Saturday, April 30, 2016

Summer Library Trip Tips

Summer is knocking on my door, and I'm working on making sure my readers are as ready as they can be. (P.S. Summer reading preparation actually starts on day one of school. Think about that one.) 

Today though I had a new thought. Do all my parents know how to use the library during the summer? Do some of them feel overwhelmed when walking into a library with a young reader? Might they profit from some tips? I decided that they might, and here's what I came up with. If you want a copy, feel free to click on the graphic.

If this helps even one parent and their one reader, then it was worth my time. I'm hoping for more than one though. :)

Pin It!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

In Context

If I'm going to teach nouns, I'm going to teach them in context of real literature instead of in isolation. That's where shared reading comes into play. We can share authentic text, remove a skill from the text, practice and play with it, and then put the skill back into the text as we read the story again (and again and again).

So this week Joy Cowley and Ratty-Tatty helped us learn  about nouns. Here's how that adventure played out.

1. We read Ratty-Tatty

2. We made lists of things the kids saw in the pictures of two different pages. As the kids called out the words, I sorted them into groups but didn't tell the kids why. When the lists were finished, I asked them what they noticed. One reader said that they were people, things, and places. That's when I labeled the columns and listed these words as nouns.

3. The kids then hunted for nouns in the room and wrote them on their whiteboards.

4. After reading Ratty-Tatty on the next day and reviewing what nouns were, I gave everyone a copy of a page from the book. They labeled all the nouns in the picture. They also eventually circled the nouns in the text.

5. On the following day, we read Ratty-Tatty again. I wrote examples of nouns and words that weren't nouns on small post-it notes. Each child had one on their forehead. They created a yes/no t-chart on their whiteboards and meandered around the room, sorting their neighbor's forehead words as nouns or not nouns.

6. On our final day after another reading of our book, we created a classroom book. Each child drew their favorite nouns.

Shared reading is a practice worth using daily. Give me a big book (or other large text) and I can teach most any reading skill while never venturing far from real literature and contextual understanding. 

(No worksheets were harmed in the making of these lessons.)

Pin It!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Evils of Scissors and Glue

Today my mathematicians worked on the concept of equal and unequal when it comes to 2D shapes. I perused the internet for ways my students could practice this concept, but I was mostly disappointed and reminded of how we need to be careful how we ask students to use their time. 

If I want my mathematicians to look at shapes and identify whether they've been partitioned equally or unequally, then I'd best not instead ask them to spend their time cutting and glueing. A sheet divided in half, labeled equal and unequal with shapes at the bottom that need to be cut out, sorted, and glued on the page, is going to prevent mathematicians from quality time spent practicing the actual skill I need them to learn. 

Here's how I handled their practice time. Each of my mathematicians was giving one shape, like in the examples below. They met up with others, identified their neighbor's shape as equal or unequal, swapped shapes, and visited someone else. This continued until I knew they had ample time to practice. Their final task was to write "equal" or "unequal" on the back of the last shape in their possession and give it to me. Voila.

I just think we need to be wary of allowing cutting, glueing, or some other random task from preventing what's truly most important from happening.

Pin It!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Borrow Wisely


While my least favorite educational word is fidelity, my favorite is most definitely pedagogy. Although I'm likely pronouncing its third syllable incorrectly, it feels like I'm talking about something special when I speak that word. Considering the definition, I'd say I'm right. 

Pedagogy is indeed a big deal. Methods and practices are a foundation for most everything a teacher does in the classroom regardless of experience. Even our newest members to the profession have a pedagogy. In fact, they have one long before a stamp of approval lands on that teaching certificate. 

So where does this pedagogy come from? 

That's been my question of the week. I devised my own hypothesis based on 22 years of teaching, and then I tried out my question on my nephew Kyle, who is at the opposite end of the teaching spectrum with about a month of student teaching to go. (By the way, he's going to be brilliant in the classroom, and I'm not just saying that because I'm Aunt Tammy.) When answering my question, he talked about past teachers, college courses, and great teachers he's currently surrounded by. Basically, his answer confirmed what I'd been thinking all along. 

We borrow pedagogy.  

It might be an oversimplification, but I know I borrowed pedagogy before I had my own classroom and 22 years later, I'm still borrowing new practices and methods. Gatekeepers though are unafraid to turn things way, so we have a responsibility to the children in our keep to examine pedagogy with a critical eye. I also believe we have a responsibility to help our new teachers develop this skill. Although I believe Kyle is already thinking like a gatekeeper, I hope our newest teachers don't tire of us reminding them to borrow wisely. It might possibly be some of the best advice we can give.

Pin It!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Excellent Teaching Trumps All

In honor of state testing in two weeks, my first graders will be asked to read an end-of-year passage to a total stranger who's holding a stopwatch in their hand. They have to read 53 words per minute or more in order to score at or above grade level.

During the next two weeks, I refuse to:

  • ask my readers to read random, meaningless passages
  • let them see me with a stopwatch in my hand
  • talk to them about words per minute
  • tell them that they're going to be tested

Instead I will:

  • continue on with balanced literacy instruction (shared reading, mini-lessons, independent reading, guided reading, etc.) using real, authentic literature
  • give them opportunities to practice fluency strategies with familiar rereads and favorite weekly poems
  • encourage them to read with a storyteller's voice, to put their words together like they're talking, and to scoop words together
  • say these words the morning of the test: "Hey kiddos. Some good friends of mine are going to check your smart parts today. They'll take great care of you. Just be brave and do your best."

In the face of the inevitable mandated test, I still believe in the power of excellent literacy instruction and quality literature. Passages and stopwatches squeeze the life right out of our readers. Some might argue that those tools prepare readers for a better testing experience. Even if that's the case, and I have my doubts, I'd rather prepare my readers for a better reading life.

In this testing season, stop and reflect. Excellent teaching trumps all.

Pin It!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Letters: Close Enough to Kiss

When it comes to writing workshop, I'm all about focusing on content and looking beyond surface issues until the right time and place. Fortunately, there are moments outside of writing workshop that are perfect for fixing some pesky problems that can impede the readability of their daily writing. 

One of the issues that is bound to be a problem every year for a random few writers is putting too much air between letters in a word. The space isn't quite as dramatic as what might or should be used between words, but it's enough to become a problem. I'm not sure if other elementary teachers see this as predicament, but I think it creates issues with readability, especially if spacing between words is  already troublesome. So several years ago I invented a phrase that helps with this dilemma. 

Your letters should be close enough to kiss

In the note at the top, the letters in each word are close enough to kiss. The second note has spaces between each letter. To the casual observer, it might not seem like such a big deal, but as someone who reads their writing on a daily basis, I know firsthand how the habit of putting space between letters, like in the note at the bottom, leads to readability issues. 

So the answer is, "close enough to kiss." It might initially induce some giggles, but once they get over it, it works wonders.

Pin It!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Reading in March

Thanks to spring break, I was able to get in some decent March reading. I think you might find something here worth your time.

2 stars

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars

5 stars

3 stars

My favorite of the bunch was easily Red Queen. It's the first book in a fantasy YA series. Fantasy is not my typical genre, but I loved this book and have told several of my reading friends that they must read it. My least favorite was Station Eleven, but don't let that dissuade you from reading it if it's been on your list. I've heard that a lot of people thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it received a high rating on Goodreads. It just wasn't what I expected it to be.

Pin It!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Think Like a Parent

I'd venture to say there are many benefits to being a childless teacher. One being the quiet house that awaits me at the end of a day spent with 25 little people. No doubt my teacher friends with families of their own could list off the pros to having their own children. I'm sure those teachers bring a special perspective to the classroom. 

Though I can't fully grasp all that their parenting approach entails, there is one aspect of being a parent that I purposefully contemplate in my own practice. I like to imagine, if I were a parent of a child in my classroom, what I would think about the artifacts my child lugged home in that backpack of theirs on a daily basis. What would I find and would any of it be worth keeping? Would I even take the time to look at it? Would I slip most of it into the trash when my child wasn't looking? Would I hope they didn't find it on accident and would they even care?

Thinking like a parent, helps me look more reflectively at how my students are spending their time and the artifacts that result from that time. Stuff, as Regie Routman calls it, that's stuffed into backpacks, will likely be stuffed into trash cans, and if that's often what my students are producing, I'm wasting their time. 

I suppose there will always be little bits of skill practice that parents must sift through here and there, but my hope is that the majority of what I send home is worthy of not only their attention but of their space, where it will be displayed and possibly even cherished for years to come.

Pin It!