Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday Sayings: The 17%

When Thanksgiving break started a week ago, my goal was to finish all my school work and get my house cleaned and organized as soon as I could.  Work before play.  That's my motto.  By Saturday night, everything on my list was crossed off.  It was time to play.  I cozied up under a blanket on my couch and began reading.  Insert strange looks and shaking heads.  Some people don't understand my enjoyment of books. When I leave comments on Facebook about my voracious reading habits, I don't always receive encouraging feedback.  Sometimes I get the, "Is that all you ever do?"  Well, no, but it's pretty close.  I just finished my sixth book of the week, and I'm not embarrassed if people know.  (I think I've broken a personal record.  Maybe I should tell Facebook.)  

Although my skin could use some toughening at times, I love books enough that I can put up with the naysayers.  My students are not equipped with that ability yet.  Fortunately first graders aren't at the age where it's really needed, but soon enough, friends, family, and society will have something to say about how much and what they read.  Their world is already brimming with messages, making it clear that it's cool to be wrapped up in this, that, and the other thing.  Rarely is reading given a place on the list.  And for many, those messages will influence their choices.  At this point, they think it's cool to take their books with them to recess.  But will 17% of my students come to a point in their future reading lives where they will be embarrassed to be seen with a book?  I'm challenged today to do something about that statistic.    

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Accordion Book Tip

I've been sharing a few of my methods for putting classroom books together.  I want them durable, inexpensive, and enticing.  This particular tip is one that brings out the oohs and ahhs from my readers.

After printing off the child's page and glueing it to construction paper, I use clear packing tape to adhere each page to the next.  I leave a very tiny space between each page and attach tape to both the front and the back.  Then when I close the book, it folds up like an accordion.  The kids love stretching out the book when they read it, although for some, putting it back together presents a challenge.  :)

If you check out the labels on the right side of my blog, and click on "classroom books" you'll find additional classroom book making tips as well as several types of books that I've made in my room.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Word Book? What's that?

This was the longest week of the year in my book.  That's how parent teacher conferences always make me feel, regardless of how well they go.  In spite of the long days and nights, one of my favorite parts of meeting with a parent is showing them the writing progression of their little person.  I start with the very first piece they wrote during the first week of school before I had even begun to teach mini-lessons.  Then I share the piece they chose to publish at the close of our first unit, followed by the published piece of the following one.  There are varied points I enjoy making about the growth I see, both on a story level and surface level.  Readability is a common surface level topic of our conversation.  The way the child's spelling has evolved is typically blatantly obvious.  In fact, a few parents marvel at my ability to even decipher the early pieces.  It's a special talent especially bestowed upon first grade teachers.

Invented spelling gives each writer accessibility to the gift of authorship.  Without it, their growth is considerably stunted.  This is why I don't believe in handing out word books or personal dictionaries until spring.  My writers don't even know such things exist.  They have the Word Wall as a resource and personal copy of it for their writing folders, and that's plenty enough.  They need to build the right risk-taking muscles and phonemic skills that will propel them towards more accurate spellings and allow them the freedom to write whatever comes to mind. 

I believe too many spelling resources provide a crutch for our youngest writers and can considerably limit their word choice and content.  They affect the growth, that this week, parents and I couldn't help but notice and celebrate in only three months time.  I, for one, am thankful for invented spellings, even the ones that make me work a little extra hard at deciphering.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Do Not Squander

Speaking of thanking God, I've done a lot of that this year.  I have a dreamy class, and they couldn't have come at a better time.  I've met many a challenge on a yearly basis throughout my career, but last year left me wounded.  It didn't make me call into question whether I was in the right profession, but it did mess with my confidence and enthusiasm.  

Now I have a class that's like no other, but in the best of ways.  It took me until sometime in October to realize that not once had I opened the door at the end of a recess to find complaints and tattles awaiting me.  The first one showed up on Halloween.  I believe that's a career record.

Of course, we have our little bumps in the road.  Like Burgess says, the perfect year doesn't exist.  They make mistakes.  I make them too.  The nice thing is that for the most part, they're responsive to those moments that don't go well.   They're teachable, and we move on.
Here's my worry.  I don't want to squander this gift.  This is especially the year to challenge my own version of status quo.    With all my little ducks in a row, I have the perfect opportunity to stretch myself.  I'm pleased to say I've made a few experimental changes that will probably take most of the year to perfect, yet my gut continually sends out warning signals:  Yes, enjoy the moment, but do not let yourself get stuck in contentment.  Don't squander this gift.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Clap, Clap, Clap

If someone walks into my classroom while kids are independently reading various texts around the room, they might hear what they think is random clapping.  That would about drive me batty, but the kind of clapping I'm talking about is proof kids are thinking.

The clapping comes from a brilliant classroom book idea I found on Pinterest.  Click on the picture to visit the original owner's blog, Chalk Talk.  

I modified it slightly by using sticker dots.  Each kiddo met with one of my parent helpers, clapped their first and last name, and put the stickers on their own page.

Voila, and now you have engagement, reading, and phonological awareness all wrapped up into one lovely package.

P.S.  Today is my first snow day in several years.  I've been waiting my turn.  Two years ago my district was the only one in the valley to go to school while everyone else had a snow day, and I had just had surgery.  I really needed that snow day.  Last year, nearly the same thing happened when almost every district had a snow day.  There were only a few of us who went to school, and I was having a really hard year.  I really needed that snow day too.  This year everything is dreamy, but I have report cards and conferences to prepare for.  I'll take my snow day.  It's my turn! :)

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Shoulder to Shoulder

This year I'm still patiently waiting for one of my favorite moments to occur.  It's that moment when one of my writers brings a story to school that they wrote at home.  It's such a lovely teachable moment for many reasons.  I don't have time to completely expand on all the rewards, but there's one thing I relish saying.  "Is it okay if we keep this book at school for a while and put it in Miss McMorrow's Favorites basket?  (It holds my favorite current read-alouds.)  I'm sure the kids will take great care of it and will love reading it over and over again."  

Even though this moment has yet to occur this year, I'm wondering how well I send a significant message about first grade authors and creators of books.  Am I as purposeful and intentional as I could be?  Do my writers know that their words are as priceless and as important as the those of their favorite authors?  

Although I'm confident I have much room to grow in this area, I do believe my kids are receiving a fairly clear message.  I have a large tub in my room that's already full of classroom books we've created.  Those books are as popular as Mo Willems' books, and my kids love Mo's books.  My readers are very kindhearted and sweet, but even they at times have difficulties negotiating the sharing of particular classroom books.  They're cherished.

But what about the writing they do during writing workshop?  How does their personal daily writing compare with those of the grown-ups?  This is where I see more of a deficit in my practice, but I'm reminded that one of our writing unit celebrations involves leaving our published writing in the school library for a few weeks to be shared with the entire school.  

The question is how can I increase the rubbing of shoulders between my students' writing and those of the pros?  I'm certain I can always do a better job of showing my writers that they don't have to wait for some grown-up magical age to become writers whose work is worthy of noticing.  

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Graphs From Scratch

For many years it's been a tradition of mine to experiment with graphs and data on a consistent basis throughout the year.  However, last week I was challenged at a measurement and data workshop to take graphing to a whole new level, a level at which students really show an understanding of graphing by making their own from scratch.  How do I really know my mathematicians understand graphs if all they ever do is add their bit of data to a graph I've already created?  I can see how limited their understanding really must be.

In a nutshell, here's the scenario the presenter shared in the workshop.  She asked a group of second graders what kind of face she should carve her pumpkin.  They brainstormed four options.  Then each one drew the face they preferred on a small pumpkin cut-out and placed it on the board under the option they chose.  (There was purposely no organization to how the pumpkins were placed, except that they were grouped under the name.)  The teacher then said she needed a way to share the results with others but obviously couldn't take the board with her.  She gave each child a blank piece of paper and asked them how they would organize the information differently than she did.  After some work time, she gathered their ideas and shared a few with the document camera that showed the best qualities of a proper graph.  She  asked the types of questions that would help the kids communicate what they noticed and what made those particular examples easy to read, making sure to really highlight what she would want to see in a graph.  Then she gave them another piece of blank paper and asked them to try again using the ideas they had just talked about.

I instantly knew I needed to make this part of my classroom practice.  For my first try at it, I meshed it with a Halloween graph activity I do every year.  I asked my kids to bring in the wrapper of their favorite piece of Halloween candy.  Since I rarely get 100% participation on this graph, I knew it would be a good one to start with because there would be fewer bits of data for them to manipulate.  (The second graders had over 20 items on their graph, along with four columns.  I knew we needed to start small and gradually work our way to more columns and more data.)   

First we sorted the candy on the board into chocolatey and sugary groups.  The kids who brought wrappers were in charge of taping them to the board.  You'll notice in the picture that they taped them in a very organized fashion.  I did not direct them to do so.  In fact, I kind of wish they had been more disorganized about it. :)

Then I said that if we wanted to keep this information and even share it with others, we'd need a way to organize and save it.  I gave each one a piece of blank paper and challenged them to organize the information differently than I did.  I also said they could work by themselves or work with a buddy.

After some work time, I gathered their sheets and shared a few under the document camera.  

My most frequent questions were: 

What do you notice?
Why do you think they did ________?

Then everyone turned their papers over, and I asked them to use Claire's or Cooper's strategies to organize the information again.

Out of the second attempt, came something else to quickly highlight, since Alex numbered his graph.  

I see this as just the beginning of a growing and more comprehensive understanding of graphs in my room.  The second grade teachers are going to be thrilled when my little graph-makers arrive next year.

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Whole-Class Challenges

First off, here's what Boushey and Moser had to say last Saturday on my blog. 

"Each student deserves a plan tailored to his or her needs."  

Their bold statement made some a bit uncomfortable.  One random comment on Pinterest went like this, "Sure.  Because that's real life."  I can still hear the sarcastic tone.  I get it though.  Boushey and Moser are setting the bar awfully high, especially considering none of us are working in perfectly ideal situations with perfectly ideal kids and perfectly ideal curriculum.  Just because real life doesn't easily lend itself to tailored plans for students doesn't mean I shouldn't strive to move closer to the target if it's what indeed is really best for kids.  Maybe today's quote is one way to perfect my aim.

I can now imagine Boushey and Moser are causing additional discomfort with their thoughts on whole-class instruction.  Again, I get it.  It makes me a bit uncomfortable too, because it confirms the fact that a few parts of my day aren't allowing me to meet needs as efficiently as I could.  In a sense, it feels like I'm spraying bullets in those whole class settings, hoping to hit something.  I'll definitely miss the ones who know the content with their hands tied behind their back and for sure the ones who are about ten steps behind won't feel a thing.

I believe I'm most effective at hitting the bullseye in a workshop setting.  When I gather my kids for writing or reading workshop, the whole-class part is important but takes less than ten minutes.  Kids can then spend the majority of time simply practicing at their own level while I'm mostly conferring one-on-one but also in small groups.  That system allows me to tailor my instruction and hopefully raise the academic achievement in my room.

I don't think Boushey and Moser are saying to abandon all whole-class teaching.  I rather think they're challenging me to consider how more effective I can be at meeting all the needs in my classroom if less instruction is given in that manner.  In spite of real life, I say let Boushey and Moser raise the bar.  I can't reach it yet, but when has that ever stopped me before? 

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