Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Peek at My Week {2-23-14}

Wahooo!  This is the last week of February!  Even thought it's the shortest month of the year, it always seems to drag on and on.  Anybody with me??

Thank you for stopping by for another Peek at My Week, my weekly linky party where we all share our plans for the upcoming week.  Here's what I've got going on...
Reading:  Last week, I had planned on moving on to point of view.  However, after thinking about it more, I thought my kiddos needed more practice with text structure.  I used this awesome resource from Teaching with a Mountain View.  The passages were engaging and offered just the review I was hoping for!
After a quick assessment on Monday, I think we will be ready to move on to point of view.

A.R.:  Do you use Accelerated Reader at your school?  We do, and I absolutely love it.  This Friday is A.R.'s "Read the Most From Coast to Coast" Challenge. 
A.R. is challenging students to take 5 million quizzes on Friday.  At our school, we are challenging students to read 5 million words on Friday.  Last year, we read about 4.6 million, so I think we can do it!  To sweeten things up a bit, our 4th grade and has challenged our 5th grade to see who can read the most on Friday.  The grade that doesn't win will clean the desk of the grade that reads the most. (Yikes, I have seen those desks and it is not pretty!)  Go 4th grade!!!
Words to live by by Shirley McBride

To get the kids revved up for a day of reading (yes, all we will be doing on Friday is reading, reading, reading...the kids are so excited!!), my teammates and I will be preparing breakfast for the entire 4th grade -- scrambled eggs, sausage, bagels & fruit.  (Hopefully their bellies won't be so full that they fall asleep reading...)

Thank for stopping by!  I wish you a great last week of February...Bring on March!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Word Splash -- Get That Writing Rolling!

I don't know about you, but when I my students begin a new writing project, they want to completely skip the planning stage and go right to drafting.  They write for a few minutes, then stall...thinking they have nothing more to say.

Earlier this year, I thought of a great way to prevent this stalling and to get students to produce a focused burst of ideas for their writing.  I call it the Word Splash.

The way it works is students take a page in their notebook (or other paper) and write their topic in the middle of the page.  (It helps to circle it to help it stand out.)  I then set a timer for 3 minutes.  During that time, students write ANYTHING that comes to their mind, even if it has nothing to do with their topic.  (Why?  Because that nonsense is getting in the way of their deeper thoughts coming out.  Once they get it on paper, they can move on with their thinking.)

The only rule is that they have to keep writing for the entire 3 minutes.  They write words or phrases that pop into their head and "splash" them around their page.

Next, comes the fun part...

I set the timer for another three minutes.  During this time, students walk around the room, read each other's topics (circled in the center of their page) and try to add more ideas to each other's Word Splashes.

When we are done, students go back to their own Word Splash, cross out any words that are nonsense or off-topic (those words that were getting stuck in their minds and preventing the good stuff from coming out) and begin to organize the words into categories to develop into a draft.

The result is usually plenty of ideas to get and keep students writing!  They can go back to their Word Splash as a planning tool throughout the drafting process.

What other ideas do you have to get your students to plan out their writing?  I'd love it if you would share some thoughts!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Peek at My Week {2-16-14}

Here we are at the gateway to another week.  I know last week was a rough week for many of you -- the weather was crazy, wasn't it?  Hopefully life will be calmer for us all this week.  Thanks for stopping by to take a Peek at My Week.  I hope you will link up to share your week as well!
Well, it's not just the weather that has made this a crazy year.  My schedule at school keeps changing.  I think I'm on my 8th version of the original.  Classes get moved around, interventions change and priorities get reassigned.  It's a good thing I'm flexible!  :)

Starting Monday, I will begin a new intervention group using the Comprehension Toolkit program.  Are you familiar with this program?  It helps students really understand informational text.  A few weeks ago, I shared our goal of moving "gray area" kids up.  This intervention will hopefully do just that.  
In my guided reading groups this week, we will be working on point of view.  I love teaching this topic because I get to use some really fun mentor texts!

Many of these are from my favorite genre -- fractured fairy tales.  Can't wait!

We were supposed to have a day off of school this upcoming Friday, but due to the two polar vortexes that blanked the country, we now have school.  :((  Oh well, spring break is only something like six weeks away.  I wonder if there will still be snow....

So what do you have going on this week?  I'd love it if you would link up and share your plans.

Have a great week!  Stay warm!!

Why Should You Write With Your Students?

Hello, friends!  Thank you for stopping by today.

I'd like to share something I tried this week that was a super huge motivator for my student writers -- writing WITH them.  I'm also linking up with the super amazing Joanne from Head Over Heels for Teaching.  (Joanne and I bonded immediately over our shared love of the exclamation point!)
I have been doing Writing Circles with my two writing classes for the past four weeks.  What are Writing Cirlces?  Here's a quick tutorial or you can click on my Writing Circles link to the right:
  • Put students into groups of about four writers.
  • Each group chooses a topic to write about.  (This week's topics ranged from "dogs" to "the future" to "memories.")
  • Each student writes a draft on their group's topic.  The genre they write in is the choice of each individual writer.  Drafting takes about two days.
  • Groups come back together to share their drafts and to receive feedback from their group members.
  • Groups choose a new topic and the process repeats.
  • After about four to six drafts, students each choose one of their drafts to revise and publish.

This week, I decided to join one of the Writing Circles in each of my 4th grade writing classes.  (My two group's topics are "the future" and "end of the world."  They could be seen as similar topics that only require one piece of writing from me, but I am writing a separate draft for each topic.)

As my student writers worked on their drafts, I wrote along with them.  They got to see me go through the same processes and struggles that they go through.  It gave value to what they are doing because they knew that if I was doing the writing as well, it was something to be taken seriously.
"The desire to write grows with writing." - Erasmus

Then on the second day of drafting, I asked my students if I could have their help.  I was having difficulty with developing the problem for my "end of the world" piece.  I read the piece out loud to the class and asked students to volunteer ideas on what I could do next.  Their ideas were AMAZING and gave me some inspiration for what I want to include in the rest of my story.  My students?  They felt their opinions and ideas were valued because they were helping the teacher.  They felt a part of a real writing community.

Since I've been writing with my students, the quality and amount of writing has definitely increased in my classroom.  It was so quiet one day, we could actually hear the heat come on in the room!  The students are looking forward to Monday where they can share their drafts with their groups and hear the rest of my story.  I'm looking forward to it too because I also feel like we have become a writing community in our tiny classroom.

How about you?  Do you write with your students?  How does your class build it's writing community?

I'm going to check out more motivating ideas at Joanne's blog.  Hope to see you there and also back here tomorrow for my weekly A Peek at My Week linky party.  :)

Have a great day!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tried it Tuesday -- Dry Erase Dots

How often does this happen to you...

You gather your students at the table for small group work.  You are in the middle of a great discussion and it comes time for the students to answer independently on their whiteboards.  So the entire table gets up, searches for their whiteboard, searches for a marker, searches for an eraser, come back to the table....only to have their great thinking escape in all of the searching they just did.

It happened to me all the time.....Until I found these babies!
They are called Wall Pops and I think they are pretty cool!  (And no, I am not receiving any compensation for saying this.  I know how much easier they have made my life and know they can help you too!  :)
The are peel and stick right to my guided reading table, are repositionable, and dry erase easily.  The kids LOVE using them.  I love the pop of color they give to my drab table and how much TIME we save because our dry erase board is right in front of us all the time.

I bought mine through Amazon, but I have heard they are also available at Michaels.  I get lots of compliments on them when someone visits my room.

So since I love this "Tried It,"  I'm linking up with Holly from Fourth Grade Flipper for Tried It Tuesday.  Now I'm off to find other goodies to help make my life easier!  :)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Peek at My Week {2-09-14}

It's Sunday, and that means it is time for another edition of A Peek at my Week!

What have you got going on this week?
This week, we will begin another round of parent-teacher conferences.  However, in our 4th grade, these are student led conferences.  This is a great time for parents, students and me to sit around a table and hear directly from the student how their year is going, what their goals are for the remainder of the year, and what kinds of help they still need.  We also take time to celebrate the student's accomplishments too -- very important!  Have you ever tried student led conferences?  I would highly recommend them.

As a side note, I saw this on Pinterest and thought it was so funny.  Do you have any students like this???

Also this week, my 4th grade writers will be revising one of their drafts from their Writing Circles experience to be published.  This was a great experience for all of us and I can see how some of my more reluctant writers have grown through Writing Circles.  (You can read my original post here.)  They have asked for another round with a different response groups so we will begin those on Wednesday.
One of the things that I like the best about Writing Circles is how many of my students are taking the feedback they receive from a draft and are applying it to their next project.  They are trying new things and growing, growing, growing!

This week we are also going to do a little work with fluency.  I had each student pick out a poem they would like to practice.  On Friday, I hope to have a Poetry Cafe, where everyone reads their poem to the class.  Next week, I'm going to be smarter about this.  Instead of ME copying poems out of a book, I'm going to have my students go on Giggle Poetry and print their own.  Have you seen this site?  It is AMAZING!

Have a great week!

Spark Student Motivation -- Meet the Pen Pals!

Greetings from a snowy Saturday in Wisconsin!  (I know you haven't heard that in awhile....)  Every day, we creep closer and closer to spring, or at least that's what the calendar is telling me.

Today, I am linking up with Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching for some motivation.  Who couldn't use a little motivation on this second Saturday in February???
This past Wednesday was Digital Learning Day here in the US.  Our tech director encouraged us to find a way to incorporate technology into our learning for this day.  (I are thinking, "Really, just one day??")
Digital Learning Day

I thought it would be a great day to meet up with our Canadian pen pals from Mrs. Barton's class via Skype.  (You know her as Lisa from Grade 4 Buzz.)
Grade 4 Buzz
Our two fourth grade classes have been exchanging pen pal letters since the beginning of the year.  It was incredible that we not only had the same number of students in our classes -- but the same number of boys and girls as each other!  This made matching up kids easy.

We logged in and Skyped for about 30 minutes.  Each student had a chance to "meet" their pen pal then we asked questions of each other.  My students were so excited -- it was the highlight of their day!  Now, when they write to each other, they will have a face to put with a name.  How exciting!
(OK, dumb question....Does anybody know if I can just plug my webcam into my SMART board so my kiddos don't have to look in two different places?  The webcam was on my desk with my laptop, but it was easier to see on the SMART board which was across the room.  Any tips are appreciated!  :)

What ways do you use Skype in your classroom?

I hope to see you at Head Over Heels for Teaching for some more motivation!  I'll see you back here tomorrow for my weekly linky party, A Peek at My Week.  Hope you will link up!  ;))

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Assessing Writing -- Figuring it Out (Finally)

"Teach the writer, not the writing."
Lucy Caulkins

In my writing classroom, assessing writing is one of the "teacher duties" that absolutely makes me cringe.  How could I put a letter grade on someone's creative work?  Who am I to judge if someone's writing is good or not?  How can writing be assessed without crushing the spirit of my young writers?

Today, I had the pleasure of seeing Carl Anderson at the Wisconsin State Reading Association's Annual Conference in Milwaukee.  All I can say is WOW!!!  
Carl presented two sessions -- Assessing Writers and Conferring with Writers.  I left the sessions both enlightened and inspired.  I now feel that I have a way to assess the writing progress of my student writers and have a better understanding of how to help each of my writers move forward.

Want to get in on this good news?  Here are the highlights:

Experienced writers:
  • Use their writing to communicate meaning
  • Structure their writing
  • Write with detail
  • Give their writing voice (my favorite part!)
  • Use conventions

Communicating meaning:  The purpose of writing is to make meaning.  Writing has to have a point; if not, it is just a list of details.  Surely, you've seen your students demonstrate 'list writing' for you -- it goes on and on and has no purpose.  Don't be afraid to ask your student writers, "What are you trying to say here?"  If they can't tell you, they need to focus their topic.  If they can tell you, and there are details in the writing that do not support this purpose, those details need to go.   Carl said, "Just because you write a lot does not mean you are a good writer."  I loved this line -- it is so true!

Structure:  Some parts of writing are more important than others and should be given more space in your writing.  Carl suggest figuring out what the most important parts of the writing will be BEFORE beginning to write.  

Details:  How many times have I said to a student, "Your writing needs more detail" and they just stare back at me?  Details are the specifics of writing.  We need to teach our students what kind of details they can add.  (I had no idea there were different kinds of details!)  Narrative writing has character thoughts, character actions, setting details, dialogue, and character description.  Informational writing has action details, descriptive details, and definition details.  It can also have personal reflections on those facts and details.  Good writing includes a mix of different types of details.  Analyze student writing to see what details they already include naturally, and teach them the others.

Voice:  My favorite part of writing!  Does your student's writing sound like them?  Do they share anecdotes?  Use quirky language and/or purposeful punctuation?

Conventions:  Yes, spelling matters.  Punctuation matters.  Capital letters matter (especially when writing the pronoun "I".)  However, this should be one of the final things we comment on in a child's writing.  Instead, teach students to read their writing with an editor's eye.  Yes, this means we have to put down our red pens for the common good.

Conferencing is the best way to get to know student writers.  It is where you ask, "How's it going?" and you and the student engage in a conversation about writing.  Make sure this conversation is not one sided (the teacher doing all the talking).  Teach students how to share their strengths and the areas they are struggling.  Talk about things.  The point of a conference is not to FIX a child's writing or to CORRECT errors.  It is to help students become better writers.  Conferencing is active assessment.

So there you have the highlights.  I would love to hear your views on assessing writing and conferring with your writers.  What struggles have you had with assessing writing?  Do you have any strategies for conferring that have worked well for you?  Share your thoughts below!

Tomorrow I am going to see Aimee Buckner and Lester Laminack.  More tips to come!  :)

Before you leave, why not hop over to Chalk & Apples to congratulate Kristin on having 100 Bloglovin followers?  She's having a great Rafflecopter giveaway to which I have donated my Number of the Day Task Cards.  Congrats, Kristin!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Collaboration & Gray Area Kids

We had our data retreat today.  About two or three times a year, we gather together as a grade level team, along with our principal, the reading and math specialists, our ELL teacher, and the school psychologist to look over the interventions we are offering to students and to discuss how everything is going.

These are long meetings -- about 75 minutes per grade level -- however, the time is well spent when the focus is on student achievement.  I love that so many people are invested in the success of our students and are committed to this collaboration.
LEARNERS by Krissy.Venosdale, via Flickr
This time around, we were also encouraged to think about those students who are in that 'gray area.'  These are the students that are proficient enough in class that they are getting by -- not your high fliers or your red-flagged kids. We all have them in our classes. They don't usually get consistently high grades, may be appear to be unmotivated, sometimes can be behavior challenges, and usually will not ask for help when they need it.

In the younger grades, they were probably your higher students.  The students who "got it" quickly, allowing you time to work with those that didn't.  However, as they moved up in the grade levels and the material got harder and harder and the work became more about reading to learn and not learning to read, the gaps in their learning start to surface and they begin to slip. This usually happens around 4th grade.

So today we took a hard look at those students as well as our red-flagged kiddos.  What can we do to help fill in those holes that they have in their learning to help push them higher?  If we don't catch them now, they may slide with every passing year.

We scheduled some classroom interventions that may give them the push they need.  But I am still unsettled a bit...

We want to think outside the box, come up with something that will reach these kids.  Will it be an intervention?  Maybe.  A different instructional approach?  Possibly.  More one-on-one conferencing?  Perhaps.

We are lucky that we have the power of a team behind us in all of us that gathered today to have this important discussion.  If we keep at it, I'm sure we will find the key.

How about you?  How do you reach your gray area kids?  How has collaboration helped you?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Peek at My Week {2-2-14}

Happy Groundhog Day!  I hope that furry little fella brings us a quick spring.  After the last week we had (two school snow days for the Polar Vortex Part II and more snow, snow, snow to shovel, shovel, shovel), I have quite had it with Old Man Winter. Anybody with me???

I was just looking over the very sad list of my recent blog posts.  It seems like all I can do these days is manage to post for this weekly linky party.  (Good thing I started it then, right?)  I am right in the middle of an online course I'm taking to get my Reading Teacher license and it is so much work!  At the end of the day, all I can do is fall asleep (usually reading something for class).

So, what else is up this week?
I will have another three day work week this week, but this time it won't be for bad weather (hopefully!).  I am very excited to attend the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA) conference in Milwaukee this Thursday and Friday.  I love this conference, and am hoping to run into some of my friends from the Writing Project from this past summer.

At the WSRA, I will be attending some professional development sessions with these fabulous people:

Carl Anderson:  I will see two of Carl's presentations -- Assessing Student Writers and Conferring with Student Writers.


Aimee Buckner:  Take Note!  Strategies for Helping Students Recompose What they Read to Their Own Words
Lester Laminak:  When Writers Read
I'm sure that after these two days packed full of professional development, I will have lots to share with you here.  Be sure to check back!

Also this week, we will continue to explore Text Structure.  I plan on using select Wonders from the Wonderopolis website to demonstrate the different text structures.  
Have you ever used Wonderopolis in your classroom?  My students love it! (And it's FREE!

I have read through the titles of the Wonders and have chosen two for each of the five text structures I will teach.  Each day, we will read through one of them, identify the text structure, and give evidence for our thinking.  
What I also love is that students will learn something along the way to add to their background knowledge.  Like this Wonder we read about Earworms.  You can read about it here.  (You know that you want to know what an earworm is!'s not gross and you can impress your students with your new knowledge.)

So that's it for me this week!  How about you?  Grab my button and link up to your post.

Wishing you a fantastic week!  (Think spring!!)