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.