Sunday, December 4, 2016

Improved Student Work with Guided Writing and Adobe Spark video

"Are we writing today?"  
"No, not today.  It's not Friday.
{Insert sad face here.}

This is the second part of a two-part series about improving students writing.  And their happiness about writing.  You can read the first part, about coming late to the mentor sentences party, here.

I was THRILLED with the results of this writing assignment I came up with for my students to work on together. My students couldn't wait for Fridays, our "Student Writing Days."

I started off by saying:  
“Close your eyes.  Imagine that you are walking home from a friend’s house.  You live about a ten minute walk away.  It’s dark now and you’re heading home.  Can you picture it?  Visualize what this looks like in your head.  As you are picturing this, start to jot down responses to these questions."
Each step of the way, I led them through a visualization and then a set of questions like this.  There's something about the power of being guided that gives kids confidence.  Their writing is more descriptive and they don't tend to get as stuck.  
This year, we started the week before Halloween, so I had "spooky" music playing in the background.  The students begged me to turn off the lights and pull down the blinds.  I was surprised they could work that way, but they loved it! 
After students had been writing for a while, they could share some of what they'd written.  Sometimes we'd share it on my Activboard, sometimes they read it aloud to the whole class, other times to a small group.  An important thing they learned was that reading aloud helped them see missing words and missing punctuation.
Mini-lesson:  Become friends with periods and commas!
Once editing was over, they started to cut and paste onto Adobe Spark video.  Adobe Spark lets you choose a layout, backgrounds, pictures, and even music, if you want.  Students had a lot of fun making their video slides their own.

Finally, when the slides are all together, students go back and record themselves reading their stories. This was so amazing!  They totally got into doing this and read with so much feeling!

For a first try, I was over-the-moon thrilled with how well this project worked out!
Although the cover has a Fall "feeling" to it, it can be used at any time of year.  Click on the picture to take a closer look at this product on TpT.

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Cyber Sale on Monday and Tuesday!

Graphic courtesy of Meg's Crayons

Enjoy Cyber Monday and Tuesday this week!  Everything in my store is 20% off.  If you use the promo code, you'll get 28% off.  

Have a great week!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

You want to take advantage of this giveaway!

On the first day of last summer's TpT conference, I met Kathy from Sunshine and Lollipops; she's a bundle of positive spirit and energy!  I was delighted when she got to 1000 followers on her TpT store, and asked me to join in the celebration.  Um, yeah!

The really cool thing?  If you win a card, you tell Kathy what store you'd like to get it from, and she'll do that for you.  Target?  Yeah!  Macy's?  Yeah!  Barnes and Noble?  YESSSS!  So, go ahead, what are you waiting for?  Enter!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why is the election on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November?

It all started with a question.  "Has the electoral college/popular vote split ever benefitted Democrats?"  This was regarding Tuesday's election results where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the Electoral College votes to win the presidency of the United States.

I remembered that the same thing had happened in 2000, with Al Gore, the Democrat, losing to George Bush, the Republican, for the same reason.  And that got me wondering about whether this had ever happened prior to 2000, which led to thinking about elections in general.  Here's what I found.

The split between popular vote and Electoral College vote has happened five times, counting this week.

  • In 1824,  Andrew Jackson won the majority of the popular and the electoral vote, but because he didn't the required Electoral College votes, the election was determined by the House of Representatives.  which chose his runner-up, John Quincy Adams.
  • 1876, when Samuel Tilden appeared to win against Rutherford B. Hayes.  20 Electoral College votes were contested, and were awarded to Hayes.
  • Just 8 years later, Grover Cleveland, the incumbent, ran against Benjamin Harrison and won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote and the presidency.
Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Why do we vote on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November?  
Because of farmers.
In 1845, when voting was conducted in a more systematic way, most of our country was farmed.  People (men, then) had to travel to vote, sometimes up to a day away.  If voting took place on a Monday, that would interfere with Sunday worship.  If it took place on a Wednesday, that interfered with Market Day.  We vote in November because harvests were brought in by then, and the weather in most parts of the country wasn't too harsh.

Why Tuesday AFTER the first Monday?
November 1 is All Saints Day, and Congress wanted to make sure that the elections never took place on a day when some people of faith would be in church.
How does the whole Electoral College thing work?
When we vote, we vote for a candidate AND that candidate's electors.  Each state has a number of electors equal to the total of their Representatives and Senators.  The District of Columbia also gets 3 electors.  The Democratic and Republican parties usually pick their slate of electors, and with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the states have a "winner takes all" policy for how they should vote.

The Electoral College has not yet voted to make the election results final.  They will vote on the first Monday after the second Tuesday in December (the 19th.)  Huh?  Despite all my searching, I could not figure out why this day was chosen.

Can anyone help me with this interesting nugget?  I'm just fascinated by the thinking that must have gone into it.  Why would the first Monday after the second Tuesday be better than the third Wednesday?  I'm guessing it might have to do with Christmas, but I'm not sure.

Fascinating stuff, our history!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Improve your students' writing with mentor sentences

This is the first of a two-part series about how to get kids to write more.  And better.

I'll be the first to admit I've been slow to join this bandwagon.  I just didn't understand what all the fuss was about.  And then I tried some mentor sentences with my students.  Holy cow!  What great opportunities I'd been missing!

I've always been fascinated by the beginning of books.  How do authors hook you in?  What do they do to make you read beyond the first couple of sentences?  What makes a book hard to put down?  I'm sure you, like me, have heard kids say, "It needs to grab me right away or else I won't read  it."

How could they get that kind of great start to their own writing?
Show them what the experts are doing.  Take sentences out of the book they're reading and let them play with them.  We started the year reading Fish in a Tree.  The first two sentences from that book ("It's always there.  Like the ground underneath my feet.") gave them the impetus to go in a variety of different directions!
Take apart the sentence so they can see how it's constructed.  Let students identify the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in the sentence.  Have them discuss the tone or mood.  What does it make them think of?  That Fish in a Tree beginning felt ominous to a lot of my students.  What was "always there?"  There were some excellent discussions about how to create that kind of mood.  Even the students who didn't want to create that kind of mood themselves, felt they learned something.
Scaffold the sentences.  Then set them free!  Each time we looked at a sentence, students had two opportunities to write: one where they filled in the blanks of the same sentence and one where they created their own completely.  To be honest, after the first lesson, I think I could have done away with the scaffolded version.  Most students were ready to start imitating and creating on their own.
These are some examples of the directions students went in after they had played with two different mentor sentences.  It was thrilling to see how excited they were to get writing.  And nothing makes a teacher's heart melt more than when students come into class and ask, "Are we going to write today?"

If you've not tried this, please do!  And enjoy writing with your students!

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Spook-tacular Giveaway!

Just in time for Halloween!  Click on the picture to win a TpT giftcard for $60 or a Target giftcard for $55, hosted by an amazing bunch of teachers on TpT.  

Have a great week!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Add this book to your classroom library - Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I didn't think I would fall in love with this book as much as I did.  Jason Reynolds, who wrote All American Boys (one of the books being read as part of this year's Global Read Aloud) was an author I wasn't familiar with.  After reading this, I want to get my hands on more of his books.

Castle Cranshaw, who's given himself the nickname "Ghost", is a boy with a lot of "scream inside."  (What a great choice of words!  We've all taught students like this.)  He's  boy who's unafraid to fight, talk smack to kids or his teachers and get to sent to the principal's office.  He's angry, and he has good reason to be.  And then, one day, he comes across a track team practicing, and challenges one of the fastest runners to a race.  In that moment, something happens to him, and although he doesn't instantly change, he knows that's where he belongs.

This is a story about a boy coming to know himself, realizing that he can't run away from who he is or what's happened to him.  Beautifully told, and rapidly paced, this is a wonderful addition to any 5th-8th grade classroom library!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

National Book Festival is worthwhile investment of time!

If you live within a car ride of Washington, D.C., then this is an event you don't want to miss next year!  Sponsored by the Library of Congress and FREE!, this one-day event plays host to many of the authors whose books you talk your students into exploring!

This is just part of the schedule of authors!              
I'm talking about Lois Lowry, Jacqueline Woodson, Katherine Patterson, Raina Telgemeier, Kwame Alexander, Sharon Robinson, Rep. John Lewis, Berkely Breathed....and that's just the beginning of the list that my students would be interested in.

This day wasn't only for children, though.  There were authors for: adult fiction, young adult fiction, history and biography, science, food and home, international, graphic novels, and poetry.

Two authors I particularly enjoyed (and remembered to take pictures of) were Kwame Alexander, author of last year's Newbery Award winning book, The Crossover, and Booked who had some thought-provoking words to share about being African-American in our country today.  When he began reading from Booked, you could have heard a pin drop.  The audience was spell-bound! 

Each author spoke for about 20-30 minutes, and then left time for questions.  Alexander encouraged children to come up and ask questions, and they did.

Sharon Robinson spoke about her book, The Hero Two Doors Down, the story of the friendship between a Jewish boy named Steve and her father, Jackie.  Their unlikely friendship, young boy to professional athlete, has withstood the test of time for their families.  His mom at 97 and Sharon's at 94 are still good friends!  Her positive spirit and funny stories made her a treat to listen to!

I wanted to hear Lois Lowry, but when I arrived and saw how long the line was, I knew there was no way I'd get in.  They could easily have had her speak in a room twice the size.  A lot of disappointed fans walked away from that room!

I can't say enough about this event!  There were tons of volunteers who were easy to spot, the speakers were so engaging, and the event ran like clockwork!  You did a lot of walking from one floor of the convention center to another to see everyone, but if you'd studied the schedule ahead of time, you could plot out where you were going and when.

I'm thinking about seeing if I can get some funds to bring a group of students down next year.  It would make for a long day, and on a Saturday, no less, but when I think about kids meeting their favorite authors?  That kind of overrides everything!

And there were tons of kids there - with parents and in groups.  Nothing makes my heart smile more than a group of kids all sitting around on the floor, reading their new books!  (And yes, I was so entranced I completely forgot to take a picture!)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I Wish My Teacher Knew....

When I first read about what Kyle Schwartz, a third grade teacher from Denver, had done with her students a few years back, I was amazed at its simplicity.  And at how much she learned.  I read about her in the middle of last year, and planned to try this at the beginning of this year.

And then I forgot. So I was grateful when my brother sent me this New York Times article that reminded me I'd wanted to do this.  I gave it to my students the second week of school, explaining that I'd given them a Reading survey, but this was just asking something they felt was important for me to know about them.  It could be about school or home, or just something they felt would help me know them better.

There were a lot of "I love to read" or "I really don't like to read" and a bunch of "I really like to play sports!"

But then there were these....
 This made me sad for a little eleven-year old who feels this strongly about school and especially about tests.  Is this something we've done?  Or was this child always a worrier?

I wondered about this one.  How would this child respond to a less than stellar grade on a test?  Who knows, maybe fine.  But I'll watch, perhaps a little more carefully than I might have, otherwise.
So glad!

I wanted to say, "Oh honey, so many kids aren't.  And that's okay.  We'll get there.  Together."  

I'm grateful that they shared some part of themselves with me.  It helped me get to know them a little better.  And I hope they felt heard.

If you'd like to try this, I created a freebie "I wish my teacher knew" on TpT.  Click on the picture up at the top or on the link to get it.  I hope you try it and learn a little more about those children sitting in your classrooms this week.

Have a great rest of your week!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Teacher-Bloggers: Thank you for your great ideas!

What a great first week of school it's been!  Exhausting and fun, kids like bright, shiny new pennies, smiling and mostly eager to be back at school!

I want to use this post to give thanks to teachers who gave me ideas for what to do on those first days. This year, I was struggling to wrap my head around some of the challenges my students would be bringing to my classroom, and how I would meet them.  And that made me wonder about some of my first (and second and third)day activities.

Special thanks goes to Brittany from Mix and Math for her suggestion to have students use Play-Doh. Our students come through a variety of doors to get to our classrooms on the first day of school, and usually we're out in the hallway helping kids find their rooms, as we're welcoming them into our rooms.  Which means I can't be in my room in the first few minutes, which I don't like.

So I was thrilled to see her idea to have students create something out of Play-Doh that started with the first letter of their first name.  And of course, I was so caught up in what they were doing that I forgot to take pictures!  Here's what the setup looked like before students even arrived.
Random aside:  when I saved this on my phone, I called it "playdoh."  Apparently, autocorrect thinks that needed to be called "playboy."  Hmmmm....

Another activity, which I really liked and thought the students got a lot out of, was this growth mindset activity which I read first from Stephanie on Teaching in Room 6.  This is a brilliant challenge that is so hard to do, but is actually quite simple, once you figure it out.  Which only one student did, out of 75!  And only because he had seen it done recently.  He got part of it and his group figured out the rest.

 The beauty of this challenge is that students get frustrated.  As they do, and as you walk around, you write down some of the comments you hear them making.  Things like "This is impossible!"  "I can't do this."

And then, after about 7-8 minutes, you write those comments on the board.  As you ask students to look at them, ask them to think about what would happen if they were on a football team and saying those things to their teammates.  Or if they were going on a job interview.  My sixth graders really got this, and I could see jaws dropping.

So we talked about how to change those negative messages into ones that would keep us working.  I told them that Albert Einstein said, "I'm not smarter than most people.  I just stick with problems longer."  And that's what we need to do.

The end result?  I had lined a bulletin board but hadn't put anything on it yet.  On impulse, I decided to have students "graffiti" it with the sayings they'd written down in their notebooks.  On the first page.  So it would be the first thing they'd see when they opened their notebooks.
Thanks to two teacher-bloggers I don't even know, my students relaxed and learned in ways that we'll continue to talk about over the upcoming year.

It doesn't get better than that!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Keep your students reading

In two previous blogposts, I wrote about the need to know your students reading readiness and interests (you can read about that {here}) and how to challenge your students to read more (you can read that {here}).

It is valuable for students to keep track of all the books they try during the year, the ones they finish and the ones they quit.  It doesn't take a lot of time for them to do that, and it's really helpful information for you, as you try to match them up with books. 

Here's an example I created of the Reading Log I have my students fill out whenever they start reading a book.

In this example, Fish in a Tree is the first book read and finished.
  • The author and genre are noted
  • The book is rated on a scale of 1-10
  • The book is counted as the first book completed.
Magnus Chase was the second book the student attempted, but it was put aside.  The students puts an X in the "Quit" column.

The War that Saved my Life was the third book started, but it was not the third book finished.  That happens a lot in my class with read-alouds.  Students mark the book on their logs, but by the time we finish the book, they've started and finished a bunch on their own.  

It also happens with students who have 2 or more books going at a time.  So they number the book as finished, when it actually happens, even if that messes up the order on their paper.  Trust me!  Kids are okay with this - it's teachers who have a harder time with it! :)

As students finish books, they mark it on the Genre Tally Sheet at the bottom.  When they're ready to turn the page over (I copy these back-to-back) their tally sheet should match the number of books finished.

This is a huge help at the end of the year!  That's when we total up ALL the books read by ALL the students on our team!  We subtotal by genre to see which ones are the most popular (in sixth grade it's usually fantasy and realistic fiction), but one year we spent some time reading mysteries and they were amazed at how many more mysteries students read, based on that project.

There's another sheet I expect students to keep in their binder all year long, and that's called "My Wishlist."  There are so many times when a student or I am giving a book talk, and students are listening intently.  And then, the next day, or better yet, a week or two later, a student will say to you, "Do you remember when you were talking about THAT book?  It sounded so good but I can't remember the title, the author, or what it was about.  I just knew that I wanted to read it,"  "That book?  Oh, sure."

And that's how the Wishlist came to be.....
It's nothing fancy.  But insisting that students keep it in their binder means that they use it when we go to the library, or when they're looking for a new book to read.

These two simple tools help students figure out what they like to read, what they want to read, and how many books they've read!  

On a whole other note, tomorrow is the first day of school for students!  I'm excited and feeling a little challenged this year.  I'll keep you posted on how that goes.  For all other teachers out there who are starting tomorrow (and for those who have started, and have yet to start) prayers for all of you that your school year may be filled with blessings!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Giveaway winner announced!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway!  KimJ, you are the winner!  Check your email for the code you can use when you shop on TpT.

740 × 400
TpT is throwing it's annual one-day Bonus Sale where all of my products are 20% off!  If you add their Code:OneDay, you'll get an additional 10% off the sale price, which leads to a nice 28% off.