Reading Doors

Monday, July 18, 2016

DIY Literacy Ch. 5-6 Reflection #CyberPD

Wow, I can't believe this is the last week for #CyberPD 2016 already. This week we will be discussing chapters 5 & 6. Next week is our final Twitter Chat with Kate and Maggie Roberts, the authors of the book we are studying, DIY Literacy.

Chapter 5
This chapter focuses on tailoring our teaching to meet the needs of every student. Differentiation, something every teacher hears constantly, but which is much harder to successfully accomplish within the classroom. It is difficult in this current climate of over testing and pressure on the teacher to make sure student's perform to really take time to meet every child's needs individually. There never seems to be enough time to determine the needs of 25+ students, find or create the materials for them, and then find time within a 40-60 min. block to help every student.

Yet Kate and Maggie have provided us with a short list of tools that can make a greater impact on a greater number of students. They provide us with a way to maximize our impact within our classroom. "Teaching tools won't make the work of differentiation effortless. But they make the work we put in have bigger payoffs, for us and for the kids." pg. 73
  • Demonstration Notebooks: These provide us with a great way to help meet the varying needs of our students during individual conferences and small groups. The short demonstrations and lessons in this notebook are made to fit the specific needs we see within our classroom. More importantly, I love that it is pointed out in this chapter that these pages can be made to help those who have mastered the current content and are ready for a challenge. They are not just pages for those with gaps or those who are struggling with the current unit, but for every student at every level.
  • Charts: I love that these are included and again in a way I would not immediately think of using them. To use a chart, not just to provide steps, but to provide a list of student struggles or levels and the strategy they can use to help move them past it. I can not wait to implement this. I feel it will have a drastic impact on the independence and success of my students.
  • Bookmarks: What better way to meet each students' individual needs than to have them create a bookmark filled with strategies that work best for them during any particular unit! "Having students represent ideas and strategies in drawings, shapes, and icons helps them understand and hold onto the work." pg 81
  • Micro-Progressions: I don't think I could explain it any better than Kate & Maggie. "Micro-progressions help differentiate the work of a unit because no matter where a child is on the micro-progression of that skill, they can find themselves within the range of levels and take their next step." pg. 83 This is the tool I am the most excited about using in the new school year. The independence that I foresee the micro-progression nurturing in the students is profound, and that is exciting!
Chapter 6
This chapter focuses on tips and tricks to make using these DIY teaching tools more accessible and easy to use within the realities of a busy classroom. Below I discuss my favorite tips from the chapter:
  1. Use popular culture references to get the attention of students. I particularly like the idea of having a regular anonymous survey of what the students are interested in at the moment. It lets them have direct control of what is included in the class. pg 89
  2. Hire "experts," students who show mastery of a skill, to create tools to help those students still on their way to mastering the skill. Empowering the students who are creating the tools to learn the skill more deeply and at the same time creating a more understandable tool for those students still working toward mastery. pg 93
  3. "Place your demonstration notebook on a table for students to check out for the class period, just like a library book." pg 95 
  4. Keep white space in the design of the tools to help readers understand what they are reading. Write big and create separate sections. Add color, especially shades of color, and keep the color of sections or titles consistent. Color makes the tools interesting and engaging! pg 100-101
In Closing
The tools that Kate and Maggie provide in their book are tools that I have been told about or even used before, things that are often mentioned in the field of education. However, the advice that Kate and Maggie give about how to use these tools effectively in order to help the common problems of student memory of the lessons, rigor of student work, and differentiation within the classroom is new to me. They make these tools understandable and functional within a messy, chaotic, and busy classroom with 20+ students. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and am excited to finally get to use these tools in a consistent way that truly reaches the students and encourages independence in their work.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My Summer Reading List Challenge 2016

As with most things this summer, my summer reading list (and posting about it) has gotten away from me. This year, as I did last year, I asked my 4th grade students at the end of the year to give me book title suggestions for my summer reading list, promising that I would read each one and at least the first book if it was a series. The only exception to this promise is if I've already read the book recently, about the last 5 years or so. They took up the challenge with gusto! Below is the list they gave me:
The very extensive list includes (those in red I've already completed this summer):

  • Garden of the Purple Dragon
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Katie John
  • The White Giraffe
  • America's Funny But True History
  • Camp Rock 2: Final Jam
  • Life of Pi
  • Sugar
  • Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu
  • Toes
  • Half Magic
  • Star Darlings
  • 39 Clues
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Ruby Lee and Me
  • Marley
  • The Cupcake Queen
  • The Light in the Forest
  • Fortune Falls
  • Pie
  • The Hunger Games
  • Roller Girl
  • Thimble Summer
  • Shadow of the Dragon: Kira
  • World War II Book 2: Dead in the Water
  • Pegasus
  • Mutation
  • Five Little Peppers series
  • Frostborn (Thrones & Bones)
  • Evermore
  • The Lost Track of Time
  • Beholding Bee
  • Crimebiters! series
  • Haunted Houses
  • A Night Divided
  • Seekers: The Quest Begins
  • Dog Diaries series
  • Colorado Sam (written by a student's grandfather)
  • The Twelve Dancing Princesses
  • The Puppy Place
  • Lincoln's Grave Robbers
  • Silver Pony Ranch
  • Dragon Keeper
  • Tombquest series
  • Spirit Animals
WOW!! What a list! They have challenged me to read about 21 more books this summer than the students last year did.

And of course, I always have a huge stack of my own that I have set aside for summer, including several professional development books. (below left)

This summer has gotten away from me and I've spent far more time travelling than is typical, so I even have a stack I've been saving that I know will have to wait until the school year, or much more likely, until next summer. (above right)

Well, with half the summer gone I have only gotten through about 45% of the books I want to read, and less than 20% of the books I've been challenged to read. It is time for me to buckle down and make a greater effort to read the books my students have recommended. I do not want to let them down, and have spent too much time reading the books I had in my own stack. Hopefully I will do better the remainder of the summer. If I promised my students that I'd read it, then I will keep that promise!

Monday, July 11, 2016

DIY Literacy Ch. 3-4 Reflection #CyberPD

"We find that students need support, time, and repetition to make learning stick." pg 39

This week, reading Chapters 3 & 4 of DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Roberts really hit home with some of the struggles I have with my students every year. Getting students to remember what I've taught and helping them reach a level of rigor in their independent work are constant struggles I have with some of my students.

In recent years, our school district's poverty level has more than double from less than 30% free or reduced lunch to roughly 65%. Although I know many district's live with these levels year after year or are in situations with higher levels than we have, it has still been a culture shift for us. What once worked to motivate students simply does not any longer. Most of our students live in homes that value entertainment and fun over buckling down to achieve academic success. With this change, memory and motivation are now key struggles for our district as a whole, and these chapters fit perfectly with the PD within our districts.

I love how Kate & Maggie show, through explicit examples, how each of the tools they describe can be used to help improve student memory, rigor, and independence. The How to Set Goals and Narrow Our Focus section on page 43 was especially helpful. Keeping in mind our list of ideas and goals, students get a sense of ownership when co-creating the tools, but we as teachers are still able to ensure the best quality teaching goes onto the tools. Such great tips!

"Watching the process of something being made increases the likelihood that students can replicate the process on their own, which is critical to their independence." pg 68

I'm also starting to get really excited about the idea of using micro-progressions in full-force within my classroom. In the past I have used something similar but rather infrequently. I have liked how it worked but I still knew it was not as successful as it could have been. The tips and ideas from these chapters are what I needed to really implement good quality micro-progressions.

"The point is that you keep trying, and work hard, not that it works perfectly for you right away." pg 64

Further Questions I Have:

  1. As many others have asked, how many demonstration notebooks would be the most beneficial? Would having separate reading and writing notebooks be best, or would it be better to keep them together as one since much of reading and writing overlaps?
  2. I have seen many examples from middle school grades, but as my new coaching position will take me into classrooms ranging from K-6th, I would like to look more into ideas for a demonstration notebook for the younger grades, for those students who are still learning how to read.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

DIY Literacy Ch. 1-2 +Bonus Reflection #CyberPD

Another year of #CyberPD has officially begun! I always look forward to this online learning event with other educators who are eager to share and learn together, This year's chose book title is DIY Literacy by Kate Robins & Maggie Beattie Roberts. If not already a member of this great community of educators and life-long learners, check it out here.

"The tools in our lives improves our lives. They save us energy, time, and struggle." pg. 3

This book hits such an important topic that I have always struggled with: how to create effective and visually stimulating tools that truly invigorate the students to work independently. As a 4th grade teacher, I am always striving to get the children that come into my room at the start of the year to grow into independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Chapter One: Extending Our Reach
I love how chapter one starts out. It reminds us that the right tool is essential to success in most situations. Something that I love to do is cook. When I first started to experiment with made from scratch foods, I had limited kitchen tools and it became very difficult to create the delicious foods I wanted. It quickly became obvious to me that it was essential that I purchase certain kitchen tools, such as a rolling pin, different sized graters, a mandolin, and most importantly a food processor. With these, cooking became so much easier and I was able to complete more complex and delicious foods. As a cook, I knew these tools were helpful and allowed me to combine the skills of using these in many different ways to create new dishes. The same is true in the classroom. With the right tools, students can succeed and become independent. And the more tools we provide, the more likely that the students' learning will be complex and lasting.

Chapter Two: An Introduction to Teaching Tools
I currently have my students each keep a notebook in the classroom that is full of the notes, examples, lists, and other helpful tools. It stays in the classroom where they can access it whenever they need to while working. However, as I get into this book, I am realizing that it is lacking some key ingredients. First, it is definitely not interactive enough. Although many of the examples of good, "after" work are created together, I have never had students create their own bookmark list of strategies that work for them, rather, every strategy that is an option is always included in the tools. Second, I need to use more images, icons, and other visual clue elements. Third, I need to include far more examples of the "before" work so that students can see where they are now in order to figure out how to get to better and reach quality "after" work.

My favorite tool that is shown in Ch. 2 is the demonstration notebook. I always struggle with making my mini-lessons truly mini, and with being able to timely pull out small groups for effective reteaching or refining lessons. The demonstration notebook is a great solution to both of these struggles. It allows me to be ready with hands-on practice of valuable skills and strategies for when the need presents itself in the classroom. I am getting excited about starting to create my notebook and other charts! I know it will take time to create a quality notebook and truly beneficial charts and micro-progressions, but it will be worth it!

Bonus Chapter: How Do I Find (and Write) Strategies for Teaching Tools?
This chapter was more of a confirmation that I have been on the right track for the past 4-5 years. My district has been going through major curriculum changes the past few years as the Common Core standards are introduced and as the state tests have changed over and over. In order to compensate, I have done a lot of finding and writing my own strategies for my students' ELA binders. I especially appreciate the Fine-Tuning Your Strategies section. These were great reminders to help make the strategies I give to students truly kid-friendly. It really is all about the kids!

I want to end with this great reminder found on page 6: "You will also need good teaching practices, a strong curriculum, and solid relationships with your kids."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Wow, What a Year! (Belated School-Year Recap)

This past school year simply flew by, and now it's over and I'm getting into another summer of reading and personal PD. As I reflect on the past school year, the first thing I notice is that I have not written a post on this blog since September, which was a reflection of my summer reading. This is a big red flag that this year was busy, fast, and maybe even got a little away from me. I spent very little time sitting, reflecting, and writing about what was happening. Therefore, I will spend time now reflecting on the good and the bad.

I want to start by saying that I had a really great group of kids this year! We explored and learned together to a degree I'm not sure I've reached before. Although I might have introduced a topic to the class for discussion or because we were reading about it, they always took off with it and did far more than I had ever intended. It is a year I will always cherish!

We started off the year with writing, writing, and more writing! My fourth graders learned about the unique creativity that can be involved writing when we wrote on non-traditional materials, like brown paper lunch bags, burlap squares, and plastic cups. Students got to choose how to write some of their projects. Some chose to write a story that hung in backward sequence or one that rolled up like an ancient scroll or one that looked like a guitar. They wrote theme poems (shape poems) that looked like apples, leaves, snow men, trees. Most importantly, my 4th graders wrote 4 full length essays of 5 paragraphs (or more), 3 of which were multi-source research essays. They learned to formulate opinions and make judgments based on evidence and facts.

One of the last essays the students did was about whether or not the U.S. should continue to fund Mars exploration, or if that money would be better spent here on Earth. The students had written two previous research essays and were feeling a lot more comfortable with them. By this essay, they were thoroughly enjoying the conversation and debate that comes with formulating your own opinion (with evidence)! Two of my students surprised me by writing me a letter requesting that I start a debate club for them sot hat they could continue the fun outside of school. Unfortunately, this request came later in a very busy year and so it wasn't possible for me to be an after-school club adviser.  However, my fourth grade students spent the last week of school holding an in-class debate club for about 45 minutes each day. The topic they chose: Does social media, specifically Facebook, ruin lives? They did a fantastic job researching facts and coming up with solid reasons and evidence on both sides! Their final conclusion: Social media can be harmful and dangerous IF you are not careful to protect yourself.

In Oct.-Nov., we took part in the Global Read Aloud of Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. We talked a lot about the power of reading and the many different paths children take to achieve reading success. Then in Jan.-March, we read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd about a girl who is terrified of public speaking, but can physically see words floating around everywhere. Again we talked about the power of words and of reading. Soon, a small group of students (different from those who came to me about the debate club) decided they wanted to start a book club. They would give up their recess once or twice a week to read to the kindergarten students in our building. They did this for the last month or so of school. I was impressed and very proud of the willingness these students had in helping younger children achieve reading success!

As great as my students were, the year was certainly not all peaches and cream. I had a few students come to me (come into the 4th grade) reading on a 1st grade level. This created challenges in the daily classroom for them and for me. Much of our time is spent on close-reading of rigorous texts, and how can this be done if some of the students simply can't read the text? These students had to work very hard to succeed and to participate at a level similar to their peers, and at times it became frustrating for them. They wanted to give up and got upset when they took backward steps in their progress.But, with support from their peers and from their teachers, they did it!! They had great years with fantastic growth and achievement!

This year came with a lot of hard work from me and from my students. They showed me how inquisitive and creative they could be and how dedicated to learning they are both in and out of the classroom. I want to instill at least some of that in my students next year. However, I also know that I will be taking on a new role in addition to teaching 4th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. I will also be the building wide MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) coach, helping teachers with Tier II and Tier III interventions as we try to improve our K-3 Literacy scores. I worry, largely needlessly I know, that the additional responsibility will take enough of my time that the great things I discovered this past year will be forgotten in the chaos. Of course, I would not have asked for the position if I didn't know I could do it, but still, the concern is there. As I look ahead to next year, I only hope to get a fraction of the enthusiasm for reading and learning out of the incoming 4th graders, and I know that if I do, it will be a great year too!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Summer Reading...Summer is Over Update

At the start of the summer, I shared a post explaining how my students had been allowed to choose many of the books on my summer reading list this year. You can see the post here.

As summer has now come to an end and the 2015-2016 school year is about to begin, I find myself reflecting on what I did, and read, over the summer months. I had promised my students that any book they wrote down, that I had not already read, I would get done this summer. This helped to spur me on as I read more books in one summer than I ever have before. I couldn't let them down (they had been so excited to control what I read and wanted me to read the best of what they liked) and I wanted to be sure to set a good example. I told my students that if I liked the first book of a series, I'd keep reading, but if not, I would only read the first one. 

Here is the list of books my students placed on my reading list:
  • NBA Playbook by Fred Kerber
  • Fangbone: Third-Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex
  • I am LeBron James by Grace Norwich
  • Animal Ark: Dog at the Door by Ben B, Baglio
  • Dinkin Dings by Guy Bass
  • Snoop Troop by Kirk Scroggs
  • Superstars of History: The Good, The Bad, and The Brainy by R.J. Grant
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell
  • Bone series by Jeff Smith
  • So B. It by Sarah Weeks
  • How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
  • Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black
  • A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace
  • The Wickit Chronicles: Ely Plot by Joan Lennon
  • Jungle of Bones by Ben Mikaelson
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
  • Deadtime Stories: Little Magic Shop of Horrors by Annette & Gina Cascone
  • any I Am...books or Who was...books
 I am proud to say that I didn't let my students down, and read every book that they put on my list.

Some of the series were really good, and I kept reading. This included the Harry Potter series, the Bone graphic novel series, and the Spiderwick Chronicles. I read the first two Percy Jackson books, but did not read beyond that. Book series that I did not love, and so only read the first book, included A Series of Unfortunate Events, Dork Diaries, Divergent, and The Wickit Chronicles.

I am glad to say that, even though I did not love every book my students put on my list, I did not hate any of them either. My students have some really good tastes in books and did not disappoint or provide me with a boring summer. I look forward to requesting another summer reading list in May from mt new classes of 4th graders!

Lesson on Worrying SOL

Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Join in and write your own slice.

I, like most people, am not a fan of any kind of surgery. So when my dentist told me my wisdom teeth had to come out, I was less than thrilled. "

Are you sure they have to come out? The don't hurt. Can't they just stay in there?" I asked.

No, apparently they were damaging and cracking the molars in front of them because of the weird angles my wisdom teeth were coming in and the tiny amount of space available to them. If I don't have them out, my other teeth could break and/or fall out.

I was rather nervous. I hate anything that requires me to be knocked out for a while. It may be somewhat irrational, but I don't like the lack of control that comes with not being awake for something so important and the possibility that I might not wake back up. A rare occurrence, but not unheard of. The surgeon and I came to a compromise: I'd be put on an IV sedation that, though technically awake, would make me unable to remember any of the surgery.

Finally the day came. I went in all nervous. And then the day went.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened. No complications. Relatively little pain. Quick recovery.

I spent a week worrying about what could happen, worrying about the fine print. I worried for nothing. And I'd like to be able to say, "lesson learned," but that probably isn't accurate. I'll worry needlessly about such things again I'm sure. Perhaps then, it is "part of lesson sort of learned, for now."