Saturday, August 24, 2013

First Week Reflections

I am exhausted, but it's a happy, fulfilled, energized, and inspired kind of exhausted.  I have just finished my first week of co-teaching 7th grade language arts.  This has always been my dream position. I teach three periods of language arts with two different teachers.   For the first time in my career I introduced myself, to the students, as a language arts teacher.  We purposely told the students that I was just another teacher in the classroom, instead of the intervention specialist. I will be working with all students, and we wanted to establish that expectation from the first day of class.  As I have reflected back on the events of the first week of school, I realized that the ideas and activities were a combination of planning and ideas from all three of us collaborating together.  

One thing I always stress about, when getting to know my students, is making sure I pronounce their names correctly.  I am always afraid that I will butcher their first name, and then their peers will tease them about the new name I accidentally created.  My anxiety level instantly dropped when I learned how my co-teachers learn the names of the students.  They put a number on each desk, and then call out numbers.  The students then say their name when their number is called. This makes so much sense, and I am embarrassed to admit I had never thought of doing this.  The next way that we got to know about students was by having them say their name and favorite ice cream flavor.  However, before they shared that information they had to repeat the name and flavor of everyone before them.  This was a great way to get to know student personalities.  The amount of teamwork and respect that was shown during this activity was amazing to me!  There is definitely a future teacher in one of my classes because he was so patient with his peers and quietly helped each one of them when they stumbled with a name or flavor.  This week will not be the last time students think about this activity.  When teaching and encouraging rereading for deeper understanding we will be referring back to this activity.  The students easily remembered the names and flavors and the first students in the name game, because they were "rereading the class".  It was the students name and flavor that they just heard that they struggled with repeating.  The same will go for rereading, they will have a better understanding of information if they reread it, as opposed to just reading it once.

Next, we had the chance to introduce ourselves to the students.  Instead of creating a poster board with pictures about myself, I decided to just pass around my writer's notebook.  My notebook is covered with pictures of my family, interests and passions.  I explained to the students that I use my notebook to help me find inspiration when I am struggling to think about a writing topic.  Students will be creating their own writer's notebooks inspirations next week, so this will also give them an example of something they may want to do.  I had one student, in particular, that was so excited about the thought of creating and using a writer's notebook this year.  She said she loves to write and can't wait to share her writing with us!

Another plan we have for the year is to share a book talk per day.  The teachers will start sharing for the first month (though with this group of students, I think they are ready to take over for us next week).   I had planned out the books I wanted to share with students, and The Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library  by Chris Grabenstein was going to be the first book I was ready to share.  However, Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston was one of the books on the summer reading list.  I heard multiple students comment about reading sad books about the dog dying, and how depressing those stories are.  Therefore, I scrapped my original book talk plans and shared No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman.  Several students had already read this book, and quickly shared their enthusiasm for the story.  I'll admit, I was nervous about book talking because I wasn't sure how 7th graders would react to my excitement about books.  However, they quickly squelched that fear and began excitedly asking me if I have read many of their favorite books.  My to read list has quickly doubled!  Starting Monday, we plan on "raffling" off the books that we are book talking.  The students will put their name in a jar if they want to be the first person to read that book.  During last period we will draw a name and have that book delivered to the winner at the end of the school day.  The students who did not win the "first read" will sign up and the book will then be passed down that list as students finish reading it. 

Our final goal for the week was to begin introducing the idea of "Together We Can".  Students desks begin in rows, but will only be like that for the first couple weeks of school.  We want to get to know each other as individuals, and then help teach them how to work together as a team.  If students can respect each other, individually, they will have a better understanding of what it means to work as a team.  Once students know and understand what the expectations are for working together, we will then move their desks into teams.  For the first activity, we took the students outside and had them stand in a circle.  Each person had to state their name and goal for the year (academic, athletic, or social) and they then had hold a piece of string and throw the ball of string to a classmate on the other side of the circle.  In the end we made a web of string.  Students discussed the symbolization of the activity, and determined that each of us is an important part of a team.  We all need to hold up our part of the team, or the dynamic and expectations will shift for everyone involved.  After this activity we read the book The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson.  Students had to write a reflection about the connection between the book, the web activity and "Together We Can".  The insight and reflection that was shared by students was amazing.  After completing these first few activities, I have high hopes for the teams that will be built with the understanding of collaboration and respect among the students. 

I will admit, I was scared to move districts and shifting from elementary to middle school.  However, I already feel at home with my team and students.  This has been a great week of getting to know students and starting to build a community of readers, writers and collaborators.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Celebrate the Positive with Mentor Texts

As I am attempting to unpack boxes and rearrange my new classroom space, I came across one of my previous teacher evaluation forms.  I cringed when I saw it, and I'm not even sure why I have saved it (except maybe for some comic relief or to raise my blood pressure).  Here's just a brief snippet from this horrendous evaluation: 

Domain C: Teaching for Student Learning (Needs Improvement)
C2:  Mrs. Shouldis used a little kids book to teach a reading lesson to fifth grade students. Mrs. Shouldis did not use any OAA practice questions during lesson.  

Just typing this makes me furious.  There are so many comments I could still make about this evaluation (even three years later), but I just want to focus on the "little kids" book reference.  The book that I was using to teach 5th grade students about character development was Mr. Lincoln's Way by Patricia Pollacco.  In no way would I consider this book a "little kid" book, even though it is a shorter text containing picture.  There are some huge ideas embedded within this text.  Not only is this a great text for teaching reading ideas and strategies, but it can also be used as a writing mentor text and a mentor text for life.  

I recently read Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations by Lester Laminack.  He provides an impressive collection of picture books that can be used for read alouds to help teach kids about acceptance and diversity.  He also provides great lessons and conversation starters about each of the issues discussed in these books.  The ideas within this books are deep, and can help to develop and nurture open-minded citizens.  These are books that I would consider to be mentor texts for life.  These books are small text with big ideas.

Mentor texts seem to be most closely related to the area of teaching writing.  This just seems like a common sense approach to teaching writing, in ALL grade levels.  I truly believe that kids need to be taught the correct way to write, and that as teachers we need to focus on how real writers write.  What better way to do this than to use picture books to help celebrate real writing.  I do think there is a place and time to teach editing, but I do not think it requires daily review and practice.  Too often, I have been in classrooms where daily language reviews are taking place, instead of actual writing.  Students are editing a piece of work, filled with crazy errors, and then graded on their ability to correct this inauthentic piece of writing.  Why?  I love Jeff Anderson's solution to this idea!  In Everyday Editing he discusses inviting our students into the writing process.  Show them how to correctly uses certain grammar or punctuation and them invite them to do it within their own writing.  Using mentor text is a perfect way to show writers how to properly use proper grammar and punctuation.  I fear that by focusing writing instruction on the editing process, by finding errors, we are scaring away some very talented writers.  I am still nervous, in terms of publicly publishing my thoughts out of fear of incorrect grammar or punctuation, and I can't even imagine how some of our young developing writers feel.

As I am teaching my three young children social skills and manners, I explain and provide examples of how I want them to behave.  I do not provide them with ideas of how not to behave.  If one of them misbehaves I will sit down and talk to them about what THEY did and how to change their actions next time.  On those glorious days where they are perfect angels all day, I celebrate the wonderful things they have done.  Never do I stop and talk about ways they might one day act in undesirable ways, and what to do if that happens.  I hope for the positives and only address the undesirable behaviors IF they act in that way.  I use many mentor texts to help guide these discussions.  At times I will select certain books that exhibit positive behaviors, especially if one of my children have been struggling to exhibit that positive behavior.  

Parallel this idea to teaching writing.  I teach my students how to write in ways that can be celebrated.  I will also share mentor texts that exhibit the skill I am teaching that day.  I will then celebrate the ways my writers are correctly applying those skills within their own writing.  It is only when a student incorrectly applies that information that I will conferring with that writer and have them talk about that skill as it applies to THEIR writing.  I do not take time out of my day to stop and talk about the incorrect way they MIGHT use punctuation or grammar.  Instead, I try to keep my focus on celebrating the positive.  Using mentor texts is one of the best ways I have found to make sure that I am continuously teaching and celebrating what real writers do.  

High school all the way down to kindergarten, I encourage all teachers to incorporate pictures books into your classroom.  They are not just books for "little kids", but they can provide and inspire positive ways to think about life and life as writers.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Picture Book 10 for 10 - August 10, 2013

I Mustache You a Question!

Do you read picture books?  If so, you've come to the right place!  If not, you've still come to the right place, because this is the perfect way to start finding amazing titles!  Not only will you be able to see ten of my favorite picture books (actually my son's favorite), but you will also be able to see hundreds of other people's favorite picture books.  Today, Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek are celebrating the 4th annual picture book ten for ten! Be sure to click on the picture to be able to read about hundreds of other wonderful picture books that are being shared today!

A few weeks ago, I was telling my five year old about my plans to participate in picture book ten for ten.  He has asked me everyday since if I've decided on my topic.  Until two days ago, I was still unsure about what I was going to share.  Then it hit me, why don't I share picture books about one of his favorite topics?!  Aside from blue footed boobies, he loves anything to do with mustaches.  He gets that uncontrollable belly giggle just hearing the word.  So in honor of my favorite five year old, and him getting ready to take a big leap into kindergarten this year, I will be sharing our favorite books with mustaches!  

1.  Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos

Mustache Baby

2. Mustache! by Mac Barnett and Kevin Cornell


3.  Big Bushy Mustache by Gary Soto

 Big Bushy Mustache

4.  Moosetache by Margie Palatini


5.  If You Were a Chocolate Mustache by J. Patrick Lewis
**This is actually a collection of hilarious poetry.  

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache

6.  The Magic Mustache by Gary Barwin

Magic Mustache

7.  Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger
**This is actually a chapter book, but I felt it was worth the mention.  Besides, it's hard to find ten picture books about mustaches!!!

Fake Mustache

This is where I'm going to start (well finish) breaking some rules.  I couldn't actually find ten picture books about mustaches - I was shocked!!  Therefore, the final three books are just going to be three of my son's favorite books, non-mustache related.  
8.  The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett


9. Island:  A Story of the Galapagos by Jason Chin
**This is the book that started his fascination with blue footed boobies! 

 Island: A Story of the Gal├ípagos

10.   This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen


Thursday, August 8, 2013

5 Ideas for Building a Reading and Writing Community

This school year I will begin a new journey with Davis Middle School in Dublin, Ohio.  I am overly excited about the opportunity to co-teach students in 7th grade language arts, something I have always dreamed of doing.  I have met multiple times to plan with Katie and Teri, my two co-teachers, and the ideas that have flowed amaze me.  In talking, we realized they have workshop routines set up different than I have done in the past, and that is awesome.  That just means there will be multiple ideas to use and try, especially if (when) certain ideas don't work as planned.  I just wanted to share some of the ideas I'm most excited about, in terms of building a classroom community of readers and writers.  These ideas have evolved because of collaborative thinking, and will continue to evolve as we get to know the students.  However, here are five ideas that I am initially most excited about.

1.  Reader's Graffiti

We were discuss ways in which we could share book recommendations.  I shared that in the past I would tape book covers to my door, which recorded my reading life.  However, we will be co-teaching between two different classrooms, and to make it feel like one community that was going to be double the work.  Then I remember the discussion of a graffiti wall from nErDcampBC.  Our plan is to have a decorated area in the hallway to post quotes from books that students and staff are reading.  This will be a place all students can go to find their next book to fall in love with reading. 

2.  Writing Territories

As we were writing our plans for the first two weeks of school, we started talking about students bringing in a "bag of tricks" to share with the class.  This will be a great way for students to get to know each other, as they share their interests and passions.  A couple minutes later we started about talking about free writing and writing to a prompt, and how students can struggle to get started writing on an idea. Therefore, instead of making the bag a stand alone activity, we decided to make the "bag of tricks" something students will be able to use year round.  Students will be decorating their writers notebooks with their passions and interests, instead of bringing them in a bag and forgetting about them a week later.  Our hope is that they will be able to refer to these notebooks, year round, to give them inspiration within their writing. 

3.  Book Talks

Speaking and listening skills are important to focus on, within 7th grade (well any grade for that matter).  Therefore, to address these skills it is already planned that students will be doing a book commercial later on in the year.  However, I know that many students fear that one day of presenting a book.  To help make books an on-going conversation within the classroom we have decided to do one book talk everyday.  We plan on doing this as part of the morning warm-up, and it will only last a couple of minutes.  The teachers will be in charge of presenting the first month of school, and from there we will have sign up sheet.  If no student signs up on a particular day, no worries, I have plenty of books I'm willing to share!  After the book talk is shared, the person sharing will record the date, title of the book and their name in the book talk binder.  This way students can refer back to the binder, as they are planning their next book to read.  All that we're going to require of the book talk is that it stays under five minutes, it's the first book of a series, and no repeat talks. 

4.  Teacher Genre Chart

This is another idea that stemmed from the book covers on my classroom door.  We were discussing the students keeping track of books that they have read on their genre chart. I asked to see a copy, because I was going to do the same for myself.  Typically, if I assign something to students, I make sure to do it as well.  After all, we are teaching these students to become lifelong readers, so I want to make sure it's something a lifelong reader may use. Therefore, instead of keeping an individual genre chart, we are going to make a giant genre chart.  As a teacher finishes reading a book, we will place a picture of the book cover in the correct column of the genre chart.  This will be a way to share our reading with students, and to inspire conversations about trends as readers. 

5.  Listening Station

This idea is still evolving, so any ideas or suggestions you may have would be fantastic!  As part of an anchor station during workshop time, students are going to have the opportunity to use a listening station.  This will be a place for them to go to listen to each other think deeply about a book.  I plan on having my iPad at that station, locked on Evernote, so that students have a way to record.  Students will record their conversation and thinking about a book.  This will be a way for us to share inspiring conversations with the class and to celebrate those students as readers and thinkers. 

As I mentioned previously, these ideas are going to be constantly evolving.  Some of them may work great initially, and others may need to be adjusted based on the needs of the students. One thing I am sure of, is that as long as we are communicating and collaborating with our students, we will know how to best adjust for their needs.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? August 5, 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

These memes were started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journeys, to inspire readers to share books they have read and will be reading. I have found many of my current reads by following bloggers participating in It’s Monday! What are you reading? Be sure to check out their sites for more information on what they are reading, and learn how to participate. 

Last Week’s Favorites:

It's been a busy week, so instead of writing reviews I'm just going give each book a star rating.  As usual, ignore the crazy spacing and font.  I just can't seem to figure out what blogger is thinking, so I'm just going to go with what it shows (at least until I have the time and patience to understand the crazy formatting).
 Turtle in Paradise

Title:  Turtle in Paradise
Author:  Jennifer L. Holm
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Title:  Mustache!
Author:  Mac Barnett and Kevin Cornell

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Title:  Bully

Author:  Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

I'm Not Reading!

Title:  I'm Not Reading!
Author: Jonathan Allen
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Pancakes, Pancakes!

Title:  Pancakes, Pancakes!
Author:  Eric Carle

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Wild Awake

Title:  Wild Awake
Author:  Hilary Smith
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh Rats! The Story of Rats and People: The Story of Rats and People

Title:  Oh, Rats!  The Story of Rats and People
Author:  Albert Marrin
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 Reading Plans for this Week:

Eye of the Storm

Title:  Eye of the Storm
Author: Kate Messner

Island: A Story of the Galápagos

Title: Island: A Story of the Galapagos
Author: Jason Chin

 Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade

Title:  Balloons Over Broadway:  The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
Author: Melissa Sweet

We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Title: We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Author:  Kadir Nelson

 The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Title:  The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
Author: Peter Sis

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

Title: Ballet for Martha:  Making Appalachian Spring
Author: Jan Greenberg

The Secret World of Walter Anderson

Title:  The Secret World of Walter Anderson
Author: Hester Bass

The Golem's Mighty Swing

Title:  The Golem's Mighty Swing
Author: James Sturm

Chains (Seeds of America, #1)

Title: Chains
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson