Sunday, July 5, 2015

Creating Cultures of Thinking

Image result for summertime quotes

Sweet, sweet summer.
I have never been more ready for it! It was been quite a school year.
    Running nonstop has left little time for writing on this little blog.  I'm finally getting a chance to look backward and reflect a bit on this past year.
I will be doing some "Year in Review" posts as I look at what I tried that worked and what I tried that flopped. Although I've been teaching 20+ years, there is still so much to learn.

Along with looking backwards, I also am super excited about what is to come. 
I feel the tide turning...change is coming. 
Here is one of the books I am reading this summer: 

School systems across the country have made it their mission to "educate students in being college and career ready". It is posted on district websites and forms the basis of why we do what we do. It sounds good, but what does that mean and how do we really achieve that goal? When we analyze testing data and confront the obstacles to student success, we often hear ourselves complaining that students just don't know how to think these days. It is easy to divert responsibility to parents who are too busy or a society which doesn't respect education, but the blame game is a waste of time and energy and gets us nowhere.

That's why I'm so excited about this new book, Ritchart helps us explore how we can create dynamic learning communities that will take student thinking and learning to a new level.
It offers a compelling vision for what classroom learning could become.  This powerful book has me feeling hopeful and inspired and  most importantly, really believing that classroom teaching and learning can be life changing for our students and teachers.
Are you looking to get recharged and refocused this summer? I highly recommend this book!

In thinking about how to develop a classroom community where we develop this culture of thinking, here's a children's book that I plan on using to launch "Problem Solving Partner Time" next year.
It's a quick, silly story about a boy who gets his kite stuck in a tree and has to solve the problem of how to get it down.

In this book, the boy throws his shoe up to knock the kite down and his shoe gets stuck. He then throws all kinds of other crazy things up and they all get stuck.
This storyline lends itself to a discussion of what students can do when they get "stuck" when problem solving and how it is important to be flexible in thinking and not rely on just one strategy. We will talk about how some third grade thinking and learning is hard and we all will get stuck sometimes but it is OK.  We will talk about the importance of sharing our thinking and how we can learn from each other.

Anyone else reading Cultures of Thinking? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

Thanks to Brian Johnson for highlighting Third Grade Thinkers on the new Elementary School Blogs site.  Check out this webpage for more inspiration from other teacher blogs.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday's Words for the Week

We are coming upon testing week. I dread it. Check out Peter Reynold's The Testing Camera as a reminder that "the test" is but a snapshot and can never fully measure a child's true potential. Our students are so much more than that number on that paper.

From Peter H. Reynolds “This is my gift to educators to remind them to follow their instincts and remember why they got into teaching in the first place: to see the potential in every child, to nurture those emerging gifts and talents, and to change lives.”

Thank you, Peter!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rigorous Reading and the Vocabulary Notebook

This EXCELLENT book was the focus of my book club study last month.  The writing team of Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher wrote this one.  In this book they outline 5 access points that lead to a deeper, more critical understanding of complex text.  
We all loved how practical this book was and we are finding it easy to apply these key  ideas in our own classrooms. 
Image result for rigorous reading
Frey and Fisher have included QR Codes that link directly to an internet site for video clips of teachers using these strategies in real classrooms.  Although it was geared to those teaching Common Core Standards, we all found it applied well to the more rigorous Virginia Reading SOL expectations.
I'll be blogging in more detail about the ideas introduced in this book.   So check back!
Frey and Fisher caution teachers not to just use quantitative factors (Reading Level) when reviewing a text for use.  They suggest we assess a text's qualitative factors as well.  These include a text's purpose, structure, language conventions and knowledge demands.  One of these qualitative aspects that makes text rigorous is vocabulary knowledge.

We have spent considerable time working on monitoring for meaning in my third grade class. Students need to be held accountable for thinking as they more word plowing, as we like to call it. You know, pushing through the story, calling words but not understanding any of it. 

We monitor for meaning using the terms "Click and Clunk".  Clicking means students are getting what they read and it makes sense to them.  

Clunking means they don't get it....the text is not making sense.  Good readers don't keep plowing through the words if they clunk.  They do something about it. They use some sort of fix up strategy.  
I'm finding more and more that sometimes students clunk because they don't understand the words.  Our English Language Learner group is growing and limited word knowledge is getting in the way of their academic success. 

We work on vocabulary daily.  Here is the Vocabulary Vault that hangs near by shared reading space. This picture was taken early in the year, when we just started our collection.  Now, our vault contains many more words.  My students are always on the lookout for "pizazzy" words. We will stop as I read aloud to them to word solve a meaning of an unknown word and then add it to a post it note and stick it in the vault.  Students refer to this wall chart all the time. 
Another way we tend to vocabulary, is more formally, with our vocabulary notebooks. 
Prior to a whole group or shared reading, I will present a couple of words that they will come 
across in the text.  I pick words that will help them grow their reading, writing and speaking vocabularies.  Experts in the field would call these Tier 2 words. 
I always start with pictures. Here is a presentation of the word: tremble.

I teach the word's pronunciation, syllabication,  and part of speech.
Then we enter it all into our Vocabulary Journals.

We define it by using a kid friendly, simple definition.
We draw it, using a simple sketch.
We explain it, using synonyms and antonyms or other related words.
We use it, writing a sentence with the word.

 These vocabulary journals can become part of a reading round or station during guided reading times. Students can play games with these words or practice using them in Seven Up Sentences.

You can head here to pick up your free download of the vocabulary notebook pages. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Teaching With Props: The Story Souvenir Suitcase

After two months of no snow, we finally got a full fledged snowstorm coming our way!  
I get a chance to catch my breath and catch up on a blogpost. 
I have blogged before about this book by Dave Burgess.  It is my "go to" book for those times in the year when I feel my energy and enthusiasm waning (like right about now). 
I read it and then suddenly I feel the need to go teach somebody something somewhere. 
It's delightfully inspiring and such an easy, fun read.  Plus it's pirate you can imagine you are out in the south Pacific somewhere....

More recently, he and his wife have collaborated on this fabulous picture book for teachers. 
 Do you have a student teacher?  Get them this book, it would make a great gift. 
Super adorable.

Product Details

Dave Burgess writes about the importance of engagement.  He makes a point of  using hooks and props to capture students' attention. This year I brought out a hook from my long ago preschool teaching days...

The Story Souvenir Suitcase.  

I used to fill it with little props related to a theme or story we were getting ready to read.  
This year I decided to dust it off and use it with my third graders. They are not too old for this kind of stuff...they eat it up. 
Much to my delight it did just what I intended it to. 
It grabbed them by their little brains and got them to attend, listen and even better than that,
 it got them to THINK. 

Here is my suitcase. 
 It is actually my husband's father's suitcase. It is a bit beat up and even smells old and musty.   All part of the intrigue, it lured them in from the get go.  I introduced them to the idea of the story souvenir suitcase at the very beginning of the year when we were just starting to share books together. We talked about how cool it is to read a book, how you can get lost in it, how books can take you somewhere else for a while. To this day, someone will comment on how they felt like they  "left the room" during our book nook time - like they were in the book. Isn't that what we want reading to be for our kids.  
Then I told them that I had a wonderful book to share with them and that inside the suitcase were souvenirs from the story....items that would give them clues as to who they might meet in the story (characters), where they might go (setting) and what might happen (plot).
I popped open the suitcase to reveal the book and we talked about what we could predict from the title and cover illustration.  Then I pulled out each item and students shared predictions about how each item might show up in the story and why it may be important. 

This was my Stuart Goes to School Suitcase.  Souvenirs from this story included... a cape, ties, a toy school bus, a barrette, a muffin and a boys pass.  
Students had all kinds of predictions and questions regarding these items and they were all tuned it to the reading to find out the answers.  They got super excited when the souvenir showed up in the story. 

The suitcase also works fabulously for a nonfiction book. 
 We were reading a story about fossil fuels and the suitcase was filled with pictures, items and words related to this nonfiction text. 

I am big into getting students to set a purpose for reading through the use of questions. 
Before reading, we ask questions and then predict what the answers may be. 
We always reflect back on the answers we got from reading the text. 
This question lead poster is used for both reading and writing. 

Want to hear more ideas of props to use to engage your learners? 
Check back....maybe we'll get lots of snow!

Want the story suitcase sign?
Email me:

Now I'd love to hear your prop and student engagement ideas.....

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunday's Words for the Week

#Motivation for #teambuilding in the office

YES, and although it is Super Bowl Sunday, we're not just talking football here....
Teaching can be downright tough these days.
I'm lucky to be working beside some dedicated, hardworking teachers who are not afraid to confront the obstacles that block our progress.
It can be exhausting work and some days it seems that no matter how much we give, it is just never enough. Blogging has allowed me to connect with teachers who support, encourage and inspire me. 
Let us never give up trying -  for we are playing this game for something far more valuable than a trophy: 
our prize: our students, our children, our future.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Guided Reading Rounds: A Management System

We teach our students about Martin Luther King Jr. but I believe as adults he can still teach us a thing or two about how we could and should live our lives. I find it incredible that even years after his death his words still have the power to make me stop, think and consider how I might better myself. 

Here is an adorable little story that helps students to see that even small deeds done for others can result in big blessings and even young people have the ability to make a great difference.

It would be a fantastic one to use when teaching the skill of cause and effect as one small deed leads to another in this cute story. 
It also has a math connection as on the last page it shows how one good action was multiplied again and again and resulted in lots and lots and lots of good deeds. 
Love this book!

So after my last post, I got email asking if I could explain how I handle guided reading since abandoning the flexible grouping scenario. 
I am going to share that briefly here.
I have gone back to what I used to do in the past.  I am running what I call my "Reading Rounds".
Our class mascot is the "Wildcat" so I found some little wildcat readers to use for the graphics. 
I like flexibility in my groupings so I am using paperclips to attach the small circles.  That way I can switch and change them very easily.  There may be some days that I am running two writing rounds and one reading round, other days that I want to run read to self, work on writing, and read with a partner.  It totally depends on student needs.  I also like being able to adjust the student groups so names are written on post it note strips so I can move them as needed. 

I have  reading round buckets that I use to put in the materials needed for the rounds.  These buckets sit on top my students' reading basket bookshelf.  Each student has a basket that they use to put in their self selected or teacher selected reading books.  They use these for reading rounds and independent book nook times. 

I have my students placed in four reading groups.  When they are not meeting with me, they are at one of the rounds.  They report to their assigned reading round bucket to gather the supplies they need to complete the activity. They stay at that reading round for about 20 minutes working on the "must do" and then a "can do" literacy activity.  

After about 20 minutes we move the little circles on the chart and students move to their next station. 
Hope this all makes sense!  Let me know if you have any questions.
Do you want to try out this system?
In honor of the great Martin Luther King Jr. I am going to "do something for others" and put this on TPT as a free item.....

head here for your download: