Saturday, November 29, 2014

Good writing follows good reading?

Did you have a good Thanksgiving?  Are you still enjoying the bliss of a much-needed longer break this Fall?  I know I am!  

I've been using the CAFE model in my classroom for almost a year now, and while I really like it in theory, it's proven harder this school year, since we're using a new Reading anthology.  Which one?  Are any of you using Wonders, by McGraw-Hill?  Wow, oh wow!

I really believe that if my students can master this, any Common Core testing will seem like a piece of cake.  But there is a learning curve to this.  By the end of the year, they should be pretty good.  Right now?  Well, they're getting better.

We've had quite a few conversations about stretching our brains and making them work harder, just like exercising any other muscle.  Bless their hearts, they are hanging in there with this.  But let me say, it is NOT easy.

Is anyone else out their using this series?  How do you teach your students to analyze the way they're expected to?

Because this series is so intense, I allow students more time for creative writing during CAFE's Write To Self, something they seem to really appreciate.  I just had a half-dozen students enter the 'Wild Jungle Writing contest" through Amazing Kids magazine.  Sorry, the deadline for that one is right now :( .  I wasn't so quick about getting that information out.

But there's a pretty cool one being sponsored through Scholastic that's worth taking a look at!  I have quite a few students girls working on poetry and essays for this one.
 And finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the TpT sale that starts in two days.  Here's the link to my store if you want to take a look.

Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving break!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's November. Time for Currently

I happened up Kim's post at Finding Joy in Sixth Grade which makes me want to say, "Yeah.  What she said."

As little as I've been blogging lately, there's something about Farley's Currently that warms my heart and makes me feel welcomed back into this wonderful blogging community.  Lots has happened to take me away from blogging - three deaths in my family (I know, right?  Can we stop this trend already?), lots of new stuff at school, some fun weekends away from home.

But Farley comes through consistently month after month, and I return, just to share in the love!  So here goes....
Glenn's down in the basement working on some long overdo projects and I'm up here working on the computer.  No idea who's playing but it's a quiet background sound that tells me he's happy and busy!

We've had a lot of stuff the last month or so, and most of it's been good.  But after being away from home for a couple of weekends, I was SOOOO ready to come home and just putter around here.  Other than a fun get-together on Friday evening (with flashlights and glow sticks!) and church this morning, the pace for the rest of the weekend was ours.  YAY! 

I had to spend a couple of hours yesterday tracking all of my students' data.  There's good stuff there, don't get me wrong.  But I'd rather be planning what I'm going to teach, or coming up with an engaging lesson.  Just sayin'.....

After my older brother and sister passed away this year, I decided to take a close look at how I was eating and what that might be doing to my health.I met with a health coach over the summer and pretty much have said goodbye to refined sugar (actually not as hard as I thought) and wheat (a little more challenging, but there are lots of creative solutions out there).  It made a big difference in how I felt and when I got my blood test results last week, all my numbers had moved significantly!  Yay for healthy eating!

Have to admit I've been following more blogs about that than about teaching lately, but now that I've found a rhythm with that, I should be back to blogging again.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Calling all Christian and private school teachers!

Sometime this summer, an editor approached me about reading some books by Clark Burbidge.  The books sounded interesting, and made me wonder about ways to incorporate them as read-alouds with our school-wide system, which is based on The 7 Habits by Stephen and Sean Covey.

This is the story of a land where giants once roamed, taking care of the people who lived there.  One day they leave, surprising the villagers, and it is up to a young man, Thomas, to leave his wife and daughter behind in his search to find them and bring them back. On his quest, Thomas encounters wolves, a wise old man, and giants named Horsetender, Mountainbiter, Forestmaster, Threadweaver, Worldmaker, and Sonspeaker. 

The book reads like a fable in some ways, and it is filled with Thomas' thoughts about God, his prayers, and some important life lessons he learns about stepping in with courage to help others.  It is a little one-dimensional for me, with Thomas and everyone he meets being pretty wonderful and helpful.  But I think that's overridden by the message of becoming a "giant" in the world you live in.  For that reason, I think it would do well as a read-aloud because the messages are good and should be reinforced with kids!

I am a public school teacher, and so this is a book I can't read to my students.  However I have the first and second book, and if you teach in a school that would allow this, I'd be delighted to send you the books.

Leave me a message with your email address and I'll be in touch about how to get the books to you.

Have a great Friday!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hoo boy! It's been a while! Linking up with Monday Made It

How is it possible that this is the 9th Monday Made It of the summer?  Why is this the first time I'm linking up?  And why haven't I felt like working on school stuff at all?  Yup, yup, yup.  This has been a much needed rest time for me.  But I did make one thing today!
This idea has been germinating in my head ever since someone posted some bulletin board ideas on facebook a while back.  I took one idea and changed it up to better fit what I wanted for my sixth graders, so here it is.

Each page has the picture of the cover of the book, the first paragraph or two to "grab" the reader and a QR code.  The codes have a brief summary of the book.

I picked an assortment of about ten books, some of them new books I read over the summer (Oh, so THAT's what I did!) and some of them good books that just need to be read (like Out of My Mind and Wonder.)

Why only ten?  Because I want students to make the rest as they start reading their way through my books.

My challenge last year was to read 25 books.  The average was 32!  Well, 32.5 to be exact.:)

Should I push for 40 this year?  What do you think?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Summer Reading - a little late

My students asked me to create a fun reading activity at the end of the year.  I thought I could get it finished in time, but alas, the school year ended and it was only half finished!  Now it's finished, and if you think your own children would enjoy it, or if you are still in a classroom, stop by my TpT store and take a look!  The cool thing is it can work for any age.

There are 40 different things that students can do to read.  You decide how long they read to earn a beach ball based on what's age appropriate, and when they finish reading according to the direction on the ball, have them cut it out and glue it onto the beach towel.  When they've collected whatever number you've set for them, treat them for reading over the summer.  I'm thinking a favorite ice cream cone or sundae sounds perfect!

Keep them from that reading slump over the summer.  Heck, I might even do this myself if there's ice cream on the other side!  :)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Dedicate Time to Read

A bunch of amazing bloggers and thoughtful teachers are linking up to study this book this summer, and I've decided to get on the bandwagon.  I'm so excited that Catherine at The Brown Bag Teacher decided to launch this!  Donalyn Miller is my hero, and it's because of The Book Whisperer that I set reading and genre goals with my students this past year.  And boy oh boy, did they knock my socks off!  At the end of the year, kids had read an average of 32.5 books!  My goal for them was 25.

Now, to be fair, some of the credit needs to go to the new Literacy person in our district.  She was insistent that kids read for half an hour a day in our sixth grade classrooms.  That took some shifting around.  We switched to the CAFE and a modified Daily 5 (more like Daily3) model mid-year, which was more stressful for teachers than kids.  The kids LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the freedom to choose when they worked on things.
And I loved watching a kid stand in front of my bookcases looking for a book.  Often, another kid would walk up and say something like, "Do you need help finding a good book?"  And then they'd go off talking about what they'd read and what they thought was good.  It was such good stuff!

In her intro, Donalyn (do you like how I call her by her first name like she's my new best friend?!) worries that having kids fall in love with reading in her class didn't necessarily turn them into lifelong readers.  Especially if they read less in middle school.  Maybe I'm an eternal optimist.  I think the happy memories they had of reading in her room (and yours and mine) will come back to them at some point, and they'll turn back to books again.

Now, here's the rub.  In order to get kids to fall in love with books, they really, really need to read every day.  For a while.  And I know that's really hard in some classrooms, and even harder to convince some administrators.  But how do you make a kid want to take his/her book home?  By getting them so immersed in what they're reading that they don't want to put it down!

Charts don't do it.  Reading logs don't do it.  Pure and simple:  reading a good book makes you want to read more!  One thing I need to do better is encourage kids to take books with them when they're waiting for something, waiting in line, waiting for a speaker at an assembly, whatever.  And that why I'm going to post this quote by Sherri Chasin Calvo somewhere in my room!

                      If you have never said, "Excuse me" to a parking meter or
              bashed your shins on a fireplug, you are probably wasting
              too much valuable reading time.

Keep reading!  And link up to this wonderful book study!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Some good reads

I've been switching back and forth this summer (all eight days of it so far!) between "adult" books and my stack of middle school books.  Here's what I've read so far. 

On the "adult" side:
This book was recommended by my 24-year old daughter, and I have to admit, it was a fun read on a lot of levels.  The story is told from many different voices, and in different ways - emails, FBI documents, hospital bills, and conversations, past and present.  It has a couple of interesting threads in it that I liked, and one that I wasn't as crazy about, but all in all, it was a creative, fun read.

Then, I read this one.  This is the story of a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers.  The story is told entirely from her point of view as she grapples with what's happening to her.  How she denies, then accepts her diagnosis, how it impacts her family, her work, her friends....this is one heartbreaking, tender story written with an insight that is profound. 

Another excellent read, very different from the first one!

And then, in between these, I've been reading books to stay ahead of my sixth graders for next year. 

So far, I've finished this book which was recommended by another teacher, who'd heard good things about it.  It was a great read and I found it hard to put down.  Until I got to the end.  And then I was totally confused.  And then angry.  But it did suck me in!  Still, it's definitely NOT for sixth graders.  So that one's not going on my shelves.  Unless someone out there talks me into it!

This was a beautiful story of a young girl making peace with who she is, how she feels about her best friend,  why she doesn't care about school work anymore, and what to do with a girl who bullies her from the first day of school.  But more importantly, it's about uncovering some parts of her past which help her understand who she is.  A very nice book!

I read this one in an afternoon.  Although spooky books aren't really my thing, I've found each year, that I have a group of readers who get excited by spooky, ghost-filled books.  So this year, I expanded my mystery section and created a "Spooky" section.  This books fits on that shelf.  It feels like an easy read for many sixth graders, and it has just the right amount of suspense around a cemetery that I think kids will enjoy it.

And now I've started this one, which is just filled with good humor and makes me chuckle a couple of times a page.  Recommended by a student, it's the first in a trilogy about all of the princes who have been lumped together under one name Prince "Charming."  But none of them are actually named that - they're Frederic, Liam, Duncan, and Gustav.  And they rescued Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White.  Looks like a fun read!

How about you?  What are you reading this summer?  What recommendations do you want to pass along?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sometimes it's the little things

I think it's only hit me this week, really, that tomorrow is the last day of school.  I have so enjoyed my students this year, and I've wanted to use every precious minute to explore reading with them.  I just wasn't ready to acknowledge that our time together was almost over.

I've had so much fun watching them grow in their love of books and my hope was for them to realize that the love of books they'd nurtured this year didn't have to stop on June 10th, when school ended.    We tallied up the number of books all 75 students had read last Thursday. 

DRUMROLL PLEASE.....2,435 books!

That's 32 and a half books per kid!

Rest assured, there were some kids who only read 10 or 12, but that was countered by a half dozen who read between 50 and 70, one who read 93 (her goal was to get to 100!) and one who read 124.  But I was blown away by the number of kids who challenged themselves to reach that goal of 25.

Here are some comments a couple of students wrote to me last week.

This student wrote: "At the beginning of the year I thought I could only read 7 books (at the beginning of the year.)  Now there's 4.5 days left and I read 30 books...I also liked how you set a goal for me to read to before you met with me again." 

And this one wrote:  "Over the past summers I haven't read a book, but I think this year when I walk out of these doors on the 10th, I think I will read one or more books.  You really got me interested in reading."

Sometimes it's the little things like this that make me happy I chose to become a teacher.

For those of you who are still teaching, enjoy your last few days or weeks!  And for those of you already enjoying some rest away from the classroom, I can't wait to join you!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Bully Book

I ordered a large quantity of books from Scholastic about two weeks ago, and they sent me several free books in return.  I started to read this one at the beginning of the weekend, and put it down because it felt really harsh. 

And then I picked it up this afternoon and finished it.  Wow!  Have any of you read it?   I'd be curious to see what you think.  It's too late in the year to do it as a read aloud, and I honestly don't know if it would work well that way, since the story is told from two different points of view: the person who initially created the book, explaining how to be a bully without being too obvious, and the kid who's being picked on this year.

I may ask some kids to review it for me.  It's very thought-provoking, and you hurt for the kid whose life has been turned upside down.

Scholastic also sent this book, which looks equally thought-provoking.  This one is about a special-needs kid who's about to be pranked by his classmates.  Except that one of them, who's gotten to know him better because she was assigned to work with him on a project, is now having second thoughts.

Anyone read this one?  I'm curious what upper elementary/middle school teachers think about these books!

I'm hearing rumors that this is the last full week for some of you?  Really now? 
It's okay, I'm over it.

Have a good week!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Positive thoughts and gratitude

Where, oh where have I been?  It's a long story, but I'm hoping life settles down and I get to spend more time blogging.  It's a great way for me to reflect on what I do.

Linking up with my bloggy buddy Jennifer, who's always full of good ideas, like this one for positive thinking.  I don't know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with  the craziness at the end of the year. I do know this - it's exhausting! 

So it's good to be reminded to stay positive, and to keep breathing!   One step at a time; one day at a time!

Here's one of my favorite quotes, and it's one that rings true as a reminder for myself:
You know how there are these people in the world, and when you speak to them, you feel like you're the most important person to them at that moment?   I love thinking that I might actually get there some day!

And the gratitude?  My principal told us about a month ago that he had some extra money for us to buy books for our classroom libraries.  Now, for me, that's about as close to Christmas as you can get!
Here's what arrived in my classroom on Tuesday, to be shared by the four 6th grade Reading teachers.  So grateful for a district that believes kids should be reading high interest, good fit books and provides money so they can do that!

Have a wonderful Friday, everyone!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Try it Again and a giveaway

Have you ever tried something you created with one group of students and it worked well?  And then the next year, you tried it again, and you thought, "Huh...why did I do that?"  Well, that's what happened to me this year with my Cause and Effect Scavenger Hunt.

The scavenger hunt part was fine.  I sent students out with a partner in groups of 6, and let them wander around the school looking for causes and effects around the building.  Before they walked out the door, we had a talk about behavior and responsibility and they really did well.  

Talking about it when they returned, they were somewhat surprised at how many causes and effects they found.  It was so much easier than they'd expected.  Which made them that much more willing to go digging into text.  But by the next day, I could see they were struggling in some places, so I started meeting with them in small groups.  And discovered that the passage I'd written about the Dust Bowl could be interpreted several different ways.  And a couple of students struggled with the meanings of some words, so they weren't sure how to determine whether or not cause and effect was shown there.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD!  I rewrote parts of the passage, and then created another version of the same passage that was a little easier to read.  And then changed up a few things because I can't leave well enough alone!  Gave those to some of my kiddos, and YAY!  They had a much easier time this go-round.

So, here's where the giveaway comes in!  Be one of the first three people to look at the product and follow my store.  Then, leave me a comment with your email address here, letting me know you'd like this and I'll gladly send you a copy!

Have a great rest of the week!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Celebrating a 30th birthday (not mine)

Hi all,

So Cheryl, at Techie Turtle Teacher is celebrating her 30th birthday this week (it was on Saturday).  And yes, I'm old enough to be her mother.  But that's not the point.

Sixty (yup, 60!) teachers have teamed up to help her celebrate and I'm one of them.  So go on over to her blog and sign up for one of her give-aways.  She has three K-2nd grade prizes, one 3rd-5th grade one, and one middle/high school one.

Winning free stuff is always good!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Breathe deeply. Testing is over.

The difference between the week before testing and the week after is really only a few days.  So why does it feel like months have gone by since last week?  Something about the pressure off my shoulders makes me relax a little and enjoy my students a little more.

You know I started using CAFE this January.  And today....well, today was one of those days when things went so smoothly that I actually thought to take pictures.  Me!  Remembering to take pictures!

Here are some pictures of groups of students discussing some of the best books they've read this year and convincing other students to try them.  This was part of the independent reading station, and the other kids wrote down books that sounded good.  We still have a marking period to go, and some of my voracious readers need to hear about more good books!
I loved watching this student gesturing as he spoke.

These students were totally caught up in this boy talking about the Charlie Bone series.

These students were working together to preview some difficult vocabulary before they starting reading a nonfiction story about building the Great Wall of China.  They created word webs to teach each other the fairly complicated words they'd encounter in their reading.

I also had small groups of students working on a Cause and Effect scavenger hunt around the school building.  I created this last year to help some of my students see real-world causes and their effects before they looked for them in text.  The kids had a ton of fun quietly walking around the school.  And they started to look at things like pencil sharpeners and water fountains differently, now that they realized how much cause and effect there is in real life.  Tomorrow, they transition to text!  Here's the link to the scavenger hunt in my store, if you're interested.
Tomorrow is Friday!  And spring is in the air (even though it's raining right now.)  Have a great day and a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

One week until state testing - what's a teacher to do?

What's happening in my classroom this week?
I teach three classes of sixth graders, about 75 students in all.  And I know that six of them are identified as dealing with major anxiety issues already.  A bunch of others already worry enough about school.  So, what do I do the week before state testing?  Honestly?  The same thing I've been doing since the beginning of the year.  If I haven't covered it by now, I'm not going to cram it into their heads in the final week.

That doesn't mean I function without any stress.  Sigh.  I wish I could.  It just means that the calmer I stay, the calmer they stay.  Although as calm as I try to stay, I always feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders the day when testing is over.  Do you feel that way, too?

So, what's happening in my room?  Well, we're finishing up a unit on poetry, we're reading and annotating a more one-sided view of when the Aztecs met Hernan Cortes to learn author's purpose and point of view, we're working on our Reading Olympians words, and we're reading, reading, reading!

I read three different books for Read Aloud - one to each Core (class). 
  I read about this one on a teacher blog last summer and copied down the title.  Bought it in the Fall, had a student preview it for me (he love, love, loved it!) read it over Christmas break, and am reading it to one class.  They beg for extra time for read-aloud!

Then, this wonderful (no pun intended) book.  I love how indignant my students get about the way kids treat August.  And we have some serious heart-to-hearts about how easy it is to judge people based on appearance.  This one really gets them thinking.

And with my third class, I'm reading this one.  This is another good book (although I'm just realizing that all three, this time around, have male protagonists!  That'll have to change with the next set of choices.)  Anyway, this is a book that students connect with pretty easily too, although the time period is very different.  But they connect because Sage is being asked to be something he's not, and he fights that idea for nearly the whole book.  It also generates a lot of good discussion.

My philosophy about reading is that we read and we talk about it.  For these precious few minutes in class, kids don't have to write, they don't have to point out story elements (well, not too often) and they don't have to be responsible for anything except to sit back and listen.  And they love it.

And truth be told, so do I!

For all of you teachers who were on spring break, welcome back!  For those of you who have them coming up soon, hang in there (and know that I'm jealous of you!) and for those of us who don't get any spring breaks (and who are facing state testing) here's to another good week!