Tuesday, March 17, 2020

School Closures

Did we all think COVID-19 was something that wouldn't reach us? I'm sure many of us did. And when it finally began to affect us, it happened so quickly. Before we could think it through, our schools were closed. We've been out for two days, TWO days, and I'm already learning so much.

On Friday morning, March 13th, we found out our school would be closed for one week. By 2:30, it was determined we'd be closed for 3 weeks plus spring break totaling one month. At the end of the day, I excused my students. Parents were waiting outside of our classroom door. Things were a little awkward. I didn't know what to say to them. At that moment, I felt like I had let them down. Both my students and their parents.

We, as elementary teachers, are trusted to watch 20, 25, 30 students each and everyday. We are here to teach and provide a safe place for students to be watched over while their parents go to work to pay the bills and to keep our economy moving. But on this day, we opened our doors, excused our students, and took away that place for parents to send their kids while they worried about how they would work when their kids had no place to go.

It was something we had to do, and it was a very difficult decision.

So, teachers returned on Monday to make a plan. Today, Tuesday, we're working from home. Since we're not a 1:1 classroom, we're sending home packets and communicating with parents through email.

And like that. . . I began to miss my students. I began to miss those stories you ask them to tell you quickly so you can get backed to the millions of other things you need to do.

This morning I emailed parents and let them know that if their kids want to tell me anything they can email me and I'll write back. And so they did.

The first email left me in tears. Not because it was sad, but because I could picture my student telling me this story. She'd have a big smile on her face. She would tell me how the leprechaun visited her, made a mess, and left gold chocolate coins. Another student let me know he jumped in puddles on this rainy day.

Only two days in and I've learned how much I miss those stories that sometimes take for-ev-er to tell. I've learned that I want to hear them and that from now on, I'll block out the noise and just listen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ready, Set, Read!

Yes, yes I'm guilty of participating in one minute timed fluency tests, which encourage students to read as quickly as possible. And if the kid is really experienced in the one minute timed test, he knows that skipping over words is fine because reading as many words as possible is all that matters. Never mind that comprehension didn't take place. Or that the child read like a robot. Forget that the students didn't stop at punctuation. Just read quickly. Am I right?!

Ugh! That was tough to write. But what is reading fluency, really? I'll tell you and I'll show give you ideas your kids will L-O-V-E.

Fluency includes three components:

Students often read a passage or book with fewer errors each time that selection is read. They learn new words, they use decoding strategies, and they just get better at that passage with several reads.

Rate is the speed at which a person reads. It's not too fast and it's not too slow.

Prosody is reading like a storyteller. It's to read like we speak. We use expression and we chunk words into phrases. This speaking skill can be utilized during reading.

Here are some activities you can use to improve students' reading fluency.

Read Like a Storyteller
In this activity, kids retell a familiar story. Since the story is one that has been heard, they will tell the story like a storyteller.

Repeated Readings
Giving students the opportunity to read a passage several times allows them to get better at reading new words. Pointing out words that are difficult to decode, will help them read the passage smoothly. Graphing words read shows students how reading a passage several times increases over time.

Fluency Tic-Tac-Toe
We speak in phrases, or chunks. We do not speak one word at a time, but rather by several words at once. Chunking phrases from the story helps kids to practice prosody. And it's a game. It's a win-win.

Passage Puzzle
Passage puzzles are just another way to practice rereading, but this time students must comprehend the text. They will practice accuracy, rate, and prosody with this activity.
Rhythm Walk
Your kids will love this activity! Begin by chunking a passage into meaningful parts. Put one chunk on a page by itself. Set the "chunks" onto the floor like a path. Have students walk and read the passage to practice all components of fluency.
Readers Theater
Becoming a character is the best way to practice reading fluency. Students practice accuracy, rate, and prosody during readers theater. Not only are students practicing these skill, they are having tons of fun!

These activities can be used with any story. Improving fluency is essential for teaching kids to read. Here are some resources which include all of the activities you read about.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

What I Have Learned

Today was the last day of my 14th year of teaching. This was an extra special year because it was my last year in a district that I have worked the entirety of my teaching career. I am moving, so I'm changing districts. But I'm still teaching.

I thought this would be a good time to reflect on everything I have learned during the past 14 years.

College does not prepare you for teaching
This is something any first year teacher can tell you, but I thought it was worth noting. I've seen what the new teachers have to do. The hoops they have to jump through. It's a lot. While I think it might be a way of weeding out those that don't want to put their all into teaching, the tasks teachers have to do are unrealistic and don't actually teach teachers what it's like to be a teacher.

Teachers need to stand up
It's becoming pretty evident that teachers are picked on. Many won't say it, but I will. I believe teachers are underpaid and picked on by big business and politicians because we're a female dominated profession. It becomes exhausting having to fight for our retirement fund, school supplies, salary, class sizes. You name it. I work in California where we have one of the strongest teacher unions. It's no joke. The union is your greatest ally. Join! If you are a right-to-work state, still consider contributing to the National Education Association.

It's expensive
I'm pretty sure there are no other professions in which people buy for their jobs. While I don't believe teachers should spend so much, I understand why we do it. I buy the pretty decorations that make my classroom look pretty. I buy a bookshelf that matches better with my decor. I buy books from Amazon like I have unlimited funds. I buy these things because I want to. My classroom is my second home. I want to be happy there.

Things may not go as planned and that's OK
Some days your kids are extra talkative. Some days there a five kids absent. Some days the classroom phone rings 20 times. Things may not always go as planned, but that's OK. Nothing goes as planned. The real test is if you can manage when things don't go as planned. If kids aren't "getting it," stop and go over it again.

Teaching is more than academics
Over my years of teaching, I've noticed the lack of empathy in many of my students. I'm not saying they're terrible kids. They just haven't been taught to think of others' feelings. Empathy is something that needs to be learned. It's something we need to teach. I love to use children's books to teach it and many other character traits.

The kid that causes you the most trouble, may be the one that loves you the most
Today, my little guy sat, on his own, and wrote a long letter for me. I could tell he was writing me a letter and I was excited to get it. I didn't let on that I knew because I wanted him to keep writing. I watched as he reread the letter and made corrections (YAY!). He handed it to me and, while I was hoping for this 7 year old to tell me I changed his life, he expressed how much he loved me and loved playing Math Prodigy on the computer. It's fine. I get it. He's only 7. The letter meant the world to me. What meant most to me is that he sat and wrote when he could have been playing Math Prodigy.

Kids love personalized notes
I do this each year, but this year I did it differently. I had the students sit in a circle. I sat with them. I called it the "circle of love," and they take it seriously. I'm pretty sure a bunch of 5th graders would think I was ridiculous. I could be wrong. So I talked to the kids about things they didn't understand and probably forgot two minutes after I said it. . . I told them that I know sometimes I seemed like a Grinch, but it was because I care about them and all that jazz. I told them that the one thing I want for them when they get older is to be good people. After all that, I handed out cards with notes to each student. I told them that if they had a hard time reading it, I would read it to them. One of my best readers wanted me to read hers. I think she just wanted to hear the words from my mouth. One even suggested sharing what I wrote with the rest of the class. So we sat in our circle of love and everyone read their cards.

Try everything once
This was my year of trying everything with a good attitude. I generally don't like scripted programs. I don't like worksheets. I don't like boring Power Points. But I tried all of them because my grade level wanted to try them. We also implemented a scripted intervention program, which was not very exciting. I did it. I learned that I needed to add voices, which added some flare. I followed the script and told myself, "It's only for 15 minutes." And guess what? Kids made progress. As for the other things I tried, that leads to the next thing I learned. . .

Use best practices
At the end of the day, I am a clown. I am here for the entertainment of my students. Useless worksheets that don't challenge a student's thinking, don't teach students concepts. Replacing writing with long Power Point grammar lessons does not help kids either. Applying grammar knowledge into writing does. We cannot keep teaching students using practices our teachers used. Especially me. I was in elementary school in the 80s and 90s. And while I do value the knowledge of experienced teachers, they are sometimes the worst offenders.

Keep learning 
As teachers, we need to set professional goals. Read a book about teaching math or adding close reading into your teaching. We must always do better for our kids. We don't want our hair dressers to give us "the Monica" in 2018.We need to stop giving spelling tests.

The end.

Friday, April 6, 2018

STEM for Dummies

I am not an expert. On a level of 1 to 10, I think I'm a 6 on the STEM expert-o-meter. That's a D. Not an F, but definitely not an A or B. With that out in the open, I wanted to share a STEM lesson I created for any teachers wanting to try STEM in the classroom, but don't know where to begin.

If you're like me, you've seen STEM everywhere. This is what I knew:
1. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

That's about it.

I have since done some reading and took an online course, which has left me at a 6 on the STEM expert-o-meter. The most important ah-hah! I want to share is that your STEM projects do not need to include each component of STEM. Using at least two is necessary (e.g. science and technology), but I'm sure the projects get better with the more components you integrate.

I got started by looking at the Next Generation Science Standards. As soon as I saw 2nd grade standard 2-LS2-2: Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal dispersing seeds or pollinating plants, I knew I wanted to develop a project around it.

And that is how We Need Bees! came to me.

Before beginning your STEM unit, you will want to put students in groups. My groups ended up being 3-4 kids. You will want various levels in the groups. An important part of STEM is for students to be able to work collaboratively with other students, which is why I created a rubric for this. If you set the expectation for students to collaborate respectively, they probably will.

For STEM projects to be true STEM projects, there should be a real world connection and should be meaningful to your students. My students live near many orchards. They see the bees in the spring. They also see bees unable to fly and dying. My students ask why the bees aren't flying, so the curiosity was already there.

Students will need to do research to develop a better understanding of the topic. In this case, my students read articles relating to pollination and why they are not surviving. I found all of the articles on ReadWorks. If you haven't used the site, you must! My students also watched various YouTube videos.

Once students have done the research, they begin to see the problem. And so we identify it. . .

Now that students have background knowledge, the challenge is defined. In our challenge the students looked at images of bees' bodies. I wanted them to notice the hair on the legs and bodies of of the bees. Once they noticed the hairs, I asked students to discuss in their groups how the pollen sticks to the bees' bodies. The discussion went to the hair. The pollen stuck to the hair (if any bee expert is reading this, sorry if it's not called hair). From there I told the kids they would be making a pollinator.
next generation science standards

I passed out the materials the students could use. In their groups, they had to decide which materials would be best for their pollinator. The materials included: felt, cotton, pipe cleaners, craft sticks, and rubber bands. They could also also use glue and scissors to assemble their pollinators.

This is the rubric students used to guide their decisions. I chose not to grade the students on how well the pollinator worked. That might not be STEM acceptable, but I did ask that they explain the pollinator using the vocabulary we learned in class.

Once the students chose their materials and engineered their pollinators, they tested them.

Each students made his/her own pollinator. They chose the "best" one from each group to test. Each group was given 10 seconds to pollinate as many "plants" as possible. This worked by dipping the pollinator into a small cup of macaroni and cheese powdered cheese. Then, the tester ran to 10 different paper flowers and dropped off pollen at each flower. We would count how many flowers were "pollinated" in 10 seconds.

Just a heads up, the "pollen" doesn't fall of as easily as I would have liked it to. One flower might have one speck of cheese left on it, which I counted.

We recorded all of the data including which material was used to make the pollinator--felt, cotton, or pipe cleaner. We discussed the data we collected, and then the students were able to improve their own pollinators. They were able to dip in cheese and test away.
Finally, students were asked to create a final presentation. They could make a Slides presentation, write a story, put on a play, write a report. . . It's up to you, but more importantly, it's up to your students. Give them a choice. Use the rubric to help guide students through their presentations.

No project would be complete without one of my famous trail mixes. The kids scooped the different treats into a bag to make a mix.
If you'd like to try this unit in your class, you can find the materials here. If this is your first time, just go with the flow. Make mistakes. STEM is pretty complicated if you're implementing it well, but it is so worth it. I have never heard a group of kids speak about a topic with such confidence.

Stay tuned. . . our next STEM project topic is climate change!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New (School) Year's Resolutions

I'm not one to make a New Year's resolution. I do, however, set a new school year's resolution EVERY year. So, I thought I'd check in to see how well I'm doing with meeting those goals. 
My first goal this school year was to use Reciprocal Teaching during our reading block. I have been a peer-reviewed-reading-journal-addict lately and I am learning so much about best practices and all that good stuff. I wanted to fully implement the strategies used in reciprocal teaching. These strategies are the strategies good readers use without even thinking about it. I had taught the strategies before, but I wanted to start on day 1. I have and the kids love them.

Goal number two has been to implement Socratic Seminar in my classroom. Although I have not done this completely, I am working on it. I have made some new discoveries along the way, and I have found the power of sentence frames using academic language, which you can read about here. Anyhow, I have found that these academic conversation are a foundational skill for Socratic Seminar.
Goal 3 was to teach/use/coach the growth mindset. I was reading a book, but the school year got in the way. While I'm not currently reading the book, I am using strategies, ideas, words that have been associated with growth mindset. My grading chart uses the word yet. I remind my students it is OK to make mistakes, but to try to learn from them. I'm kind of meeting this goal.
The finals goal was to begin using Hyperdocs in my classroom, which you can also read about right here. I have used them. I love them. The kids love them. We all love them. They are amazing. They are wonderful. But. . . I've used them twice. Not because I'm putting them off, but I was using them at the end of each unit. Beginning this month, we will use them weekly. At least that's my new goal.

So, like I said, I'm not one to make resolutions at the beginning of the year. Maybe it's because my brain works in school years. Whatever you choose, goals are great to have. Attainable goals are even better. Set yourself up for success. Know your limits. Whatever you choose, let it be something that makes you and the world around you better.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Academic Conversations in the Primary Classroom

We know that our students need to be able to use and understand academic vocabulary. It's part of the foundation of their success.

Of course we need to figure out our part as teachers.

Years ago, I began using leveled sentence frames, which is a great start. They integrate the academic vocabulary and assist students with forming a grammatically correct sentence. Truth be told, I stopped using them. I don't want to talk about it. But this year, I began using the leveled frames again. This time with more intention. There was more of a purpose. More of an understanding, on my end, of the importance of using them.
This past summer I had the privilege, and I mean the privilege, of attending an English Language Development (ELD) training. I learned so much, but the idea that stuck with me is the academic language component of language development. The presenter had so much passion for the topic that it was impossible not to take the passion and make it my own.

I'm not sure about other states, but in California we are required to have a separate differentiated ELD time block. Students are leveled by their language levels and move to different classrooms to be taught at their levels. The purpose of this time is to teach children academic language and to understand the structure of English. Wow! Big job!

My students use the sentence frames (pictured above) during ELD and ELA time. My ELD class, the expanding level, uses the blue level and challenges themselves with the green level, once they are ready.

So we were happily using our sentence frames when I realized the kids could use more. They needed to move beyond giving a one or two sentence response and begin by conversing with one another.
I made these conversation squares™, which I placed in the center of a group. Each student was responsible for speaking about a selection using the color coded sentence frames and and conversation squares™. I really liked these, the kids were engaged, but I wanted more. More!

So I came up with the idea of Conversation Placemats™. The kids need more than one sentence frame to increase academic language acquisition. They need to have conversations. Conversations make us think. They help us learn from one another.
Each placemat encourages students to speak in complete sentences and to use academic language. There is a before, while, and after reading section, and discussion frames to promote students questioning one another.
These placemats can be differentiated or you can use the same one for each student. Either way, students will be having discussions. And discussions will increase students' abilities to listen, speak, read, and write.

You find this resource here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Teaching Theme with Elephant and Piggie Books

Who doesn't love Elephant and Piggie books? They are perfect for our young readers. They teach intonation. They are funny. And you can use them to teach theme. Yes, theme (or central message).
central message
If you're like me, you were a little clueless when it came to teaching theme/central message. The Common Core State Standards includes this as a standard beginning in first grade. If you look throughout the grade levels, 1st-3rd grades refer to it as central message, while 4th grade and above, refers to it as theme. Call it what you like. It's the message an author is trying to convey.
central message
So how do we simplify this sophisticated concept for our 1st graders? I've figured it out for all of us! Just read an Elephant and Piggie book and you'll see there's a message.
central message
I've been working on theme in my classroom for years and loving every minute of it. It requires our students to think deeper about the message the author is giving. It gives the kids the opportunity to use evidence from the text to support their answers. And it allows our beginning readers to demonstrate an understanding of the big idea of a text.
central message

I created a unit that includes the resources you'll need to teach theme to your little ones (minus the books).
teaching central message
You probably have the Elephant and Piggie books in your library, but if you don't you can find so many videos on YouTube. Here's one of my favorite channels for Elephant and Piggie books.
Did you watch it? Can you guess the theme?

If you guessed perseverance, you'd be correct. You could make an argument for other themes, but providing evidence will encourage your students to support their answers.
teaching central message
We all love Elephant and Piggie books, and if you haven't read one yet, DO IT! You won't regret it. With all that they have to offer, why not dig a little deeper?
teaching central message
Thanks for stopping by! If you're interested in this resource you can find it here :)
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