Friday, December 28, 2012

Plans and Goals for the New Year

My family and I returned today from a very nice and relaxing visit with our families (both my husband and I are from the same hometown). We stayed an extra day so we could visit more relatives and spend more time with our families. I am looking so forward to relaxing and spending time with my own family for the rest of the break.

I don't know about you, but when I spend time away from work (more than a weekend), the stress just melts away. I often find myself thinking about why I was so stressed out, even it was just a week ago that I was feeling stressed to the max. But, yet, the cycle repeats itself...go back to work, feel stressed by the end of the day (if not by the middle). And, it's not just me. It seems to be the common theme, year in and year out, among colleagues. When I have the time to sit back and reflect on what exactly makes me so stressed out, I have no problem making a list of at least 20 things that add to my stress level. I really believe that a number of things need to happen, and I am going to do my best to abide by these...
1. There are many things I cannot change about my job. I mean, teaching is really, really hard! But, it's up to me how I react to those things. If I cannot change something (whatever that may be), I need to change the way I react.
2. Get more sleep, eat healthier and exercise more. In other words, don't let myself go! When I eat right, exercise more and get enough sleep, I feel my best.
3. Simplify! Every year, I feel like I am spinning my wheels (it usually happens mid-year). It's then that I have learned to realize to stop, reflect and decide what needs to be changed. It usually ends with me realizing that I have actually complicated things by wanting to do too much. As I wrote in my previous posts, this has happened again this year.
4. Get rid of what I don't use. I've been doing better with this one, but at the end of every year, I always uncover many "treasures" from either the current school year or past years. Yes, it really is o.k. to throw away the laminated barn, even though it took you 5 hours to draw and color it 15 years ago! If I'm unsure about what to throw away, I will ask myself if I've used it in the past year. If the answer is "no"-I either give it to a younger teacher or pitch it.
5. Smile and have some fun!  Sometimes I (and many of my colleagues) get so wrapped up in the stress of teaching that we don't take time to have fun and smile. Children don't know the first thing about common core standards-they just want to learn and have fun. Yes, it's up to us, as teachers, to make sure the standards are covered, but we also need to go the extra mile to make sure learning is fun and engaging too!

I was doing some lesson planning today, and I was thinking about the next writing unit, "How-To" Writing. After doing some research on blogs, Pinterest and other sites, I discovered some great ideas for starting the unit and for doing some whole class how-to writing. The first idea I found was to start out with what the students already know how to do really well...classroom routines! So, I am going to start with introducing several how-to books, discussing what we notice about them (how they are set up). Then, we are going to move to writing some how-to books based on our class routines. Some other fun ideas I found include how to blow a bubble and how to make a s'more (or hot chocolate). Of course, food is always a hook. I'm excited to start this unit, as in the past, I only spent a few short days on how-to writing.

I'm also in the process of finishing up a few things that I want to put on TPT. Nothing fancy, just some helpful things I've made to help myself out as I'm covering the CC Standards. When I was looking for a nonfiction feature notebook that covered what I had to teach/cover, I couldn't find anything that covered what I had to cover. So, I made a nonfiction feature book that I used with my class in the two weeks before the holiday break. They were all able to complete it, and it will make a great reference as we continue to learn/refer to nonfiction text features throughout the year. I just have to figure out more about using Pages (Mac's word processing program). It's kind of like Word, but not quite. So, when I get the kinks worked out, I'll let you know what I posted for free on TPT. If something I make works for me, my class and my colleagues, I'll put it on TPT.

Enough school talk...I'm off to catch up on my favorite shows!!!
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

12 In '12 Linky Party

What a great idea! I was checking out some blogs, and I came across this great idea for a Linky Party,  hosted by Miss Kindergarten and A Teeny Tiny Teacher. It looked fun, so I linked up. 

12. Favorite movie you watched: The Help (well, I saw it in 2012)

11. Favorite TV series: It's a tie between Homeland and Criminal Minds

10. Favorite restaurant: Bricco (in Harrisburg, PA)

9. Favorite new thing you tried: Blogging-I never gave blogging a second thought last year, but now that I tried it, I am absolutely hooked! I love to write, and I absolutely love to share with other teachers (and get fresh, new ideas). And, I have 8 followers. I know, not that impressive to some, but to me, it is!!! 

8. Favorite gift you received: Surprise tickets, from my hubby, to see Manheim Steamroller this Monday evening in Hershey. 

7. Favorite thing you pinned: 

6. Favorite blog post: I don't have many since starting in August, but my previous post about "Less is More" would have to be my favorite. It's true, it's me, and I need to repeat the above phrase many times. It's something that I strive to do, but usually get in over my head with all kinds of complicated stuff!

5. Favorite accomplishment: Raising three little boys, with the help of my awesome husband, holding down a full-time teaching job, being a wife, keeping the house semi-clean, finding some time to exercise and socialize and being alive to tell about it. 

4. Favorite picture: My 3 sons-They never look at the same time when they're getting their picture taken, but they are still pretty darn cute! I guess it would have helped if it wasn't 95 degrees and the sun wasn't shining right in their faces.

3. Favorite memory: I have 2...My first is meeting my husband at a playground, when I was 15. I married my high school sweetheart, and I still think he's just as handsome as the first time I saw him. 
My 2nd favorite is giving birth to each of my 3 children. The actual process wasn't great, but the final products were!!!

2. Goal for 2013-Take care of myself by getting more sleep, exercising more and actually using my WW online membership that I've had for 6 months.

1. One little word: Simplify (this goes back to my "Less is More") statement. I really need to work on this.

This was fun! I hope 2013 is a great one!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Less is More!

Revamping Literacy Stations...Daily 5, Take 2!
When something doesn't go quite right in my classroom, I don't let it go. I've learned to take a step back and really take a look at what the problem truly is, and to find out what is causing the problem. Although I don't like to often admit this, most problems are usually  caused by me. 

When I was a younger teacher, I used to find myself blaming the kids when things went wrong. You'd hear me say, "There must be a  full moon (I do really believe times), it's getting close to the holidays/weekend, they just don't know how to use the classroom materials/clean-up", etc. You know the drill. It wasn't until I was taught to be a reflective teacher that I started to take a good look at myself and my teaching practices. 

Last week, I was fed up with how the students were not using the literacy stations properly. Many were off-task, and it was just annoying...especially when I was trying to hold conferences/small groups with children. I took a step back and observed them the very next day. It was like they forgot all that I taught/modeled/practiced with them at the beginning of the year. 

That night, I began to look through my Daily 5/CAFE books and the DailyCafe website. I realized, as I wrote in a previous post, I started stations way too quickly. I also realized that when I took down our homemade Daily 5 anchor charts to replace them with cute/colorful ready-made signs, all of that prior learning was gone. There was nothing solid that we could refer to when things went south. 

I already wrote about how we started from scratch last week with relearning how to read to ourselves and how to work on our writing. Yesterday, I reread some articles about work work. I realized there was way, way too much out for the kiddos to choose from. There were only 5 activities, but still, that was WAY too much. Yes, there were practicing vocabulary, word families and sight words, but not in the most effective way.

As suggested, I used only beans today (dried kidney beans). Of course, I've heard of this before, but sometimes by rereading an article or a book, that information comes back to the front of my brain again. So, anyway, I typed up my Words Their Way word sort lists for my three spelling groups. I copied enough for everyone in all spelling groups to have one copy. I then put some beans into 8 small plastic cups (thanks to my friend and colleague, Karen, who loans me everything in a pinch). I put the cups of beans, word lists (in 3 separate boxes) and quiet mats in one section of the word work shelf. That's all that was (and is) there.
Sidenote...I actually thought about introducing stamping and writing words too, but then I saw nothing but disaster and mass chaos students who may become off-task in the near future and I came to my senses...wait, wait, wait!!!

We made our Word Work anchor chart, and then I demonstrated how to make spelling words with beans (how to get paper, beans, mat, how to use the beans, what to do when done, how to put away). Some students then demonstrated what to do/not to/what to do again. I made sure to tell them that the bean spelling was the ONLY Word Work activity they would be doing. We reviewed the other anchor charts for the 3 previously learned Daily 5 stations, they made choices, and I released them to work independently. 

And, guess what...two students went to the velcro word wall and began to remove sight words, one girl went to the listening station. As I felt my blood pressure rising, I took one huge breath and called everyone back to the carpet. We reviewed everything again, and they did such a great job! 

So, in the end, the lesson repeats itself again and again...less is more!

Before I sign off, I want to let you know that Lisa, from Growing Firsties chose me as one of her reviewers for her fantastic new STAR Readers Workshop resource. I was amazed at how thorough,  useful, developmentally appropriate and fun this is. If you are thinking about starting a readers workshop in your room, or you need some fresh ideas, check it out at TPT.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Currently December From Farley

Simple is Better
As I wrote in my previous post, I am on a mission to revamp my literacy stations because they were just not working. Thinking back, I believe the problem was that I started too fast, too soon. I could kick myself because I know that students need a lot of modeling, practice and time to get used to a new routine. Anyway...

Two days ago, we made another "I-chart" for Read-to-Self. Students modeled the correct/incorrect/correct way to read. As soon as I noticed that students were off-task, talking, etc., I stopped everything and we regrouped. Today was much better. 

I took another look on the CAFE website, and I watched some helpful videos and read some articles. The best tip I got was for Work on Writing. I had been using journals, but I noticed the kids weren't motivated to write even though there were topic lists posted and they could self-select their topics. As suggested, I made a writing prompt menu and laminated them. If writers get stuck, and they can't pick a topic, they can take a menu with them (or use it at the station). It has ready-to-go prompts that are related to December. 

Today, we revisited the Read-to-Self chart and we made another Work on Writing I-chart. The kids did a MUCH better job at writing station today! I made sure to incorporate a quick writing share when we checked-in. We started as soon as the first student was cleaned up and on the carpet. Boy, did their accountability for writing go up! 

We will continue to practice these two for a while before revisiting Read to Someone, Word Work and Listening. 

One thing I discovered yet again is that SIMPLE (AND EFFECTIVE) IS BETTER! Maybe someday I will learn that lesson!

Check out my currently list below, and be sure to visit Oh' Boy Fourth Grade (see link below). It's an awesome blog!

My "Currently" List...
I was reading through various teaching blogs when I stumbled upon Farley's Oh' Boy Fourth Grade. I had been seeing these "Currently" lists on other people's blogs, and now I found the source. What a great idea! Here's my list.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Literacy Stations

Why Can't I Make Up My Mind????

You would think after teaching for 17 years, I would have this down, but I don't. I am constantly thinking about/changing around the structure of my literacy stations. I used to call them "centers", and I used to laminate everything, change them all weekly/bi-weekly, but that's another story...

Anyway, a few years ago, I picked up a little unknown (at that time) book called The Daily 5. Flash forward to now, and every primary teacher has heard of it. Well, back in the day, I was sitting in the same predicament that I am now, although this was in the summer, not after routines had been set. Amazon had recommended this wonderful book to me, so I checked it out. It doesn't take much for me to buy a professional book, especially one that says it will make my life easier by simplifying what students do when I'm meeting with a group of students. Of course I bought it, and I read it cover to cover the same day it came. 

I went into school that year, and I simplified my stations, I built routines over time with my students, we worked on stamina, I taught them how to choose "just-right" books, and I LOVED IT. But, there was, and still is, a small part of me that just couldn't give up control of what stations my students use/when they use them. 

This year, a few years after the first time I implemented some of the ideas in The Daily 5, I thought it was time to finally relinquish control. I started the year off as usual, building those routines. using gradual release, and I gave them a choice about where to go/when. I even made handy-dandy clipboard size charts to help me keep track of the students' choices, so I could "nudge" them in a different direction if they insisted that they had to go to Listening day after day (I couldn't help keeping a little control). They seemed to really enjoy having the opportunity to have a choice of what to do/when to do it. 

But,  surprisingly, I was still frustrated. I was frustrated with how long it took them, morning after morning, to make their choices. I was frustrated at the complaining that occurred when a station would fill up and others really wanted to go there (even though they'd have the chance tomorrow). I just felt it was chaotic, so I added dusted off my trusty station plan boards and the choice was once again mine (meet with the low group plus two more reading groups on days 1,3,5 and meet with the low group plus the other two reading groups on days 2,4,6...nice and neat). Well, nice and neat isn't me, and deep down inside I knew that this wasn't the answer either. 

When those pre-made station boards are used, there is no time wasted in choosing stations and I know where they are to be in each rotation, but something is still nagging at me. This way just isn't flexible and it isn't suited to pulling over an impromptu skills group or changing my conferencing schedule. I know I have to change, yet again!

I really liked the flexibility of having the students choose their own stations. In doing this, I was able to be more flexible with whom I met with and my reading groups didn't have to be so rigid. 

So, I "think" I'm ready to give up control for good. I just have to trust myself and my students.  I plan to skim over the book again tonight and hold a class meeting, tomorrow, so we can discuss the changes to this part of the day. 

I am SO super excited to be taking the Daily 5 and CAFE grad class this January. I can't wait to talk about my reservations with many other teachers who will be in this online course. Hopefully, I will get some answers too.

Do you use the Daily 5 structure when your students are to be working independently? If so, do you have any tips? 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Taking on the Common Core Standards

I think I am in need of a "brain break". I better pop in a Dr. Jean CD...
No, really, my brain is tired...tired from thinking. I know it sounds strange, but I'm there right now. I can so relate to my students who need a push to get moving (mentally).

I am so excited to be given the opportunity to work with a talented group of colleagues on rewriting our  language arts curriculum in our primary (K-2) building. My team's assignment was to take a look at the all of the CCS for language arts and map out our curriculum. I have to admit that my colleague and I just stared at the standards, back at the larger piece of butcher paper and stickies (that we we were to start the mapping on), at each other (and repeated that for about 1/2 hour). Then, our very knowledgable literacy coach told us to get rid of our fear and just do it, not to even think too much about it, at first.

So, we went to town, mapping our LA curriculum throughout the year. At first, we just mapped the reading standards while working closely with the kindergarten and second grade teachers, then we started on the writing standards. And, before we knew it, it was time to leave. What? We only just started!

During a second full day of mapping, we reviewed the work that we did among K-2 teachers on our committee and continued to map out the writing standards. Whew!!! No, not done yet...we had to plug-in the standards for the Found. Skills, Listening/Speaking and Language. What? The day is over again???

Yesterday, there were more members added to our team to finalize  the map and make sure all standards were included in our map. By the way, when I say "finalize" I mean we were to get it as final as we could yesterday. This is a working document that is meant to be flexible/ever-changing. With more heads together, we had some deep discussions about why we were teaching things/when we were teaching them, etc. It made for some pretty intense thinking and conversation! The most profound question that was asked went something like this: "When you think of yours student graduating from high school in the future, what value will what you are teaching these students NOW have on their future success?" That just stuck with me. We had to take a hard look at our curr. map and make some pretty intense decisions based on that question.

Well, before we knew it, the day was over! We even stayed a little longer to plan our next session and to talk over some things. We all left drained, but excited with the work we did. I am so proud to have such intelligent, hard working and supportive colleagues to help make this dive into CCS an intense,  thought-provoking and exciting adventure.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Commercials

Have You Advertised A Book Today?

Have you ever noticed how your students will fight  flock to your classroom library to be the first one to read "the book" you just finished reading to the class? Did you ever wonder why other books in your class library sit there, unread, week after week? It's because they weren't advertised. 

When you are excited about something, so are your kids. You should have seen how excited my kids were, today, when I showed them a bag of rocks. Truth be told, rocks don't get me too excited, but I had to "act" excited so the kids would be excited (and, there were).

To help motivate you students to read, try to do a "book commercial" for at least 5 books a day. To do a book commercial, follow these simple steps:
1. Choose a book, and get familiar with it.
2. Display the book and tell the students that it's the most amazing book because...........
3. Be sure to do a picture/book walk.
4. Build enthusiasm by asking who thinks they will want to read it today.
*Book commercials only take seconds!

Another way to motivate your students is to recommend books for particular students. Don't you notice how we, as adults, tend to read books that others have recommended to us? I know I read anything my sister recommends because I know she has great taste in books. 

When you come across a book that you know will interest one (or more) of your students, be sure to tell the student(s). For example, "Amy, I saw this book about Kenya, and I just knew you had to read it because you lived in Kenya." 

What a way to show your students you really know them AND you care enough about them to recommend a book just for them.

How do you motivate your students to read?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

December Ideas

December is Coming!

It's so hard to believe that December is right around the corner. Our family enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with our extended families, and after relaxing for a few days at my parents' house, it was time to head back to our home. 

Upon arriving home, my children ran right in the house to find Arf, the Elf on the Shelf as my husband and I unpacked the car. The following day, we put our Christmas tree and lights up and started decorating for the upcoming holidays. As we were doing each of these, I thought about all the family traditions we have and where they came from...which ones are new and which ones have been around forever. This led me right into thinking about December and my upcoming unit on December holidays and traditions.

Throughout the years, I found it best to keep it simple, and focus on a few holidays and traditions. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with all the holiday books, crafts and learning activities that are out there.  And, it doesn't make sense to cram too much in because we only have a few short weeks until our winter vacation. As I was looking at my friend's blog at readwithmeabc planning, I saw a great idea for a holiday linky party at  The Hands-On Teacher.

 You can see some of my December ideas below, but be sure to click on the link button to learn about many awesome holiday ideas for the classroom from others.

Here are a few of my favorite December activities, books, ect.:

Focus on Families- Right about now, I begin my December holidays and traditions unit. Upon return from the break. We will read a selection in our anthology and in our social studies text about families. Since we are learning about nonfiction right now, we will tie in nonfiction text features (headings, photographs), extract the main idea/details to support it, and compare/contrast the differences between the two texts. Students will work on a family project that includes decorating a poster to tell about what December holiday they celebrate, family traditions and what they like best about that holiday. They bring the posters in and share them with the class (as they are brought in). They are then displayed in the hallway with the sign "Room ____ Families Celebrate".

My Top 5 Holiday Books:
*The first two are favorites around my house.

David is at it again in this hilarious Christmas read. My sons love when he streaks down the sidewalk and when he pees his name in the snow.

This holiday story is about little Llama going shopping with his mom. She rips him away from his t.v. watching to go shopping, and he is not happy. We love it so much because this has happened to us a million times! Of course, there are rhyming words galore.

Santa needs help to guide his sleigh. Which animals would be best for the job? A great book for predicting and describing.

This is a classic that every child should read/hear. It is the book that so many other holiday books were modeled after.
This is a modern day classic. I still get tears in my eyes when I read this or show the movie.

Holiday Song Packets
Each month, I make song packets for the children to sing/read. They pull them out when we have Morning Meeting, when they read with a partner/self or when they have some extra time. Song packets have become very popular. My December song packet has favorite holiday classics such as Frosty, Rudolph, Feliz Navidad, The Dreidel Song and Jingle Bells. I also throw in The Gingerbread Rap. I picked that song up at a conference years ago. Anyway, I think song packets are a great alternative to worksheet packets that are used for busy work. Students can do so much with song packets, and they are meaningful/fun. 

I'm always on the lookout for new holiday craft ideas and ideas for student-make parent gifts. Do you have any?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I realize it's the night before Thanksgiving, but I finally figured this out, so...
I'm linking up with First Grade and Fabulous for a holiday recipe exchange.

Greek Cheese Ball
1 loaf French baquette
olive oil
1 pkg (10 oz) fzn chopped spinach, thawed
2 T Greek rub (if you don't have this, mix together 1 tsp lemon zest, 1/2 tsp oregano leaves, and 1/4 tsp pepper)
8 oz crumbled feta cheese
2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1/2 C sundried tomatoes (I buy the chopped ones, or I chop the whole ones in a chopper)
3 T shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut baquette into thin slices (1/4" thick). Put slices of bread on a baking stone or baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Bake 10-12 min. Remove and put on cooling rack.
2. Line a colander with paper towels. Put spinach into colander. Wrap the paper towels over the spinach and press until the spinach is almost dry. 
3. Put cream cheese into a medium bowl, and microwave for 30 sec. on HIGH, or until softened. Stir in spinach and the rub. Add feta cheese. Mix until well blended (I put it all in my Kitchen Aid mixer).
4. Line small mixing bowl with plastic wrap. Spread 1/3 of cheese mixture on the bottom of bowl. Top with chopped tomatoes-make an even layer. Spread the rest of the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.
5. To serve, invert the bowl with the mixture onto a serving platter. Remove plastic wrap. Press pistachios onto top of cheese  ball. Serve with baquette slices. 

*My family loves this recipe-I think it's from Pampered Chef? They request it all the time. I'm going to make it for a Thanksgiving meal appetizer, so we can eat it as we are all waiting impatiently for our meal tomorrow :).Enjoy!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let's Talk About Independent Reading

Independent Reading:
Independent Reading has changed dramatically over the last 12 years I've been at my school. I think that, with so much research done on the topic (I love Allington's work-so practical), it had to change. We all know that when readers spend a lot of time reading books that are "just right" for them, they get better at reading (including all aspects of reading). For years, I taught my children how to pick "just right" books, and the importance of them, and they had opportunities to "shop" for books in our class library to keep in their reading boxes. I would monitor their selections to ensure they were picking books that were at their reading level. This was a more informal approach to what we do today.

A few years ago, my district adopted an independent reading program developed by the American Reading Company (ARC). This is a highly structured independent reading workshop. The children are "leveled" (this included using the BAS to find their independent F&P reading level as well as leveling each child with the ARC's assessments). Once a child's independent reading level is found, he/she is placed in a color. These colors go from Purple (Read to Me-mostly beginning K children who were never read to), to Yellow Yellow (patterned text-there are 4 levels of this), to G (60 Power Words and beginning sounds), to GG (blends, more Power Words, category words), etc. It actually is used all the way up into the high school. There are colored bins with books that have colored labels. Students are to choose 5-8 books each morning upon arrival, and they put them into a reading pouch. Books are exchanged with other classrooms one day each 6-day cycle.

For 30 minutes each day (right now we do two 15-min blocks b/c I feel that's developmentally appropriate for them at this time), the children read their books. Before reading, I remind them of their focus skill for reading (comprehension or other skill-this skill is the one we've been working on throughout our literacy block). They are also each given a power goal that is set by me during their reading conference. Not only do they have to read the books independently, but they also have comprehension skills and reading foundational skills that they must know and demonstrate their knowledge. These skills are all tied to the CCSR. I have a schedule to meet with 4 students each day, and it's working very well. At the end of the reading time, students have "accountable talk"-they turn and talk to their neighbor and discuss their reading/book(s) according to our focus. I then choose one name out of my equality stick box and that student has to stand up and share out with the class. We give him/her points (on our fingers) for his/her response (this is tied to our current reading response rubric). WHEW!!!

Aside from reading independently in school, students are also required to read for 3o minutes (2-steps) each night at home. All of their reading steps and their reading levels are logged on paper (and recorded on the ARC's computer system).

We receive the most cutting edge professional development regularly, from this company. I am a reading specialist, and I feel so much more prepared to teach reading as a result of all of this training! 

This approach to independent reading/readers' workshop is very intense, but now that we are in our third year, we are seeing great results. We also know exactly what a child needs to work on and what they have to do to be able to read higher level texts. 

By the way, we still use our old reading boxes. Students still shop for books that are "just right" for them, but these are from our class library. They still get poems for their poetry binders and fun song packets to put in there. Students have many opportunities to read from their boxes as well...I just couldn't let them go!

I also think CAFE blends very nicely into our readers' workshop (just as Daily 5 is great for the guided reading block), and I hope to learn more about CAFE in my upcoming class. Guided reading still takes place daily as well, and this is where we incorporate skills groups that target specific skills.

The next post, I will explain how guided reading is done. The reading response rubrics and our class library will be coming up soon too in future posts. This feels great to get all these ideas/thoughts written down. I am writing these posts to share what we do in my school, but also to see if anyone else is doing the same kinds of things (and to find out how you are doing them). 

So, how do you run your independent reading/readers' workshop?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I'm in the Cafe/Daily 5 Grad Class!!

A few months ago, I was looking at the Daily Cafe site, and I saw that there was going to be a grad class offered online, though the University of Iowa. Well, my interest was piqued! I hurried, and I scanned all of my needed documents to the university, but I was 5 people too late. Oh, well! 

Then, I saw that there was going to be another session open, but I actually forgot about that deadline...I have no idea how-with three children, a full-time job, etc. Anyway, much to my surprise, I was automatically enrolled in this session (begins in Jan.). I paid for the class...only $400 for a grad class! I am so super excited. 

I'm sure I'll be sharing what I learn. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Let's Talk About Word Study...
For the past few years, we've been using Words Their Way as our primary spelling approach. This approach to spelling instruction has been eye opening. Before receiving training in, and using Words Their Way, I tried bits and pieces of it when I could. Throughout my graduate courses in reading, I learned about Words Their Way and couldn't wait to try some parts of the program (the parts I could mesh with our previous spelling program that consisted of...pretest, practice list of words, test, repeat). I even bought three separate Words Their Way sort books so I would have them in my professional library. You can imagine my surprise when our building principal announced that we were going to be using Words Their Way the following year. And, guess what showed up in all of our mailboxes? Yes, the main Words Their Way book with the three separate books I had purchased. I now keep a set at home and at school. 

So, I finally got the hang of it last year. By "hang of it", I mean I felt I had all the routines down and I truly understood this developmentally appropriate/differentiated approach to spelling instruction. 

I've included some of the ways I organize my groups and the spelling test paper I use. In the classroom, I post a 6-day routine on chart paper. Since I have three spelling groups, I put each group name on a post-it and each day I rotate the post-its down. I call them "A", "B", and "C"...I know they're super creative names. It's very simple and organized. By the way, as with everything, setting up the routines takes a lot of practice at the beginning of the year, but it's worth it!

I've also started incorporating each group's targeted spelling skill(s) into our morning message or brainstorming words that contain a certain feature (ex: -at words) on a chart. I make a big deal about how a certain spelling group is learning words like that, and I post the word charts. 

We (the great teachers I work with) use the same Feature Guide for the Primary Spelling Inventory. We just staple each inventory under the Feature Guide. Each time we score the inventory, we use a different highlighter or pen. Again, it's very simple (and simple is good)! 

What spelling approach do you use? If you use Words Their Way, what spelling games/activities do you use? I'm always looking for more simple, fun yet effective games/activities to use.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Let's Talk About...The Literacy Block

In my next few posts, my goal is to talk about the literacy block. My hope is to have dialogue among my colleagues since we don't always the time or energy, during the day, to talk to each other. Many times, we have said how nice it would be to sit down and discuss what we do. But, let's be real...who wants to sit down and talk with a colleague about school after a very busy, exhausting day? I know I don't! So, let's stop being strangers and let's share our ideas with one another. There are wonderful things going on in our classrooms! If we don't have the time during the day, let's chat here. 

O.k., now down to business! I want to start by discussing how the literacy block is set up in your classrooms. In the past few years, I've noticed a change in how reading is to be taught. In the past, our literacy block wasn't really a block. It may have consisted of a lengthy shared reading lesson (centered around a theme), guided reading groups (disconnected from the shared reading lesson), spelling/word work (very disconnected and not differentiated), writing (format varied widely) and read alouds (randomly chosen). There was not a large block of uninterrupted reading, as specials were usually placed in there. Times have changed (thank goodness)!

We now have a large block of uninterrupted reading, and this is now called "Readers Workshop". Although I struggle to make everything flow during this block of time, I like to think I've gotten better at this over the past few years. 

After Morning Meeting/calendar routines, I've been having my students begin their first 15-minutes of Independent Reading. I will post more on that in the future. Then, I begin our shared reading lesson. This is tied to a unit of study that is centered around a specific set of comprehension strategies. I begin by stating/restating the focus of the lesson, choosing a student to pick a familiar book or poem to reread (build fluency and conduct the mini-lesson (focused on a comprehension strategy)/referring to the CAFE Menu (may add a new strategy to menu). We read a piece of text together (a poem or a big book)/focus on the strategy and discuss our responses to the text. The students respond to the text as we flow into guided reading.

Our time allotted for Shared Reading is approximately 10-15 minutes, and although this time is not etched in stone, it can't be too much longer. This is where I struggle! I need to be short and sweet, and get out of the mindset that Shared Reading needs to be this long, drawn-out 45 minute lesson. So, I want to hear from you! What does your Shared Reading look like? What do you do? 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Whew! Friday is finally here!

I always feel a sense of accomplishment as the students leave on Friday afternoon of the first week of school. As I am sitting here typing this, my first thought is, "It wasn't so bad." But, as I think deeper, the first week was crazy! I think that God plays a little trick on teachers, as he does on mothers. If you're a mom, you can relate. You know how horrible it is to give birth (now, don't get all "giving birth is wonderful" on me...the result of giving birth is wonderful, but the actual process IS NOT)? But then, soon after, you're brain somehow forgets all that, and you think to yourself, "Oh, that wasn't so bad." If your brain didn't forget all that, we'd never reproduce. Well, as teachers, our brains forget how bad that first week is too. It is one of many factors that keeps us coming back year after year.

In reality, my first week went well, aside from the first day (that is always crazy). I have a great group of kids, and I'm so excited to work with them this year. We took it very slow this week, as we started to learn and practice all the routines and procedures of our classroom.

I truly believe that the classroom should be pretty much empty when the students arrive. Then, it is up to the teacher and students to create a classroom together. After all, it's not MY classroom, it is  OUR classroom. Some students questioned why the class library, the shelves and walls were empty. My response was, "We will build our classroom together in time." And, we are starting to do that. During the week, I introduced the rules, we practiced them, and now they are posted. We discussed the use of the class library, I introduced some math themed books, Kevin Henkes books(author of month) and a few other categories of  books through read alouds and "book commercials". These are now displayed in the class library. Some kids get impatient with this slow process at first, but then they get it. This classroom is a place for them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Great Buy at Costco!!!

I went to Costco tonight, and as usual, I found myself wondering the aisles. I was just talking to my mom about that old laminator she has, and guess what I saw? A laminator on sale for $14 and some change!!! Before I bought it, I looked online to see if the refill film would be affordable. I'd say that 100 sheets for $12 is reasonable, so I bought the laminator. Lamination is at a premium where I work, so I am very happy to have found this baby at Costco. I didn't use it yet, so I don't know if it works well. But, I read some reviews online, and they were good. 

Inservice started today. We are starting a new math program this year called Everyday Math. My son, who goes to school in a different school district, has this program at his school. He just finished first grade, so I have some idea of what the program is about. It was a long day, and my head is spinning as I am trying to wrap my brain around all the new information! 

I didn't post class pics yet because, quite honestly, I didn't have time. I do plan on posting them, though. Maybe tomorrow? 

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's Almost Here!

Well, I officially did it. I've entered the blogging world. My friends, Hannah and Wendy, introduced me to all this awesomeness! Last year, Hannah casually mentioned that teachers are all about blogging now. Me, being the curious person I am, checked some of these blogs out. Now, it took me a few months to do that because of my hectic life as mom of 3 wonderful (but very, very busy) little boys and a full-time first grade teacher, but eventually I got to where I am now (a very primitive blog). I checked out my friend's teaching blog at, and I knew that I had to get this started (even if I'm the only one who reads it). I think it will be neat to document my year and reflect on it. I am addicted to teaching blogs, and hopefully, plan to make and sell some of my stuff on TPT. But, that may take another few months ;).

I don't know why, but every year about this same time, I am filled with "first day jitters" (yes, I also love the book by the same name). It's like all the calm of those carefree summer days, well as calm as a house with 3 little boys can be, has come to a screeching halt. Craziness has officially set in. Sleep, if you can call it that, is down to an average of 6 hours from 8. I've been hogging our computer for the past few weeks. And, I am preparing for this school year at a frightening pace.

My husband, a middle school teacher, doesn't understand this crazy culture of elementary teachers. He says he feels bad for me, with all the work I've been doing, but he shouldn't. I actually enjoy all the work I've been doing to prepare my first grade classroom. Don't get me wrong, he spends time preparing too. But, it's a little different preparing for 1-2 different classes as compared to preparing for a whole day with 6-year olds.

Today will be my 4th full day that I've spent in my classroom, getting everything just right. This is my 17th year teaching (12th teaching 1st), and I still spend all this time preparing. That's not normal, but it is what it is. This year, I've decided to go with a classroom theme. Really, it took me this long to do this? The classroom theme is owls, and every time I turn around, I find another really cute idea.

 I plan to post pictures of my classroom later today. But first I need to calm myself by exercising while no one else is awake. This is my "me time", even if I get it at 5:00a.m.