Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Few Bargain Goodies

Don't you love when you find something in Michaels that's totally unexpected but yet oh-so-perfect?  That's how I feel about these clip on flowers (that match my room!) that I just had to have:

They were only 17 cents each in the 80% off bin. Do I need them?  Nope.  But won't they look cute clipped around the room? 

And I can never resist zebra Chinese Food boxes, can you? :)

Since I can't find the glow bracelets I bought back in June and school starts on Thursday, I grabbed three cans to make:

How bright and shiny are my students on the first day of school? Bright enough that I have to wear big sunglasses to protect my eyes!

I usually go into Michaels needing one or two things and come out with a ton of stuff.  Not today. White cardstock was the only must-get item on my list and I was in a bit of a rush so the damage above was only 5.24.  But when I do hand over half a paycheck, do I fret?  Nope...I just come home and look at this...

And it's all good!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Two Fun Biographies for Younger Students

I'm always looking for cool/high interest bios for my class.  Look what I got today!


These books, written by Abby Colich and published by Capstone Press, would be great to introduce Text Features or to use as mentor All About Books.  Here are some pages inside:

(Sorry for sideways shot.  I like the Fact Hound/secret code in
each book.  It's just Capstone's site that allows you to enter a code (WAY too long!) and see what pops up.  Basically, author websites.  I can see my kids dying to see what the code leads to!)

Are you familiar with Grace Lin's books?  I admit I'm a recent fan having only having read them in the last year.  While I haven't read her Newbery book, I can tell you that her picture books and early readers are wonderful!  Great Mentor Texts!  Each time I read one, I feel that Grace has personally invited me in to take a peek into her childhood.  My students give them two thumbs up, too! My two favorites are The Ugly Vegetables and Lissy's Friends which is a fun read aloud for the beginning of school with a friendship theme.  Here are some pics of her books... my first Pic Monkey creation!  Hey- you gotta start somewhere!

Also offered in the series: Jeff Kinney, Dav Pilkey, Shel Silverstein and Barbara Park.  (Did you know she recently passed away?  Sniff, sniff.  Sidenote: If you teach third-fifth grade, read Mick Harte Was Here.  Not only is it my favorite Barbara Park book, it is one of my top five all-time books.  Try to listen to the audiobook.  AMAZING. A must for this age group.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Great (and easy!) Field Trip

While I haven't started school yet, I know many of you have.  Looking for an easy field trip?  Go to your public library!!  It's free and I bet it's pretty close to your school. 

September is the perfect time to schedule a trip since it's Library Card Sign-Up Month.  You can bring your little ones, take a tour, listen to a few books, and have them leave with their very own library card!  A proud moment and a big accomplishment!

I tell my Firsties that my family...well, we're pretty smart cookies because of these:

Many of my students tell me they use their parents' card but I make such a big deal about owning your own card and explain to them that it's the most powerful card they will ever own.

I heart my kids' signatures above.  Both got their cards when they were four with lots of fanfare that included pics.  But having two parents as School Media Specialists will do that, I suppose!

When I started to do author visits in schools, I needed a song about library cards.  Could I find one?  Nope.  But no problem! Grab the one my son (who was in third grade at the time) wrote for me and share it with your class.  We put it in our poetry binders.  If you bring your class to the library, they can sing it for the librarians!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Grab & Go Word Work Center (Freebie)

UPDATE: While I no longer use these, leaving this page up in case you are interested.  I have also linked to a whole free Make-a-Word product.  Enjoy!

A few months ago, I thought I needed these:

Turns out, not only didn't I need 30 CD Cases, I lost the receipt and couldn't return them.  So...they've been sitting on my table at home annoying the heck out of me. But yesterday? Inspiration struck!

Nothing earth-shattering but I'm happy with the outcome: Grab and Go Make-A-Word Centers.

I'm a huge fan of Make-A-Word Activities in my classroom.  We do a few together in September before I start giving one weekly as part of their Tic-Tac-Show What You Know Board each week during Guided Reading.  Many of my Firsties regularly make 50+ words from the given word/phrase.  If the word contains an "S" well, hot diggity dog!!  Plurals galore!  That's the jackpot in Make-A-Word land!

While I give one sheet a week to the kids, I'm now going to have them in a basket for the kids to grab and make more words when they finish their work, during Free Time, Meet and Greet time in morning, etc.  If they grab a phrase/word they've already used, no worries!  They probably have progressed and can use more letter combinations to make bigger/more words now. 

You can grab free editable labels  and click on the pic below for the free September/October Packet.

I'm going to have a recording sheet available (check back soon!) AND teach them how to care for the cases/letters inside.  I've already cut out the letters and placed them inside the cases.  When they open up the case, they will have to make the word (as the title appears on the case) and when they're finished, remake the word to make sure letters aren't missing as they go back in the case.  I'm going to have extra letters available as replacements in a small bucket.  I think it's going to be a hit!  Fingers crossed!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five Tips For More Effective Conferencing During Writing Workshop

"In the classrooms of some teachers, children grow in leaps and bounds, while in the classrooms of other teachers, children make only modest gains.  I am utterly convinced that the difference has everything to do with the two teachers' abilities to confer."

~From the wise Lucy Calkins in One to One


While I totally agree with her statement, I also want to say that finding my groove in conferencing has been TOUGH and sort of a journey of discovery. 

Here are some changes I've implemented over the years that have helped elevate my kids' writing and have helped me focus more on strengthening my focus on how I can best help my class.

1: Build Writing Stamina: 
Increasing their stamina gave me much needed conferencing time.  We do it for reading with success so I knew it was time to implement in writing as well. Simple fact: More time spent reading equals better readers.  More time engaged in writing results in stronger writers.  When did I have this revelation?  Not too long ago.  Read on!

While attending a Professional Development course, my supervisor simply said, "Spend the next twenty minutes writing about your favorite vacation."  About six minutes in, one teacher got up to go to the bathroom.  A few minutes later, another teacher closed her notebook and started reading a book.  Another finished, took out some yogurt and ate it.

After twenty minutes, (the duration we were told we'd be writing for) said supervisor wasn't too happy.  Were our kids taking bathroom breaks? Moving on when done to reading a book (During WRITING time). When kids were "done" did we let them get snack, move to game, etc?

She told us that when it's writing time, kids need WRITE.  Period.  No bathroom breaks, trips to water fountain, etc.  I wasn't too sure how it would work with my Firsties.


The next day, I explained how we needed to write and write hard during WW time.  Within a few weeks, our daily writing time was a 45-minute block.  I didn't think it would work but it's been a beautiful thing, my friends!  I play my music and they write.  If they are done (which we know they aren't!) before I can conference with them (or even if stuck) they simply start another piece.  Yes, that is clutch.  It is writing time so there are NO OTHER OPTIONS.  (I want to add that the "no bathroom" rule worked.  Amazing.  Has never been an issue.)

2.Expand Use of Roving and Formal Conferences 


             I use this form to keep track of my formal conferences.  (Click to Grab!)
Roving conferences happen each day during WW.  I do a quick walk around at the beginning, middle, and end of session.  This is a quick check-in that helps me assess what kids are doing/accomplishing and keeps them focused.  They KNOW it's only a matter of minutes before I come around so they write to produce. This is QUICK.  Sometimes I stop and highlight a gem, other times I may just say, "You're missing punctuation."  I can get through my class in record time.
Formal conferencing has been much trickier to fit in but ever since I have a M-F schedule, it's been smooth sailing.  I formally meet with every child twice a week and use the form above.  It's up to ME to stay FOCUSED for best results so recording is a must for me and keeps me on target with meeting their needs.  One problem I had: hard to meet 24 kids TWICE a week. (I manage to fit 6 kids in a day during WW time)  But I did figure out a way...
Increasing these opportunities for both was easier than I thought. Although I have "official" WW five days a week for an hour, we obviously write other days.  I use Family Journals, Filling Buckets (writing compliment to friend), Love Note Time (each week they write a letter to a friend, teacher, family member on fun stationary) to help with roving but mostly FORMAL conference opportunities. Family Journal time alone gives me the best opportunity to do this.  What do you do to carve out some extra formal conferencing time?  I'd love to hear it!
TIP: I take home and read the stories that are longer and pretty polished off the bat to give a quick read through. Saves TIME and makes my time with them more effective. Usually the advanced writers in my class...
TIP: I arrange my conferencing binder according to daily conferencing schedule so all kids for the day are grouped together. And although I use the above mainly for FORMAL assessment, I do, at times, use it for roving to jot down a note such as who had tough day, awesome day, offered super "gem" to class.  Helpful to have.

3. Focus on ONE Teaching Point

I have been oh-so-guilty of trying to fix everything at once.  Why do that?  It's ineffective and such a motivator drainer for the kids.  Zapped the energy of all involved.  Still, I battle the impulse to point out a list of things from time to time especially when it's later in the year.  The TP may not be the same as the one that kicked off WW that day.  It's usually individualized to writer/what's on paper.  After all, that's the beauty of the individualized conference! 

4. Use/Reflect on Your Notes!
If you are taking the time to write down notes, reread them before meeting again so you don't fall into same type of conference with your student.  Three years ago, I complimented  a child one day and she said, "You always say that to me."  Ugh!  It was a struggling writer so I went for the "easiest" compliment at the time.  (Spacing!) I surely wasn't helping her grow as a writer and I doubt she was eager to conference with me and my insincere compliment. Who doesn't love a good compliment?   Substance is a must!  (I started to take home her writing so I could give better feedback and set goals when we met again.)

5. Conversational Tone
I try hard to make this a time where kids are eager to discuss their progress and are eager to set new goals.  I feel much less stressed now that I've expanded my conferencing times as it gives us both time to breathe.  I LISTEN more to them.  I talk slower.  I feel that I'm not as "frantic" in my quest to "fix it all" and our meeting, with sheet above in front of me, allows us to chit chat a minute before we even look at their writing.  It's often during that first minute of chatting that the kids get a lightbulb moment for their next writing topic.

If you have any tips for me, I'd appreciate hearing them.  My WW program is always being tweaked!  Always a WIP! How about yours?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Two Great CDs for Writing Workshop

Do you play music for your kiddos during writing workshop?  I always do.  It truly sets the tone and soothes the soul! My first year (way too many years ago to count!) I played music with WORDS.  Um.  No.


It makes it nearly impossible for the kids to concentrate. You'll get bopping heads and lots of singing and disrupting the others. And then the kids will imitate you and the other teachers :)


So I soon switched to playing lots of classical music with Vivaldi's Four Seasons being my favorite.  But then this year, I was introduced to these gems:

I actually found the Beatles CD online for $1 including shipping.  How cool is that?  While I like the Beatles, I'm not one of those crazy fans that thinks all things Beatles are as good as gold.  But, this is BETTER than gold!  Magic!  The kids are transfixed and write, write, write, and write some more when this is playing.  Simply fantastic results.

Mentioning this to one of the parents, they sent in the Simon & Garfunkel CD above.  Again, love it BUT not for brainstorming or drafting stories.  It's much more upbeat.  It's actually a great motivating CD (first few songs) so I play this one when we are editing our work.  I'll challenge them to circle five silly mistakes that they want to change before the song is done.  Because of the tone and rhythm of the music, they tend to focus and look more intensely for their mistakes.  It's almost Rocky-ish as they race through their writing finding all of their errors.  It seriously has upped our game!

This year?  My friend, Kelly, swears I'll love her Grateful Dead Baby CD.  :)

A New Blog Design by Christi Fultz

Knock, knock, knock...anybody out there?  Yes, it has been almost a year since I've blogged.  My last post was written on the FIRST day of school LAST year!  Gulp! In it, I wrote about how tired I was....well, I must have been more tired than I thought to be away for so long! 


I am thrilled to be back with a blog that I love so much that  I simply wouldn't want to stay away from it!  Major props to Christi!  It's EXACTLY what I wanted!  Her name was given to me in the forums and I feel like I hit the jackpot!! You're the best, Christi! Looking forward to blogging and reading blogs again!

Looking for a redesign?  Click on the picture!