Thursday, July 30, 2015

We're Cooking with Comprehension: Creating a Skill and Strategy Reading Journal

Those of us who have been teaching for awhile have seen the educational pendulum swing from here to there every five years or so. I started teaching when Whole Language was the craze and "phonics" was a dirty word. From there we swung to back to "The Basics" and retrieved our phonics programs from the junk pile and started calling students back to our reading tables. 
Where are we now?

  I feel like we've kind of settled in the middle as we look to provide our students with a "Balanced Literacy" program one that focuses on the five pillars that will provide children with a solid base on which to develop their skills as readers and writers: 
Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary and Comprehension

We focus on four of these daily in my classroom as we build and use of our CAFE board. 

Are you familiar with the CAFE book by "The Sisters", Gail Boushey and Joan Moser? 
It is a fabulous book to read as you prepare and plan for the next school year. 

In this book, The Sisters give a detailed explanation of the What, Why, When and How of implementing this as part of your reading program. I love how it tracks our progress and provides a visible reminder of all that we have learned. I rely on it to keep students accountable for what they already know and students use it as they set individual reading goals.

Our CAFE board grows as the year goes on. There is nothing posted under the C-A-F-E  letters on the first day of school, but by the end of the first week we are on our way. 

Along with posting our reading strategies and skills on our CAFE board, I like having my students record their learning in their reading journals. 

Our journals are divided into three sections: 
One for Book Logging, another for notes and the final section for responses. 

Students glue down their skill and strategy note sheets on one side and a quick practice of the other side. I keep this short and sweet in order to reserve most of our reading time for actual reading and coaching.  
Here is an example of the notes we record: 

So as we post to the CAFE board we also post in our journals. 
This also allows students to take home their learning and share with families. 

You can make this comprehension journal with your students even if you don't use CAFE. 
Interested? You can check them out by clicking the link below: 

Here are just a few of the pages included in this set: 

Comments? Questions? I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Day of Collaboration: Edcamp Spotsylvania

I am feeling energized and uplifted after spending Monday morning connecting and collaborating with a group of fellow third grade teachers across our county.  We got together at Wilderness Elementary for Edcamp Spotsylvania 3. Have you been to an Edcamp before? 
Here's a quick video that explains this "unconference" model for professional development:

The Edcamp Foundation does a great job in supporting educators who want to organize a day of meaningful discussion centered around the needs of teachers. An Edcamp is completely participant led, so those who come get to schedule the day and plan the sessions. 
Here was our discussion board....we discussed reading stations, guided reading, math instruction, project based learning and alternative assessments, and SO much more. 

Edcamps are informal meetings of the minds where participants all can share ideas and brainstorm solutions. Sessions are highly interactive and built upon the needs of the teachers.
Since Edcamps are voluntary, you will meet other educators who share your enthusiasm and dedication for the important job that we do. It is a great place to network and meet new friends!

We have incredibly talented teachers in our county and this day of  Edcamp gave us the opportunity to connect with those in other schools in an effort to support and encourage one another. It is a safe place for teachers to share struggles and seek solutions. 
Teachers learning from teachers...

Summer is the perfect time to hold an Edcamp. Teachers are more relaxed and have the time and energy to devote to tackling the tough topics. We talked about the new shifts in teaching and learning: rigor in reading, alternative assessments and project based learning. 

We want the collaboration to continue so we have set up a Google Site that will keep us connected throughout the school year. 

Breakfast and prizes were generously donated by Piktochart.

Many, many thanks to our friends at Piktochart for their support!!
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Thanks also to Flocabulary for sending us free trials and this Edcamp song to kick off our morning!

Do you have experience with Edcamps? I'd love to hear about it!
Email me at:

Monday, July 13, 2015

Write On...Pick a Prompt Ideas

So true. Sometimes you just need to put pencil to paper and the ideas will come as you go. 
Writing has been on my mind since I attended a training session on a new resource our county has purchased. We will be using the Benchmark Literacy's Writer's Workshop program. 
I'm feeling pretty positive about it since it embraces the writer's workshop model and is correlated to the 6+1 process writing models. I use both of these as the basis of my writing program and am hoping this resource will be useful in guiding my mini lesson time. 

Does anyone use this? I'd love to hear what you think of it. 

Along with reading through the benchmark teacher's guide I am also rereading the 6+1 Traits of Writing book by Ruth Culham. I have read and reread this one so many times. It is the best one around for help in implementing a traits based writing program. 

I introduce the writing traits very early in the year and then we refer to them constantly as we write. Using the trait model helps the students and I identify writing strengths and areas for growth. 
Then I can gear my lessons and writing conferences with this in mind. Using the shared vocabulary of these traits allows students to take ownership of their own individualized writing goals. They know what good writing looks and sounds like and they know what writing targets they want to hit. 

Students keep copies of the writing traits in their writing folders. 
I ditched the red pen many years ago and instead when we conference we celebrate all the writing targets they hit and which ones they want to improve upon. We set tangible goals that students can work towards when they work on their next piece. 

If you are interested in setting up writing folders, you can find this resource in my teachers pay teachers store.  
Click this link to head there: 

I'm always trying to find ways to give my third graders extra opportunities to write outside of writers workshop time.  Writers need time to practice their craft. I felt the real need to have my third graders write every day in multiple settings. 
Last year, I included a Work on Writing station during Guided Reading Rotations. This was a time to work on independent reading pieces, write about content learning or to write with a given prompt. 

I also used seasonal "Pick a Prompt" writing ideas to encourage writing about different subjects. 
These are run back to back and include prompt ideas, writing paper and a rubric or cross check sheet. 
Here is an example of the front on one: 

Here is the back: 
At first they just got the cross check reminders. 
Later, they were given the rubric for self assessment. 

Here is the inside: 

It was a full sheet to respond to the prompt and draw a picture. 

Here is our writing area in our classroom.  Each student got a space on our Roaring Good Writing Board so they could post their writing. 

I've added Pick a Prompts to my Teacher Pay Teacher store. 

Head here if you want to give them a try with your young writers. 

Now I'd love to hear your ideas about incorporating writing in your classroom. 
Email me! 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Creating Cultures of Thinking

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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.