Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Writing... Enjoying the Process!

We’re taking a different approach to blogging this year.  I’ve read so many good ideas via Twitter about “paper blogging” that I thought we’d try something different and start with that.  It’s not that I’m new to blogging with students. My class was quite successful last year with their reading blogs.  But it was just my homeroom that I taught reading to last year.  This year I have 78 students, three different classes, and they’re all excited about blogging.  So this week we’ve been working on writing book recommendations.  We’ve been taking it slowly, reading examples of both good and not-so good reviews, brainstorming characteristics of good book reviews, completing graphic organizers as part of the prewrite process, and finally moving on to the rough drafts today.  It was amazing to watch as the students became completely engaged in writing their recommendations.  The students moved through the writing process from rough draft, to peer conferencing, to revising with very few snags.  Taking it slowly really paid off!

But the magic started as I began to walk around the classroom and the students eagerly asked me to listen to their writing. The best part of my day was sitting with the students and listening to them read their book recommendations. It was the best of both worlds.  We were talking about writing, getting excited about great books, and sharing ideas.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Mock Newbery Book Club is Here!

It's finally here!  Tomorrow is our first official meeting of the Pleasant View Mock Newbery Book Club for sixth graders!  We'll be discussing why the Newbery Award is so special and what it takes for a book to win the award. Students will then have an opportunity to review several past winners of both the Newbery Award and the Newbery Honor Award.  Everyone  will then choose a past award winner or honor book to read for the first two weeks.  At our next meeting we'll compare notes and determine what it took for these books to win the award.  Then it's off to the 2013 books and our search for the next Newbery winner!

Check out these book trailers for a few past winners of the Newbery Award and Honor Award:

Holes by Louis Sachar
1999 Newbery Award

The Giver by Lois Lowery
1994 Newbery Award

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli 
1991 Newbery Award 

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm
2011 Newbery Honor

Friday, September 6, 2013

Writing and dreams, a powerful combination....still

Traditionally our sixth grade writer’s workshop begins the year with a formative writing assessment. Students are given a prompt, asked to brainstorm ideas, write a rough draft, and a final copy.  Since the purpose of this assessment is to see what the students already know, they aren’t allowed to conference with peers or teachers for help, ideas, anything.  I dreaded giving this assessment probably as much as the students did.  It seemed hypocritical to ask the students to write this way when it’s not at all how we teach writing.  Yet year after year, this is what we did.  Until this year.  Finally this year I was told it was not necessary to administer the assessment!

However, I still wanted to collect a writing sample from the students.  I needed to know them better as writers.  Then, while lesson planning late one night (that’s when I get my best brainstorming inspirations), it hit me.  Together the students and I would read the Time for Kids article about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  I then wrote my own “dream” speech to use as a model and posted it on my blog.  Finally for the assessment, the students would write their own “dream” speech.

The lesson couldn’t have gone better.  Many of the students were immediately taken in by the article.  They had heard of Martin Luther King Jr. but for the most part had been unfamiliar with the extreme discrimination of the time.  They were aghast when they learned of the segregated schools, libraries, and even water fountains.  I then shared my blog with the class by displaying my “dream” speech on the Smart board and read it aloud.  One class of students actually clapped when I finished reading the post!  Later in the day when I was describing the lesson to another teacher and how I had read my post to the class to model, a student overhead and said he liked the post so much he wanted to run up and hug me (it’s only the 4th day of school)!

Now it’s Friday night. I’m home in my pjs and reading the students’ dream speeches. (Isn’t this a typical Friday night for teachers?) I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for what the students wrote.  I had been expecting dreams of wanting good grades, more recess, less homework and I did read several essays with these wishes.  But then there were the truly heartfelt dreams:

I have a dream that I will get more respect from others.
I have a dream that you won’t get criticized for what you say or do in class.
I wish we could read any book we want, and not just around a lexile range.
I have a dream that the subjects I struggle with will be easier.
I have a dream that I will get straight A’s for my mom.

Now it was my turn to want to run and hug someone.  I had told the students I would not force them to read their dream speech aloud.  I guess they believed me.  This is going to be a great year!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Dream...

Tomorrow in writer's workshop the students and I will be reading an article about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech.  As I read the article through myself I got the idea  of having the students use it to inspire their own "I Have a Dream" speech.  Of course I knew then that I would need a model for them, so here is my "I Have a Dream".

I have a dream that this year my students will embrace learning.  They will come to school looking forward to learning.  They will not worry if an assignment is being graded or how much it’s worth. They will be motivated to learn for the sake of knowledge and self-fulfillment.  They will not simply complete an assignment to be “done”.  They will challenge themselves to not only finish their work, but also to comprehend it.  They will look for ways to extend their learning into the real world.

I have a dream that this year my students will all become not simply better readers, but life-long readers.  They will read not because they have to, but because they want to.  They will learn how to choose books that appeal to them, books they will stick with and not abandon.  They will be able to understand what they read, and know which strategies to use if meaning does break down.

I have a dream for myself too this year.  I dream that this year I will read more everyday.  I will read books of my own choosing, books that I read because I WANT to read them.  I will write about the books I read because I know that I do some of my best thinking on paper.  I’ll write what I think of the books, revise my writing until it sounds like me, and then post it to my blog so that I can share my thoughts with others.

I have a dream that this will be the best school year ever!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Open for Learning!

      Well, it’s Sunday and after 5 hours of work today my classroom is DONE (almost)!  This year our school will be implementing the middle school model for fifth and sixth grade, which means I'll be teaching reading and writing workshop to three sixth grade sections each day.  So I needed to make some changes this year. I wonder if anyone is truly able to pull his or her room together in the time allotted during pre session? Or should we say “pre season," because with all the physical labor involved in unpacking a classroom and getting everything ready for the students, I honestly feel as if I’ve been in training camp.  (I’ve got the broken nails and sore muscles to prove it!) Not to mention the three half days of “strategy” sessions we attended! So I’ve got the room presentable, I’ve got a game plan down, one more day to tie up loose ends (and maybe get some reading in) and it’s GO time!

On my front table I display a book I'm currently reading (and keep a list of students that request it as soon as I finish!).

New this year, I'll be displaying all the books I read.
This is my summer reading list.  Nineteen and counting!  It was quite the conversation starter during open house.
Got this idea from Twitter...

Also new this year, the "Newbery Nook".  This is where all Newbery award winning books (including honor books) will be kept and all 2013 new releases.  I'm hoping to start a Mock Newbery club this year.  We'll start by reading past winners and then move on to books published in 2013.

Common Core front and center!  It's hard to see in the picture, but on the white strips are Common Core standards written as "I can..." statements.  I will be changing these to align with the current workshop lesson.  The strips are laminated and have magentas on the back so they're super easy to change out.

"This class is something to "Tweet" about!  Great idea I found on Pinterest!  We also have out Twitter handle displayed so hopefully people will follow us.  :)   @PV6Reads


 Finally the class library, my favorite part of the room!  These photos are of the fiction section which has two separate seating areas for students. The books are in baskets, arranged by genre.  The nonfiction section is currently being categorized and labeled.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Teacher + New Classroom = Excitement!

As many of us are returning to our classrooms, pulling things together, trying to come up with new ways of arranging our room to inspire our students, I had the unique opportunity to observe (and help when asked!) my son pull together his very first classroom.  Just the idea of a new job and first classroom is exciting enough, but then throw into the mix that he is going to be teaching in the elementary school he graduated from, in a classroom that he actually learned in….  Well to me, as his mom and a teacher myself, I am just so proud!  I am also amazed.  His classroom would easily have qualified for my “dream” classroom when I started teaching.  I know parents are going to walk into his room and immediately be put at ease, this is definitely a classroom where students will be engaged and motivated to learn.  You can feel the energy as you enter room. 

Students sit at tables so all class supplies are organized on the middle shelving unit.

Even though he'll be teaching math, science and social studies, he still has a great classroom library!

Garrett found the great metal racks under his chalkboard and Smart Board at Ikea.
I just love all the color in this room!

This is the back of a portable shelving unit that stores all his math manipulatives.  He decided to pull it away from the wall, extend the top, add a groove in the wood to support iPads - instant work station for students!


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Picture Books - Mentor Texts Part 2

One aspect of summer that I just truly love is having the time to sit and enjoy picture books.  Notice I didn’t write “read” picture books.  I am not simply reading the books.  It’s so much more than that.  This summer I have happily checked out dozens of picture books from the library at a time and then reveled in being able to just sit and page through the books as I read them, marveling over their illustrations, frequently get a good chuckle, and then reflecting on how I can share them with my students.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I like to use picture books to not only share my love of reading but also as springboards into mini lessons for both reader’s and writer’s workshop.  Here are few of my recent finds:

It’s a Book by Lane Smith

     This book is about the exasperation one friend feels as he tries to describe what a book is to his friend, a donkey.  Donkey is all about high tech so he has some trouble understanding the concept of reading a book, something with no bells, whistles, cords, passwords, etc, for the shear pleasure of falling into the book.
     After reading this book (and I LOVED it) I read about the controversy over the use of a certain word in the story.  Sorry, but this book made me laugh out loud and we all need that.  If anyone finds the word offensive or questionable just say “bleep” when you come to it and let the kids use their imagination.

Mentor text:  I will be using this book at the beginning of the year to help explain/demonstrate to my students how I feel about books and reading.

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

     This is a historical fiction graphic novel of one boy’s experience when vaudeville performers came to spend summers in his town on the shore of Lake Michigan in the early 1900’s.  Henry gets to know the fun loving actors and finds a summer best friend in a young vaudevillian his own age, Buster Keaton.  The boys enjoy their summer days to the fullest, each finding aspects of the other’s life more interesting/exciting than their own.
     Historical fiction fascinates me and this book did not disappoint.  Living so close to Michigan (actually grew up on the Wisconsin of the Lake) I had never heard of Bluffton or the vaudeville summer retreat so I immediately took to Google to find out more.  Isn’t this what we hope our students will do?  I was excited to find that the author actually includes some factual historical information about the real Actors’ Colony in Bluffton and the famous people that summered there.

Mentor text:  There are so many possibilities for this book!  It would be great as a mentor text for a unit on inquiry.  Besides the historical aspect, the book brings up the issue of the problem of child labor in the 1900’s. (Is there really a Gerry Society?)  How about the contraptions that Buster designs?  Possibly a springboard into a science unit?  Finally, this book will be a wonderful mentor text for teaching inference.  As with many graphic novels, much of the story is told through the illustrations rather than the text.  Through careful examination of the pictures students will learn much more of the story and gain valuable insights to the characters.

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

     I first learned about this book last week when attending a Donalyn Miller seminar.  My first thought after her book talk?  Why hadn’t I ever heard of this book before?  Immediately after the seminar I went to the library and checked the book out. It left me speechless.  The story is about a remote village in Kenya and a Maasai tribe.  They learn of the 9/11 tragedy in America and they are so moved they want to do something to help.  This book touched my heart. 

Mentor text:  I will be using this book to promote discussion on 9/11 this year.  As sixth graders the majority of my students were not even alive when the attacks occurred, yet I know they will be curious and have many questions.  This book gives a new and touching perspective of how a different culture thousands of miles away reacted to the tragedy. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Picture Book Mentor Texts Part 1

Even though I teach sixth grade, I love sharing picture books with my students.  Sixth graders love being read too and, this really should come as no surprise, they love picture books!  I’m always on the look out for picture books to use as mentor texts for reading and/or writing.  The following are two of my finds so far this summer…

Now It Is Summer by Eileen Spinelli

Now It Is Summer is a wonderful picture book about a little mouse that can’t wait for the pleasure of autumn to arrive while his mother patiently reminds him of the joys of summer.  He should take advantage of them while he can for too soon they’ll be gone.

This book is a perfect mentor text to use for teaching poetry, compare/contrast, alliteration, repetition, onomatopoeia, and especially sensory descriptions.  The author does a fabulous job of helping the readers experience the pleasures of both autumn and summer throughout the book.  Two of my favorite descriptions include:

“Will I leap laughing into leaves
heaped high in the backyard?
Soon”  (Autumn)


“….but now it is summer.
Now you can tippy-toe
into the gurgling surf. “  (Summer)

Students will be able to see, hear, taste, smell and feel each season.  I envision having students practice writing their own sensory poems after sharing this book.

Someday by Eileen Spinelli

An imaginative little girl dreams about what her “someday” will be like as compared to what her “today” or “right now" are like.  She dreams and wishes of swimming with dolphins, lunching with the president, digging for dinosaur bones, and counting penguins, while she’s actually feeding her goldfish, eating with her cousin, looking for coins in the couch, and counting jellybeans.  While the illustrations are colorful and fun, author Eileen Spinelli’s story has such wonderful details and words that readers/listeners will be easily able to close their eyes and imagine the adventures of the little girl. 

After sharing this story with my students I will challenge them to write their won “Someday… Today…” poem.  I will encourage them to think about things they do everyday, then use their imagination to turn those tasks into things they wish they could someday do.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Slice of Life: Little Library

A few years ago I started noticing these strange little boxes, they actually resembled little houses, showing up here and there around the area.  Even stranger, the little houses were filled with books!  Upon closer inspection, I discovered the books were free!  Oftentimes messages such as “take a book, leave a book,” or “take a book, return a book” were written on the boxes. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would leave books just sitting out in these boxes, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.  As a reader I love books, but what did I do with the books once I was done reading them?  Sure I passed them on to others that might be interested in reading them, but I have so many books that I’ve finished reading and my kids have read.  I have shelves filled with my favorites that I can’t bear to part with, and many more end up in my classroom.  But still there are even more that I just have no room for anywhere.  I’ve often fantasized about opening my own little library with all the books I own (kind of like the library in Because of Winn Dixie).

I was filled with excitement and curiosity when my son announced one day this past spring that he had discovered a Little Library in our neighborhood, only a few blocks from our house.  He even found a book that he was interested in reading!  It was then that my idea began to grow. If I put books in the Little Library, would people want them? Would they read them?  Could I put in books for kids too?  So this summer I began my experiment. I took ten books down to the Little Library.  Really I was so excited it felt like Christmas, I just kept thinking how happy someone would be to read these books.  I even had some children’s picture books in the mix.

All week I kept thinking about the books I had put in the Little Library.  I wondered if anyone had looked at them. I wondered if anyone had picked any to read.  I hoped at least a few had found good homes.  So today I decided to take another bag of ten books down to the Little Library.  Again I was so excited, this time not only to drop off more books, but also to see if any of the first ten were gone yet.  As my husband and I approached the park, a man sitting on a bench near the Little Library looked up at us.  Suddenly nervous, I held up the bag I was carrying and said I had more books for the library.  He smiled and said, “good”.  It was then that I noticed the Little Library was completely empty!  All of the books I had brought the previous week were gone!  This may sound a little corny, but it felt so amazing to know that all of those books were being read and hopefully enjoyed.  I filled the library with my new load of books and headed home even more determined to help keep that library filled.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Class Book: Building Excitement!

Having a “class book” or teaching one book to an entire class is no longer a popular option in this age of workshop, differentiation, and personalized learning.  And while I tend agree with the current mode of thinking, there is still something so powerful about a large group of students excited and engaged as they read the same title.  In my own classroom we have fully embraced the workshop method.  Students are free to choose their own books for their individualized daily reading time, and each student has been taught how to find books at his/her independent reading level.  Students are well aware of their Lexile level, but have also been taught other methods to judge if a book is appropriate for them.

Once in a while though, a truly wonderful book comes along, that grabs a reader and then quickly spreads like wildfire as other students learn of the book and discover they simply must read it for themselves.  We’ve all seen this happen with the Percy Jackson series, the Twilight series (older students) and even Harry Potter.  In fact two of my students this year are such Percy Jackson devotees that they inspired many of their classmates to either read or reread the entire series this year. But it seems like there just hasn’t been a new book that has had the mass appeal to cause dozens of students to feel the need to read the book at the same time and discuss it.  There just hasn’t been a book that has inspired students to talk with each other about the characters as if they knew them well, as if the students were actually a part of the story itself. 

That is until this year.  Over the winter break one of my students discovered the book Hollow Earth by Carole and John Barrowman.  I had set up a class Twiducate account so the students could Tweet with each other about their reading over the holidays.  The student’s urgent (and frequent) Tweets piqued my curiosity.  I downloaded the book on my e-reader and began to read.  The story was captivating.  A fantasy set in Scotland; there were all the makings of a student blockbuster.  Two twelve-year-old twins discover that have supernatural abilities, one of which allows them to animate pictures that they have drawn. (How cool is that?)  Their father mysteriously disappeared years ago and now some evil force is after the twins. The book is fairly long, but the chapters are short and so action packed that it’s hard to put the book down.

After vacation, I shared what I was reading with the students.  Hollow Earth became the class “Red Hot Read”.    Soon I had so many students begging to read the book that I was putting in a bulk order for students that couldn’t wait for the library to order a copy.  Within two weeks I had ordered over 40 copies.  Since I have book clubs in my classroom as well as workshop, we quickly decided to have fantasy be the genre for our next book club rotation.  Four groups choose Hollow Earth as their title.  Now I should mention that when forming book clubs, the groups are formed based on the books the students want to read.  Within each group there may be students at different ability levels, but I found this not to be an issue.  The groups are merely an avenue for the students to discuss their books, share ideas, clear up any confusions, and work on any comprehension strategies/skills taught in workshop.

It has been almost magical watching the evolution of Hollow Earth, as it becomes the infamous “class book” for the year.  The students are now at the point where they are finishing the book. The conclusion of the story leaves the reader with questions, as book two is due out this summer in the United States.  We are having many discussions about the future of Matt, Em and Zach, the three main characters of the story.  Hollow Earth, as our “unofficial class book”, has lit the fire of excitement and engagement in reading for many of our sixth grade students this year.