Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SOL: Let those kisses fly!

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog.
SHARE a link to your post in the comments section.
GIVE comments to at least three other SOL bloggers.

Our PTA is so awesome and creative and always around our school...I LOVE IT!

Last week we celebrated Administrative Assistant's Day and so our PTA, always so creative, decorates outside the office with this:

Then, as the kids (and adults) pass by the office, they were found blowing kisses to our most amazing secretaries. The picture I don't have - the best one - is a group of about 5 or 6 fourth graders walking by, all blowing kisses inside the office. You know those moments when you reach for your iPhone in your back pocket but nothing is there....? Totally happened to me last week at this moment!

This was just so adorable and I loved it!

And well deserved, too! Maria and Julie do so much to keep our school going smoothly, and they are so fun to chat with when I have a few moments here and there! And, whenever I ask for some supplies, Maria always says yes! LOVE! And do you see that chalkboard artwork in the back? They are the best artists, too!

So, appreciations to you two! I can't imagine Emerson without you!

Happy Tuesday!

PS- Blog redesign is in full swing...we're making progress! Can't wait to show you!!!!! Like, it's killing me not to give you a little peek!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

What are you reading? (Five for Friday Style!)

Happy Saturday everyone! I am a little late linking up with Doodlebugs, but here's my five for Friday...all about what I've been reading lately!

This month, Ralph Fletcher has been sharing a poem a day on his blog, The Writer's Desk. (He's one of my favorite authors of books for kids and books for teachers!) This week, in second grade, I shared one of his poems, Rainbow in Ice:

After we read it a few times, we had kids write a response:

Here's Z's response:

Even though most of the poem is a little sad, about having the winter rainbow trapped in ice, I see where her thinking is coming from - finding a rainbow anywhere would make anyone happy!

I love that I can come to the blogs I follow for inspiration in my teaching! You can follow Ralph Fletcher here!

I started following The White Rhino - Ray Salazar. He's a Chicago Public Schools English Teacher and he writes lots about the kids he teaches and Chicago politics.

Chicago now has plans to open a new selective enrollment high school, named for our president. The thing is, that the school favors the higher income students of the north per usual. I'm pretty sure that most (if not all) of the selective enrollment schools are on the north side. Meanwhile, the south side continues to be underfunded and doesn't have as many opportunities as the north side. This makes me so angry!

How will our city reduce the crime rate when we don't invest in the south side? This is why I also am following Amara Enyia and reading what she has to say.....

This girl is beautiful - inside and out. She's going to run for mayor of Chicago for the 2015 election. Her campaign wants to make a Chicago for the people...

She's been doing neighborhood clean-ups, meeting people on all sides of the city, and really just getting to know her neighbors on her "Unity Tour." Even though she's so young, she's super smart - A law degree and a PhD in Educational Policy. She worked under Mayor Daley when he was in office and then went and worked on a grass roots level on the south and west sides. She knows that there are people in our city who don't have a voice. She knows that Rahm is funneling money into big projects (DePaul Stadium...River Walk) that don't serve all the people of our city. She'll make a great mayor but we need to spread the word! Find her on facebook, on twitter, and at her website and spread it around!

Also - see her reaction to the new high school here.

This is a blog I follow and the writing on it is hilarious. In his post entitled "What Test Prep Is Not," he ends with this....

I'm seriously lol-ing. His voice is the best!! No matter what your opinion on standardized testing, we can all agree that he is a great writer!

Anyways, his posts are also pretty eye-opening about the state of our education policies. In case you're not following what I'm following, I'd say that this tweet is very much true:

For more on this, you can follow Diane Ravitch, Badass Teachers Association, (read more about the BATs here) and Network for Public Education. Then you'll be in the know of what I know!

by R.J. Palacio

This book is about Auggie, a fifth grader who has a face that is a "medical anomaly." Some how, his genetics made his face look very different than everyone, and even with plastic surgery, he still looks very different than his peers.

He was homeschooled all the way till fifth grade, so Wonder is a story about his transition to school. What's great about Wonder is the narrator changes. Auggie narrates first, then his sister, then some kids from school. So, it's cool how Palacio unfolds the story bit by bit, depending on who is telling it.

I'm not all the way done yet, but over halfway and it's really great. Our fourth grade did it as a read aloud, and then I heard from my mentee that she read it with her sixth graders. Probably 7th and 8th could read it independently and get all the storyline and meaning from it.

Time to finish WonderWhat are you reading? Please share with me!

Happy weekend everyone!

PS - My blog is getting a makeover! It's currently in progress with Designs by Kassie and I can't wait to share it with you!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The "Summer Slump" and a big thank you APTT Parents!

I love my job. Like seriously love, Love it. And it's because of the great people I get to collaborate with....teachers and parents!

Last night, Ms. Optie and I had our third (and final) Academic Parent Teacher Team meeting of this school year. We had about 8 or 10 parents join us as we talked about the Summer Setback. This book informed our presentation:

Parents joined us at 6 and their children played in the kinder room with some of the National Junior Honor Society students from the middle school. Together with the parents, Ms. Optie and I shared about the Summer Slump (Click here for our presentation to learn more about that) and then offered up a bunch of ideas for working towards increasing reading development over the summer.

Here are the ideas we shared with parents to make literacy development over the summer a family affair:

  1. Set weekly reading goals - just talk at the beginning of each week with your child to make sure you have a plan for reading throughout the week. Follow up the following week to see how it went, and then plan again. Make this an ongoing conversation.
  2. Read and discuss books together - It's just this simple! Create a ritual around this - at bedtime, after breakfast, at lunch in the backyard - whatever works. The big idea is just that parent and child read together and then talk about the book. No reports. No worksheets. Nothing to make this authentic practice feel like drudgery. Just reading and talking, like real people do in real life!
  3. Share a dialog notebook together - this is just a basic notebook (I prefer composition notebooks so pages aren't torn out) but a notebook where child and parent write letters (or draw pictures) about books and then write back and forth. Not only will your child think about the books they've read, but they'll write about it and then have to read your letters (or pictures) too. Again, letter writing is an authentic practice we use in real life, so this is a great experience. One more thing: Make a big deal of picking out the notebook. Take your child to the store with you, and pick out a notebook that's really special. Or, a plain one and decorate it. This will make it their own and they will take extra care and pride in it!
  4. Share books with friends, neighbors, family...anyone who wants to get together to talk about them! Meet for lunch in the park and bring books. Everyone shares what they've been reading! As we talked about this, our parents had ideas about doing it around a campfire or at night with flashlights. We thought about maybe doing "Breakfast and Books" and they parents invited the teachers. LOVE! Social outings around books always increase engagement with them!
  5. Routine library visits - I'm sure your local library has lots going on in the summer! Plan to meet up with friends or family and their kids to make it social. Be involved with library events!
  6. Reading "Dates" - I don't have any kids of my own, but I always pictured myself taking my little ones (one day) to Barnes and Noble or any other book store, getting a coffee (or chocolate milk) and sitting in the cafe reading and enjoying one another's company. Make a reading date to see a movie of a book you've read or to go to a museum downtown, bring your books, and have lunch and reading in the park. What other ideas do you have? Any way to make reading special and social will be awesome!
  7. Use social media - Blogs, Facebook, & Twitter - Set up a blog with your child write about books together. Then, share with the world! (In fact, if you do this, I'd love to have family blogs linked to BigTime Literacy, so let me know if this is something you do!) You can also follow lots of authors and characters on Twitter. Read a book and then Tweet the author or character. In many cases, they will write back! Additionally, there are tons of teacher blogs with lots of great ideas for teachers and parents to try out!

After we shared about the Summer Slump and shared our ideas for summer literacy activities, we then moved into the student performance data. See, the APTT format involves three parts: Data (sharing below), Aligned Activities (those activities above), and Goal Setting (parents creating a Summer Reading Plan). We shared the students comprehension data (We use Fountas and Pinnell's Benchmark Assessment System, so students are on levels reported by letters A-Z). Below, you can see the growth from December until mid-March, when the data was taken:

Whole classroom data is shared, anonymously, so parents can see where their child is performing in relation to the other students in the classroom. We had a discussion about what we noticed, and then asked parents to share what they've been doing in the home to support their child's growth. This collaboration among parents and with teachers shares great ideas around the room to families all throughout our school!

We finished up by having parents create a Summer Reading Plan so they have some ideas of what they'd like to do while their children are away from school. Parents left the plans with us today so we can make a copy, but then we will send them home this afternoon.

What a great meeting! Thank you to all the parents who came out to see us. Ms. Optie and I are so thankful for your collaboration and we look forward to what comes next for APTT meetings!

Please follow us on social media!

Ms. Brezek
Instagram @bigtimeliteracy

Ms. Optie
Twitter @KO_EME

Let's keep the conversation going! What ideas do you have for summer reading activities? Please share in our comments below!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 18, 2014

I super puffy heart LLI!

At our school, we use Fountas & Pinnell's Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) with our Tier 2 kiddos and I love, Love, LOVE it!

There are six systems I think: The super primary readers start in the Orange system, then move up to Green, followed by Blue, Red, Gold and Purple is about to be released. At our school, we have all but purple, which is all we really need for kinder through fifth graders.

We house all the systems in our office. Now that we have shelving our office looks so much better, and we created a small space to hold a group!

LLI is awesome because each day, kids get high quality books to read. The kits are complete with a book a day, running records provided for every other lesson, a teacher lesson guide, a resource repository online to print any docs you need, word study (with notebooks), test goes on and on!

Here's our green system along the top of this shelving:

You have to do lots of organizing, but once you do it's so easy to use. Here is the green system, with materials for lessons 16-41.

Each day, there is lots to do. I only see my group for 35-40 minutes, so I have to pick and choose. I always do word study and then we might do a quick close read of part of the previous night's book, and then I intro the new book. Here's a few of the books we've read recently:

Beauty's New Beak is about an eagle who lost her beak. Then, and engineer designed her a new one. The nonfiction books in the LLI systems are complete with all the great text features students will read: table of contents, glossaries, sidebars, drawings and photographs with captions...and on and on. I was looking at one of the books the other day and there was an appendix in it!

Also, the books are all of high quality topics. We read a book a few weeks ago about a lady who designed clicker training for dogs. I was so interested I googled her, and there she was on google! When I get my next dog, you can bet I'm going to use her training methods!

Here's the book we read yesterday:

Another great thing about LLI is that the books will stick with a topic but teach it in a different way. The day after Beauty's New Beak, we got this book, Calling All Birds, which was functional text about three projects kids could make to attract birds to their yards. (Perfect that it was sent home on a long weekend in spring!)

The kids were so excited to read this book. I swear, I didn't have her pose for this pic...she just looked over and showed me the super cute pic of the bird in the bird bath at the exact moment I snapped the pic:

LLI is great because of the repetition. The kids get a book a night and the books go through all the genres. We've read realistic fiction, fantasy, biography, memoir, traditional literature, nonfiction...the genres are all mixed up and the kids are never bored of the books. The nonfiction has very engaging topics: strange museums, crazy looking animals, and yesterday, step-by-step directions in creating bird projects:

So cool, right?

LLI is so expensive, but so worth it. My kids are making progress in their reading. In fact, it was awesome when I was talking with their homeroom teachers about one of the students. The teacher said, "I've noticed that B is doing so well adjusting her voice to the dialog of characters and even changing her voices to match the characters she's reading. I've noticed real improvement!"

I was on cloud 9. In our group, I had given her that exact feedback when we were reading aloud, so it's great to see that it's transferring elsewhere. She's developing great reading habits!

Anyways, if you have money for intervention and you want a great product, I *highly* recommend Leveled Literacy Intervention!

Who else uses LLI? What other interventions do you use? Please share with me!

Have a fab weekend - hope it's a long one like our four day!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

SOL: So that's what it's like...

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog.
SHARE a link to your post in the comments section.
GIVE comments to at least three other SOL bloggers.

Last Friday, I was on my way to my intervention group when I passed by a first grade classroom and the bathroom across the hall. One of our first grade teachers, Ms. L, asked if I was busy, because one of her students, M, was having a meltdown in the bathroom. I told her I was on my way to my group, but that maybe I could coax M out of the bathroom and get her to come with me.

Ms. L said okay, so I did, and M did.

All down the hall, M cried. Loudly, no tears, but loudly wailing. I got her into the conference room where we have our group, had her sit down, and talked to her briefly as my fourth and fifth graders arrived.

She did not want to hear what I had to say! Now, I don't have lots of experience with first grade meltdowns as my prior ten years were at the middle school (although there are many similiarities!) so at one point I had said something like, "M, you are crying but there are no tears. I know you can stop so we can talk!"

And then, like a champ of weeping, she produced the read deal, almost on command. I was actually kinda impressed...and then pretty annoyed.

The wailing continued so I asked my kiddos to start reading their book from yesterday and I took her in the hall. She continued to cry. I continued to talk.

M: I want to see my brother!
Me: I can't take you to the middle school if you are crying this loudly!
M: <between wails> I had a bad day, I want a hug from my brother!

Me: Well if you could try and stop crying, then we could talk about going to see him.
M: But I lost the race, I just need my brother.
Me: Well, we don't get what we want by crying. So, if you could stop crying first, then you could hear a story from one of my friends in the group, and then we could sneak over to see your brother. But you have. to. stop. crying.
M: <silence>

The source of her sorrow? She raced her neighbor in her front yard before she came to school and lost, and now all she wanted was a hug from her brother (who is a sixth grader in the middle school, which is attached to our elementary school). 

So, I got her to calm down, got her in the room, B read her a story, and then I took her over to the middle school. As we walked by the tall lockers, almost twice her height, she took my hand. The crying had subsided, and she patiently awaited the moment when she would see big brother.

Unfortunately, he was in science and they had been outside. So, I told her we had to go back to first grade, but maybe we could try again in another hour. As those very words left my mouth.... magic happened.

As we walked back by the foyer that led to the door to our building, big brother's science class was coming inside. I called to their teacher, and as I asked where her brother was, M had already spotted him and was in a warm embrace before I could get the words out. Relief and a smile washed over her face, and one minute later, she reached for my hand, ready to begin her day.

I don't have any kids of my own yet, but making M feel better with a hug from her brother and then having her reach for my hand as we walked back to class: that's gotta be pretty close.

Such a sweet, sweet moment, and while there are many of those (in very different ways) in middle school, this is on that I'd never had experienced if I never would have tried something new at an elementary school. Definitely a highlight of my week last week!

Parents: It's like this, only better....right?

Have a great night!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Louder Than a Bomb

Ohhhh Twitter. You take hours of my time, but then I find gems like this:

and I am reminded just how powerful the thoughts of our youth can be.

These are Young Chicago Authors, participating in the Louder Than A Bomb poetry slam. I was all excited thinking maybe it was still going on and that I could go see one. ended last month, so I have to wait a year.

April is National Poetry Month! Have you done any poetry with your kiddos? If I was still in middle, I would totally share this video clip with them. How can you not be inspired?

Actually, this week, I was reading poetry with my second graders. They wanted to rap the poems - they kept doing it as we read together, so, I did what any good teacher would do - I followed their lead. I told them that they should rap the lines of the poem. At first, I don't think they believed that it was so, but after we practiced a few times, I got this. (Sorry I couldn't embed it!)

I mean, kids want to write and perform like the Young Chicago Authors, so why wouldn't we follow that interest and desire to do so?

This April, give your students great mentor texts of poetry. Encourage them to put their ideas on paper, tell their stories, and grow their poems through the process of revision. We can give them an authentic audience, their classmates, to hear their ideas. This is what writing is all about!

And then this summer, my teacher friends....anyone interested in doing a summer writing institute with Young Chicago Authors? It's $150 for three days and I'd love to do it with a friend! Check out the deets here!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Five for Friday!

What's up everyone? Did you have an amazing week? I did....and the weather was beautiful today here in Chicago!

Today I'm linking up again with Doodle Bugs for their weekly Five for Friday. Here are the top five things that made my week!

Active Engagement Cards

When I had my own classroom, I had the colored post-its with the numbers taped to the kiddo's desks. That way I could instruct them in what order to take turns (orange first, then yellow, blue...etc) and also call on students randomly by drawing numbered sticks. I could also group them by color - all pinks meet together at table 1, oranges at table 2...etc. Now that I don't have my own classroom, I finally figured out that I could just make cards to pass out to the classes I coteach in for the same purpose.

On the back of the card are stickers - this is just another random grouping configuration. The colored numbers work at tables, but the stickers are used when kids need to get up, walk around a little, and form groups of three. So I'll say, "look at the sticker on the back of your card and find your partners to discuss ___."

Just a way to force equalized participation and I'm so glad I have my engagement cards back in my life!

Hands up - Stand up - Pair up & Heads Together

I taught close reading in fifth grade all week - here are two pairs of kiddos meeting together to share their summaries of our article. To find their pair, students stand up, walk around the room with their hands up, (do a high-five when they find their partners) and pair up. Then, the boys shared their summaries, and decided if they included all important information.

We also talked about where our eyes should be - on the card, and it would probably be good to have heads together - that would show we're all thinking about what is being read.

We have to have students engaged for student achievement to increase - two ways here to get that done and get kids up and moving around!

Why is phonics

During our RtI group this week, we did some word study around syllables and whether or make the vowels long or short. I find this so interesting, and even better when the kids are like, "Ms. Brezek, I just don't get it!" But then, after we do a few more, it clicks and then they do get it. And...then they can explain it to one another. Kinda nerdy, but I heart phonics rules!


This boy is a third grader in the class across the hall from me. He's such a great kiddo, and at the end of last week, as a joke after school when he was running laps in fitness club, he wiped his hand on me saying he was all sweaty (in reality, he put his hand in the water fountain!) He laughed and laughed, and I told him, "Don't you worry, K, I'm going to get you back!"

Maybe two days after that, he jumped out from behind a corner and scared me. So that was that. I had to get him back!

This morning, I asked his teachers if I could empty his locker into a box and keep it in my room. They laughed and said, "Yeah, maybe then he can clean it out!" So I did, but when he came to school, it was so anti-climactic! He didn't even notice - just put his coat, and backpack, and gym shoes away and went to class. I stopped by and asked his teacher if he said anything, and they said no. So she asked him to go get his science book. He came back in and said, "Ms. B - It's not in there. I don't have a science book!" Still...he had no idea.

A few hours later, I stopped by his locker and moved his stuff around - hung one of his shoes from the hook, put his He-Man in the other shoe, moved his backpack. Then...the next time he went to his locker, he (finally) noticed. "Ms. B! Something's wrong with my locker! My stuff is all moved around!"

She replied, and I can hear this conversation unfolding as I am sitting in my office working on an anchor chart, "K, do you think someone is messing with you?"

And I can just see it: he face lights up with recognition, as if a lightbulb is lighting up above his head. "Ms. Brezek," and a smile washes over his face.

He comes over to my office and asks me and I act like I know nothing at first, but then, in a sing-song voice say, "Yep, I got'chu K! I win! I told you I'd prank you back!"

Only problem now is that his teacher told me he has his heart set on getting me back I'll get back to you about what happens next! fun with this kid!

Taking a shot at University teaching!

My former principal teaches at Dominican University. Last spring, she had me, along with a few other teachers come present their content areas to her TFA cohort. When she asked again for this spring, I said, "L, do you think I'm qualified to teach my own section? I'd really like to try and teach at the University!"

Within two weeks of that conversation, I had met with the Dean and a lead teacher and next fall I'm going to teach an elementary Language Arts methods class, all of my own, to a new cohort of TFA teachers and I'm so, so excited! It's a job that I'm so excited to do, and I get paid a little bit to do it. All that money? Vacation fund!

Well, that's all for me here. How was your week? You should write a top five and link up!

Have a good weekend!

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