Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing With Lucy

I have a few important people to thank for inspiring me to become a better writing teacher.  First, there's Regie Routman.  I love to sing her praises.  It's safe to say I want to be like her when I grow up.  Lucy Calkins is right up there as well.  I'd been using a writing workshop format in my classroom before I found her, but her Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum K-2 tightened things up and lifted the level of writing in my class several notches.  Thank you Lucy.  (Click on the orange words to read more about her Units of Study.)

Come to find out, she's just like you and me.  Her way of thinking about teaching and learning is in a constant mode of change and improvement too.  Over the summer I came across her downloadable curricular plan for 1st grade writing workshop.  (She's written them for K-8).  She updates her units annually to reflect latest research and best teaching practices.  How did I not know about this before?  

(Click on the picture for more info.)

Thanks to a teacher friend, I have my own copy now.  Here's an overview of the units Lucy's curricular plan recommends for 1st grade.  Those of you familiar with Lucy's units will see some changes.  I can definitely see the Common Core's influence:

  • Launching with Small Moments
  • Writing for Readers
  • Realistic Fiction
  • Procedural Writing: How-To Books
  • Opinion Writing: Persuasive Letters and Speeches
  • Authors as Mentors: Craftsmanship and Revision
  • Informational Books
  • Cross-Genre Writing Projects
  • Informational Writing about Science
  • Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages

I'm not about programs, but I do agree with Lucy's pedagogy and way of teaching writing.  If you're looking to become a better writing teacher and see the level of writing lifted a few notches in your room, which the Common Core expects, I'd recommend looking into Lucy's Units of Study as well as her yearly updated curricular plans.  She knows what she's talking about.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Against Such There is No Law

Last week a special little friend of mine lost his battle with cancer.  The doctors discovered it in the spring of his first grade year in my class.  Telling little ones that their friend's leg is sick is not the kind of conversation any teacher wants to have.  Thankfully he made it to fifth grade, but then his body couldn't fight any longer.  A sweet Christian friend of mine is his fifth grade teacher.  She knows that helping the children who were his friends since kindergarten through this loss isn't a job to be taken lightly.  When thinking about her situation, I found myself reminded of this scripture.

Galatians 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

My cousin David, who is a school administrator, wisely believes this scripture even applies to the classroom.  What I'm about to share is due to his insight.  As a Christian teacher, I believe in abiding by the laws of the land, so there are certain things I can't say or do when it comes to my Christianity.  Yet Galations reminds me there's no law against showing the fruit of God's spirit in my class.  What classroom couldn't use more love, joy, peace, etc.?  For my Christian teacher friend, there's no law against being God's hand extended to that classroom of grieving children.  I told her that I can just imagine her walking around her room throughout the day, touching the children over and over, and each time without them even knowing it, praying God and His peace into their lives.  

We will all dearly miss our little friend.  I'm thankful that I will always be his first grade teacher.  Here's a sweet note he gave me before he got sick.  Hundreds of notes have come and gone throughout the years, but this is one I'll never part with.  

(If you have a minute, listen to this song.  I pray it blesses you as much as it has me.)

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Is Integration Enough?

(Yep, that's gum.)

I totally believe in integration.  I have a worry though, and it's been nagging at me for months now whenever I hear the words "writing" and "integration" used in the same sentence.  (Please wait a sec while I climb up on my soapbox.)  

I don't believe that expecting kids to write throughout the day is enough.  My fear is that some teachers believe they teach writing simply because their students write.  They write in response to reading.  They write during science.  They write about their social studies topics.  They write on worksheets.  I could go on.  Granted, it's better than no writing at all, but learning the craft of writing is the missing piece.  The Common Core is expecting great things from our writers and rightly so.  They will be expected to use their writing skills throughout the day for various purposes, but they must first know how.  Lucy Calkins is so right.  Our kids need a protected daily writing time where they can learn and practice what writing looks like in various genres, receiving that all-important guidance and feedback as they work through the writing process.  So yes, let's integrate, but it will take more than just writing throughout the day to make sure our kids are successful writers.  (Okay, dismounting the soap box now.  Thanks for listening.)

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grateful for My Heart

First off, Happy Thanksgiving.  I pray that you're surrounded today with all the blessings you're most thankful for.  Today and every day I'm surrounded with my Savior's great, great love.  My thanks hardly seems sufficient, but how grateful I am.

While teaching last spring, one day I found myself saying, "Listen to your heart."  It quickly became the mantra of my classroom.  (If you'd like to know more, go here.)  Over the summer I made this sign, and now it's hanging on a wall in my classroom.

This fall I discovered that my favorite November read-aloud is the perfect complement to this mantra.  

At first glance, it looks to be yet another Cinderella story about the youngest of three sisters who ends up marrying the Invisible Being, the prince charming of the story, but really it's a powerful and engaging tale of the heart.  Peel back the layers, and the hearts of the characters are naked for all to see, even for six-year old eyes.  The most poignant moment in the book for me is when the sister of the Invisible Being is described as one who can look into a person's eyes and see all the way down to their heart and can tell if it's a cruel, hard one or a warm, kind heart.  My kids could tell that even though the sister who marries the Invisible Being is clearly not outwardly the most beautiful of the sisters, her real beauty lies within her heart.  

The conversations that are products of this story are priceless.  Here's evidence of one.  After reading this book, one of my little gals wrote this in her G Journal.  (Click here to find out what G Journals are.)

"I am grateful for my heart because it makes me beautiful."

Mission accomplished.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Maintaining a Healthy Perspective (parent freebie)

Report cards might possibly be my least favorite part of my  job.  I don't enjoy trying to represent months of a child's accomplishments and experiences on a single sheet of paper represented by letters, such as an S or N.  It's practically impossible to paint a complete picture for parents under those circumstances.  In order to help parents maintain a healthy perspective, I send home this letter a few days before they see their child's first report card.

I can't take credit for this letter.  I've had it for years and have no idea where it came from.  All I did was make it a little prettier.  You're more than welcome to your own copy.  Just click on the picture.  Maybe it will help the parents of your students maintain a healthy perspective too.

(Is there such a thing as a perfect report card?  I don't believe so.   Here's what I do to help get around that problem.)

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Monday, November 19, 2012

In Honor of Conferences and Thanksgiving

I'm happy to say that conferences are checked off my list of things to do.  I'm also happy to say that the reward for my efforts is a whole week off for Thanksgiving.  (insert smile)  

Anyway, while I was in the midst of conferences, I gave any waiting parents something enjoyable to do, which is really important considering how easy it is to get behind schedule.  It's harder for parents to be upset about the wait when they get to spend a few extra minutes reading these little treasures.

You see, I believe in the power of classroom books.  (Look here if you'd like to see some of the ones we make.)  We're just getting started, but by the end of the year, there's enough for everyone to take at least two home as souvenirs.  The parents waiting for conferences love these almost as much as my first graders. 

I also gave the parents something to think about while they were waiting.  

In honor of Thanksgiving and positive conferences, I started each one with something I was thankful for in regards to the little ones.  It was nice to hear what the parents were thankful for as well.

(In my attempt to keep parents informed and fill the gaps that report cards leave wide open, I've got a form that lets them know where the child is at, what I wish for them, and how we're going to get there.  Look here to see a copy of what I mean.)

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Are Spelling Resources Evil?

My writers have personal word books (a.k.a. dictionaries first grade style), but they don't know it.  I also have about 8 hardbound dictionaries in my room.  They don't know about those either.  These resources are a mystery to them for the very reasons Regie explained in the quote above.

1.  "Their free flow of thinking and writing is interrupted."  From day one my writers have to learn that spelling is not what dictates content.  If they only write what they can spell or can easily find in a word book, their writing will not live up to its potential.  It will sound stilted and lack any kind of detail.

2.  "Over concern about correctness while composing slows writers down."  I keep the word books a secret for as long as I possibly can, but once they come out of hiding, writers want to use them for every other word and the quantity of writing considerably decreases.  

3.  "Another reason to put aside resources, at first, is to encourage students to figure out spellings and choice of words on their own."  The writers in my room have no choice but to be risk takers.  They know what I'll say if they ask me how to spell a word.  "If you can say it, you can write it."  They must develop the phonemic awareness skill of hearing sounds in words.  The skill won't develop if they have a word book in their lap on day one or even day fifty.

I don't mean to imply that spelling resources are evil.  There's a word wall in my room that we use daily, and my writers have personal word walls in their writing folders that they refer to.  I just believe that word books and dictionaries need to be used wisely.  If not, they can get in the way of the writer and their writing.  

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Monday, November 12, 2012

A Perfect Report Card?

Conferences are this week, so that's about all my brain can think about.  (Well, that and getting myself to bed by 8:00.  I love my sleep.)  Unfortunately, I don't love our report card.  I don't believe it's all that comprehensive.  On the other hand, is there such a thing as a perfect report card?  I've got my doubts.  To help give parents a better view of what their child knows, what I want them to know, and how to get there, which I believe parents really appreciate, I always provide an additional sheet.  Here's a look.  Click on the picture if you'd like to print your own copy.

I understand that using and editing this particular form isn't all that feasible on your computer, but maybe it will inspire the making of your own.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Sayings: What do I Value?

As a first grade teacher, I value turning kindergarteners into second grade readers, writers, mathematicians, and thinkers.  That's understandably essential to the futures of these little people who will one day be the very ones who influence the success of this planet.  I'm torn though, especially because of one little person.  It's difficult to admit, but I will not be able to transform him into the academic student he needs to be for second grade and beyond.  I'll do what I can, but I already know it won't be enough.  My lack of hope for his academic future of course bothers me, but here's where I'm torn.  It doesn't bother me nearly as much as my concern for his future as a caring citizen of society.  I can deal with the fact that he still doesn't know his letters and numbers.  I can't deal with the fact that on a daily basis he doesn't know how to treat others and shows no effort to learn how.  I'm left asking myself, "What do I value?"  As his teacher I will not give up on him academically, but if at the end of the year he walks away with character only, I will consider myself successful.  

(Agree?  Disagree?  I welcome your thoughts.)

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

G Journals

April from The Idea Backpack got me thinking a few days ago about doing gratitude journals with my kids.  (Click on her blog to be inspired as well.)  I threw some journals together and the very next day my kids wrote their first entry while the lights were turned down low and peaceful piano music played throughout the room.  

(After only a few days of journaling, I had a hard time narrowing down which thoughts to share.  There's a freebie at the end for anyone who can make it that far.)

I am grateful for my family because they love me.
 I am grateful for my bike because I like to ride it.
 I am grateful for my room because it has things that I like.
I am grateful for friends because they are fun to play with.
 I am grateful for Matthew because he is my very best friend.
 I am grateful for filling buckets at home because it is fun.
I am grateful for my dogs Alice and Piper because they love me and I love them.
 I am grateful for God because I love God.
I am grateful for our President because he is special to us.
 I am grateful for my teacher because I like being in her class.
 I am grateful for my heart because it makes me beautiful.
I am grateful for my heart because it beeps when I need blood.

In addition to my normal daily writing workshop time, my plan is to make G Journals a daily ritual throughout November, with lights down low and piano music playing.  I hope it brings new meaning to being thankful.

(Click on the picture for your own copy.  G = gratitude)
Graphics from:

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Handwriting Meets Classroom Book

I shared a while back about a strategy I use for teaching proper letter formation.  (If you'd like to read about that, go here.)  This post is about what I did with all the purple and green letters I made - 26 to be exact.  They were transformed into a book of course.  

Just this week I saw one little reader choose the book during Daily 5.  She sat there and traced every single letter from beginning to end.  I thought it was pretty cool to watch.

When in doubt, turn things that might otherwise find a place on a dusty shelf into a book.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saturday Sayings: The Best in Us

What's on my mind these days?
I shall make a list.
(Warning:  It's ever so slightly opinionated.)

  • I'd like to thank the Common Core for letting me decide how to teach the standards.  (Regie would approve.)
  • Becoming familiar with the Common Core takes time and is a bit messy, but it's a given that I should know and understand what's expected of my learners.
  • I'm grateful for an administration that believes in my ability to design a Common Core curriculum that best fits the needs of my students, and I'm thankful they give me extra time to make that happen.
  • I can't count on a program, a series, or a teacher's manual to fill the gaps.
  • Developing curriculum is a lot of work, but it's better than being handed a product that I had no say in making and might not even believe in.  
  • Developing curriculum improves my understanding of the standards.
  • Developing curriculum requires me to know my students better. 
  • Developing curriculum gives me ownership of the teaching and learning in my classroom.
  • Developing curriculum makes me more reflective.
  • Developing curriculum makes me a better teacher. 
Making the Common Core my very own is not easy.  In fact, it's far from it and sometimes stretches me to my limits, but the process is worthy of my time.  When all is said and done, I believe it should bring out the best in us, not the worst.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bang for Your Buck!

Over the years, I've learned a thing or two from Patricia Cunningham.  This post is about one of my favorites.  I love the way this activity teaches young readers how to use strategies when they read.  Follow along and see what I mean.

1.  I put this sentence on the board and ask the kids to read it with me, inserting the word "blank" at the end.  

2.  I tell them that their goal is to figure out the mystery word, but it has to make sense and sound right.  Volunteers give me suggestions, but I make sure they read the sentence and insert their word so we can all hear if it makes sense and sounds right.  If it does, I write their word on the board.  For lack of time, I only take four suggestions.

3.  Of course, I then tell them that readers are never guessers.  (Actually, I say, "Readers are never..." and they finish my sentence.  That's how often they've heard me say this.)  They have to get their mouth ready, so I uncover the first letter of the mystery word.  One at a time, I ask them if we could keep each word that has been suggested.  "Does it look right?"  I erase any that don't look right.

4.  Now I ask for new suggestions, but it has to make sense, sound right, and look right.  Again for lack of time, I stop at four suggestions.

5.  Before uncovering the rest of the mystery word I say, "Lots of words begin the same..." and they say, "...but they don't end the same" in order to reinforce how similar words can be.  In order to figure out the mystery word they have to get their mouths ready and slide to the end.  As I uncover one letter at a time, they make the sounds and then read the mystery word.  In this particular instance they didn't guess the mystery word, but they used some great strategies to figure it out!

I pretty much do one of these a day until every name in my class has been used.  I use various sentence starters.

Dejia is...
Dejia can...
Dejia likes...
Dejia was...

After several days, I also use mystery words that start with blends and digraphs.  

Twenty-three times over they hear the same strategies repeated in a meaningful context.  (What's more meaningful than their names?)  I've made a list of the many strategies that they hear over and over through this one activity.  Talk about getting a lot of bang for your buck!

Does it make sense?
Does is sound right?
Does is look right? 
Get your mouth ready.
Slide to the end.
Look at the whole word.

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