Friday, August 30, 2013

Finding a Focus: Leader in Me

Next Wednesday, I open my twenty-third full time classroom.  Last year was a great year, but four of the previous five years were difficult to say the least.  I want to continue to be a positive person at my school.

This year, I have decided to pick a professional focus just for me.  This goal isn't a part of Common Core.  It will influence my classroom culture so it may become part of my evaluation goals.  I know there are other teachers who will be working on this, but I'm doing this simply because I want to.

A few years ago a group of us read The Leader in Me: How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time ; about how one school incorporated Dr. Stephen Covey's Seven Habits into daily school life.  Last year another group of teachers conducted a book group.  This year we are investigating getting the grant for next year.

I have decided I'm not going to wait.  I want to begin discussing these habits with my students and collecting materials to support them.  I would love to hear from other teachers and schools who have started the process.

Freebie Fridays

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger

I got a copy of this audiobook for free earlier this summer.  I "read" this book while I gardened and walked around the neighborhood and it challenged me to think about "What is enough?" and "What do I do with my excess?"

I appreciated Shinabarger's lack of preachiness or self-righteousness.  He shares his and others' experience wrestling with these questions, but he encourages readers to answer the questions for themselves.

This isn't a book I would share in my classroom.  It does help me think about my values and that in turn impacts my teaching.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Common Core So Far

Last week I had two days of in-service training getting us ready for Common Core.  In Washington State, we will be tested on CCSS in 2015.  There was a little too much reading from the PowerPoint if you ask me.  (Shoot me now.)

We also watched a couple of videos where the people who worked on Common Core told us how wonderful the new standards are. (Good lighting + Smiles = Credibility.)

I sat in the back for two days wondering when I became so cynical.  I'm usually a positive person, but here are some questions I have:

1.  Is setting higher standards the same as ensuring all students will reach them?  Will this really make a difference?
2.  Don't we have to address the obstacles students have between them and education first?  I'm thinking poverty, violence, and lack of access to books and technology.
3.  Why do administrators get us all together, read us a script and think they have "taught" us?  Children don't learn this way. Adults don't either.
4. Why do curriculum specialists murder the English language by adding suffixes to perfectly harmless root words and interchanging nouns and verbs?  (Last year I sat and edited an evaluation form when I was supposed to be filling it out.  It asked if I had any noticings or wonderings.  I wrote what I "noticed and wondered."  I don't thing they are hiring me for an instructional coaching position any time soon.)
5. Has anyone else noticed how much J. K. Rowling criticizes education reform in the fifth book of the Harry Potter series?  I kept reading passages aloud to my husband and laughing.

At least someone gets it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Quote of the Week -- August 25, 2013

"Learning is finding out what we already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers." -- Richard Bach

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ticket out the Door Freebie


I found this great post by Teach-A-Roo about a formative assessment plan and I had to adapt it for my own classroom.  If you click here you can see how she uses this board in her classroom and it has a link to her free sign.

I decided to make my squares in the shape of tickets.  Here is my board ready to be laminated:

The idea is students answer a question on a sticky note and put it on their student number.  I plan to ask a question each day and have them post as part of their end of the day routine.  I can quickly see who gets it and who doesn't.  

Freebie Fridays

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

I remember hearing stories of the Lost Boys of Sudan in the 1990s.  A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park is based on one young man's journey from his village destroyed by war, to the refuge camps, and finally to New York where the author interviewed him.  In between the chapters of Salva's experiences, Park writes about Nya and her daily eight hour walk to get water for her family.

I am considering this as a read aloud this year with my fourth graders -- especially if we do a related service project.  This book motivated me to consider something that I take for granted: water on tap.

For an explanation of my rating scale, click here.
Find me at Goodreads.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Do You Follow the Fly Lady?

Some of you know who the Fly Lady is -- Marla Cilley who runs the home organization website.  Every summer, I work at getting my routines going.  I have to confess that every school year, I lose momentum somewhat.  The website and books are great resources.

In case you are not familiar with this process, the idea is to accomplish housecleaning tasks through a series of morning and evening routines.  The emphasis is not on perfection, but getting to the point that you can automatically get some tasks done each day. 

I found a free downloadable control journal for teachers that I am using to create routines at home and school.  I am not following this plan exactly.  I figured out that I have a set of tasks that I complete on a two-week cycle.  I'm not shooting for perfection, but sanity.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Quotes of the Week and TPT Sale

A friend sent me a post "16 Quotes About Writing for Children."  Here is my favorite:

“Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear.”

Judy Blume

As a parent, this is how I read with my stepdaughter.  I committed to reading what she was interested in and talking about it with her.  There probably isn't a topic we haven't talked about over the years.
Don't forget today and tomorrow:

Yes, it's that time again.  Everything in my Teachers Pay Teachers store will be 20% August 18 & 19.  If you enter the promo code BTS13 at check out, you will get 10% off of that.  So a $10 would be $8.00 from my sale and then with the promo code, it would cost $7.20.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Apple Patterning Freebie -- Back to School #4

Here is another in my series of patterning activities.  Before computers, I would trace a tag board pattern on graph paper and tell students to color the outside one pattern and the inside a different pattern. 
This activity comes in three sizes of graph paper: 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch and 1 inch. 

Don't forget the Teachers Pay Teachers Sale this weekend.

Yes, it's that time again.  Everything in my Teachers Pay Teachers store will be 20% August 18 & 19.  If you enter the promo code BTS13 at check out, you will get 10% off of that.  So a $10 would be $8.00 from my sale and then with the promo code, it would cost $7.20.

Freebie Fridays

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale

Yes, it's that time again.  Everything in my Teachers Pay Teachers store will be 20% August 18 & 19.  If you enter the promo code BTS13 at check out, you will get 10% off of that.  So a $10 would be $8.00 from my sale and then with the promo code, it would cost $7.20.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

All the Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket

Over last summer, I discovered Lemony Snicket's four book series, All the Wrong Questions.  Only the first book is available and the second will be released October 13, 2013.  This is a prequel to his popular Series of Unfortunate Events.  We learn about Lemony Snicket's adolescence.

Update: now three books in the series are available.

I have to say that the first three books in the original series were my favorites.  I faithfully bought and read the entire series, but I was disappointed in The End.  There were so many questions left unanswered.  I hope this prequel series will sort out a few loose ends and not just add more.
For an explanation of my rating scale, click here.
Find me at Goodreads.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Have you heard of Professor Sugata Mitra?

I first heard Professor Sugata Mitra speak on the morning show of the local oldies station.  Usually reading comprehension isn't a hot topic in mainstream media, but when the Huffington Post quoted him as saying spelling and grammar isn't important his views went viral.  To summarize, with the autocorrect features in technology, learning the rules isn't necessary.  I think his remarks were taken out of context.

After finding this TED talk about bringing computers to very poor children in other countries, I'm glad I have discovered his work.  Children teach themselves using technology.  The underprivileged excel given the opportunity. The key is having groups of students using the same computer so they have to solve the problems together.

My favorite part of the video is where Italian students who speak no English, use Google translate and search engines to find the answers to questions presented to them in English. 

Now Professor Sugata Mitra is focused on reading comprehension.  I can't wait to see his results.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Quote of the Week -- August 11, 2013

"Develop success from failures.
Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success."
Dale Carnegie

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shades of Summer -- Back to School #3

For the Free Printable stationery that accompanies this writing prompt, click here for the Google Doc.

The first week of school I collect a writing sample from each of my students.  I use this to make plans for whole group mini lessons for at least the first several months.

I often use "Using Hyperbole: the Making of a Tall Tale" for this first writing sample.  Instead of writing the same old "What I did this summer" essay, students exaggerate what they did.  The resulting story is more interesting for students to write and usually more interesting for me to read.  Over time, this has become my bestselling product on TPT.

An alternate writing prompt for the beginning of the year is Shades of Summer.  Students chose one event that happened over the summer and write an account of that one event.  We would then create sunglasses -- or shades -- that would illustrate this event. I have patterns to make out of construction paper.

I like this prompt because I can easily see who is writing a narrative with beginning, middle and end and who is still writing lists.  What I didn't like was how the sunglasses kept getting separated from the papers.

So this year I created some stationery for the students to write their accounts.  I left some space in the lenses for students to draw small illustrations.  I thought I would share this freebie with all of you.

I will save Using Hyperbole for later in the year when I am teaching the genre tall tales.

Freebie Fridays

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blackout by John Rocco

A family is engrossed in their usual activities when the lights go out one summer night.  Priorities change.  I don't want to give away too much of the story, but I loved sharing it with my fourth graders.

This book would be a great choice as a mentor text for personal narratives.  Most students have a time when the power went out and what they did without electric devices.
For an explanation of my rating scale, click here
Find me at Goodreads.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Setting the Stage

Frequent readers of this blog know that I spent two weeks this summer helping a husband/wife team put on a Summer Theater Workshop for middle school and high school students.  I have an itch to create an after school drama club this year.  (I'll let you know if that turns out.)  A colleague of mine also wants to have students do theater.  She has no experience, but said to me, "How hard can it be?" 

Just because I have attended a play, it doesn't mean I can direct one.  I have lost count of the number of productions I have helped in a backstage or front of the house position.  Every time I work with someone, I learn so much about the art that is theater.  I feel barely qualified to start a small program this year, but I'm willing to try.

One of my tasks for the musical was setting water bottles and props on stage and behind the curtain so that the actors would have them at a particular part of the production.  Backstage is dark and each item needs to be in place.

Just now I have a nasty bruise on my knee because while I was setting props, I ran into a bench that someone had moved in the dark.  The audience has no idea the preparation that stage hands make to create the illusion of the production.  Just as the casual observer has no idea the preparation it takes to conduct a typical school day.

Depending upon when your school starts, you are likely setting your own stage.  Some teachers seem to have a knack for having just the right props in just the right place.  Just because someone attended school, doesn't mean they know all of the preparation that goes on.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Quote of the Week -- August 4, 2013

"Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny." 
 Frank Outlaw

Have a good week,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Parent Survey -- Back to School #2

Last week I shared my student information form that I use the first week of school and keep until the last day of school.  Today I want to share my parent information form: forever free and completely editable.

To download Parent Information Form from my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, click here.

To download Parent Information Form from my Teachers Notebook Store, click here.

I have left it in a form that is completely editable so you can add, edit or delete questions and add your contact information.  I seldom use materials exactly the way they were created and this is definitely one each teacher will want to put their personal stamp on.

This is the first communication parents receive from me and I start out with this statement:

I believe that a parent is a child’s first and best teacher.  Please take a moment and share with me some information about your child as a learner.

I find that this sets a positive tone for my communication with parents.  I hang onto these forms and review them before I have a parent/teacher conference.  I hope you find them useful.

Freebie Fridays

Classroom freebies

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August Currently...ready or not

It's August first and time for Oh Boy 4th Grade Currently.
Currently I am listening for the sound of rain.  It has been a dry July so I may need to get out there and water my plants.

Currently I love that I have four more weeks of summer.  We didn't get out until June 18, so students don't arrive until September 4.  I still have quite a home and garden to do list.

Currently I think that I should do one thing for my classroom today.  In August, I try to do just a little bit in the days leading up to our contract days.  It's less overwhelming that way.

Currently I want chocolate.  Yes, I usually want chocolate, but I'm out and might have to reward myself for my one classroom job today.

Currently I need to pack up the recipe I made last night for dinner.  I used a recipe from Pinterest for Chicken Tetrazzini that was delicious but made way too much.  I wonder if it will freeze.

My back to school items are mechanical pencils, a new calendar, and a better coat for bus duty.  Mechanical pencils are prizes in my room.  My classroom calendar is 12-years-old and could use an update.  Every day after school we all walk our students to the busses and supervise.  I need something that looks professional and protects me from Seattle drizzle.

Now, I'm off to my favorite part of Currently: blog hopping.
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