Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Book Whisperer

I just finished The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  I heard about it here in blog-land during the school year, finally ordered it about half way through summer, and just got around to reading it.  If you teacher upper elementary or middle school language arts, you really really should read this book.  It was a super quick read because so much of it is written as a narrative of the author's experiences.  It read like a story!  

The picture she painted of how she runs her classroom, with so much independent reading and kids so engaged, made me want to be in her class!  I'm starting to force myself to think about how I am going to structure each part of my day this coming year, and this was a great jumping off point for language arts.  I'm not making any for sure decisions yet because I'm still going to read Daily 5 this summer (I know, can you believe I haven't read it yet?).

Here are some things The Book Whisperer made me think about:

  • I need to put in more choice independent reading time.  Last year, my kiddos "read" first thing in the morning.  I put read in quotes because so many of them didn't.  It was definitely a "let's see how long we can hang out by the classroom library before we get in trouble" time for many of my students.  I occasionally gave them choice time to read during our Reading Workshop, but not often enough.  I remembering now how excited they got when I told them they could choose what book to read.
  • How will I have them respond to what they read?  I like Donalyn Miller's idea of letters, but I'm not sure how often I would have them write letters.  Lisa at Fourth and Ten posted questions she has her students answer on the home reading logs, so that might be a good way to go about it too, maybe in class, maybe at home.  I like giving the kids some choice in how they respond, so maybe they'll have the choice between the two!
  • Donalyn Miller talks about how Book Reviews worked okay, but not great for her.  I think I might try them in conjunction with the Book Commercials she talks about.  I think I will spread the Book Reviews out, like maybe 8 kiddos had them due each week.  That means each kiddo does one per month.  I like the idea of book reviews because one of our writing genres we do in 4th grade is Response to Literature, so we could practice that all year long!  (That would be good because my district says we should teach it April-June, but we have a state writing test in March that could ask the kiddos to write a response to literature!)
  • I want to really make expanding vocabulary a big part of my class this year.  My school has a lot of English learners, though most have been reclassified as English proficient by 4th grade.  These students were some of my top readers and could often use sentence structures way beyond the 4th grade level, but as they got into their middle-school level books, they stumbled over vocabulary.  The books that had vocabulary they understood were too easy for them.  I'm thinking that I will make a word wall that each student contributes to on a regular basis (not sure how often yet ... maybe a word will be part of their Book Review?)
  • Recording What They Read:  I loved how Donalyn Miller set up her students' response books.  I like the idea of having them tally the genres and list and rate the books in the front of their response journals.  I also loved the idea of having a "want to read" list in there!  I'm thinking about setting the 40 books in a year with the genre requirements like Donalyn Miller sets it out.  
  • I'm trying to decide how to/if to incorporate AR in this.  My school is big on AR.  I'm indifferent.  If the kids wanted to, I let them.  I didn't push it.  I had only 1 computer in my classroom for most of the year, so those who were into it took the time on the computer.  I think I will approach it the same way this year.
  • I'm definitely going to be doing more read-alouds for strategy lessons and conferences.  The Book Whisperer touches on these and, as I posted about before, I read and started to implement CAFE last year.  I like that it fits in well with students doing a lot of independent reading.  I will definitely be using it more this year!
  • I'm not sure how to fit grammar lessons/practice into this structure.  I'm thinking that when I read Daily 5, I might get more ideas for this.  I could probably incorporate grammar into Word Work. My other thought is to move grammar into more of my writing time, since really, that's when they use it!
  • And last, but not least, where does our curriculum fit into all of this?  My old principal didn't really care how much we used the curriculum.  We're getting a new principal this year, so we'll see what her stance is on this.  Some kids seemed to really enjoy the anthology stories, others certainly didn't.

I'd love to hear how you structure your reading time!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Made It

Finally, I got some things made!  Tara's Monday Made It has helped motivate me to get some of this done.

First off, I made letters for my bulletin boards.  I had some random letters that the teacher before me left, but there were almost never enough to make the words I wanted and most of the colors didn't go with my color scheme for this year and I didn't like that there was only one size, so I typed all the words I wanted, printed them on colored card stock, and cut, cut, cut.  Over 160 letters!  Once I'm back at school, I'll laminate and then cut again.

These are my favorite of the letters:

For these letters, I put images of different flags behind the letters and then printed in color on white card stock.  I did the U.S. flag for One, the California flag for Class (because my students and I all share those), and then a variety of flags for Many Cultures.  I think it turned out super cute!  There is one mistake in it that I'm wondering if is worth me fixing.  Can you spot it?

The first project my students do (all 4th grade at my school did it last year) is to do a report on the country their family is from.  Kids who's family comes from many places can choose one, but most of my students' families are from one place, and many of my students were born there.  We have students from so many places that these reports are really interesting.   They also decorate a "little me" that I put up on a board that stays up all year.  Here is the board from last year:
I promos that says One Class, Many Cultures ... I just used blue letters on a blue background ... bad choice!
The flags down the side represent all of the countries my students did reports on.

Next up, modge podge extravaganza.  I have been saving all plastic/cardboard containers I can find!  Sour cream, coffee, Nesquick, Pringles, cream cheese ...  I modge-podged cute napkins on them (I learned the hard way to modge-podge white paper on the parts where the white design is first).  

and after ...
Those of you who are very observant may notice that there are more containers in the before than in the after and that you can still see some that need to be done in the background of my after picture. I still have some to cover, but I don't have specific plans for those yet.  I know I'll need more containers as I organize my classroom, so they'll be useful I'm sure.  The ones you see labeled with groups and supplies will be my community supplies.  Each group will have a container with just a few things.  Students will also have supplies in their desks.  The list on the back will help students stay responsible for what should be in the group's container.

You observant ones may have also noticed that the labels are  different from the labels I made and posted a few weeks ago.  First, I realized the ones I had made didn't fit quite right, so I made a new version of rainbow labels.  Here's a copy of those (including the supply list).  Then, I printed them again and realized that they just didn't look right on my containers, so I made the black and white ones.  You can get them here.

Can't wait to see what everyone else has made!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Preparing for School Linky

6th Grade All-Stars is hosting a linky about preparing for school.  What a great idea!  I will certainly be reading other teacher's thoughts.  Even though I've done it once before, as the getting ready for this new year draws nearer, I'm feeling less and less like I remember what to do.

Those preparing-for-school days were jam packed and rushed for me last year. I was unofficially hired 1 week before school started ("We wanted to let you know that you are our first choice to fill the position, but the teacher you will be replacing has not finished submitting her leave of absence paperwork yet, so we can't officially hire you"), officially hired the following day, got keys to my classroom 3 days before school started, had 2.5 days of staff meetings/trainings, leaving me with mostly just evenings to get ready.  Luckily, I had super helpful grade-level teammates!

And now this linky's questions:

- What grade do you teach? I teach 4th grade.

- What is the greatest advice you received during your 1st year of teaching? Ask questions!  Every teacher was a first year teacher at some point.  They understand what it's like.  So, don't be afraid to ask questions.  I found e-mailing non-urgent questions was best so that they could respond when they had time.  Ask about school policies and procedures, ask about ideas for teaching certain topics, ask about their pacing, ask how they keep organized, ask everything!  I found that it was especially important as the year came to an end to keep asking questions.  The other teachers had gotten so used to me being around that they didn't remember it was my first time doing the end of the year.

- Do you have a checklist that you follow when preparing your classroom (include the checklist)? I don't have a checklist.  Making one is on my to-do list.  With this comes another piece of advice for first year teachers: make sure to keep a copy for yourself of everything that others give you, from worksheets for students to lists of things to do, in an organized place that you will be able to find the following year.

- What are some must haves in your classroom that you cannot live without (ex. items, books, posters, management strategies)? An organized place for students to turn in papers.  I tried two systems this year and am trying a new one for this new year.  If the student papers are not organized, grading will take you so much longer.  On the flip side of this is having a good system to return papers. You also need a place to organize your papers, both things you are preparing for students and all the other paperwork.

- What is something that all teachers should have in their classroom? I think that all teachers should have a place in their classroom for each student to have a piece of work on the displayed (this may not work for those of you who teach middle school).  During the second half of the year, I made a place for each student on the wall.  Each Friday, I passed back their work.  They chose 1 pice of work that they were proud of to put in their spot and then took the rest home to show their parents.  Once I started doing that, so many students brought family and friends (yes, others their age) into the classroom after school to show them their work.  I think it made them really proud to have work that they decided was quality work up in the classroom.  Bonus:  Putting these together at the end of the year made a great portfolio for the students!


One week until I get my classroom keys ... it's time to really get all those summer projects done!

Monday, July 23, 2012

To Do

So, when I first saw Lorraine at Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies To Do List Linky, I was excited!  I love lists.  Making lists calms me down and focuses me.  Boyfriend likes to joke that I make lists of lists I need to make (really, I've only put writing a list on a to do list once, at the end of last school year, promise!).  I was so excited to link up, but didn't have time right then.

Fast forward to my next second of spare time, when I check Blogger.  So many lists posted!  I start to read them.  Lots of good ideas, many similar to mine.  But, the more I read, the more things get added to my mental list of things to do.  I start flashing back to the one and a half days I had in my classroom before school started last year, remembering how many little, mundane things there are to do.  And, my grade-level teammate who was super organized is not coming back, so I can't just follow her around doing everything she does. I have to do it all on my own (not totally true, I still have one fabulous teammate left and I'm sure the new two will be great, but ...).  I realized that I cannot make a list of everything I need to do before school starts right now.  I can't handle it.

Sooo ... I'm doing Lorraine's linky a little different, to save my sanity.

This is my list of things I need to do before August 6th, when I can get into my classroom.  As that draws nearer, I will make a list of things to do before we officially have to come back, and then later, a list of things to do on those teacher duty days before the kiddos come.  I guess I just made a list of To Do Lists to make.  Maybe Boyfriend is right.

To Do 

(before getting keys)

  • Organize my big messy boxes of papers
  • Plan and make behavior management (clip chart, recording, clothes pins)
  • Grand Canyon Lesson Plans (My teacher-brain was in full swing on our road trip)
  • Read teacher books I just bought: The Book Whisperer, Rethinking HomeworkLaura Candler's Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core, Notebook Connections, and Notebook Know-How 
  • Decorate/label Turn In Boxes
  • Make/Decorate/Label Supply Boxes
  • Make labels for my copy boxes
  • Make classroom library tags (or decide which of the fabulous ones I've seen I will use)
  • Organize school computer files
  • Plan out daily schedule
  • Decide on classroom jobs and make poster
  • Make No Name board
  • Start making things for bulletin boards (especially titles)
  • Tentatively plan classroom layout (so excited for my new room!)
  • Make a writing process chart
  • Start on Sub Tub

That should keep me plenty busy for the next two weeks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Monday (Wednesday) Made-It

I have been wanting to link up with Tara at 4th Grade Frolics for Monday Made It since before I even had this blog, but my motivation has been lacking.  Today I finished the first step of my first project (other than beginning to organize two huge boxes of papers, which is so boring that none of you want to hear about it), and I've decided it will be enough for this week's Monday Made It.  
My making was done on the computer, which means it is sharable with you!  

First, I made classroom supply labels.  I'm still not quite sure how I'm going to do community supplies.  Last year, students had supplies in their desks, and I had a limited number of supplies out for everyone to use.  I felt like some students took advantage (read: were disrespectful) of the community supplies, though.  Right now, I'm thinking that I will still have some community supplies, but they will be divided by group so that the students are more responsible for them.  

Here are the labels I made today!  There are 12 supply labels and 8 group labels.  Click on the picture if you want them!

I also made labels for my new turn-in boxes. I have two of these:
I made these labels for them: (click on the picture if you want them)

I made two boxes for each subject because between homework and classwork, they usually turn in two things from each subject each day.  I'm hoping that I can leave work in these drawers, one assignment in each, for the whole day.  I got the idea from one of the many blogs I read (sorry, don't remember who!  If it was you, let me know!) to have a classroom job be to put the papers in number order and check for missing papers at the end of the day for easy grading.  I think with the drawers and that job, my grading life will be so much easier next year!  I am also going to make a magnet version of each.  I will use the magnets on the whiteboard and write the assignments next to the box they should be turned-in in.  

I will use the same boxes for social studies and science because I alternate teaching social studies and science by unit, so I never have both subjects at the same time.  I made separate Social Studies and Science labels for you because I figured many people would want them separate.

My goal for next Monday is to have these labels printed and beautifully modge-podged with scrapbook paper onto their containers!  Maybe I'll also finish my new behavior chart that I started almost a month ago now.

I also have two made-its for my home!

First, I made this curtain (please ignore my messy desk).  I've been meaning to make it for the whole time - a year next month - that we've lived here.  It covers a frosted window, but that window is right next to the front door, and I didn't like people being able to see my computer sitting on my desk.

My second home made-it is again on the computer. Boyfriend bought a new camera for our trip and with the camera came an offer from Shutterfly for a free 8x8 20 page photo book (just pay shipping and handling - $8).  I just put the finishing touches on it.  I can't wait to get it!  If it turns out as cute as it is on the computer, I will probably have to make one for every vacation!

That's it! Good night!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

End of Vacation and Blog Awards

Yesterday marked the end of a great road trip vacation.  This was my first road trip and my first real vacation without my parents.  My boyfriend and I went to the Grand Canyon, visited his great aunt in southern Colorado and went to Taos, New Mexico with her, visited my great aunt and her daughter in northern Colorado, and then took three days to drive home (going through Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada). It felt so good to sleep in my own bed last night.

For some reason, I imagined myself reading blogs and writing posts during the vacation.  Maybe writing in the car, posting and reading when I got to the hotel.  That didn't happen.  Driving is way more exhausting than I thought! 

Now I'm back.  I have so much blog reading to catch up on and many things to post about.  Not to mention, we're now 3 weeks away from getting my classroom keys back and 5 and half until the school year starts!  So much to do!

I'll start with what surprised me most upon returning to blog-land.  I was nominated for not one, but TWO blog awards while I was gone!  Wow!  Thank you, ladies!

First, Mallory at {Sixth Grade} All-Stars nominated me for the "One Lovely Blog Award."  So sweet!

There are three rules to follow once you've received this award:
1.  Follow the person who gave you the award.
2. Link back to the person who gave you the award.
3.  Pass the award on to 15 new bloggers.

Here are 15 Lovely Blogs:

Second, Amanda at Surviving the First Year nominated me for "The Versatile Blogger" Award.  Thank you!

This one has seven rules to follow:
1.  Thank the blogger who nominated you.
2. Include a link to their site.
3. Include the award image in your post.
4. Give seven random facts about yourself.
5. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.
6.  When nominating include a link to their site.
7. Let the other bloggers know they've been nominated.

Seven Random Facts:
1.  I played water polo in high school and college.
2.  I love to sew.
3.  My boyfriend and I started dating when he asked me to senior prom.
4.  I have been to 11 states (5 of which were just added to my list this past week and a half!)
5.  I sleep 11 hours most weekend nights.
6.  I majored in Creative Writing in college.
7.  I am horrible at keeping plants alive.  Most last about a week.

15 Versatile Blogs: 

I know some of you who I nominated have the award already, but you're just awesome enough to get it again!

Now off to unpack, grocery shop, and do laundry.  Have a great day!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Professional Development: Math

This summer (and into the fall), I'm taking a professional development math course. Right now, I'm half way through it (very strange schedule with huge chunks of time between classes).  The course focuses on us doing math and really understanding the math we are teaching. They've shown us so many alternate strategies (other than standard algorithms) that I'm excited to try out with students.  There's just a little bit of pedagogical discussion.  The instructors keep telling us that it is our job to reflect on what we do in class at home to see how it applies in our classroom.  I'm going to share that reflection with you.  

This class has really gotten me thinking about how I was as a math student.  Math was always very very easy for me.  I didn't really have to work at math until I got to calculus (I know, half of you now hate me, sorry!).  But ... I never really loved math.  Even though it was my strongest subject, I never once considered majoring in it in college.  Sure, there were little pieces that I enjoyed, but overall it was just motions I went through.

During this professional development, I've really enjoyed some of the math problems we've been presented with.  Other times, it's still just going through those motions, finishing quickly, and waiting for everyone else to finish.  During that waiting time, I started thinking about the difference between the problems I'm excited about and those I'm not.  I realized that I'm excited for the ones that challenge me. They are usually ones that can be solved more than one way or that I can extend the problem in some way because the contexts are so real.  Other times, they are just so challenging that I feel proud for finishing them.  Looking back on my school experiences with math, it was the same types of problems and activities that I enjoyed.

I've realized that I am not teaching math in the way that would excite me as a student.  The most boring parts of this math professional development are the times that most resemble the majority of my math instruction.  This realization has added "re-think how I structure math" to my summer to-do list and given it a high priority.  I need to organize my math instruction so that students get the chance to solve problems that they will be interested in and that will make them feel proud for being able to do more often.  I need to get them more involved.  

I can't plan specific lessons yet because I don't know which parts of our math curriculum I will be covering this year.  We have students rotate through the four 4th grade teachers, so each teacher only teaches part of the curriculum.  This gives students the chance to work with different teachers and lets us really focus in on one area and get really good at teaching it.  We will decide at the beginning of the year who is teaching what.  Over this summer, though, I really want to focus on the organization and routines of my math time.

How do you get students excited for and interested in math?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July!

Have a fabulously fun and safe day!

Monday, July 2, 2012


My first currently!  Why are they so much fun to read?!?!  Thanks to Farley for hosting these!

I love getting up early-ish (NOT 5am like during school) when it is still quiet and still a little overcast.  I know I will only be able to have the window open for a bit longer before it's AC time.

I am LOVING getting up most mornings knowing that there aren't a million things I have to do.  I get to choose!  Summer is great!

I was completely planning on linking up to Tara for Monday Made It. BUT ... I've gotten so caught up in my fun around-the-house projects that I have done NOTHING for my classroom.  Maybe next week you'll get so see something for my classroom and some of my house/me projects, including a dress I am making that is totally stretching my sewing abilities.

 I'm getting ready to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon and then to see some of boyfriend's family and some of my family in Colorado.  Neither of us have ever been to either!  I'm super excited!

1. Edward Tulane: The kids got such a kick out of it for many different reasons.  The girls seemed emotionally involved in the story.  And for the boys ... Edward is naked in part of it and gets put in a dress.  Apparently that's all a nine or ten year old boy needs to be entertained!
2. CAFE:  My BTSA group (do all of you do BTSA or is that a California thing? Well, if you don't, it's a two year program to clear your credential. BTSA stands for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment.  Some busy work, some great support from veteran teachers) did book clubs with teacher-books and the 3rd-5th grade group read CAFE and made Pensieve binders.  This was in March, so I never really got CAFE going full swing and I haven't read Daily 5 yet (dilemma: I wanted to read it this summer, especially with the book study at We Read, We Blog, We Teach going on, but I am getting a free copy from my district a week before school starts).  I did start trying individual conferences with students and taking some notes in my Pensieve.  I'm going to try to use it a lot more this year!

Happy Monday! (really, happy day-doesn't-matter-because-it's-summer-break)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fabulous Idea!

I've loved reading about everyone's fabulous finds at Fun in Room 4B's linky, so I've decided to share one myself.

My purchases have been focused on basic organization. Nothing too fabulous.  I have found some fabulous ideas from reading blogs, so that will be my fabulous find to share.

So many bloggers have been sharing about organizational binders for students.  I had folders and notebooks last year, which worked for some, but not nearly all, students.  This organizational binder idea is one I'm thinking about trying.

I really enjoyed Lisa's post at Fourth and Ten about her S.T.A.R. binders.  If you haven't already, you should definitely check out her post.  She gave so much detail!

Here are some things I really liked about her binders that I'm going to try incorporating into my classroom:

  • Zipper Pouch for classroom currency.  I don't know how many times I heard "I lost my Charger Bucks!" last year.
  • Things in sheet protectors: questions students always use and when you finish early games.  This would cut down on so many copies AND really make the point to students that things carry over throughout the year.  I felt like a lot of my students didn't notice, even when I pointed it out, that we were using the same graphic organizer or set of questions as before.  If it's the same paper, they have to realize, right?
  • Folders all in one place, in a specific order.  I also really liked the idea of one folder for things that don't fit with a specific subject.

Some things I think I might add:

  • A folder for keeping lined and white paper in so that students can just get the paper out. This seems like it could be much quicker than having students pass out paper.
  • A "ready to be turned in" folder.  I had a lot of students want to turn work in early last year.  I let them because I was so afraid they would lose it, but it made an organizational nightmare for me because the whole class set of assignments wasn't together.  I spent at least one or two hours each weekend just sorting papers so that each assignment was together.  Then, I still had to grade.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly how to get the supplies for this.  I can't ask the students to supply the binders because it isn't on our grade-level list, which already went out to students.  Many students have already ordered their school supplies for next year through our PTA, so I can't add something to the list!  I did buy half inch binders with another idea in mind.  Maybe I'll figure out a way to make those work or return them and try to get 1 inch ones.