Sunday, January 27, 2013

Not Cool, Robert Frost!

I love this kid!  Have you seen "A Pep Talk from Kid President?"  Adorable.  I'm not 100% how this is relevant to teaching, but I'll probably show it to my students at some point.  Maybe prior to testing week?

Maybe we'll discuss the line, "What's your 'Space Jam?'"  Ha ha.

I also love, "We can cry about it, or we can dance about it."  Maybe I'll make it into a classroom sign at some point.

By the way, I just got back from a massive pitching/ organizing session in my classroom today.  I still have more I want to do, but I filled my trash cans.  It feels so freeing to get rid of things I've had for years and not used.

Have a great week!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Can I Get An Amen?!

Anyone have a day like this?

Some days we just need to set smaller goals and be happy with those!

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Make Your World a Little Bigger

I'm watching the inauguration and marvelling at the poetry of seeing President Obama sworn in for a second term as he looks out on the crowd, and just beyond, the new MLK Jr monument and hears the beautiful invocation of Myrlie Evers-Williams, wife of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

...and of course I'm scrolling through Facebook while I watch :)  Once again, my buddy Cynthia Lord nails the sentiment of a day like today by sharing this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.

Every stretch, every risk, every new experience changes you. I encourage you all to try something new with me this week in honor of MLK. To take that first step on the staircase, even if you don't see where it leads. To risk reaching out to people and experiences outside your usual comfort zone.

As Cynthia put it, "To make the whole world a little smaller.  And your own world a little bigger."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Martin's Big Words

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr, Day!

To celebrate this amazing man, ATP and I created a lesson integrating primary sources and the text Martin's Big Words.

We started with reading the book My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris.  This sweet book details MLK's childhood and tells about a time white friends in his neighborhood suddenly decided not to play with him.

Then we shared images from The Library of Congress.  We also shared a shortened clip of the "I Have a Dream Speech."  Students had a copy of the text to follow along with and added their own thinking and questions as we watched.

After discussion, we read Martin's Big Words.  The students each selected one quote from the book to analyze and reflect on.  [By the way, if you want to hear the text of the book, check out this video. The quality isn't great, but it is the full text and images.]


These reflections will become part of a display in our wing with a timeline of important African American figures.  It's a great way to talk not only about this time period, but how we can continue living out the 'big words' of MLK.

I really enjoyed teaching this powerful lesson on a important topic.  What are you doing to keep the dream alive?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

When is Enough Enough?

I get so much inspiration from other teachers...typically the ones I work with day to day, but also the ones I meet in workshops, at conferences, or even those I have never met.

On her blog, Read, Write, and Reflect, Katherine Sokolowski shared her recent thoughts on how overworked teachers often feel, especially at this time of the year.

She said of the test-driven culture,

Do we just want to point at our schools and say they are failing? Seriously? The teachers I know work HARD, they give up time with their families, their own salary to buy items for their classrooms, care about their students, and try hard to help their students become the best they can be. So much of what we do cannot be measured on a test.

Read the full text of her powerful post here.  And teachers, be proud of all the immeasurable work you do! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Grace to be a Beginner

My buddy (and Newbery Winner!) Cynthia Lord shared this quote on facebook recently. 

The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step.
--Julia Cameron

Lovely, eh?! Have you started any teaching-related resolutions? Remember it always takes humilty and openness. And grace for when we stumble.

We're gearing up for the official start of Girls Being Girls.  I'm a tad nervous to take on one more thing, but pumped for a chance to pour into our girls in a way that will hopefully make an impact.  Check out more here.  And best wishes for your own new projects and goals.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 10- The Finale! (and total hodge podge)

My tour is coming to a close today.  I have just two more features to share with you.

We're in the midst of our reading workshop unit on nonfiction.  One component of the unit is allowing students access to topically-organized mentor texts.  I ordered these "Basic Stack Baskets" from the Container Store to keep them looking neat but also easy to borrow.  I used lables from Scholastic (they were free a few months ago with a book club order) and attached them with book rings.

I also wanted to share my collection of former team t-shirts.  Read more about how I created these here.
I hope you've enjoyed seeing my classroom and maybe got an idea or two to use in your own space.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 9- Writing Quotes

Once upon a time I got my masters in writing instruction.  My research focused on journaling and growing passion and ownership for writing through choice.  And while I've been happy to see many students do just this, others look at me with a questioning look when I ask, "Why write?"  Some even answer with, "Because you make me."

And no teacher wants to hear that!  We want our students to love what we teach and see the utmost value in practicing a given skill.  So I decided to offer the words of great writers to fill them with reasons to write.

I created this board to share many wonderful reasons to journal.  I switch out the quote weekly.  When I first developed the board I searched for quotes online, but since have enjoyed finding them organically.  (I even wrote one down while watching "E True Hollywood Story: Taylor Swift" once!  She got her start through a teacher who shared poetry with a passion!). 

I've even had students share their own reasons and write those with the dry erase marker (sorry for the picture quality--it's showing a former dry erase quote).

It's a great way to encourage students and helps fight off the "because you make me" answers!

How about you readers, why do you write?  Leave me a comment and maybe you'll make the inspiration board! (I'm sure students would love it as much as T. Swift!)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 8- Poetry Hall of Fame

Each month I organize a poetry competition for students.  It's completely voluntary, but a great way to extend my readers and writers.
For poetry slams, students write an original work of poetry, memorize, and perform it for the team and judges (the teachers).  For readings, students do the same with published poetry.  It's great to see a new side of students- from those that are astounding talents, to students who awe us just by the courage they show in stepping out of their comfort zone.
Of course, there are handsome prizes for all who enter (certificates and candy!).  The winner recieves a trophy and fame and glory.  For a lucky few, they get to enter the "Hall of Fame."  This special honor belongs to students who win three competitions during the year.  These students then have to retire from competition and become one of the judges. 

So far only four have achieved this honor!  We may have another winner this year!  Ms. G has already won twice and gunning for another win!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 7- Reading Rocks

Just by walking into my room all who enter know I teach reading...and love doing so!  There are lots of visuals and incentives to encourage an authentic community of readers.

I created this bulletin board using a projector to trace an iTunes logo.  I even stapled on old headphones for a 3D effect.  The students helped finish it up by creating book recommendations.

I also have a board for less lengthy recommendations above my library.

And here's a snaphot of my library with my checkout system.  I used old wood boards and recovered them with fabric and ribbon.  I used a staple gun and labels to make a "pocket" for each student.  Them my librarian or I can tell who has books checked out.  It's worked pretty well and reduced the number of lost books.

One last part of the tour...I've been using these incentive posters to keep track of our "Genre Reading Requirements."  If you've read with Donalyn Miller's amazing The Book Whisperer you're familiar with her 40-book challenge to increase reading stamina and volume.  (If you're not familiar, read it now.  Seriously.)  We have a similar challenge with 25 books of various genres.

I'm even on the poster (and being beat by most of my students!).  But I like encouraging them by talking about my own reading life and struggles with keeping my volume of reading up.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 6- Writing Wall

Since my first year of teaching I have had a board in my room featuring reading genres.  A few years ago I realized that my students had a hard time distinguishing between reading genres and types of writing.  So with the help of some great former writers, I created a board in my room with examples.

It's a great way to not only remind students of the types of writing we've done/ are working on, but it also motivates students to add a little variety into their work during journaling time.  Plus they always like seeing siblings' and neighbors' work.

Don't you love this feature article on bacon?! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 5-I Can

Experts from Rick Stiggins and Larry Ainsworth to Bob Marzano have proven time and again that engaging students in their own learning by posting objectives in class is a practice worth pursuing. And while it's always sounded like a no-brainer to me, putting it into practice wasn't.  I had a hard time with consistency and with phrasing state standards in kid-friendly language. 
So when I saw ATP #2 try this idea out in her room, I knew it would help me stay accountable in posting "I Can" statements regularly.  I bought dry-erase boards and used 3M tabs to stick them up on my board.  (So far they're holding just fine.  ATP used nails to frame them above and below...pick your poison.)
Having these boards right next to my agenda for the day helps me remember to change both at once.  And making them smaller in scope helps me to actually refer to them before, during, and after the lesson (which is the whole point anyway, right?!).
One of my colleagues created the statements posted on the bottom portion of the board.  These are bigger goals that last throughout a unit or at least several lessons.  She rocks for many, many reasons, but creating these for us is just one more reason!  For tips on creating your own, check out this article.  And good luck!  I hope it impacts your classroom and students the way it has mine.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 4- Organization for All

Organization is huge for me.  My ATPs tease me for the way I religiously clear my desk at the end of the day.  One of my favorite tools to keep this up is this drawer unit.  I bought it about a year ago for 50% off from Jo Ann Fabrics.  I added the stickers for each day of the week and for subject areas at the bottom.
Each drawer contains the handouts, picture books, and other resources for the day.  It's great for planning ahead and keeping my desk clear.

My students need their own ways to stay organized, too.  On each desk I have the typical bin of glue, scissors, markers, etc.  I also have a bin for each student's Social Studies folder and Reader's Notebook. 

The folders are specific to each unit.  Right now we're in our history unit, which I guess equaled orange?!  I am way more thematic with other units: blue for geography, green for economics, red for government.  I hole-punch all the handouts/ maps/ graphic organizers and students clip them into their folder.  And then they go home when the students are preparing for our unit test to study.

The Reader's Notebooks are made from larger composition notebooks.  I took them to Lowe's and they cut them in half for free!  I love a good deal.  It helped me stretch those 2/ $1 notebooks even further.  Plus I think the size is kind of perfect for our purposes anyway.

It's great having all these supplies handy to reduce trips to the lockers or lost and found.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 3- Special Paper

I still remember the first day of student teaching, when my glorious mentor showed her students a special part of her classroom- the special paper binder.

Admittedly, at the time I thought it was sort of an odd thing to address on the first day amongst learning names, organizing supplies, and touring the school.  But it captiavted the students!  She had a binder of 100+ different types of special stationary and she offered it up for publishing special pieces of writing.  Right away students went to work creating pieces that would be worthy.  She even covered her door with a "Writing Hall of Fame" all published on this special paper.

And I stole the idea and ran with it!  Over the years I have collected over 125 different types of stationary.  These came from the dollar store or were donated by parents.  Whenever we get towards the end of a writing unit, the special paper binder becomes a very popular attraction in my classroom.

For the ease of management, I have one of each type in a binder with a post-it number.  In my file cabinet, I have numbered folders the correspond to the binder.

The students look through the binder to chose which design they'd like then leave a post-it with the number they'd like on the piece they want copied.  When I get a stack of several, I take them to the copy machine and voila!  Here are a few tips to help organize:

Give it a try and see what it does to encourage your writers.  Don't be afraid to start small.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 2- Grammar Goodness

In case you've forgotten, I'm a bit of a grammar nut.  My favorite text to inspire fun and purposeful grammar instruction is Mechanically Inclined  (read my review here). 

There are several ways this text and method of instruction manifests itself in my classroom.  Namely, the walls are covered in our imitated sentences.

The rule of thumb is students are allowed to display their sentences on any wall and they can stay up until they fall down.  This seems to really get students excited about grammar and showing off their uniquely constructed work off of whatever concept we're practicing.  Admittedly, the room looks a bit crazy at times, but I remind myself that it shows the serious work we're doing.

The sentences above are based on our beginning of the year work discovering the basic parts of a sentence.  (And a few on serial commas and appositives.) For some reason students seem to have nouns down, but struggle a bit more with the concept of a verb.  To help reinforce this, a few years ago my students helped me create our verb rocking chair. 

I took a formerly unfinished wood rocking chair and spray painted it black.  Each student chose one favorite verb and used acrylic paint to write it onto the chair.  (tip: I had them write 3 verb choices on an index card to prevent multiples and any that were too crude.  I didn't need a whole chair covered in "burp.")  Then I sewed the cushion for a pop of color from Eric Carle patterned-fabric.  Now it's my favorite special chair for read- alouds.
In another part of the room we have a "Grammar Brushstrokes" wall to remind us of all the work we've done, including mentor sentences, wall charts, and our imitated sentences.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Classroom Tour pt 1- Poetry Masterpieces

Welcome to the beginning of a multi-part tour of my classroom.  I am excited to share the place where I spend wayyyy too much time.  But keeping that in mind, I have tried to make it a place that I love and where students feel comfortable, welcome, inspired, and included.
I love personal touches that remind me of students past.  One way I've been able to do this is keeping student art work.  For the last several years my students have worked on a "Poetry Masterpiece" during our poetry unit.  And for the last several years I've begged the creators of several of my favorites to leave their lovely work behind. 



Thanks to our awesome custodian for helping me to hang these floating wall shelves.  They're right above my desk and provide a great area to display special objects without cluttering my work space.

Having these around the room makes it cheery. It give students a preview of the work we will do together and inspires their own writing masterpieces. Plus it beats teacher-store packaged posters any day!