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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Reading List

I couldn't help but join the other fabulous bloggers at Clutter Free Classroom in their Summer Reading List Linky party!  Go check them out and join up yourself- it's painless :)

Clutter-Free Classroom

This is my summer reading list!

There are a TON of school books in there...normally I don't like to be tied down during the summer but this summer I am making an exception!  

I have the opportunity to spend the last week of June training with Anita Archer- so Explicit Instruction will be the first book that I read this summer.

Jonathan Kozol is a favorite of mine and I have been re-reading Letters to A Young Teacher bit by bit throughout this school year.  I will finish it during the summer though- so it counts as a summer read!

When Teaching Gets Tough was passed out by my principal with the expectation that we would read it this summer.  I know nothing about this book- it doesn't even have any amazon reviews! So, if you know about this book, leave me a comment! :)

I have wanted to read The Courage to Teach for a while and I am thinking that this summer will be my year.  "This book is for teachers who have good days and bad — and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts, because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life." — Parker J. Palmer [from the Introduction]

The other three are on my "if I get the chance" summer reading list.  I have them and I want to read them but, like I said, I don't like to be tied down in the summer!

Here is what I probably will read instead

I LOVE Terry Pratchett and I am a bit of a nerd about it.  After our wedding my husband and I had to drive the 36 + hours from Michigan to Washington and we listened to me- reading Terry Pratchett out-loud- the WHOLE trip! :)  It is one of my favorite memories and every summer I add at least another Terry Pratchett book to my repertoire.  There are a TON of them so it isn't difficult.  Terry Pratchett writes parody fantasy books- as in, the books follow the "rules" of fantasy but he does it in a hilarious way.  He has this whole Discworld collection of books where he invented this whole universe and many of the characters pop up in each others books.  I am terrible at describing Terry Pratchett but if you are looking for something to read that will make you laugh in the vain of Douglas Adams or Neil Gaiman then I highly recommend it! 

Okay- now your turn! Go link up! :)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Conferences Round 2

Well, I only have 17 days left of school and yet I have not had my second round of conferences.  They are scheduled for next week.  In my opinion, holding conferences at this point in the school year is a waste.  Most of the kids and many of the parents have already checked out for the summer and what I accomplish during these conferences could easily be accomplished during an open house...but, since the district wants conferences, conferences I must provide! :)  That is where this comes into the picture:

I tried something a little different this time around.  I developed the idea last year but this year I jazzed it up a bit more!  We hold "student led conferences" and so third graders are supposed to talk to their parents for 30 minutes about school...it- just- doesn't- happen.  So, instead of doing the more traditional binders or power point presentations, we made a poster with different foldables!  The kids had a BLAST making them and I thought that their reflections on their strengths and challenges this school year were especially poignant.  It could easily work for an end of the school year activity so those of you who are "lucky" to still be going strong- go ahead and use it :)

We started with a poster sized paper and the students glued the circular My Scores Sheet to the center.  Then, each day we worked on a different foldable.  I only did 5 because we only worked on it for a week and we did one foldable a day.  My class is METICULOUS so we had to focus on only one a day if we wanted to go home! * (Anecdote in a footnote)

The first one we did was Our Favorite Book brochure.  We just tri-folded the paper, designed a cover, wrote a summary on the inside and on the last flap explained why it was our favorite book and why we recommend it!

Then we worked on reading- and listed our strengths, challenges and goals for fourth grade.
*I am not good at summaries. They push me down instead of pull me up.* TEAR!
We did the same thing for math
Then we wrote about our favorite third grade memory.  They had to really narrow it down because we were writing on the number 3 cut outs.

Finally we made our summer bucket lists.  The picked three things to put in their bucket.  I asked for two to help their brain grow and one could be whatever they wanted.

So there you have it! Fun and easy posters that they will take home with them after conferences and can keep as long as their little hearts desire!

*I wanted to share this anecdote but didn't want to interrupt my planned post.  My school does not have  an art class or art teacher however, we have a paraeducator who comes around every third day and leads an arts and crafts activity in your classroom so that each teacher has common planning time with their grade level.  It is so wonderful that my principal worked out this schedule but sometimes our art paras can be a little... ANYWAY, the other day we had art and my kiddos were SLOWLY working on their project (like I said, they are meticulous) and I could see that the art leader was getting frustrated by their pace.  She came around to a group of my darlings and said "You don't have to be so fussy. It's not that important." To which my darlings said "Shouldn't everything we do at school be important?" HAHAHA LOL, sometimes I truly love 9 year olds!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Success! :)

Wohoo! I have no tips nor tricks to share with you today, just a sweet story of success! I have one ADORABLE little guy in my class with autism.  He is a charmer and I quickly fell in love with him but one thing I didn't fall in love with was his refusal/temper tantrum anytime the class was going to play a game.  We WORKED on getting him to participate and by January he was participating...but I still wasn't happy! He would participate but if he didn't win, he would get very angry and lash out and the other kiddos.  So we WORKED on being a good sport and today, we turned the corner! My little guy "lost" on a multiplication game we were playing and he walked over to his partner, shook his hand, said "good game" and then gave him a hug! OH MY WORD! It was probably the cutest thing ever and knowing how hard we WORKED to get to that point brought a tear to my eye!

Thanks for letting me share, I know y'all could relate! :)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Another One Bites the Dust Linky!

I have decided to join up with Amber at Adventures of a Third Grade Teacher to share my reflections of this year! You should too, it's easy! All you have to do is reflect on three things that went well and three things that you hope to improve next year.  So here are my reflections from this school year:

The Good

  • Using data to inform instruction.  This year I finally feel like I got the whole data thing down.  Understanding what to do with all the assessments we have to give can be overwhelming.  This year my team and I decided to focus on what assessments we *really* need to look at deeply and which we can use for reference or a quick snapshot.  Choosing one benchmark assessment that is administered three times a year helped to focus me as a teacher.  I was excited by the growth I was able to see in all of the students- including kiddos that were high to begin with- and I felt like my direct instruction and small group instruction had a laser focus.  I will definitely be doing that again next year!
  • Working with my team.  I have a small team of three third grade teachers but in the last 4 years my one teammate and I have had a cycle of one year teachers or substitutes.  This enables my one teammate and I to bond closely but it was difficult for the person in the third position.  This year we found the Curly to our Larry and Mo and she has already signed her contract for next year! I cannot tell you how having that perfect fit team has helped me grow as a teacher.  We have collaborated on aligning instruction to student needs, we share students if we know one of us can give them the best instruction and we have a blast doing it!
  • Math journals.  I have already blogged about them twice before so I will spare the explanation but I am proud that I wanted to try something and I just went out and did it! I have some things I want to improve with them next year but overall they have been a success!
Okay...now onto the bad...err, I mean, what I will improve next year
  • Daily 5.  I read the Daily 5 book last summer and I was very excited to put it to action in the classroom.  Then, things just popped up- I couldn't tell you what caused me to put it on the back burner, but I did.  I signed up for a Daily 5 and Cafe training in June and I am hoping to get some more information to help me impliment it because I still believe in the ideas.  I ended up doing a mix between Daily 5 and workshops or centers which went well but didn't give the kids the choice that appealed to me in Daily 5.
  • Parent communication.  I talk with my parents but it isn't consistent.  I want to do a better job of calling or e-mailing with the positives or funny anecdotes for them about their child.  I hope to find a log or documentation system I can use next year to help keep me accountable.
  • Lesson planning.  I have so many ideas running through my head that I can't keep them straight.  What I should do is write detailed lesson plans so that I can slot them in.  Instead, I walk into school that morning and just decide to do something totally different.  Most days, my lesson plans don't even make sense.  I don't know about you but I have to turn in my lesson plans, so they are written I just probably wont be doing what I wrote in the plan book! UGH- that was my major frustration this year and I hope to be more organized next year!
So that's it, the good and the bad of my 2011-12 school year.  The group I get next year I will have for 2 years so I really want to get all my kinks worked out and then be a rock star! :)

Don't forget to join the linky yourself :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Peer Observations

So, today was an eye-opening day for me as a teacher.  I had the privilege of observing my teammates as well as the current 2nd grade teachers and a couple of the first grade teachers!

Here is a little video that explains some of the thought process behind peer observations

I need to preface this post by saying that not *everyone* was on-board with the peer observation idea.  In fact, some teachers were shakin' in their boots a lil' bit!  We had to do it on a voluntary basis as well, so some teachers did say that they didn't want me or my third grade teamies to come in and observe them and we were respectful of that.

Okay, now that I got that off my chest :), let me tell you how wonderful it was!  First of all, I spent the morning observing my two teammates.  I have been with one of them for four years and she is a master teacher.  I had the privilege of observing her during my first year of teaching and she has helped me out in so many ways.  It was interesting to see how even though she has taught for 20+ years, she has changed and grown in the 4 years since I last observed her.  It was also funny to see some of the ways that my teaching style has rubbed off on her and vice versa!  My other teammate is a new teacher who subbed for 6 years before finding her forever home.  She is one of the funniest people I have ever met and you can see her personality all over the classroom.  She has a tough group and I was amazed to see how she  dealt with some of the more difficult kiddos with such humor!

Since it is towards the end of the year we decided that we would focus our observations on classroom environment and community.  It took the pressure off of us to create a fancy pants lesson to impress and instead we were just able to be normal!  I would suggest that if you are planning on observing peers and you have someone who might be shy or nervous, find one of the areas of teaching that they are most proud of and decide to focus on that!

Another takeaway I got from this experiment is that teachers WANT to learn from each other and they want constructive feedback.  I had so many meaningful conversations today that I would never have had if I hadn't had the opportunity to see a teacher in their "natural habitat."  I made sure that before I left each room I said thank you and gave some positive feedback to the teacher in that room.  That feedback sparked so many neat- yeah but I really want to improve ______________ conversations that I could have spent a whole day with each teacher!

I was left today feeling so positive about what is happening at my school and feeling like I got so many more ideas from visiting a few classrooms in my building than I would have if I had attended some fancy pants training.  If you ever get the opportunity to learn from the teachers in your own building- take it- it is worth it!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Math Journals pt. 2

Since posting about my rudimentary math journals the first time- I've had quite a few visitors to this little blog.  It has helped me to be more reflective about my adventure into math journaling this year and start planning for next year!

Here are few pictures of what is included in our journals:
We incorporate our math vocabulary
We store our multiplication table and our flash cards
We make foldables to enhance our understanding
We paste our wordle creations
We copy our anchor charts
We create graphic organizers
We solve problems!

Basically, we do all of our concept work in these journals.  It has been so much fun diving into math journaling.  In the years past I have stuck to the Everyday Math curriculum and haven't deviated from it.  This year I have seen a big difference in my students.  First of all, their understanding of math vocabulary is amazing!  Even with third graders we usually struggle with reading and understanding the connection between certain math words.  I am so proud of how my group this year has taken responsibility for the vocabulary themselves.  When there is a word they don't understand- they are so ready to stop and figure it out instead of just attempting a problem (like I usually saw).  I also see that their number sense has improved.  I'll never forget my first year of teaching third grade- I went through the whole unit on fractions and then we looked at fractions on the number line in our classroom- and I had a student ask me if fractions were like real numbers? As in, fractions belong in the same group as the numbers I have seen all year on the number line? I was shocked.  This year I am continually amazed at their ability to work through new concepts on their own.  We were working on fractions on a number line and I had my trusty lesson ready to go- when I showed them the number line and asked if they could find any fractions on it, they had a million!  There went my lesson-but I had them journal about it instead!

Next year I will teach 2nd grade and I want to start my littles on math journaling right away.  I can only imagine the quality of their journals when I loop with them to third grade! I am sure that they will rise to the occasion but I keep wondering about what exactly second graders are capable of in the beginning of the school year.  So, all my first and second grade teachers, what can I expect from them? How do you use journals?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why I became a Teacher

It is teacher appreciation week! I am excited, even though my school doesn't do anything to celebrate.  I usually like to take time this week to reflect on why I became a teacher.  I thought I would share my journey with you and if you are so moved, I would love to hear all of your paths to teaching!

**Edited to link up with 3-6 Free Resources and their Show Me Sunday Linky!

I come from a family of teachers.  My dad is a vocational arts teacher in a very tough middle/high school just outside of Detroit.  My mom is a preschool teacher. My older brother is a teacher.  I was certain that I would never be a teacher!  I always enjoyed learning and I was an avid baby-sitter when I was young, but  I liked goofing around with kids, and I knew enough from my parents to know that being a teacher didn't have much to do with goofing around!  I also didn't like school very much.  You never would have known it- I tried to keep it a secret- but I didn't like my teachers! I knew that it was rude of me not to like them and I wanted to do well in school, so I pretended.  I wasn't the type to draw pictures for my teachers or bring them little tokens of my affection.  I just came to school, was quiet, did all of my work and was respectful.  I did well through high school and then went to college where I did well but I didn't know what I was going to do when I graduated.  I had my first thoughts of teaching when I was fortunate enough to work in an orphanage in Peru.  Even then, my thoughts were of travel and not teaching so I explored teach abroad opportunities that didn't require a teaching certificate- but it wasn't right for me.

Then I took a job as a nanny.  It was a difficult job for me, not because of the little boy that I was in charge of, but because I struggled in my relationship with his mom.  This little boy was in kindergarten and just going through the process of being diagnosed with autism.  It was a stressful time for his family and since I was the one with him most often, I was the one who received the brunt of the stress.  He definitely had major sensory issues that caused him to lash out at school.  When I first began working for the family,  he went to a private school attending half-day kindergarten.  His teacher used a microphone in the classroom, when she was asked not to use it because of the sensory issues my little guy was having, she refused.  It was disheartening to see how this school and this teacher could so overlook a child that needed her.  I would pick my little guy up from school everyday and everyday I would get the same negative report.  I truly felt like he couldn't do anything right at this school and he and I were both miserable!  After a couple of months at the private school, he was kicked out because he hit the teacher.  It was a sad day for my little guy and his whole family but they decided to send him to the public school near their house and they asked me to attend school with him everyday as a *volunteer* in the classroom.  This is where I first thought seriously about being a teacher.  My little guy had an amazing kindergarten teacher.  She was so accommodating to him- and in allowing me to be in the classroom all day!  He was allowed to stand up and move around when he needed to, he was allowed to complete his work in a marker which felt more comfortable in his hands, she spoke softly to him and didn't get angry or take it personally when he had his meltdowns.  The problem was that even though his teacher was fantastic, the principal and specialist teachers weren't quite so accommodating.  One day when my little guy was in art class (I stayed in the classroom to help the teacher) he had a meltdown.  No one really knows why, but he did.  He ran from the classroom and ran out of the school.  I saw him running and called him back into the building- only to have the principal run out in front of me and grab him in a very forceful way.  Putting your hands on him when he was in that anxious state wasn't the best idea and so he started to try and squirm and pull away.  This only caused her to put him in to full restraint.  I stood there and watched him and I saw the way his teacher was able to stand down the principal and calm down the little guy who was so shaken and upset and I though- I have to do this.  I have to be a teacher.  I have to be there to help all the other little guys/girls that come into my classroom because every child is special and every child needs a little special something to get them through the day.  So now I am a teacher in a high poverty school where I can be the positive spot in a little person's life and I love every minute of it (most of the time)!

*phew* That was a long (and dramatic) post! I would love to hear how everyone else decided to become a teacher- leave a comment or make your own post! Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Friday, May 4, 2012

My (root) word wall

Ugh* I am home sick today.  I have been feeling yucky all week but powering through- getting up, heading to school, immediately coming home and falling right to sleep! I finally decided that I might just need to take a day.  Luckily for me, my favorite sub was already in the building yesterday so I just ran over and asked her if she was busy- she wasn't- and I showed her quickly what to do and I didn't even have to write sub plans! Wooohooo!

I have been meaning to join the Word Wall Linky hosted by Jen over at The Teacher's Cauldron but as I said, I've been sleeping too much! Now that I am home resting, I finally have the chance to link up!

**Please excuse the quality of the photos- my camera broke so I will be using my phone camera for a while :(

This is the full shot of my word wall.  I like that I have everything I need posted BUT it makes it difficult for the kids to physically work with the words once they are posted.  I need a ladder to reach the top row!

This word wall is using a new strategy (for me) this year.  I post the greek/latin root and meaning and then the kiddos create the word wall cards with the specific words we study.
Here is a closer view!
While studying a greek/latin root (1 per week) we focus on 10/11 words that use that root.  So we have duplicates of some of the cards.  We look at all of the cards and then vote on the ones that will truly help us remember what the word/root means.  During the week the kids use wordle to create word clouds of the root words, they search for other words that use the root we are studying, and they write sentences using the words.  It is fairly basic because this is the first year I have tried anything like this.  As a building we decided to focus on greek and latin roots in 4th and 5th grade but I joined the 4th and 5th grade teams with the 3rd graders so that next year we could continue to build.

Here are some of the resources I used to help me get started!