Tuesday, March 29, 2016

March Madness

If you were to ask my first graders about March Madness, they would think you were talking books, not basketball, which I think is actually pretty cool. We just finished voting on the madness today, and We Are in a Book by Mo Willems was the clear winner. (I didn't tell my kids this, but I predicted and hoped for this outcome. My kids and I love all things Mo.)

This was my first try at March Madness, and I'm so glad that I   took the time to make it happen. It for sure ramped up the book energy in my class. Those 16 books were the most popular items in my room this month, even to the point of causing a few conflicts and requiring some i-messages between readers.

I actually chose 16 books that I hadn't read to my class before, which was good for both them and me. The kids fell in love with reading even more, and I found some great titles that I should definitely incorporate into my permanent library. (I'm aware that I must do a better job of knowing the latest and greatest picture books out there.)

Anyway, if you've been like me and vacillated about whether to give this March Madness thing a try, please make a note to do it next year. You and your readers will be glad you did.

And of course there are additional benefits, such as:

* practicing good sportsmanship
* learning concepts and words like: voting, ballots, secret ballots, tallying, etc.
* graphing results

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Breaking the Code

When the question of improving reading scores comes up in a district-wide conversation, I typically rely on my Reading Recovery training from almost 20 years ago to guide my thoughts. I was taught that we don't take reading for a ride without taking writing along as well. Without both, breaking the code can be a haphazard one. They each deserve the place of highest regard in the classroom and lives of our literacy club members.

So I find myself asking, What kind of writing instruction do our youngest literacy members receive? Is it possible that the answer to fixing some of our reading issues can be found within the context of writing? 

I believe these are valid questions and ones that Richard Gentry, among others, has spent a considerable amount of energy and thought exploring. Below are a few of my favorite thoughts of his on this topic from Breaking the Code.

Kindergarten writing is a means for ensuring reading success.

Working with beginning writers is like fixing the drainpipe under the sink and all of a sudden the dishwasher works because, like the sink and the dishwasher, reading and writing are hooked up to the same system.

We must look at both reading and writing. When we leave writing out, we only tell half the story. If we don’t look at both, we are destined to make mistakes.

Writing in kindergarten is the secret to the reading-writing connection and the solution to successful beginning reading instruction in today’s schools.

Early writing not only complements the reading program, it ensures early reading success.

Early intervention is not an option, it is a necessity.

I've long been on a mission to improve writing instruction in the classroom, but my purpose reaches well beyond the obvious objectives of improving the craft of writing and the thinking it involves. I also believe in writing's tangible affect on reading. If our youngest learners are struggling to understand the reading process, let's put some resources and time into how they're learning to write. It might be just what they need in order to break the code.

P.S. Thanks for reading this even though it's not Saturday. I haven't posted many Saturday Sayings lately, and I was simply in the mood.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Wordless Books, Storytelling, and Writing Workshop

I tell my writers, "If you can say it, you can write it." It's my go-to response at the beginning of the year when kids think that asking me how to spell a word is the answer to all their problems. They quickly find out that's not the case. 

In light of where my head's been of late, the phrase has a completely different meaning as well. If a child can orally tell a story full of details, they can write that story full of details. I'd venture to say the opposite is also true. If a child is not an oral storyteller, they will not be one on paper. 

Even though I've made jabs-in-the-dark attempts at teaching them to be storytellers (mini-lessons on how to verbalize what they want to say previous to writing), I've really missed the mark at giving them purposeful instruction. And I've known for several years that I needed to tackle this skill. I just didn't know how, and my ignorance was amplified by my own lack of storytelling abilities. 

Recent events (a visit from children's author and extraordinary storyteller, Gary Hogg, and a visit to a favorite blog, Curious Firsties) ignited a desire to tackle this skill head-on via wordless picture books. Even though this is something that I should have initiated in September, I'm banking on the fact that it's never too late.

So I found some wonderfully engaging wordless picture books and tucked them into my writing workshop lessons this past week. We practiced telling bits and pieces of each story. I even incorporated some modeled and shared writing. Everything that we practiced, we then transferred into that day's small moment (narrative) writing (or at least that was the intent). 

My future plan includes teaching oral storytelling through wordless picture books early in the year and continuing the process throughout, as skills develop. Since I believe kids should be writing from the start, I won't choose to delay writing workshop by teaching oral storytelling in lieu of writing. Instead, it would occur separately but simultaneously with a purposeful transfer of the skills used with the wordless picture books to their daily writing. That's at least how it all plays out in my head at this point. Who knows what I'll think when it actually happens.

If you're looking for the right books to help you do the same, you don't need to search any further. These are excellent choices.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tips From an Author

Sometimes I think I kind of know how to teach writing, and then there are those moments when I'm reminded of how much I don't know about teaching writing. One of those latter moments occurred last week when Gary Hogg, a published author of children's books, visited my school. He shared his expertise during an assembly, writing workshop session with my class, and a family night event. During his 45-minute writing workshop session with my class, I actually saw what my top few writers could actually do. Ahh man. Time to step up my game.

Here are some quotes and thoughts I wrote down and immediately added to my writing workshop mini-lessons.

  • Details make you sound smart. Details make you sound like an author.

  • 10 pt details vs. 50 pt details - Don't use easy words.

  • "Big" is an easy word. “Enormous” makes you sound like an author.

  • When you feel shy say, “I can be brave.”

  • Don’t write “One day” or “One time” - What day was it? What time of day was it?

  • Put names on everything. What kind of dog, car, flower, etc. Don't just say "mom." Instead say "my mom Nancy."
  • Use colors but don’t say light or dark. That's too easy.

  • Use size words but don't say small or big. Use smarter words.

  • The most important part of writing is revising.

  • Revising makes you sound smarter.

  • Pretend your story is a video game. Pick up your controller. Go back to the first sentence. When you revise, you go to level two.

  • Details make your writing sound like this (raise arm high in the air, touch fingers to thumb several times, and say "ding, ding, ding, ding, ding"). Easy words make your writing sound like this (lower arm, open up fingers in the hand, and say "wah-wah).

I've seen Gary Hogg three times now. He does an excellent job of sharing his love of books, writing, and storytelling with students, teachers, and parents. I'd highly recommend a visit, and kids love his books. (I especially enjoy Spencer's Adventures.)

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday Sayings: I Am the Teacher

I am the teacher...

who was interviewed on a podcast

who is determined to write a book

who was asked to write a classroom vignette for a book that's been currently published

whose idea was published in the Instructor Magazine 

who posts opinionated thoughts on a blog

who professionally tweets on Twitter

who provides writing PD for other teachers 

who has a solid reputation in her district  

And yet I am the teacher...

who messes up on a fairly regular basis

who reads professional books that have yet to find a way into her practice

who struggles with engaging all her learners

who doesn't stay on top of the newest children's literature

who has the largest range of abilities she's ever experienced and knows she's not reaching everyone

who doesn't handle every conflict in the classroom with grace

who recognizes that she allows the clock too much influence in her room

who is embarrassed to even speak about some of her struggles

And the list goes on.

The bottom half of this list can be so very suffocating at times that it's difficult to even breathe in the possibility that I can be both teachers at the same time.

When I am in a state of feeling overwhelmed about the teacher who still battles with what seems like the most basic concepts, I have difficulty acknowledging all that I have accomplished. 

When others sing my praises, the voice inside whispers, "If you only knew." 

I'm reminding myself, and maybe someone else, to acknowledge and celebrate. Regie Routman says that celebration is at the heart of her best teaching, and maybe it's possible that teachers need to celebrate themselves too. 

I hope to always be the teacher who does extraordinary things, but I will also always be the teacher who must grow beyond what I know. 

Today, right now, I strive to be okay with the difference between these two teachers, because they can and do coexist.

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Teach to the Heart

I was admonished many years ago to teach to the heart, not just the head. (Thank you Roberto Bahruth for those wise, wise words.) I've tried to do just that...

on a daily basis,
all throughout the day,
starting on day one.

Below is a list of many of the ways I teach character, in the order that I teach them, with links attached leading to more information. Many of these lessons might be taught in one sitting, but the key is repeated daily reinforcement and recycling of content. In other words, over-learning. 

You are full of greatness
Beautiful things
One classroom rule
Can't is illegal
Civil Rights
Words are not for hurting
Ugly Words
Who do you want to be?
I'm sorry
Peacemakers and Peacebreakers class book
I am full of greatness - flag salute
National Positive Thinking Day
It's Okay to be Different book
Respectacles and class book
Have You Filled a Bucket Today class book
Character sign
Greatness with shaving cream
Listen to your heart
Self-control bubbles
Cooperation vs. conflict
Don't sweat the small stuff
G journals
One Word
The Secret
20 Things We Should Say More Often

Here's to hearts, not just heads.

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