Friday, October 24, 2008

I have books a first grader can read in my room; Imagine That!

I introduced the idea of just right books this week. Before this week we had been gathering books that interested us for our book boxes. The students could then read the words, retell the story or tell a story using the pictures.

I have asked them to have at least 3 or 4 "just right" books in their box now. (they can still have a few hard or easy books)

So, as I was conferecing this week, I have been checking book boxes and helping my friends make better choices in reading material. I noticed that my friend J had a box full of thick higher level books.
"Are these your just right books, J?" Me
"I can't read any books in this room." J
"Really? Come over here and we can look at some books together." I gathered 6 or 7 for him to look through
" Do any of these look interesting?" He chooses one and opens it and....reads the words! He chooses another, and low and behold, he can read the words again.

He looked at me with an astonished face and says, "These are Mrs. Harshberger (his Reading Recovery teacher) kind of books. I didn't know you had Mrs. Harshberger books in here!"

I did not add these books to my library recently. These lower levels have been here all year and some have even been in his box before. Had J internalized the idea that he can't read and therefore, stopped looking at the print? When else does he do this?

J has reminded me how important it is to convince each child that he or she is a reader.

Fall Break

OK, I made it to Fall Break...time to take a breath. This first month and a half has seemed so hectic. I haven't had time to reflect, which is a very bad thing.

Two of my colleagues and I (with the help of our math coach) are revamping how we teach math this year. We are trying a workshop approach.
In the past we have been frustrated with
a.) our math series
b.) the students understanding of number concepts
c.) trying to differentiate using said math series
d.) our lack of bathroom breaks throughout the day (oh wait, that is a different post)

Kids come to us each year having memorized facts, yet they don't understand what those facts mean. So we have spent the first part of this year "exploring numbers". For example, if a student was working on 7, s/he would use many different materials to make 7. S/he may use pattern blocks, jewels, cubes, unifix cubes, geoboards,beans, etc. The next step would to be record this in some way. Then to transfer that record to a number sentence. This is done over days or weeks. Each child is assessed and working on a different number.

We hope that fostering this deeper understanding of number concepts will show throughout the year. For example, when we teach fact families the kids will have already discovered, on their own, how this works using manipulatives and the concept should "click" with them. (notice my use of the word should...only time will tell)

The hard part of all this is trusting that it will work. There have been no worksheets in math yet. Will parents understand what we are doing? Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

One full week down!

We have been in class for 8 full days. (172 to go but, who's counting?) I have a fun and interesting class (read: a class full of challenges). I am so fortunate to have a wonderful assistant in my room all day. She is assigned to one of my students with autism. I am so lucky to have both the student and the para in my room! The student is awesome! I can't wait to get to know him better and learn all the lessons he has to teach me. His para is so helpful and knowledgeable! I am sure I will keep you updated on both of them this year!

We launched Daily 5 this week. We have read to self for three days. On Thursday the class made it to 3 sessions of 5 minutes. My Friday schedule is different and we only squeezed one session in. I LOVE looking out upon a classroom of 1st graders reading around the room.

In my welcome letter this summer I asked each child to bring a Forever Book with them to school. I have to tell you this has been a wonderful beginning to our reading journey! Each day I read one or two of these books. The child shares why the book is a Forever Book. This may include: where they got the book, who reads the book with them, what they like about the book, etc. They are becoming a community of readers. In the library this Friday, I heard at least two students recommend a book they found to another student. In both cases the book was recommended because of something they learned about this child from his/her Forever Book.

"Hey H, did you see this book? I think you would like it because you like books about horses like your Forever Book." (I love it when I try something new and it works!)

I am waiting to get all my computer permission slips turned in. I will then start posting our Forever Books and a quote from each child on why it is a Forever Book on our classroom blog. Yes, I am going to try to blog with the kids this year. It will start by sharing quotes from the kids about their Forever books and shared writing. I hope to also share writing samples and book recommendations. I will experiment as I go. As soon as I get the permission slips and post for the first time, I will add a link to this page.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

fudgsicles and folders

Let me start by saying, that this post is old. I just haven't found the time to post in quite a while. Two weeks ago teachers at our school visited a large trailer park in our district. We went bearing gifts (thus the name of the post).

About 10 teachers donated supplies (folders, crayons, pencils, glue sticks,notebooks,etc) to fill 150 bags. The trailer park advertised free ice cream and school supplies. It was an awesome evening. We had about 20 teachers, including our wonderful principal, and our school counselor attend the event. We gave away all but 2 of the bags.

We gave these bags to kids of all ages. I loved seeing the little ones open their notebooks and start drawing with their new crayons right there on the picnic tables. I also gave a bag to one of my former 5th grade students. He is a freshman this year!

Every time I attend one of these events I am inspired! I remember the reason I became a teacher and I'm reminded of what strong families these children come from. It is too easy to become judgemental when we don't venture out into the community in which we serve.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Word Wall Woes

I have been reading and thinking and thinking and reading all summer. Unfortunately, I have not been writing as much as I should. One of the things I have been pondering of late is the Word Wall.

When I started to teach 1st grade I was given a list of word wall words separated by quarters. All of 1st grade uses the same list. The list is good. It has frequently used words. I think there are a total of 60 words on the list.

So, in theory, the word wall should be a helpful useful resource in my room. Over the last three years, I have struggled with our wall. The kids that know all the words quickly, know them because they read well. They would know these words with little or no intervention by me. The kids that need these words are overwhelmed by the amount of words. They do not use the wall as a resource.

I introduce the words by first pointing them out in the poems that the class has already learned. I have used homework practice, given weekly tests, individual lists based on each child's known words, word rings, etc. (I'm sure there are more ideas that didn't work so well and I have blocked out of my memory) These ideas have worked to some extent, but still I am feeling that I'm just not quite getting it right.

First, because it is a predetermined list it doesn't feel authentic. I would rather put words that we are authentically using in the classroom on some type of reference for the child. Patti, our literacy coach, suggested a flip chart with different categories. I also thought of combining some ideas I have been gathering and using word books that the kids have made after categorizing individual cards. So, in other words, at the beginning of the year the kids would spend time sorting cards by category. There might be family, colors, school, etc. Each card would have a picture and then the word written on it. After we are done using these cards to sort, I would bind them together. This could be one resource we use. This doesn't address the issue of authenticity.

I would like to use some type of personal word wall for each student. Words that I feel this child needs and is ready to learn could go on their personal word walls. These could be taken from the child's writing or reading. I have thought about using ABC books. I have also thought of using a file folder. The folder could be propped on their tables during writer's workshop. The book could also be read. I still have some thinking to do...

I think I also may generate lists on chart paper with the children. I have done this on the board in the past, but then they are erased. If I used chart paper they could be kept and would be a permanent resource. So, if we are talking about families, we would generate a list of words that may be useful. (Grandma, Grandpa, aunt, uncle, etc...)

Then the question is: Do I not use the big Word Wall? How do I assess "writes common words" for the report card? Is the problem not with the word wall, but with my teaching? If you have ideas or thinking on this subject, please share them with me. I could really use some other's thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Breaking Dawn at Midnight

It was one of those perfect moments you try to imprint in your memory. It was 1:30 am, I was driving on a country road between South Bend and Syracuse. The van was filled by the sound of snoring and a soft glow of light. It was one of those summer nights when you can still feel the heat of the day on your skin, making the cold air rushing in the window feel wonderful.

I felt completely content to be driving this late at night or, more accurately, early in the morning. My two daughters, my husband and I had had a wonderful evening. This night had been planned for months. You see, the new Stephenie Myer book, Breaking Dawn, was released at 12:00 am August 2nd and we had been at Borders to purchase it. Maggie, my 15 year old, is an avid fan of this book series.

My dear sweet husband has been travelling for the past two weeks. He had been running off a few hours of sleep a night. And yet, he agreed to meet us for dinner, shop at the mall, and see a movie; all to pass the time before we could purchase the book at midnight. The plan was to take him to his car (He left it at his job in South Bend) after the big purchase so we could both drive our seperate vehicles home. He was so tired he fell asleep waiting in the van while we were in Borders. I didn't have the heart to wake him and make him drive all the way home (I will drive him to work on Monday).

I know, right now, some of you are thinking how crazy I am to drive an hour and stay out so late for a book that we could have purchased the next morning at Walmart. I know that my parents would have never done such an impractical thing for me when I was young. But, seeing my daughter's excitment as we waited in line (the line wrapped halfway around the store) was worth any inconvenience I may have gone through. It makes me so happy to think that Maggie gets such joy from literature.

So, as I was driving home, she was curled up in the back seat, reading the latest drama between Edward, Bella, and Jacob. She was lost in the world of vampires and werewolves. I was lost in my thought of gratitude for this perfect day and my wonderful family.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I have been tagged

Tagged! Another fun round of tag is making its way through the blogging world! I've been tagged by my friend, cathy. The rules are that I have to share 6 random things about me and then tag 6 others....

First, for my randomness...

1.) I met my husband while working at a residential treatment facility for "Troubled Youth" and no, he was not a resident. We actually had the boys from our cottage act as ushers at our wedding. I did not have to restrain anybody in my wedding dress , if you were wondering.

2.) My first major in college was actually pre-med. (How do you write this? Nothing looks right) I wanted to a psychiatrist until I realized I would be in school until I was 87 years old.

3.) I had all three of my kids without the use of drugs. I now realize birthing them I can handle without drugs, but raising teenagers might require drugs. (just kidding)

4.) I was the youth coordinator at the Goshen YWCA for 6 years. It was the best job to have while raising small children. I spent every Spring Saturday lining fields for t-ball games for 6 long years.

5.) I coached middle school golf for several years...and enjoyed working with that age group.

6.) I LOVE pulling my student's loose teeth. Kids will come back to my room even after they have moved on to 2nd or 3rd grade for me to pull a loose tooth.

All of the people I would normally tag have already been tagged. Sorry.

My Voice Has Been Missing

It has been a while since I've posted. It isn't that I haven't been reading and thinking about school, because I have been. As I reread my last few posts I noticed how, shall I say, boring they are. If you know my writing history, you know my 7th grade Language Arts teacher killed my voice. I wrote, what I thought of as a humorous piece about stepping off the plane for the first time in Iowa. (I moved to Iowa when I was 10yrs old.) The piece was about my misconceptions about farms and the people that lived on them. The comments written on my paper by the teacher basically said that I was ignorant and that Eastern Ohio (the place I moved from) was the Midwest and I should have known better (there was more, but I have blocked it from my memory). She gave me a mediocre grade. I was definately not used to mediocre grades.

I became, what I call, a "Safe Writer". I wrote a boring yet correct intro, body, and conclusion to every writing assignment from then on. If I wasn't sure where to put the coma, I changed the sentence. If I didn't know how to spell the word, I used a different one. (yes, I was too lazy to just look it up) I rocked High School English and even may have been known to write someone else's paper in exchange for said person typing mine. You see, I never took typing in high school, I was going to be a psychiatrist, thus having my own secretary.

A few years ago I took a workshop with Ruth Ayres ( my writing hero). During the workshop we were given time to write in a writer's notebook. I have been writing in a notebook since then. My notebook isn't boring. I find it kind of funny. Why, because I know no one but me will read it. I don't worry about where the stinkin' comma goes. I write like I talk. I know that you are never suppose to start a sentence with but. But, that's how I talk.

I recently saw Ruth present at the ALL Write Summer Institute. She talked about getting rid of that high school teacher in your head. I really connected with that statement. Then I found this blog and I thought, yeah, she is really funny. I enjoy reading her blog because she has a lot of voice. I decided I needed to revisit my blog.

I started to write this blog to make myself a more reflective teacher. That is still my main purpose. However, I would like to enjoy reading my own blog. If you know me in "real life", I hope you know that I am serious about being a good teacher, mom and wife yet I do not act serious while performing these duties. I have been known to make my coworkers laugh out loud at my notes during meetings (yes, I am still paying attention, just adding comments to the presentation). The kids in my class will tell you, I am the weirdest teacher they have ever had. My own kids are embarrassed by me on a daily basis. I enjoy life.

Humor has always been my fall back. Our family moved around when I was little. My dad was transferred 5 times while I was growing up. I was a chubby nerdy kid. I learned it was easier to make friends if you could make them laugh. This has gotten me in trouble many times. Some people think I am not serious if I'm joking around. That is so not true. I would just prefer to enjoy myself at work and at home. I learned pretty early in life that life is short. My mom died when I was 21 years old. My mom was a "fun" mom. My friends liked to come to my house. She was known to play cards with us into the wee hours of the morning. She would take us shopping and laugh as much as we did. That doesn't mean she didn't have rules. She just enforced them with a smile. I hope my kids will describe me as a "fun" mom some day. (I'm pretty sure that is not the f* word my 14 year old uses these days to describe me)

Anyway, I am now going to start writing with more voice. I hope you will not be too annoyed if my commas are not placed correctly. If I have a run on sentence, please ignore it. I figure if I'm trying to help my students grow as writers, I should probably do some growing myself. You may still find me unfunny, but I will enjoy writing and reading my blog more. And remember, it is all about me.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Student Story Challenge

My last student story was inspiring (at least to me). This one may not be inspiring, but it is the student that has been on my mind this past week. Miguel* came to me this past year from kindergarten with a rather long note. It stated he didn't know his letters, sounds, sight words, etc. The note was correct. He was my least prepared student and he knew it.

Miguel* was aware from day one that he was not doing the same level of work as the other kids in the class. When Miguel* felt embarrassed or singled out about classroom performance he acted out. He often would act aggressive towards others. He was placed in Reading Recovery first round, but was kicked out of the "buddy reading program" that RR kids participate in with 5th graders every morning. He wouldn't listen to the 5th grader. He would disrupt all the other kids in the library.

Miguel* struggled through the year. I met with other teachers to discuss him and come up with ideas to use with him. He was a second language child so I could not have him tested (he hadn't had three years of English instruction) However, Miguel* didn't really speak much Spanish. When he moved here in kindergarten he spoke only English, but over the summer his "old new dad" had started teaching him Spanish. The thing was, Miguel* was really smart. He was street smart and classroom smart.

He knew that if he misbehaved enough to be removed from the other students he would not have to complete the activity. So he would act up whenever a task was difficult for him, which was often. I don't usually remove students from the classroom unless they are a danger to others...So Miguel* would throw a pencil at someone or grab someone's chair from them as they were sitting or... you name it, he tried it. I decided to give him an "out" when things got too frustrating. He would "need to go to the bathroom" or I would send him to the office with a note for the secretary. (the notes said," Miguel* needs a break from the classroom, please smile and thank him.")

I really liked Miguel*, but I don't think I did enough for him this past year. I thought briefly about retaining him. However, he was the largest boy in my class and he was angry. He was angry that he had an "old dad", "old new dad", and a "new dad" all during this school year. He was angry that he couldn't read like all of his peers. Angry that I couldn't make him be able to read. I felt that if I retained him he would be even angrier. I am worried about Miguel*. His brother is a teenager and belongs to a gang. I worry that Miguel* may also join a gang or choose the wrong path.

Because of redistricting, Miguel* will not be attending my school next year. I worry that those "other teachers" won't take care of him. (the teachers at his new school are wonderful, I should have no worries about him) I worry that with that loss of connection he will feel lost. I feel like I failed Miguel*. I hate to feel this way at the end of the year with a student. I don't feel like I did enough to change his feelings about school or life. I really tried to celebrate his successes, but he didn't feel successful because he compared himself with others. He didn't buy into the classroom community. I had moments of breakthroughs, but I'm afraid he needed more than moments.

I hope that Miguel's second grade teacher will love him as much as I do. I hope that through testing our district determines what Miguel needs and I hope that he gets whatever help he needs. I hope he begins to believe that he is a great kid. I will always remember Miguel and the things he taught me. I'm afraid he can't say the same about me.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Connecting with your inner "isms"

I spent Friday at an all day seminar entitled : "Teaching Students with Autism: Classroom Strategies That Work". Wow, my mind is full of thoughts and ideas for the upcoming year. I will have a child with Autism in my room next year. I was excited about experiencing this before I went to the workshop, but now I can hardly wait to get to know T*.

The presenter was Paula Kluth. If you ever see this name associated with a training, RUN, don't walk to the workshop. She was so knowledgeable and such a dynamic speaker!

One of the things she addressed was the idea that we all have aspects of the autism spectrum in us. If you have a strange collection, a ritual, a weird fascination, you have a little "ism". We need to respect these things that make each student an individual. Often times, once that diagnosis is made we immediately try to change the student; make him more like the other children in our class. Do we really want all the children in our class to be alike? Or, do we want a classroom of individuals who act, learn, think, and communicate differently? She wasn't saying that we shouldn't teach our children with autism ways to communicate better, fit into our society better, etc... She was just saying that we need to respect them as individuals.

The workshop was full of practical ways to help all students, especially ones with disabilities. She shared the idea of the Birthday Party Test. After reading a child's IEP you should be able to think of a really good birthday gift for that child; if you can't think of one, the IEP isn't worth the paper it is written on. She believes you should always work with what the child can do, his strengths, then build from there. Rather than looking at the weaknesses and concentrating on them. (sound familiar, Reading Recovery Teachers?)

Paula Kluth has a website: she is also the author of several books. Check it out, you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cleavage and Big Butts

A few blogs ago I shared some books that my son Corey recommended. I also shared that Corey was a reluctant reader. I have three children and my eldest, Maggie, is anything but a reluctant reader. Maggie has always been a good reader. She really wasn't an early reader. She went from reading level c books to reading Harry Potter in 1st grade. (yes, I know that the length and content of Harry Potter are not meant for a 1st grader, but I also believe that if child is motivated that you should let them try...and I thought she would get a few pages in and give up)

Maggie did have a set back in her reading journey near the middle of 2nd grade. The school Maggie attends uses Accelerated Reader pretty heavily. Part of their grade each year is based on it, the hallways are full of graphs indicating how well each child is doing, etc. Well, Maggie read at a 6th grade level in at the beginning of 2nd grade. She was made to check out books and read 6th grade books. Maggie was NOT interested in these books. She wanted to read American Girl books in the worst way. I, being the rue breaker, told her she could read anything she wanted at home, she didn't need to follow these rules when we bought books or went to the library. Maggie fell so far away from the tree on the rule following thing. She would not go against her teacher.

I contacted her teacher to ask if she could either change her ZPD at school or encourage Maggie to read non AR books at home. Her teacher informed me that her ZPD would stay the same and she was glad Maggie was reading only AR books at home. So the years goes on, Maggie loses her passion for reading although she is racking up the points and her little "space ship" is zooming to the top of the bulletin board. Maggie's teacher also required each student to take two AR tests a week. Around February Maggie was reading a long book(remember she is reading 6th grade books). We had gone to Corey's basketball game one evening and to my dad's to eat on another evening this week. She did not finish her book on time. I told her her to tell her teacher that she didn't have time to finish the book due to family commitments (you would think I would have learned by this time). Maggie was told to take the test anyway. She received a 70%. This particular teacher required a 80% on each test or...they stood on the wall during recess. This was a common punishment for naughty behavior. Everyone at recess could see who had been naughty. Maggie was devastated. I did mention earlier that Maggie was a rule follower, didn't I? She came home crying. She thought we would be mad at her for getting into trouble.

I was furious! I contacted the teacher to set a meeting time (after I calmed down). We had the meeting. I voiced my concerns. The teacher told me I was wrong. I explained why I felt the way I did. She repeated that I was wrong. I told her why I thought AR was not benefiting the children. She again told me how wrong and misguided I was. She then said,"we will have to disagree about this subject. Thank you for sharing how you feel." I was dismissed. Worse that the way I felt was the result this episode had on Maggie.

Maggie began to only check out short books. She always read the books in the time allotted, even if it meant missing out on fun life experiences, she followed the rules. Her reading level went down in third grade. I asked her how the STAR test went. She said she started missing questions when she noticed others had completed the test so that her level would be more "normal".

This story does not have a sad ending, however. Maggie is 14 years old now and she regained her passion for reading slowly after 2nd grade. She has had a wonderful 8th grade Language teacher this year (Thank You Mrs. Neff).

She and her friend recently returned from the library with an odd collection of books. They had decided to choose each other's books. They both agreed to read the books. Two of the three that Maggie's friend had chosen were: The True Meaning of Cleavage by Mariah Fredericks and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. First, I think this is such a fun idea and will try it soon with one of my friends. Second, I love to see my children having fun with reading and literature. Maggie enjoyed these books even if they were chosen for the "embarrassment at checkout" factor. She probably would not have checked either of these books out herself. I am glad that Maggie has friends that talk about literature, share, and enjoy literature together.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Keep questioning everything you do

This is a quote from the book I am reading at the moment. Reading Essentials by Regie Routman. This book makes me think.

She really stresses that teachers be accountable for their own education. We must read about, hold conversations about, and try out new methods. We must be knowledgeable enough about teaching that we don't jump on every bandwagon that comes along. We need to know WHY we do the things we do.

In chapter 2 of this book she talks about bonding with the students. I moved away from centers this year. I now use The Daily Five and Reader's Workshop. This freed my time up enough that I conferenced with each child once in about every 10 days (some more often). I got to know them as readers. It was so interesting to see what books they chose, why they chose these books, how they read these books, etc... I learned that some of my readers liked to have several books going at once. Some liked to read a book straight through. I learned that some liked to read nonfiction while some liked rhyming books. I learned that some of my readers didn't have any books at home while at least one of my readers used his small allowance to buy books from garage sales. I learned more about fighter planes, dinosaurs, and motorcycles than I ever thought I needed to know. I bonded with these kids as readers.

I would like to think that I have always bonded with my kids. This year was a little different I bonded with them as readers in a way I haven't in the past. In the past, I may have known that Suzie really liked dogs, but I didn't know that she only liked to read fiction about dogs and not nonfiction. I may have known that James liked dinosaurs, but I didn't know that he used his weekly allowance to buy dinosaur books at garage sales that his grandmother took him to each Saturday. I felt like I moved to a different level this year.

In the past, I would try to match the guided reading books to interest levels for that group. I took that responsibility to choose books they would like. How presumptuous of me! This year's class knew what they liked and they knew what they wanted to try to read. With a little help, they knew what level they needed. That doesn't mean that I don't still need to suggest books. I still have the students choose from different genres, but I do give them the final choice now.

Along these lines, Routman talks about building a reading history with the class. Displaying a copy of the covers of all the books you have read together as a class. I won't lie, this thought overwhelms me. I think about the number of picture books we read together as a class and I think about where I would display these... I am going to try to accomplish this this year. I may start by making the covers smaller. I need to really think about where to display these so that the kids really use them to reference. I want the class to make those text to text connections more often and I think this will help.

Another suggestion Routman gives is to use books for Sharing Time. (Show and Tell) I think I will modify this a tad and have each child bring one of their favorite books with them on the first day of school. I will ask that they keep them at school for the first two weeks. We will start the year off reading these books together and getting to know each other through these books. I think I will prop them on top of our library shelves with a name plate by each one. (note to self: include this in the welcome letter)

I think I will stop now. I will you keep you posted on more as I read more!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Some Good Reads

If any of you know me, you know I have a 13 year old son. He is sitting beside me as I browse all my "teacher sites". He would like to contribute his thought on his favorite author/ books.

He asked me to tell you about Carl Deuker. He was sharing with me earlier this evening that his two favorite books are Heart of a Champion and Night Hoops. (if anyone knows how to underline in a blog, please let me know) Both of these books were written by Deuker. My son is, to say the least, a reluctant reader. So, if they gained his attention, they just may capture the attention of a reluctant reader in your life. They must be good if: A.) he was discussing them with me B.) He asked me more than a few times to post this C.) He agreed to read more this summer if I bought/ borrowed more books by this author for him. I will be checking the library and Amazon tomorrow morning!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Student Story Challenge #1

O.K., I am going to attempt to do a challenge from Two Writing Teachers (I'm not sure I will know how to link when I am done).

The challenge is to write a story about a student we have had in the past (changing all names, of course).

If you know me, you know that I have struggled and struggled with ideas to use with ENL kids, when teaching them to read. I just feel that meaning is such a driving force with beginning readers, that to eliminate meaning just really handicaps the reader. I have asked for more training to work with the ENL population for several years, because I don't feel like I am doing my best work. I must add here, I LOVE working with this population, I just don't feel like I am doing them justice.

I started out this year with 28 students and 9 of them spoke English as their second, or in one case, third language. I had some very proficient ENL readers and some struggling ENL readers. One of my strugglers was a little hispanic boy, *Juan. He had been to head start and extended day kindergarten. He didn't talk much in English. I made sure that he was always at a table with someone that spoke Spanish so he felt like he could communicate. (I know that some people say we should force our kids to speak English at all times, but I feel it is more important to feel safe and secure) I do encourage the kids to speak English as much as possible, but I also don't want them to feel ashamed of their native language.

When it came time to nominate students to be tested for Reading Recovery, I didn't nominate *Juan. I felt like he was using the stretegies I had taught him and the only thing holding him back was his language issue. During our first parent/teacher conference, his dad asked if it was OK that they read to him in Spanish. Of course, I encouraged reading to him in Spanish. His parents seemed to a have a literate household, he seemed interested, he was a hard worker... and yet he was still reading at a very low level.

I consulted my fellow teachers and reading coach. "Research shows good instruction is good instruction. Just keep doing what your doing" is what I kept hearing. Patti (formentioned reading coach) also told me to read the entire book to my group before they tried to read it. I had been giving really strong book intros, but reading the whole book seemed a little like cheating to me. However, I trust Patti so I gave it a try. This group (two hispanic boys and a Ukranian boy) and I would would meet several times a week. I would read the book to them teaching them the vocabulary they would need. Then, they would read the book. *Juan would struggle through the books, but he would use the strategies that we had learned in class. It never sounded pretty and I was never sure if the fact that I read the book first was helpful or hurtful (Sorry for doubting you, Patti).

I wasn't worried that *Juan would eventually do just fine in class. I fugured, once he mastered more of the language he would take off in reading. He had the strategies down he just needed more time. Well, at the end of each year we give our kids a DRA. We expect them to read at a level 16 by the end of first grade and we don't test them higher than an 18. If they read an 18 and pass we put 18+ on their DRA folder and indicate the child is above grade level. I started *Juan out at a level 10 he read it well and we moved on to a 12 same results... By the time we got to a level 16 (grade level) he was blowing me away with his comprehension responses. He even shared some "I wonder" questions with me during his reading. He passed the level 16 and the level 18. He was definately lower in decoding than comprehension, but always above a 90%. I was so proud of him. He was beaming by the end of the DRA testing.

He was officially reading "above grade level". Why had I not known this??? He and I had individual conferences once a week, he was usually reading lower level books and doing good work. Should I have pushed him up in levels or did he need to practice in easy books? If I was learning a new language would I want to read chemistry books in that language or nursery rhymes? I am just so confused. (what's new?) I can't wait to go to Purdue next month and learn what is considered best practice for ENL students. (Is there a best practice or is each individual different?)

Note: Out of the three boys in that group two ended the year above grade level in reading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's a sickness

I am so pathetic. Yesterday was the last teacher day. Everyone is our building has to switch rooms except three of us. So who do you think was the last teacher in the building? You guessed it, the one with the least amount of work to do.

I couldn't help it. As I started to clean everything up, I also started to plan for next year. I started to envision my room and library, the changes I would make, the things I would keep the same. I saw so much growth this year in my kids, I can hardly wait until next year. Notice, I said hardly. I do enjoy summer and look forward to it. I love spending time on the lake with my kids, reading, completing projects around the house, and just keeping up with housework. However, when I'm in my classroom, I can't help to get excited about having the opportunity to teach kids again.

I will be attending several workshops this summer. I will attend the ALL WRITE summer institute (can't wait to hear Ellin Keene speak), a workshop by SDR on Autism (I will have an autistic boy in my room next year), and one at Purdue University on English Language Learners (I had 9 ELL students in my room this year...I need some ideas on how to teach reading to this population that can't rely on meaning). I look forward to all of these... Habe I already mentioned I'm a geek?

I am so fortunate to work for a corporation that values staff development. I appreciate my corporation and principal more and more as I hear and read other teachers' experiences.
I love to read professional books, but there is something about attending a conference or workshop with other professionals, that just can't be duplicated in a book.

Well, I plan to blog as a way to keep an online reader's notebook for myself this summer. So you will be hearing from me soon. (Give me some time to clean my house first...the last weeks of school were not kind to the house)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

End of the Year Poetry Slam

Today was our end of the year poetry slam. I will admit, if I hadn't made a commitment to another teacher to do this with her class, I would have skipped it this year. This year seems so hectic and crazy. I am glad I didn't skip it.

Our class had less time to prepare this year than last, but we came through! I love to hear those little voices reading their very own poems over the mic. My kids were beaming when the audience "snapped" for them. I love to see the faces of the parents when the kids begin to read their poems. I think they are shocked that 1st graders could write "real poems". I love that, not one of my students tried to rhyme the words in their poem. I love that each kid gets to take home an anthology of poems created by his/her first grade class. I hope that the kids keep these anthologies for years to come, as a keepsake of their 1st grade year.

I am glad I didn't "skip" this event this year, not because the kids would have missed out on an important learning experience, but because I would have!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Little Things

I have been noticing lately that it is the "little things" that have been effecting me most in these last weeks of school. I may have 24 DRAs to administer, 24 writing rubrics to complete, and 24 math tests to give and grade, but the thing that puts me over the edge... completing 11 flower pots for the assistants that are losing there jobs at the end of this year and then hearing that 2 more might be going also. The flower pots are no big deal. They were easy to make. They were cheap (but a little hard to find). It is the uncertainty that is constant in our schools these days that is really the problem, I guess. (I say this with some uncertainty)

For those of you who may not be familiar with our school, we are adding a 4/5 intermediate building to our corporation and redistricting for next year. We REALLY need these changes, however, this means that we will be losing half of our teaching staff to the 4/5 building. I used to teach 5th grade so I consider many of these teachers my friends and I will miss them. We are also losing all of our classroom aids because the corporation says that they will reduce our class sizes, reducing our need for aids. Every teacher in our building will be moving classrooms except three (OK, I have no room to complain here because I am one of the three) There will be alot of new teachers in our building next year. We do not yet know if our art, music, P.E. teachers will be here next year. I understand all the changes and also understand some of the delays in the decisions being made, but it doesn't help the aura of anxiousness filling our building. It seems that everyone is on edge.

O.K., so what can I learn from this? I have been thinking that if uncertainty and the unknown can make my mind so unfocused, what must it do to a 6 or 7 year old? If I can become grumpy and irritated by not knowing who will be in the room next to mine next year, what must a 7 year old be feeling if s/he doesn't know who will be in his/her room next year or who his/her teacher will be? Should I be so hard on these kids when they start acting up? Should I give them a break? If I do start changing the rules now, aren't I just adding to the uncertainty? If I give them more chances than I have all year or let them be noisier, am I just adding to the stress? I understand why they may be acting out, but I can't excuse it or let it go. If I change the expectations this late in the game, I think I would do more harm than good. I will however, be more empathetic. ("Thanks Mrs. K. for your empathy, it really makes me feel better while sitting in detention.")

So for now, I will keep the structure as constant as I can during the last 8 days of school. I will try to inform my students what to expect in 2nd grade. I will try to keep my iritation at a minimum and I will be empathetic to my sweet 7 yr olds. I know this is the best plan. (OK, I don't know anything at this point, I am uncertain if this is the best way to handle it. There may be a much better way...)

The one thing I am certain about is that I am writing on my blog right now to avoid grading the 18 or so writing samples that are located on the desk next to me as I type this. They are due tomorrow :(

Friday, May 9, 2008

The race is on !

You know the one; the one where the last few weeks seem to be an eternity and yet three weeks doesn't seem to be near enough time to get everything done. It seems like just yesterday when those little 6 year old, mostly non reading, scared, dependent students walked in our classroom. Now, the room is filled with BIG, independent, readers and writers. First grade is awesome, in that we get to witness such great transformations!

I have been doing DRA's this week and I just can't believe what great readers some of these kids are. It is fun to see them confidently take on these tests. When you administer a level 18, one of the first things the kids are asked to do is read the first three paragraphs and tell you what might happen next. I love to hear each and every one of them start his/her answer with "I predict that..." We have been practicing using exact language in our discussions (I infer, I wonder, I predict, etc...) It was fun to see them transfer this knowledge to the DRA.

I have tested 9 kids so far and they are all above grade level. YEAH! I will probably have a few more above and then a handful at grade level. Of course, I will also, most likely have 4 below grade level. I have really been thinking of these 4 lately. What could I have done differently? What do I need to change in my room to reach these kids? These 4 plus 2 more in my class have all received Reading Recovery this year. I think Reading Recovery is such a strong intervention for these kids, but yet 4 of them are still not "where they should be".

Then I begin to wonder: "where should they be?" Are they following the path at their own rate? The rate that is just right for them? Will they still make it to the finish line or will they always be behind? Will they begin to believe that this "reading race" isn't worth all the work? Will it be easier for them to drop out? What does "grade level" mean? Don't kids mature and grow at different rates? And yet I know that kids that are below "grade level" in third grade have a hard time being successful in school. Is that because they really can't make it to the finish line or because we have convinced them that if you can't be at the front of the race the race is not worth running?

I look at J and the things he is learning, how much he has grown, all of the hard work he has put into both Reading Recovery and Reading Workshop, and I wonder how I can label him "below grade level". This is a kid that always wants to talk to me about text. He is the kid that told me, "It's harder to read pages that you don't have much schema for", This is the kid that earnestly reads for 30 minutes at a time in two different blocks during our day and is almost always on task.

And again, I am back to the questions, "What can I do differently?", "What can I change in my room?", "What other resources are out there for kids like J?"

"Would J have had a better chance if he hadn't spent 1/4 of the year in a class of 28 students?" I fear that we will be in the same situation next year. Too large of classes and we will not have our paraprofessionals next year. That means there will be no one there to take that small group back and work on phonemic awareness, or letter sounds, or just give them one more set of ears to listen to them read.

Well, I vow to celebrate all the successes in my classroom, not just the ones that were made by kids "at or above grade level". I also vow to keep plugging away, just like J. I will be reflecting on what to change for next year, while mourning, just a little bit, the lost opportunity to bring all of my kids up to "grade level".

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A little bit of reading

O.K., just so you all don't think I'm a big slacker, I will explain that this is the dreaded Music Program Week. We have spent a large amount of the past two days practicing for Thursday's performance. I did manage to squeeze in some instruction time this afternoon.

My kids asked this morning if we could PLEEAASE do reading workshop today. How can a teacher say "no" to that? We had about 55 minutes of workshop before the last practice. The kids were really engaged today. It could have been shear exhaustion from standing on risers for hours or they could really be becoming avid readers. (I'll choose to believe the later)

I spent conferences today working on decoding issues. I conferenced with one little girl, C, who has been reading at a G/H level in group. She was reading a level I from her "just right" books. She needed to be reminded to go back and reread and them point and slide. We practiced on one page together and then she proceeded to read the rest of the book by herself. She did appeal a few times, but I told her that she had the tools and I thought she could do it..... and she did! She shared with the group how she used rereading and told them that she felt "good" when she figured out a tricky word.

I watched Debbie Miller's Happy Reading tapes last night and I feel re energized again. I think I may work on a sheet to record individual conferences and then bind these into small "books" to use next year. I am thinking I would need a space for what they are doing well, a small running record, what we worked on in this conference, what we may need to work on in the future, and possible group work. I like using the small steno books that I am using now, but maybe this would organize information better.

If I figure this out and figure out how to put this form into the blog I will do this. I welcome any ideas you may have on this form. Feel free to post!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Great North American Basket Search

O.K., I had this brilliant idea to color code the baskets that my books are in in my room. So, this weekend I ran a few errands and thought I would pick up some different colored baskets as I am using mostly blue baskets right now. Sounds simple enough doesn't it?

Well, here we are on Wednesday and in the last 5 days I have been to Deals, Dollar Tree, 3 different Dollar Generals, 3 different Family Dollar stores, Walmart, Target, Alco, CVS, and Pamida. These stores were located in 4 different towns. I found exactly 1 purple basket! I think that this was way to much effort for something that is probably not going to effect kids ability to read. I am using some dish pans and some odd haped baskets. If I happen to run across some baskets in the fiture I will switch these out. I will not be spending any more time or effort on baskets!

I think that I sometimes get wrapped up in the little stuff and lose track of the big stuff. I am hereby vowing to focus on the "Big Stuff".

(I did buy new shelves and am anxiousely awaiting their assembly... but I promise not to obsess!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Operator Error

Ok, today's reading workshop did not go well. However, I will take all the blame for this. We are having book fair at our school this week and we had a storm drill today. Sooo, my reading block had two separate interruptions. But, my kids are usually flexible and I think it would have gone fine except, this brilliant teacher justified doing word wall tests during this time by deciding it fit in the daily 5 because it was "word work".

I had a parent volunteer and my assistant pull kids back to give them their tests. This just added chaos to the normally quite working environment. It seemed to just throw the kids off balance and that, in turn, threw me off! I was worried that I would not get everybody's test done and I just was not at my best, to say the least.

What does this mean? Are the word wall tests worth the time and effort put into them? Is there an easier way to differentiate the lists and still not lose my mind? Do I let my 9 or 10 kids who are one week away from completing this year's words to just stop taking tests? (I think I may have answered that question just sitting here) I like having the weekly tests because it seems to motivate parents to work with their child, but I worry that it isn't meaningful. Is it too much like those weekly spelling words that have been proven not to really work?

If anyone reading this has answers to any of the above questions, please let me know! I will continue to reflect on word wall words and weekly tests and will keep you posted on my progress(hopefully I will make progress!)

Friday, April 18, 2008

A minute to reflect

My last post stated I should be blogging more often. I didn't quite follow through, but I will attempt again to reflect in writing each day.

I have introduced 4 of the 5 Daily 5 activities. (I'm still waiting for Lois to start that word work; just kidding, I plan to introduce word work next week.) I introduced "read to someone" this week and it seems to be going well. There is a bit more noise, but it is "good noise". I think I only notice this because of how really quiet it has been the last couple of weeks. We seem to work out the partner thing pretty well. The students are only allowed to respond, "yes. thank you," when someone asks them to read. It is really interesting who students choose to read with when they don't have fear of being rejected!

I did notice today in a conference that some students are pointing at each word when reading to a partner. I think they are doing this to help their partner follow along. I am just wondering if this regression is going to hurt anyone. I will be watching and noting how these particular children read with me in group next time.

I continue to be happily surprised at how good they are at choosing "just right" books and how engaged they are in reading. I have decided to add more book shelves to my room. I have been surfing the web and looking at others classrooms and have decided I need even more of my book out. I guess I will be shopping this weekend!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I realize that, if the purpose of this blog is too help me reflect, I need to blog more often. So here goes...

Yesterday I had two great conferences with two of my struggling readers. T was writing during the Daily 5 and was trying to write the word play (I am not going to think about the fact that we have written that word about 100 times in class so far). I asked him what he thought he should use to help him. (Hoping he would say, "I could use the word day from our word wall.") Of course, he had a better idea. He said, "I could use those sound boxes my reading teacher uses." Why didn't I think of that! I asked him if he could tell me how many boxes he needed and he said three. He drew the boxes and filled them in. I helped him add the y (referring to day on the word wall...I have trouble letting things go). What a powerful conference. He knew a strategy I hadn't even thought of using. He took ownership, drew the boxes, and filled them in. Thank you MaryAnn (his reading teacher) I couldn't do it without you!

My next conference was equally awesome! I sat down next to J. He was reading a book about bugs. He said he thought it was a "just right" book. He read a little and I agreed with him. Then he came to a page with a praying mantis on it. He told me it was harder for him to read about bugs he had never seen before. We discussed that when we don't have much schema it is harder to read. (I love it when my students use words like schema) I asked if he had any strategies he could use to figure out that word. He found the "ay" like in day and the "ing" like in going. He soon figured out praying then reread and got his mouth ready and out popped mantis. He told me, "sometimes when you reread the right word just pops out of your mouth." He did all of the above on his own; I was just sitting and listening. If we had read that book in a group he would have probably heard someone else say the word first and would have just repeated it or I would have introduced the word in my book talk. I would have never seen the evidence of his Great Thinking!
I love that these awesome thinkers in my class let me come along for the ride!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's all coming together!

My kids are LOVING the daily 5! They are reading so much more than they have in the past. They are choosing between reading to self and writing. I plan to introduce reading with someone and listening to books next week. I am saving word work until after spring break.

I am still trying to sort out the word work portion and what I want it to look like in my room. (hence, I'm putting it off). I'm hoping my teammate will try it first and I will learn from her experiences. (Hint hint Lois, why don't you get busy on this?) We have both jumped into the daily 5 at the same time and it has really been nice to talk about it with someone else.

I spent Friday afternoon looking at Making Meaning and Debbie Miller. I plan to integrate these two components into my mini lessons this week. We are reading non-fiction in Making Meaning and learning about schema (I had already introduced this word earlier in the year and have used it, so my kids should already be familiar with the concept) I plan to use Debbie's lessons on schema and text to self connections along with the making meaning.

I like that you can do more than one mini-lesson a day. I will need one to introduce new procedures or to review how things are going. (until they are completely trained) I can still do a content mini-lesson as well each day.

The daily 5 has changed the way my classroom feels and I am excited to see what next week brings!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My head is full

I've been reading, reading, reading. I received The Daily Five from Inter-Library loan on Wednesday night and then I went to see Carl Anderson speak on Thursday and bought the new edition of Mosaic of Thought. Combine that with another weekend of basketball tourneys and I have read quite a bit.

I love the idea of the daily 5. I have been toying with having the kids read and write only(no centers) during guided reading time all year. This book gives me solid examples of how to go about this in a systematic way.

I wonder if it is too late to use the mini lessons on how to launch this system when we have already been "kind of " doing this all year. I think I am going to go ahead with these minilessons. I will explain to the kids that we need to make our reading time even better. I really like the way "the sisters" explain how to model correct behavior and incorrect behavior.

I am looking forward to trying these methods out this week. I am not looking forward to a week of assessments!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Weekend reflections

I spent yesterday planning for next week and where to go from here. (I did this while sitting on gym bleachers for 9 hours watching and waiting for the next game to start)

Observations from last week's re dedication to reading workshop:

1. I (I think I will use first initial when referring to a student) was engaged and not flopping on the floor like usual (could this be from giving him the choice of all available books?)

2. J has not made as much progress as I had thought. He could not find 5 just right books even though he was choosing level A books. He must rely on my introductions more than I thought.

3. The kids that are good listeners and direction followers didn't notice that much of a change. I have been following this format timidly all year. I think I learned that if I'm not fully committed my hard to lead kids are never going to follow.

4. I love the idea of not having centers during reading time. I always feel like I am providing "busy work"that doesn't need monitoring. I think I will still have a modified center time a couple of times a week, but I will be out in the class observing and helping.

On Friday we had a two hour delay. I stopped at Walmart and picked up small notebooks and an ice cube container (30 notebooks fit in one container). I started using the new organization system right away. I think I am really going to love it! I took notes on about 7 kids. I did some informal running records and gathered a lot of info. I have always believed that formal running records are useful, but they are also time consuming. I will still use formal running records but I can reach more kids by also doing quick informal ones in between. (I have been doing this on the sly, but now I feel like I can feel confident that this too is valuable info)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Creative Chaos

O.K., yesterday was definitely chaotic in my classroom. I was inspired by Debbie Miller to think about my philosophy and purpose of teaching and then design my room around it. I already had a room I was happy with, but like with most things I hadn't invested my self completely. When the custodian complained about using the overhead on the floor, I moved it back up to a stand, when she complained about my rug, I put it get the picture. (My custodian is great and I appreciate what she does everyday)

So I had my husband load an antique oval wool rug in the back of the minivan and headed to school. We had our spring fling last weekend. My room had hosted Ski Ball so all my furniture was moved to one corner. I thought it would be a great time to make the change. I could have come in over the weekend and done it, but I thought the kids should be involved in the change. Many of my kids have changes in their home life frequently. They have no say or warning about these changes. I want them to view school and particularly my classroom as a safe place in which they have a say in decisions.

So as they arrived in the A.M. they were a little shocked about our dishevelled room. We all sat in the corner of the room on the floor and discussed what I was thinking. I asked about what areas we needed. They came up with: A community area (we have had one all year but, decided to move it), a place to listen to stories on the tape player, a place to publish books, our tables so we could do many different activities, an area to read in groups where I could have shelves for "all your junk, Mrs. K" , and plenty of open floor space for indoor recess (twister, legos, and polly pockets are the activities of choice lately) I will not lie and say that I hadn't already planned most of these areas in my head, but if they had come up with a radical idea that made sense I think I would have included it too.

So we, 24 students and I, began to move furniture and clean (the amount of dust-bunnies I had let gather was a bit ridiculous). My fellow teacher Stephanie helped me move the two pieces of heavy furniture, but the kids and I managed the rest. I had decided that I could spend the time before morning recess on setting up the classroom. I have to say, by 9:15am I was feeling pretty good about the whole venture. I really like the way the room looks and the kids really feel like they had a part in the transformation.

My lesson for the day was picking a "just right" book. We adopted Making Meaning this year and I have been trying to follow the order of lessons for the first year. (I normally would have taught this earlier in the year.) Up until this time, I had been giving each table a large box of books at varying levels to use for a week at a time. After teaching this lesson and remembering that a coworker had mentioned reading that you should let the kids separate and label books themselves, I decided I would dedicate some more time in the afternoon to organize the books. My assistant and I took all the books out of my levelled baskets and placed them on the floor. I talked with the kids about my idea that they separate the books into categories and make their own labels for the baskets. Then, I let them go...

After a very busy afternoon we have about 3/4 of the books I gave them in baskets labelled and on our book shelf. It was so interesting to watch the process! One of my girls made a basket for "nonfixshun makit books" (nonfiction make-it books) One of my boys made a basket for "trabelling" (modes of transportation). We also found out that we need more 1st grade level books about frogs and lizards. (Thanks Ben, for directing my attention to this).

I have to think that anyone passing my room probably thought that I was : a.) crazy b.) disorganized or c.) unconscious in the corner. I have to say it was a hectic crazy day, but I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taking the Plunge

I have been resisting this step for a while. I started reading other teacher blogs a couple of years ago, but have been too scared to start my own. So what has changed?

I'm not exactly sure. I think it is my realization that I have to "talk" my new thinking. I need to say, or in this case write, about new methods and practices before I put them into action in my classroom. I also realize that other teachers ,and certainly my family, have become bored and tired of me ranting excitedly about readers workshop, Debbie Miller, or Making Meaning.

I attended an awesome workshop last week. (Thank You Debbie Miller) I have become energized again. I want to dive back into the deep end of readers workshop. I had retreated into the shallow end, after a rocky start this fall. You see, I had started doubting myself. I have some "energetic" kids in my class this year. My classroom doesn't always look like the serene learning environment that I picture in my head. I was also beginning to feel guilty about not having weeks' worth of lesson plans done ahead of time. I began to doubt myself. I began to question my methods.

I will give you a little background so that you can understand where I am coming from. I went back to school again 7 years ago to get an elementary teacher's degree after working part time and staying home with my kids. I taught reading recovery for one year at the same school my children attended. This school is very old fashioned. All students read out of a basal reader. This school relies heavily on Accelerated Reader and Accelerated math. I was unhappy with the methods, but needed a job and was lured by the thought of teaching in the same district my kids attended. I did not receive a job offer after my temporary year of teaching reading recovery.

I was contacted by a school district 17 miles from my home that spring. I interviewed and was hired. My new district was very forward in their thinking and methods. I tought 5th grade that first year. I moved to 1st the next and have been teaching 1st grade since then. I love my new school. We adopted Making Meaning this year. We use guided reading and writers workshop. I have dallied with readers workshop in the past 4 years, but have never been fully committed. I am now, by beginning this blog, fully committing myself.

This first entry is plenty long. I think I will stop now and add more later. I haven't given the address to anyone so I am, so far, just talking to myself.