Tuesday, May 24, 2016

balanced literacy classroom essentials

As the school year is wrapping up, I have been looking around at all the things I have in my classroom and was feeling so thankful that our district understands the importance of these items that truly make a Balanced Literacy Classroom flourish. This time of year, I'm sure you're like me in that you begin to think ahead, to envision your next year and everything you're going to do to make it better.

If you'd like to think about shopping, here's what I'd put in my cart for a perfect classroom:

The Library
I read a great quote once, about how the size of the library reflects the teacher's vision for literacy instruction. Totally agree. The bigger the better. Beg, borrow, steal. Ask your principal for money for books! Post ads on Craig's List, use Donor's Choose, ask in neighborhood facebook groups, just make it YUGE!

A Rug & Gathering Space

Again, ask your principal. You need a rug so you can sit together as a family and build community and talk about books. If asking doesn't get you anywhere, use Donor's Choose and get something gorgeous!

An Easel

You have to have one of these for teaching: having your anchor chart paper on one side, a magnetic whiteboard on the other. This one is awesome and has little buckets below, too, for storage. Just the other day I was making that chart with an intervention group and one of the firsties said, "I love this chart of words!" So, you can use this whole group or with a small group, but it's an essential!

Conferring Table

You have to have one of these kidney tables if you plan on conferring with kiddos over reading and writing. *Absolutely essential.

Benchmark Assessment System

You'll need this to figure out where kiddos are, what instruction to give them, and then to monitor their growth. There are many different tools like this, but Fountas and Pinnell is my favorite!

Magnetic Letters

Children, especially the youngest ones, need to manipulate items to learn best. You need these magnetic letters in your life so they can do just that. Also, pick up some little bowls by the tupperware at Target - you need to have everything prepped and ready before your lessons or you'll waste 5 minutes just taking the letters out!

Organizing Bins
Your life will be much easier if you have a little container for each child where they put their things. These have materials for our intervention group, but kiddos can also keep their Readers and/or Writer's Notebooks and Just Right books in them, too! Here's the ariel (sp?) view:

Literacy Idols
And of course, where would we be without our idols? I love having my people with me when I am stuck or maybe when someone else has a question or maybe just for inspiration! Calkins, Atwell, Fletcher, Richardson, Miller, and all the rest are at my side when I need them.

Don't forget some Sketcher Markers, notebooks, and good pens!
What am I missing? Leave a comment to share!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

strategies not levels

I have been doing some intervention work with a few first graders since December. Now it's May and time for benchmark assessments to see how much they grew. My little kiddos unfortunately did not make it to grade level, but there's so so much to celebrate!

So here she was reading a level D Nonfiction book. She confuses her b's and d's and usually I would prompt her with this little organizer, but because it was a benchmark, she had to ask for this tool rather than me handing it to her:

But do you see how I was scripting what she was saying? Then she says to herself, "Does that make sense?" and she went on talking aloud to herself saying, "No, it doesn't."

As a Reading Specialist, this is what I want her to do, to problem solve on her own, without my help, to use strategies I prompt her with in guided reading on her own. Even though this means she frustrated on level E, which is a beginning-of-first-grade level, I feel so proud in what she demonstrated to me. Not only did she verbalize the semantic cueing system, she also:
  • read punctuation, dialog, and bold words with proper inflection
  • cross-checked to pictures and words
  • looked back at the title or another page she had already read to help her solve a new word
  • substituted words that made sense
  • retold the story by looking back across the text
On the level E book, she had a lot of errors, and two repeated with the following:

After it was all said and done, I taught on these miscues. I had her say with and we paid attention to where her tongue was on the /th/ - buzzing by her teeth. Then we said the nonsense word wif - and we noticed that her tongue was in the back of her mouth to say /f/.

That's the purposeful kind of conversations that come from running records. Oh, super cute, she miscued: loof for loose. At one point I was looking to see if she had lost all her front teeth!

I've just been reflecting on all this because I know we have these benchmarks to attain, but for me, it's never the level. This little kiddo did so many things that made my heart swell with pride - and those strategies she has now are hers - her strategies to take her up the levels to more complex text, especially as I think about how kids have to get over that hump from easy picture books to the beginning chapter books around levels J-K-L.

Also, we have to remember that all children develop in their own time. While this particular kiddo may only be at level E right now, she may come back and then have instruction click in second grade and then all of a sudden she's made four levels of growth in four months.

The strategies are what is important. Not the reaching for higher and higher levels.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

the grey area

I've been teaching Writing Workshop in fifth grade for the past few weeks, helping out with a maternity leave and I'm LOVING it. (So much so, that next year, I'm going to coteach a fifth grade writing workshop, so excited!!)

We're currently immersed in memoir writing and the kids are doing so well. And then yesterday I learned something new as I moved from black and white thinking to the grey area.

Usually, we follow a conferring schedule and see a set group of kiddos each day on a rotating basis - here's a schedule that our ELL teacher follows when she comes to support her kiddos in the Writing Workshop I've been helping out in:

So, we do have a set schedule for conferring. The ELL teacher, classroom teacher, and myself all have a similar schedule where we see kiddos on a rotating basis. Side note: rather than run mine in accordance with days of the week, I prefer to do so on a rotating five day schedule, and just name the days Day 1, Day 2, Day 3...etc. 

But then, as I was looking over student thesis statements, I noticed that I had a big group of kids who were right on point with theirs, and then a handful who needed to be conferred with right away to make sure they got off to a strong start.

I made a decision to be responsive to the data I noticed - I didn't follow the conferring schedule, I paused it. Then I told the kids who needed more support on their thesis statements to meet with me, and this particular day, I assigned a few kiddos to the classroom teacher (who is the sub) and our ELL teacher.

There I was, sitting with two kiddos who hadn't started yet because of absences, one girl who had a lot written but without much punctuation (so I was confused about her thesis), and one kiddo who had been at school, but who hadn't shared his doc with me on google, so I was unsure of his status.

Usually with conferences, I would call the four or five kids I planned on working with to my table, and have them spend the session working there (rather than at their seats) while I began with one kiddo and worked my way to the others. But this day, since my first two kiddos were absent, I began conferring with them both since they needed the same thing. Then, I got one of them to a place where she was ready to do a little bit on her own, so I focused to the other. When I got him to a similar place, I went back to her. I bounced back and fourth between them for about 8 minutes - conferring kinda together, but kinda apart, before I dismissed the girl back to her seat and moved on to the third kiddo.

I guess what I learned yesterday is that we don't have to be so rigid in our thinking - like, the way to confer is to call the kids for that day to sit at a horseshoe table with me, and then begin with one and spend 4-5 minutes on each of them one at a time.

Maybe I need to pause the conferring schedule so I can get to kids who need me right now, and maybe of those kids, two or three need the same thing, so I can confer with all of them for 8-10 minutes simultaneously. 

And maybe instead of making them sit with me the whole time, once I know they have a plan, I send them back to their seats so I free up a space for another student who was next when I thought about who I needed to talk to.

One of my best friends is a therapist and she has told me in the past that Black and White Thinking is one of the Thinking Errors people make.

So - I am allowing myself to open up to all the grey area - in my writing conferences, in my coaching, and in my life.

How do you work in the grey area?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

when we collided

Finished a book and I'm trying to do more reviews! So here is When We Collided by Emery Lord.

This is the story of Vivi and Jonah who meet one summer in Verona Cove and find themselves entangled in summer romance. Vivi and her mom come to stay in this beach town for the summer after some stuff goes down in their hometown, Seattle. Jonah is trying to recover from his father's sudden death but the deep depression his mom goes into afterwards makes that so hard.

Jonah is a chef-in-the-making working at the family restaurant and also trying to care for his brothers and sisters. Vivi is a free spirit who comes to know and love Jonah's family as her own.

The story unfolds through the the summer romance, Jonah's work at the restaurant, and Vivi's backstory.

While reading, I flagged some lines...

"I miss my dad so much that my stomach almost heaves." 

"She's quiet again, but this time she grabs for my hand, gripping onto me for the miles and miles toward home. I steer one-handed."

Officer Hayashi
"But that's life. Gotta deal with what you got."

"I follow her, watching the beautiful girl as she ducks into the back room. She looks like lemon meringue pie tastes. Sunny, tangy, sweet.

"He hands me my plate, and his smile is the faintest bit smug. "Viv, I just made you wild-caught Alaskan salmon baked with mango chutney, on a bed of garlic red potatoes and arugula. While talking about an Audrey Hepburn movie. I think you are maybe falling in love with me."

"Even Ruby once asked, Gosh Viv, do you keep track of how many guys you kiss? Nope! Because listen here, sisters: it's summer and this boy is handsome and kind, and, frankly, I want to kiss anything that makes me feel so seen."

"Later, in my room, I lift up my dress and twist to see the rainbow splotch of lotus on my side. And it occurs to me, what if I stopped hating it? What if the tattoo and the scar and this summer's freckles are my patina? Wabi-sabi says rust and faded paint hold beauty. So what if I left these marks be passport stamps from where I've been - ones that don't determine a damn thing about where I'm going next? What if I apologized to Amala and Ruby and didn't give a shit what people at school think about me because I know the truth? What if I was honest with Jonah and let him make his own choices and stopped feeling so goddamn ashamed? What if I dealt with what I've got?"

So my review? This book is a look into depression and bipolar disorder. Its a great way to get that conversation going. I especially liked the restaurant, how it transformed with the help of so many people over the course of the book, and how Jonah saw his dad there at the restaurant at every move. It's like the restaurant and the characters who worked on it were all going through this big transformation - each one getting better and better.

I'd recommend this book to students in 8th grade and up.

last currently

It's the last Currently...I get it, Farley's been hosting a long time - longer than I've been writing, but I am bummed. I look forward to the first of the month for this linky! But all good things must come to an end..that's what they say, right? So here it is, the last Currently!

Listening to...
Two new songs (well, maybe they're not new) but Hide Away by Daya and Hold my Hand by Jess Glynne. Check them out!

Loving My new Bitmoji
I know, I'm so behind the times, but I just made my bitmoji and I love running text conversations with my girlfriends in all bitmoji responses!

Thinking life's too short
Seriously, we need to take time to appreciate the amazing things in our lives. Of course there are always thing we want, those things just out of our grasp, but we have awesome careers (hello...teaching kids?) great families and friends, warm homes. Appreciate, friends!

Like, look at these kids...Love them!

Wanting a house
In what life will I be able to afford a house in Chicago proper? I'd like one!

Needing sunshine
It seems like it's been raining for days. I am in desperate need of Vitamin D. Hope the sun makes an appearance in Chicago this week!

I should be writing lesson plans, but I'd always choose a Currently post over just about anything, so here I am :-)

So that's all for me. I guess I'll see you all around the teacherblogosphere? Maybe on Twitter? I hope so!

Happy Sunday!
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