Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Club Binders

During our study of Historical Fiction, students formed book clubs that read the same book and discussed together.  I created TOP SECRET Book Club Binders for each group in hopes to create an exciting way to keep and organize their notes while reading.  
The first day the groups met, they formed a Book Club Constitution with this as a guideline:
I included this page at the front of the binder as a reminder of all the ways they could collect their information (whichever way suited them).  We had previously done minilessons on these:
The binder included 4 tabs:  Thoughts, Characters and Plot, Vocabulary, and Envision

I typed up one of our anchor charts from our minilessons to put in the Thoughts tab as a tool for them to use. 
I then included several blank graphic organizers for them to use if they wanted.  They were also free to just make notes on stickies or on paper.  These graphic organizers were just an option several chose to take advantage of.  I've uploaded picture of just SOME of the MANY we used.  Still in the Thoughts tab...

Questions Tab:  In this tab I included a reminder sheet of QAR and the different leveled questions we can come up with.  I also taught this skill in small groups during their reading time. 
Characters/Plot Tab:  This tab included the most graphic organizers.  Here are some examples. 
They also put their own notes into the tabs to share with their group.  I taught students how to make a Character Attribution Matrix like this one:
Here is a student's character web on Isabel from the book Chains.
Vocabulary Tab: This tab included a collection sheet and word maps. 

Finally, the Envision Tab was just a place for them to put their sketches of the story.  

I think this was a great organizational tool for the book clubs to use.  Each week they decided as a group on their jobs for the week.  Each week someone would focus on Questions, Characters, Envision, and Vocabulary.  They rotated through these jobs so every one got to do each job.  At the end of reading time, I gave groups 5 minutes to meet with each other to share and talk about their books and add their notes to the binder in the appropriate tab.  This way all their notes were in one place, rather than spread out in 5 different spirals in 5 different desks.  

The only thing I'm going to change next time is I'm going to put a Job chart in the front pocket that keeps track of who has which job each week.  I want to make sure I have a way to track who is making notes and who is not.  Definitely make sure names get put on everything!  

It was  such a success, I plan on using it again for our next book clubs: FANTASY!!  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Writing Workshop

We have to take the state writing test next week, so a post about writing workshop seems fitting. We use the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop model. The first year I used it I was so overwhelmed that I only got through two units the whole year. The last two years though, I've been very successful at implementing it. The lessons are very long and complicated, so I found it helpful to create an outline for each so it wasn't as much to look at.

Writing workshop has a very set structure. The first 10-15 minutes is the teacher minilesson. Students then write independently for 45-60 minutes. There is usually a mid-workshop interruption for another quick teaching point/redirection. During independent writing time, the teacher confers one-on-one and in small groups with students. The workshop is closed with a 5 minute share time.

You should teach one lesson a day (at least 4 days a week). Students work though units on personal narratives, essays, fiction, literary essays, and memoirs (if there is time). Students use a composition notebook as their Writers Notebook where they collect ideas and try them out. When it is time for students to draft and publish they do it on yellow lined paper before they do final copies. We make a big celebration out of each published piece. Our publishing parties always include sharing with a meaningful audience.

To prepare for 5th grade writing tests we taught the essays unit from Lucy Calkins which teaches them how to search for and gather evidence and organize it meaningfully. They take the real authentic process of building essays. We then turned to the 4-square method for extra practice. They used it for a planning tool since they'd already developed real writing behaviors through Lucy Calkins.

We showed students the rubric that will be used on their state tests. Students assessed past writing with the rubric and scored their own writing with it multiple times. I scored at least one piece each week for the kids as well. Students love knowing what it expected of them and how they will be assessed. I think my students feel confident now going into the test. Of course, I always feel like I need more time. There are still those students who are not writing in complete sentences no matter how much I work with them. So I am nervous and hoping for an easy prompt. My time is up, there is no more I can do. Time to trust in what I've taught.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Classroom Library

Organizing a classroom library is no small task.  There are so many ways it can be done; you just have to choose a way that works for you.  It is suggested that 1/3 of your library is organized by level and the other 2/3 is organized by topic or genre.  Here is my library.  
The first shelf is for my leveled tubs.  I have marked each book on the inside cover with the F&P reading level and my name.  I've put a sticker on the spine of each book that is color coded to each tub.  A-I are pink, J-L purple, M-O blue, P-R green, S-U yellow, V-W orange, X-Z red.  The books in these tubs are my fiction chapter books (Although I also have pulled some of the fiction chapter books to go in my topic tubs).  
The second shelf holds my magazines (also organized) and some of my topic tubs: Poetry, History, Space, Science, Tales, Animals, Biomes/Geography, and Fiction (picture books).  They have a range of reading levels and not necessarily marked with the levels.  Students are taught to select just-right books on their own, just like they'll have to do as an adult.
The third shelf holds dictionaries, thesauruses, and the rest of my topic/genre tubs: Various Non-fiction, Revolutionary War, holidays, sports, biographies, jobs, Mrs. O's favorites, Principal's Picks, Math &Language, Historical Fiction, and Books in a Series.  These tubs may change throughout the year based on what we are studying, and students can play a role in this decision.  
The tubs across the top of the shelves are for book clubs/research groups, etc.  When we did a unit on Nonfiction, the students picked topics and formed research groups.  My minilessons revolved around non-fiction and they were able to practice with their group's research books.  We then did a study on historical fiction, so they were put into historical fiction book clubs.  Each tub held the books and binder for the group.  We will soon be embarking on a Fantasy study.  Students are very excited to get started in the books they've chosen!

However you choose to organize your library, the important thing is to do it in a way that makes finding an interesting and good-fit book easy for the students.  

Read on! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentines Day

Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday we celebrate at school (since we can't really celebrate Christmas).  Why though?  Is it the candy? No.  Is it the cheesy valentines cards? No.  It is something much deeper.  Valentines seems to bring out the kindness in kids.  Students who sometimes like to just receive suddenly find so much pleasure in giving.  They are kind to each other, bringing valentines for every student in the class-not just their friends. They give away pop-up cards, notes, candy grams and crafts.  They give smiles and kind words.

I'm always surprised by the gifts I'm given.  Sometimes I will get something from the store, like this cute singing teddy bear (brought by a student I had 3 years ago).  But most of the time, I get hand-made gifts.  Guess which kind I treasure! :)  Although these students cannot afford to buy their teacher gifts from the store, they go out of their way to WOW me every time!  Their creativity and sincerity is amazing.  Check out this box of "candy hearts" next to the bear.  One students assembled a box out of construction paper and cut out many colorful hearts.  He secretly went around the room and had each student sign a heart and then surprised me with it on Valentine's day.  It now sits on my bookshelf to remind me of the precious hearts I touch each day, and how each of their hearts has somehow grown mine a little bigger.
Some girls in the room colored a valentines poster for me with a secret message.  They cut it up into pieces to create a puzzle for me to solve.  How creative and thoughful.  And this heartfelt note literally made me cry.  I am so lucky.
A fellow teacher and my 2nd mom said it so well: "And THAT, is why we are teachers! What we give up a decent salary for. No football player, lawyer or movie star can say they had this much impact on another human being and yet THEY make exorbitant salaries compared to ours. You are awesome, a person due great esteem, worth more than all the riches of the world, and truly what God hopes for mankind."

And so, for many reasons, Valentines makes my heart so very happy :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Figurative Language

Figurative language can sometimes be very hard to teach. In the past I've spent a week on similes with all sorts of fun games and smart board activities. I'd think, "I did a great job of teaching this! It was fun and engaging. They seem to have it!". But I came to see that the retention just wasn't there. They would have the understanding that week, but a couple weeks later it was gone.

This year I've taken a different approach. I introduced similes, metaphors, hyperbole, etc over two weeks. But this time, the instruction didn't stop. We are continuously playing "I Spy" as we go though our day. We keep an eye out for the figurative language we've learned in all we do: read-aloud, independent reading, shared reading. Any time we find one, we stop to write it on a sticky to add to the wall.

Kids are comfortable shouting out "hyperbole" as I'm reading aloud because they know I celebrate their understanding of figurative language. I have found this approach to be so much more meaningful than covering it one week, out of context, and in isolation.

What's even better, they have a deeper understanding of what the figurative language means because they are hearing and studying them in context, in the books that are meaningful to them! My most recent standardized tests prove that their ability to construct meaning from the figurative language is the most beneficial aspect of this approach. Almost all of my students passed the standard.  AND students are using these in their writing!  That is the ultimate proof!

I still have some students mix up the names of each. I think I'll throw in a minilesson on it again next week. I'm a teacher, yes, but I actually do more re-teaching on a daily basis. So signing off for now,

The Re-Teacher

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reading Workshop

We use the Reading Workshop model at our school, guided by Lucy Calkins. This consists of:
-a quick 10 minute teacher minilesson
-independent reading time (teacher conferring with individuals and small groups)
-share time (5min)

Students have made it through fiction, nonfiction, and historical fiction units. A big part of reading workshop is creating anchor charts of our learning to be posted on the wall for future reference. When a chart no longer helps with what we are covering, we bring it down. It may go back up if it again becomes relevant. Some stay up year-round after they are created.

It is important that these anchor charts are created WITH students and not FOR students. I do not complete the entire chart ahead of time and then just show the students. If I did, they would have no connection with it, no reason to ever glance at it again. But when I add one thing at a time with the kids...using their thoughts and questions to guide the chart...then they have ownership and are more likely to reference it again once it is on the wall.

Here are my current anchor charts:

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Conferring Notebook

Like all the teachers I know, I've tried many different ways of keeping notes of my conferring. I have tried the big 3-ring binder. I found it to be too bulky to carry around. I've tried notecards on a clipboard that flip up for each child, but I was also carrying a couple other folders with me too with other information I needed. I have to say, the nerd in me was uber excited when I realized that I could create my own notebook with everything I wanted to be spiral bound. Office Depot spiral bound it with sturdy black backing and clear cover for less than $4. I love it because with a spiral I can flip it back on itself and it doesn't take up much room.

Here are some photos:
This record helps me keep track of how many conferences I've done.  I can see at a glance who I haven't seen in a while, and as you can see fair is not always equal.  Students who need more help get seen more often. 
Here are the conferring pages I use.  I've chosen to try doing reading and writing all in one notebook.  We'll see how it goes.  I might color code reading one color and writing another.
Behind all the student pages, I've also included a copy of the CAFE menu (from the Two Sisters-creators of Daily 5 and CAFE), list of reading behaviors to expect from each level, and list of conferring topics specific to each reading level. 

Students who also get seen by a reading specialist have pages like these in their own separate folders so that the reading specialist and myself can both access and take notes on the same paper, creating instant communication on what we've been focusing on for each child.

What works for me, may not work for you. You need to decide on which conferring style fits YOU.  Whatever way you choose to take notes on your reading and writing conferences, the important this is that you are doing it.  They provide vital records that should play a big role in influencing your teaching.

Happy conferring!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Word Art

Students have been reading in historical fiction book clubs this month. When groups finished they created word art about their book. We used www.wordle.net to create these. The kids thought it was super fun and it was a great way for them to reflect on the themes of their books.

Here are some examples.

Snowball fight!!

It snowed today in Room54!

I'm always looking for new fun ways to keep the kids engaged.  This snowball activity was used as a "cementing" activity after a lesson on gravity.  Its a goal of mine to make sure I do something after teaching a new concept to make the knowledge stick, hence "cementing." Students had to write one fact on a piece of paper and crumple it up into a snowball.  They got to throw their snowballs at each other and then pick up one snowball to use for the next round.  They had to open it up, read the fact, and add a different fact to the paper.  I'd say "Let gravity bring down the snowball you throw! GO!" and they'd throw it again.  We went several round and it was TONS of fun!  I plan to use this cementing activity more often for sure!

Monday, February 6, 2012


At my school all teachers follow a looping schedule. This allows kids to keep the same teacher for two years in a row. The looping is as follows: K-1, 2-3, 4-5. I am in the 5th grade year currently (which is always the more challenging of the two...but I'll save that for another time).

So why do we do this?  85% of out student population qualifies for free and reduced breakfast and lunch. Many of out families have struggles bigger than we can imagine. Looping, keeping the same teacher for two years, creates more stability for our families and allows us to really build a strong relationship with these students over two years. As an added bonus, we don't have to spend the second year getting to know 25 new kids. We can dive right in!