My classroom is not a quiet, orderly place.
Students are constantly moving, thinking, talking, reading and writing.
I do my best to help my students find success.

February 24, 2013

Permission or forgiveness?

I've become the primary literacy teacher for 10 students in 4th and 5th grade.  I'm implementing a tier 3 intervention targeted at ELLs who are two years (or more) below grade level.

I'm doing well with the intervention, but something is missing.

It's been five weeks, and I haven't figured out who my students are as readers.

Ask any staff member in my building about anyone in my class.  They will tell you they know what kind of readers I have in my class:
The kids who don't read.  The kids who don't know where their library books are. The kids who check out a book and return it the next week, unread.  The kids who don't ever take an Accelerated Reader test.  Ever.  The kids who pretend to read.  The kids who may never succeed in school.  The kids everyone shakes their head at.

What's a teacher to do?  I promised my principal that I would implement this intervention with fidelity.  I would spend the entire afternoon using the intervention and delivering the instruction the way it was written.

I might have to ask for some forgiveness.  I've been starting the afternoon with some independent reading. Some kids have jumped right in and read (or "read") for the whole ten minutes.  Some kids are reading for most of the time, but they usually have their eyes on others and their mouth open, talking.

All kids are holding a book for ten minutes.  You have to start somewhere, right?

I'm their literacy teacher.  I must figure out ways to get the right books in their hands and inspire them to try reading.  It's my job.  It's essential

February 19, 2013

My Top 9 + 1 Nonfiction Picture Book Picks #nf10for10

Today Cathy at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community is hosting #nf10for10 - an event where you list your favorite nonfiction picture books.  Check out her blog later to jog along and increase your TBR (to be read) pile!

I've made a personal goal to read more nonfiction picture books.  Yes, the YA fiction shelves call my name, but my developing readers L.O.V.E. to dig through my nonfiction shelves in search of books with photographs, quick-to-read captions and information.

Here are my top 9 + 1 nonfiction picture book picks:

10. National Geographic Kids:  Sharks!
This is one of the many books on sharks that can be found on my classroom bookshelf.  Kids cannot resist books about dangerous animals.  Girls and boys alike have pored over these books.  Any time I find a book with great photographs and minimal text, I snap it up.
9.  The Story of Snow:  The Science of Winter's Wonder
8.  Snowflake Bentley
I am a huge fan of snow and a geek when it comes to identifying snowflakes.  I recommend pairing these books following the first snowstorm (or when you need to cool off during a hot day).  Snowflake Bentley managed to photograph snowflakes, and The Story of Snow explains how snow forms.  One snowflake tip: use a dark piece of felt to catch snowflakes and observe their shape before they melt.

7. Over and Under the Snow
Speaking of snow, you must get a copy of Kate Messner's picturesque picture book.  This book has lovely drawings of kids playing on the snow while animals burrow, sleep and tunnel under the snow.

6.  Musical Instruments
I started playing violin in 4th grade, so I love to share my love of music with my students.  I especially like the clear overlay pages in these "First Discovery" books.  Kids can see the outside and inner workings of instruments you'd find in the symphony.

5.  When Marian Sang
I have encountered a few intermediate students who devour biographies.
This is an excellent book to share with students when discussing people who have reached their goals despite  prejudice and defeat.  Pam Munoz Ryan tells the inspiring story of Marian Anderson, black opera singer.  I also found a YouTube book talk.

4.  Barack
I bought this book for my oldest daughter when Barack Obama was elected.  She admires his spirit, commitment to his family and his ideas.  I really enjoyed the smooth illustrations by AG Ford.  My students liked learning about our president's childhood.  It makes them more able to connect with him.

3.  Chocolate:  A Sweet History
Yum - who can resist a book about chocolate.  I know I can't!  I'm always happy to share information on how my favorite food is grown and created.  I credit my students from Mexico for having such intelligent ancestors (the Incas) that decided to heat up cacao beans and make hot chocolate.

2.  Hershey Chocolate Bar Fraction Book (and Hershey's Kisses math books)
Jerry Pallotta had an excellent idea when he paired math ideas with Hershey's chocolate bars and Kisses.  These books were written awhile back (1999 and 2001) but the idea is timeless.  Give kids food to divide, add or subtract, and they'll understand it better.  You'll also be that cool teacher who lets kids play with food.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

Finally we get to one of my favorite nonfiction books - it's something really special!
 1.  America the Beautiful
This book was shared during a grad school class a few years back.  The book is quite thick and a total work of art.  Each two-page spread contains a paper sculpture of a sight to see in America, following the first verse of the song, "America the Beautiful."  From the Golden Gate Bridge to Abraham Lincoln sitting in the Lincoln Memorial, Robert Sabuda manages to take your breath away as you travel through the book.  I can't imagine how this book is managed to be mass produced, but it's truly a treat to enjoy.

(P.S. I love to pair this book with Louise Borden's poem book, America is...  These books will renew your sense of pride in our country!)

Intervention progress (week 4)

Find more Slice of Life stories at
Two Writing Teachers
Last month, I wrote a slice about the new intervention I was beginning with a group of 4th and 5th graders.  I thank you, readers, for your votes of confidence and support!  I thought I'd write a little update.

We are currently entering week four of the intervention.  I was told (by teachers who implemented this program last year) that the first six weeks would be the tough and I should expect to be tired and frustrated.  Even the consultant who trained us in the program agreed.

They were both correct that I would be tired.  I've started wearing my sneakers every afternoon.  I stand for most of the 2.5 hours, and I'm seriously out of shape.  I've started walking or using my elliptical every day I can to help with this. I'm also sitting down and giving the kids a few stretch breaks.  It's helping all of us to regain energy and focus.
I plan to continue my fashion faux pas for the remainder of the year, and I plan to buy new sneakers soon!

I'm doing my best to keep a smile on my face and implement the intervention with fidelity.  It's hard not to go off on tangents, but I've managed to keep my focus on the materials in front of me.

I have a few students who need lots of redirection and reminders about good behavior.  Thankfully, our school social worker stops in every day to give my neediest student a physical break.  She has helped me implement a focus ticket program that's going well.  The students may need a few fillings after eating all the Jolly Ranchers they are consuming as rewards, but I'm not going to worry about that yet.

The best thing about the new program is that my students look forward to the afternoons.  I am planning to survey them about why they like coming to my little classroom.  They are now a group of 10, since we added a young lady who just arrived from Mexico.  She is learning the routine of the program and is happy to soak it all in with translation help from others.  We are working on building a community of learners, and we've made some growth there (we're far from full-out acceptance, but we'll keep working!).

I'll never forget one lesson where the students watched a video of a girl singing "Clementine."  We were to learn to speak with purpose and recite the song as a poem.  To my surprise, they launched into song.  Then they kept singing in the hall as they returned to their homerooms for afternoon dismissal.  I couldn't help but laugh as I heard one soft-spoken 5th grade boy sing the loudest.

Kids are full of surprises.  I'm pleasantly surprised with how well (overall) my afternoons are going.

February 10, 2013

Sunday Sweets

My favorite snarky blog, Cake Wrecks, always posts beautiful cakes on Sundays. (Other days their goal is to out the bakers who mess up.)

Today I had a pretty sweet Sunday!

  • Stayed up late with my husband, sharing a combination of  laughs, tears and deep conversation
  • Slept until nearly 9:00 a.m.
  • Made the most beautiful cup of coffee with a topping of foamed milk
  • Accompanied a young, incredible violinist with my community orchestra 
      • (click here to see him in action!)
  • Relaxed and laughed with my daughters and husband over a delicious dinner and delectable dessert
  • Finished a few loads of laundry
  • Coached my youngest on her homework (and miraculously stayed positive)
  • Checked in on the Grammy's, ogled Prince, and talked music with my oldest
  • Wrote on my blog
  • Climbed into bed and counted my blessings
I'm hoping I can keep the relaxed feel of today alive during the rest of the week, finding joy in the simplest moments.