Friday, January 31, 2014

Small Groups

Small group reading is my favorite part of my day because I love watching my young scholars get so excited about their novels!

I really like researching about new strategies and trying them with my small groups.  This week we used the stop and jot strategy with post-its:

I had my Number the Stars group focus in on the Nazi soldiers' midnight visit.  They recorded their thinking while reading and then used their recordings to guide their own discussions.


I wish I had time to meet with them daily but I simply have too many groups to make that possible.  So we meet every 3 days and they have independent reading and homework in between:

I give them four or five questions to respond to and use evidence from the text to support their answers.  I love when they do such a great job with details!

They also are taking more ownership and creating charts about their novels:

Which we store in a magnetic bin at the front of the room.

I used a regular plastic bin and hot glued on magnets to make it work for my classroom.

I like how my students are so open to new ideas and strategies as well!  It's wonderful to keep learning together :)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Student Input

Since we are doing affixes and Greek & Latin roots during our whole group reading classes, I decided we needed to revise what we're doing in our small groups.

However, deciding what we need for word work isn't entirely up to me.  I'm not in their brains and I wanted to make sure our 5-10 minutes of phonics/word work was well spent in our small groups.

So I asked both periods a series of questions and had them respond with what they wanted and needed:

By allowing them to have input, they feel more of a sense of ownership in our small groups.

It's not my classroom, it's our classroom.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Club for Battle of the Books

Wednesday afternoons mean one thing for me: Book Club.

For one wonderful hour, me and my twenty-five (ish) readers trek to the library, sprawl out with pillows and enjoy reading.  They've also been working on writing questions about the books, so they break off into small groups and hold their own literature circles.

She made her own questions for the group!

I love that they knew to go back to the text to find answers!

I also made question stems for them to use to guide their discussions, which you can snag here.  Per Battle of the Books norms, I'm not supposed to guide their comprehension of the novels, only encourage them to read and provide strategies.

It's so rewarding to get to spend an hour with my fifth grade book worms.  I love that they're so into reading!

I'm also really appreciative that one of my students encouraged his cousin to join, even though reading is difficult for him.  They're reading the same book and helping each other out, which is great to see.

Today my principal popped in and read with some students:

It totally made their day!  I'm thankful she's supportive of this endeavor and I know she loves talking about reading with students.  

With about two months until their competition, they are going strong!  Many are finishing up their first book and beginning their second.  They have also taken our persuasive writing unit to heart and are encouraging one another to read certain books next, which is adorable.  All the books are wonderful and I love how they're supporting one another.

Happy reading!

Motivational Posters

Since a majority of my room is covered with anchor charts and student work, there isn't much room left over for motivational posters.

However, I do have these two displayed at the front of the room:

For me, effort is everything.  I'm an inclusion teacher and I know my students have a wide variety of current levels.  I also know that it doesn't matter where they start, but where they finish with me.  Because we are standards-based with the Common Core (although I'm supposed to call them the Nevada Academic Content Standards, or NACS for short...I'm still getting used to the new acronym), my students have through June to master concepts.  This means a lot of spiraled reteaching and frequent opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery of concepts.

I would rather a student try a math worksheet, miss every problem and learn from those mistakes than simply write "IDK" or leave the sheet blank.  Not trying isn't cool!  At least that's the focus of our life skill this week.

Second, I really like our THINK poster. We are a be kind school and I think it's important that students realize not every thought in their brains needs to be verbalized.  Not that their thoughts aren't important, but sometimes they don't say the nicest things to one another and that's simply not okay in my classroom.  I do my best to create an educational environment where students feel supported, encouraged and safe.  Negative words take away from our community.

 I think we all, kiddos and adults included, need to pause to THINK before speaking some times.  The world just might be a slightly brighter place for it!

Writing Choices

This week our must do in small group reading is a writing extension.  

Their choices:

1) Silently read & write questions for others (Battle of the Books)

2) Rewrite your favorite part of the novel from another character's perspective.

3) Create a reader's theater script of your favorite part.

Here's one student example for her favorite part in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:

One of my students took the idea of reader's theater and ran with it:

She made it her own by combining characters from two novels!  

She used Rob and Sistene from The Tiger Rising and Percy and Annabeth from The Lightning Thief.

I love watching them interact with their material in new and exciting ways.  It's wonderful when they make connections with and between texts!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Silly Students

Sometimes my munchkins leave silly things on my desk:

Oh kiddos! 

New Adventures

 Sometimes I decide to act impulsively.  I take risks. I apply for things I think are out of my reach or I'm not qualified enough for.  I ignore the self-doubt and somehow, miraculously, get accepted into amazing opportunities.  I'm grateful and appreciative for these opportunities.  I'm working on being humble and instead of seeking approval from my administration, I just embrace opportunities.  I take chances and seek out opportunities, even if these opportunities are a tad scary.  I do take on too much some times, but I also am working on saying yes to things that will make me happy.  

I'm pleased to share with you, my readers, my next adventure.  In addition to continuing this blog, I will also be working with an amazing group of young women in Grow Organic Kids.  

By adding my thoughts from an educational standpoint, we will be working together to become a resource for students, teachers and families alike. You can follow us here.

I'm excited for this new adventure!

 Ms. Vice

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Character Analysis

In whole group reading, we've been working on comparing and contrasting characters.  In fifth grade, the expectation is to go much deeper then "one is a boy and one is a girl" responses. 

We've looked at how characters in the same text respond similarly and differently to the same event using Seed Folks as mentor text.

We've looked at how characters from different novels respond similarly and differently to a similar event using Tiger Rising, Because of Winn Dixie and Sarah, Plain and Tall as mentor texts with Rob, Opal and Anne.

We've moved on to looking at Matt and Attean in Sign of the Beaver and how they interact differently with the environment.

As you can see, I broke the reading into three sections.  I modeled the first day, reading the passage aloud and sharing my thinking (metacognition).

They worked with a partner or in a small group of three on part two and on Monday, they'll do part three independently.  They read the passage, take notes since they're "reading with a pencil" and then discuss their ideas.

They're taking notes in the graphic organizer we made in our whole group notebooks:

 While they work, not only are they building their stamina (since testing is a few months away) but I get to see how well they're doing with annotating (stop and jot) as well as analyzing the text. 

 It's a great way to do a quick informal assessment, I just walk around and make notes on a post-it.  I can also do a quick intervention if needed.
Some of them will struggle with this independent task and as I've said before, this productive struggle is perfectly okay.

I'm impressed with how well they're doing!

New Bulletin Board

It was that time again.  The bulletin board change time.

Normally, I don't mind.  However, bulletin board changes coincided with DRA testing and progress reports, so it was a tad stressful trying to get everything accomplished.

Since we've been doing a lot of comparing and contrasting with mentor text like Seed Folks, Tiger Rising, Sarah, Plain and Tall as well as Sign of the Beaver, I decided to carry on the trend.  

I had my small groups pick one event from their small group novels and write about how two different characters reacted to this event, drawing on evidence from the passage.  

We have to post an introduction to our bulletin boards (or as they're called in our performance zone, "Academic Wall Displays").  The introduction should include the task, the learning targets and what standards students are working on.

Naturally a final draft is WAY more exciting if it's on colorful paper!  

I had my students brainstorm and write rough drafts in their notebooks, edit with a partner, then write their final drafts.  Space on the back was provided as well.

(Following example not pictured)
One student wrote about an incident with a bear from Brian's Winter.  In this passage, Brian Robeson (from Hatchet) befriends a skunk (whom he affectionately names Betty).  I was worried I would get a shallow response about how one is a boy and one is an animal.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised when she wrote about how both characters are dealing with loneliness, homelessness and find comfort in their routines with each other.

I'm so excited they're "thinking deeply" about what they're reading!

Opinion Writing

We are in the midst of Being a Writer's persuasive genre.  While this doesn't perfectly align with our standards, I'm still enjoying their suggestions.  For fifth grade, they're expected to write opinion pieces where they share their opinion and give factual reasons as support.  The persuasive component isn't a standard until sixth grade.

We've clarified the difference with the kiddos and let them know if they want to try to persuade their readers, that's just dandy.

We've also been doing mini lessons with commas:

They're doing pretty well with these language standards! I'm hoping they'll apply their knowledge in their writing, since that's a great way to see if they truly understand the skill.

I modeled writing my opening:

It really helps my kids to see my example and color code the different parts (opinion and reasons).

Yes, I wrote about football.  I think it's important to model real writing and for me, I would write about football.  It's more authentic because they know I'm passionate about my sports and as writers, we write about things we know.  I don't think they'd take the lesson as seriously if I wrote about why you should buy a pre-owned car instead of a new one.  Yes, I could write about how it's cheaper, etc but I wouldn't be super interested in the topic. It wouldn't feel genuine to me and they'd pick up on it.  It's important to bring a piece of yourself into the classroom and spread the joy of learning.

Novel Guide: Who Was Steve Jobs?

As the advisor for Battle of the Books for my school, I was assigned to read one of the 8 novels and come up with fifty questions for the novel.

I chose Who Was Steve Jobs partially because I wanted to know more about the genius behind my beloved iProducts, but also because these biographies are wonderfully written!  I love that they're developmentally appropriate for my students (DRA 40).

So I added in higher level comprehension questions and created an eleven page teacher guide, which you can snag here from TpT!  Like my other products, it includes comprehension questions and answers for each chapter, suggested vocabulary words (although there aren't a lot due to the DRA level) and extension ideas.

Happy reading!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Impromptu Parent Teacher Conferences

When I dismissed my kiddos on Friday, I had a parent waiting by the door wanting to chat.  This wasn't a scheduled meeting, but the look on her face said it was urgent.  So I asked her to wait a few moments while I took care of some last minute end of the day issues (calling another parent, printing report cards for magnet school applications and dealing with another upset student).  She gladly waited and politely looked the other way when some choice words were used by an upset ten year old.

She came in and expressed her concerns about her son's math performance.  My neighbor, his math teacher, popped right over (without me having to ask, because she's amazing like that) to join the conversation. 

She expressed all the strategies she was trying to use at home and we talked about the strategies we're using in school, including changing his placement during our intervention/extension portion of the day to allow for more math support.  We talked about the importance of bringing home the math notebook and having her son talk through the math strategies we go over in class.   

It was a short, very positive conference.  My student was there and we all clarified that he wasn't in trouble, we (family & teachers) just wanted to work together to help him succeed.  They left feeling confident and armed with ways to support learning at home, which is wonderful.  I made sure to let her know how much I appreciate that she was concerned and wanting to help her son do his best.

While it wasn't a planned conference, I love that my students' families know I have an open door policy and that the whole fifth grade team supports their children.  I love that they know it's perfectly acceptable to come talk to us about ways to help their kiddos.  At the end of the day, we're all on the same side with the same goal: helping students grow academically and become successful, confident young scholars.  It's nice to have support at home! I'm glad my student's family cares so much for him and isn't afraid to ask for help!

The Miserable Mill

I really liked the idea of students being in charge of their own small groups, so I gave them large pieces of butcher paper, set guide lines and let them run with it.

We've worked a lot on keeping track of characters, so that was their first focus:

Since some groups were in the middle of novels, they didn't want to change the way they took notes until their next book switch (makes sense to me!).  We've spent a lot of time developing the "left side" of our brains by making lots of charts, changing colors each time and being systematically analytical.

However, just because I'm type A doesn't mean all my students are.  So I embraced the creative idea as well and modeled a less structured way of keeping track of the way a character changes over time.

They really liked this strategy so I think I'll keep allowing them the choice of how they want to organize their notes.  After all, my ultimate goals are to make them life-long avid readers and empower them to take ownership over their learning.  It truly doesn't matter how they take notes and respond to the literature, I just care that they're able to comprehend what they read, discuss the big ideas and be critical thinkers.

Ursula Update

Before winter break, I blogged about our new class motivator Ursula:

A few weeks went by and as a class, they didn't earn any pieces.  I could tell most of my class was getting frustrated because it was always 2 or 3 students who didn't do their work and ruined it for the whole class.

Their homework is a reading log, 30 minutes of reading a night and one double sided math sheet that reviews what they learned in class the week before.  They get their homework on Friday and it's due the following Friday, so there is truly no reason it shouldn't get done.

One particularly difficult student kept arguing how the homework simply couldn't get done because of outside commitments.  Now, I've talked with the family about this and the student isn't truthful about the work.  If there's time for video games, there's time for homework.  No excuses.

So we had a class discussion of who has extra curricular activities (sports, church, music, family time, etc.)  Every student raised his or her hand, so we talked about making time for what's important...and that includes homework.  I made the connection with sports and how homework is like practice.  If you don't practice, you won't do as well as you can on game days.  That seemed to resonate with many of my students.

We voted how we wanted to change Ursula.  I suggested a table team reward and that was vetoed by the tables where students aren't doing their work.  Thirty out of my thirty one students wanted Ursula to be on an individual basis so they were only accountable for themselves.

For the next ten weeks, they have to turn in their fully completed homework eighty percent of the time.  (8/10 seems fairly generous).  If they do this, they get to join our lunch party.  One student asked what would happen if she turned in all of her homework (as she's done the entire year), so I said those students would get an extra reward.

I love that they're so motivated now!  

We added our first piece:

Isn't she lovely?

I talked with them about how everyone was still invited, just some students already used one of their two "freebie" weeks.  I hope this really turns around the homework slide we've been noticing!  

(mostly) Candy Free Valentines Ideas (Part 2)

So I previously blogged about a cute candy free valentine idea:

And shared what I'll be doing with my class:

But I stumbled upon some more cute ideas for elementary students, so I figured I'd share!

My neighboring teacher loves owls and it's the quasi-theme of her classroom this year, so I could see her making these:

All you'd need is some free time, cereal (or chex mix, trail mix, etc depending on students' allergies), bags and construction paper.  On the reverse side, you could write "You're a Hoot!".  How fun :)

This idea is very similar to what I've done at the beginning of the year to welcome students:

But I love using colorful tape to attach the smarties!  I don't know if that yellow would have been my first choice, but the idea is still great.  You can snag this cute, free printable here!

Although my Nevada students would have no idea what this means, I still think it's cute:

It may be tricky to find candy corn at this time of the year...

Next, this idea:

How fun!

These pinterest pictures have lots of ideas:

Not all of them are healthy or welcome in the classroom (no soda!).  But the ideas are still fun :)

For the more patient and crafty families, 

Pipe cleaner pencil toppers are a creative option!

While I made Valentine's gifts for my home room, this may be happening for all my small groups:

How fun! I'm sure a local craft store has a heart shaped punch and ribbon is always easy to find.  What a great way to encourage reading!

With three(ish) weeks until Valentine's day, it's time to start planning!

Spin on Book Reviews

Obviously, I like books.  Okay, love them.  I'm lucky enough to spend about half of my instructional day talking about literacy with fifth graders, so that's pretty awesome.

I was reading a librarian's blog and she posted this fun idea:

I like the idea of using speech bubbles and having students write about the different books.  I think I'd tweak the idea a tad and have larger images of the books with smaller student faces with thumbs up signs, as if they approve of that text.  I have around seventy five kiddos in my small reading groups, so a bulletin board with all of their faces just won't work.

However, a bulletin board of the top twenty five books we're reading and why they like them is completely feasible!  I think I've figured out my final bulletin board of the year!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stop and Jot, part 2

We've had some trainings on close reading and one of the things I took away was teaching my munchkins to "read with a pencil".

Granted, this wasn't earth-shattering information, but rather an affirmation that I'm doing the right things with my reading groups. It's always a relief to hear that what I'm doing aligns with best practice theories.

Here's our "stop and jot" poster with when students should stop to record their thinking.

As you can see, there's lots of times students should pause to record their thinking!  I'm glad they're getting used to annotating and showing their thinking.

(We did review how to use post-its when it's a book you shouldn't write in as well!  They do love their post-its.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tech Trainings!

Sometimes I'm overly ambitious. Sometimes I volunteer for things without truly thinking them all the way through.

Case in point, I'm leading 3 technology trainings in the upcoming months at my school with a cadre of teachers.  I got administrative approval to host them on campus so I'm excited for this leadership opportunity!  

At least I'm thinking positively...I don't have any graduate classes this semester!

If you're in CCSD and would like to attend, stay tuned for details!

Peace Week Challenge One

It's Peace Week at our school and our awesome counselor posted her first challenge!

Students had to brainstorm a list of all the ways they could be kind to others in the upcoming week.

Here's our list:

I'm going to really focus on "catching" kids being kind and giving them that positive reinforcement!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Change can be a good thing

I'm halfway through year five of teaching and my oh my have things changed.

For the most part, I see the changes as a good thing.  I know to truly see a program or strategy's effectiveness, it should be consistent within a school for several years to be able to accurately measure growth.  That's something we're working on at our school.

When I started teaching, we followed a scripted reading program with weekly spelling tests and a story of the week.  I taught comprehension strategies, sort of, but we were expected to abide by the book.  I thought I was doing pretty well following the structure and doing the same things as the other teachers in my grade level.

This blind, naive attitude only lasted a few months and (with administrative approval), I'd completely abandoned the scripted program by my second year. I don't do well with scripted programs anyway.

I brought additional challenges upon myself by having to find meaningful content, but at least during my second year I was teaching standards and not just a story.  My students were becoming more engaged and I was enjoying teaching more.

By year three, I was feeling more confident in the classroom.  I'd finished my masters degree and my Teach for America obligation. I had taken a lot of district trainings and was on a task force to unwrap the (at the time, new) Common Core State Standards.  There were still lots of extra demands on me to find the materials I needed to teach with and lots of long weekends preparing.  I was also in conflict with veteran teachers in my grade level who were unwilling to try new strategies and envied my successes in the classroom.

Year four brought more confidence and a partner.  I was no longer pitted me against the grade level, but rather me and my ally against the veteran teachers.  Slowly but surely, our students rose to our high expectations and outperformed the others simply because we weren't teaching a bland, scripted program.  We were teaching (and reteaching) the standards with a variety of strategies.  Not all of them worked, but our students were rarely bored.  Their high levels of engagement translated into higher test scores due to what I believe was their interest in learning. 

Year five: my dream team.  I work with three other fifth grade teachers and my special education co-teacher.  We are on the same page 95% of the time and always supporting one another.  None of us follow a scripted reading program with a new story a week.  No one gives a spelling test with 20 words that students had to memorize over the week and regurgitate on Friday.

No no, I think we do something much, much better.  

We teach a weekly, grade-level phonics skill with explicit phonics.  We teach the patterns, practice sorting by sounds, encode and decode with text, then on Friday give them a quick formative assessment with five words to see if they can apply the skill.  I don't want to see if they can memorize basic facts, I want to see if they an apply their knowledge of word parts to spelling unfamiliar words because that's a much more true assessment of whether or not they got the skill.

For math, we are using the Investigations program which is far superior to what we previously used.  Based on over eighty years of research and partnership with NCTM, the program has students discovering math concepts through manipulation and discourse, which provides for a more meaningful understanding of mathematics.  They are constantly building their number sense through Number Talks and math games that rely on critical thinking.

For reading, we're loosely following another school district's pacing guide because it draws heavily from mentor text that is rigorous, engaging and within an appropriate lexile level.  Before choosing to go with their plans as our backbone, we read through their plans, double checked that all standards were covered and added in our own notes.  I think it's going fairly well.

We don't give a weekly reading test (thank goodness!).  Instead, we give a monthly one with longer reading passages (to build their stamina) with questions that cover several standards.  I'm not testing how much they remember of a story we'd read together and discussed in class five times (because at that point, it was regurgitation, not knowledge).  We're testing how well they can independently apply the skills we've been working on in whole and small groups to the unfamiliar passage.

I look back at my first year in the classroom and have the overwhelming urge to apologize to that group of students. 

 I did the best I could with what I had, but I would never go back to that way of teaching.  I would never rely on worksheets and a story of the week.  That's not what helps students learn.

As an educator, I'm constantly trying to learn new strategies and implement them in my classroom.  While this highly reflective process can be a tad frustrating when things don't go as planned, I think that learning and trying new things is far better than repeating the same thing over and over again.

In the past five years, I've implemented interactive notebooks and Number Talks.  I do explicit phonics three times a day (whole group and both small groups).  I have students interact with technology rather than me being the sole one to create things.  I have centers and literature circles with novels, something I didn't even attempt until my second year.  I've learned how to do the CORE phonics assessment to see where students break down phonetically and the DRA to determine their reading levels. (Although it's time consuming, I much prefer it to the old diagnostic tests I had to give!).  We're using mentor text for reading and writing, doing mini-lessons and having students publish drafts both on the computers and the iPads.  It's been a tough, uphill battle and I'm proud of the new things I've learned.  I'm appreciative of the trainings I received at my school, from my district and from outside educational entities.

I'm saddened by teachers who are scared or unwilling to try new strategies.  I don't have the same bunch of kids I did when I first started five years ago, so why should I teach the same lesson the same way?

(Poor Harry Potter, subjected to the old ways of teaching)

Change can mean better instruction for students.  Change can mean more engaging, thoughtful, purposeful, driven lessons.  Change can mean teachers have more flexibility and students have more opportunities to collaborate with their peers on projects and activities, rather than just sitting quietly and working independently. Change can bring joy back into the classroom.  I'm not saying every aspect of education needs to change nor that all change should be blindly accepted because that's no good either.  However, if change brings about higher student performance and helps create more critical, thoughtful, passionate young scholars, why not give it a try?

Change can be a good thing.