Saturday, April 16, 2016

Cartoneras -- Every Student an Author

This past week we celebrated every student as an author with our Cartonera Celebration.  It is one of my favorite weeks at school.

What is a cartonera?

It is, quite literally, a cardboard book.

To make their cartonera, each student went into their writing "treasure chest" (folder) and decided upon one of their favorite pieces of writing from this year.


We rewrote them on lined paper and illustrated them.

Our amazing art teacher worked with the students to create their covers.  Last year, we used actual cardboard.  This year, we used cardboard card stock because we were short on manpower to cut 800 pieces of cardboard. (Next year, our plan is to go back to cardboard, but to start cutting it much earlier in the year.)

We put the writing together with the covers, hole punched them, and tied them with yarn.


Each day, a different grade level had their books on display in the hallway during the PTO Book Fair and Special Person Lunch for families and the community to read.  


At the very back of each book was a "Raves from Readers" page.  Classes would visit the cartoneras each day, read them, and leave kind comments.





The students were all so proud of their cartonera books and were excited to read the raves that other students had left.  (One student came up and hugged me during recess to thank me for reading her cartonera and leaving a comment.)

As a school, I celebrate seeing us all unite to celebrate writing. We have been working hard to build our level of writing and celebrating is an important part of that. Sharing our writing with others gives us an authentic audience and builds a sense of pride in our writing. 

As a teacher, I celebrate being to read the work of students in other grade levels. It gave me a good feeling for what students were able to do at each grade level. 

For my students, it was good for them to read what other students wrote.  Many of them commented to me that they had learned something from another student's cartonera (many students' writing was non-fiction) or they saw how important good spelling (or neat handwriting) was in delivering your written message. Many students were impressed with the level of writing from students who were much younger than them. As they read, I would often hear giggles as they encountered something funny or see them recommend a just-read cartonera for another student to read.

Writing was alive and breathing at my school this week!

Celebrating every student as an author -- what could be better than that?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Are You Smart?

Last year, I dabbled with teaching my 4th graders about growth mindset.  We practiced adding the word "yet" to the end of most everything we said and by the end of the year, my students became quite good at it.  I've heard that some of them even carried this vocabulary on with them to 5th grade, which is awesome to hear.

This year, we are diving full force into growth mindset and it is very exciting!  As part of this, we are learning about the brain and how it works.  Learning about the brain and growth mindset must go hand in hand.  Students need to understand that the brain is constantly changing with each learning experience.  If they struggle with something, lots of practice can actually alter the structure of the brain until it is no longer a struggle.

Who would have thought that a bunch of 4th graders would be learning about things like neurons, synapses, malleability, and neuroplasticity -- and actually understand it well enough to be able to explain it to someone else!  I know that I wasn't learning about this when I was in 4th grade way-back-when....But I wish I would have.  It may have changed my life.

Last week, I gave my students a short survey to find out what they knew about the brain and learning, a sort of pre-assessment.  Their answers were astonishing and have given me much food for thought. There was one question that received the most answers and I wanted to share some responses with you:

Question:  Are you smart?
*   No, because my brain thinks slow.
*  No, because I am not good at math.
*  No, because every time I let info in, other info gets out.
*  I am smart only when it comes to reading.
*  Yes, I am smart and I believe others are too.  Everyone is smart at something!
*  Yes, I am smart and I am going to keep getting smarter and I am proud of that.

I hope you can see, as I quickly did, that there is plenty of room for growth mindset here.  These last two students demonstrated that they already have a growth mindset hard at work, and boy what a difference it makes!

Have you taught your students about growth mindset?  If so, I'd love to hear how it's going!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Links I Loved This Week {7-26-15}

Here are some of my favorite ideas, inspirations and thoughts from around the internet this week:

The always inspiring Ruth Ayres opens up her teaching treasure chest as she shares some amazing ideas to help support teachers of writing, as well as teachers who write.  I especially love the Lessons for Writers page!

Jon Gordon shares why we all need people in our life who help us stretch in this week's newsletter.
Who do you have in your life who can give you that extra push when you need it?

Loved Melanie's ideas for building my own Reader's Notebook to help me teach this skill to my students.

Mary from Teaching with a Mountain View has compiled a list of great back to school activities.  Who says going back to school can't be fun?

Kathleen Sokolowski shares a beautiful poem about how her career as a teacher chose her, not the other way around.  There are lots of us who can relate to her sentiments.

The Positive Writer shares the four people you must have in your writing life.  Honestly, I think this applies to life in general, not just our writing lives.


Thank you to Elisabeth Ellington at The Dirigible Plum for the inspiration of this weekly post!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Are AP Classes Worth It?


Both of my children are in high school and have taken or are currently taken Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

I used to not give AP classes much thought.  Now, they have become the bane of my existence.

Having watched my children go through several AP level classes and witnessed their struggles and celebrations, a few thoughts come to mind about AP classes:

1.  If students are being taught college level classes in high school, what skills are they missing out on from their high school level classes that they are not taking?  My own children have struggled with the writing portion of their AP classes.  They are expected to write at a higher level -- but no one has ever taught them how to do this.  These skills are taught in the high school level classes, which AP students miss.  How will this affect them when they get to college?  Are we creating a learning gap?

2.  Many teachers of AP classes expect the students to be able to perform at a college level -- but they are not college students.  Readiness is a huge factor.  We all know from our own students that some kids are just not "ready" for the material we present so it takes them longer until they understand.  This time can come at a high price.

3.  I wonder...when students get to college and pass out of entry level classes because of their AP scores, does this put them at a disadvantage in their higher level college courses?  For example, if a student passes out of Biology I and enters college at Biology II, do they struggle with Biology II at all?  If so, this could have a monetary consequence.

4.  Are AP courses the ultimate "teaching to the test?"  AP exams are given in the spring.  The entire year is spent preparing students for a passing score on the test.  After the exam is given, some teachers choose to essentially stop teaching for the year.  Movies are shown.  Games are played.  Parties are thrown.  Learning has stopped.

5.  Does AP credit actually help students graduate college earlier?

This past year, my son had an absolutely horrible experience in his AP Calculus class.  His teacher, who was in her final year before retirement, did very little teaching.  Students were left to pretty much learn Calculus on their own.  When my son was planning his schedule for next year, he wanted to take the next AP Calculus course.  However, with his teacher from this year retiring, the school found themselves without a teacher for that course.  Their solution -- hire back the retiring teacher to teach only that one AP Calculus course.

I expressed my frustrations and concerns to the school principal.  Why would the school hire back a teacher who was so terrible that she made the entire school year miserable for her students and their families?  The principal's response:  "Because she has demonstrated that she can get students to pass the AP exam at a level that puts us above the state's average."

Huh?

Am I totally missing the boat here?  Are you a high school AP teacher who could share some insight with me?  Is this problem just exclusive to my own children's high school?  As we look toward courses for next year, I am inclined to tell my kids to pass on the AP classes.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Do We See EVERY Student?

This morning I was reading through my email and came across a message from one of my favorite bloggers, Permile Ripp.

Pernille's blog posts are always thought provoking.  She often says exactly what I am thinking, but am unable to put into words.

Today's post is about those students in our class whom we don't necessarily "see."  You know the ones.  The students who are probably self-motivated, well-behaved, and/or high achieving.  They don't cause trouble, get their work done, and don't demand much of your time.  They raise their hands, participate often, and could possible teach themselves if you would let them.

So I started thinking...Who are these students in my class?  What are their stories? What do they need from me that they are not getting?  Do they know I care about them?

Pernille has challenged her readers to see EVERY student in our classroom this week.  I am taking that challenge because I need to, because my students need me to -- every one of them.

I don't ever want there to be a day when any of my students look back at their time with me and felt like they were invisible.

Because every student matters.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is AR Killing the Love of Reading?

Over the past year, I have really taken it upon myself to immerse myself in the world of children's literature.  I believe that in order to be the best reading teacher, I must know what's available and be able to make personal recommendations to my young readers.

I have come to this conclusion by learning from people like Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer), blogs like Nerdy Book Club, conferences like All Write, and through various chats on Twitter.

We all know that to become a good reader, children must read.  A lot.  Like, really, really a lot.  Look at the top readers in your classroom.  What do they do?  They read a lot.  Now look at your lowest readers.  What aren't they doing?  Reading.

Our goal as teachers should be to teach our students to become passionate about their reading lives, to be so excited about a book that they just can't help but talk about it in hopes of getting others to love it as much.  That's what I do as a reader.  As soon as I finish a book, I have the perfect student reader in mind for it.  The next day, I go into class, find that student, and say, "Have I got a book for you!"

In my school district, like many school districts, Accelerated Reader is a program we use to monitor students' reading.  In case you aren't familiar with AR, students read a book in their assigned level then take a quiz on the book to test their comprehension.  Each book is assigned a point level and when students finish a quiz, they earn points.  Their goal is to earn a certain number of points each quarter.

At first, I loved AR.  It was a way that I could do a quick check of my student's reading ability and the amount of reading they did.

However, now I feel this love affair is ending.

After taking on this mission to immerse myself in children's lit, I am beginning to see the shortcomings of programs like AR.

My students are looking at books for the point value they offer, not for the ideas and stories they contain inside.  Let me say that again -- students are equating books with points, not with the love of reading.

The quizzes that students take after finishing a book are very surface level.  After taking enough of these quizzes, my students have figured out what they need to remember about a book in order to pass the quiz.  There is no deeper level thinking required by the quiz.

Many of the newer titles that get released take awhile to make their way into the AR quiz system.  I have actually been told by students that they couldn't read a book I was recommending because there wasn't a quiz they could take at the end.

Really?

All of my thinking came to a blowing point this past week when one of my students revealed to me in a reading conference that he felt like he needed to abandon a book.  This is one of my students who has worked so hard to improve as a reader and has made amazing gains.

I asked him why he wanted to abandon his book.  Wasn't he enjoying it?

He said he loved the book, but he was worried that he wouldn't pass the AR quiz.  You see, the book was slightly above his level and he was concerned that he wouldn't remember the minute details that the quiz would surely ask.

I asked him if he would keep reading the book if I didn't require him to take the quiz.

"Really?" he asked.  "I can do that?"  His eyebrows shot up and a smile spread across his face.

Yes, you can.

I want my students to become lifelong readers.  Readers who are excited about reading.  Who take chances and try new things in their reading.  I make lots of books available in my classroom, and I want my students to feel like they can read any one of them just "because."

After all, how many of us book lovers take a quiz when we finish a book?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Growth Mindset: How the Packers' Loss Turned into Our Win

I sat and watched in disbelief as the game ended...

My beloved Green Bay Packers had just blown a 12 point lead to lose the final playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.  Whereas I had already started planning the green and gold appetizers I would serve at my Super Bowl party, I was now it total...utter...shock.

How did this happen?

According to NBC Sports, the statistics were definitely in the Packers' favor to win when they were ahead.  The Seahawks only stood a 1.8% chance of coming back from the 12 point deficit with 10 minutes left in the game to beat the Packers and earn their trip to the Super Bowl.

1.8%.

That's IT.

Returning to school the next day, my good friend Bridget and I were talking about the game and she asked, "How can we turn this loss into a learning moment for our students?"  Surely, our young southeastern Wisconsin students would be majorly bummed that the Packers blew it.

This got me thinking.

This past year, I have been learning a lot about growth mindset and implementing it in my classroom. I have written about how a growth mindset has helped us in math and how the word "YET" is now a part of our daily classroom vocabulary.  The Packers' loss -- or rather, the Seahawks victory -- was a perfect way to talk about growth mindset.

When my 4th graders arrived and we we had our "Thirty Second Share" about our weekends, I took the time to address the football game.

I asked my students how many of them thought the Packers were going to win.  Almost every hand went up.

Then I shared the statistic with them.  I explained (in very 4th grade words) what probability was and that some experts had predicted that the Seahawks only stood a l.8% chance of coming back and winning the game.  To make it even more concrete, I explained that that was like less than two pennies out of a dollar.

"Ohhhh...."

"But they did it," I said.  "The Seahawks worked hard and put forth a great effort and won the game.  They didn't care if they only stood a 1.8% chance of winning.  They just did what they had to do and the rest took care of itself."

Then I asked students to think about someone in the room who they felt was an awesome reader.  You know the ones -- they always have a book in their hands,  talk about books, seek out new books, actually read during silent reading time. How do we think they became that way?

It wasn't by sitting back and doing nothing.

Sure, maybe they were born with some talent, but if they didn't nurture it with effort, nothing would come of it. What about someone in our classroom who is good at math?  Did math just come easy to them?  Nope, they put in a lot of hard work and effort to get to where they are today.

I then asked my students to think of something in school that is giving them some trouble and to consider the amount of effort they were making in that area.  Were they able to see that maybe, just maybe, they were having trouble because they weren't putting in their best effort? That a little extra effort could be the difference between success and staying the same? Between being that awesome reader and one who just gets by? Between understanding fractions and failing at them?

So the word "EFFORT" has now joined the word "YET" as a regular part of our classroom vocabulary.  It's right there, on the front board, as a constant reminder of what's important to help us learn.