Saturday, January 25, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Eating, Sleeping, and Breathing

My kids had a sub in library this week.  The books they were proudly parading on their way out of the library gave it away.  About a third of them had checked out chapter books, and their faces exuded such pride and joy as they made sure I noticed each book.  (This wouldn't have been the case if our librarian had been around, which I can understand why.)  This was followed by miscellaneous chapter books appearing from home as well.  For the rest of the week, those books became like pets.  The kids took them everywhere and even clung to them in situations when they should have been doing something else.  When not within their grasps, the books were often found sitting in a place of honor on tops of name tags but picked up at every possible moment.  If for some reason they were in a backpack or cubby, they didn't remain there long. "Can I go get my library book?"  The kids wanted them close.  I often found the readers tucked away in corners, sitting on pillows, laying under tables with their noses in those books, because that's what we do if a task is finished early.  We don't do activities saved for early finishers.  We read.  

Wouldn't it be cool if my kids were actually reading and fully comprehending those chapter books?  I'm no fool.  I knew fully well the majority of them weren't able to handle the complexity of the texts they were cherishing.  I believe that lots of easy reading makes reading easy and repeated exposure to difficult texts makes for frustration.  That's why during our daily Read to Self time, the chapter books were left abandoned on name tags while the kids read books from their baskets.  Yet, I felt like the barrage of chapter books this week was worth rejoicing about.  Especially at the beginning of the year when I highlight habits of readers, I repeatedly say, "Readers read every day they need to breathe."  I say it so much, my kids can finish the thought for me.  These chapter books were a small token of proof that my kids are catching on to how readers think and act and a reminder of how much more deliberate and purposeful I need to be about teaching them that readers simply cannot live without their books.  They're up there with eating, sleeping, and breathing.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

More and More Classroom Books

I've been slowly creating a document that spells out the classroom books that I make.  Previous pages can be found here, here, here.  If you're interested in the newest pages below, click on each picture.  Enjoy!

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Monday, January 20, 2014

A Big Deal

My kids love to write notes to each other and to friends and family during Work on Writing (Daily 5).  Seeing them voluntarily use the power of writing for their own purposes is pretty cool.  I enjoy writing notes to them as well, and I've come to find out it's a big deal to them.  (Parents have told me about their child's collection or display of notes from me.)  Honestly though, if I don't purposely plan for these notes, they don't happen.  Here's what I do to make sure I get them done.  

I choose a notepad and pre-write each child's name on the pages like you see below.  That way I won't forget anyone.

Then I write two or three a day and secretly slip them into their chat books.  (Look here to see what those are.)  In about two weeks time, every child has received one from me.  At that point, I grab a new collection of notes and start all over.  It's pretty simple, but without a purposeful plan, it can get lost in the shuffle.  Since notes from the teacher are a big deal, it's a habit worth keeping.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Leave Them Intact

This week I was reminded of how crucial it is to take care of my writers and not just their writing, when my cousin Jenn posted a picture of her second grader's writing on Facebook.  He had beautifully expressed his dreams for the world.  I love his final sentence. "To be and feel perfect as they are."  

(Jenn gave me permission to share Peter's writing with you.)

His sweet piece gripped my heart and yet I couldn't help but notice the stains of what a red pen had chosen to highlight: an incomplete sentence, one missing capital letter, and a single misspelled word, leaving "Nice Peter!" as the only positive comment.  Oddly enough, not a single person on Facebook commented on conventions.  They all expressed how brilliant his ideas were.  Our comments can certainly reveal what we value about writing.

Of course, I don't know what conversation, if any, transpired between Peter and his teacher.  Maybe she did tell him how proud he made her feel and how his words moved her.  I just wish that's what would have been left behind on a piece special enough to share on social media and probably cherish for a long while.

Personally, I don't believe in writing on my students' writing unless we're preparing to publish.  They edit as much as they can, and I edit the rest for free.  Otherwise, my writing utensils don't touch their work.  (I understand that in the upper grades written comments can be useful.)  As a writing teacher, I must tread carefully though.  Of course I want to nudge my writers, which I can do without writing on their work, but I must also inspire them.  I cannot nudge or inspire, if in the end, they do not remain intact.  

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Natural Differentiation

Once every few years, a parent shows up at my door before the year begins to communicate concerns about their advanced learner.  They know their child is in the minority and have valid questions concerning how their needs will be met in a classroom full of varied abilities.  Truthfully, I have moments of wondering the same thing but I typically have more faith than worry, not because I always feel confident in my abilities, but because I've got some non-negotiables in my back pocket that are perfect for every single learner.  Writing workshop is one of my favorite non-negotiables.  What it can do for the advanced child as well as all the others should be enough to put any parent at ease. 

One of the things I love the most about writing workshop is how it functions as a natural tool for differentiation.  Even though 25 writers might be writing small moments, for example, they can all function and progress at varying levels.  While I nudge one child to turn their scribbles into letters, the child on the other side of the room can be nudged to use dialogue.  In spite of the various topics or the focus of that day's mini-lesson, each writer is working at their own pace and at their own level but counting on me to push and nudge when necessary.  This set-up does require something of me of course.  I've got to know my writers and use my conferring time wisely, which admittedly isn't always easy, especially when the student to teacher ratio makes me feel extremely outnumbered.  Regardless of the challenges and the days where I don't feel as qualified as I'd like, I'm thankful for a format of writing that allows nudging and movement for every writer. 

On a side note, this is my 100th Saturday Saying.  I feel like confetti and balloons should be falling from the ceiling.  These Saturday posts began on February 18, 2012, and I haven't missed one since.  Of all the random things I've posted on my blog in the last few years, Saturday Sayings are what I'm most proud of.  I'm conscious of the fact that I've spent many Saturdays on my soap box, being rather blunt, and messing with peoples' comfort zones.  So thank you to those of you who have stuck with me and taken the time to read and even comment.  Your support is a special blessing.  

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Snake Eyes

This little game is not my most brilliant idea, but it's all I've got at the moment since I'm running out of useful things to share. I thought it up last night while I was trying to get to sleep.  My mathematicians have been working on finding sums efficiently, so we've been playing around with doubles for a few days.  Today I paired them up and gave each pair one set of dice.  I differentiated by giving traditional dice to those who weren't quite ready for any doubles over 6.  The partners took turns rolling both dice.  If a partner rolled a double, they wrote the equation on their whiteboard.  If they didn't roll a double, they couldn't write anything.  If a partner rolled snake eyes, they got an extra turn.  (Just for fun.)  The first partner to write five equations won the game.  

 (partner one with traditional dice)

 (partner two)

(snake eyes - their favorite part)

(more challenging dice)

 It's simple, but I love a game that requires zero prep!

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Conditions for Learning (freebie)

I'd love a good excuse to go to Australia, because there's someone there who I'd love to shadow.  Have you heard of Brian Cambourne?  He's one of Australia's leading literacy gurus.  He knows his stuff.  I first heard about him during my Reading Recovery training 18 years ago.  His thoughts have definitely impacted my teaching.  I can see his thumbprint on the way I teach literacy, and yet I need to continually come back to the principles he teaches.  He's probably most famous for his Conditions for Learning.  I have a copy of them in my lesson plan book, although that doesn't mean I refer to it often enough.  It's good to be reminded of what needs to be continually in place for our young literacy learners.  I thought I'd share a copy with you as well.  I've added quotes, because that's what I do.  Click on the words for your own copy.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Assumptions

Last month I received an email from a secondary teacher friend from another district who was in pursuit of some early elementary writing samples for professional development she was planning.  I was more than happy to send some writing her way.  She briefly shared her disappointment with the lack of elementary teachers who believed young children can really write.  She was having troubles finding these teachers.  I completely understood her frustration, because I've been baffled about the same issue for several years.  It's a shame actually.  Our elementary schools, both lower and upper grades alike, should be running over with authentic writing pieces.  There should never be a lack.  

I believe our problem is driven by teacher insecurities, lack of knowledge, and the wrong assumptions.  Admittedly, teaching writing is not easy.  In fact, it can be downright gruesome some days, leaving me questioning my abilities at times.  A solid knowledge base and ongoing professional development definitely make a difference.  More importantly though, it takes belief in my writers first and foremost.  If my assumptions about my writers are on the mark, then I won't wait until November to introduce writing.  I won't teach writing only when there's time.  I won't ask my writers to fill in the blank.  I won't repeatedly give them prompts.  Young children can write, want to write, and have lots to write about.  Those assumptions should lead the way to schools that are overflowing with writing samples to share.    

Now I shall send you to Laurie at Chickadee Jubilee.  She's got her own Saturday Saying this morning that you won't want to miss.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Elf on the Shelf Book

I gave the Elf on the Shelf a go this year.  The kids named him Rudolph.  I really didn't use him for classroom management purposes.  He was just fun to have around, and the kids looked forward to spying him each morning.  I took pictures of him every day and made them into a class book, of course.  I think the kids will enjoy reading about Rudolph long after Christmas is over.

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