Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Every Moment Counts

This summer I took a week-long writing class for teachers.  Every day, the instructor would take time to check in with each of us before lunch and at the end of the day to see how we were doing, what we were working on, and what our next steps were.  If someone seemed to be flailing, he was sure to know it and would provide direction to prevent them from spending too much time on something that wasn't moving them in the direction they purposed to go.  Granted, teaching 24 first graders is a different world than teaching 10 teachers, but the way he was able to weave ongoing, authentic, and informal assessment with instruction was a real live example of what Pat Johnson and Katie Keier are talking about and what I need to improve on in my own classroom.  

When I think of my most struggling readers, I admit that I have a good idea of where they're at, and "a good idea" isn't good enough.  Like the quote says, for them, every moment counts.  It's my responsibility to know where they're at in every moment, so that they're not wasting their time but moving as speedily as possible in the right direction.  I appreciate the way the authors describe the kind of assessment that will help me do this.  It's ongoing, authentic, and informative.  If any one of these three is missing, I doubt the results are as powerful.  I believe another key ingredient is organization, which the authors do a wonderful job of explaining as well.  I won't know where each one is at and know their instructional focus by being haphazard.  I must be intentional and purposeful, because every moment counts.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Classroom Books Too

This would be installment number two of sharing my classroom book collection.  If you didn't catch the first five pages, go here.  Here are five new pages and more will be coming later.  Enjoy.

(Click on the each page to get your copies.)

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Make it Easy

Sometimes I wonder if I make reading harder than it needs to be, especially after reading this quote.  I can picture the faces of certain ones who never found reading easy and wonder how I could have made it easier for them.  For some reason, entrance to the literacy club is hard for some.  Even though everyone is welcome, getting in isn't always easy.

The charge from Johnson and Keier makes me think of the classroom books that I make with my kids.  When it comes to these books, reading seems so much easier.  So what is it about classroom books that makes reading easy?  Here's my short list.

authored by the readers
often repetitive
typically simple text
good picture support
available to read over and over

Are these possibly some of the qualities of reading that make it easy, whether classroom books are involved or not?  It's a question and topic that deserves more of my attention and reflection.  I'd appreciate yours as well.  There must be ways to make reading easy for those who find it hard.  Those little struggling readers deserve the effort it might take for us to make getting into the literacy club easy too. 

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Classroom Book (freebie)

Classroom books are popular in my room.  Even my most struggling readers feel like real readers with these books in their hands, and my best readers love them too.  Several years ago I created a document summarizing each book.  I'm working on updating it.  Here's part one - five pages of classroom books.  Check back later for more.  Click on each page to get your own copies.

If you'd like to see some of these books in more detail, head here.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Celebrate

Over the past four years this math teacher has been put through the wringer, in the best possible way.  My State started pushing me toward better math practices before I even knew there was such a thing as the CCSS.  Needless to say, I've been through a lot of math professional development.  Just when I think I kind of have an idea of what's expected of my mathematicians, I find myself yet again awakened by the depth of mathematical practice my kids need before they can accomplish what's expected of them in the next grade, not to mention throughout the rest of their schooling career.  It has the potential to feel quite daunting, but I don't think it has to be that way.  

Yesterday I finished up another math workshop and was asked to reflect on what other teachers new to the process might need to know.  In a room full of mostly strangers, I wasn't bold enough to raise my hand, but I really wanted to.  I wanted to be the person in the room who said, "Let's resist the urge to be overwhelmed.  We can't ignore the fact that we're in the midst of a big learning curve for teachers and kids alike, but look how far we've come already.  Despite the fact that I still have a lot to learn, each year my mathematicians are so far better off than the ones I taught the year before.  They're more flexible, courageous, persistent, and verbal mathematicians who have a better understanding of what they're doing.  Sure, it seems like every time I sit down to learn more about being a better math teacher, I discover a deeper level of understanding my kids are lacking, but I have faith that I'm going to get there.  Honestly, it might not happen this year, because this kind of lasting change isn't immediate, but I'm encouraged.  I'm going in the right direction.  Let's celebrate how far we've come and all the things that our mathematicians are doing along the way that we never thought possible before.  Amen."  Yep, that's what I wanted to say.  

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Walter's Way

I shared on Monday how I'm transitioning my kids from knowing what a number line is to being able to use one.  (Look here.)  I'd say it's working remarkably well.  From Monday to Tuesday we went from 5 kids who could use the number line to 8, and 6 additional kids simply made a small error.  Here's the best news.  Today they got out their math journals and were asked to solve a problem in whatever way made sense to them.  I secretly crossed my fingers that someone would transfer what they've been doing with number lines to today's work, because all it takes is one.  

Bryson found 4 leaves.  Carlee found 3.  Cassie found 6.  How many leaves did they find altogether?

Can you see his hops?  He totally came through for me!  Of course, he had the chance to present his work, ask for comments or questions, and watch Miss McMorrow get all excited about the fact that he used the tool we'd been exploring the two days before.  

This is a picture of the poster that will now go up in our room.    I'll for sure be looking for Walter's Way to become contagious.  

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Transitioning to the Number Line

Last week my grade level met with one of our local math gurus who is helping lead our district towards better math practices.  He was making the point that we want our mathematicians to move towards using more efficient models, like the number line, when solving problems.  I totally agree, although in the past few years my efforts at getting there have felt a little clumsy.  I asked him this question.  "So my kids know what a number line is.  They know how it functions with ordered numbers and appropriate spacing.  How do I now transition them to using one as a tool?"  It seemed like a question I should know the answer to, but I honestly wasn't sure.  I'm glad I asked, because his reply led to this post.  The following is what he told me to try.  

* Give the kids a problem in context.
* Give them a closed number line.  (Eventually move to an open number line.)
* Ask them to use the number line to solve the problem.  (He actually used the word "force."  By providing them with the number line, they're forced to play along.  My favorite part is that you don't show them how.)
* Choose a few solutions that exemplify appropriate possibilities and reproduce them on the board.
* Ask questions about what the mathematicians were doing, pressing towards those strategies you hope to see more of.    

So today I jumped in with both feet and asked my mathematicians to blindly do the same.  I was very impressed.  By the way, I didn't show the kids' actual papers, so no one knew whose was whose.

Problem: Amaya found 6 maple leaves.  Bradley found 7.  How many maple leaves did they find altogether?
They were able to tell me that this mathematician hopped 6 and then 7 more.

We talked about this one hopping on the top instead of underneath.  The equation is an added bonus!

 This is the one that really excited me.  One of our mathematicians explained that this person made big hops of 6 and then 7 more.  The author piped up and told us that it was more efficient that way.  Oh yeah!

We didn't talk about this one, but I thought it was interesting.

The following is proof that not everyone knew how to use a number line.  In fact, most didn't, but I expected that.  The good news it that it only takes one or two to make the lesson worthwhile.

Guess what we'll be doing again tomorrow, with a different contextual problem of course.  My plan is to do a few of these every week.  (It only took about 10 minutes.)  I don't think it will take long before most of them can maneuver on the number line fairly well.  I'm already envisioning how I can press them further and further to more sophisticated strategies each time.  

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Weighed Down

What a perfect visual.  Stuff attached to books actually weighs them down.  I believe it in turn weighs the reader down as well.  Books and readers aren't meant for such things.  I would never make the point that teachers knowingly attempt to weigh books down.  They sincerely believe the stuff will benefit their readers.  As part of an acculturated profession that learns from one another, and rightly so, they've seen plenty of other teachers attach packets, worksheets, projects, dioramas, book reports, and so on to the books their students read.  To me, authentic reading, that Donalyn refers to, mirrors the kind of reading that happens in the real world with adults like you and me.  The real world finishes a book and then talks with their friends, possibly does some personal  research on the topic, participates in a book club, journals their reflections, immediately tracks down the next book in the series, etc.  None of that looks or feels like stuff.  Books never weigh me down and they shouldn't feel heavy to my young readers either.  My goal is to model how I handle books in my classroom after what adults enjoy about reading.  I take responsibility for the fact that I'm not altogether there, but even as I write this, I'm thinking of how to modify what I already do.  How can we set our books and readers free?  
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cooperation and Conflict

There's nothing like a great picture book to teach about character, but now that I've got some technology in my room, I'm trying to supplement my character studies with short videos like the two below. 

What is cooperation?

What is conflict?

After watching, we can talk about what they noticed, what they found interesting, or whatever else comes to mind, but they can also tell me what cooperation and conflict are.  Videos like this can be such helpful tools for showing what some of these character traits we're studying look like and sound like.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Graphing Our Year

I don't have a data or graph unit per se.  Several years ago, Math Their Way taught me to simply make it part of my weekly ritual.  In other words, my goal is to make a graph a week.  Honestly, I've had a hard time keeping that up throughout the years, but one of my goals this year is to do a better job of that.  My graphs aren't fancy.  They aren't cutesy.  I just don't get much joy in spending a lot of my time preparing them.  They are relevant though.  They fit into whatever we're doing that week and go up on the wall as we make them.  Here's a view of what we've accomplished so far.

When my wall space fills up, I replace older ones as newer ones are made.  Then I keep them in a safe place so that at the end of the year they can go home as souvenirs.  Graphing our year basically means that learning about and interpreting data from graphs seems like a piece of cake.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Meaning From the Start

I felt convicted when I read this for the first time last summer. Even though I preach about meaning and understanding with my readers, I've been missing the mark when it comes to book introductions, especially with my struggling readers.  Admittedly, it's not easy to get caught up in the meaning of some of the repetitive texts that very beginning readers need while first building their skills.  

I go to school.
I go to school on a bike.
I go to school on a bus.
I go to school in a car.

After reading the above quote, I've made a conscious effort to   give my readers a meaningful reason to read whatever they're reading.  In spite of the simplicity of the text, I first sell it with a book talk that both raises their level of understanding and desire to read the book.  Sometimes that means I make up a story and at other times, I use a real one.  Either way, I see myself as striving to sell these simple texts as well as a top-notch middle school librarian sells a 300 page novel.  I'm enjoying the challenge and can already see the benefits.  

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