Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Students Book "Shop"!

It is so important that students learn how to choose their own books for reader’s workshop.  Too often I think we assume that once children reach the upper elementary grades they are knowledge when it comes to picking out books. Unfortunately this is too frequently not the case.  Students, especially “non-readers”, appeared mystified when faced with the daunting task of picking out a book that they will not only read from beginning to end, but will also enjoy!  Yesterday and today my sixth graders and I worked on the skill of choosing books.  In the process we made some interesting discoveries.  We came up with the following list of how “good readers” choose their books:

Look at front cover
Read inside jacket
Read back cover
A book in a series
Author we like
Genre we like
Interesting title
Books that are movies
Recommendations from friends,
   teachers, and critics
New/popular book
Sequel to a favorite book
Book trailers

We then discussed how to determine if a book would be  “easy”, “just right”, or “challenging” for us to read.  The students were full of ideas:

Try the beginning
Read some of the middle
5 Finger Test
Lexile level

Next I modeled how to choose a great book.  This I think was the key.  The students were completely engaged as I demonstrated how to preview a book.  I read the title, looked at the cover, read the first page.  I thought out loud about the character on the cover, the setting and what connections I could make to other books or the author.  Then I read the back of the book.  Again, I thought out loud, answered some of my previous questions, came up with more.  Finally, after I decided I was interested in the book, I did a five-finger test to make sure the book wouldn’t be too challenging.

Then it was time for the students to choose their own books.  Success!  As I quietly circulated around the room, helping where needed, it was wonderful to see students get excited about books as they new previewed the baskets of books at their tables.  I knew we had made progress when students began filling our their “Books I Need To Read!” lists!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stress Relief!

It’s Friday night and I’m tired.  I’ve put in another 5 hours at school today.  My classroom is beginning to shape up.  The boxes are all unpacked, my desk and the front of the room is ready to go.  The back of the room, the classroom library, well let’s just say it’s not quite ready for prime time.  Then there are bulletin boards to get up, lesson plans to write, oh and did someone mention interventions?  Yikes!  I’ve already spent over 15 hours working at school and teachers aren’t officially back to work until next week Wednesday.  Stress level rising……

So after my day my husband suggested we go downtown and enjoy our town’s “Friday Night Live” music festival.  I agreed even though I really just wanted to curl up and fall asleep. And what happened?   We had fun! And I discovered a new method of stress relief that is guaranteed to make anyone forget their problems, laugh and have fun.  What’s the secret?  Polka music!  Yep, that’s right, polka music. As my husband and I were walking through the downtown, we heard an unfamiliar band playing.  We turned down the street, and low and behold, a polka band.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been a polka fanatic, but for some reason, after a stressful day, all I wanted to do, was dance to this polka music.  Everything else was forgotten.  Before I knew it we were laughing and hopping along with everyone else!

So how does this help stress relief at school?  Here’s my idea, polka music in the classroom.  It’s not so far fetched.  Currently I play classical music to relax and help me think.  Why not polka music to unwind and distress?  Just download the music on the iPod, turn up the volume, and go!  I’ve already started the download….

Monday, August 20, 2012

Choose Your Attitude

As the first day of school approaches I've been thinking a lot about getting the classroom ready, meeting my new students and getting the school year off to a great start.  Then last week I was talking to my son who just started his new college job. After spending two years as an RA (resident  advisor) this year he accepted a position as a CC (community coordinator).  His job is to help train and oversee the the RAs in his building.  He's finding out it's a whole new mind set.  Now instead of just having to take care of residents, he is responsible for supporting a staff!  "The questions are endless!" he remarked.  But then he shared a bit of wisdom with me that struck me as genius.  He told me that their motto this year is, "Choose Your Attitude".  Any complaints, concerns, questions, first remember to "choose your attitude".  I love this.

So I was trying to decide how I was going to introduce this motto to my new class, when I happened upon one of my old favorite picture books for sale ( only 25 cents!) at the library.  Underwear, by Mary Elise Monsell, was a popular book with my children for many years.  It's the story of two friends, a zebra and an orangutan, that love underwear.  They have so much fun buying, and wearing, outrageous, undies.  Then they meet Bismark Buffalo, who is a gloomy grump.  The zebra and orangutan have a plan to cheer him up, could it involve underwear?  Buffalo is skeptical, but he gives their plan a try......

As I read this book I couldn't help but start laughing.  The story, as well as the hilarious illustrations, are uplifting.  It occurred to me, this book is perfect to introduce "Choose your Attitude" to my class.  Bismark Buffalo has to choose his attitude.  He can either be gloomy and unhappy, or he can join in the fun with zebra and orangutan!  Perfect!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Connected Educator Book Club Reflections - Part 1

What does it mean to be a "connected educator"?  This summer I’ve been on what I call my " personalized, professional development journey” in order to discover what a connected educator really is, how I could become one, how it would benefit me as a teacher, my students, and fellow teachers as well.

How did this journey begin?  How did I get interested in becoming a connected educator?  Of all things, it was a Moodle course I was required to take for my district.  I won't go into the specifics of the course, but the second module dealt with developing personal (or professional) learning networks through the use of Twitter.  I jumped on this.  As the mother of three teenage sons, I'd heard a lot about Twitter, tired it a couple of times, but never really got the hang of it.  The Moodle course was the impetus I needed to dig deeper into the social networking application.  Before I knew it, I was taking part in Twitter Chats, meeting other educators that were passionate about topics I cared about, and started growing my own PLN.

I discovered even more online learning opportunities through videos, webinars, and learning communities.  I was excited to learn that the U.S. Department of Education created the Connected Educators initiative and August is Connected Educator Month.  Even more opportunities to learn and network were now available free!

It was in this spirit of personalized learning and professional development that I decided to stretch further and take part in the Connected Educator Book Club.  I was anxious to read the book, The Connected Educator, and take part in weekly chats and the online community.  This week the group discusses the introduction and chapter 1.  As I reflect back on my notes for this first part of the book, a few ideas really stand out.

First, I feel strongly about the idea of "do-it-yourself learning".  In the book the authors state, "As a connected educator, you have the opportunity to direct your learning, connect, collaborate, and grow your professional practice.  Connected learners adopt a do- it- yourself (DIY) mentality.” As a language arts teacher I am very familiar with the importance of allowing our students choice in both reader's and writer's workshop.  Doesn't it make sense that the same principle of choice should apply to teachers and their learning opportunities?  The push now is to connect to our students, personalize their learning in order to increase engagement, make learning authentic and relevant.  Hmm, is it possible teacher engagement would increase if their learning was personalized, authentic and relevant?  I know if I’m interested in the topic I'm studying I'm far more likely to get excited, stay engaged in my learning and want to share what I'm learning with others.

Collaboration was a second major idea from this section.  The book states that connected learners not only learn from their PLN, they then bring their new knowledge back to their school communities and share with others.  If we invest in our personal knowledge, we will have knowledge to share.  Knowledge sharing... That's sometimes a challenge for me.  I love to learn.  I've found that I like to network and absorb new ideas.  But when it comes to sharing, I admit I get intimidated.  What if someone doesn't share my excitement?  What if someone disagrees with me?  Believe me I've experienced negative feedback/criticism and it is not a pleasant feeling.  So sometimes sharing involves risk taking and this is something I need to improve.  It just takes time.

Finally, the self-evaluation in chapter one made it clear to me that I am still new in this process of becoming a connected educator.  As I read the postings and blog entries on the book club Ning I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge being so readily shared.  There is still much I need to learn, knowledge I hope to gain in part from my PLN, the book club, online learning communities, and other opportunities for professional development.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Twitter Tutorial

Just learning how to Tweet?  Check out this tutorial.....  created by second graders!  Really makes Twitter sound simple, right?  Sometimes  I think as adults we over-complicate things.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Summer Reflection

     A personal theme I’ve chosen for myself this summer is “reflection”.  This is something new for me, this idea of choosing a theme to focus on for the summer. But after all the turmoil in education over the past year and a half, it felt like something I just needed to do in order to reenergize and get ready to jump back in this fall.

     It was in this mindset that I answered a call from a colleague this afternoon.  We chatted about our summer so far, things we’d been doing, and then she asked me if I’d heard any news from school.  I live about forty-five minutes from where we teach so I rarely run into anyone I know from school.  Usually, summers leave me feeling pretty isolated and out of sorts, like I stepped in a different world.  Then, by the end of summer, I’ve adapted so well to being home, it’s hard to switch gears and head back to school.  But this summer has been diffident.  Instead of feeling stressed and lonely when my friend asked me abut school, I felt energized and excited to talk education, even though I had not heard from anyone from school in almost a month.  What’s different?  I made the jump into Twitter this summer.  Actually I closed my eyes, leapt in with both feet, and haven’t looked back since.

     Now to be honest, this leap wasn’t entirely my idea.  Our district is having teachers take an online class this summer and one of the modules deals with creating your PLN through Twitter.  The course required us to create a Twitter account and pick some people to follow for a few weeks.  At first, it was frustrating.  I didn’t know whom to follow and couldn’t understand the value of it.  Why would I want to know where someone in California was eating lunch?  Then I discovered Twitter Chats, and nothing has been the same since.

     It was through joining in the chats that I was able to find and connect with so many interesting educators from all over the world (including Australia!).  I’ve chatted about student blogging, free technology resources, global classrooms, and more.  And then there are the resources, why didn’t anyone ever tell me about all this great stuff available for FREE?  My favorite so far has got to be the free webinars I’ve found.  They are only a half hour long and offer so many great ideas.  Many seminars have been interactive and the audience is able to ask questions throughout the presentation.  So yes, I am spending time this summer doing professional development, but it’s on topics I’m interested in and I can do it from home in my pajamas!

    Needless to say, I do not feel isolated this summer.  I’m excited about all I’m learning and the wonderful people I’ve been meeting.  I’m afraid my enthusiasm may have frightened my colleague, but I was able to send her links to some resources that I think she find very helpful.  And who knows, she hasn’t reached the Twitter module of the course yet, she may yet convert.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Power of Words

Wow.  Besides tugging at my heart this little video left its mark on me.  How many of us truly understand how words can affect people?  So often in our classrooms we try to help students understand the power of their words both written and spoken.  This video so simply and clearly illustrates just that.  Think of what could be accomplished in the world if everyone understood the power of his or her words.  We can use our words to change the world.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book People Unite!

I just discovered this video posted on the "National Writing Project Daily" http://paper.li/dogtrax/nwp.  I think it would be neat to share with students and parents.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Professional Development

         Ahh…summer, time to kick back, enjoy the sun, lay around by a pool and just generally do nothing.  Teachers have it made right?  Wrong!  Since becoming a teacher, actually even before that – since beginning this journey in education, I have spent every single summer immersed in education, taking classes, first to become a teacher, then to complete my master’s degree, next my reading teacher's license, and now as professional development to continue my quest to improve.  This summer I’m taking three courses; two are through St. Thomas University.  One of the courses is about poverty and how it affects students and their education.  The second course is on RTI and developing personalized learning plans for students.  I’m currently working on the RTI class.  It was scary at first (a personalized learning plan for each and very student?  Yikes!), but as I’m getting more into the course I’m realizing that I’m already doing many of the things that are recommend for tier one and tier two interventions.  Breathing a little easier now…
The other course I’m taking is also on personalized learning but with more of a technology twist to it.  This is an online course my school district is requiring all teachers to complete over the summer.  It’s only four modules and is mostly an introduction to the importance of “being connected”. It emphasizes how we can use technology to help our students become connected, incorporate personalized learning, and become connected educators.  Currently I am working on the second module, which deals with PLN (personal learning networks).  I’ve been a member of Englishcompanion.ning for over a year and love the friendships and knowledge I’ve gained.  I also “tweet” but so far it’s mainly been with family and friends, to stay in touch.
            What I’m wondering….. 
What PLNs do you belong to?  How have they helped you?
Do you tweet?  Who do you follow/recommend?

Monday, July 9, 2012


      What does it mean to be a teacher?  For those of you already in the profession you know it’s so much more than a job.  It’s more than a career.  It’s a way of life.  And this may sound a little corny, but I actually feel it’s a calling.  You don’t just wake up one day and decide to become a teacher.  It’s something that grows within you.  You can feel it in your bones.  At least that’s how it is for me.  In my twenties I never dreamed I’d be a teacher one day. Then after having children of my own, I knew it was what I was destined to become.  So began my journey into education, a journey that has become as much a part of my life as everyday activities like going to the grocery store or visiting friends.
It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never been a teacher what this life is like.  Teachers don’t just go home in the evenings and forget about their “job”.  We don’t have our summers off so we can “play” and “forget about school” for three months.  Wherever we go, what ever we do, we always carry our students with us.   We’re always looking, learning, and thinking, “How can I use this in my classroom?  Won’t my students be excited to learn about this?”  It’s not something we can “shut off” and to be honest, we don’t want to, it’s become a part of us.
For all these reasons and more, I’ve decided to start this blog.  Maybe I just need a place to ramble about how I feel, muse about new ideas I’d like to try, reflect on my experiences, whatever.  It’s a place where I can share my ideas/thoughts and welcome responses from others.