Sunday, December 30, 2012

Your Personal Invitation (Please Read)

If you are reading this and have your own blog, then consider yourself personally invited to join me for a Saturday Sayings or two or three or more in the next however many months starting this coming Saturday.  Last year some wonderful bloggers linked up with me for some Saturday Sayings, and I actually looked forward to waking up on Saturday mornings to read their thoughts and to send others to read them too.  Now I find myself longing for some company like that once again.  It's really rather simple.  Here's all you need to do:
  • Leave a comment below if you're interested.  Include the Saturday(s) that you'd like to post.  Sign up for as many as you'd like.  I promise I won't think you're greedy.
  • Choose a quote.
  • Write a little something about it.
  • Borrow my Saturday Sayings graphic.
  • Link to me. (I'll link back of course.)
  • Post it on the morning of the Saturday you choose.  (I'll be sure to send out a reminder email beforehand.)

(If you don't know what Saturday Sayings are, click on the graphic to find out.)

I'm totally serious about wanting your company.  Even if you've never commented on or read one of my Saturday Sayings, it would completely make my day if you joined me.  I'm looking forward to some inspirational Saturday mornings in 2013!

(I promise not to be offended if you're not interested.)
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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Sayings: In My Corner

I have a confession to make.  This 41-year old does not possess the gift of ironing.  In fact, I don't even own an ironing board.  (Gasp!)  If something needs ironed, most likely I don't even notice, but I just wear it anyway.  Seriously though when push comes to shove, I can hand over the task to my mother who irons most everything she and my father wear.  I simply don't like to iron.  I don't have the right tools, and I'm not good at it.  Thus, I don't do it.

Every year there are children in my classroom who are in over their heads, yet they don't have the option of opting out like I as an adult do when I'm not good at something.  They are stuck.  I could spend way too much energy pointing fingers at a lack of parental support, a faulty system that requires kids to blossom at the same time, an inconsistent kindergarten schedule, large classroom sizes, etc.  When all is said and done, I'm left with this question.  "How can I ensure these children experience the sweet taste of accomplishment no matter the stage they're at or the pace they're going?"  I don't always have a good answer to this question, but it's one worth contemplating.  If I were forced to iron everything I wore on a daily basis, I'd want someone in my corner as well.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Little Look at 2012

Here's a little look at 2012 with the help of Christina at Bunting, Books, and Bainbridge.  Click on the link to visit her blog and link up too.

I'm not sure if this is the best of my blog from 2012, but it's what was looked at the most.  See each post and find freebies by clicking on the pictures.

#1: First Grade Common Core At-a-Glance
The Common Core can be hard to manage.  This document makes it a little bit easier to see what's expected of me.   

#2: Handwriting with Purple and Green
I teach handwriting with purple and green crayons.  It sounds crazy, but it actually works pretty well.  

#3: Table-Sized Anchor Charts
I was inspired to turn certain anchor charts into small versions for each table of kids. 

There are some blogs that I'd love to brag about too.  You'll see their links on the right side of my blog as you scroll down a bit.  Pay them a visit and you'll see why I love to brag about them.

I'd especially like to thank Lori from Conversations in Literacy who reads and comments on every single post I make.  She always has something encouraging to say about my thoughts.  In addition, she is the kind of teacher you'd want your own children to have, so you should definitely drop by and tell her I sent you.
Conversations in Literacy

Thank you so much for joining me this past year.  I'd love to see more of you in 2013!


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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The 5 Senses in Action

This post makes me wonder, "Now why didn't I think of this before?"  It seems obvious, but somehow for 19 years it hasn't been.  For many years I've taught a quick little unit on the five senses during the first part of the year, so that later in the year when I teach science using my district's kits, the kids have some background into how scientists use their senses.  I thought my little unit was hands-on and meaningful until this year when I figured out that maybe the best way to understand the five senses is to be scientists who use their senses.  Um, duh?   So, I found five simple and inexpensive science experiments.  We made sure to talk about our senses along the way.  (I've included links to the experiments and pictures of various science journal pages.)

This is our first five senses science journal entry.

#1: Pop Rocks and Water

They enjoyed listening to and watching the Pop Rocks in the water, which also resulted in a little taste test as well.

#2: Skittles and Water

The S from the Skittles are supposed to float to the top of the water.  That's not how it worked out, but the kids enjoyed it regardless.

#3: Dancing Raisins

This was one of their favorites.  The raisins really danced.

#4: Walking Water

This one takes a little more time to get to the final result, but it's cool nonetheless.

#5: Pencils in a Bag

This really does work, and the kids thought it was amazing.

The words simple, inexpensive, meaningful, and effective come to mind.  If you're interested in trying any of these experiments, click on the pictures.  They'll take you to the directions.  I'm glad I finally figured out that my scientists can learn about their five senses while actually using them.  

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Sayings: A Legacy

If you read my Saturday Sayings last week, you'll recognize this quote.  (Find it here.)  Reusing quotes for these Saturday posts isn't something I typically do, but in light of recent events I can't seem to get away from this one.

On a daily basis my kids will hear me say, "Listen to your heart.  Would your heart tell you to ______?"  Yesterday one of the mothers of my students sincerely thanked me for this.  She told me that her son talks about this daily too.  After the shooting incident, he said, "That man didn't listen to his heart."  What a special moment that was for me to know that this mantra of mine is making sense to this little one and is becoming his mantra as well.  I can picture him in 30 years repeating Miss McMorrow's words to his own children.  If I can leave a legacy with my students, that's the one I want it to be.

(This hangs on the wall of my classroom.)

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

With a Sense of Urgency

Regie Routman talks about teaching with a sense of urgency. I suppose that could be interpreted many different ways. One of the ways that belief has found its way into my classroom is in my transitions.  I don't like to waste time during those parts of the day, and if you teach in an elementary classroom, you know there are about a million of them a day.  (Okay, so there might not be a million, but when my students use that word, it basically means "lots," so there you go.)  

In order to make the most of transitions, we sing, count, recite poems, etc.  I purposefully give them something to do, but in order to use the time effectively, I have to be prepared and know what I'm going to expect of them.  Here's how I make that happen.  I have a section in my weekly lesson plans for what I want to do during those times.  (Does everyone already do this?  If not, I'd highly recommend it.)  I do this on a week-by-week basis, because the things I want to do differ depending on the time of the year.  This is a picture of the transitions I was doing during the second week of school.

Whether you understand what all those transitions are or not isn't the point of course.  Staying organized and teaching with a sense of urgency is.  It's sure helps me!

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Saturday Sayings: 14 Years From Now

(In light of today's sorrowful situation, Saturday Sayings has come a little early.  This quote is borrowed from a previous Saturday Sayings about teaching to the heart found here.)

It's just hard to focus my thoughts on academics when there's a school that's missing beautiful children much like the ones in my care and missing loving adults much like the ones I work with in a community much like the one I teach in.  In the midst of this unthinkable tragedy, I'm reminded of how I live in a day and age when teaching to the head is not nearly enough.  For one reason or another, too many young hearts are in need of an astounding amount of nurturing.  These hearts will influence our future world one way or another.  It's a difficult thing to digest that the young man responsible for this evil act could have been one of my first graders only fourteen years ago.  It leaves me with this question.  Who will the little people in my room grow up to be fourteen years from now?  

(Thank you God for running our way when we even but whisper your name.  I know You are in the midst of that community.)

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Handy Dandy Writing Tool

I like to see my kids' names on the board but only for the best of reasons.  Last week we learned how to use certain words to create suspense in our realistic fiction stories, so after the mini-lesson I attached the list to the whiteboard and told the writers to make sure and sign their name around it if they tried  any of the words.  It's amazing how the simple signing of a name can heighten awareness of a mini-lesson strategy.  

Here's page one of a piece that was written that day. This little writer was definitely in the zone.  It's possible the incentive to write on the board helped just a little.

One morning Ava was walking to school.  All of a sudden it started to hail.  She said, "Oh my heavens."

We don't write our names on the board every day, but it's a nice little trick to pull out of the bag every so often.  Look here for other ways I've used this tool during writing workshop.  

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Monday, December 10, 2012

On-Demand Writing

Have you heard about Lucy Calkins' Curricular Plans for grades K-8?  (Read here about them.)  Lucy never ceases to stretch my thinking.  In this document of hers, I learned about on-demand writing assessments.  Here's what Lucy says about this.

"At the beginning of the year, and prior to beginning any unit, we encourage you to do an on-demand piece of writing, and use this data as a way to plan your minilessons for your children.  If this is really going to be a true assessment, we cannot stress enough that you cannot scaffold kids' work during this assessment.  Do not remind children of any examples, do not confer with kids, and do not give any spelling tips."  

This is what she recommends a first grade teacher would say at the beginning of the year before starting a Small Moments unit study.

"Before we get started on this new year, I would love to see what you can do as writers of Small Moment stories, of true stories.  Today, I'm going to give you a booklet that you'll use to draw and then write a story on one particular thing that you did.  Make this an example of the best true story writing you can do.  I hope your writing shows me what you can do as a writer.  I'm not going to be helping you today - instead I'll just be observing you so that I can get to know you better as writers."

Then at the end of the unit, after publishing and celebrating, repeat the process.  I did this for my small moments unit and was able to share both pieces with parents at conference time.  They were so very impressed, and so was I.  Even if a writer didn't conquer the idea of writing a developed small moment, their growth was too obvious to overlook and very much worth celebrating.  In a few days I'll be finishing a realistic fiction unit.  I can't wait to compare their on-demand piece at the beginning of the unit with the one at the end.  I'm sure I'll be amazed at their progress as well as informed about how I can improve my instruction next year when I teach this unit again.  Thanks again Lucy.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Sayings: The 3 R's of Teaching

Simply put, reading + risking + reflecting = meaningful change.  I suppose we could call them the 3 R's of teaching.  Is this equation evident in our schools or better yet, in our own classrooms?

Reading - I don't believe Regie's referring to reading a teacher's manual.  (That's most likely not the kind of reading that results in meaningful change.)  She's fully aware of how busy we teachers are, but she also knows that books provide a valuable kind of professional development that should find its way into our lives.  The professional books on my shelves and the piles still needing my attention on my living room floor are significant contributors to my teaching pedagogy.  They've helped shape me into the teacher I am today and the one I'll be ten years from now as well.

Risking - This piece of the equation is so important.  On a personal level, I'm not a risk-taker.  I don't enjoy putting myself into the unknown.  As a teacher though, I've learned that playing it safe is detrimental to my professional development as well as the growth of the learners in my care.  When I take risks, I give myself permission to not have all the answers before I try something new.  If I wait for all the answers, I'll waste a lot of time and probably never try anyway.  The only way to find them is to jump right in and do.  When I take risks, I also typically discover that my kids can handle a whole lot more than I ever gave them credit for.  They benefit from my risk-taking.

Reflecting - I'm guessing this is the part of the equation that most teachers are comfortable doing already.  I believe that it's made all the more powerful when reading and risking are involved as well though.  

Meaningful Change - We've probably all experienced unmeaningful change.  (Yep, I made up that word.)  How often have you found yourself asking, "Now, why are we doing this?"  Maybe the CCSS fits in that category for some.  Maybe a district or state mandate has created change that was not meaningful.  Those things are at times out of our hands.  For me, most often meaningful change happens when I take professional development into my own hands.  I'm not satisfied with the teacher I am today, but I'm the only one who can change that.  I read.  I risk.  I reflect.  If Regie's right, and I think she is, that means I'm bound to change in meaningful ways.  

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Into the Deep End

Regie Routman says, "I have never worked in a school or classroom where the expectations for students are too high."  Of course if Regie says it, I must agree, and from doing my own classroom research, I know she's right.  Year after year, I find that kids can do more than I ever thought they could.  Sometimes the only way to find out what they're capable of is to jump right into the deep end and know that most will happily follow me in.  I've found this to be true and over and over, especially in the area of writing.  

(Click on the picture to purchase Lucy's PDF.)

I recently posted about Lucy Calkins and her recommended units of study for first grade writers.  (See here.)  Based on her annually updated curricular plan which you see above, I recently started teaching a unit on realistic fiction.  (I love that her thinking shifts and changes just like the rest of us.)  This genre of writing is new for me as well as the kids.  Honestly, it can be a bit scary jumping into something foreign, but it would be quite unfair for my inhibitions to get in the way of their growth.  Amazingly enough, after only four days of instruction, they impressed me with how they were catching on.  They've got a ways to go, but the following pieces are proof that they just needed someone to invite them into the water so to speak.

Sally was walking to the library to retake a book back.  When she got there it was closed.  She did not know what to do.  Then she knew what to do.  She put it in the box.

One day alex was going to ride his bike.  He was practicing for a contest.  He messed up the bike.  It broke in pieces.  Alex said, "But someone can fix it."  So somebody fixed it up.  He really appreciated that.

One day Emily was getting ready for music practice, but she couldn't find her song book.  She looked under her bed.  No music book.  She looked in her music cupboard.  No music book.  She finally looked in her closet.  She found it, and she went to music practice.

Thanks again Lucy for pushing me into the deep end.  My writers and I thank you.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Tammy's Been Hacked

Hey faithful followers of Forever in First:

My name is Laurie Roberts, and I am Tammy's cousin. I have hacked into Tammy's amazing blog to reveal something that many of you probably don't know. If you are a regular reader, then you already know, as I do, that Tammy is one of the world's best teachers. Seriously, I am constantly amazed at her innovation, her tireless pursuit of excellence, and her sincere, brilliant insights. I read and reflect on every post, and I even try out some of her ideas with my seniors in AP Literature.

However, Tammy's talents are hardly limited to the classroom. Ever since she was a wee young lass Tammy has been the best singer I know. We have collaborated on three independent CDs, and in the words of our first producer, her voice is "pure driven snow." I can't begin to tell you how many people have been profoundly moved by her incredible voice. She truly has a special gift.

Here she is singing a song from our Christmas CD "Tidings," singing a song she wrote, with the traditional "First Noel" tagged onto the end:

And here is our spin on the classic Christmas hymn "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day":

Tammy is much too classy to promote herself, but on her behalf, I thank you for listening, and I hope these songs blessed you.


P.S. I'm not too classy to tell you our Christmas album "Tidings" can be downloaded at Itunes and various other sites that sell digital music.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saturday Sayings: More Isn't Necessary

(Click above for other Saturday Sayings)

About ten years ago I decided to make my first quilt.  For someone who had never even turned on a sewing machine, this was not a walk-in-the-park undertaking.  I didn't learn to quilt by doing little sewing exercises on the side though.  I learned to quilt by quilting.  I was immersed in the process from day one and became a quilter the moment I took on the project.  

Of course, sewing and literacy are different beasts, but the premise of learning a new craft is the same.  As the quote says, kids learn to read by reading, and they learn to write by writing.  It's easy to get caught up in the "more", which can take on many different faces.  More activities, more games, more centers, more glorified worksheets, etc....basically more stuff.  All the stuff can so quickly push time for simply reading and simply writing right out the door.  If there's anything that we can give our students that will make the most difference in their literacy, it's time to be readers and writers.  The "more" isn't necessary.

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