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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Amazing Library App!

So how many of you struggle with keeping track of all the books in your classroom library? If you're like me, you've tried all kinds of systems to manage and keep track of your books. There's the little book cards like we used in old school libraries, there's a sign-out sheet, there's a student helper to manage it....none of it works. You always end up losing track of your best titles, and usually it's because your kids love these titles as much as you do.

Well, the days of books walking out of your classroom are over!

Meet Book Retriever:



When my coteacher texted me telling me about this, I was immediately excited. (And Bray, even though we are both in different positions next year, you'll forever affectionately be called my coteacher...) : )


She's awesome in pics with kids, too! ; )


But I digress....back to it.

You buy this app for 99 cents. I have an iPhone, but I'm sure you can get it on android as well, or a classroom iPad if you have one.

Download the app. Then, the camera on your phone works as a scanner and you scan all your books into Book Retriever. You add kids into the app, and then you can check books in and out to kids with this app.



Here's a pic of the inside screen of the app:



Now, I haven't used it very much yet, but I did scan a book. When you scan it you can just get book info - it will tell you the F & P level and the Lexile level. See what I mean? So rad!!



I don't think you really need tons of technology to make this work. If you have a personal Smart Phone, you're in business. And less than $1....it's a steal!

So, get out there and check it out! I'd love to hear back about how it goes in your classroom!

And thanks again Bray for sharing with me....and now everyone out in blogging land!










Saturday, July 27, 2013

Classroom Environment - Your Second Teacher

Long gone are the days of students sitting individually in rows raising their hands when they want to talk and not collaborating with their peers...how dismal it looks in there!



These days, kids work together in a classroom community where their ideas and learning are just as important as the teachers'. You can think of your classroom environment as an additional teacher to your students:

"In Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy where preschools are renowned for their quality of education, the two teachers in each classroom refer to the environment as the 'third teacher.'" (Taberski, p. 19).

The way you arrange your classroom will greatly impact the learning that goes on throughout the year. To get the most out of your classroom environment,  consider adding the following components to it.

The Meeting Area



You should think of the meeting area as the hub of your classroom. In this area, you will gather with your students to begin and end your reading and writing workshops, have shared readings and read-alouds, demonstrate reading strategies, and compose anchor charts to deepen and record student thinking and learning.

It might be a good idea to have your meeting area close to your SMART Board in case you need to show a website or model on the document camera. You'll also want an easel close by to compose anchor charts.

While the teacher will sit toward the front of the meeting area, children will be seated on rugs or the carpet gathered together. You may want to have some bean bags or small chairs for students to sit on. I had an armchair that was part of this area, which also served as our Author's Chair during Writing Workshop. Some children might be sitting off to the edges of this space, and that's okay. Intimacy is key here, though. Children need to be up close and personal with the teacher so they can see, hear, and participate with  what is being discussed.

Also, during the workshop time of your Reader's and Writer's Workshop, you kiddos will choose to relax comfortably as their read their Just Right books or compose their writing.

Table for Guided-Reading or 1:1 Conferences




You'll need some kind of table in a part of your room to conduct guided-reading groups and 1:1 conferences. In the past when I've done 1:1 conferring, I have moved from student-to-student wherever they were in the classroom, but after rereading about the classroom environment  I think it makes much more sense to call over the students who you'd like to work with for the period to this table. You'll be able to make much better use of your time this way!

Students who you will be seeing during the workshop part of your literacy block will meet you at this table. You may be conducting a guided-reading group, in which case all four or five of the children who you see will follow one set of directions. Or, you might need to conduct 1:1 conferences with kiddos. In that case, they will spend their time working independently while you meet with the others at the table.

It might be a good idea for this space to be away from the meeting area, as students will be reading silently or with whispers. We want to do our best to not disturb them as they are thinking through their independent reading!


Classroom Library
Your classroom library is another huge part of your classroom. Please see my post The Heartbeat of Your Classroom for more information about setting up your library.

Wall Space for Anchor Charts
When meeting with your whole group, you will often times be modeling new strategies, skills, or other learning. To make the most of your instruction, teachers compose "Anchor Charts" that will later be put up on the wall for student reference. Anchor charts anchor new learning for children, and serve as a reference to them when they are placed up on the wall.



Above, you can see an example of an anchor chart for theme. While this chart is great with many examples, what would make it even better would be a definition of theme and also stories that the class has shared that show these various themes. That way, later in the year, when a child looks to this anchor chart for theme, they remember that, perhaps, kindness was a theme in the story The 100 Dresses that they had read together earlier that year.

Here's another anchor chart for theme:



The key here is to create your anchor charts with your kiddos. As you explain new skills or strategies you can record definitions, but call on the students to provide examples the whole group is aware of to anchor their learning.

Then, the chart goes up on the wall. When you begin to run short on space, you can start to stack the posters on top of one another, but they will always be there when you need to revisit a topic with an individual student, small group, or whole class.


Word Wall
Many teachers use word walls for student reference. In the past, in a middle school classroom, I had put up key vocabulary that we had read for student reference. What's important about the word wall is that it's being referred to often. Students need to know where to look when they get stuck, and by referencing it many times over the course of the school year it will become routine. Playing games with the word wall, devoting a little time to each each week, and natural reference all help students understand that it is there for their use!


Source



How have you done your word wall in the past? Just doing a little research and saw an author who had two different word walls. One was of high-frequency words that they came across in their shared reading or writing texts. The second word wall was for spelling patterns. Around the border of the patterned word wall were the 37 "dependable" spelling patterns with a place in the center to highlight three or four with all the words from that word family. For more on this, you can see On Solid Ground (Taberski, p. 119).




As you think about returning to your classroom to begin getting things put together, how will you help assist students to discovery of new ideas and learning? Will your classroom environment, or your second teacher, be assisting you in their discoveries?

Also, did I miss anything? Please share ideas for other important parts of the classroom set up with us here!

Happy Saturday from 35,000 feet! I'm on my way to visit a friend in Seattle. Loving Southwest and the in-cabin wifi!








Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Right, Vacation, and Future Books

One of the most important things that you can teach your kiddos is how to be in charge of choosing books that I call "Just Right" books (JR books). What's the name of that character whose porridge is too cold, then too hot, then just right? It's like that, but with books!


Goldilocks, of course!


Just Right Books
For a book to be "Just Right," it has to meet a few qualifications. 


video


First, the book should match their purposes.
Is the child looking for a book to read for pleasure? Do they have to write a report on spiders, so they need a book that will teach them about a topic? It's important that children know why they are looking for the book they are searching for.

Second, it has to be of interest to the reader.
Prior to teaching this lesson to my kids, (mostly kids who rarely picked up a book) they would just pick up anything that had a cool cover and sit down with it. They have to be taught that we pick books based on our interests - the topic, the author, the genre. We look at the cover, but also read the summary on the back of the book. It may take 10 or 15 minutes to find a good book and that's okay! Spending time in the library being careful about what we read will save us the time of abandoning book after book going forward.

Third, it has to be of a level that will make us better readers.
I know some people organize their libraries according to levels, but I don't recommend this. We don't pick out books in real life according to a level or color or letter. We pick them because it's a story our friend read and recommended it. Or, we know we like Realistic Fiction, so we go back for another one of those.

So back to the level - once we find a book that is of interest, I encourage my kids to open up to a random page and try to read it. If they come across more than one or two words that they either don't know the meaning of or can't pronounce, that is not a JR book. The kiddos in your class need their independent reading selections to be easy enough for them to comprehend, with maybe one word here or there that trips them up. (Coming soon: Mini-lesson on "Clunk Words.") Children need to be taught that trying to read books that are above their level will only make them dislike reading. It's not that they can never read a book that is too hard, but they just have to wait awhile until they develop strategies to help them tackle that kind of text. While you want to give students as much choice as possible when selecting their books, the teacher has the final say. If you check in with a student and realize this book is too hard (Future book) and the child doesn't want to abandon it, you must tell them they have to, that reading a future book will not help them become better readers.





Now....what do you call books that don't meet the above requirements?

Instead of calling books "Too Easy" and "Too Hard," I like to call them Vacation Books and Future Books.

Vacation books are books that are soooo easy. You could read them at the beach and comprehend them without paying much attention to them. It's like a magazine or a really easy picture book.

Future books are books that are too hard. I just don't like calling these books too hard because eventually the kiddos in your class will improve their reading levels, so a future book may turn into a Just Right book as they grow in their independent reading.

If you'd like to read more on this topic, you can find more information beginning on page 29 of The Daily 5. Most of my PD books are at school, so I can't give you more references at this time, but will definitely update once I get back to them and unpack!

As you go forward with teaching this mini-lesson, know that it will take lots and lots of guided practice before your students are able to do this on their own effectively. There will be a handful of students who will get it really quick, another handful who will need TONS of coaching, and then a big group who will get it with a few 1:1  conferences. Don't give up on this idea - it will come with good time, pretty soon your kids will be devouring your classroom library!




Now...do you have any tips for this mini-lesson? Do you call your books by different names? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Wednesday!




Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Reading Workshop > Accelerated Reader

I get why you want to use Accelerated Reader (AR). If you're anything like I was, you are thinking, "My kids are reading all these books that I have never read. How can I really know if they are understanding if I haven't read the book? How can I monitor them effectively if I don't know what their book is about?"

Good news: You don't need to read all the books your kids read to know if they are getting the most of their independent reading. Also, you most certainly do not need to make them take a test on a computer to track them.

Let me tell you some more:

I used AR religiously during my first through fourth years of teaching. My students were only allowed to check out AR books from the library and our library was organized by AR level. All the books we did not have a test for were organized like real life books are - according to the Dewey Decimal System. This particular school called these books 'fun books.' (Aren't all books fun books?)

Anyways, as a new teacher who didn't know much about reading instruction, this worked for me. I tracked their reading, set their AR goals, watched them meet them, and then awarded them accordingly. They were reading and that was what is important. AR worked for me....until I learned more about reading instruction.




In grad school, the more I learned about Reading Workshop, the more of an issue I had with AR. 

First, AR is not authentic. In real life we do not check out books according to a level and we do not need to take a test on the computer about it when we're done reading. Instead, we do what real people do with books: read them, talk about them, consider what happened to the characters or what new things we've learned,  talk about them some more, and then put them on our shelf and move to the next.

That's what children should be doing.




Another issue I have with AR is that kids are essentially reading to get something - some kind of award or prize or incentive. Shouldn't kids be reading because reading is such a great way to pass time or escape? Shouldn't they read to have "lived through" experiences from the characters in their books, who might do something they are contemplating, and by reading the book they can see the consequences of such actions? Shouldn't kids be reading to learn new things related to their interests or read because they love, Love, LOVE a character or setting or series of books? If that is the case, then why are we giving children prizes for doing what real-life adults do for pleasure?





Finally, I have an issue with the tests - these quizzes are not exactly calling for students to do lots of higher-order thinking about the texts they read. Children aren't able to articulate opinions or discuss possible alternatives the character may have taken or reflect about the text they just finished. Aren't these quizzes mostly just recall of trivial facts from the book? Do you always remember some random minor character in the books you read? And if you forget a characters' name, does that mean you are a poor reader?




Do you need more research? Please...read on with the links below.

What Works Clearinghouse - Accelerated Reader

JSTOR articles: (JSTOR - Read these articles free online, but you have to pay to download them.)

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy
Vol. 45, No. 1 (Sep., 2001)
contains: The Argument against Accelerated Reader
Deborah Biggers
pp. 72 - 75 (4 pages)

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy
Vol. 46, No. 4 (Dec., 2002 - Jan., 2003)
contains: Accelerated Reader: What are the Lasting Effects on the Reading Habits of Middle School Students Exposed to Accelerated Reader in Elemenatary Grades?
Linda M. Pavonetti, Kathryn M. Brimmer and James F. Cipielewski

pp. 300-311 (12 pages)




So have I persuaded you? Maybe you're considering a new view point, but you're thinking, "Great, Michelle. But what am I supposed to do if I don't teach my kiddos how to do AR?"

Well, more will be coming on this. If you'd like to get a jump-start, I recommend reading The Daily 5 or The First 20 Days of Independent Reading (This is found in Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3 - 6. You can find info about both of these books on my recommended reading page!)


Just know that this process will not be cut and dry. Your Reading Workshop will be a little messy because reading isn't black and white....and, you'll be learning along side your students. You might not have all the answers. That's okay. Sometimes you have to give up a little control to see kids flourish. Trust me, if you do....they will.

Your thoughts?

Until next time,






Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My first blogging award!


I just started this blog this month. Unlike my other blog, I've linked up in a few places to network a little. It's so exciting, Jenn from Hangin' With Hekken has nominated me for a Liebster Award!


After doing a little research on this award, I've found that it's not a super formal thing - just fellow bloggers reaching out to new bloggers and nominating them to recognize new blogs. It's kinda like a chain letter for bloggers, but hey - I'm nominated by someone in the blogging world that I don't know -- people are reading what I have to say!


So the rules are that I answer the 11 questions left for me by Jenn. After that, I tell 11 random facts about myself before passing the nomination on to the next few bloggers.

Here goes!


1. How long have you been teaching?
Crazy, but it's already been ten years!

2. What subjects/grades do you teach, and which is your favorite?
I taught sixth grade for my first six years, and then I looped twice with seventh - eighth graders. I thought sixth was my favorite, but now, I have to say eighth. However, I think I like eighth so much because I was able to spend two years with both of the eighth grade groups I had - you really get to develop great relationships with them by that time.

3. How do you feel about the Oxford comma?
I'm not going to lie. I def had to look this up because I didn't know it was called that. I found out it's also called the serial comma. I kinda prefer that name!

Well, I don't use one, but after googling images to go with this, I think I should start.

Is this kind of like - do you put one or two spaces after a period? I say one, but really.....who cares? Perhaps a literacy teacher should be more concerned about this?

haha!

4. What advice do you give a first year teacher?


That and - Your to-do list will never be complete. It's okay. Keep your list there and start back at it first thing tomorrow.

5. What things are always in your teaching bag?
My MacBook Air, some cool pens, a granola bar or some other snack, my purse. Sometimes the keys to my classroom are in there, but I usually leave them at home....

6. What classroom activity is always a hit with your students?
Love to do warm fuzzies on Valentine's Day. I've done them with sixth, seventh, and eighth, and they are equally loved by all the kids. It's just a yarn necklace that has a bunch of little yarn pieces to make a yarn ball.  Each kid gets one, and better if they are all different colors. Then, they give compliments or appreciations to one another and exchange the little yarn pieces, tying them on one another's necklace.

For the last two loops, I've told my kiddos to save them until graduation and wear them under their cap and gown. While not many do, some remember, and it makes my heart so happy!

He remembered! Makes me happy! : )


7. What is one of your favorite blogs out there?
Well, it's actually my best friend's blog. She's the one who got me started with this, because I wanted to be like her. She writes about day-to-day stuff and she is so so funny. Like, seriously hilarious. I try to be that funny, but it doesn't work out usually.... I'm going to nominate her for this award, so you'll have to check her out.

8. Who is your role model?

Teaching role models: all my Reading Workshop people: Nancie Atwell, Lucy Calkins, Fountas & Pinnell, Ken and Yetta Goodman, and Louise Rosenblatt

Blogging role model: my bff mentioned above, Katie Cartier

General leading-a-good-life role model: my friends who have great marriages and are just all-around good people

9. What is your favorite piece of technology to use in the classroom? How do you use it?
Well, my district is 1:1 so we have so much technology. When all of your students have a device, google forms are the best. You can find out so much information - and quickly - using google forms. It's great for a formative assessment or as a daily exit slip. Plus, it compiles all the info nice and neatly into a spreadsheet.

I also used edublogs with my kiddos. They all had their own blog and wrote about the books they read. If you follow this link, you will find the homepage, and then off to the right is a list of each of my former students' blogs. Lots of work, but they loved it!

10. What is the best piece of teaching advice you ever received? 
One year, probably my second or third, I was freaking out to my best friend who had been teaching just a few years longer than I had. Here's our conversation that has stuck with me all this time:

Me: Omg....Heather, I'm so stressed about ___ .
Heather: Michelle, can I tell you something and you promise you won't get mad?
Me: Ok, sure.
H: What do you remember about sixth grade?
Me: Ummm....nothing really? I think I had a cool homeroom teacher?
H: Exactly. I don't mean this in a mean way, but your kids are going to remember you and the relationship they had with you, not your content. So don't sweat it.
Me: Yeah, you're probably right.

You could totally take that the wrong way and think, "What, the skills that I'm teaching are not important?" But it's not that. I seriously hardly remember what I learned in high school and even undergrad. It was all prereq stuff that built up so I could get so interested in the area I was passionate about - teaching reading. Now, my graduate work - I've obviously had a lot of that sink in.

So, whenever I used to stress about my evaluations, or my kids writing not being up to par, or making slower progress with one of my kids and their reading - I just remember that I want them to remember me and our class, not necessarily the intervention I provided them.

11. What do you do when you aren't teaching?
I've recently started really enjoying yoga. I love blogging. I love Chicago sports and ASU football (can't wait to start watching games this fall!) Reading is great when I find an awesome book. I love visiting friends and seeing new places, too!

11 Random facts about me:
1. I moved back to Chicago all by myself four years ago.
2. New favorite pizza: Pequod's in Lincoln Park. Delish!
3. Twilight was the first book I ever read more than once.
4. The only other place I'd ever want to live is southern California.
5. My fave place to buy dresses: JC Penney. Especially with a coupon!
6. I love, Love, LOVE country music. It's hard to find another friend who does!
7. The alert sound for my text message is the 1-Up sound from Super Mario Bros.
8. I get super tan when I'm in the sun a lot - some of my friends from Phoenix thought I was Mexican. (I am not....)
9. Only one of my six closest friends lives in Chicago. The others: Kentucky, California, Arizona, Washington State.
10. I super love Dexter the serial killer.
11. A new favorite read: The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present in the Life that You Have.



Now...11 questions for my nominees:
1. When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?
2. How long have you been teaching?
3. What subjects/grades have you taught? What is your current position?
4. What is your biggest accomplishment as a teacher?
5. Best advice you could give a first-year teacher?
6. What are your teaching goals going forward?
7. Who is your role model? (teaching or otherwise)
8. What is your favorite blog to read?
9. What do you do for fun in your free time?
10. Any special summer break plans?
11. What is your secret super power?

And now....I nominate these three blogs for the Liebster Award:




Thanks again to Jenn for my nomination!

I can't imagine the days when I have to go back to work. It's 4:30 and I've already went to yoga, showered, went to the pool, done all my laundry, and written this blog! Wooooo!

Have a great night!




Monday, July 15, 2013

Go slow to go fast

As the new school year approaches, you might be starting to think about your new kiddos and your fresh new start. Oh......no? You're like me? Still staying up until midnight and sleeping until 9am....coffee and the Today Show? Yoga at noon? Actually, if it weren't for this blog, I'm sure my brain would be no where near next year!


hilar....and pretty accurate : )

Either way, at some point you'll have to start to think about your classroom and setting up your Reading Workshop, so when you're ready, good info awaits!

If you're not familiar with Reading Workshop, here it is in Cliff's Notes:


10-15 minute mini-lesson
25-30 minute workshop
10-15 minute share time

The teacher will be meeting with the whole class during the mini-lesson and share time, but during the workshop time, kiddos are off working with their "tools" (books, notebooks, pens and pencils, the classroom library, perhaps a laptop or iPad for blogging or researching what to read next). While students work, the teacher will be conferring 1:1 with kiddos or holding guided reading groups.

Here's the thing though - if your kids aren't taught how to work effectively during workshop, the teacher will never be freed up to work with individuals or small groups.

It's crucial to the Reading Workshop that the teacher takes his or her time to set up the procedures and expectations of the workshop. This means spending a good five weeks simply teaching kids how to read independently, with a partner, what to do when they finish a book....etc.



You have to go slow during these five weeks so you can accelerate your individualized instruction over the rest of the school year that follows. Also, the kids need to see and feel how important reading is to their teacher, and they can't do this without having time dedicated to it. We put effort and time into what we value. How will kids learn the value of reading if they are never given time to do so?

In the past, I have followed Fountas and Pinnell's First 20 Days of Reading. (This can be found in their book Guiding Readers and Writers, Grades 3 - 6.) Four weeks of mini-lesson plans cover these topics and more:

  • Using the classroom library
  • Selecting a book
  • Abandoning books
  • What to do when you finish reading
  • How to think about and respond to the books you read
  • Genres

These lessons are definitely appropriate all the way up through seventh and eighth grade. I didn't do all the the first 20 days lessons, but most of them. I also didn't worry about getting to my content right away - this is the go slow to go fast part. If I am going to expect my students to read independently all year for me, inside and outside of my classroom, I have to thoroughly teach them how to do so. The content will come. You have to teach the independent reading slowly in the beginning.

This summer I read The Daily Five (Boushey & Moser). This book is an even more in depth look at teaching students how to work independently in the Reading Workshop. While this book is a great read for any reading teacher, it is particularly great for younger students, as it covers the topics listed above, in addition to:

  • Different ways to read a book
  • Where to sit
  • Building stamina

Here's the good news: when you slow down and teach your kids how to read and be in charge of their independent reading, it carries them through the year. Kids need to read voluminous amounts of text in all different genres - and they can't do that if they do not know how to pick Just Right books and what to do when they finish or get stuck.

Then, after they have been thoroughly taught how to do independent work in your classroom, you will be free to "go fast," hitting the ground running with all the content you need to cover.

The good news is, once your class knows the expectations of the workshop portion of Reader's Workshop each day, and once they get into the routines and have a year's worth of practice, you will get data like this:


While standardized test scores are important and a fact of life, this is the data that always keeps me coming back to my practice and working on improving it in all the ways I can. Kids telling me they love reading and have favorite books and authors, and having them be sooo picky about their books because they now know exactly what they like - I think that's the mark of great instruction. Creating life long readers - that drives my passion and love of literacy instruction.

So, take your time in the first month of school. Even if you feel like you've got to get to your standards - trust me on this one - it will come in good time.


Is there anything unique you do in the beginning of the school year to teach your kiddos about independent reading? Be sure to share your ideas here!

Happy Monday!


Monday, July 8, 2013

The Heartbeat of your Classroom

When students or visitors enter your classroom, what will they notice first? Do they see cute bulletin boards filled with posters from the teacher's store? Do they see lots of space for students to work with minimal space for the teacher? Do they see hundreds of books, some with shabby covers and taped over and over again, waiting to be picked up by a child?

The way we organize our classroom and what we keep in it sends huge messages to all those who come in. In my last classroom, the things that you'd notice right away were a huge carpeted area front and center, and over 1,000 books in the shelves by the windows. My classroom was a literacy room, filled with books and posters about reading and charts to anchor learning on the back wall. There were pillows and bean bags, and plants on the tables. A few lamps kept our classroom just bright enough to feel like home. And home is exactly the feeling I was going for.







If you're a teacher, I'm sure you've got a classroom library. How many books are in it? How have you organized it? How often do you have to reorganize it because the kids are in it? If the answer is not very often, you're not getting the most out of your library.



I've always had a classroom library throughout my ten years of teaching, but it was used differently in the beginning than it is now. Actually, in the beginning, it wasn't used...at all. At that time I probably had about 300 books in it. There were great titles - not many that I have read, but I knew they were good books based on reviews. Kids never went in my library. It was perfectly clean and organized all the time, but never in use.

Studying at Arizona State opened my eyes to so many new topics in literacy, and so many authors I had never read. While I may not have had a class - or even an hour - dedicated to classroom libraries, I picked up lots of information from the books I began studying. Here are some tips for your classroom library!



No matter how many books you have, organize them. They should be organized by genre - not organized by levels. If you want to teach genre in an authentic way, group books how they are in real life. We don't reach for a "Level S" book, we reach for something in realistic fiction or fantasy, or whatever genre we are interested in.



If you have lots of books by the same author - group those together. In my library, I had a basket of James Patterson and then another of Walter Dean Myers. You can also group books by topic - a basket all about vampires or one about sports.



Use two different colors of baskets: One for fiction, one for nonfiction. If you have baskets that are mixed fiction and nonfiction, you could add a third color.



Come up with some kind of coding system so the kids know where to find books and also, how to return them. In my last library, I numbered all my books. They had a dot on them with a number, and then the basket also had that same number. This was the best way I had found, so far, to get kids to keep the library organized on their own. However, going forward, I would probably put a whole label on the book - so kids would be reading the genre each time they took a book from the library.
Now here's the thing - after you put hours into preparing your classroom library, you have to teach kids how to use it. You need to take your group over to where the books are and explain the systems in place - the baskets, how to find a book, how to return a book. You need to teach them about choosing a "Just Right" book (more to come on that, later....) and you need to show them how to be efficient in choosing books so they do not waste all their reading time selecting books. Model, practice, give feedback. Take your time with this in the beginning, and your classroom will be self-sufficient for the rest of the year!


Now....about losing books:
It's going to happen. I've tried using library cards, a check out list, having a student helper to track them - none of it worked. So, what I did was kept the really (really) popular books behind my desk and those had to be signed out by me, but the rest were in my library. The kids took them home every night - it's inevitable that some books are going to get misplaced or end up at a child's home on their bookshelf. (And if I had to lose a book, that would be the best way for it to go!) But.....here's my trick: Twice a year: Once before Christmas break, and once at the end of the year, I buy a bunch of mini-size candy. Now, I know this isn't the healthiest way to get your books back, but it's cheap and effective. For every book the child returns, that's one piece of candy. You'd be amazed at how many books get brought back! Some kids even make donations for candy!


It's still July and I'm happy to be blogging, but have definitely not been to my new classroom or even thought about unpacking and organizing. Just making mental plans. As a literacy coach, I'm sure my space will look a little different, so as I sit here, I wonder about the heartbeat of my new room.... Now, what about you?








Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rituals

The first day of school can often be very hectic with collecting supplies and going over forms and just getting to know the kids' names. In the time you do get with your class, what do you plan to do with them? Do you have any special rituals that you always make sure to save time for? For the past four years, the following are just a few of the things that were at the top of my to do list on day one....

First Day Read Aloud
My first day of teaching, ever, I remember reading a picture book to my sixth graders. Ten years later I see the importance of it - showing your students exactly how important reading is to them - but at the time, that was not my intention.

The past four years I would gather my seventh or eighth graders on the carpet in the center of my classroom and I would read to them. Yes, I make them come sit on the floor with me even though they were a little uneasy about it. Perhaps you're thinking it's not very age appropriate, but that was the ritual I wanted to begin, starting on day one. I knew that as we moved forward with reading workshop they would be relaxing on the floor or in the chairs reading great books, so I wanted them to get in the habit right away.


Shortly after the first day....shared text altogether in our meeting space.
Eventually they tell me, "It was so weird in the beginning....but we love our classroom!"

My favorite first day read aloud is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. It's about someone who is so nervous about going to school the first day, and then when you get to the end, you see it's the teacher, on her first day of school. The kids never really expect the ending, and that's what I love about it!

I highly recommend finding a great book or short story to share with your kiddos on day one!


Learning their names & first photos
On the first day, I try my best to take a picture of all the kids in my homeroom. I had a great teacher in graduate school who said she would learn all of our names the first day, and she accomplished this with pictures. I think this sends an important message to kids that you care about them: finding out their name, if they have a nickname they preferred to be called, and even learning how to say it just right.

Later on, these pictures go up on my "Proud Wall" where each student has a space to showcase work of their choice. The kids love to see how much they've changed with these pictures - especially when you loop with them. The growing up that happens in seventh and eight grade is awesome!





First Homework Assignment
Another ritual I get students acquainted with right away is letter writing. On the first day, I have a letter prepared for students that I wrote to them - everyone get the same letter for this one - but it just tells them about myself and then at the end it asks them to write a letter back to me. I get a bunch of stationary from the dollar store and let them pick one for this assignment. Not only does it give them an opportunity to introduce themselves to me personally, it's also a great way to see what kind of writers you have on your hands.


Letter writing continues throughout the school year when we write letters about the books we read and then at the end of the year, I always write students an individual letter and they have to then write one last one back to me for their final assignment. I LOVE getting these "love letters" back from them - I bind them each year into a book that I keep on my shelf. When I'm having a bad day, it's a great place to look for a little sunshine!




Circle Time
At the end of each week, my homeroom meets for the last 10 minutes of school on Friday in a circle on the carpet. We do appreciations and high-low. Obviously appreciations are just who and what they appreciate. High - low is from my good friend, Katie, and kids just share the high of their week and their low. Again, you might be thinking that it's crazy for seventh and eight graders do this, sitting on the floor in a circle and all, but after they get used to the idea, they ask for it. 

If you're going to do this, I recommend having a stuffed animal or ball of some sort that they can pass around so they know whose turn it is to talk. After two years, we really had become a family and they always talked over one another - in a playful way, but they need to know how to listen as well as share.

Some kids will always just listen, and that's okay. Some kids will want to share 5 times. If there are a lot of kids who want to share, I will tell the kids who want to talk the most they only get to share two or three times so everyone has a chance.


I believe that this circle time was what really brought my homeroom together. Towards the end of our two years, I had kids resolve problems and apologize to one another during this time. And celebrating what is working for them throughout the week is the best way to wrap up another week together!


Our little family <3


What rituals will you put in place in the upcoming school year? Please share your ideas with me!


Until next time.....


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