Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Sayings: A Lifetime

I'm not insinuating that I've arrived at the status of top teacher of writing.  I can say with much conviction that if Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, or Regie Routman visited my classroom during writing workshop, it wouldn't take long for them to make a lengthy list on my behalf, possibly entitled: "Ways Tammy Could Improve Her Writing Instruction."  Oh how I relish the thought.  My heart would enjoy every minute of their company.  (Rest in peace Donald Graves.)  

I'd sure like to become a top teacher of writing.  Thus far on my journey, I know Donald is right.  Being a writing teacher does require a lifetime of learning.  My writing instruction is continually in a state of transformation with a changing pedagogy and higher expectations.  There never seems to be a point when I can sit back, take a deep breath, and claim "I've arrived."  There indeed are many moments of great satisfaction after seeing the fruits of pushing myself and my writers to try new things, but there's never a point of knowing I've got it all figured out.  Here's to a lifetime of learning how to be a better writing teacher, 'cause that's how long it's going to take for me to figure this writing thing out.  (A little visit from Regie or Lucy might help too.)

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

T-Shirt Celebration!

My writers just finished writing small moments from Lucy Calkins' Authors as Mentors unit.  They sure have come a long way from the first time they wrote small moments at the beginning of the year.  Like, light years long way.  Since they've improved so much and have worked so hard, we celebrated big time for this unit.  Check these out.

23 t-shirts
 an example (front)
an example (back)
 zoomed in (front - the child's picture)
 zoomed in (back - the child's published small moment)

I take absolutely no credit for this idea, so please give a big round of applause to Amanda from Teaching Maddeness for sharing her story tees with me and all of her other followers.  

(Click on the button to go see Amanda.)

She explains how to pull this off on her blog, which you'll definitely want to visit.  I couldn't have done it without her help.  One of the things she suggests is asking parents for their assistance.  I was fortunate enough to receive lots of donations, so my only investment was time. It was so worth it though, and I'm very thankful that parents took care of the rest.  Here's an example of the letter I sent home.  Click on the picture if you'd like a copy.

I'm so honored that Amanda graciously let me borrow her idea and then share it on my blog.  Please do go and pay her a visit.  She's got wonderful ideas to share!  

I'd also like to thank my best friend for helping me iron on 46 transfer sheets.  I'm the gal who doesn't even own an ironing board, so I was in need of lots of help!  (Sorry it gave you a headache Paige.  Those fumes were not fun!)

I'm on spring break this week, so my littles will get their t-shirts on Monday.  Who cares what they show up wearing to school?  I'm betting these t-shirts will be going right over the top and maybe staying there for several days!  What a way to celebrate being writers!

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Monday, March 25, 2013

April Fools! (freebie)

April fool's jokes really aren't my thing, but I've been doing one in my classroom since I started teaching 19 years ago.  (My cooperating teacher shared it with me when I was a student teacher.)   

Below is an old report card that my district hasn't used in ages and ages.  It looks nothing like the one we currently have, which is a good thing, considering that it's so poorly written and is part of our April fools joke.  I've added some grades and made some comments.  They're not altogether complimentary as you can see.  

When there's school on April 1st, each kid gets to take one home.  First, I make sure to adequately demonstrate how to pull this off.  Presentation is key.  The pouty face, the slumped shoulders, the hanging get the idea.  I also make sure they let their parents off the hook in a timely fashion.  "April fools!"

If you'd like a copy, click on the picture.  I do think it's best that it looks nothing like the one parents are used to.  It's more easily identifiable as a joke that way.  I don't see why this couldn't be used for other grade levels too.  

My parents get a kick out of this, but of course you know your clientele and don't want to be offensive in any way, so use caution when necessary.  

Freebie Fridays

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Person, Place, Thing, Animal

Since I'm on spring break and have already finished most of my homework and all my spring cleaning, I decided I could spare a few extra minutes and join one of Latoya's linky parties.

For this linky, I'm supposed to share my favorite nouns: person, place, thing, and animal.  The last one might be tricky.

Too bad it doesn't say "people."  My life is blessed with some very special ones and an amazing best friend.  I definitely can't say my favorite person is my husband, since I haven't met him yet.  Married or single though, God is at the top of my list.

This one's easy: Florence, Italy.  It's my happy place.  Sigh.  Three times I've been to the very tippy top of the Duomo there in the pic.  What a view!

I'll say my house.  I fell in love with it even before it had walls or I knew what it was going to look like.  Its size and unique qualities are perfect for me.  
(And you can't beat the postage stamp-sized yard.)

Well, the older I get, the less I like animals or at least the idea of them in my house.  I've always thought Killer Whales were amazing creatures and living with one will never be an issue, so I'll go with that.

There you have it.  My life in nouns.  Link up with Latoya if you've got some favorite nouns to share too.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday Sayings: The Rest of the Year

Harry Wong is on my radar today, quoted in Primary Literacy Centers by Susan Nations and Mellissa Alonso.

My class is by no means perfect.  I can witness to the fact that we do have our problems, our issues, and our moments, but as I'm now officially on spring break and looking back at the last seven months, I know that what's going so well now is a direct result of what happened months ago during that first week of school.  The beginning of the year is admittedly not my favorite, but now that I'm this far into the year, I'm beyond grateful for it.  All the hard work I put into establishing my classroom has paid off.  I can feel its effects months down the line.  (And yes, of course classroom procedural upkeep lasts all throughout the year.)  With only two months of school left, it's a perfect time to think about what's going smoothly as well as what drives me crazy.  That thing that gets under my skin just might be something that could have been avoided back in August.  I'm grateful for new beginnings and the chance to tackle these things once again.  The rest of the year will thank me for it.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Read to Someone Problem Solved

My kids love to choose Read to Someone during Daily 5.  The problem occurs when there's not a someone to read to, because all the other someones have made different choices.  That's when these guys come in handy. 

My mom bought lots of animal hand puppets for me years ago.  They live in my library as you see below.

There's not a someone available to read to?  Problem solved!  They can find one here, and they're the best of listeners too.  

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Self-Control, Not...

I have a little saying in my room that comes in very handy when a little person is awfully concerned about what everyone else is doing.  They want to tell me what so and so is up to, and sometimes they even want to tell so and so about it too.  In one of these moments, I like to say, "It's called self-control, not (insert name of child they are tattling on) -control."  It works pretty well, and it's even better when they can finish my sentence.  "It's called self-control, not..." I pause and the child takes it from there.  

While we're on the subject of self-control, have you heard of self-control bubbles?  Check them out here and another post about self-control here too.  It's a great time of year to remind our little ones about such things.  :)

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Sayings: The List Goes On

I could make a list of things I'd like to do better tomorrow than I did yesterday.   

Said list:
  • develop better math tasks
  • teach kids to write with more sophisticated details
  • confer in a way that thoroughly nudges each writer
  • use read aloud strategies to their potential
  • develop a system for better vocabulary acquisition
  • get into deeper thinking
  • improve the use of meaningful conversations between kids about their thinking
  • teach long vowel patterns better
  • continually improve authentic phonics instruction
  • learn how to use my new document camera and soon-to-own Smart board
  • turn the struggling readers into confident, fluent readers
  • be more systematic with math warm-ups
  • implement more Common Core
  • etc.
For years my goal has been to perfect first grade, knowing full well that it's an unreachable goal.  Usually those types of goals are discouraging but not this one.  It keeps me moving in the right direction.  I've a feeling that in ten years, my list will be just as long as it is today, as it should be.  

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Enforceable What?

Most children do us the biggest of favors simply by doing what we ask of them.  Love and Logic has reminded me that we really can't make anyone do anything.  The children that happily follow our directions just haven't figured that out, and I'm so glad.  Then there are those who know this little secret.  No one can make them do anything, even their teacher.  Enter Love and Logic's enforceable statements.  They really do work, even with the little ones who have figured out they have free will.  An enforceable statement is simply a statement about what we actually do have control over.  

And so on...

The difference between a command and an enforceable statement is slight in syntax but significant in effectiveness, especially with certain kids.  Since I can't control children, basically I state what I will do, since that's the only thing I truly can control.  

Enforceable statements typically begin with these words:

You're welcome to...
Feel free to...
You may...
I'll be happy to...

Enforceable statements aren't cure-alls, but they can certainly reduce dreaded power struggles.  It might take some practice, but give it a whirl and see what you think.

If you're interested in more Love and Logic posts:

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Monday, March 11, 2013

How First Graders Take Notes

I'm almost embarrassed to share this idea.  In fact, I didn't share it a year ago at this time of year for that very reason.  It's really rather simple and nothing fancy, but very few things in my room are.  Not that there's anything wrong with fancy.  It's just not the way I typically roll.  Simple, but hopefully effective, is what tends to dictate my classroom practices.  

We've been learning about presidents and certain symbols of our country for a few weeks, and my kids take notes about their learning.  This is the little speech I repeatedly give them...

"When we put so much information into our schema files, they get so full that sometimes things fall out.  Kids in high school and college have this problem too, so they take notes about all the things they're putting in their schema files.  When they write about the things they are learning, it helps glue them into their files.  So today you get to be like high school and college kids and take notes too."  Yeah, they think they're pretty cool.  

I expect each of them to write two things they learned about the topic.  Then I double dog dare them.  If they write more than two, they officially become an expert or historian about the topic.  Again, they think they're pretty cool.

In addition to content, I stress capitals and punctuation, which aren't things that I typically stress during writing workshop when we're more focused on developing content and ideas.

Here are pictures of some of their notes.  

He was a soldier.  His face is on a quarter.  He measured land.  He  liked to ride horses.
 He was shot on the head.  He liked to read books.  He was a farmer.  He was a lawyer.  His face is on the penny.
 There are 50 stars.  You should respect the flag.  The flag is special.  Never let the flag touch the ground.
 She means freedom.  You can go inside.  It was a present from France.  She was shipped in 214 boxes.  She was by a man in France.
The bald eagle is on the capitol.  You can't kill them.  They are on money.  They are on famous buildings.

Simple?  Yep.  Effective?  I believe so.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Less Parent-Dependent

Richard Allington doesn't seem to beat around the bush.  Next to this quote in my copy of What Really Matters for Struggling Readers it says, "Yes and how?" That was my response when I read it for the first time.  I want that kind of school and that kind of classroom, but honestly I don't completely know how to pull it off.  

I can't speak for other grade levels, but as a first grade teacher I certainly do rely on parents to help me out.  At least I ask them to.  My expectation is nightly reading.  That's all I ever ask of my kids at home, but my little ones need an adult who will also commit to an investment in reading.  That means that every year there are handfuls of readers who do all or most of their reading exclusively at school.  

If I understand Richard Allington correctly, he's saying that the instruction in my classroom had better be so powerful, that what happens or doesn't happen at home won't make or break us.  I can only control what I can control.  The success of my readers can't be dependent on what takes place outside of my classroom's four walls.  

Some might say that Richard's request is a lofty one and I get that, but I do think he's right.  It's a request I'd sure like to succeed at, but I can't say that my classroom is as less parent-dependent as he or I would like.  I sure do believe parents should be involved and it pays off when they are, but what will I do when they aren't?     

I'm happy to send you to read another Saturday Saying by Jennifer today.  She's my lovely guest and will no doubt bless your morning and mine.


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