Friday, June 28, 2013

Historical Perspectives, pt 1

This past Tuesday I met with the teachers in the online class I have been coteaching this summer for the Ohio Writing Project: Historical Perspectives.  We have been reading one of my favorite texts, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  TGLAPPPS is set in post WWII England and consists of letters between characters in London and a book club in the English Channel.

It has some majorly endearing characters and is a charming historical fiction work.  It's lovely and compelling and has been perfect for our class. 

As part of our time together yesterday, SATP (Summer Awesome Teaching Partner, of course) shared a text set that we created as a companion to TGLAPPPS.

What is a text set you ask?  Well, here are three quotes from the experts that may help you shape your own definition.

● A collection of ... texts that have some connection to one another. "Text" can be defined as
a book, an article, a poem, a movie ... The connections are the reader's and are connected to
personal response.... Any classification that expresses a commonality of ideas or authorship or
time or curricular issue would be the basis of a text set [The Reading Teacher]
● Collections of resources from different genre, media, and levels of reading
support learners with a range of experiences and interests more than any single text. They are
particularly supportive of less-experienced readers [NCTE leader, Laura Robb]
● The idea is centered around the standards and the requirements of argument, perspective, and
multiple texts [Ohio Writing Project Asst. Director, Beth Rimer]

Basically, a text set is what lots of smart teachers have been doing for years to help students connect literature to all sorts of genres in order to think more deeply about a text/era/theme.

SATP shared our Guernsey text set.  It's yours to browse here if you're interested in seeing an example or you perhaps teach WWII. Among other materials, it includes an interview with one of the authors, Annie Barrow, and several primary source images.

We also wrapped up our book club discussion on TGLAPPS.  But that's not all!  I'll share next week about our Skype session with author Lynne Dorfman.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Field Trip

I'm catching up on writing about some events that happened just before the end of the school year, one of which was our awesome field trip.  ATPs and I wanted to try something new, so we developed a trip to Ault Park and the Cincinnati Observatory.  We  loved it.  And so did the kids and parents. 
I'll just share a few highlights that may be of interest to teachers or those looking for local "stay-cation" options.
We split our team of one hundred into two groups for ease of management and for space issues at the observatory. 
My group started at Ault Park.  We had three guides who led several activities: a log study, an animal traits game, and a nature hike.  The hike was the hands down favorite, even though it was a bit steep.  It was interesting to hear the guides talk about the wildlife right in our own back yard. 


Thanks to ATP for the photos!

For those who are interested in planning a similar school trip, call the Cincinnati Parks.  They were AWESOME to work with and very adaptable to our needs.  Tell 'em I sent you...just kidding.

Stop number two was the Cincinnati Observatory.  Did you know Cincinnati is home to the world's oldest telescope still in use nightly by the general public??  Check out this beauty!

The guides were extremely engaging and informative.  Check out their site for more information about astronomy nights on Thursdays and Fridays. 

Creating a human sun dial!

A lego version of the observatory :)

Overall, we loved our field trip and feel so lucky to have two such wonderful attractions right here in Cincinnati.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Top 100

Doing some research for my online class and stumbled on these two awesome resources I thought I'd share.  Check out the Top 100 Fiction Books Read and Top 100 Nonfiction Books Read by American students. 

What I love most is that they're sorted by text complexity/grade level.  Nice to have when planning new CCSS curriculum.  At least it's something to make this overwhelming task a little easier. 

Any of your favorites make the list?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Historical Thinking...Say what?

What a special week on the blog...TWO amazing guest bloggers! 
I am blessed by many wonderful colleagues.  But every time I have a PD/workshop/curriculum day with Jen, I truly come away a better teacher.  She is a deep thinker and analyzer.  She is creative and energetic and always makes sure we are doing what is best for by students.  She is great mom to two hilarious kiddos and is to have dance parties with in the car.  I am thrilled to share some of her insights on historical thinking with all of you.

Amy, thanks for the invite to write on your blog. I hope I don't dissapoint and I will go ahead and warn your readers...I am a wordy girl.

One of my new endeavors next school year is to incorporate ways to help my students become historical thinkers. What is historical thinking and why does it matter? I will try to answer those questions. If this is something you are currently doing I would love to hear how you are using this method in your classes, and if you are not, hopefully you will find value in using this strategy in your instruction.

A little background...I have just finished my 14th year of teaching and have had a diverse background of being a special education teacher at multiple levels (8th, 6th, and 5th) and am now a 6th year general education classroom teacher for 5th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. I am fortunate enough to be part of a group of teachers who are taking courses under a grant focused on Teaching American History. One of my ATP's (Awesome Teaching Peers) (sorry Amy, I wanted to be an ATP, you know how I like to use the same acronym but change the words) has asked that I be a guest on her blog so I wanted to share my thoughts on historical thinking and literacy.

What is historical thinking? Historical thinking is a process. A process that requires students to evaluate a variety of sources (primary and secondary) then ask questions about those sources. The quesitons are not the typical comprehension questions about what the source says, but questions that develop a healthy cynicism of why was the source written, what is significant about how it was written or when it was written. Historically, what was occuring at that time and in that place? What was happening in other places around the world? Instruction with historical thinking as a focus asks students to think critically about the documents in front of them and encourages them to check the facts through seeking additional evidence.

photo (2)
Colleagues from our TAH grant practicing historical thinking strategies

Finally, the goal is to push students to validate the sources and information within the documents they are reading. Key components of thinking historically are sourcing, contextualization, close reading, and corroboration. If you are interested in reading more about each of these components you can visit this site by Stanford University. There are also AWeSoME videos on The Teaching Channel that demonstrate these steps. The Teaching Channel is an amazing resource I discovered this year and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has not used it as a resource. 

A bonus resource/lesson I'm going to use next year about the life of Ghandi:

Why does teaching historical literacy matter?
Two words, background knowledge.
Historical thinking matters because it forces students to use higher level thinking skills through the analysis, questioning, debate and synthesis of information. The information we are providing for students has to have relevance and allow students to investigate, debate, and question a variety of sources in front of them. This helps them shape who they are as inhabitants in this massive world.
My personal thoughts are that historical thinking will allow student to hone in on what shapes their identity both by helping them make sense of the facts in history of where they come from and then also allowing them to form opinions and values of who they want to be. Hmmm, sounds like the type of thinking we want students to engage in during our Language Arts/Reading classes.
Researchers have made it clear: it is essential for teachers to teach and reinforce literacy skills on a regular basis in social studies. This is reinforced below in the quote of the author of the book FOCUS, by Mike Schmoker. Schmoker advocates the use of current events articles in newspapers and magazines as well as other primary documents because it helps to ground students in understanding the past and make connections with the present events in their lives. Reinforcing literacy skills using these types of sources will allow students to rehearse in their minds how events played out and what the effects of, or possible effects of, those events were/could have been. Simple cause and effect. Behavior and consequence. This is a HUGE life skill.

"I honestly believe that social studies could be on the cusp of its greatest moment-that it could soon be a subject students come to love and look forward to. But to ensure that happens, we must infuse generous amounts of current and historical texts into students’ weekly social studies diet. Such documents should include primary source documents, alternative histories, and also current issues and events found in newspaper and magazine articles. These should be introduced no later than the upper elementary grades. Such supplemental texts could be a real game-changer, with a profound impact on students’ sense of what history is and how it connects to the to their personal lives, culture, and communities."
- Mike Schmoker

Focus, Elevating the Essentials. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2011, p. 152.

David Coleman, the founding partner of Student Achievement Partners and a lead writer of the CCSS in ELA states, "There is no greater threat to literary study in this country than false imitations of literature which do not deserve to be read." The Coleman quote can be found here.
This speaks to another vital life skill- validation. We should expect it and we should give it. How many times have you sought validation or recognized it in others? This skill goes way beyond sourcing texts, it speaks to our character. We must teach students to validate their sources and ask questions about the information they are getting much like they should measure the validity of the information others are sharing with them. There is a plethora of potential to practice this skill if you are examining primary and secondary historical documents.

Lastly, the ELA CC standards are asking students to speak, listen and write coherently about a topic. Teaching students how to critically analyze materials outside of reading and language arts class is essential to build their foundational knowledge across content areas. The process of analyzing, recording and discussing primary/secondary documents will allow students to find their voice and be able to write with a clear point of view.

My endeavor feels like a mammoth leap, but a necessary one. My instructional practice will be changed by the New Learning Standards for the Social Studies and ELA Common Core in a variety of ways. My challenge is to become efficient at finding and changing the materials that I provide to students. I expect there will be change in the structure of the classroom environment and it will, hopefully, create opportunities for more student-led activities. I have dabbled in this type of instruction in the past, but my personal expectation is that it will occur more frequently next year.

I envision the materials changing in that they will, on a more frequent basis, meet the expectation that students interact with more rigorous text as well as ensuring a balance of investigation with informational text with fiction. I also believe that I will probably focus on building background knowledge more strongly than in the past. The feeling I get about the structure of the classroom is in the delivery of materials. There will be much more scaffolding and practice on the process of what it means to be a historical thinker and modeling of how to organize that information into notes. Then I will set them free to investigate, analyze and debate. Lastly, I feel that this type of instruction and the call for students to think analytically will allow for a student led community of learners. Although I feel I have had elements of this in the past, I do feel I will have a stronger emphasis on building this type of interaction as well as designing activities to foster this interaction.

If you are interested in reading more about historical thinking, I recommend visiting the sites I have referenced as well as

Amy, thank you for asking me to share my thoughts on your blog. Your energy and enthusiasm for teaching is an inspiration, your passion is admirable and your zest for life is contageous. It has been my honor.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guarding Your Benches

There is a story I heard at a conference last summer that I'd like to share today.  

… in the middle of the courtyard of a barracks was a small bench. Next to the small bench, a soldier stood guard. No one knew why the bench had to be guarded. It was guarded around the clock – every day, every night, and from one generation of officers to the next the order was passed on and the soldiers obeyed it. No one expressed any doubts or ever asked why. If that’s how it was done, there had to be a reason.

And so it continued until someone, some general or colonel, wanted to look at the original order. He had to rummage through all the files. After a good bit of poking around, he found the answer. Thirty-one years, two months and four days ago, an officer had ordered a guard to be stationed beside the small bench, which had just been painted, so that no one would think of sitting on wet paint." (Thanks to Cris Tovani for the excerpt)

So this begs the question, what benches is your school, department, etc. guarding that should be abandoned? Is there a certain assessment or program that should be abandoned? Is there a tradition that continues merely because it "has always been done that way?" Are their habits or practices you picked up in undergrad or student teaching or a conference along the way that should be evaluated more closely to see if they actually align with your beliefs about teaching and learning?

And perhaps the more important question is what benches do you guard that DO matter?  What principles of good teaching are you willing to invest time, energy, and resources in, even if others question or abandon them??

Here's my list of benches I hope to always guard as long as I'm teaching:
-student choice, as often as possible
-time for authentic reading and writing
-the best mentor texts and book selections 
-teacher mentorship and being plugged in to professional communities 
-energized & organized lessons
-investing in interpersonal relationship with students and colleagues
-hearing parents, percolating, and responding with empathy
-remembering that my students are still children
-developing class community by infusing laughing & listening
-showing kids I believe in them, even when they may not believe in themselves
-incorporating fun into learning
-taking moments to rest and be present

What are your benches?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Teach in Community: That’s What’s Up!

I am so thrilled to introduce my very FIRST guest blogger!  None other than ATP herself, Mrs. Litty Mathai.  She is a killer teacher and rocking partner, but she also has the BEST laugh, most photogenic children, and a million creative ideas.  She's the queen of reading workshop.  She's the yin to my yang, the slow-down-and-reflect to my go-go-go.  I have learned so much from her and am so excited to share some of her wisdom with you.  So without further ado, Mrs. Mathai, ladies and gentlemen!

So much is going through my mind right now as I’m sitting here on my front porch.  The breeze is blowing gently, the sun is slowly fading in and out, and the birds are chattering up a storm. Yes, you guessed it: it’s summer!!!!!  I feel like I say this every year, but man, this school year went by so fast! 

There are a bunch of topics cycling through my mind that I could write about. In fact, I feel like I need to do a second guest blog post for Amy at some point.  With two kids under the age of 4 and working full time, it’s been a challenge to even write one.  Nonetheless, the kids are both at a sitter, and I’m enjoying my very first day of summer, solo. By the way, isn’t Amy, great?  I love how she always shares her ideas freely and wants to build into other teachers too. There is no “I’m not sharing that with you” mentality ever.  I think that since we have been Language Arts partners the past few years, we have meshed our philosophies on how to teach Reading, Writing, and Social Studies and both of us have walked away learning at least one new thing each year.  Which brings me to what I would like to reiterate to teachers everywhere: just like we need to LIVE in community, we need to also TEACH in community.

 eaching in community has so many benefits. The first benefit is that it pushes you to try out new ideas and reflect on your teaching practices, which only lead to growth, growth, growth. I have tried out several new ideas the past few years, and I’m always glad that I did. I just completed my 15th year of teaching, and I don’t think that I could have done it without my colleagues. Sure, I could lock myself away in my room and do my own thing---and yes, there are times I do that, but ultimately, it is when I open my doors and seek out colleagues that are doing some great projects, lessons, or simulations where I feel that excitement to take on a new challenge and try it out with my students. I have always taught Language Arts on my own until the past few years, and let me tell you, I have grown way more these past few years sharing and collaborating than ever before!

Ultimately, my students reap the benefits of my learning in community. The ripple effect when teachers learn and share with each other is massive. Remember that it is  easy to stay stagnate, but much more challenging and more rewarding to seek new ideas and new endeavors!

 The other benefit of teaching in community is that it helps you continuously reflect and mold your teaching philosophy. I want to be the kind of teacher who is constantly reflective of best practices. How did that lesson go? Was the questioning challenging? Did all my learners “get it”? What evidence do I have that they all understood? Am I reaching everyone’s learning styles? How am I going to challenge that student? Did I model the teaching point well? What can I improve for next time? Do I need to stop and reteach? What modifications do I need to support my learners?   Geez, the questioning that goes through a teacher’s mind during one lesson is rapid-fire and ongoing. It is nice to stop and talk to a colleague about how best to improve lessons and units of study. You will gain new perspectives on different ways to approach a lesson. Who wouldn’t want that?

Once you decide to open your doors and let other colleagues “in,” your wall of “Oh, I got this on my own” comes down, and I promise you that you will grow as a teacher.   I want my students to learn as a community of readers and writers. Well, guess what? Why wouldn’t I expect that of myself? At the end of the year, I had my students do some reflection (yes, they take after me J), and write a letter telling me how they have grown with Reader’s Workshop. Madi, one of my sweeet students,  told me that she really liked it when we closed out our workshop lessons with a circle share time.  That’s a time where we sit in a circle and voluntarily share how our reading is growing, specific strategies that have helped us become better readers, cool books that we are currently reading, and new learning from our reading buddies. Madi said she liked it because that brief time (five minutes a day), helped her to see how other readers were solving problems or becoming stronger readers and it pushed her to do the same. If Madi can recognize the power of community to help her grow as a reader, as educators, we should recognize the power of collaboration and teaching in community.

Hope everyone who reads this has a great summer! Thanks, Amy, for giving me the opportunity to do this…feel so honored that you wanted me to share my two cents!  “Make a difference, ya’ll!”  But first have fun this summer!! You deserve it!!

ATP is the queen of clip art!  While I didn't include that in her post, I knew she needed some sort of visual.  So here are the two of us dancing it out at field day this year.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Words of Wisdom

Before my mentor officially retired, she sent out an email to our Language Arts Department that was so lovely that I begged her to share it with you. It's probably a little more powerful if you know this wonderful woman, but I think her truths right out to anyone.

I leave you with my life’s little legacies, both in school and in your personal life:

•Give the gift of writing. You’ll never see that gift in a garage sale.

•Say hi to students you don’t know in the hallways and on bus duty.

•Write little love-you’s to your honey bun on post-its. Post it on a mirror or in their pants pocket.  It’ll brighten their day.

•Sometimes skip to “specials” for a minute. Kids love that.

•Give kids choices. Old people too.

•Remember your roots.

•Going to music or gym, snake around the cafeteria tables in and out if the tables are down.   They’ll think you’ve gone crazy.

•Talk to strangers. You might learn something.

•Save your sick days.

•Listen real good.

•Pick up pennies.

•Read the signs.

•Walk through mud puddles.

•Save on water.

•Don’t veer too left of center.

•Dance in the kitchen.

•Don’t talk bad about people. It only makes you look bad.

•Enjoy the moments that make you smile (my favorite rubber stamp).

•Feed your passion

•Crank up the music.

•Percolate before you respond sometimes.

•Fairy tales do come true.

•Don’t let the screen door slap you in the ass.

I love you more.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pencil Sharpener GIVE AWAY!

Back in August I shared with you my love of my Classroom Friendly Supplies pencil sharpener.  It was a hit all year long.  ATPs even told me how their students would always come over to my room to hit it up.  And now they want their own!

Groovy Green

Well I thought I'd help out all the awesome teachers out there by hosting a give away.  (How awesome is Troy at Classroom Friendly Supplies to sponsor this, by the way!  And he seriously responds to emails thisfast.)  Please enter and spread the word. 

The give away is for a sharpener in your choice of color (green, blue, red, and black) and will run until June 23 at 12 am.  To enter you must “Like” Classroom Friendly Supplies on Facebook.  Leave me a comment below to let me know you entered and spread the word (well, at least tell teachers near your classroom and then send your students over there if they win!).  Must be a US resident to win.

And even if you aren't the big winner, you should probably just go ahead and buy a sharpener anyway. Trust me on this. They're $24.95 (with FREE shipping!) from
Classroom Friendly Supplies.  That's NOTHING for a little extra sanity!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 10, 2013


One of my non-teacher goals for this summer is to learn more about resting well (because I stink at it and its SO important!)

Rest should be so easy, right?  But tons of us struggle to do it at all, let alone well. And I've learned that rest doesn't mean sitting on the couch doing nothing or watching TV. It also doesn't mean sleeping all day (though those things can totally have their place).  

But real rest should leave us recharged and ready to go back into the world again.  A talk I heard on it recently broke rest into five areas: delight (what can you do just for the joy of it?), worship (spending time connected to your spiritual source/ God the father), play, reflection (thinking about your work/rest/life), and actual physical rest/sleep.  The speaker's metaphor was to imagine the feeling you had on a snow day.  THAT feeling of joy should be our heart towards rest!

A coworker's lovely lake house/hammock that I got to visit last about restful!

I hope to be putting these ideas into practice this summer along with some work (new online class, what, what?!) in a way that makes me energized & excited for the 2013-2014 school year.

Any plans for you own RESTFUL summer?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Thanks a Latte

Well another year is in the books!  It's been full of ups and downs, but also many lessons learned. 

One thing is for sure, I appreciate all the parents who help make it a success, whether that is studying for a spelling test, reading with their son/daughter, or just keeping us in the loop with what is going on at home.  The parents who come in and volunteer their time are the biggest rock stars of all and such a blessing. 

To thank them, I found these cute ceramic travelling coffee cups at Deals ($2!).  We dressed them up with a bow and "Thanks a Latte" tag, and ta da!  Parent gift :)

If you'd like to use my "Thanks A Latte" tags, feel free to use this FREE file through my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Wishing you all the best for a wonderful summer!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Affirmation Posters

Two days left of school! And if you're like me, that means you're thinking something along the lines of, "How do I keep these kids so busy they won't be tempted to mutiny!?"

Well ATP #3 (aren't I blessed to have THREE Awesome Teaching Partners?!) has the perfect activity! 

She gives each kid a paper with his/her name on it that gets passed around to all the other students. Each kiddo takes a turn writing something positive and specific about their classmate.

What they end up with is a poster of warm fuzziness basically.

I came into school for a few hours to put in grades and had a grand time procrastinating by making these posters for my kiddos. I tried to make a symbol/ decor choice specific to each one, including a smiley face, a bowling pin, a crown, a racetrack, a running shoe, a roller skate, legos, and more.  It's so fun to know them so well at this point!

I look forward to seeing them react to a personalized "work of art."