Sunday, September 27, 2015

Taking Writer's Workshop Outdoors with Roxaboxen (#OutdoorLearners)

Let me say that I am loving using Writer's Workshop in 4th Grade. I am still under Lucy Calkins' Launching Unit for the beginning of the school year. Today we completed a lesson about using objects around you to spark memories. I combined this lesson with one about writing narratives. Her lesson calls for using Roxaboxen (a strong narrative describing a place where children go to make their own neighborhood in their community). Roxaboxen has fort building, community making,  make believe wars and stores, and even their own form of currency (shiny, smooth black pebbles)

My kids LOVED this story. Immediately, hands were up wanting to share their own outdoor experiences with friends. It was refreshing to know that some of my little friends still do the same things I did as a kid with my neighborhood friends. I started by saying "do you guys ever just go outside with your friends and BUILD STUFF? Get your hands dirty and MAKE THINGS?" Only a few looked at me like I was crazy, the rest entered this crazed moment where they had to share about their adventures. Homemade ovens, bandana-wearing, fort building, nerf gun wars. Love it.

You don't have to use Roxaboxen, and you don't have to have the perfect lesson. I want to just encourage you to trust your teacher instincts. I had no plans to go outside when I added this lesson to my plan book. It wasn't until I saw their enthusiasm for being outside making things that I tweaked the whole thing and we headed outdoors!

What resulted was a lot of engaged writers. Students were finding their small object then settling in a cozy spot to start their writing. My school is lucky enough to be located right next to a small park and we have a beautiful courtyard that is perfect for outdoor learning. Even if you do not have these types of spaces, I still encourage you to get outside with your kids. The fresh air, the possibilities, the engagement... it's well worth your time.

Some tips for making it happen:
1. Don't wait for the perfect lesson, just grab your notebooks and pens and head outside.

2. Build the anticipation, let students know ahead of times so they look forward to going outside.

3. Set guidelines BEFORE you head out. Perimeters, behavior and how long you'll stay out.
(A big one for us is NO HUGE BRANCHES. Sounds crazy, but we have a lot of trees which leads to lots of branch sword fights o_0)

4. Bring all supplies outside. Keep it simple: notebook and writing utensil.

5. Once students find their item or cover their objective have them sit and write, write, write. Being in nature can be so inspiring and altering for young writers. Just being outdoors while writing is very powerful.

Don't forget to relax and have fun! 

I'm challenging all of you to get outdoors for learning this week. It doesn't matter what subject area or for how long, just get outside and see where it takes your learning. Use this hashtag so we can all follow along: #OutdoorLearners
 Happy Writing!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

First Week of 4th Grade!

School started on Thursday of this week after an Open House Tuesday night. ALL of my kids in my homeroom came to Open House where I had the chance to meet them AND their parents or guardians. After leaving Tuesday night, I knew we were ready for a great year!

This post will be a Frankenstein's Monster of pictures and reflections! Enjoy!

My husband took an idea I had and brought it to life by making me this Signpost!
 I did the writing on the boards, but everything else was all him and I'm obsessed with how it turned out.

I wanted my classroom door to reflect what we will be working on when it comes to building a classroom reading community. I added the "spines" of the books I read this summer and as students finish books in class, they will add the spines to the "bookshelves" on the door. I can't wait to see this filled up as the year goes on.

I have some great colleagues in 4th grade this year. They came up with the idea of doing some sort of social media board in our hall and then after a few discussions and some Pinterest browsing, we came up with this. Our Math teacher did all the labor on this one and I loved how her idea came to life. We will change out hashtags and photos, stories and drawings as the year goes on.

Our classroom library is the epicenter of the room and two days in, it is already getting a lot of use! We have gathered here to share stories this week and a lot of people gravitate to this area to work. 

Our first teacher day was Monday and it left me finally feeling prepared to start the school year. I didn't make it up to school as much as I usually do to prepare, but things went off without a hitch. After two days of schedule tweeking and getting used to my new daily duty as the Social Media Director (LOL) I think we finally might be in a groove for next week!

So, two years ago when I first went to fourth, I started chatting with my now reading bff, Lisa from Fourth and Ten. She was so helpful that first fourth grade year and gave me lots of ideas and support. She is the one who encouraged me to read Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna in the first days of school. We read the book and then did her Toothpaste Words activity to go along with it. We talked about how the toothpaste is like the feathers from the story. Once they are out, it's hard to get them back. This is always a hit each year (this is my third year doing it) and it leaves a lasting impression. It also proved as an excellent connection to Each Kindness, which I shared on Friday and we will do an activity with that Monday. I'll be sure to share.

I think taking the time to share these stories and build this community makes a huge difference!

Speaking of our community, the last book we shared for the week was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. This book was shared with me from another friend, a third grade teacher in my building. We read the book and then watched the video. We talked about how books can help you escape reality and make you feel lots of different emotions. One student even added: 
"A book a day keeps reality away." Nailed it.

A little reflection: These kiddos feel like babies compared to the big bad 6th graders I just let go mere months ago. They are so cute, kind and SWEET. They are so sweet! I am loving my time with them already and I know this year will be the best yet. I am so excited to get back to work on Monday.

I hope everyone had a great start to the 2015-2016 school year. If you're not back yet, I encourage you to think about really spending some time with your kids during the first couple of weeks to get to know them and build a strong classroom community. You will reap the benefits all year!

Monday, August 10, 2015

2015 #PB10for10

I'm participating in this year's Picture Book 10 for 10 on 8/10! Since this is my first year participating, and my fourth year teaching, I decided to do a theme. I'm doing Picture Book a Day in my 4th grade classroom this Fall, so I think this time next year, I will have so many more picture books under my belt and I may have a more "I can't live without these books" list.

Make sure you check the hashtag on Twitter to see the posts from everyone.
If you are participating, you will have already joined the Google Group, so the posts will be available to you there. Enough talk, here we go! 

I decided to focus on my first 10 read alouds for this upcoming school year! This goes perfectly in hand with #classroombookaday because I have been getting together books and trying to piece them in at the right times. I don't know if this will remain final (I am an Indecisive Gemini), but we'll see. 

Here are my books and why I chose them.

This book was introduced to me by a colleague (Thanks Jess!) and I have read it to my kids ever since. There is an amazing YouTube video that goes along with it. The kids love the book and video each year. I find that it gives us a great jumping off point for the school year. The kids wonder, think and decide what happened in the story. Some kids pick up on the deeper metaphor the story presents. Whatever a student thinks, I know that they are already engaging in deep analysis of a picture book, day one. The music in the video is magical and I always end up crying. If you haven't read this one, get it right away!

Let me first say that I love Peter Brown's illustrations. If you do not know his books, please fix this dilemma. He will quickly become a favorite! I live in the same community where I teach, so this one is a perfect hit for me. My kids do often see me outside of school. I work hard to develop relationships with my kids and this is a great sidekick for me at the beginning of the year. Your teacher is a little hard on you, but just because she loves you? Sounds like me. See you at Kroger!

I love Loren Long, and she's the illustrator of this beautiful book. This book was recommending to me by one of my dearest teacher friends, Lisa, from Fourth And Ten! She has a great beginning of year activity that goes along with it called Toothpaste Words. The lesson in this book is powerful and very good for my big kids to hear in those first few days of school. I started using Lisa's idea of sharing this three years ago, and I think it's one that I will continue to keep on hand.

This book has quickly becoming one of my favorite books of the year! The message is one that all kids can identify with. Be who you are! Use your imagination and go places. I can't wait to share this with my incoming 4th graders! Added bonus, the illustrations are so whimsical.

I mean, if you love Mr. Schu then you love Nana and Lauren Castillo. This book touched my heart and will be the perfect book to share with kids at the beginning of a new year. Maybe you have some kids who are new, maybe you have some kids that will be spending their first year in the big bad 4/5 hallway, whatever the case, this story will help kids explore the unfamiliar.

I am working on getting some great Non-Fiction picture books into my classroom library this year. I have really started buying NF picture books and this one will be a great one to share with kids in August. The illustrations are so interesting and I'm hoping that this PB Biography gets my Students talking!

How can you NOT start the year sharing the Best Smelling Book of 2014??
Doesn't Sam and Dave Dig a Hole teach us so much about life? I love the conversations the kids have after reading this book. So many great themes come up and I am obsessed with Mac&Jon anyways. The combination of these two guys together.... Perfect. Also, be sure to share the  Book Trailer for this one before you read it. It's pretty amazing.

Speaking of the amazing Jon Klassen... Are you Team Bear or Team Rabbit? That's the question... The kids will love this story and it's one you will hear them talking about long after the story is over. I Want My Hat Back also has a great Book Trailer on Candlewick's YouTube site.

Is it obvious that I am a sucker for great illustrations? This book has some magnificent drawings that really draw the reader in. This too, is another book that celebrates creativity and imagination. I love to nurture those things in my kids and this book is so powerful in showing students that.

This book is so fantastic to help us keep with that creative vein and learn more about Genius Hour. We talk about ideas and how they start small and have the potential to grow into something huge. Helping students see that the idea process takes work and mistakes and dedication is a great thing to bring into focus at the start of the year. Growth Mindset!

There you have it, my 2015 #pb10for10. I'm going to check out all the other posts and hopefully I won't go broke after seeing the fabulous picture book suggestions!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Global Read Aloud 2015: Fish in a Tree (#GRA15, #GRAFIAT)

Pernille Ripp started an amazing thing called The Global Read Aloud. You can find more information on the initiative here at the website! Sign up on the website while you're there!

Comment below if your class will be joining, I would love to connect. We are hoping to tweet a lot and connect with classrooms through the FIAT Edmodo Group.

I am participating again this year with my 4th Grade Class and I know the kids will be just as excited as me when they find out we're reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt!

Fish in a Tree is a #heartprintbook for me. I believe that every Educator should read and learn from Ally and Mr. Daniels. If you want to read my review about FIAT, check it out here at the Nerdy Book Club!

Here's the Chapter Outline for Fish in a Tree:

Week 1:  Chapter 1 – 8
Week 2: Chapter 9 – 17
Week 3: Chapter 18 – 24
Week 4: Chapter 25 – 33
Week 5: Chapter 34 – 42
Week 6: Chapter 43 – end
Start Date
October 5th
On the website you will also find a handout to send home with students, a tools handout and a FAQ handout. All of the resources you need are there. Be sure to sign up so you'll be ready to go in October!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Scheduling Your Reading Block

I always get a lot of questions about how I schedule my ELA Block. I've been working on this post for awhile, and I'm hoping it proves to be helpful for some of you who are new teachers and for those who need to revamp your current schedule. I am getting more into the Workshop Model this year, so this is a thing that is subject to change for me;
as always you have to do what works best for you and your kids!

I've broken this post down into steps in hopes that it will help you plan out your own schedule. At the end of the post, I'll share a Schedule Freebie that I made and adapted for my classroom needs. 
If you have any questions, please post them below.

Decide first what you are not willing to give up. What does that mean to you? For me, first and foremost it's choice and time for Independent Reading. My kids get 20-30 minutes a day and this never gets shaved or omitted. UNLESS THERE'S A FIRE.

A Student reads in the Recycling Bin during Flashlight Friday

Two Students share Victoria Jameson's Roller Girl during Independent Reading Time

Students get cozy in the library area

Conferences are also very important to me during this time: this is when (at the beginning of the year, I get to know my kids and their interests) I talk with students about reading. If you are intentional during this part, you cut out the guesswork in who is reading and who hasn't found the right book yet. Touch base with students and find a schedule that works for you!

This year I simply kept track of who I met with and when to make sure I was meeting with everyone. This year, I'm working on a more detailed system that will help guide the next conference with each student. It's a work in progress and you have to find something that is EASY and EFFECTIVE.

I hope you read out loud to your kids! There is so much research suggesting that Read Aloud is a vital part to our older kids learning, too! I love to use short stories, articles, blog posts and picture books to guide mini-lessons. You're also letting students HEAR a fluent reader and it's a great time to model reader thinking! Plus, who doesn't love being read to??

The moment when I connected a CCSS strand to Independent Reading :)

While I may not be the Common Core's biggest fan, those are the standards my district follows and I do like having a sort of Blueprint for what my kids should know. I like to tie my daily standard to the mini-lesson and talk with kids about applying it to whatever they're reading for IR. Works for us!

Another non-negotiable for each day is Writing about Reading. Last year, I started using Reading Response Letters and I loved the outcome. We also wrote to Authors, wrote Book Reviews and recommended books to our friends. This year, I'm looking to get other outlets involved. We will be blogging, tweeting, skyping Authors and writing RR Letters to help share what we are reading.

Decide what you would not want cut from your day and go from there!

If you use a Workshop Model most of the things included in Step One should be revisited here. Make plans, schedule out your Read Alouds and have Mini-Lessons ready to go. This is the set that I am heavily working on this school year! I am researching great children's books to help me (gently) teach the CCSS. I'm working on Mini-Lessons that are planned and organized and ready to start the year.

If you're looking for something to help with Reflections at the end of Workshop, this is something I'll be using this school year!
Find them here in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store!

Some things come up and there's nothing we can do about it. Don't all teachers have the middle name, Flexible? We have to be ready to move things around at the last minute and adapt to our always changing days. I've found that keeping yourself organized really helps here. Make sure you keep a Teacher Planner or Binder and as you get emails write down dates and times for meetings and schedule changes. I also keep a desk calendar on my desk and that helps me keep organized, too!

Keep track of Book Release Dates to help build anticipation with Students!

Use binders or some other filing system that works for you!
Covers and Spines are from Joey Udovich

I'm a big fan of Erin Condren, but again, you have to use what works for you. I have a Life Planner, Notebook and Teacher Lesson Planner. When school is in, I use all three almost daily!
My Notebook helps keep my ideas organized and in one place.

My Teacher Lesson Planner keeps all of my grades, contacts, plans and schedules in one place. It's also easy to pick up and take to meetings.

Keep all of those schedules and pop-up changes at bay whichever way is best for you!

I just did a post on Student Accountability during Workshop and/or Independent Reading Time. It goes with my post about setting up your Reading Notebook. I use a two main things to keep kids "accountable" for their time: conferences and reader's notebook forms from Reading in the Wild.

If you are conferring with students on a regular basis, you KNOW if they are reading during IR time. If you see that they've been on the same book for a really long time, talk about it. If you see that they need to sample more genres, talk about it. TALK TO YOUR KIDS! Get to know them so you can build a strong relationship and ultimately classroom community. You can start giving them recommendations, because guess what? When you're looking for books you'll be reminded of your kids! You start to learn their tastes and what genres they love. Nurture that reading love!

Have students keep track of their reading lives, just like real readers do.
Maybe not all readers keep a reading notebook, but guess what? I'm a reader. I leave reviews for books, I make plans to read books, I keep a mile long wish list on Amazon and I jump on Twitter and Good Reads updating page by page as I'm reading a great book! Teach your kids how to do the things that real readers do. Reading in the Wild has all the forms you could need for this part. Our key components are Status of the Class, Books I've Read, TBR (to be read) List, and our Genre Chart where we start to see our habits and tastes on paper in a nice visual format. Encourage kids to read widely throughout different genres. You will have kids that love graphic novels, or realistic fiction, or non-fiction. Don't discourage them because they show preferences, that's what real readers do. The 40 Book Challenge helps encourage kids to sample different genres without being a jerk about it. Guess what, there's no one to tell me to stop reading the heck out of Graphic Novels, and I'm still a reader, a functioning reader with good comprehension skills.
Like Donalyn says "All readers are valued, all reading is valuable."

Leave me now and go read this book if you haven't yet.

This is an area of personal improvement for me. I'll be attending the Scholastic Reading Summit next week and I'm going to a session about Troubleshooting Conferences. Notice where you need help, and then get the help you need to be better for your kids.

This last step has some other important considerations... Everyone will want to look over these and see if any are factors in your schedule. We all have different amounts of time to work with, again, do what will be best for your situation and your kids!

Okay, now, it is with great caution that I share with you the time I get for ELA. This year, I will have two hours a day with my students to teach Reading and Writing. Before you start drinking HATERADE, just remember that each district is different and I recognize that I am very lucky to have the class time that I do... 

With that being said, my schedule is going to look different than yours! My recommendations are this: Keep a Read Aloud and Mini-Lesson and then do Independent Reading... If I only had 60 minutes that is what I would do with it. 30 minutes for each. I would also recommend using the mock schedule where one week you have a Reading Focus and the next is a Writing Focus. Every week will be filled with both subjects, but one week you may be doing reading mini-lessons and the next it will be writing.

This was my schedule last year (this year, I get a little less time):

I would like to share a schedule I use that was adapted from a Reading in the Wild (see, Mrs. Riedmiller is to Reading in the Wild as Mr. Schu is to Kate DiCamillo) Book Study last summer. I took someone's schedule (one that was originally a sample in Donalyn's book) and made it work for me with the addition of Genius Hour, because I LOVE GENIUS HOUR. :)

Enjoy and I would love to hear some feedback. Also, kudos to you if you made it through this very long-winded post! I hope it helps you in the classroom.