Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Most Important Thing

Sometimes I feel like the Apostle Paul when he repeats himself.  "Again I say rejoice."  There are several things I've said so many times that I can begin a sentence and my children finish it.  For example, 

Me:  The most important thing a reader does is...
Kids:  ...understand.

We say this one a lot.  In fact, it's so worth saying and believing that we made a classroom book about it.  (I believe I saw this at a Regie Routman workshop.  She's my hero.)  I took pictures of all my kids reading to themselves.  Then I met with them individually and asked for three things that good readers do.  I supplied the first and last line on each page, but the middle three ideas belong to them.

I didn't think posting 26 pages of this book was worthy of my time or yours, but I wanted to include some of the other thoughts they came up with.  Here are a few.  So, what do good readers do?

They don't distract other people.
They go back and reread.
They don't spend their time looking around when they don't know a word.
They get a book lickity-split.
They look for chunks.
They use their pointer finger.
They can talk about the book.
They use their strategies.
They read fluently.
They go back and read again if they read like a robot.
They love to read.
They read like peanut butter and jelly.
They read the whole time.
They keep their nose in the book.
They go back if they make a mistake.
They don't guess.
They get stuck in a book.
They read every day they need to breathe.

(I think they've been listening.)

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Art of Slow Reading

During the first week of school I sat down with Libby to check her letter identification.  "Are you going to time me?" she asked.  I love that Libby has a gift for saying what's on her mind.  I wanted to say, "Seriously?  You're only 6.  What message have we taught you in your very short educational career?  There are no stopwatches in the vicinity."  No I didn't say any of that, but it was tempting.

I was reminded of this little moment with Libby when I recently read an issue from  The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy by Brenda Power.  (Click the highlighted words to read the newsletter and possibly subscribe.  It's a treat to read every week.)  In the newsletter she included this quote:

"We need to put away the stopwatches and say in every way possible -- 'This is not a race. Take your time. Pay attention. Touch the words and tell me how they touch you.'" 
Thomas Newkirkin The Art of Slow Reading

In the name of fluency, thanks to high-stakes testing, have schools done a disservice to young readers?  Fluency is not evil, but without balance, what message does it and its ever present stopwatch send?  How about, "I don't see a stopwatch in your hand.  Is this really important?" 

Regie Routman says, "We need to be the gatekeepers for sane and sensible practices." 

She also challenges me with this statement.  "Is this a practice that occurs in the real world?  If it's just a school thing, we need to question the practice."

Libby's not going to see a stopwatch in my hand while I listen to her read.  (There are a few times throughout the year when I'll use one, but I'll keep it hidden as best I can.)  Regardless, how can I do a better job of teaching the art of slow reading?  

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Feels Like Home

How many different management systems have we all tried in our rooms?  Over the past 18 years I've lost count for myself.  As my philosophy and pedagogy have continually shifted, so has management.  I so love what I've been doing the past several years though.  Sure, it may change in the future, but it feels like home right now.

Over the years I've gradually gone from 5 to 3 to 1 rule.   It's all Love and Logic's fault that I'm down to one and only one, but I'm not sure I need others when one covers all the bases.

Then combine my one rule with Debbie Diller's document system from Literacy Work Stations.  Each child's name is written on an index card that's attached to a clipboard.  I make notes throughout the day concerning behavior that are later transferred to this clipboard for safe keeping.  It's pretty slick to keep all my notes in one place that can easily go home and back again.  

The privacy factor is probably my favorite part of the whole deal.  There are no public records kept of the wrongs of others.  Yep, it feels like home and hopefully feels like home to my kids too.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Favorite 69 Followers

I'm someone's favorite follower.  Here's a very sincere thank you to Sandra from Sweet Times in First for enjoying my followship (that should really be a word) and awarding me the My Favorite Follower Award.  Please go see what she's up to.  I'm pretty sure she'd love more favorite followers.

Now I shall send this award to my favorite follower.  Lori at Conversations in Literacy always makes me feel like my blog is pretty special.  Even when my blog wasn't playing nice and easily allowing comments, she persistently found a way to leave them anyway.  I'm sure if you visit her blog, she'll find a way to make you feel special too.

I'm thrilled with each and every follower who thinks that maybe, just maybe, there might be something worth reading on my blog.  Your support and comments tickle me.  Thank you to all 69 of you!  

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Living a Writerly Life

I love that Writer's Workshop isn't just about learning how to write but learning how to think and act like a writer too.  Lucy Calkins is all about that.  Because of her wise words, my writers are learning to emulate writing mentors, taking on some of their habits.  This post is all about our Tiny Topics Notebooks, and how they help young writers live a more writerly life.

Since writing mentors are always prepared to jot down potential writing topics, my kids made their own place to hold those ideas so that no matter where they were, they'd be prepared.  A Tiny Topics Notebook is perfect, because it's small and quite mobile, since it lives around the writer's neck.  

How did I make these cute little things?  I bought small memo books that are bound on the side.  I took them to Office Max and asked them to cut each memo book into thirds.  (First they have to remove the metal binding comb.  They replace it with the plastic one after cutting, I believe.)  The kids then decorated a small piece of white paper which was then taped onto the front of the memo book.  

The Tiny Topics Notebook goes home and returns to school each day.  (I found that a parent letter lets parents know how to support me in this.)  When it's time for Writer's Workshop, their Tiny Topics Notebooks sure do come in handy, and what's more, they're learning that writers are always on the lookout for stories from their lives that are begging to be written about.  Thanks Lucy Calkins!

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Sticky Links

Some things in life are just easier to remember when they're linked to something else.  The only reason I know our Vice President's name is because one day my cousin Laurie used charades to teach it to me.  I'm terrible about such things.  I know, I'm a pretty sorry excuse for a US American.  (I couldn't resist.  Have you seen the infamous Miss Teen USA interview?)  I digress.  

Anyway, first graders are certainly no different.  I love these helpers that hang out in my room.  They help create a link for some tricky phonics patterns, and thus learning sticks better.  I have Janice Sullivan, my reading mentor and the one who trained me in Reading Recovery, to thank for many of these ideas.  I just prettied them up.
Here we have the ing brothers.  
(We don't spell it out when we say it.  We pronounce the "ing.")
These would be the er sisters.
(We pronounce the "er.")
We hug ourselves and say, "eeeeeeee" in squeaky voices.  
(The kinesthetic part is a link in and of itself.)
 Meet Cousin Ed and the three sounds he makes.
 Here we have the quiet brothers.
 This is the bandaid chunk.  We pinch ourselves and say, "ow."
  (another kinesthetic move)
Yep, it's the Chocolate Chip Cookie Chunk.
I included this picture for the fun of it.  My kids know it by heart.  Yeah, pretty impressive. :)

Finally, here's one of my favorite sayings from Janice Sullivan. It's not really a link, but in honor of Janice and her great wisdom, I must share. My kids have heard me say it so many times that when l start it, they finish it.  

If you can say it, you can write it.
 If you can write it, you can read it.

 Any other links out there that will increase the stickiness of the learning in my class?  I'd love to know about them!

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Sunday, January 15, 2012


Pens are busy.  A productive buzz is in the air.  Off-task behaviors are practically nil.  All is well with the world.  I love days like this in Writer's Workshop.  (Does anyone else feel like Writer's Workshop sets the temperature for the rest of the day?)  Anyway, why today of all days?  Read on to find out.  

We've been revising old pieces for a few weeks now.  Look here to read an earlier post about our revisions.  On this particular day, as Lucy Calkins suggested, we tried something new.  The premise is that a writer can revise a piece by transforming it into something altogether different.  During my mini-lesson, I quickly modeled how I could turn my small moment into a letter, poem, newspaper article, and How-to.  Even though the lesson is simply introductory and not meant to produce mastery, it's amazing to see what they produce with such little background knowledge.  When I first saw this lesson several years ago, I thought, "Really?  First graders can do this?"  

As Donald Graves says, "As every study we've conducted over the last ten years has shown, we've underestimated what children can do."

Sure thing. First graders can do this and do it remarkably well. Check it out.

 Dakota's piece about her bunny turned into a helpful How-To.
(Translation:  How to Clean Bunny Poop - Get a shovel.  Get ready to scoop.  Scoop the poop.)

Luke had written about dumpster diving and revised this small moment into a How-To.  (I'd love to hear the story behind the story.)
 (Translation:  How to Dumpster Dive - First you get something to get on.  Second get up in the thing you're getting in.  Third, sink in.)

Andee revised a small moment about her dog into a letter, poem, and newspaper article.  
 (Letter Translation: Dear dog, Come back.  I miss you.  Please, please come back.  I really miss you.  Love, Andee)
(Poem Translation:  My dog, my dog ran away, it came back with food yay.)
 (Newspaper Article Translation: At 5:00 my dog ran away and then it came back with puppies and food.)

Garrett revised his piece about golfing into a poem, How-to, and newspaper article.
(Poem Translation:  Golf balls, golf balls, thick and round.  Golf balls, golf balls, why are you so hard to hit?  If a pro golfer comes to you will you be scared?  Golf balls, golf balls.)
 (How-To Translation:  How to Hit a Golf Ball - First, you grab the club.  You get ready to hit.  You make the ball go flying.)
 (Newspaper Translation:  One day I went out to hit some balls, but when I hit one I think I hit it a little too hard.  If anyone sees that ball ever again, give it to me.)

Katie revised a shark story into a How-To.  (Mind you, girl sharks and boy sharks are not drawn the same.)
(Translation:  How to Write a Shark - First write half of the shark.  Second, add the eyes.  If it's a girl, put it with eyelashes. Third, add the mouth and the nose and the gills.)

Jackson H. had written about going to the pumpkin patch and revised it into a poem.  (I think I've got a poet on my hands.)
(Translation:  Pumpkin, pumpkin seed.  Deep, deep, deep in the ground shaped like a football.)

"Data show that most children entering first grade (about ninety percent) believe they can write."  - Donald Graves

I'm so glad my kids still think that.
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Friday, January 13, 2012

First Grade Dreams

I could count on one hand the number of writing prompts I'll use this year.  Do I believe they're bad?  Nope.  Do I believe they tend to be overused?  Very possibly.  I think kids need a heavy dose of writing about their own topics on a daily basis with prompts sparingly sprinkled into the mix here and there.    

"Students need to be able to choose most of their writing topics if they are to take writing seriously, take pride in their work, and write with strong voice."  - Regie Routman

"The teaching of writing is not tied to topics.  The teaching of writing should revolve around strategies, techniques, and understandings that aren't connected to specific material."  - Katie Wood Ray

Having said all that, and hopefully without stepping on too many toes, I actually used a prompt this week in honor of MLK Jr.  This is by no means a tremendously creative or original idea that I believe the blogging world will be rushing to pin on Pinterest (although some day that would be really cool).  Pretty much, this post is all about cuteness.  Enjoy.  

(Translation: I have a dream that I will be useful.)

(Yep, you read that right.  Don't we all agree the world would be a better place without certain unmentionables left behind?)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Little Word

Resolutions aren't my favorite. Not that I have anything philosophically against them.  It's just that my gym gets a little uncomfortably crowed from January 1st through Valentine's Day (at least).  I thoroughly love the idea I found here from Holly at Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade though.  Instead of a resolution that fades away by Valentine's Day, how about an OLW - One Little Word.

My kids chose OLWs last week.  They decorated them (thank you to Mandy across the hall for letting me steal this decorative idea), I took pictures of each child with their OLW for a classroom book, and we displayed our OLWs in our cubbies so that they wouldn't be easily forgotten.  

Here are a few pages from our classroom book that I'm sure kids will be reading often the rest of the year, being reminded of their One Little Word.

No comment  :)

What's your One Little Word?
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Friday, January 6, 2012

Speech 101

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but like so many other worthy things I do, I didn't think of it.  Unfortunately I don't even know who did.  I think I found it somewhere on the Internet years ago.  Here's a hearty thank you to the brilliant teacher who thought of it.

Me in a Bag is my version of teaching speech, as well as nurturing the climate of not just my classroom, but our classroom, by inviting their lives into the room. 

Donald Graves says, "When students feel 'known,' they learn more easily."  

Carol Avery believes that, "Many factors influence classroom attitudes and performance; a child's life in the classroom can't be separated from the environment of his home, the interactions with others in his life, or his physical well-being."

Each week a child takes the Me and a Bag home.  
Inside is the following note.

Here's a picture of Tucker sharing his Me in a Bag.  I wish I had it on video.  His presentation was adorable.  Obviously he had practiced in front of someone at home like the note encouraged.  

Me in a Bag is a chance to teach kids:

  • how to talk in front of a group 
  • how to include details in their presentations
  • how to make visuals easy for the audience to see
  • how to carefully listen to a presenter 
  • how to support and show understanding to a presenter (I teach them to smile and nod while they listen.) 
  • that we all value their lives
  • that their lives are worthy of sharing
  • that they are an expert in something (I always ask them at the end of their presentation what they're an expert in.)
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Guess I'm Versatile

I'd like to thank my blogging friend Lori from Conversations in Literacy for thinking that my little blog is worthy of the Versatile Blogger Award.  (I've never met Lori, but I'm pretty sure we'd get along really well.  Go check out her blog and you'll see why.)

The Versatile Blogger Award rules:
1.  Thank the person who nominated you with a link back to them.  (gladly)
2.  Tell 7 things about yourself.  (see below)
3.  Pass this award on to 15 other newly discovered blogs and let them know they received an award. (uh, not sure I can come up with 15 but I'll do my best)
1.  I don't believe I've ever looked my age or ever will.  My cousin Laurie says I'm the youngest 40-year old in the world.  I used to think it was a curse, but it's starting to grow on me.

2.  God has not yet seen fit to send me my husband.  Sometimes I wonder if he's not around yet because God's thinking, "Sheesh, will she ever grow up?  She's not ready yet."  At other times, God must be thinking, "Her life is too good.  I don't want to mess it up."  He'd be right either way.  Regardless, I'm pretty sure God wouldn't take this long unless this guy were out of this world wonderful. 

3.  There are actually lots of perks to singleness.  One is being able to travel.  I've lost track of how many times I've been to Europe.  Eight maybe?  

4.  I love to pile up cash.  Dave Ramsey would label me a "nerd."  It's not like I never spend money.  I mean, I am typing these words from a new MacBook Pro, but you can be sure I paid cash.

5.  God blessed me with a talent for singing, which I've been doing since I was old enough to talk.  If you'd like to take a listen go here.  My cousin Laurie and I made a Christmas CD last year, and a few of our songs are available on youtube.

6.  Six years ago one of my first graders took me to Mexico for a week during the summer.  He and his mom were planning the trip, and she asked him who he'd like to take along.  I was his choice.  Isn't that the sweetest thing?  By the way, I have him to thank for hooking me up with my best friend - his dear mother.

7.  I've saved the best for last.  The Message Bible introduces Genesis like this:  "First, God.  God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living...Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends.  God at the center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God."  Amen.

I'm passing this award on to:
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Little Secret

Fidelity - my least favorite educational buzz word these days.  It seriously makes me cringe, makes my skin crawl, makes me want to run and hide.  It's spoken as if God himself declared it into existence and then said, "It is good."  Yet, I don't do anything with fidelity.  Yes, I actually said that.  Gulp.

Recently I saw a list of qualities an administrator was looking for in his new hires.  Part-way down, it said, "Fidelity to...." and named a certain program.  Well, I wasn't looking for a new job, so the point was moot, but he wouldn't have wanted me anyway.  

Several years ago I was sitting in a meeting with various staff members from my district.  Considering my lack of memory, I'm lucky to even remember this event.  The reason it stuck with me is because I actually heard an administrator say,  "I want to walk into a teacher's classroom, hear her begin a sentence, walk into the next teacher's room and hear her finish it."  Huh?  Did you just say what I think you said?  

Regie Routman, one of my favorite literacy gurus, has a lot to say about fidelity.  The quote above is one of my favorites from her.  If good teaching means adapting and changing, then how is fidelity a good thing?  Why is it something that some administrators use as a measuring tool for quality teaching?  

I don't do anything in my classroom with fidelity, even when it comes to things I believe in.  For example, something non-scripted, meaningful, and authentic like Daily 5 does not look the same in my room as it does in the book.  I  know I'm not the only one who believes this strongly about fidelity, but most often I feel like I have to keep my infidelity a secret.  

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Reading's Better Than Going to the Movies

One of my favorite first grade sounds is a room full of readers, and I'm thoroughly lucky enough to hear it every day.  (Well, minus the two days of the week that I'm tucked inside my quiet little house, which isn't such a bad deal either.)  For almost 30 minutes each day, kids spread out everywhere - in corners, on desks, under tables, on counters, laying on pillows, sprawled out in the middle of the floor, and they're all reading to themselves.  The collective sound keeps the room buzzing but in the best of ways.

Ah, but then the day comes when I hear that one particular sound I've been waiting for.  Some years it arrives sooner than others, but it's always worth waiting for and never ceases to put a smile on my face.  It tends to rise above all the other voices.  Sometimes it even distracts a few readers from their books, but I don't care because it's what I preach.  It's what I model.  It's what I want for all my young readers.  It's the storyteller's voice.  

One day, from across the room, I heard that sound.  It was Libby's storyteller's voice.  I told her I could listen to her read all day long.  During our Read-to-Self share time, I asked her to demonstrate her storyteller's voice for us all.  Then I reminded my kids, as I often do, "Reading's better than going to the movies."  I think some of them actually believe me.

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