Saturday, June 23, 2018

Follow Me through Tokyo, Vietnam & Bali!

This past September, I decided to plan an experience of culture, landscape and adventure. For the next 5 or so weeks, I will be  on a journey through three countries: Tokyo, Japan, south Vietnam up to the northern city of Hanoi and Bali, Indonesia. This plan is Part 2 of infinite parts ;-)

Part 1 happened last summer when I was driving across the country alone over the course of 12 days. I had the opportunity to reflect on what I want my life to be and it's a road I continue to travel down. I definitely don’t have all of my answers yet and I know that my answers are not necessarily yours, but I did realize/finally face that teaching and working had taken over in many ways and as a teacher, I am pretty sure you have felt this before. Even though I have been able to experience a lot of really great things, there still felt like something was missing. I needed more excitement and I truly believe that this new path which involves stepping away from the job more will actually make me a better teacher (See? That’s still the focus in many ways, so it’s all good).

Discovering what makes us feel alive and taking part in it is essential if teaching is your chosen career. As teachers, there is way too much time and energy spent on providing an education and safe space for others that we often forget about ourselves or think that we don’t matter as much (we do!). For years, my life literally revolved around teaching and in some ways that will never change just because that is the nature of the job. However, teaching doesn’t have to deprive us of things we are worth having. Heading into my 13thyear, I look back and realize that I felt like without me the world for my students/our classroom would fall apart. I am much less egotistical now and I am working to break free of this notion. Giving up our lives for others is not necessarily the best thing for everyone.

To read the rest of this blog post, please find my new site here!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Last Day of School Plans!

Hi! Thank you so much for following my classroom tales! I have recently updated my blog onto a new site called Teachers On Point! Please find this blog post there and sign up for a FREE, EXCLUSIVE teaching resource while you're there! 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Let's Talk During Read Aloud!

A lot of learning happens during read aloud and I think there is a misconception that read aloud should be a time of only quiet listening. While listening obviously is important during this time of day, talking is equally valuable to students' learning. When I was teaching third grade and did guided reading groups, I would often refer to the strategies students displayed during read aloud and connect it to what was being practiced in the small group. It was really helpful for kids to be able to have that model to think back and refer to. In fifth grade, I teach kids through modeling how to participate during read aloud.   

There are two skills that can be practiced during read aloud and those are SPEAKING and READING COMPREHENSION


"We are here to listen to the story and share our thoughts about the characters and what is happening to them. What we do in literature circle, we will also be doing during read aloud."

Listening, Speaking, Reading then Writing. Those are the levels of understanding that we work hard to achieve in our classrooms. After spending 5 years teaching fifth graders, I learned that children this age still have difficulty explaining their thinking in a concise and organized way. Although we know that kids love to talk, few know that they actually need practice speaking so that they convey what they are thinking.

Reiterating and Questioning: When I hear a child having difficulty explaining their thinking, I tend to reiterate what I think they are trying to say. It's important for children to have a model example of how to speak especially when in a situation where there is a group conversation and others want to express their thoughts, too. Unfortunately, we don't have all day and it's important to get it out quick and easy! Do not be afraid to tell your students that this is a time where you will be helping them to practice speaking.

Reading Comprehension 

"Remember boys and girls, the reading strategies we talk about and practice during read aloud are the same strategies we should be using when we read books on our own." 

Questioning and Using Text Evidence: When I first started teaching, I was afraid to call a student out for sharing a prediction that made absolutely no sense with what was happening in the story. I thought, well how can a prediction be criticized since everyone knows it will soon be confirmed or denied anyway. Also, I felt bad telling a kid their prediction was definitely not going to happen. Later in my career, I realized that I was doing children a disservice by always "agreeing" that their prediction could possibly take place in the story. So I began asking kids to give me evidence from the story that would support their prediction. If they had trouble coming up with evidence, I then suggested they revise their prediction. Oftentimes, just by asking for evidence students will revise their predictions right away. Also, if I don't respond at all, other students will chime in and explain how that probably wouldn't happen because of xyz in the story.

Thinking Aloud: Even if I had read the book before, I am, of course, always thinking about the reading. I find it extremely beneficial to share with students what goes on in my mind during read aloud. This can start conversation or, at the very least, make the kids aware that I am actually thinking while reading. I make connections with other texts, share what I am visualizing, discuss things that happened earlier in the story or anything that comes to mind really. It is a great example to show children that we don't just absentmindedly read through stories! Sometimes I will even ask the students what they were thinking during a certain part of the story just because I am curious.

Just letting kids be aware that read aloud is a time for thinking and discussing gives them the opportunity to check their understanding and be more engaged in the reading. What are some strategies you use in your classroom during read aloud?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Scaffolded Reading Comprehension - From Answering Direct Comprehension Questions to Socratic Seminars

Students love to talk. We know this. That is why I love the fact that I can run classroom discussions throughout my teaching day. There are lots of moments throughout the day where my students have the opportunity to talk and discuss their opinions, thoughts and questions. One of those moments is during Reading Workshop.

I structured Reading Workshop in a way to build more rigor as students work through each novel throughout the school year. I teach 3 novels per trimester.

Trimester 1

During the first trimester, I kept things simple. Students read the chapters at night, took specific notes and then came to the carpet as a whole class the next day and discussed the reading. This was the trimester where I directly taught them how to have a whole class conversation and we practiced it  everyday. After the conversation, students would answer written comprehension questions. 

Books: Blubber by Judy Blume, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

Trimester 2 

During the second trimester, the students read the first book and discussed it with the whole class while I facilitated the conversation. Students are always responsible for reading the night before and taking notes in a way that I assign. For the first book, they were assigned to take 3 notes (I.e. a question, a prediction and a favorite part). Then we would come together and conversations would be guided by using their notes. After the conversation, students would answer written comprehension questions. The second book, students were given notes to take that directly related to the chapters they were reading. They were assigned to small groups and there was a discussion director each week that facilitated the conversation by coming to the group with open-ended questions about the reading. After the conversation, students would answer written comprehension questions. For the last book, I split the class into two groups (15 kids each) and the students facilitated the conversations. Teachers monitored and were a part of the conversation. Students were taught and practiced writing summaries after each conversation. This was their comprehension check.

Books: Weedflower, by Cynthia Kodohata, The Watsons go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, Nine, Ten by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Trimester 3

We are now into the third trimester and final trimester before 6th grade, and students are working on advanced comprehension skills. I am running Socratic Seminars. When students come to the circle (15 in each group), they discuss what happened in the reading. The book lends itself well to conversation, so I usually have to tell them to end the discussion about the book and answer my central question (not a bad problem to have). Examples of Central Questions: How does self-confidence play a role in being successful? Is it important to be an individual, why or why not? The students discuss these questions and then are asked to write their answer to the question while also using evidence from the text to support their answers. This is a very advanced skill, but some of my students are able to do it! I am confident that by the end of the school year, I will have almost all of them able to share their opinion and use evidence from the text to back it up. This will be the structure for the rest of the school year. Students seem to be enjoying it and are practicing so many important LIFE skills at the same time: listening to others' opinions, formulating their own opinion and articulating it so that others understand, considering important questions that will help shape who they become, and finally, connecting their reading to their own beliefs and experiences.

Books: The Wave, by Todd Strasser, Courage for Beginners by Karen Harrington

Thursday, March 1, 2018

WWII Multimedia Timeline in 5th Grade

This trimester, students studied WWII events. I modeled for them the steps of research with the topic of Japanese Internment Camps and they researched a WWII event of their own that they chose. In small groups, they were assigned and given a syllabus to complete a multimedia timeline that depicts 10 important events of WWII. Students mostly used recycled materials they found throughout the school and at home. They decided on the events and how they would depict them. Below are some examples of their hard work. I am so proud!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Teaching Kids how to do Research in 6 Easy Steps

I remember when I first decided that I wanted to teach my 5th graders how to conduct research in order to write a 5 paragraph essay. I was overwhelmed with where to even start! I know that kids are highly motivated when they have choice and are excited about their learning, and so I knew it    would be important for each child to choose their own topic of study. Even though I would be modeling each step along the way, I did not want to assign them their topic. To guide students in choosing a topic, I always tell them a subject to choose a topic from. For example, for years, I had students choose a state they wanted to research while I modeled researching Alaska. For the first time this school year, I asked students to choose a topic related to WWII while I model with Japanese Internment Camps. It    gives them a sense of interest and independence when they are able to choose for themselves what topic they will be spending their time digging through books and talking to experts about. 

When creating a process for conducting research, I also wanted to provide students with a list of steps that they could use later on in middle, high school and even college. The steps had to be simple enough to work for any topic and any level of topic. So I knew they had to be simple, but also have potential to incite lots of information.

If you would like to purchase the unit of study that I created for writing a Research Essay, click here

Below are the 6 Steps to Research  

1. Decide on a Topic 

Teacher provides structure of choice by assigning a subject such as a state or topic related to a time period in history such as WWII. This is helpful for when you are modeling steps 2 and 3. 

2. List the Questions you want to answer about your topic. 

I usually tell the students to come up with at least 20 questions. The more questions they have, the easier it    will be to write the 5 paragraph essay. Also, I remind students to ask open-ended questions and to start with who, what, why, when, and how. 

3. Categorize Your Questions.

This step can be a little bit more difficult for students if their questions are very basic or if they have less than 20. I sometimes will support students by discussing with them which categories they want to include (tell them to choose at least 4) and then list the questions, Reversing steps 2 and 3 helps those who are stuck on creating questions that will provide a decent amount of information.

4. Answer all of the questions. 

At this step, I have students create Research Collection Folders in order to ORGANIZE all of this information. Each file folder uses library card pockets to hold the color-coded index cards. Each pocket is a category and on each separate index card, students write their questions on one side. Afterwards, students write the information they find that pertains to the questions they asked. 

5. Add New Information to the Categories. 

I suggest for students to choose the categories that are most interesting to them and read about it    in their books then jot down any interesting new facts they learned. 

6. Review Your Notes (index cards) and Decide on Which Categories will make Content-Rich Body Paragraphs in Your Research Essay

Students should choose 3 topics for the body portion of their essay. After this step is completed, students are ready to draft their research essay! 

If you would like to purchase the unit of study that I created for writing a Research Essay, click here

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