Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My OLW for February...it's that time of year!

It is that time of year when meetings are held to discuss testing protocol, ethical behaviors, correctly bubbling in answers on an answer sheet, confining our writing and jottings to the areas that avoid the "scanner", and not marking in booklets.  February has been a month of staying true to what I believe and LISTENING to my heart.  In the foreword of Donalyn Miller's, The Book Whisperer, Jeff Anderson states...

     "Out of fear of failure or pressures from outside our classrooms, we let go of the very strategies and routines that could make our students succeed at reading, thinking, and writing."

Let go?!? I do not want to let go!  I do not want to let go of the reading workshop that we have spent all year creating as our own.  The students depend on this time, I depend on this time...it has built a community in our room.  I do not want to start only examining inauthentic reading.  I do not want to confine thinking to a box.  I do not want my students to think that the only audience for their writing is the test scorer. At the same time... I do believe that data is helpful from that one day in a child's life.  I do believe in my students and want them to do well.  I do believe that authentic reading experiences can prepare them, but I also believe that test prep should not drive the strategies I teach and the routines we have established.

Although this quote encourages me to hold strong, it was our book fair at school this week that encouraged me to hold stronger and not succumb to test prep and changes in our routines.  Our class went to "preview" the new books.  As I walked around the library and LISTENED, (oh....the smell of new books waiting to be opened!),  I could hear conversations around me...conversations about kids recommending books to others, the joy in their voice when they found a book they had already read, the curiosity that developed when they found a book by a familiar author that they had not read before, and the pride of discovering a book that we had explored as a class (Predator Showdown was the big one...they wanted to read all of the matches we had not considered during inquiry workshop).   The students want to create a tub for our classroom library called, "books we saw at the book fair."  The class wants to grab all of the titles that we were excited about, check them out from the library, and create our own tub that we could start reading right then.  LISTENING to those conversations helped me to realize how far we had come, how well we knew ourselves and our friend's reading lives, and how all of the joy and discovery that reading can bring can not be measured on a bubble answer document...and I am ok with that.


Check out the status update on other OLW happenings this month at...


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wonder of the Weekend...

"Wonder of the Weekend" is a new saying in our classroom.  As the students pack up on Friday, they are now asking..."What are we wondering about this weekend?"  I had mentioned in a previous post, Wonder What is Next, that my class participates on a private discussion board.  I am now posting a Wonder of the Weekend that links to a specific wonder on Wonderopolis. Students can then access the link, interact with Wonderopolis and post responses/comment to peers.  I would say about a third of my class will actually "wonder over the weekend", but the interesting part is that when students return to school...the remaining 2/3 want to hop on that night because they feel that they have missed something as students share their thinking.  This one little routine in our classroom has reminded me how important it is to provide time for exploration when providing a home-school connection.  But most of all, it has reminded me how intra-dependent we have become in a world that contains "social media."  We need interaction, we need conversation, we need to be heard, and we need to know someone is listening.

Sidebar:  Came across an article titled, "There's No Such Thing as a Reading Test."  This article has become my Wonder of the Weekend!  I will leave you with one little quote to intrigue you...

"If our schools understood and acted upon the clear evidence that domain-specific content knowledge (background knowledge) is foundational to literacy, reading instruction might look very different in our children's classrooms."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Me??? Math???

Since journeying back to a fourth grade classroom after four years of literacy coaching, teaching math again was not like riding a bike.  But...I can truly say I enjoy working with math students again!  I love the thinking and responses I have never heard before.  I love the hands-on-ness (Is that a word?)  I love that so many students can "share a brain" or at the same time share totally different thinking that leads to the same answer.  Just wanted to put out there the two resources that have kept me focused on problem solving, writing about math, and developing true understanding of concepts through exploration.  Take a look sometime...so worth it!!

There is one for each grade level.

There are many in the series...division, multiplication, fractions...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Creating voice in non-fiction writing

This year I have made an effort to have just as much non-fiction text in my teaching as fiction text.  With the help of Wonderopolis, celebrating choice during independent reading, and implementing an inquiry workshop, non-fiction reading is immersed daily and is not a specific unit that we study.  But what about in writing workshop?

I have been using Lucy Calkins', A Curricular Plan for The Writing Workshop: Grade 4, as a resource for thinking more about my writing workshop and the Common Core.  Here is a link to the Heinemann website that has a sample chapter for each grade level (Great news...they also have one for your reading workshop too)!  After reading her chapter on informational writing, Lucy Calkin suggests building on expository structures to write lively, voice-filled non-fiction picture books.  Our class is currently using our inquiry and writing workshop as a way to do just that with a twist!

Here is where creating voice comes in...we collected information from our own knowledge, the Internet, and books on self-chosen topics.  We determined three subcategories and organized information into those groups.  Then, I was stuck!  I knew that some students had gone on a note-taking spree and went astray from their subtopics.  I knew that some students had written down facts that were not important.  If our goal was to teach others about something that interests us, how can we make our writing interesting? Where does our thinking come in?

I used an idea from the Inspired to Read blog, Pause to Save/Pause to Think, and twisted it into writing workshop.  My students made a t-chart with Pause to Save on one side and Pause to Think on the other.  They read through their notes and decided which facts were worthy of saving and what they thought about the fact.  During share time in our workshop, the students shared one fact that they saved, what they thought, and orally combined it into one complete thought to share.  Next step...getting it on paper and designing our picture books to include non-fiction text features.

Here are some examples from our share time on Friday...

Pause to Save
Pause to Think
Sentences that the student shared orally

Glaciers can be more than 200 feet tall.
The Statue of Liberty is 151 feet tall.
A glacier can reach 200 feet tall which is taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Cedar Point opened in 1870.
I figured out that it opened 142 years ago.
One hundred and forty years ago, Cedar Point opened its doors in 1870.
Crocodile has tough skin.
Predators would have a hard time sinking their teeth into the skin.
Predators might have a hard time sinking their teeth into the crocodile’s tough skin.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The missing piece to book clubs

This week I had the day I always dread...the end of a book club.  As one of the groups gathered to meet, I could see their excitement about how the book had ended, their joy for several characters, but...I also saw one student who looked how I felt.  When I asked her what was wrong, she told the group how sad she was that the book was over, that she would miss their meetings, and that she was going to miss Loretta (one of the characters in the book).  In my heart I was thinking... I am going to miss the hustle and bustle each morning of watching them check in on their reading from the night before, their secret conversations during activities, their sense of community during discussions, and all the other wonderful moments inter-dependent reading brings.  I will never forgot their faces when I said, "You thought we were done?!?!"

The moment when a bookclub meets to discuss how a book ends, and there are no more pages to read, has always been an awkward moment for me.  It was that moment of "The book is done...now what?"  How do I make sure the book is not closed and forgotten but seen as having an impact on our reading lives? I came across four lingering questions that Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey recommend in, Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action (pg. 203), to support the change in us that occurs after reading a book, no matter how slight the change might be.  They suggest asking four lingering questions that encourage readers to dig deeper into their thinking and see where the book's impact, no matter how small, takes them next.  These four lingering questions are my missing piece.


Has this book changed you in some way?  
Where does this book take you next?
What do you want to find out as a result of having read this book?
Do you have any lingering questions?


When our group met for an additional time, we focused on these four questions.  We did not only discuss our feelings but acted on our feelings.  When students shared their answers, I gave the power to them...right then, right now....to go get what they needed in their reading journey.  Acting on our needs as readers...the missing piece to book clubs that I had been looking for!


Several responses...
Has this book changed you in some way? (How to Steal a Dog)
     S: I had never thought about homelessness before.  I just have a house.
     T:  So what are you going to do with this thinking?
     S:  I think I need to thank my parents for our home.


Where does this book take you next?
    S:  I think I want to read more books by Barbara O'Connor.
    T:  Ok...go to the library and bring back all of the books by her.  We will start an author tub in     our library that focuses on just her books.  Go now! :)


What do you want to find out as a result of having read this book? (Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester)
    S:  I really don't know much about frogs and if they are like bullfrogs.  I think I want to study   them.
    T:  Go to the library and find some books on frogs.  Go now! :)  (By the way...he picked red-eyed bullfrogs as his independent inquiry topic during inquiry workshop.)


Do you have any lingering questions? (Greetings from Nowhere)
    S:  I wonder if Kirby and Loretta ever come back to the Sleepytime Motel and visit Aggie and Willow.  There needs to be a part two.  Is there a second book?
    T:  No there is not.  Who could we ask if there will be one?
    S:  We could ask the author.
    T:  Why don't you get on her website and see if she has a contact section?  Maybe we could write her or email her...go now :)