Friday, March 30, 2012

My Guest Blogging Gig and An Elephant Sat on Me

(Forgive me.  This will be my second post today.  Technically it was supposed to show up on Saturday, but there's a bit of a time difference in Japan.  No worries right?)

Even though my spring break is slipping through my little fingers, I'm thrilled about this day.  For the first time ever, I'm a guest blogger!  (And there was much rejoicing.)  Natalie from Teacher Tidbits is traipsing through Japan and was sweet enough to let me say a few words on her blog while she's gone.  I would absolutely love for you to read those thoughts.  Click on the picture below to visit, and then please do come back to find out what this elephant business is all about.

I love to use music as a management tool.  There's this little song, which I did not invent, that we sing.  It's perfect for just that purpose.  (It's also perfect for phonemic awareness reasons.)  It goes like this...

It helps with management because I like to change the words to the song and sing about the kids who are doing what I've asked of them.  It's a great motivator, because I don't particularly enjoy singing about kids who are off-task.  The song might then go something like this:  "Willoughby Walloughby Wailey. An elephant sat on Hailey."  You get the idea, and kids do eat it up when their name ends up in the song. 

We have also turned it into a book, which is a rather typical move for us.

Here's a copy of the paper we use in case you were hoping I'd share.

Whether you're new to my blog or are a faithful reader, thanks for dropping by.  I relish every visit.

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Saturday Sayings: The Writer, Not the Writing

I know.  I know.  It's not Saturday.  I'm sneaking this in today, because tomorrow is a special blogging day for me.  I'd love for you to come back and see why.

I wonder if anyone else out there will agree that conferring is the hardest part of writer's workshop.  I've decided it's an art form, that for some of us, simply takes a lot of practice.  Good thing we write every day in first grade.  I've got a plethora of opportunities to get better at this.

I'll admit that when I first read Regie's words I wasn't exactly sure what she meant.  It wasn't until I coupled it with Lucy Calkins' ideas from The Art of Teaching Writing that the lightbulb came on.

We are teaching the writer and not the writing.  Our decisions must be guided by "what might help this writer" rather than "what might help this writing."  If the piece of writing gets better but the writer has learned nothing that will help him or her another day on another piece, then the conference was a waste of everyone's time. (228)

So if I say, "I love the way you used sound effects in your writing" I have pretty much helped the writing, since not every piece the child writes will benefit from sound effects.  On the other hand, if I say, "I love the way you used sound effects to create details that will help your reader better picture what's going on in your story" I have helped the writer.  The trick when conferring is making the teaching point transferrable to the writer's life no matter the day or the piece they're working on.  Let me just say...easier said than done, but it's a goal worthy of my time.

Before you leave, Saturday Sayings is going to be extra special starting next week (the 7th).  I'm thoroughly excited about something I've got up my sleeve, and better yet, I'm excited that I get to share it with you.  I can't give you any hints, so you'll just have to come check it out.  Yes? 

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

That's What It's All About

We sing our way through the day it seems.  It's such a great management tool, especially during transitions.  As you know, there are so many throughout the day that they can really eat up instructional time if you're not careful.  Many years ago, I borrowed the following idea from a brilliant teacher friend of mine.  Take a listen.

(I wish I could have shown their singing faces, but alas, I don't have permission.  I hope it's okay that one little face snuck into the picture for a split second.)

It works wonders and makes for efficient transitions.  We like to change the words for most anything they need out of their desks.  Pencils, crayons, you name it.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Books Will Change Your Heart

Have you read this book?  It's been one of my favorites for several years now.  (It's not even written by Regie Routman.  Go figure.)  This post only deals with about two pages from it, so find yourself a copy and read the rest.  You'll be glad you did.

During our school's Read Week, I borrowed a brilliant suggestion from Growing Readers.  I invited five reading mentors to our room, one per day, to share their reading lives with us.  They brought in a collection of the things they were currently reading (novels, recipes, magazines, cards, nooks, picture books, bills, craft books, and the list goes on).  They told us a little about each item and why they were reading them.  Some of the mentors read a favorite picture book as well.  Here's a picture of one of our reading mentors (my best friend who works in the office) sharing some of the things she reads.  

After each mentor left, we took a few minutes to document the highlights of what we learned.  Take a look.  

Didn't the mentors do an amazing job of teaching us what's at the heart of being a reader forever?  Their real life stories are priceless!

Lastly, I asked the kids to think about the reading mentors within their own homes.  We brainstormed questions they'd like to ask that person.  I did a bit of editing as far as which questions were the most beneficial, typed up an interview sheet, and after practicing the interview process on each other, the kids took it home in search of that special reading mentor.

As Mrs. Peck told us, "Books will change your heart."  I hope that's exactly what happened this week for my young readers as they learned more about what reading really is.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Nice Distraction

I wouldn't typically post on a Sunday night, but I'm officially on spring break so I can post whenever I want, right?  (While you're here, would you mind taking a look at my new button?)  Okay, so on to more important things.  

We just finished celebrating Read Week.  Our school has traditionally celebrated it the week before spring break.  It makes for a nice distraction for kids and adults alike who might possibly otherwise be thinking about those future days off.  (Not that I would know anything about that.)  This is the letter that I send home to parents about how their child can get involved.

I saw the idea for Read My Shirt Day from Lori at Chickadee Jubilee.  I left her a comment saying she inspired me to make a class book.  Here's a snippet of the finished product.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Feelin' Better Already

Ouch.  Sometimes being reflective hurts a little, but if it means I become a more effective teacher and my kids have a better opportunity to learn and show what they can do, then it must be worth it.  This post isn't about laying blame though.  It's about reflectively looking at instruction to find out why the results might not be up to par.  

I'll offer a simple example.  We only use pens during writer's workshop, but it can drive me crazy (and I mean crazy) when kids scribble (and I mean scribble) out mistakes instead of simply crossing them out.  It sure makes the reader's job harder.  Is it really the kids' fault?  Why am I not getting the results I want?  I think the answer is found in something else Regie says in Writing Essentials.

"When my teaching breaks down, it's almost always because my demonstrations have not been sufficient."  (71)

She also says...

"One demonstration is rarely enough."  (75)

Okay, so the next time I find myself with results I'm not exactly happy with, there's no need to rake myself over the coals.  Instead I'll take a reflective look at how I can improve my demonstrations and prepare myself for better results next time.  I feel better already.  Don't you?

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Most Brilliant Idea

This could be the most brilliant thing I've ever blogged about, and I can say that because it's not my idea to claim.  Before reading on, I wouldn't feel right unless you first look here to see the original, but then please do come back.  Thanks to Lori at Conversations in Literacy for sharing such a fantastic project.  When Kim from our third grade crew saw that I pinned it, she got the ball rolling, we put some creativity to use, and voila. 

Staff members brought in childhood pictures.  We copied them in black and white.

They told us their favorite childhood book.  That's me in kindergarten.  I'm sorry to say I don't really remember my favorite book back then, but I do remember pink curlers.

To make it interactive, the staff member's name is under their picture.

It's been a favorite with the adults and the kids at our school.  I think we might have stumbled across a new tradition.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Without Missing a Beat

One of my favorite management tricks is sign language, and the cool thing is that I don't even hardly know sign language and it still works wonders.  Pretty slick.

When out of the corner of my eye I spot something that shouldn't be going on, I can send a sign language "no" that direction without even missing a beat or saying a word.

If I'm reading with some readers during a book club and someone walks up, let's me know with sign language that they need to use the restroom, I send a sign language "yes" their direction, and my group wasn't the least bit interrupted.

While sitting in an assembly and a bottom forgets to sit on its pockets, without being disruptive I can send a "sit" in sign language even though I'm ten feet away.

Although I teach various signs throughout the year, the following are the few tried and true managerial signs that I use most often.  





I might suggest trying these out if you don't already.  They're great, simple, and effective tools to add to that managerial toolbox.  It can never get too full!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Why Didn't I Think of That?

I've struggled with how to manage differentiation with contextual math problems.  So many issues, both managerial and academic, can stem from numbers that are either too easy or are too hard.  It can be a dilemma for sure - one that can make me want to pull out my hair at times.

Do I have extra number sets mindful for kids who need them and just jot them in their math journal as I'm observing who needs easier or more challenging numbers?

Do I type the same contextual problem three times but with different number sets and then personally deliver them to specific kids?

I've tried both options, and for various reasons, they just don't flow and work as smoothly as I'd like.

I just bought this book and found an answer I can live with.  It was one of those, "Like why didn't I think of this?" moments.  This is how my contextual problems look now.  

The popcorn ladies popped (10, 26, 78) bags of popcorn.  They sold (5, 15, 45).  How many bags did they have left?

I found that some kids need a little guidance as to which numbers to choose, but even so, this is night and day easier to manage than anything I tried before.  You might give it a go and see if it saves you a few hairs too.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Expect More

Last week's Saturday Sayings was supposedly one of my top favorites, but then there's this one.  I really do love this one.

(Maybe these Saturday posts should be called Saturday Sayings a la Regie Routman.  I promise I do read books authored by other experts.  I'll get to them soon!)

Expectations - oh how they've changed.  I can almost remember the days when I expected every child in my class to start and finish one and only one story each day.  I also thought I needed to meet with each one when they finished, getting my hands on every piece they wrote.  How this limited them.  They simply were not writing enough.

For many years I've been free of this micro-management type of teaching.  Even better, my kids have been free too.  They write and write and write.  If they finish a piece, there's no checking in with Miss McMorrow.  They know, "When you're done, you've just begun" and off they go to start a new piece.  Without a doubt my kids write a whole lot more than they did way back when.  In ten years, no doubt my writers will write even more and better than they do today.  Continue to expect more.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Little Addiction

Yes it's true.  I'm a little obsessed.  My name is Tammy and I'm addicted to nice handwriting.  Yes it's also true that I want my kids to show pride in their handwriting.  I'd really like the world to be able to read the amazing things these young writers can write.  The good news is that I don't have to spend a lot of instructional time on it and come January, I can integrate it in a meaningful way into what I'm already doing.

Here's my handwriting timeline for the year:
August and September - 15 minutes a day on whiteboards
October, November, December - 20 minutes once a week with direct instruction  
January through the end of the year - 10 minutes a day using chat books (click here to read about them)

Each child keeps a handwriter's license in their chat book.  If they use their best handwriting in their chat book, they earn the right to keep their license.  If they break some handwriting speed limit rules, then I keep their license until they earn it back with good handwriting.  They don't particularly like losing that license, so it helps motivate them to do their best for a very short 10 minutes out of the day.  

I believe I found the license in a teacher magazine years ago. I'm sharing it with you.  I hope that's not illegal or something.  Click on the picture for your own.  (Pardon the fact that it's not the most beautiful copy.)

On a different note, I'm joining a linky party although I must admit I'm not sure exactly what that means.  Here's a link to Kindergarten Lifestyle to find out more.  

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Sayings: Don't Get Too Comfortable

Anyone new to my little world of blogging will quickly find out that I like educational quotes.  I've got one to share with you today that is high on my list of favorites.

I almost feel guilty saying this, but I have my share of dusty teacher's manuals in my room.  I'm just not a fan of programs.  I don't want to give off the impression that they're all evil.  I know they have some good to offer.  I'm sure they provide especially new teachers with a vision and plan, which are both very important.  I think Regie's basically saying though, "Don't get too comfortable."  A program is simply a resource that should be in a continual state of adaptation.

The closest thing to a program that I embrace in my room is Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Primary Writing.  Do I teach it exactly like Lucy?  Nope, and I know that's just what she would expect of me in order to meet the needs of my students.  Modify, adapt, pick and choose, make it your own.

Regie also says, "...none of the exemplary teachers were tied to commercial materials.  Exemplary teachers taught children, and typical teachers taught programs." (185)

I understand this is only one person's opinion, but she inspires me to be exemplary.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Routine, Boring, and a Necessary Evil?

It's lovely how something considered routine, boring, and a necessary evil can actually be turned into a jam-packed opportunity to build better thinking.  What's more routine, boring, and a necessary evil than the lunch count, right?  I've found a way to use it as a great learning tool.  It really doesn't take but five minutes, and the fact that the kids do it every day means they're going to have more than a few opportunities to practice the skills they need.  (And we all know some kids need more than a few opportunities.)

Every morning we spend a few minutes making sure that our hot lunch, cold lunch, and absent numbers equal the right sum.  Here's how it goes down...

1.  I write the equation on the board.
2.  Kids spent a few seconds discussing their strategy for figuring out the answer with a neighbor.
3.  I ask for volunteers to share their thinking while I draw it  on the board.  (Several kids are involved, because I like to ask a new kid to take over after each step is drawn.)
4. I always ask them to explain their reasoning.  "Why do you want to do that?"  "How do you know?"
5.  Sometimes we have enough time to draw two or three different solutions.

Here's one such solution that the crew recently walked me through.

At this time of year, a few days a week, I ask them to take out their whiteboards and draw how they would solve the problem.  I often see things like this.

Before erasing our work I've gotten into the habit of asking, "Is that the only strategy we could use to figure it out?" and they've gotten into the habit of emphatically responding, "Of course not!"

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

They Amaze Me

We Idaho math teachers are very lucky.  Our state is making us take a math class, and it's probably the best thing that we've ever been forced to do.  I took it a few years ago.  I thought I was a decent math teacher.  Well, this class put me in my place.  I'm amazed now to see what my mathematicians are capable of.  I've still got a lot to learn, but I'm heading in the right direction.

For me, math journals and contextual problems that press student thinking are my favorite fruits of this class.  I ask my kids to do some heavy duty problem solving and to show it in as many ways as they can.  I started a wikispace as an educational tool for parents to see how kids are problem- solving on their own in meaningful ways.  I post the contextual problems and the kids' solutions on the wiki.  I'd love for you to see what they've been doing.  Look here to check it out.  It also explains my math journals in more detail.

Here are a few problems that we've recently worked on.  See if you can dissect their strategies.

Miss McMorrow's class started out with some stars from the lunch lady.  She gave them 10 more.  They ended up with 17 stars.  How many stars did they start with?

Miss McMorrow was lifting weights at the gym.  While working her calves, she used 45 pounds, 25 pounds, and 5 pounds.  How much weight did she lift altogether?

They amaze me!
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