Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week in Review 2/24/11

Although we had a short week, I sure felt like it was full! We got a lot done in my classes. We continued working with Phoebe the Spy and discussed setting and how it affects the actions of the characters. We are also continuing to work diligently on the bubble gum opinion/persuasive writing piece. The kids are learning a LOT about gum and I can't wait to share some of their writing with you all! 

I also think I have perfected my reading response journal system (finally!). It was after a lot of discussion with colleagues, my principal, and Twitter pals that I finally came up with a process that works for my students and me. Here's the run down:

I collect journals from each class every other week on an alternating schedule (e.g. My morning class hand them in one week, and my afternoon class hands them in the following week). This means that the students have two full weeks to work on them here and there during their independent reading time. I place one of those circular colored dot stickers on each child's notebook. They turn them in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays depending on their color. Before, I used to have both classes hand them in every week. This meant I was taking home up to ten journals a night! It was too much since I write back to each student. This new schedule is MUCH better and I do not fall behind in responding as I did before.

I also changed the way the journals are graded. I am more concerned with the students developing their reading and writing skills, so I made these areas have more of an impact. I also upped the ante since this is like a long term project and made the journals worth more points. This was actually my principal's idea. We are really owrking towards older students being held responsible for what they have learned in writing. I added a "C.U.P.S." section that will be put into their writing grade.

Another thing that is really helping is setting aside the last 5-10 minutes of independent reading solely for journaling. This way, my procrastinators must work at least a little each day instead of waiting to do it all on the day the journal is due. In addition, I gave the students a schedule so they knew the exact date their response was due, so no more excuses!

Here is the information I reviewed and gave out to students:

Reading Response Journal Rubric and Expectations

Reading Response Journals Calendar April

I use the cards below when grading journal responses. I simply cut them out, write on them, and tape them into journals. This has helped the students understand what areas they need to improve upon.
Journal Score Cards-1
The students who still continued to wait until the last minute, or did not do what I thought they were capable of, had a conference with me about their journal. I explained why they received the grade they did. Hopefully I will see more improvement from them. 

 This week, I also gave myself permission to abandon a read aloud with the kiddos in order to read another one. Actually, I gave them the choice. Lesson learned: always give your kids options when it comes to a read aloud. Do not just choose one for them. Of course you cannot always please everyone, but aim for the majority. I hate to admit it, but we had been working on the same book since November. We were not even halfway through. The reason? Well, I think it was because the kids just didn't LOVE the book I chose for them. I loved it, but who cares if I love it? So, I gave them a choice: keep going with the current read aloud or take a break for another book. Before they were allowed to choose, I played the book trailer (a tool I have found VERY useful), read the inside flap, and read a few pages from the beginning. It was almost unanimous! Now we are reading (and clearly LOVING) The One and Only Ivan.

Finally, I also found out that I received 100% on all of my grad class assignments this week. I am looking forward to sharing this news with my students. I will make sure to explain that it wasn't easy, but I took my time, worked hard, and made sure I understood all of the material. Hopefully they will be inspired by my own learning experiences. Only time will tell!

Monday, February 20, 2012

It's Monday, What are YOU Reading? 2/20/12

Check out what others are reading at Teach Mentor Texts

Happy President's Day!

Since I have started this grad class, my reading life consists of a lot of psychology studies, papers, cases, etc. However, I did get some of my "me" reading in this week, too.

Picture Book(s):

Caldecott Award winner A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka. I really enjoyed this sweet story about a dog and her favorite toy.  

My class started reading Phoebe the Spy this week. Of course, I read it first to plan out my week. I had never read it or used it in my classroom. I enjoyed the story and the historical information. Phoebe is brave and daring, and my students are looking forward to finding out how she is going to save George Washington's life.

I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and I enjoyed Wonderstruck even more. The way Selznick weaves together two stories (one in words, one in pictures) from two different times is amazing. I won't write about any spoilers, but this book will move and surprise you!

I have to say I was particularly excited about this one as I follow the author, Kate Messner, on Twitter. We have shared several tweet convos and she is incredibly sweet. I can tell from her tweets she loves writing for kids. This book was reminiscent of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, which I adored as a child. A friend of mine was looking for a good book gift for her eight year old niece and I promptly suggested Marty McGuire
That's it for this past week. I would make some predictions about the upcoming week, but I am not sure what it will hold, so I guess next week will be a surprise. 

What great books are you reading?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Week in Review 2/17/11

A thought occurred to me today: I do not post as often as I would like to. What I will *try* to do from now on is provide you with a "Week in Review." As I stated in my first ever blog post, this blog is primarily to share my teaching life- the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly. I will share my ups and downs in hopes that you will benefit from what is (and is not) working for me in my educational endeavors. And, for fun, I may include some random stuff, too. 

This week, my kids and I started reading Phoebe the Spy. It is part of our anthology (which I am openly not a huge fan of), but it is a theme paper back instead of the textbook. I decided to dip into these paperbacks because my teammate (who is the math, science, social studies, and health teacher)just started a unit on the American Revolution with our kids. I wanted to support this in my room by reading some historical fiction related to that time period. The kids like the book, but I am not sure I like what I am doing with it. I originally got the idea from the Comprehension Toolkit. There is a lesson (I can't remember which off of the top of my head) in which you use historical fiction to complete a Fact, Question, Response (FQR) sheet. At first it seemed like a great idea, but this story is somewhat long to do this with. I may probably will abandon the idea next week and replace it with the tried and true sticky notes. 

We also started working on an opinion piece about whether or not gum should be allowed in schools. We are currently in the research and outline phase. The technology integration teacher showed the students how to do a keyword search that would help them find sites that would contain facts supporting their opinions. They came up with "bubble gum benefits," "bubble gum facts," "bubble gum school," and "bubble gum bad." The kids are really into it and have found a lot of information that supports their opinion (the majority obviously think it is a GREAT idea). Our principal liked the idea and what she heard from the kids while she was in the computer lab with us so much that she is in the process of ordering enough gum for every student taking the state tests next month. I hope this helps them realize the power writing can have!

Things that "made my day" this week:

  1. I had a nice hearty laugh when one of my kiddos came bursting into the room in the morning, excitedly announcing to his buddy that he had finished the first Harry Potter book and how he "couldn't BELIEVE that..." Only to be shushed by said buddy so he didn't "ruin it for everyone else." They then scampered off to our library to whisper secretly about the ending. SO cute.
  2. After returning from a grade level meeting that took me away from my homeroom, I came back to a note from the substitute complimenting my class on how hard they worked and how well behaved they had been. This was, in the sub's opinion, "a direct reflection of my wonderful classroom management." That would make any teacher feel great, and I made a mental note to remember her words the next time I feel like my management is less than "wonderful." 
  3. Our superintendent has agreed to be a guest on our televised school announcements for World Read Aloud Day on March 7th. He will read a poem or short story to the whole school. (We are also working on getting in touch with Ben Carson to see if he has some availability...cross your fingers and toes!)
  4. My Donors Choose project has posted and is already receiving donations! I hope we raise all the money needs, our classroom library could use some sprucing up!
On a personal note, my mom just got me a fantastic belated birthday present from Etsy. I am in LOVE with all things Harry Potter (which is probably the reason behind my owl obsession, too). I found two necklaces that I fell in love with containing quotes form The Deathly Hallows. These quotes both still bring tears to my eyes. I could not possibly decide between, my wonderful mother got both! *YAY*

I hope you all had a great week and are going to enjoy a nice three day weekend! 

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Monday, What are YOU Reading? 2/13/12

Thanks to my public library, I read a LOT this week! I am so excited to share!

First there were the picture books (click each image and see some of the book trailers for more information):

(Although, I feel like The adventures of Hugo Cabret counts as both a picture book and a novel.)

And the novel: The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate

I absolutely adore gorillas. When my husband and I went to Disney World for our honeymoon, my favorite day was the day we spent at the Animal Kingdom park (which is also the resort we stayed in). I was in awe of the walk-through safari, and thoroughly embarassed my husband by my giddyness when we arrived at the gorilla enclosure. I stayed they and cooed over them for a good 20 minutes, and almost put up a five-year-old fit when he nudged me along. That is why I think I adored this book so much. 
Ivan is a silverback gorilla who has spent over 25 years in a cement floored "domain." His only view of the outside world is through a sunlight in the food-court of the mall where he resides. His friends are a stray dog named Bob, and a wise elephant named Stella. And then of course, there is Julia..the little girl of the caretaker. She and Ivan are kindred spirits in their love for drawing and painting. When a baby elephant named Ruby arrives, everything Ivan knows and believes begins to change. This was a heartbreaking and inspiring book about friendship, loss, and making things right. 

I loved all of these books and am slowly but surely working on reviews for them on Goodreads. Some were old, some were very new, but they were all fantastic!

This week, I am going to work on the following books:

So...what are YOU reading?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Exciting Opportunity!

I got some great news a few weeks ago. I can hardly contain myself! I just hope the kiddos find it as fascinating as I do!

Are you ready?????????

Our school is planning to host a Webinar with child author (and prodigy) Adora Svitak!!!

Ok, ok, ok...some of you may be thinking what I was at first: "Who?"

I am not too proud to admit that I wasn't sure who she was at first. However, I immediately began to research and was blown away. Adora Svitak began writing when she was very young, and published her first book at the age of seven! She also began reading chapter books at age three! She has written books meant to inspire other young writers which are full of her own short stories, poems, and writing tips. In addition to her writing, Adora also spends time teaching children about writing. She accomplishes this through school visits and webinars...which is what we will be doing!

Check out the video above of Adora talking about her reading and writing life (I love how well spoken she is!)

The Webinars will take place over the course several weeks. All fourth and fifth grade students will participate. There will be four one-hour sessions. Each homeroom will have the opportunity to Skype with Adora while the other students participate via livestreaming chat. The homerooms will rotate turns talking to Adora using Skype. Each week, Adora will be presenting the steps to write a short story. The students will be given an assignment to work on each week so that they are prepared for the next week's lesson.

I am very curious to observe how the students react to someone so close to their age who has accomplished so much. I truly hope it will be a motivating and inspiring experience. I am also interested to see how they perform on assignments given to them by a peer rather than a traditional adult teacher. Something tells me they might pull out all the stops to impress Adora!

Monday, February 6, 2012

It's Monday...What are YOU Reading? 2/6/12

I had a much better reading week this week! Thank I feel more accomplished.

This week I read several books on one of my new favorite sites: What a great opportunity to read and support great causes. Since my previous cause's campaign had been fulfilled, I moved on to a new one that hits close to home: United Through Reading. My cousin's husband is currently deployed overseas, and I did this for her. They do not have children yet, but many of their friends who have deployed spouses do.

I noticed they had a lot of books related to Black History Month, so I started with two of those. The first one was Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds. This book is written in verse and takes place on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery Alabama. It is a small boy's account of the day Rosa Parks stood her ground and refused to give up her seat. The pictures are lovely, and the message is strong. This would be a great quick read aloud to add to your Black History Month line up.

The second book I was was called The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner. This is the story of two African American pilots who changed history by flying from the west coast to the east coast. They did not have much money, but relied on the kindness of others to help see them through their journey. Those who helped earned the honor of signing their name on the OXX6 Eagle Rock plane and became a part of history. However, as this takes place during the Great Depression, there were many who not only refused to help, but tried to bring down the two friends as well. As I read, I couldn't help but wonder if those who did not help, and therefore did not sign their name, ever regretted letting their prejudice get the best of them.

The third book I read was not related to Black History month, but was just a quick, fun read. The title was  Ladybug Girl At the Beach. I have to admit, I am growing very fond of the main character, Lulu. I see a lot of my childhood self in her. This book was certainly no exception. I distinctly remember my first day at the beach and having some of the same feelings and reactions as little Lulu does. The one that stuck out the most for me was the terrifying feeling that the ocean was sucking me in as the water rushed over my feet and back out to sea. Lulu experiences the same illusion and decided the water isn't for her. But, as always, Ladybug Girl overcomes her fear and enjoys a spectacular day at the shore. 

The fourth book I read this week was not on WeGive Books, but was a digital copy (oh how I adore NetGalley). After hearing so many fantastic words of praise for it, I could hardly wait to read R.J. Palacio's Wonder. This book was fantastic. Although it is not scheduled to hit shelves until February 14th, I was able to get an advanced reader's copy by requesting it on NetGalley. I was hooked after the first lines: 

"I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds." 

August Pullman (a.k.a. "Auggie") was born with not one but two genetic birth defects, leaving his face disfigured. As a result, his parents decided to home-school him, but now they (and Auggie) have decided it is time for him to join his peers in a traditional school setting. As you can imagine, life at Beecher Prep is not easy for August...not by a long shot. This novel reveals August's ups and downs through his eyes, the eyes of family members, and even friends. I could not. Stop. Reading. As soon as it is available, I plan on purchasing a copy for my classroom. I truly feel that the message within the pages of this book is one that everyone, adults and children alike, should learn. R.J. Palacio's words are real, powerful, and will grab you from the first page. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a heart and has learned first hand that kids can be both kind and cruel. 

I am still trudging along through some of the Newbery books I have discussed in previous posts (1/31/12, 1/2/12), but have also begun to read a book that my wonderful hubby purchased for my birthday. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is a book I have been looking forward to reading for a long time. I have even begged several students who bought it at our recent book fair to hand it over when finished. My wonderful husband also bought Selznick's Wonderstruck, so I will be moving on to that once I have finished Hugo. There may be some unplanned reading adventures in between, too!


What are YOU reading this week?