Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Why do we have to do this? Freebie poster!

My students were hard at work in Reading, explaining why they had picked text evidence for a passage.  I had upped the ante and this was challenging, and for some, frustrating.  We'd talked about the need to step back from the text to evaluate what we were thinking, to understand why we'd picked certain citations and why they were the best choice to answer the question; all of this, it was hard stuff to do.  

And then a student asked, "Why do we have to do this?  Will we ever do this in real life?"  For a moment, I was stunned.  

And then, I answered, "Of course!"  Every time you explain something to someone else, you'll have to dig deeply to understand it.  Every time you read and can explain: a medical diagnosis, a bank loan, a college acceptance letter, a home inspection report, a Bible passage, an engineer's survey, a politician's promise....  

Each of these is hard, and the better you can explain it to someone else, the more value you have. Good explainers get promoted because other people understand them.  When you help others understand the world we live in, people value you.

The poor student hadn't expected that for my answer!  And honestly, I was a bit surprised about how passionately I felt.  No, I wasn't teaching them to respond to a TDA on a state test.  This was a life skill, and they needed to be good at it!

So I created this poster (free here) thanks to a student's honest question.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Multiplication fluency and tears

Multiplication fluency can be daunting.  What do you do when your students aren't there?  And they're in sixth grade?  After listening to my Math partner discuss the challenges of moving weak kids according to a prescribed Scope and Sequence, I agreed to work with them for a couple of weeks during our WIN period.

I'm a Reading teacher now.  But I have more than seven years of teaching some of the strongest and weakest kids in Math, and in those years, I learned some very important things!
Don't assume you know why kids struggle.  

I had a pretty good idea that multiplication fluency might be a big part of this, but I wasn't prepared for the tears, as student after student shared with me and this small group about being made to feel foolish or dumb in elementary school because they didn't learn their facts.  I was touched by their willingness to share something so clearly painful.  This was about way more than multiplication facts.
Make your room a SAFE SPACE where kids can learn.  We're teachers, we get that.  But I am zealous in my attempts to keep my room a private space for these students.  They're already embarrassed enough.  I noticed that when other kids came in to borrow iPads or laptops, these students got awfully quiet.  Taking their cues, when a student knocks on the door now, I say, "Ok, everyone, take a break." We resume working as soon as the door is closed again.

Use every method you can think of.  Kids learn differently and they need ample opportunity to practice.  We write facts down on paper, or on white boards, or on post-it notes that we put up on the walls, so they can slap them as they practice.  We play Kaboom!, Fast Facts, Not-So-Silent Ball and we sing, chant, and rap.
We review with Kahoot! and Quizziz.
Encourage collaboration.  I was thrilled with how quickly students went to work, helping each other, and practicing their facts together.  I think they realized they all could get beyond this stumbling block.  And they wanted it for their classmates as well.  
Expect to do some cajoling.  I was stunned when a boy admitted he was afraid to come up to be quizzed by me.  He was so sure he wouldn't succeed.  I sat and watched as another boy did everything but drag him up to me.  So I started off gently with him.  I had to.  And he was successful.  The look on his face!  

But it started again the next time around.  This boy was so scarred by his earlier experiences that three years later, he's still afraid he won't succeed.  He's getting there, slowly but surely!  The reassurance he needs is unlike that of any other student in the room.  That's just where he is and I need to honor that. 
I just can't get over the giggling.  It stuns me every time.  This little effort, taking place every day from 2:30 to 3:10 in my room, is making kids feel like they can be successful.  We're moving from tears to smiles.

And folks, it doesn't get better than that!

Special thanks to 
for her fun numbers!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Show and Tell Linky

I'm linking up with Stephanie from Forever in 5th Grade for her new Show and Tell Tuesday, a fun linky to share what's going on in school, at home, and everywhere in between.

I am accelerating a group of students who just whiz through all forms of reading assessment.  Their first task was to read True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and respond to some probing questions with their group. 
For their final project they had to write a letter in first person, as Charlotte, to the Boston Herald newspaper, explaining the choices they had made.  

I was so impressed with what they created.  They stayed in "character" and based their choices on many obvious and subtle references from the book.  Well done by them!  BTW, if you're interested in this novel study, you can find it here.

This was a fun board I created after seeing something similar in a library at another school district. My students keep track of how many books they finish all year, and we count the books on one of the last days of school.  When I suggested this board, they were so excited!  We didn't have too many sea creatures on our school Cricut machine, but I found turtles, sea horses, and dragonflies (ok, it's a stretch!)  The lowest category that has turtles in it is 51-75 books. Love those readers!

Have you ever used Quizizz?  The kids love it! You create a quiz (or find one) and they work individually, although it shows them everyone else's place in the standings as they race against each other.  A great way to review anything from math facts to vocabulary!
My husband and I are planning a short getaway next month to Charleston, South Carolina.  Looking forward to visiting this city!  What should we see or do while we're there?  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Two great classics to read, read-aloud, or talk up

I spent part of winter break rereading Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls.  And falling in love with the book all over again.  Rawls captures boy-innocence and rambunctiousness from a bygone era, when roaming the woods around your farm felt safe, you feared disappointing your parents more than anything else, and you got along swimmingly with your grandfather, who lived a few miles down the road.        
Remember these guys?  My kids loved watching reruns when they were younger.  Rawls' books remind me of Andy and Opie, where kids ponder some of the big questions in life and are given the opportunity to work them through without anyone making fun of them or putting them down.  

I know we don't live in simple times like these anymore.  But, like many authors who bring us to different worlds, Rawls makes you feel like you're walking alongside Billy or Jay Berry through each of their adventures.  

I strongly encourage you to read these aloud to your students, or, if your students are old enough, to recommend them for their own reading.  Like much of historical fiction, the beginning chapters start off a little more slowly as they set the stage for later events, but once you get going, the books are hard to put down.

The language is rich and lush and the challenges are thoughtful, but not fraught with the kinds of tension most kids experience today.  It's easy to escape into the Ozark mountains with either of these boys.  And the language?  Rawls expresses himself so well, with such imaginative language that there are a lot of lessons that teachers could tailored to either book.

If you're looking to have students read Where the Red Fern Grows, I have a novel study packet in my TpT store, which includes the following:

-Question for understanding
-Examine foreshadowing
-Make connections (text to text, text to self, and text to world)
-Explore the setting
-Learn vocabulary important to the story
-Determine types of figurative language (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification)
-Explore generalizations and overgeneralizations
-Analyze themes
-Discover causes and their effects
-Determine physical and character traits
-Compare and Contrast 
-Create a book review

I'm working on a similar one for Summer of the Monkeys.  Stay tuned!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Five for Friday

It's been a while since I linked up with Doodlebugs Teaching for Five for Friday, so even though it's Friday evening, I thought I'd rejoin the blogging world by sharing some things that have been going on in my corner of the world.
 We spent part of two days working on homonyms: there, their, they're.  It was time.  They need to know this!  I created task cards and my students came up with an additional, fun way to use them.  We did some additional review work, so hopefully, they have this one down.
Sarah Wiggins created this a couple of years ago for the TpT Winter/Christmas freebie book, and I have used it for the past couple of years.  It's a fun way for students to read a book over the winter break.  Each marshmallow is worth, in my class, 30 minutes of reading time.  Students cut out the marshmallow and glue it in the hot chocolate mug after they've completed the activity.  

What a great way to get students reading.  We always celebrate with hot chocolate and a "Curl Up with a Book and Read Day, which was today!  And of course, I forgot to take pictures!

The bulletin board outside my room with some of their mugs.  The top part says, "It's Cold Out" but it partly covered up by the scarf, hat, and mittens.
Some of my students are finishing up their reading of True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. I am really pleased with the quality of their work and the enthusiasm they had for the book.
I was invited by the high school Quiz Bowl team to come watch them in the second round of the Brain Busters tournament at our local TV station.  They won the match!  I coached two of them (I'm the middle school coach) and taught three of the four.  I felt like a proud mama!
A friend gave me this amaryllis bulb for my birthday at the end of October.  This is what it looked like on Christmas morning, and two weeks later, it's still going strong!  

Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Currently and New Years Day 2016!

I love that Farley from Oh Boy 4th Grade is so consistent with her Currently posting.  Happy New Year to you all!
Listening - my husband has been working so hard since he took a new job with the Department of Education in our state.  He's got a bit of the "Energizer bunny" in him, so I'm glad he's getting a chance to nap.  

Loving - this break.  It's been a wonderful combination of family time and down time.  My kids were all able to be home for Christmas so that was super, and I've had other days where I didn't get out of pj's until almost lunchtime.

Thinking - I get charged up by the number of products people are producing over break, but I just haven't felt as strong an urge to work on them as I have to read a few books.  I know I should finish them, but reading is. just. so. much. fun!

Wanting - I'm sure there are some teachers out there who are raring to get back into their classrooms.  Don't get me wrong, I love teaching!  But I love me some down time too, and right now, with only a few days to go, and some more grading and planning to do......Well, you understand.

Needing - I don't mean to sound full of myself, but honestly, I don't need anything right now.  I'd like a little more peace in the world (make that a lot more) but for me personally?  I'm okay right now.

One little word - I've been reading a book, One Thousand Gifts, and it's really making me think about how I live my life and what I focus on.  So this year, I'll be looking for the small joys in each day and focusing on them.  They are, in many ways, God's love letters to me.

So, how about you?  What are your goals for 2016?  Whatever they are, I hope this year is filled with joy!