Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Inhalation

Now that I'm back in school, my inhalation of books is rapidly slowing down.  During the next nine months I'm hoping to read as much as this busy teacher possibly can and still be in bed by 9:00 or earlier each night.  Here are my August reads.  There are some great ones here.  

I've read every book in this series.  They're very entertaining spy books.

This book got me thinking about more intentionality when it comes to read alouds.

This YA book is endearing and unexpected.  I liked it a lot.

Fangirl was one of my August favorites.  It's a sweet story.  Go read it.

I finally got to this after two or three summers of it being on my list.  I'm already putting pieces of it into practice in my room.

It took a while to get into this YA historical fiction, but once I was hooked, I enjoyed the plot and the female protagonist a lot.  

This is another YA historical fiction book with two female protagonists.  I'd highly recommend it.  Check it out!

I believe this book is considered a young teen book.  I appreciated the message and seeing life from the viewpoint of a young student with academic needs.  

This one made me go, "What?!"

I hope someone found something here to add to their reading list.  We all need one.  :)

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Find a Connection

Yesterday I pulled Jake's name out of the hat.  His name, the most important word in the world to our friend, became our teacher.  Their names are powerful.  Anytime I'm wise enough to connect our learning to them, engagement unquestionably increases.  Here's a list of a few of the things his name taught us.
  • Use complete sentences when answering questions and when writing.
  • Writers return sweep when they run out of space.
  • Names are made out of letters, not words or sentences.
  • Names begin with a capital letter.
  • Words are made of tall, small, and descending letters.
  • Words are made of claps, soon to be called syllables.
  • Rhymers are good readers.
  • Words can be pulled slowly out of the mouth.
  • The letters in a word can't be mixed up.  That word will always be spelled the same.
  • The letter e at the end of a word is silent and can make the other vowel say its name.
This week I introduced writing workshop.  Writing is always centered around their lives, stories, interests, and topics.  All their abilities are different, but they're all engaged.  I can't imagine the frustration of convincing little people to become writers if daily writing consistently revolved around my interests, prompts, or topics.

A few days ago we used our math journals for the first time. "There are 10 boys, 13 girls, and 1 teacher in our class.  How many people are there?  Solve it in a way that makes sense to you."  They instantly began crunching numbers and solving in various ways.  Every problem we tackle in those journals this year will be about them.

There's another side to this story though.  I can also envision the times when I've worked way too hard to drag some interest out of them.  I've witnessed the glazed over looks.  I know what it's like to lose them and then try to teach, while putting out small but frustrating behavioral fires.  I suppose there are several factors to consider and analyze when situations like this arise, but maybe much of it could be avoided and time saved if I had thought through their interests first.  Here's what I want to keep in mind for the next nine months.  If there's a connection to be made, start there.  If there's not, look harder.  Find one.

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Monday, August 25, 2014


We call these fellows "spacemen."  That's because they create space between words.  All my kids use them at the beginning of the year with some of our handwriting routines.  Some kids choose to use them during writing workshop too.  As the year progresses, they're rarely used at all.  They're quite handy when first growing accustomed to spaces though.  I can't take credit for the idea.  I borrowed it from a creative kindergarten teacher years ago.  Now feel free to borrow it from me.

Thanks Tara for the linky.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Immerse Yourself

In my typical every day life, I'm married to routines and plans, but when I travel across the pond, I expect exploration and immersion, even the kind that leads to moments of being lost.  Five years ago I went on a Mediterranean cruise with my parents.  Our stop off at the Greek island of Mykonos was not nearly long enough.  All I really wanted to do was lose myself in the maze of circuitous narrow walkways encompassed by whitewashed stone buildings adorned with brightly painted doors and shutters.  That would have made for the perfect visit.  We simply weren't given enough time for the kind of immersion into the Mykonos life that I was looking for.

Now that I'm once again in the classroom, routines and plans are back in session.  There aren't too many lost minutes in my room.  I teach with a sense of urgency, as Regie Routman recommends.  I believe there are many benefits to routine and sticking to the well-marked path.  I know where we need to go and how to get us there.  Ah, but I also recognize the dangers.  When a fork in the road presents itself, which is more important?  My plans or my students?  

This week, my kids and I experienced our first two days of school together.  Before I met them, I found myself repeating some of the words from Dave Burgess' quote above.  "Just be.  Immerse yourself.  If something comes up that's not part of your original plan, just go with it."  I think I did okay with that, but I also know I missed the mark at one point and I want to kick myself.  Two of my boys requested I read a third David Shannon book, but all I could see were my plans and the clock.  I had a list of reasons why following their lead wasn't ideal.  Honestly it wasn't, but I won't go into all the details.  The point is, there was a fork in the road.  Considering how passionate I am about literacy, I took the wrong way.

Guess what I'll be doing this coming week?  I'll be tracking down that third David Shannon book.  I'll also be telling myself, "Expect exploration and immersion, even the kind that leads to moments of being lost."  Amidst routines and plans that I still believe are essential, I need to remember that sometimes losing oneself is the most memorable part of the visit. 

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Greatness Happens Here

Last year on the first day of school I told my kids that I was surrounded by greatness.  The idea stuck and grew throughout the following nine months.  (Go here to read more.)  This year I want my new little crew to know that they're full of greatness too.  That's why something new is on my door to greet them.  By the way, that's an inexpensive table runner from Big Lots.  I'm crossing my fingers it will still be intact after 23 uncoordinated little bodies and their backpacks march in and out of the doorway day after day.  No worries though.  Greatness will still be happening long after it comes down.

Thanks Tara for the linky!

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Professional Passion

Last year took the wind out of my sails a bit.  It wasn't enough to make me reconsider my choice of profession.  Teaching is what I do.  It's what I need to do.  But I needed summer too.  I needed time to simply catch my breath and think about something other than being a teacher.  So I let my cravings for fiction take over my life.  I read a few excellent professional books along the way as well, but there was one teacher book I had to read before my summer was over.  So last week I started Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I knew just enough about it to know it was the kind of read that would remind me of why teaching is what I do, as well as challenge me to push to the next level because there's always one waiting.

Burgess asked me to think about my professional passions.  After twenty years in the classroom, the list could get long.  I purposefully kept it concise.  

I'm passionate about literacy.
I'm passionate about real world instruction instead of school world instruction.
I'm passionate about their hearts.
I'm passionate about their lifetime love of being a reader, writer, mathematician, scientist, etc.

It's one thing to create a list of passions.  It's another to find evidence of their existence in my room.  Do my professional passions affect my classroom?  If this is an honest list, and I believe it is, it should carry considerable weight in every decision I make regarding my students.  Our passions inspire.  They challenge the status quo.  And though it borders on sounding corny, they create a "burning hot passion for the awesome job and responsibility that lies before us."  This is unquestionably true for me today, and no, it's not corny at all.

What are you passionate about?

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Use but Confuse

You.  are.  the.  best.  teacher.  in.  the.  whole.  wide.  world.

"I" "love" "you" "Miss McMorrow."

You probably teach early elementary kids if you've ever seen punctuation in student writing similar to this.  Approximations make me smile.  Most of the time.  At least that I'm aware of.  The ones that show up in kid writing make the biggest impression on me, like the sentences I shared above.  Periods and quotations marks are intriguing tools for emerging writers.  You never know where they might end up.  Another favorite is the use of a specific spelling pattern like "ee" that finds its way into every word with a long e sound.  Whether first grade or twelfth, learners make approximations.

When it comes to approximations, a phrase from forever ago comes to mind, although I can't remember where I nabbed it.  Use but confuse.  What do students use but confuse?  It's tempting to be either completely distracted or frustrated by these things.  I was taught to celebrate what students use but use incorrectly.  Approximations are proof that someone is listening and interested in what they're hearing.  Even better, it means that with the right scaffolding, they're ready to make a shift in their learning of the particular skill they're experimenting with.  It's in that moment, when the best learning can take place.  They're ready for it.  If we respond correctly, like Laminack points out, the things they use but confuse will lead to more learning and continued risk-taking.  If we allow them to catch a whiff of any frustration with their approximations, we're likely to see a system shutdown, maybe only in that moment but possibly in the future too.  How we respond is surely a powerful thing.

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