Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'll Be Doing a Little Writing

I am soooo excited!  I found out last week that I have been accepted to participate in the UW-Milwaukee Invitational Summer Writing Institute this July. This program, which is an affiliate of the National Writing Project, is a three week intensive study of the teaching of writing with the goal of helping students become better writers and teachers become better teachers of writing.

One of my frustrations in my teaching career has been how very little preparation there is available to help teachers become better writing teachers.  When I went to school to get my teaching license, I took classes in how to teach reading, math, science, social studies and art...but NO class on how to teach writing.  My experience has shown me that I am not the only teacher who struggles with effective ways to deliver writing instruction.   I even know of teachers who are hesitant to teach writing because they don't know how or don't feel like they are good enough writers themselves....Yikes!  This is very scary stuff! 

I am the kind of teacher who is pretty self-driven in the professional development area.  A few years ago, I began to research better ways to teach writing and came across the writing workshop format.  Thankfully, due to fabulous writing experts like Ralph Fletcher and Regie Routman, I have figured out something that works for me and helps my students grow as writers.  If you would like to learn more about writing workshop, here are two books that I found EXTREMELY helpful:


So....This summer I will be learning more about effective writing instruction and will become a teacher consultant for the National Writing Project.  This means I will be able to help other teachers improve their writing instruction and have the confidence to teach writing every day.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) place a renewed emphasis on developing strong writing and communication skills in our youth.  The CCSS encourage writing in all subject areas, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a teacher of writing.  They recognize that reading and writing go hand in hand to deliver balanced literacy instruction.  This means we will need to provide more professional development and support for teachers in regards to writing instruction as we continue this journey, so that all teachers feel confident in their writing instruction and our students reap the rewards. 

How prepared do you feel? 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It's a Very Buggy World

There is nothing my 4th graders love more than getting up close with science!  They were overjoyed when I told them that we would be studying the life cycle of a mealworm in our Life Cycle unit.  (Me...not so much!)

After obtaining my science specimens from the local Petsmart store, the kids made sure they became a part of our classroom -- our class pets, if you will.  We set up a cage for them, complete with oatmeal and Cheerios, and watched them feed on carrots and lettuce leaves.  (Some of the bugs were even so talented that they used the Cheerios as a sort-of hula hoop -- very entertaining!)  I had the students write about the worms in their "Diary of an Earthworm" journals.  (I try to incorporate as much writing in my core areas as possible.)

Now anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of anything that slithers, crawls, or otherwise acts even remotely like a worm or snake.  Imagine how excited I was (not!) when our little earthworms decided to demonstrate the pupa stage of the mealworm life cycle and turn into little white puffs of blobbiness.

I was even able to get a close up of one of them...
Isn't she a beauty???
Any day now the pupas will be changing into the next phase of their life cycle -- beetles.  At that point, we are going to have to set our class pets free....

Math Workshop -- The Answer to My Math Prayers

Have you tried math workshop or guided math yet?  I'll have to admit, they have been on my very long "to do" list this year.  I have heard so many fabulous things about it from other bloggers, yet I felt I was not quite ready to try it.  That all changed when I read Guided Math by Laney Sammons last month.

Oh. my. gosh!  Did my life as a teacher of math change.  If you haven't read this book, you must put it on your reading list for spring break.  (Does anyone else read professional development books on school vacations besides me???) 

For those of you already doing guided reading, this will be right up your alley!  Laney breaks down the how and the what of guided math and makes it super easy for you to begin working with small groups during math class.  It fits so perfectly into a math workshop that I am kicking myself for not trying this sooner!

My fourth graders just finished up a unit on decimals using the guided math/math workshop approach and I am so amazed with how well my kiddos did on the end of unit assessment!

I have rearranged my schedule to provide for about 90 minutes of math time.  (This was not easy, but it was important to me so I made it work.)  Students would rotate around four stations (Teacher Time, Independent Work, Math Facts and Math Fun) for about 20 minutes each.  During Teacher Time, I was able to work with my students in a small group setting to give semi-individualized instruction. 

For decimals, I used the math manipulatives (flat = one whole, sticks = 0.10 and blocks = 0.01) to have students model solutions to problems.  It was absolutely amazing!   It was so easy to see when my students "got it" and when they were just pretending.  As a teacher, there is nothing better than when I hear a student say, " I get it!" as they are working through math concepts.  And I know that my students LOVED it because they begged me not to go back to the "old way" when we finished our decimals unit.  (Yes, that "old way" is the way I was taught back in the day -- "Sage on the Stage," teacher-centered, student-unengaged instruction.)

There are lots of great math workshop sources out there on the web...I will blog more about them later!

Leave a comment and let me know what you think of math workshop or Guided Math.  If you have any web resources to share, let me know.   I'd love to hear from you!