Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How to Assess and Organize Student Reading Ability

Check out the video below to guide you in planning for and organizing your students' reading abilities. This system could be used for any grade! 

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

How to Organize Writers Workshop

Even though I write all my own writing lessons and unit plans, I don't do it completely on my own. Every lesson is based off of the Lucy Calkins' Writers Workshop model. I have been teaching writing this way for 8 years and counting, and it hasn't let me down yet!

After a few years though, I started to realize that Lucy doesn't tackle much in the way of how students should organize their work throughout the writing process. So, since organization is a huge thing with me and I strive to help my students to either become well-organized or stay well-organized, I had to address this need within my favorite part of the day, Writers Workshop.

One thing Lucy is a stickler for (and I love!) is that students keep a Writers Notebook with them at all times and use it brainstorm their ideas. This is a place for them to complete brainstorming lesson tasks as well as a place for them to jot down ideas, etc. throughout their days, both at home and at school. However, beyond brainstorming, there isn't much said about how to keep track of materials. What happens during the draft, revise, edit and publishing stages?!

I implemented a system in my classroom that has worked well for two reasons, one it is simple AND two it involves a binder and dividers and kids LOVE binders and dividers! Something about a binder makes them feel a little bit older and I enjoy finding a new favorite one every school year,so it is a win-win.

Check out the short video below to get a look at exactly how I organize my students for Writers Workshop.

How do you organize your students for writing? Any favorite materials on your school supply list?  

Friday, June 24, 2016

Writers' Workshop: Research Paper Everyone! I wanted to give you a really awesome sneak peek into one of my Best Selling Products - Writers' Workshop: Teach Students to Write a Research Paper.

Check it out and let me know what you think! This unit plan contains over 20 scripted lessons, 10+ anchor charts, teacher writing examples, student graphic organizers, teacher organization sheets and it's all aligned to the Common Core Standards!

Putting this video together got me super excited to teach this unit in October! I can't wait to assign students to their states to research, read nonfiction texts and integrate the novel Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George! Fun, fun, fun!

Click on the picture to view the video!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How to Survive the Dollar Spot at Target!

Believe it or not, I have been getting warnings from fellow teacher friends on Instagram that Target Dollar Spot in some areas is EMPTY! Picked through. Nothing left. Tears. Regret. School JUST ended for most of us, some are still in the throws of their last few weeks. But Target doesn't care. They are ready for us to start preparing for August, so we must be ready as well.

Because some of the most exciting back to school shopping happens at Target - especially the Dollar Spot, it is important not to miss out on this very important event. Ever since this area of the store was invented, teachers across the country look forward to finding deals that spark creativity and ideas for classroom decorations, organization, group activities and lesson planning.

As soon as I got news that the Dollar Spot could potentially be a graveyard of classroom supplies and teacher blissfulness, I headed right over. Thankfully, when I got there, I wasn't disappointed. The shelves were stilled lined with things that make my heart happy! However, I recently purchased a home and my budget is much tighter than usual. So, I had to follow some rules in order to survive this early back to school shopping spree. I somewhat successfully followed them and spent only $21.

STEP 1 - Grab a BASKET not a cart! For obvious reasons. And stay at the FRONT of the store! Because Dollar Spot is located right at the door, you can prevent further shopping by forcing yourself to go straight to Dollar Spot, not be distracted by any other section and then right to the cashier. I am not telling you NOT to relish in the Back To School shopping section, I am just telling you, not today. Here are some basic rules to follow during Step 1.
Rule #1: I told myself I would only choose things that were priced $1. (Prices range from $1-$5)
Rule #2: After I broke Rule #1 (there were these really cool adhesive label covers and a color the landmarks US map), I decided I should only buy things I must have.
Rule #3: After I broke Rules #1 and #2 (there was a really, super cute mini-notebook that I surely had to add to my once-used pile of other notebooks at home and binder clips labeled To Do, Ignore and Today!) I decided that my pile would also include things that I wanted and could possibly use.

Step 2 - Once you have browsed, picked, convinced yourself, talked yourself out of things and made decisions, find a quiet corner and Make 3 Piles: Must Have and Can Use, Want and Can Use, Want but aren't sure How to Use, but Know You Could Come Up with Something Creative and Fun

Step 3 - Place Must Haves in the basket and, if you can't give up the rest without a slight pain in your heart, choose one or two items from the other two piles.

Step 4 - When you arrive to the cashier line, place your items on the conveyor belt and choose ONE thing you could live without and do not need. When it is your turn in line, apologize and tell the cashier that you've changed your mind and don't need said item. They are always very nice about this change of heart, they have a basket right behind them for this exact reason!

This is how I survived the Target Dollar Spot on a budget and purchased some really great things for my classroom and students. I am super excited about the items below as they all fall into one of the three categories above! Now... how to make sure I don't return to grab those binder clips I put back...

Have you made your way to Target Dollar Spot yet?? What have you purchased? How do YOU survive?  

These file folders are my favorite! I grab them every year!! They come 3 for $1 and are durable and more importantly, pretty! I use these to collect student published work throughout the school year. Target works overtime by making a different set of designs every year. (I found another set of designs that are primary colors, but I liked these more.) Even the students get excited over how cute the folders are!

For some reason, my calendar has been a constant pain in the butt for me. I could never find one that matched my room and so I made a couple. Hated them. Tortured myself throughout school years and used them. But for $3, I found this! The colors don't match exactly, but I am over trying to make that happen. I am just happy to now be able to replace my ugly one that I tried to create with paint samples with this professionally made one. 

The white square is a pack of adhesive label covers. I am planning on using these in my library to label the bins. You place the adhesive square on the bin and then there is a pocket where you can place the label to the bin. I don't have any specific plans for the border yet, but I am thinking about making a section of student work and using these to border the area off on one of the walls. 

These cute stickers!! I love them! The bookmarks are cool, too. On the back, students write a list of their favorite books. I plan to use these as part of a back to school activity the first week of school.

My favorite find of the day! A 'color the landmarks' US map. I teach the states and capitals and this will make for a perfect Early Finishers activity or part of a station. IF... I don't color it first myself. I am seriously tempted, but I will resist. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

What is Morning Meeting?

On most mornings, you could walk into my 5th grade classroom at the very start of the school day and see the students working quietly at their Chromebooks or in a journal. They are focused and dialed-in for the day. This takes practice and structure, but it is possible for any classroom to begin the school day in a positive and productive manner. This is the start to what makes our Morning Meetings run smoothly and stay organized every day. 

The Morning Procedure

8am Students walk into the classroom:
  • Unpack their backpack
  • Hand in their homework into the "Homework Bin"
  • Gather either their Chromebook or Personal Journal
  • Read the quote or question that is written on the board
  • Respond to the quote or question in an email to the teacher or note in their journal
  • If students finish before the start of Morning Meeting, they read quietly
  • At 8:20, students come to the carpet, in a circle, we start our Morning Meeting

What is Morning Meeting?

Morning Meeting is something that our school has adapted from the book Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Charney which explores The Responsive Classroom approach to building a caring classroom environment. This is a moment at the very beginning of the day that allows the me and students to build a relationship, review plans for the day as well as set a tone for the classroom. I start my Morning Meetings by reviewing the schedule for the day. Kids are always curious about what to expect and I like to start with that in order to alleviate any anxiety or preoccupation with what to expect. This way, everyone can focus on what we really need to do which is have a meaningful and productive class discussion. Beautiful things can happen during a well-structured and thoughtful Morning Meeting, so I like to get as much out of it as I can. This is when  I teach life skills that will guide my students in and outside of the classroom. It is a chance for them to explore their feelings and attitudes towards a variety of topics. It is also the perfect opportunity to discuss controversial subjects in which they might not normally explore points of views other than their own. 

How to Prepare for Morning Meeting

Before students arrive, I choose a quote or a thought-provoking question and I write it on the board. In my classroom, this is their first experience with Chromebooks, so the excitement to write is already there as well as the feeling of privilege which I go in-depth with them about at the start of the year. I think this definitely helps set the stage for expectations, but I have also been super successful with this activity using Personal Journals (a composition book that students and I communicate privately with). 

Some examples of quotes and questions are: 
  • "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • "Be the change you want to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi
  • Why is it important to advocate for people who are being treated unkindly behind their backs?
  • "People may forget what you say or do, but they won't forget how you make them feel." - unknown 
  • "Laughter is the sunshine; it chases winter away from the human face." - Victor Hugo
  • "Making a million friends is not a miracle...the miracle is to make such a friend who can stand with you when millions are against you." - unknown
As I am sure you can see, these types of quotes and questions mostly deal with character development and I think do a great job of setting the students up for a positive day of learning. A lot of the quotes came from the book 365 Days of Wonder by RJ Palacio. A great companion to her first book, Wonder

While students are responding in their Chromebook or journals, this is another great moment in the day when I can meet with anyone who might have needed help with homework or just to check in with me about something. It can also be a great time to go through and check homework completion or walk around the room and observe the students (which I recommend doing only that the first 2-3 months of school, in order to ensure that the rules are being followed and that everyone is responding thoughtfully). At some point, it is important to read through a few email responses or journal responses, if not all of them before starting the Morning Meeting. This will help if you end up having a discussion that no one is contributing to. 

During Morning Meeting

I give students a five minute warning and then a 2 minute warning before I ask for everyone to come to the carpet in a circle. This is when I review the schedule for the day, answer any questions about our day or a project that they are working on at home, etc. 

Then I ask the students to discuss the quote or question. If no one is speaking up or responding to those who are sharing, I suggest for the teacher to refer to what was read from the responses. For example, I might say, "I noticed a few of you made connections to this quote with Willow from our read aloud, Counting by 7s. John, what sort of connection did you write about? How does that relate to this conversation?" 

One very important reminder for teachers during Morning Meeting is to HOLD OFF ON GIVING YOUR OPINION OR INSIGHT, for just a little while if not for the entire conversation! As much as we want to steer the children into the direction we believe makes the most sense or is the "right way" to think, it is very important that we allow children to find their own voice and opinion among each other. The only influence any student should be experiencing at this moment is the influence of their peers' contribution. This is probably the most challenging part as a teacher, but again, the most important! I am not going to lie though, I have done it a few times, but in a way that I think is constructive and is challenging not "steering". Most of the time though, I will wait until the conversation is almost through. I will ask a student a question to stretch their brain and get them thinking just a little deeper or consider something new. I like to tell them that I do not hold an opinion on the subject necessarily, though they tend to know where my opinion lies based on knowing my personality. Other times, I tend to say that I am playing "Devil's Advocate" or want them to think fron another perspective. However, again, I try my hardest to keep my mouth shut until it is towards the end of the conversation. Teachers need to be strategic in the questions they ask as to make sure they are challenging the students with critical thinking and not degrading them or questioning them in a way that makes the child feel bad or like he or she may have misspoke. 

I tell my students that this is a moment in the day where we are respectful of each other and listen to each other so that we can have a productive, whole class conversation. We listen in order to be able to respond - It isn't always about being heard. Depending on the classroom dynamic, this can either take a lot of practice with direct instruction on how to have a class conversation, or it can be something that the students easily develop into with your guidance. 

Benefits of Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting has allowed me to really see my students' social growth throughout the school year. I get to hear how they "put into action" the things we discuss and the values they hold dear, which incidentally are the values we teach them starting at a very early age at my school. There are many times throughout the school year where I will leave the carpet after a conversation feeling like I just got through to these kids in a way that would never be possible without this type of setting and environment. How else could we discuss the importance of advocating for someone who might not even be in the room and how that shows the people beside you that you can be a good friend? And how very important that is for middle school or life in general? Or that living the best version of yourself can inspire others to do the same and how cool it is that we have the power to influence those around us with our actions? So many deep conversations have taken place on this carpet in my classroom that I get butterflies when I think about it!

By the end of the school year, I have students articulating their passion for the beliefs they hold close to their hearts and that they truly feel are important to practice in their daily lives. How much better of an education can they get?! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

End of the Year - Reflect on Writers' Workshop

This is our last week of school with the kids and I am trying to make it as meaningful as possible. I think a part of doing that means having the students reflect on the work they completed and acknowledge how much they have learned. Check it out here for FREE 

In Writers' Workshop, students published six different genres of writing: Narrative Story, Informational Essay, Research Essay, Poetry Book, Historical Fiction Picture Book and a Magazine! Each writing unit was beneficial in all different ways (to both me and the students!). The Narrative Story was the first unit. It was fun for the students and allowed me to assess where each writer was at the beginning of the school year. The Magazine unit was a culmination project that focused a lot on creativity as well as putting together the knowledge they had learned throughout the school year.

The Writing Reflection sheet is a very successful way for students to value the work they completed and feel accomplished at the end of a school year. It asks questions such as, Which piece of writing makes you feel most proud? Which piece of writing was the most difficult and what about it do you think was most challenging? Which piece of writing did you learn the most from? What did you learn?

After I reviewed this sheet and the questions with students (before passing it out), we had a class discussion as to WHY I am giving them this sheet. This elicited really great responses from students which helped make this assignment - on the last week of school - meaningful.

Next, I handed out the folders that contained only their published work. I kept this bin on the last shelf in the Writing Center and labeled it "Student Writing Portfolios"  (shown below). Each time a unit/writing was published and the rubric was filled out, I placed both things in the folder. This makes it easy to collect their work and have it all in one place.

Students then placed each piece of writing side-by-side on the floor or table and read through the pieces. They then completed the Writing Reflection Sheet.

This was a great way to end Writers' Workshop! After reading through the sheets, I am convinced that this was an important part of ending our fifth grade year together!