Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer Renewal

I'm sitting in my living room surrounded by stacks of books, papers and notebooks. I have pages and pages of notes on some of the great professional books I've read this summer. I spent a long time at Staples trying to find the perfect new binder to use as my planning book this year. It's hot pink and sitting beside me. I also bought one so that I could begin to put together a notebook to use when conferencing with students about their reading. It's on the sofa behind me. I have a new set of content standards because I'm changing grade levels this year. There is a draft of a pacing guide I've created for myself. I've been doing so much over the summer gathering information and the tools I'm going to need, and now I'm getting ready to put these new tools to work. I think that one of the best things about teaching is the chance that we are given over and over to begin again. I always feel that I've been given a chance to take a deep breath before jumping in. An opportunity for renewal. This year after a long summer break, I am refreshed and ready.

Welcome back to a new school year my friends.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sharing Our Writing

Last week my class wrapped up a writing unit on experience writing. I asked each child to choose one book to publish from the collection of books they had written during the unit. I told children that we would plan a time when other children in the class would get to read their published book.

I did a few things to prepare for share day. First,
because the children would be reading the books of
other children in the class, I typed their books. I felt that it would be easier for other children to read if they didn't have to try to decipher invented spellings. I also have several children with handwriting that is difficult to read. Second, in Ann Marie Corgill's book Of Primary Importance, she uses a form during her share time so that children can comment on the writing of other children in the class. The form looks like a t-chart. On the left side the student who is commenting writes their name and on the right side of the chart they make a comment about the student's book that they are reading. I planned to have children use this form to give feedback to fellow authors in the class.

On share day I had students put their published book on their desk with a blank comment sheet next to it. I told students that they would be moving from desk to desk. They were to sit down at any empty desk that was available, read the book that was sitting out and write a comment on the comment sheet for the author. When they were making comments, they were to keep in mind the guidelines we use during our share time in Writer's Workshop.

I turned on an Enya CD and let them begin. Once they got the idea of what I was asking them to do, it was so amazing! They were so engaged in what they were doing and they took it so seriously. They didn't utter a sound. Sharing this way was such a departure from my usual, "Let's go down the hall and you can read your book to a kid in the kindergarten class." When I have kids share that way, I always see one kid reading and the other child is looking around the room. The room is usually so noisy with conversation, I always wonder if anyone can hear anything anyway. This share day was so calm and children were so engaged in what they were doing that it gave me goosebumps. They were thinking thoughtfully about what they were reading.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I was working with a group of readers when I turned to my right and saw something that just brought a smile to my face. A room full of readers. I went quietly to get my camera. They were so engrossed they didn't even notice.

When I returned to school in January I did it with a new mindset. I wanted children to spend less time doing "centers" and more time reading. In the past I had trouble with independent and partner reading in my classroom. I struggled to keep children actively engaged. This year I have made some changes that have made a huge difference. First, I got rid of almost 200 books from my classroom library, and donated them to other teachers and a local charity. (Don't gasp.) I weeded according to the following criteria: 1. If it looked old, I got rid of it. 2. If I hadn't seen a child read the book in the last year, I got rid of it. 3. If I had never been inclined to use the book as a read aloud, I got rid of it. I purchased new numbered tubs and labeled classroom books so that children could place them in the correct bin when they were finished reading. Second, I stocked my classroom with first grade friendly books. (Not leveled readers, but with books by authors such as Mo Willems and Jan Thomas.) Like all teachers, I do have a budget so I have used my local library as a huge resource. Right now books that kids love like Punk Farm, Punk Farm on Tour and many others are on loan from the library. I have almost 90 books checked out from 4 different libraries. Finally, I do four read alouds a day. I make sure that at least two of those are new books that I will be adding to the classroom library. Kids are always more inclined to go for books I have read to them.

It was such a simple fix that has had such a huge impact. I'm so proud of how far many of these children have come as readers. Instead of a worksheet or game at the word study center, children are looking for a particular word chunk while they are reading so that they can add it to our class chart. Now the only talking going on in the classroom library is being done by a few children negotiating over who gets a certain book for their reading tub. It's an amazing thing to see and be a part of.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Days Like This

Dear Mr Blueberry by Simon James has always been one of my favorite books to read to kids during our unit on letter writing. When I attended Katie DiCesare's session on Routines That Support Word Study in the Primary Classroom at the Dublin Literacy Conference, she showed everyone the book Days Like This a collection of poems illustrated by Simon James. I got the book from the library last week and I fell in love with it. I think that this book is now at the top of my list of books of poetry for young children. I think that every poem in this book could be used as a poem of the week for word study. My personal favorites are The Seed and an original poem by Simon James called Bounce.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's with the name of the blog?

I have to answer this. I really wanted to start a blog, but the difficult part was that I couldn't think of a name for it. Believe it or not "The Blog with No Name" was already taken. Anyway, it was late at night and I had something to write about but I couldn't start the blog because it had no name. So I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" It came to me. Because Thinking Matters. Reading blogs and blogging makes me self reflect and think about my own teaching and well..........thinking matters.

I made a Voice Thread!!

I made a Voice Thread! Check it out by going to the following link. This is my first one. It's a book done by a child in my class. Feel free to leave Leah a comment. If you don't know how, there is a short tutorial on the Voice Thread website.

The pictures are sideways because I think I should have rotated them when I scanned them. (This is a learning process after all.) My microphone has some glitches, but overall I'm really proud of myself. I'm still learning about all of the little parts to Voice Thread, but my brain is going so fast just thinking of the possibilities.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Of Primary Importance

I finished Ann Marie Corgill's book Of Primary Importance over Christmas break. I was so inspired by the work that Ann Marie Corgill did in her classroom that I couldn't wait to get back to mine. Her book has an entire chapter on teaching nonfiction writing and I was anxious to launch a nonfiction unit with my class.

After 7 weeks, we have finally wrapped up the unit. Children used many features that we had learned about including text boxes, captions, diagrams, close ups, labels and comparisons in their published posters. I was so amazed by what they were able to accomplish.

Ann Marie's book does not give a step by step outline for how to launch a particular unit, so I was definitely learning as I went. There were many points during the seven week unit that I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" However, in the end I was so amazed by what the children were able to do. I was also amazed at how much I grew as a writing teacher. I almost didn't try this unit because I was afraid that I didn't really understand how it would work. It proves that as teachers sometimes we just need to begin with the end in mind and eventually we will get there......sometimes with amazing results.

Keeping track of class reading

I got this idea from the Choice Literacy website. It was in a video done by The Sisters. They were showing parts of their classroom and they showed a space on their wall where they kept track of the books that they had read aloud to students. When they finished reading a book, they simply wrote the title down.

I have found this simple little thing to be very powerful for my students. They never forget to remind me to write down the name of a book we have read. We label books as being poetry, non fiction or fiction. This helps us to see where we need to expand as readers. I also think that having this list in a place of prominence in our classroom helps them to feel proud of the amount of reading that we have done.

I made the log out of the paper used to cover bulletin boards. When the list got too long for the board, I simply rolled the top of the paper around a pencil to create a scroll.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Blog, New Books

Well. Here it is. I'm officially a blogger. I've become addicted to reading them, so I thought I should try it out for myself. As a teacher I have found blogs to be a helpful way to find out about new books and technology. I have met so many new people through this online community. Because of this, I thought it was time to give back and share what I'm doing in my own classroom.

Today I read a great book to my kids by Jan Thomas. They are huge fans of What Will Fat Cat Sit On? so I was excited to read them The Doghouse. They LOVED it. Read it again! Read it again! they started to chant. How could I not? The book is laugh out loud funny and I'm sure any beginning reader will love it. I just picked up A Birthday for Cow from the library. I can't wait to take it to school tomorrow.