Friday, December 30, 2011

The Color of Kings and Queens

Revision...what feelings does the word invoke?  Thinking back to my junior high, high school, and college years, revision was a necessary evil, not a joy.  (Sorry Mrs. Ascuena.)

I love how Lucy Calkins suggests teaching young writers about revision.  The message is plain and clear.  Revision is what happens when a writer loves their writing.  Regie Routman says, "When kids care about their writing, revising is no big deal."  What would happen if my young writers love their writing so much that it's an honor and a joy to revise?  Maybe they'd never view it as a necessary evil.  <crossing my fingers>  Wouldn't that make some English teachers happy?

(Our toolboxes contain revision tools, like tape and purple pens.)

Lucy Calkins suggests using purple pens when revising.  Purple is the color of kings and queens, and as you can imagine, first graders buy into this.  (Gotta love gimmicks!)  It's a smart move by Lucy.  It makes their revisions so easy to spot, both for me and for them.  When I confer, I can quite easily compare the first draft with their revision choices.  

Does their writing always get better when they revise?  Uhhh, no.  Sometimes they get a little scissor and tape happy and the piece loses its focus.  A conference or mini-lesson is most likely the appropriate tactic, but regardless, I still hold to the fact that they're learning it's okay to look again at a piece of writing.  Revising is not evil.

Here are some pieces that have been revised.  Their revisions are in purple, so I've used purple text for the revised parts in my translations.

Jackson G.
One Wednesday morning it was cold.  We were on my grandpa's boat.  Grandpa said, "Let's fish."  "Okay," said Jackson.
Grandpa caught a big fish.  There are a lot of fishes.
Jacob caught a bigger fish.  It was 41 pounds. It was the biggest fish we have ever seen.

One sunny morning I went to the BMX track.  It was scary because I was 3 years old.
I crashed. I was bleeding very bad.
My grandma said, "Are you okay?"  My grandpa came to help me to get in the car.

One cold Tuesday morning my mom and I set up the Christmas tree.  I said, "Can I help?"  "No."
We put a star on.  It was sparkly.  "I like it."  "Me too."
Mom took the star  off.  It was too big.  "I agree."
We decorated it.  "It's cool," mom said.  "It is!"

One sunny day me and my dad went on a bike ride.  It was fun.
I almost tripped on the cement.  It was scary.
I tripped on my bike.  I cried.  My dad and mom came and my dad picked me up and put me on the couch and put cartoons on for me.  Then I was feeling better.  My head was hurting.  Then I can ride my bike again.

I was riding my scooter.  I was going really fast and I was getting wobbly.  I said, "Whoa."
I fell down.  I was bleeding.  "Waa, Waa," I said.  "My knee hurts."
My mom came.  She gave me a Band-Aid but it still hurt.

I sure pray they always have this much love and respect for their writing.  It's an honor to revise, whether using the color of king and queens or not.
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Top Ten...Make That Three

It's that time of the year when top ten lists are the thing.  I've only been blogging since October, so I think I'd better stick with my top three.  (Links are attached for those who would like to know more.)

1.  Noiseless Notes - I picked this one, because I suppose it represents authenticity, purpose, and meaning - the things that I hope are always present in my classroom.  I want my kids to read and write, not do stuff about reading and writing.  It's not always easy to separate oneself from stuff or to even recognize its presence for that matter.  

Regie Routman says, "Effective teachers who have high-achieving students do more writing and reading of whole texts and spend little time on 'stuff' - activities about writing and reading."

Debbie Diller states, "Too many times we begin with the 'stuff.'"

Gail Boushey and Joan Moser believe that too often we do, "...artificial reading and writing activities (worksheets and so on)."

2.  Classroom Books - My kids and I make classroom books together.  By the end of the year, we have so many that each child takes at least two home as souvenirs, although by then they're not in the best of shape since they've been loved on so much.  Even though every crew of kids has a different personality, as well as likes and dislikes, every class loves reading the books we create.  What kid wouldn't enjoy reading about themselves and reading something they had a hand in making?  I'm pretty sure there's no stuff in this here basket.

3.  RACKing (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness) - Our 12 days of RACKing tops off my list.  (Thanks again to The First Grade Parade for the idea.)  I find it interesting that my favorite post was the one that taught to the heart and not the head.  What goes on in the classroom is a whole lot bigger than the numbers reported in the local paper or on the news.  
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Monday, December 26, 2011

At My Fingertips

When it comes to memories, I have a ridiculous time managing them.  If I want to know how many years I've lived in my new house, I ask my cousin Laurie, who seems to be the keeper of such things.  (I hate to think what my senior citizen years could be like.)  Remembering what I read can be an issue too, so about eight years ago I started keeping a quote journal.  Whenever I read a professional book, I write my favorite quotes from the book in my journal.  Honestly though, I'd do this even if I had a great memory.  There's something about having such a collection of wisdom and knowledge right at my fingertips.  There's no more, "Now, where did I read that?" while I rummage through my shelves of reading material.  Plus, I think it increases the odds of the author's words finding their way into my teaching.  Reading a good book alone is usually not enough to see it take root and create change.  What's the next step?  For me, it's this journal.  Just looking through it inspires me.  These words have helped shape my teaching philosophy.  It's my own version of professional development.

Here are a few of my favorites.  Honestly, it's hard to narrow it down.  I wish I could share them all, but that could present a problem since there are pages and pages of them.

Regie Routman: "Only you as a knowledgeable teacher, can decide what your reading program should encompass and how it should be organized.  There is no best program or perfect model of teaching reading."

Debbie Miller: "We must be deliberate in September."

Lucy Calkins: "By supplying a topic from my experience and giving it to my students, I indirectly taught them that their lives aren't worth writing about, that they don't have their own cherished bits of life."

Regie Routman: "If you're reading everything your students write, they're not writing enough."

Lucy Calkins:  "In the name of education, teachers are told that after we plant little fragile seedlings, we are to uproot them every few hours to measure whether their roots have grown."

Donald Graves:  "Writing taught once or twice a week is just frequently enough to remind children that they can't write, and teachers that they can't teach."

Richard Gentry:  "I believe three things determine the successful development of literacy:  time, time, time.  Stand in the doorway of your classroom and ask yourself this question:  'How are my students spending their time?'"

Debbie Diller:  "My cardinal rule is that if it takes longer to make something than it does for children to use it instructionally, then don't bother making it."

Regie Routman:  "Most of my planning consists of trying to figure out how to make reading and writing as authentic and purposeful for students as possible.  Once I have that authenticity, I can teach anything."

Gail Boushey and Joan Moser:  "We move slowly to eventually move fast.  The payoff is enormous."

Regie Routman:  "I do it.  We do it. We do it.  We do it.  You do it."

Debbie Miller:  "Real life isn't scripted.  Neither is real teaching."


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Friday, December 23, 2011

Worksheetless Grammar

Worksheetless - the absence of worksheets.  That's my definition at least.  This would be my preferred way of practicing grammar and most everything else for that matter.  For example, we've been learning about apostrophe s.  A recent big book of ours called Uncle Buncle's House provided the perfect opportunity to practice the skill.  We created a book as we often do.  Each writer used apostrophe s at the end of their name and drew something special that belonged to them.  (Yep, that's me in Hailey's picture.  How sweet.)

In order to help us learn about homophones, we made the following book about "to" and "two."  On one side of the paper the child wrote, "I went to..." and on the other "I have two..." 

What other skills could I teach using the creation of a classroom book that will be in the hands of little learners over and over throughout the year?  I'm thinking the options are quite endless.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

To RACK or Not to RACK?

I was challenged by a post from The First Grade Parade this December.  You can read about it in my post entitled Inspired to RACK!  Will I do it again next year? I respond with a hearty, "Yes and amen!"  My one hope was that it would thoroughly seep into the hearts of my kids and so fill them up that it had to leak into their lives outside of school.  From what I've heard, that's just what happened.  Can I get a witness?  Here are a few testimonials.

This comes from Libby's mother:
I LOVE Random Acts of Christmas Kindness.  She really did make my bed this morning, and she started a "RACK" club with me and some stuffed animals.  She has also been making lists of RACK's she could do for her siblings.  Much better than the Christmas lists to Santa she had been consumed with :)  Thanks for the awesome idea!

This is from Hailey's mom:
Thank you for all you do!  The absolute highlight for Hailey thus far was your secret santa 12 days of Christmas.  She LOVED it all so much and could not wait to tell me all each day.  Academically, you are the best.  But more importantly, you ALWAYS seem to find time to really teach these little ones what matters most in life and about serving , respecting and love.  You always teach them how to amazing gift.

Here's Garrett's mom:
The RACKing continues and has spurred his big brother Austin to do some RACKing also. Garrett has RACKed me by helping to set the table, get my slippers and clean up after Austin made a mess.  He made his bed one day without having to be asked.  Today he even gave Austin the last cookie in the container and left a note saying "You've been RACKed".  Today Austin decided he would RACK Garrett and made him a lunch complete with a special piece of candy.  He even cut his sandwich into the shape of a dinosaur for him.  He too left a note saying "You've been RACKed."  It's spreading!!! Thanks so much.

Dakota's mom:
Dakota loved RACKing.  The only one I actually witnessed her do was at the grocery store.  She put away four carts that were left out.  She informed me it is one if your pet peeves.  :) She was very excited to tell me about the ones you did at school each day. She wanted to do more at home but the things she was coming up with were pretty expensive and at very inconvenient times. She did love it, though.  The seeds have been planted.  Every year we pick names in our family and do secret acts for that person.  The RACKing showed her that she can look around and find people and situations anytime and anywhere.  Thank you!!

This is what Jackson's mom has to say:
Jackson has talked A LOT about RACK!  I thought it was so fabulous that he got so into it!  We are doing cookies for our neighbors so he can RACK them :)

This is from Paige, who was RACKed with hot chocolate while on recess duty.  The next day Abbey had a conversation with her about that moment.
She said her bucket was still really full because she brought me hot chocolate on the playground.

Those stories alone make it all worthwhile.  How could I not make RACKing a tradition in my room?

Also, Libby's RACK list inspired me.  Towards the end of our 12 days, we each made our own list.  Here are a few examples.

(Translation:  Make my mom's bed.  Do my laundry without asking mom.  Wash the windows nice and clean.  Make cookies with mom.  Make cookies.)
(Translation:  Make the bed.  Make pictures for them.  Make sure the house is clean.  Leave treats for them.  Give a hug.  Buy stuff for them.  Make presents for them.)
(Translation:  Put a treat on the table.  Do not fight.  Clean every single room.  Fold clothes.  Be nice.  Clean the kitchen.)

I say none of this to toot my own horn.  If you've read my first RACK post, you know this was not my own idea.  I'm just thankful that I was blessed to stumble across the idea and watch how it affected the lives of my youngsters, hopefully forever.
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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just a Little Note

"What in the world are we going to make for parents this year?"  I'm guessing most elementary teachers have asked this same question when it comes to making Christmas presents for parents.  Fortunately, I've latched onto a few projects that I'm really happy with.  

My mom, bless her heart, has taken over one of them for me, and my niece Brittney joined her this year. They spent an afternoon with us and worked one-on-one with each child to make snowman ornaments.  They turn out awfully cute.  Unfortunately, I can't remember where I found the idea.  

Part two of our parental present is one that I created years back.  It ends up being more work for me than for the kids, but I keep doing it, so it can't be all that bad.  Each child draws a small Christmas picture of their choosing, using their absolute best drawing.  Then they add, "Merry Christmas!" with help on spelling and sign their name.  Their job is done, and I take over from there.  Depending on the size of the drawing, I shrink it a bit and copy it 50 times.  (Actually, I place three kids' drawings spaced evenly apart on a page and copy that 50 times.)  Then I add a chipboard backing, cut them, and deliver them to Office Max to be glued into notepads.  A little bit of time and a little bit of money later, I've got a personalized Christmas notepad for each child's parents.  They are adorable!

(Here are some close-ups.)

I'm not a parent, but who wouldn't love getting a notepad decorated with their own child's artwork?  The only problem is making the pages last.  

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why, Thank You!

I'm new to the world of blogging, so I'm a bit behind the times when it comes to awards and such.  That being said, I was surprised, yet pleased, when Lisa from Connecting the Dots: A Kindergarten Blog, sent me the Liebster Award.  Thanks Lisa!

Here are the five blogs I am awarding the Liebster Award to:

The award is for "new" bloggers, and its goal is to spotlight up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.  If awarded, you must:

Copy and paste the award on your blog.
Thank the giver and link back to them.
Reveal your top five picks and leave a comment letting them know.
Hope your followers will share the love with them.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Noiseless Notes

Middle and high school teachers might not appreciate me for this, but I teach my kids how to pass notes.  Wait a minute.  Do kids even pass notes anymore?  Nah, they probably just text.  Anyway, I call it noiseless notes.  It's a great activity to bring out during the month of December when their teacher is in need of some peace and quiet.  It's also one of those time-fillers that comes in very handy when there's an extra five minutes here or there.  December is also a good month to introduce noiseless notes because the kids have had a few months of writing under their belts.  It's really very simple.  They write notes to each other on their whiteboards, but they can't say a word.  They're reading.  They're writing.  They're using their best spelling and handwriting so someone can read it. They're doing something meaningful and authentic.  They're doing it quietly.  Their teacher is happy.  Sigh.  (They enjoy writing to me too.  Thus the perfect spelling in some of these pictures.)

(I like you!  I like you too.  Thanks!  You're welcome.  You make me smile.)
 (I like you.  You are awesome.  Why, thank you.  Thank you.  You're welcome.)
 (Gus you are smart.)
(I love the clothes you are wearing Miss McMorrow.)
 (You are awesome Jackson H.)
(You are pretty!  That's so nice of you!)

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Model, Model, and Model

Imagine a circular body, smile drawn in its middle, with four lines coming out of it for arms and legs. Remember those days?  It was cute way back when.  Once kids are in first grade, it's not as cute anymore.  I'm pretty sure some of those drawings still exist in my classroom simply because no one said, "Hey, try it this way."  Even I turn a blind eye to these kinds of drawings at the beginning of the year, although I definitely encourage them to think beyond the infamous stick figure.  Come December though, it's time for a guided art drawing lesson, at least that's what I call it.  Here's how it goes.  

I recently asked Libby to join me at the front of the room and gave her permission to stand on a chair, nice and high for all to see.  (Libby was chosen because she didn't really need the drawing lesson.)  Everyone else got out their whiteboards.  I then drew Libby bit by bit, adding commentary about what I was doing.  As I drew on my whiteboard, the kids drew the same thing on theirs.  Afterwards, each child had the opportunity to draw themselves for a classroom book we were making.

Below I've posted self-portraits from the beginning of the year and from the activity mentioned above.  The difference is quite remarkable, and it didn't happen on accident.  It's cool what can happen when someone says, "Hey, try it this way" and models what that looks like.  This certainly won't be the only time I take them through this process.  We'll do the identical lesson several more times.  By the end of the year, there won't be a stick-like body part left in the room.  Model, model, and model again.  Anyway, check out our before and after shots.

(Jackson G.)




 (Ethan D.)


In Writing Essentials, Regie Routman says, "When my teaching breaks down, its almost always because my demonstrations have not been sufficient."  She also says, "One demonstration is rarely enough."  When I reflect on what my artists, mathematicians, writers, and readers are producing, am I seeing products that match my vision and their potential?  If not, I might need to look at my demonstrations and take the time to model, model, and model again what I believe they are capable of doing.

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