Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer of Changes!

It's been a very long time since I've updated this blog! The 2011-2012 school  year has come to an end, and I am preparing for a new challenge for the next two years. In 2009, our district was awarded the Bill & Melinda Gates Grant, which is a seven year/$100 million investment. Part of the grant is being used to develop a new system for how teachers are supported, evaluated and compensated, which, in turn will increase student achievement. One component to the grant is the addition of New Teacher Mentors, which is the position that I will be undertaking for the next two years! I will be providing weekly support to brand new and second year teachers. This support includes, but is not limited to, observing, co-teaching, modeling lessons, analyzing student work, and conferencing. Mentors will also conduct observations using a variety of instruments. These include anecdotal records, observation tools from the New Teacher Center, and other observation templates based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework. I have been attending trainings this summer to help me prepare for this exciting adventure. I would like to keep this blog going, since I have almost 300 followers (woo hoo!), and I would like to continue to share some of the ideas I have picked up along the way. I was also thinking about sort of combining my teaching blog and my family blog into a more general blog. I'll work on trying to figure out how to do that!   

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Open for Business!

Last Friday, I opened our first bank and store of the 2011-2012 school year! Students had filled out their "payforms" the day before, so everyone knew how much they were getting paid for the month (they are paid once a month - the last Thursday of the month - store is on the last Friday of the month). I will have to take a photo of one of their completed payforms and post it here so you get a visual. Each student has the potential to earn $25/week: $5 for excellent behavior, $5 for all HW completed, $10 for doing their classroom job, and a bonus $5 if all of the above. That means that every student has the potential to earn $100/month. However, only one did this month (Yay Jaedon!!!)! I would definitely like to see more than one student earn $100 this month.  : )

In order to minimize disruption to academic instructional time, I decided to do our store during lunchtime.It actually worked out beautifully. Most of my students bring their lunches from home, so at our regular lunchtime, they took out their lunchboxes, while the few kids who buy their lunch went down to the cafeteria (and came right back up to class). I put on a movie (okay, it was Spongebob!) to keep them relatively quiet while I called three kids to the back table at a time to make their purchases. We were pretty much all done within 30 minutes, which was just perfect.

Some of the items purchased include (from least expensive to most expensive):
mini notepads
tiny bowling set
lunch in the classroom with up to three friends
be a Mystery Reader

I reminded my kids that the first store usually has "lower end items" because they've only had one month to accumulate their money so only the cheap stuff is out! If they save, then they'll be able to purchase bigger and better items at the end of October! Of course, everyone bought something (I understand the idea of money burning a hole in your pocket), but most saved at least some of their money for next store opening.

I have been doing a Classroom Economy of some form for the last four or five years now, and I think I have finally worked out most of the kinks, and the current incarnation is pretty good! I hope the kids are enjoying it!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Unexpected Recognition is Awesome!

A few weeks ago, I linked up with Marygrove College to discuss how I use Bucket-Filling to help create a positive classroom climate in my third grade class. Last week, I was notified by Colleen from Marygrove that my contribution would be featured in their Guide for Successful Bucket-Filling Techniques! Pretty cool!

Then, this morning, I found out that I was awarded The Versatile Blogger Award by Nannette Third Grade's a Charm! Thank you so much! What a nice surprise - I appreciate knowing that people are reading what I'm posting here (and liking it!).

In order to accept this award, the rules state that I must divulge seven things about myself and list fifteen other bloggers who also deserve this award.

First, seven things you might not know about me (since I have already listed ten things about me in a previous post, this list may be a little fluffier and more random than the other list!):

1. I am a big fan of nail polish, and I own close to 100 different colors.
2. Lizards, skinks, newts, and salamanders gross me out.
3. I love creating organizational systems that are practical and pretty.
4. I have been interested in name history and etymology since I was a kid.
5. Just after graduating from college (and not quite ready to settle into teaching), I worked at a make-up counter at Dillards department store for about six months.
6. In my early 20s, I went swing/rockabilly dancing about four nights a week - I loved it!
7. When I was a kid, I used to compete in synchronized swimming.

Now, the harder part is choosing just fifteen of the amazingly inspiring bloggers that I read as often as I can. Since I try to keep up with over 100 teachers across the country, narrowing it down to fifteen in tough! Here we go in no particular order...
Pitner's Potpourri
One Extra Degree
Keeping Up With Class
Get in the Fold
First Grade Parade
Create Share Teach
A Series of Third Grade Events
Life in 4B
Runde's Room
Clutter-Free Classroom
Guided Math
The Craft Junkie
Third Grade Meanderings
Go Fourth! With Mrs. Owens

Thanks to everyone who takes the time out of their day to read my little blog!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Author's Purpose

Last week, we focused on the skill of author's purpose and author's perspective. We discussed that most of the time, authors write to persuade, inform, or to entertain (P.I.E.).

We started off by reading The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry, and pondered why the author would have written this entertaining fantasy. Many of my readers came to the conclusion that Lynne Cherry wrote the book to persuade people to take care of the environment and to avoid destroying the rainforest, as it is home to many animals.

The next day, we took it a step further and analyzed author's purpose within a text, using an article about Bill and Melinda Gates. We were able to determine very quickly that the author's purpose was to inform us how the Gates Foundation helps people, but then we talked with our reading partners about why the author included specific information. The author chose to inform us of several things: who the Gates are and how they became so successful, what their foundation does, what their current goal is, and why they think it is so important to help others.

Our next piece of text was an article called "Hooked!", which was about children who are hooked on video games. By reading the article headings and skimming through some of it, several readers made the prediction that the article was written by someone with the perspective that there should be limits to how much kids play video games. We were able to use evidence from the text to prove this point.

When I assessed my readers' learning today, I was very pleased that the majority of my class not only understood and applied the information they learned about author's purpose and author's perspective, but more than half scored 100%! Wow!

Next week, we will be exploring story elements of fiction, with an emphasis on character and character development. I'll be reporting back to fill you in on the details next weekend! 

Writing From the Heart

In my Writer's Workshop, I provide a mini-lesson, usually share a read aloud that incorporates the skill that I would like my writers to try out, model that skill in my own writing, and then students have the opportunity to write about a topic of their choice for about 20-30 minutes, applying the skill that I just taught. At the end of Writer's Workshop, it is important to share and celebrate each others' writing. We have been working on gathering ideas, since the most prevalent issue that some young writers (and adults, for that matter!) face is what to write about. We discussed the importance of writing from the heart. That is, writing about what matters to us. My writers filled out a heart-shaped graphic organizer, to include people they care about, places they've visited, and memorable moments and experiences. I advised them not to fill their entire heart up, as to make room for future important people, places, and things. Here's how they turned out:

I can't wait to see what they come up with during Writer's Workshop!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beginning Reader's Workshop

In third grade, we kick off Reader's Workshop right away! I wanted to share a few of the lessons I have taught my students, as they are essential for building a strong classroom community of readers.

One of our first lessons was about keeping track of our thoughts while we read, since, after all, we should be thinking during reading. We charted the many things we could jot down on sticky notes while reading. My students came up with a bunch of great ideas, which I recorded on large paper for future reference:

I modeled for them how I jot down my thoughts, while doing a read aloud, and then students had the opportunity to jot down and share their own thoughts relating to the book. During independent reading, students had a stack of mini-sticky notes to make tracks in their books, as well. Here is a postcard I gave out to remind students what they should be doing while reading:

During the first week of school, I sent home an "assignment" requesting that students bring their very favorite book to school. Since we will be doing a lot of reading this year in third grade, why not get started with books that have already inspired us and have a special place in our hearts? One lesson last week included how to partner read. It is important for both partners to be able to see the book and read along while sharing. This helps to engage the student who is not reading aloud. I teach them a little poem, called EEKK! (not my original idea) to help them remember how to sit.
My students did an awesome job practicing EEKK! while they shared their favorite books last week.

 In a future lesson, coming soon, we will discuss the importance of being a reading coach to our partner when we read together. Both partners are then accountable for the reading.

We also created a great chart in which we created a very long list of what good readers do. All of the behaviors on our list support reading. For example, good readers get started right away, read the whole time,  keep track of their thoughts, stay focused, make good book choices, "real" read instead of "fake" read, and so much more. I was quite impressed with my students' responses!

During independent reading that day, we stopped about 15 minutes in to discuss how it was going. Was everyone in our class making good choices as readers? Without naming names, we talked about how sounds of beanbags, whispers of students reading near one another, or students' laughter (hey, the book was funny!) could be distractions for other students. We discussed how we could minimize those distractions in order to benefit best from independent reading. During the second half of our independent reading time, we noticed an improvement!

I am looking forward to a great year of Reader's Workshop with my third graders!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Will You Take the 40 Book Challenge?

I love to read. Always have. I remember bringing a book with me everywhere I went when I was a kid. Of course, I don't seem to have as much time now that I'm an adult swamped with responsibilities, but I still make time to read for pleasure mostly every day. For the past couple of years, I have taken on the 50 Book Challenge, which is a group of people across the world whose goal it is to read 50 books within the year. Of course, you can set your own individual goals as well (read more non-fiction, only read books that are more than 200 pages, etc). For me, I don't include books I read to or with my students in my personal 50 Book Challenge. Nor do I include short books (under 100 pages) or rereads (I don't do much rereading anyway - I like new reading material!). However, I do include professional reading, as I do read many books related to teaching. As of today, I am on book #36, and I have no doubt that I will achieve my 50 book goal by the end of the 2011.

Now, on to the 40 Book Challenge, which I am planning to introduce to my students next week: The goal of the 40 Book Challenge for young readers is to get students to leave their reading comfort zone and explore new reading genres. Ultimately, I would love to see my students' love of reading flourish, as well as for students to make big academic gains in reading. Let's face it, the best way to become a better reader is to read VORACIOUSLY. And the 40 Book Challenge helps with this!

Although 40 books sounds like a lot, students will only have to average one book a week. This can be accomplished by reading during our independent reading time at school and spending at least 30 minutes reading daily at home. Some books, like shorter non-fiction books, can be read possibly in a day or two. Some books will obviously take longer to finish. By making the right books choices, I am confident that all students will be able to achieve the goal of reading 40 "just right" books in third grade this year.

We will be keeping track of our books on a display in our classroom. Every time a student starts a new book, he or she will record the date, title, and genre on an index card and attach the index card onto their colored paper. Once the student completes the book, he or she will write the date finished on the index card, take it off the display, and add the index card to a little O Ring, which will be hanging on hooks in the classroom.

Here's where things get a little more interesting: in order to expand my students' reading worlds, I will be expecting them to read  a variety of genres, specifically 5 realistic fiction books, 5 informational books, 5 fantasies, 5 mysteries, 4 biographies or autobiographies, 2 historical fiction books, 2 science fiction books, 2 poetry books, and then 10 books of their choice. I will be doing a lot of book talks this year in order to expose my students to new books and genres, so that they can then check out the ones that pique their interest.

Books must be on students' "just right" reading levels in order to qualify, and books over 300 pages will count as two books from that particular genre. Students must have their independent reading books at school every day. We go to the media center to check out books every two weeks, and my classroom library is chock-full of great books available for check out, too:

I can't wait to begin this challenge with my students! Now, get ready...get set...READ!!!