Wednesday, October 30, 2013

**FREEBIE** I LOVE Lucy Calkins' Workshops! So here is one of my Favorite Lessons, FOR FREE!

When I first learned about Lucy Calkins' Readers' and Writers' Workshops back in 2007, I was intrigued! When I was chosen by my school to visit Columbia University for a week and take the week long seminar for the Writers' Workshop, I was hooked!

I absolutely love the structure of the lessons, and how they allow for teachers to add so much of our own "flair" to each strategy we teach. Every unit I create has been based around this model.

I decided to post a **FREE** lesson that I have used many times over to teach how to draft with either a problem and solution or lesson learned. It is very helpful to students because it gives them a sort of starting point in their writing without actually telling them what they should write. I included some great mentor texts that when I first created this lesson I photocopied onto transparency paper! I also included some an anchor chart and graphic organizer!

If you have never taught a Writers' Workshop lesson, this is a great one to start with. I literally walk you through it with a suggested script and tips for conferencing. (I usually do conferencing one-on-one by walking to each student's writing area. Sometimes I pull a small group if 2-3 students are struggling with a similar skill.)

I hope you enjoy this lesson! I appreciate any feedback and stories of how it went in your classroom!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Parent-Teacher Conferences - I added a *FREEBIE*

Today I had my weekly meeting with my principal, and something she asked caught me a little off-guard. "What are you doing to prepare for your parent conferences?"

I couldn't believe that after getting approved to stretch it to 4 days rather than 2, emailing, scheduling, rescheduling, and confirming, I forgot about the most important part - PREPARING!

I am reminded all of the time at this lovely school that I have been told what to do so much and to such an extent at all of my previous schools that sometimes things like PREPARE FOR A CONFERENCE slip my mind because no one has been down my back about the date and exactly which test scores to harp on.

It feels good though. All of it. I love that I have this freedom to do exactly what I believe is best at all times throughout the day, week, and school year.

In order to prepare for my conferences, I first thought about what I have ALREADY been doing since August to get myself ready. For those of you who are reading this as a first year teacher, please be reminded that everything you do, everyday is preparing you for whenever you might have to speak to a parent. If you are a good teacher (which I am sure you are!), you are taking anecdotal notes, tracking progress, conferencing with students, collecting work, and of course, speaking with parents of the students who need that extra attention and support.  So, after my initial shock of I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING, I remembered that I have been doing something. I have actually been doing A LOT.

With that being said, I do still think it is important to have a structure planned out for how you want the conference to go, a place to keep notes about what you want to say, and a place for notes that you want to keep for AFTER the conference.

In my Teachers Pay Teachers store (click here), I added a FREEBIE! A handy-dandy form that will help guide you in the planning of your conference and a place to take notes during!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Great Horned Owls Spent the Night at Camp Agape!

Fifth graders had such a fabulous time at Camp Agape. So much was enjoyed while also learning important and valuable life lessons. We worked hard and played hard! My originally goals for Unit 1 came full circle during this trip. The students worked together to accomplish very difficult mental and physical challenges. Without everyone’s participation, none of the tasks they attempted could have been accomplished.

I am very proud of my fifth graders. It was really wonderful to spend such a unique experience with them. As their teacher, I feel that they learned so much during Unit 1 – Building a Community of Kind Learners, and were able to use that knowledge to complete such tough challenges! Each student is special in their own way, and I honestly couldn't be more proud of all of them!

Independence: A lot of the trip was based around building independence among the group. Fifth graders were faced with many opportunities for that at Camp Agape and succeed beautifully. Students took care of themselves and each other as needed. Rooms were cleaned and organized when necessary, the house was well taken care of, the bus ride was taken on as a moment of making good choices to ensure that the ride was a safe and successful one, and fifth graders shared in making smart choices during free time inside and outside of the house.

Building Closer Friendships: Fifth graders shared a wonderful and unique moment after dinner on Wednesday night. Together, beside the candlelight, we had a group discussion to reflect on our Day 1 Challenges. Students shared what they saw as successes during the day, and what they thought would help to achieve all the challenges that lie ahead in Day 2. It was decided that the two major factors in succeeding as a whole group are teamwork and positive communication. It was through questioning and commenting that fifth graders decided to remind themselves that when faced with frustration and excitement, it was still important to choose kind. We talked about how important it is to continue with supportive words and positive reinforcement when someone does not accomplish a task the first time. To culminate the day and reflection, Martina shared with the group Friendship Bracelets. Fifth graders came up with words of encouragement that are represented with each color in the bracelet. Some of the words students shared were: choosing kind, strength, friendship, integrity, hope, happiness, and working together. Afterwards, students each made their own bracelet. Partners were helping each other for those who did not know how to braid. When the bracelets were completed, everyone sat in a circle, and we thanked the whole class for something. The bracelet is a gift to everyone, from everyone for helping each other during these tough challenges. Each student thanked someone for something they did during the day. Everyone received a bracelet someone else had made. We ended the night with hot cocoa, muffins, and a read aloud. I read two of my favorite picture books to students, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and The Lonely Book, by Kate Bernheimer. 

Successes through Teamwork: The challenges for Day 2 were very tough. Fifth graders were asked to attempt the Never-Ending Gobbstopper Challenge which they did not accomplish in Day 1. It was beautiful to see the encouragement among the group. Students succeeded by using teamwork and positive communication! Next up was the Peanut Butter River Challenge. Once again, students showed such determination and wonderful communication skills for this challenge. It took over an hour, but it was complete! No one gave up on each other or themselves! Everyone had crossed the river using just 2 planks. It was clear that this could not be done alone! For their last challenge, fifth graders attempted the Sailing Ship. They were asked to stand around the perimeter of a big board that was on a pipe. The challenge being that everyone had to be on it while not allowing edges touch the ground. It took the students about 15 minutes to complete! It was obvious that communication skills were getting much better after having successfully completed this task and two others prior this one.

I am very proud of my fifth graders. It was really wonderful to spend such a unique experience with them. As their teacher, I feel that they learned so much during Unit 1 – Building a Community of Kind Learners, and were able to use that knowledge to complete such tough challenges! Each student is special in their own way, and I honestly couldn't be more proud of all of them!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Unit 2: Alaska Exploration and Research-Based Learning

I am so excited that we started our new unit. Although I loved my last theme of kindness, and using the book Wonder, by RJ Palacio was perfect for it, I am really looking forward to more of an academic focus. I think that my students got a lot out of Unit 1 - Building a Community of Kind Learners, and hope that they do not forget what they learned.

Unit 2 is a focus on Alaska which is my platform for teaching them how to do research and to demonstrate how a person's environment effects the way of life. Here are the components of what I planned:

1. Whole Class Literature Circle: Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George

  • Have a group discussion about the book
  • Think deeply about what was read
  • Learn about Alaskan animals, land, and culture

2. Writers' Workshop: 5 Paragraph Informational Essay and 5 Paragraph Research Paper

  • Learn the structure of a 5 paragraph essay
  • Learn the steps to research
Students will first write an essay based on something they consider themselves an expert on. Right now, I have students writing about soccer, the Paleo diet, dancing, and taking care of pets. I am modeling with an essay on Running. The goal of this essay is to have them focus only on the structure of an essay rather than gathering information on it which is what they will be doing when they tackle their research paper.

When we start the research paper, they will be researching a US state of their choice while I model researching Alaska. They will have at least 2 "just right" books of their choice to use as references. They will not use the internet as part of research (too much to teach about how to do that at this point in the year!). 

3. Science: The Scientific Method


  • To learn how to use the Scientific Method

Project: Create a science experiment that answers a question you have pertaining to your state.
For example, an experiment I will do with the class will be about permafrost which is a landform found in Alaska. We will have a "State Fair" at the end that replicates a traditional Science Fair without awards. Everyone will share information on their state and their experiment. Students will share how their experiments relates to the state that they researched.

I have Science Journals for each student, and this is the place where they will take their notes from lessons and record all of our experiments. We started off with a Cloud Collection experiment to answer the questions if clouds determine weather, and do certain clouds produce various types of precipitation. 

4. Social Studies: 50 States and Capitals

  • Learn how to read a political map of the United States
  • Know all 50 states and capitals (and their correct spelling!)
  • Understand how a person's environment influences their way of life (this ties into the research they do of their state, and comparing the lifestyles across the country)
I have a lot of games and puzzles that I found online and made so that the kids are able to achieve this goal of memorization quickly. I am hoping that beyond memorizing the states and capitals, they are able to understand a bit about each region and how they are different.

We started this a last week, and so far the kids are really excited! I will keep you updated with photos if I get a chance to take any, and of course, with more blog posts! 

Happy Learning!! 

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