Sunday, February 26, 2017

St. Patty's Day Freebie

I'm thinking ahead to St. Patrick's Day and getting prepared for some math fact fun.  My students do love those Bump Games!  I love that they are so easy to print and use.  I hope you can use these games in your classroom.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Books for Babies

Several years ago, while teaching kindergarten, I started a service project with my students.  Our goals were to promote reading and to give one book to parents of newborns.  We called this project "Books for Babies."

In order to get books into the hands of new parents, we needed a supply of new or gently used board books.  Scholastic Book Clubs gives bonus points for purchases students make throughout the year.  These points are what I use to "buy" books for our service project.

I still do this project with my second graders.  Twice a year, at Christmas time and at the end of the year, we give a shipment of books to a nearby hospital.

First I collect enough books for each student in my class to give one.  I try to have some extras so that students have choice in what they give.  The students help make wrapping paper.  We also write letters to the families who will receive our gifts.  Each student writes a letter explaining the importance of reading and why you should start reading to your baby now.  They usually also tell what they like to read and often let the families know that they have been reading all of their lives.  (LOL!)

The students get to choose which book they want to give.  They, of course, read the book before they wrap it up.  This project gives us a chance to participate in a service for our community while developing our reading and writing skills in an authentic way.  I always provide contact information in the letters we send.  Frequently, we receive notes back from the families who receive our books.

It's really a pretty simple project to implement.  The students help earn the books by placing book orders through Scholastic.  We take one day to write letters and make wrapping paper.  We spend about 45 minutes wrapping the books and letters the next day.  Then I send the books to the hospital.  The students feel a great sense of accomplishment, especially when we get thank you notes from the recipients.

Do you do any service projects with your students?  I would love to hear about them!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Writer's Workshop - 5 Reasons to Share

One of the most important things I have learned as a teacher of writers is that writers need to share.  I'm embarrassed to say that in the past I was one of those teachers who left out sharing on a regular basis.  I had the best of intentions, but it just seemed to get squeezed out.  Was it really that big of a deal?   The answer is YES!

Not sharing in writer's workshop is like leaving the movie before the final scene. It's like eating all the crust off the pizza and leaving the rest. It's like quitting the game when your team is winning.  Skipping "the share" is missing the best part!!

The share is the most powerful part of writer's workshop and here's why:

1) The writer gets to hear his/her story aloud.  So many times, the act of reading the story out loud causes the writer to notice missing words or information that is crucial to the piece.  Reading it aloud, especially before it is finished, can lead the writer to revision.

2) The writer can get feedback from audience questions.  When the audience asks questions, it helps the writer notice things that may need some revision.  It really helps the writer see and hear things from the reader's point of view.

3) The writer can see the reaction of the audience.  Did everyone laugh at the funny part?  Did you see smiles or nods from the audience?  I like to remind my writer's to think about the reader throughout the writing process.  (What do your readers need to know?  What do you want your readers to remember when they finish reading this piece?  How do you want your readers to feel?)

4) The writer develops confidence when positive feedback and praise are given.  As the teacher, when I want to reinforce a practice, I make sure to point it out to the whole class.  "I love the way Susie used descriptive words.  I can really see the scene in my head.  I almost feel like I was there!"  Now others are going to try to add more descriptive words to their writing as well.

5) Sharing helps other writers get ideas.  Often when one person shares a topic, it sparks an idea for someone else.  Our brains are designed to seek connections.  When a writer shares, another person may think, "Hey, a similar thing happened to me."  Those connections can inspire new writing.

Sharing can be done in so many ways.  While students are writing, I am walking throughout the room, conferring and noticing writing samples that I want to share.  I will often ask the writer if I can share all or part of their writing.  Sometimes I only want to point out a single word, sentence,  or small part.  In that case it's not necessary to read the entire piece. (Another important thing I learned!)  I usually ask the author to read it to the class while I show it on the Smart Board with the document camera.

Another option is to have students share with a partner.  This often happens when we have little time.  When partners share, each one gets to read his or her piece and get feedback.  If we have more time, I will have each person at a team table read his or her piece aloud to the group.  (There are usually 6 students on a team).

On some occasions, we have an inner/outer circle for sharing.  We might share with 2-3 people in this way.  It's a novel way to share that the students seem to like.

I used to use random sticks for students to share, but I rarely do that anymore.  It makes me think of Forest Gump.  You know… "Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get."  I like to have a positive focus point in my head before the author shares.

Whatever way you choose to share, just don't let it get pushed out of your writing time.  Treasure it!  So many teachable moments that empower the writer arise through sharing!  The bottom line is that if the students don't get to share on a regular basis, they will not be motivated and inspired to continue writing.

How do your writer's share?  Do you have any tips for sharing routines?

Saturday, February 4, 2017

TIGERS binders

Do you have data binders or portfolios in your classroom?  My second graders use a combination of these that we call "TIGERS" binders. (The tiger is our school's mascot). These binders serve several purposes for my students.  First of all, TIGERS really stands for this:

Evidences and
Resources for

The binder is usually a 1-inch 3 ring binder with a clear plastic sleeve in the front.

The first part of the binder is for data.  Some of the things my students track are math chapter tests, spelling words learned, fluency WCPM, and DRA levels.  When working with data and students, I always focus on improvement.  We know that not all of our students are going to reach the grade level benchmarks during the 9 months we have them.

At the beginning of the year, I help my students add baseline data for the things we track in our binders.  Then we work on setting reasonable goals.  I usually put a star on the data sheet to show the student the aim line.  The star represents where he or she needs to be by the end of the year.  We then mark a spot on the data sheet for a short term goal. (Usually the end of the quarter)  We talk about what we can do to reach the goal that has been set.  I want the students to feel empowered and in control of their learning.

We check the progress of these goals about once per quarter.  For some students, progress monitoring is completed more frequently.  Each time we look at the growth and celebrate the accomplishments.  Sometimes we notice that very little or no growth has been made.  That's a time we need to reflect.  I say we because the student should be thinking about what he or she could do differently, but also the teacher needs to think about  the same thing.

If I have been using a particular teaching method or intervention with a student or group of students and no growth has been made, I need to ask why.  I really can't sit back and say, "Well, I  already taught Johnny how to do _________.  It's not my fault he's not getting it."  I need to use the data that we have collected to make decisions about teaching.  My students need to learn how to use the data too.  We are in this together!

An important message that I want my students to hear is this:  We are a team!  I will work hard to help you succeed, but I expect you to do the same.  We need to always move forward.  We need to learn from our mistakes.  Mistakes are important opportunities for learning.  When we do well, we want to think about why so that we can keep doing that.  When we are not doing so well, we need to make a change.  Collecting and analyzing data helps us do that.

After the data section of our binder, we have a section for resources.  This part of the binder can have lots of different things in it.  My students have spelling and phonics resources, math problem solving resources, and a cursive writing chart to name a few things.  Sometimes this section has different things for different students.  I try to provide the students with resources that help them achieve success.

The last part of our binder has three sections.  This is the portfolio part of the binder.  One is for language arts, one for math, and one for social studies and science.   We put our evidence of learning in the appropriate section.  In language arts, for example, there are writing samples that have been scored.  We might also have some reading response papers.  In science, we have observations and experiments documented.  I like to have my students do some writing in math too.  A math sample might have one problem on a page that has been solved.  The students may have writing to explain what they did and how they solved the problem.  This part of the binder is always growing and changing.

I don't send the TIGERS binders home every day.  I think it's a bit much to do that.  Students just take them home on Fridays.  That way students can share anything that we have added that week.  Parents can look through the binder and ask questions.  It helps keep parents informed about what we are learning and gives them some insight into how their child is doing.

Our TIGERS binders not only help us with data collection and reflection, but also serve as a portfolio of student learning and a collection of resources to use  in the classroom.  Do you have a similar product?  How do you use data in your classroom?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Valentine Freebie

Valentine's Day is almost here!  Although we don't have a big party in our classroom, we usually exchange Valentines with classmates.  It gives us a chance to practice our cursive writing.  (We learn that in January).  I usually have students decorate a bag for morning work.  Then we set the bags up on the students' desks.  I have another activity going on the carpet, away from the desks.  Sometimes I am reading to the kids books like Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch.  Other times, we might watch a video on something content related.  My goal is to keep most of the class engaged in meaningful activities on the carpet while a few students at a time deliver Valentines.  I feel like we have less chaos and loss of instructional time with this approach.

I do try to incorporate Valentine fun things into our instruction, even though we don't have a "party."  One way I do this is with bump games in math.  One of my small group rotations is games.  Bump games are a great way for students to work on math fact fluency.

Here's a little freebie I made for my classroom.  I thought I would share with others.

Happy Valentine's Day!