Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday Sayings: No Secrets

I'm trying to remember if I've ever seen a teacher write in front of me.  My memory rarely serves me well, but I'm pretty sure I haven't.  Wouldn't this be akin to showing someone like myself a beautifully crafted quilt and then saying, "Now you go make one just like it."  I need more than that.  I need even more than simply talking me through it.  I need to see the process first.  I believe this is similar to what we're asking of our writers when all that we show them is finished pieces.  

The topic of writing in front of our students recently came up in a meeting I was at.  We were discussing the essentials of daily writing instruction.  An honest question was asked regarding the validity of modeled writing.  I'm glad they asked.  I doubt they were the only one who hadn't thought about its importance before.  The whole conversation, which was a great one, reminded me of Graves' quote.  A lifetime is a long time for our young writers to live without seeing their teachers model writing in front of them.

So why should our writers see us write in front of them?

*  They need to see it's normal and okay to struggle with any and every part of the process.
*  They need to see writers use strategies to overcome their struggles. 
*  They need to see how writers cross out, mess up, and revise on the go.
*  They need to see how writers make choices.
*  They need to see the joy writers experience when ideas and words click.
*  etc.

Why don't we write in front of our writers?

*  We're fearful.
*  We're embarrassed.
*  We lack confidence.
*  We're unaware of its importance. 

Writing in front of anyone, even a first grader, can indeed be intimidating.  My head and heart don't often get the words right on the first try and openly sharing that struggle is difficult.  But that's exactly what they need to see.  Sharing my writing space with my students lets them in on some secrets of writing that shouldn't be secret.  They'll hopefully go more confidently into their own writing space because of it.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Subitizing Geometry Style

We've been doing something in geometry these days that reminds me a bit of subitizing.  I learned about it in a math professional development class from Boise State University.  It's called Quick Images.  You show a composite shape to the kiddos for a few seconds, then remove the picture to see what they can create from memory.  It is definitely a challenge, but it stretches their knowledge of shapes, their attributes, and the space the shapes occupy.  The composite shapes increase in difficulty like you see below.

from color

 to black and white

 to only the outline  

We did two or three of each type before moving on to the next one.  Oh, and we always talked about what they noticed as well.  

I do not have permission to share the slides of the shapes from BSU, but I'm sure you could make your own if you think this activity would benefit your students.  

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Problem of the Century

I'm likely not the only one who towards the end of the year finds themselves scrambling to fix what seems to be the problem of the century.  Kids don't read over the summer.  The middle of May arrives and I start asking myself this question.  How am I going to convince all 25 of my first graders to read without me around?  Even more so, I start preaching to the parents to persuade them to make reading a priority in their homes for the next three months.  

In my heart, I know the answer to the summer reading problem lies in Kathy Collins' thought above.  If my students actually have their own passionate reading lives, then a summer without books is not an option.  Of course, they need access to books, and at their young age, parental support really is part of the puzzle.  But these little people shouldn't read this summer because their teacher told them to or their parents make them or even because the local library has a great summer reading program.  They should be reading because they have a need to read.  Solving the summer slide won't happen because in May we promote summer reading.  The problem will be solved or at least improved because of what we say and do starting on the first day of school.  Creating readers who read over the summer and ultimately for the rest of their lives takes a long nine months to foster. I've got my work cut out for me on August 21st and every day thereafter.   

P.S.  Having said all that, I thoroughly appreciate what Miss Trayers at Not Just Child's Play recently posted about summer reading.  She shared some creative ways she'll be encouraging her kids to read this summer.  I'm totally doing #3 from her list.  It's pretty much brilliant.  You should take a look.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Grace

Back in the olden days when I gave spelling tests and each child was tested on the same words, I was doing the best with what I knew.  When my writers were locked into one piece a day because I had to look at what they wrote, I was doing the best with what I knew.  When I was providing math strategies instead of allowing my mathematicians to solve problems in ways that made sense to them, I was doing the best with what I knew.  

I could go on and on.  Over my twenty years of teaching, naturally I've left a trail of constantly changing practices.  As the sayings goes, I was doing the best with what I knew.  The main thing is that I was doing my best.  I'm reminded to give myself a break when I think about the kind of education I provide my students now compared to twenty years ago or even only five.  I'm beyond grateful that my best continually expands and becomes better.  

It also reminds me to give others a break.  I will admit that it's easy to be critical when I hear of certain practices that are occurring in classrooms.  I'm required to show others the same grace that I show myself in light of the changes I've made over the years.  I often envision the teaching profession as a long path that seems to have no end.  It's scattered with teachers but all at different points.  They're all moving, some faster and some slower.  Then I spot myself.  I can see how far I've come.  I look back to where I used to be and there are many teachers at that point.  I must show them grace.  I can also look ahead to where I'd like to be and I see many teachers up there as well.  I hope they show me grace. 

I know that the moral of Allington's quote is that our students are impacted by our best.  Wherever we happen to be on the path of this profession, our best must constantly become better.  The more we know, the better off our students will be.  And along the way, we can show grace both to ourselves and others.  

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Behind Your Back (freebie)

Here's a little geometry activity that I've seen a few times in some of my district math professional development.  It's a great one for challenging kids to think about shapes, their attributes, and the space they occupy.  

While one partner's back is to the smartboard or whatever tool a teacher has at their fingertips, the other partner faces the smartboard and describes the composite shape that they see while the other partner creates it without looking.  What fun and what a challenge!  They really have to know their stuff to pull this off.

Directions were given.  Questions were asked.  Clarifying took place.  I heard some great conversations!  Afterwards, one of my little guys patted me on the back and said, "That was pretty awesome!" 

I'd like to share the Smart Notebook file of composite shapes with you.  I'm crossing my fingers this will work.  If it doesn't, it won't be too hard to create your own.  Head here if you're interested.  (Please let me know if this doesn't work.)

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Mental Alarms

Maybe this thought would be a better one to think about at the start of the year.  It's those pivotal beginning months of training that set our writers up for success for months to come.  Or possibly sharing it now is the perfect time.  If Lucy is describing the situation as it stands today, then make a major mental note of how crazy this makes you feel.  Seriously.  Whether it's writing workshop or some other independent part of the day, it would drive me loony if my kids were needing support at every step.  

I've mentioned this before, but I remember the olden days when a writer would finish a piece and then wait for me to read it.  I had my hands on everything they wrote.  I was literally in their business at every step.  I'm fairly certain I thought I was doing them a favor, but in so many ways the opposite was true.  Obviously, when there's sitting, waiting, and downtime while waiting for the teacher, there's not nearly enough writing going on.  They need time to practice their craft, and I was stealing it from them.  Not to mention, downtime equals a management nightmare.  Neither were they were independent writers.  They didn't literally come to me at every step, but I for sure came to them.  It was so long ago I don't remember all the nitty-gritty, but after reading their piece, I'm fairly certain I told them what to do next.  All this must have drove me crazy.  Talk about mental alarms.

Now my writers don't even think about me when they're finished with a piece.  They automatically start another.  "When you're done, you've just begun."  Thank you Lucy Calkins for those words.  The moral of this tale is to pay attention to mental alarms.  Sometimes we put up with the crazy and don't notice the poor foundation that's causing all the fuss.  Maybe these mental alarms can become mental notes for a better start to the coming year.  Our goal can be a room full of kids who don't even think about us from one step to the next.

Before you go, a blogging friend of mine, Kimberley from First In Maine, is starting a new series on her blog.  You're welcome to be a part.  She never fails to get me thinking about best practices and why I do what I do.  You should go check her out by clicking on her graphic below.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Cover Up (freebie)

We're in the midst of geometry these days.  We just played a fun composing and decomposing game that I learned at a recent district math meeting.  Making the freebie is the only thing I can take credit for.  

The game is played in pairs.  Each player has their own duck sheet like the one below.

A player rolls a die and places a pattern block on their duck according to what they roll from this sheet, which I cut in half.  (Click on the graphic for your own copy.)

Here are the official directions.  

I simplified it slightly.  I didn't tell them they could exchange shapes.  If they couldn't use the shape they rolled, they lost their turn, but true to the directions above, they were not allowed to move any shape after it had been placed.

They loved the game, and I loved that they could play it over and over again with very different results each time.  They had a ton of exposure to shapes and their attributes.

P.S.  The duck template was found at but as you can see, all lines within the picture were removed.  Obviously, their removal ups the ante and allows this activity to really be about composing and decomposing.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Saturday Sayings: So Smart to Ask

Vocabulary instruction is one of my weak areas.  I don't pick out a certain number of words to teach every week.  Instead it happens on the fly, most often during a read-aloud.  I'm not nearly intentional enough, and I haven't developed a system for ways to follow up and authentically internalize those words either.  I've got some work to do.  (I do have my eye on a great professional read called Words Nerds though.  Maybe that will help.)  I'm also aware of the times when I'm guilty of barging through a book and not allowing the time and space to even let kids know they should speak up about possible confusions.  I'm working on this and Regie's voice in my head definitely helps.

She reminds me to say things like, "Smart kids know when they don't understand a word."  Recently I've been purposely choosing read-alouds that force them to speak up about unknown vocabulary.  First I ask my kids to show their comprehension fingers, a strategy I learned years ago from Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann.  One finger means they understand, and two means they don't.  As soon as I see two fingers, I know to stop.  "What does 'famine' mean?"  My typical response sounds something like, "Thank you for asking.  That's so smart of you to speak up."  Of course, learning and using strategies for figuring out tricky words is another story and one we've been practicing as well.  First and foremost though, when I repeatedly tell my kids that the most important thing a reader does is understand, I'd better back that up every time a book is opened in my room with the knowledge, expectation, and invitation that readers know when they don't know a word and are so smart to do something about it.

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