Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing Workshop Do's

I have a confession to make.  The first several weeks of school are typically not my favorite.  It's true.  All is well once we're all trained and acting like first graders, but until then, there are days.

Writing Workshop can especially be difficult.  Creating writing stamina, independence, and productivity in a group of first graders early in September is the ultimate test of one's patience.  On one particular day, I arrived at school with a few ideas for how I was going to help move this crew into first grade mode, but I still had questions about my Writing Workshop time.  Well, since this is my blog I can pretty much say whatever I want, right?  Here it is.  God gave me an idea.  I know it was Him, because I'm not that smart and it came to me out of nowhere.  Take their pictures while they're writing.  Catch every single writer doing something that you want to make sure they do today and everyday when they write.  So that's what I did.  I spent two Writing Workshop sessions taking pictures.  I especially tried to catch them doing exactly the opposite of what had not been going well.  I then put each picture and a description of what that writer was doing into a book.  Can I say that Writing Workshop time has been so much more pleasant since.  Perfect?  No, but much better.  Thank you God...literally.

Pin It!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Newsletter Treat

I send home a weekly Friday newsletter.  I've been tempted at times to take a survey to find out how many parents actually read it, but I'm chicken.  What if only three do?  Oh well, I'll keep sending them home regardless.  At least no one can say I'm keeping secrets.  

My newsletter has several sections:  Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, Math, Theme, Handwriting, Don't Forget, and Ask Me About.  I suppose they aren't the most exciting things a parent could read over the weekend, but I sure do hope they pay attention to the back.  That's my favorite part at least.  That's where I feature the writing of a few authors from our room.  I choose pieces they've written during Writing Workshop, shrink them down to fit on the page, and translate the hieroglyphics of first grade writing for parents.  I hope it sends the message that we're all writers worthy of being featured and enjoyed by audiences even outside of our classroom.

Here are the two pieces that I'm hoping parents are reading on the back of their newsletter as I type this.

I went to the zoo with my uncle and Nicole and they were holding hands.  (Check out the talking bubble.)
First we saw the butterflies.  They were landing on us.
 Then we played on the giraffe slide.  My uncle pushed me down.

 We were playing wall ball with my brother and his friends.
It was rolling in the grass.  We were chasing it.
I got it.  My brother almost got it but I got it.

Pin It!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Purpose + Choice = Motivation

Meet Blake.  He's my best friend's son.  He was also one of my students six years ago.  He's a one-of-a-kind kid. (Literally every day after school he'd say, "Thanks for teaching us.  Drive home safely."  How many six-year olds do that?)  Unfortunately, he is currently in the ICU with severe breathing problems due to asthma.  I took an afternoon off from school this week and spent some time with him and his mom at the hospital.  I told my class where I was going and about Blake and his situation.  Here's what happened the next day, and this is only a small representation.

 Translation: Dear Blake, I hope your lungs are working better very very soon.  I am very sad that your lungs aren't working good.  Love, Garrett
Translation:  Blake, Seriously I do hope you feel better.  You know Miss McMorrow.  Love, Jackson
 Translation:  I know you don't know me, but I hope you feel better.  Love, Jackson
Translation:  Dear Blake, I hope you have your breath back.  From, Katie
I'll let Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, the authors of The Daily 5explain what happened.  As they say, "Purpose + choice = motivation."  Simple, yet profound.  Without going into lots of detail, we do something called Daily 5 in my room.  The kids choose from five different things that real readers and writers do.  One of their options is Work on Writing.  (This is in addition to Writing Workshop which is always part of our daily schedule.)  If they choose Work on Writing, they also choose their purpose (small moment, note, list, letter, card, etc.) and their audience.  The majority of my kids will make sure they get to Work on Writing during Daily 5.  Why?  "Purpose + choice = motivation."  As far as the Blake letters go, I didn't tell my kids to write to him, but I said that if they wanted to encourage him and fill his bucket, they were more than welcome to write him and I'd make sure the deliveries were made. 

Motivation.  It can be a conundrum at times.  I will readily admit that I don't always hit the bullseye on this one, but whenever purpose and choice are present, motivation is close by.

If you believe in the power of prayer, talk to God about Blake for me if you think of it.
Pin It!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Todd Parr Inspirations

The collection of classroom books we've made hardly fits in its basket, and we're only two months into the year.  Maybe that's because most anything can inspire the creation of one.  I discovered the inspirational and humorous children's author, Todd Parr, several years ago.  Read one of his books, and you'll see the possibilities.  

It's Okay to be Different is a book about various ways that we're all different, and how that's okay.  It meshes so well with one of our classroom's civil rights that says, "I have a right to be myself in this room.  This means that no one will treat me unfairly because I am black or white, tall or short, boy or girl, fat or thin."  (Literature is the perfect way to teach about character.  Thanks Todd.)  We made our own book, and each child dictated and illustrated their own page.

The Family Book touches on the fact that even though all families are different, all families share certain special qualities.  I believe that my classroom is a family, and I want it to feel like one too.  In honor of our classroom family, I asked each child what all families do.  This book reminds them of how our little family should act.

(Just a quick word about the above book.  Todd Parr has a unique way of illustrating with simple drawings and bright colors, skin and all.  I'm typically a stickler about illustrating our books with appropriate colors, but I gave them permission to "break the rules" with this book and paint a self-portrait the "Todd Parr way" as I call it.  They thought that was the coolest thing.)

Lastly, we created a book based on Reading Makes You Feel Good.  I asked my kids why reading makes them feel good.  By the way, I didn't ask them if reading makes them feel good.  I assume a lot of things in my room when it comes to their attitudes about literacy and try never to give them the opportunity to disagree.  

Thanks for the inspiration Todd!

Pin It!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some of Our Favorite Things

I'm back with a few more of our favorite things.  I figure that if my kids love something, it's worth sharing with the world or at least the six people who might read this blog.  

After reading the big book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, we made this little book.  Each child's picture (and mine too) is on a separate page.  Oh, and I can't take credit for this idea and wish that I knew where I found it.  I hope its creator knows that it's so wonderful that I surely couldn't keep it to myself.

This next classroom book is my attempt at providing the kids with a meaningful reason to practice correct numeral formation.  I gave each of them a phony phone number.  (Parents will thank me for not handing out their cell phone numbers I'm sure.)  Then they wrote their numbers using correct directionality and formation.  The pages are in alphabetical order and tabbed too.

During our fire safety unit, we made this book.  Each child provided their own fire safety tip.  I did too.  I try to make sure I'm in every book we make.  I want to send the message that I love literacy as much as they do.  We're all in the literacy club together.

Lastly, this next book originates from a song that we sang pretty much daily for the first month of school.  (Again, I can't remember where I found it.  Apologies to the person who invented the song.  I'm glad they let me borrow it, because it makes for a great book.)  I believe the Singing Bush sings this tune in The Three Amigos.  It goes something like, "Hello ladies..."  

Now imagine a six-year old sitting against some pillows in the corner of our classroom's living room singing this little book to themselves.  It'll put a smile on your face.

Pin It!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Trash Into Treasures

Several years ago I discovered the joy of making classroom books.  It's actually the act of watching kids read them time after time until they literally fall apart that brings me joy.  We make several throughout our nine months together, and each child gets to take at least two home at the end of the year as souvenirs.  

We recently made four books out of environmental print that kids brought from home during the first month of school.  The "trash" covered our back door and spilled on to the surrounding wall.  Instead of throwing it out, my little readers/eaters chose their favorites, and some packing tape and text turned the trash into treasures that the kids love to read.  (There's also a dinner book that's not shown here.)

Pin It!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brain Rules

I once heard my cousin David say, "I have no original thoughts of my own."  For those of you who know him well, you'll nod your head when I say, "Baloney."  Even though I completely disagree with wise cousin David, I must admit that when I first entertained the idea of my own blog, my immediate reaction was, you guessed it, "I have no original thoughts of my own."  (Can I admit the thought still lingers?)  It's practically true.  I'm just like every other good teacher.  Simply put, I borrow from others.  Here's proof.

This past summer I enjoyed an enlightening read by John Medina called Brain Rules. He lays out twelve rules of the brain in such a way that even this little first grade teacher can understand.  (This brain stuff can get a bit wordy and complicated at times.)  Ever since, the book has been collecting dust on my living room floor, patiently waiting for me to figure out how it was going to impact my teaching on a daily basis.  Recently I dusted it off, started typing, and ended up with a list of the brain rules that connected with my heart the most, as well as questions to keep me on my teaching toes.  It's currently hanging by my desk at school, reminding me how the 27 unique brains in my room work best.  Maybe it will inspire and enlighten your teaching too, especially if you too feel a lack of original thoughts every so often.

Brain Rules
  • Exercise boosts brain power
  Movement improves children.
  Their brains hunger for energy.
   What areas of my instruction can be improved with more movement?
  • Every brain is wired differently
  Their brains change when they learn something.
   The brain is like a muscle that grows stronger with use.
   How do I accommodate for different brains?
  • We don’t pay attention to boring things
   Too much information in too little time is counterproductive.
   Instead of force feeding, let them digest.
   How can I hold their attention better?
  • Repeat to remember
   Use 10-minute segments of instruction.
   Repeat, repeat, repeat   
   When can I incorporate storytelling to improve attention and memory?
  • Remember to repeat
   Use real-world examples in instruction to improve memory retrieval.
   Hooks and introductions are everything.
   How can I improve their ability to retrieve information later?
  • Stimulate more of the senses
  Use words and pictures at the same time.
  Where are pictures useful in my day?
  • Vision trumps all other senses
   Vision is the best tool for learning anything.
   How can I be more visual?
  • We are powerful and natural explorers
   Stimulate curiosity.
   Where have I encouraged their curiosity?
Pin It!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Welcome to the 21st Century

It's probably about time to become a contributing part of this technological age.  Except for a recent laptop purchase, I've been hanging out in the dark ages for some time.  No ipod, no Internet access on my cell phone, and who knows what else I'm cluelessly living without.  After recently finding myself hanging out on some inspiring teacher blogs (Thank you Lori J.), I've had an itching to try it out myself.  Of course, there's the ever-present question..."Who would really care to read mine?"  I guess we shall see. 

If anyone is interested, you're welcome to check out my wikispace.  (I guess I do have my technological moments.)  It's purely around for math purposes.  I use it to post pictures of the solutions my mathematicians use to solve contextual problems, and I try to update it weekly.  These kids inspire and amaze me.  I think you'll see what I mean.  Enjoy!
Pin It!