agree with barb19's feedback that it would be nice if all of my "Theme Bulletin Board Labels" included a definition/description, although I was thinking about myself when I designed this and only thought I needed to define the words that might be new to my students. Given this great feedback, I decided to update this product with two sets of the labels--one clean, no definitions, and the other with all theme words having a definition below.

As part of my participation in the Fabulous Feedback Linky, mccaigwright and barb19 get a FREE product from my store when you see this post (no deadline!:). Just comment below or shoot me an email of what you would like at

Happy summer relaxation!

Credits: Backgrounds from Zip-a-dee-doo-dah-Designs

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Favorite Classroom Read Alouds

1. Wonder by RJ Palacio: Wonder is so "hot of the presses" new. It's the first summer read that I finished (in just a few days and I am a SLOW reader). I am so excited to share this book with students as my first read aloud this year. Auggie was born with a craniofacial disorder. He was born with droopy eyes, a cleft pallet, and missing part of his jaw. He is used to people looking at him and quickly changing their gaze or looking down. His parents chose to homeschool him until 5th grade. The book chronicles his 5th grade year in a middle school setting. As you would predict, he experiences bullies, fake friendships, and hurt feelings, but he also experiences true friendship, triumph, and finally--acceptance. I had to fight off the urge to sob the entire time I was reading this book. I truly think it's a wonderful way to start the year, bring together a group of students, and teach compassion. I also feel that this book challenges every reader (young and old) to see through how superficially we live our lives and to challenge how critical we are of our own looks. I can't say enough amazing things about this book (but I can promise you will hear more about it as I use it with my students!) Other key highlights:

* The inspiration for the name of the book, Natalie Merchant's "Wonder" is icing on the cake and will provide opportunities for text-text connections. ("I must be one of the wonders, God's own creation!")
* The story is told by a number of characters, mostly chronological, but sometimes overlapping the previous teller's section (opportunity for multiple-perspectives)
* A number of mantras are shared throughout the book through Auggie's English teacher
* RJ Palacio quotes a song at the beginning of each characters' section
* Many references to pop culture--Elephant Man, Star Wars, the Ugly Duckling, Beauty and the Beast (just to name a few)

2-3. Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne AND Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli: I must confess that these two were not read alouds this year, but book club books. However, through my minilessons on themes, symbolism, re-reading to catch things you might have missed originally, etc. I pulled excerpts of each of these books into my lessons. And, students were so into discussing their books and making connections during minilessons that I felt like every student got a good sense of the books no matter what they were reading individually. This year was the first time I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Milkweed myself, and after sharing the experience with my 5th graders, and knowing that we referred to and repeated lines from these books ALL the YEAR LONG, these books top my FAVORITE books of ALL time list. The symbolism of angels throughout Milkweed is so strong that I now believe in "everyday" angels. The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for 5th graders, but we got so much out of the unit last year that we plan to do this unit again. I created a parent letter to inform them of our plans to learn about the Holocaust. (You can download it for free and change to fit your needs.) For more about my Holocaust lessons...
4. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: Stargirl almost always makes itself into my year as a book club, but this year,  I used it as a read aloud to target the theme of "conformity."  I hope you are already familiar with Stargirl, but basically Mica Area High School is the "hotbed of conformity." Everyone, even the unpopular kids, seems to follow along with Hilary Kimball and Wayne Parr. Until, Stargirl, a homeschooled, unique, march-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum, girl comes along. Leo, the narrator, eventually falls in love with Stargirl, but soon realizes that he is being ostracized because of his friendship with her. The critical conflict in the book is the choice Leo feels he must make between being accepted by his peers and continuing a friendship with Stargirl. Regret, "being caught between a rock and a hard place," and accepting others for their uniqueness (rather than expecting them to conform) are huge themes in Stargirl.

5. Firegirl by Tony Abbott: I have used Firegirl as a read aloud once and in a book club this year. If you want a read aloud that gets at some of the same themes as Stargirl and Wonder but that is a shorter, less complex read, Firegirl is the one for you. Jessica comes to Tom's school mid year because she is receiving burn treatments at a local hospital. Jessica was badly burned when a gas tank exploded while her mom was pumping gas. As you can imagine, the environment in the classroom totally changes when Jessica joins the class. Although she is not able to come to class all of the time because of her medical treatments, when she does, no one speaks to her or wants to touch her. Mid-book, Tom begins a friendship with Jessica when his teacher asks him to drop off some of her school work at her house. When Jessica returns to her regular home, Tom has major regrets about not reaching out to Jessica and befriending her sooner. This book again gives you the opportunity to teach compassion and regrets, but also lends itself to discussing with students how to be a leader rather than a bystander.

5. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo: The Tiger Rising is CAPTIVATING for students, but I love it because it has so much to teach us about dealing with our demons. The description does not do this book justice, "Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger—a real-life, very large tiger—pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things—like memories, and heartache, and tigers—can’t be locked up forever." During my reading aloud of this novel, I taught students to walk in the characters' shoes, have compassion, and deal with their own "suitcase" of emotions. I seriously felt like I was teaching guidance lessons at the same time that I was teaching reading skills. To me, the tiger is the LEAST of importance in this book, but it keeps the kids wanting more and is a symbol of Rob and Sistine's own imprisonment by their emotions. Sistine's father is out of the picture and Rob's mother has recently died. Rob's father moved them to another town to get away from the pain, never talks about his mother, and has a hard time showing love towards Rob. Rob stuffs his feelings inside a metaphorical suitcase. On the otherhand, Sistine is always ready to let her feelings explode and often lets them out by beating on the bullies at the school. If you have not read this book, you MUST put it on your "to read" list. It took me all of an hour to finish and I did not want to put it down!!!!

From the looks of this list, it's safe to say that I like to choose read alouds that help teach my students how to treat one another with tolerance and compassion, how to face life, and how to become better people. I think each of these read alouds stick with students forever.

Hop on over to Mr. Hughes blog, Created by Mr. Hughes to check out this growing list of suggested read alouds. Although I suggested read alouds for 5th grade, the linky list ranges from 3rd through 8th and is divided by grade level. If you are a blogger, you can link up too!

Happy reading!

Green Chevron Background in first picture by


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