Sunday, July 31, 2011

End of NaBloPoMo - Reflection

Well, I've done it! I completed the month of by blogging every day!  (And I'm celebrating this by being at the beach at this moment!)  I've really developed a blogging habit (I've been posting here and on my personal blog) and I've learned a lot about how to manage Blogger.

I've gone from a 4th grade teacher of everything to a 6th grade teacher of reading.
I've moved my classroom.
I've begun building a Twitter-based PLN where I'm following almost 60 awesome folks - and I've actually got 30-something people following me!
I've been able to get feedback on ideas through comments on my blog and Twitter.
I've experienced delight in watching site statistics - I'm such a goof-ball that way. (I'm not blogging for the numbers but it sure is a thrill to see that people actually come to the site! Wow!)
I've figured out that blogging helps me stay accountable. I'll have to use this more often in the future, as I have a bad habit of starting things and not following through.

So, I'll end July by saying thanks for coming on this journey with me.  It's been a great way to spend time this summer!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

NC Teacher Evaluation Process - Sharing Artifacts

As a Discovery Star Educator, I was given the opportunity to try out a program from Tech4Learning called Share.  Think of it as PowerPoint gone wild.  You can do a simple slide show - or take it to the next level.  You can save as images, webpages, PDF docs, or even flash content!  There are all sorts of gadgets included to make your content look interesting and organized.  This is the presentation I used at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. I saved it as images since I haven't got a clue how to put Flash content onto this blog!  Enjoy!  (If you know how to embed flash content on Blogger, please leave a comment!)

Friday, July 29, 2011

NC Teaching Standard #5 - Teachers Reflect on Their Practice

Many teachers deny that they reflect.  I think that is because many teachers think that means writing in a journal or doing some other "formal" review activity.  I feel reflection is as simple as thinking about what your plan was, what actually happened, and what you might do differently next time.  I often reflect on the spot - and write the results on my lesson plans. Sometimes I reflect while laying in bed, waiting to fall asleep at night. Or maybe it is that drive home from work, while decompressing from the day.

Here are the big ideas from Standard 5:
  • Teachers analyze student learning. 
  • Teachers link professional growth to their professional goals. 
  • Teachers function effectively in a complex, dynamic environment.
Again, this standard relies heavily on some pretty formal language - analyze, complex, dynamic.  Those are all accurate, but not my first choice of words to describe my job. But good, effective teachers look at student data/results, they make sure they are continuing to learn, and they are the epitome of multi-taskers.

Here are some artifacts I used:
  • Formative and Summative assessments
  • EOG Review Centers
  • Student Portfolios
  • Take Home Tuesday folders
  • Lesson Plans
  • 14 Things assignment (We read What Great Teachers Do Differently as a school-wide PLC activity this year.)
  • NCCAT attendance
  • Google Docs end-of-year survey (Awesome! It analyzed the results for me.)
Next year, I'll be able to include my blog and even my Twitter account - using tech in a real world way for all to see!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bonus Post! Classroom Pictures

Here is a slideshow of my new classroom. Please forgive me for the blurry shots - not sure what happened.  It is definitely a work in progress! I'm amazed at how much got done in just 2 days! I can't wait to get back in to put up bulletin boards, posters, etc.

New 6th Grade Classroom - In Progress!! on PhotoPeach

NC Teaching Standard #4 - Teachers Facilitate Learning

This is a huge standard.  And it has some goofy, super formal language in it.  So let's dissect this one a little more than the others. Here are the big ideas (my comments are in red):
  • Teachers know the ways in which learning takes place, and they know the appropriate levels of intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development for their students. As a teacher, you need to know about child development and about how the brain/student learns.
  • Teachers plan instruction appropriate for their students. 
  • Teachers use a variety of instructional methods. 
  • Teachers integrate and utilize technology in their instruction. In my district we have talked about how integrating and utilizing tech means getting it into student hands - not just being able to say that you use it yourself.
  • Teachers help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. 
  • Teachers help students work in teams and develop leadership qualities. 
  • Teachers communicate effectively. 
  • Teachers use a variety of methods to assess what each student has learned.
This standard also throws around the idea of 21st Century skills and assessment.  But it doesn't really explain it!  Through my research, I finally decided that most folks agree that collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication are the key points. So that is what I focused on getting my students deep into.  I'll continue to do that next year in my new position.

Here are some things I used for artifacts:
  • Learning contracts in math
  • Began to use the Wiki (email or leave a comment to see the link)
  • Chrome Fast Word Game
  • Cuttin' Kate project
  • ABC's of the EOG's project
  • Video products created for Nutrition Project after EOG testing (in addition to posters, booklets, and brochures which were also options.)
Because this standard is so long and the wording is awkward, it can be intimidating.  It turns out that this is one of my favorite standards though, because it keeps me on track - I can't keep doing the same old thing if I want to get different/better results!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

NC Teaching Standard #3 - Teachers Know the Content They Teach

While I'm away today, moving into my new classroom (!), enjoy my thoughts on Standard #3 - Teachers know their content. (Can we all have a, "Well, duh?" moment? Ok, moving on.)

Standard 3 seems like a no brainer, but I've seen many teachers in my 10 year career who really don't seem to know their stuff.  Aside from class management, you should have a firm handle on the basics in your subject area(s). I know there are some things you refine in the trenches - but you shouldn't learn it for the first time there!  Here are the big ideas with Standard 3:

  • Teachers align their instruction with the NCSCOS. 
  • Teachers know the content appropriate to their teaching speciality. 
  • Teachers recognize the interconnectedness of content areas/disciplines. 
  • Teachers make instruction relevant to students. 
I'm assuming the first bullet will be revised for the 2012-2013 school year, as NC will be adopting the Common Core Standards and using state developed Essential Standards for everything else.  Still, nothing earth-shattering there, right?  Here are things I used for artifacts:

  • Lesson Plans
  • Year Long Plan - This is a link from my "file cabinet." You may want to open it in a new window.
  • SCOS Checklist - created for my colleagues who chose not to use my Year Long Plan, so they could ensure they taught the big ideas
  • Connect to student interests (survey)
  • "Hats off to Bloom's"
  • Real-Life Math projects
  • Math learning contracts in combination with pretesting for chapters
  • Trial runs with Data Notebooking
 This standard makes a lot of sense to me.  I work hard during the school year and throughout the summer to refine my practices and increase my knowledge.  One of the reasons I've started blogging again was to create a network of like-minded professionals from whom I could learn.  I see a lot of overlap in this standard and in Standard 4 (Teachers Facilitate Learning for their Students.)  But we can talk about that tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NC Teaching Standard #2 - Respect Diversity

Standard 2 gets me sometimes.  Maybe because we don't have a very diverse population, so I tend not to focus on making sure a variety of backgrounds are represented.  Here are the big ideas of Standard 2: Teachers Establish a Respectful Environment for a Diverse Population of Students.
  • Teachers provide an environment in which each child has a positive, nurturing relationship with caring adults. 
  • Teachers embrace diversity in the school community and the world. 
  • Teachers treat students as individuals. 
  • Teachers adapt their teaching for the benefit of students with special needs. 
  • Teachers work collaboratively with the families and significant adults in the lives of their students. 
 Here are the things I used as artifacts:
  • PEP and DEP paperwork - PEPs are for below level kids, DEPs are for kids identified as AIG.
  • Conferences with parents
  • Conference, phone calls, and email communication with a social worker for a student who was having difficulties outside of school
  • Bullying prevention lessons
  • "Eliminating Bias" workshop at the Raising Achievement and Closing the Gap conference
  • Tuesday folders
  • Classroom website/voice mail maintained
I understand the need for this standard - I did well in it, but I can definitely improve, especially in the area of family involvement.  I'm already working on how to "fix" that for the new year.  I'm also hoping that I can handle the "treat students as individuals" better/differently since I will be seeing all the 6th grade students.  In this standard it is both a blessing and a curse that I've taught some of these students before.  I need to focus on the positives, let go of prior bad experiences, and start fresh!

Monday, July 25, 2011

NC Teaching Standard #1 - Leadership

Standard 1 can be both easy and difficult to demonstrate.  It all depends on your school's culture.  If your administration makes it important to cultivate teacher leaders by encouraging in-house experts, then you are fortunate.  Here are the 5 big ideas in this standard:
  • Teachers lead in the classroom.
  • Teachers demonstrate leadership in the school.
  • Teachers lead the teaching profession.
  • Teachers advocate for schools and students.
  • Teachers demonstrate high ethical standards.
 My school district put together a huge document with all sorts of ideas for artifacts.  Here are some examples of things I used to demonstrate my leadership.
  • Data notebook
  • CCAE/NCAE membership and acting as an Area Rep for the school
  • Attendance at the One Voice Rally in Raleigh on May 3
  • NCCAT attendance
  • National Board Certification
  • Created lesson plans when we went through a teacher transition
  • Assisted the district in evaluating the new math adoption
  • Procured $1,641 in materials for my classroom/school through Donor's Choose
  • Participated in the district Share Fair on Feb. 17
  • Participated in various activities with Discovery Education
  • Did website testing for
  • Completed a peer observation
I made pictures of some artifacts and others just got listed bullet form. I'll show you how I presented this information later this week.  I was able to present it to my administrators and explain things.  Overall, they were extremely impressed and pleased.

Come back tomorrow for Standard 2!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Random Late Night Idea

I need your help!  It is late, I'm fighting a headache, and I've had an idea.  I'm planning to implement the Daily 5 and CAFE next year.  I'm actually going to run a bit with the cafe` theme since I'm dealing with 6th graders.  I'd also like to incorporate a focus wall.  My question now is, how far do I carry the cafe/food theme?

My initial idea was to create a food that went with each genre - like Mystery Meatloaf.  However, I've got about 12 genres that I need to teach (or are involved in the 40 book challenge) and that might get tricky.

Now I'm wondering if I shouldn't just incorporate the CAFE board (and thereby the food theme) into my focus wall.  Maybe generate a food for each section of the focus wall?  Here are some ideas I played with in Paint. Can you help? (The pics are as big as I can make them to fit the blog. If you click them, they'll be full size.)

My original idea
After adding CAFE to the focus wall

Shrank Vocab. and added PIE

Added meal courses for the "School Name" Cafe
I think this will help with the buy-in from my 6th graders.  I can tie it to eating - you can't eat just one type of food. So when we read, we have to pay attention to all parts, even things we might not enjoy (like spelling, vocab.)  Our school name begins with a C, so it goes well with "cafe."

I'm stopping myself here, even though I've still got ideas like...
  • Instead of using words like "pasta" should I get more specific? Perhaps, "Spaghetti Structures" is better?
  • Should I not bother? Just keep the plain and simple focus wall?
Help! Please offer your input! (I know I've got lots of new visitors out there - this is a chance to introduce yourself! Please?)

Resources I Use: Scoop It (@scoopit)

Today I'd like to share a site I used this spring.  After EOG testing, my students do a nutrition poster project. (Yes, it is a paper poster, don't judge us.)  I needed a better way to organize the sites they could use for research. (This was a HUGE disaster last year. I ended up sitting with each group as they researched.)  After poking around, I found
Here is a video from ScoopIt that describes what they allow you to do.

I installed their tool into my browser then just visited the sites I wanted students to be able to use.  A few clicks and the pages showed up in my Scoop It site for the project.  Super simple for me and for my students.

They don't offer embedding, but there are a few different gadgets and widgets you can put on your site.  If you are looking for a simple way to collect content for your students, I encourage you to check this out!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Random Reading Stuff

If you have read the Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, you'll love this.  She has an interest survey in her book that she has the kids complete at the beginning of the year.  Last year, I discovered the beauty of doing surveys with Google Docs.  So I put her survey in and can share the link with you.  You can view my document but you can't edit it.  You'll need to save it to your account - then you can edit it, publish it, have the kids complete it, and see how Google analyzes the results.  It is pretty slick.  Enjoy!

Reading Interests Google Doc Survey

I participated in the #Daily5 chat on Twitter last night! It was amazing - the first Twitter chat I've done.  I had a hard time keeping up.  Thankfully, the chat is posted in the archive on the Daily 5 wiki.  Here is a link to that, along with some of the other cool stuff I discovered during the chat last night.

 Last, I'll leave you with a link I discovered yesterday in some random web surfing.  It came from a LiveBinder all about the Daily 5.  I've already downloaded a bunch of good stuff. Check it out!

Teachers' D5 Share and Swap Stop - there is TONS of good info here, just check out the topics in the left sidebar

Enjoy! Maybe it is time for me to make a "Links" tab where I can put all the links like this so they aren't lost in the archives...

Do you have any resources that apply to doing Daily 5 and CAFE in the upper grades?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Animoto in the Classroom

I got an email this morning reminding me to renew my Animoto Education account.  The email also said that they are reviewing this process - I hope they don't take it away! I love Animoto - it is a really simple way to make super-professional music videos out of video clips and still pics.  Here are a few I have made.

I always do an introduction of myself to my students using Animoto.  It is a neat way for them to meet my family, see what I did this summer, and get an idea of my personality. (If you use Animoto in front of parents, it impresses the heck out of them.)

You can sign up for your own standard Animoto account or an Education Animoto account.

How do you use pictures and video in the classroom?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reading Plan Redux

So, just Monday, I posted that I was proud and excited about being ready for 6th grade, right? Welllll, I discovered today that that plan has to change.  I was under the impression that our 6th grade used Reading Street by Scott Foresman, just like the rest of the school.  Au contraire, they don't. *insert your favorite cuss word here*

So, after a few hours of near panic, and a couple emails to key folks, I've got a new game plan.  I've got several folks looking throughout the district for leveled readers (at least) and the Reading Street materials (at best.)  My curriculum contact has given me the go-ahead to plan to implement a "Reading Workshop" approach at the beginning of the year.

As you know, this is fine by me!  I've got resources for that - I'm just worried things will change AGAIN.  So while I am looking at random things for implementing Reading Workshop, Daily 5, and even CAFE into my 6th grade reading class, I'm a little cautious.  I'll be able to get my hands on materials next Wednesday.  I'm holding off on revising my plan until then.  I'll leave my original documents up on the Documents Tab (you noticed it, didn't you?) for future reference.

Do you have any favorite resources for Reading Workshop in the upper grades?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Home Office Organization

I need to get a Pinterest fix, so I'm going to share some inspiration I've found there.  I need to seriously look at the organization in my home office, as I'll soon be bringing home about half of my teaching resources.  I need to find ways to store all my math, science, and social studies materials where they can be accessed if a colleague has a need.  Here are some  ideas I liked...

Source: via Melissa on Pinterest

This room is about the same size as mine, but has much smaller windows.  What I really love is the cubbies on the left.  That is exactly what I need - but I can buy it right now.  So I'm looking for more ideas...

Are we beginning to see a theme? More cubbies.

My main problem is - of course - cash flow. I can't buy cubbies, boxes, or cute bins.  I've got 3 mismatched bookcases and that's it.  Here's a before picture. There is lots of space - but I worry about overcrowding the poor shelves!

When I start to bring home stuff, I'll post more pictures. Maybe being accountable on here will keep it from turning into a disaster area!

Do you have a home office with teacher materials?  How do you have it organized?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Using Prezi in the Classroom

I am a die-hard PowerPoint user. It has been my go-to tool for YEARS. Thinking about not having Powerpoints ready to go for my Reading Street stories is enough to make me twitch.  Now that I've learned Prezi - and love it - I find myself going to it more and more.

Prezi is great because it isn't just a linear, flip-flip slide show.  You can set a path and zoom in and out - the results are really amazing!  Here are a few Prezi shows I've created.

These all had specific purposes.  Some I used with students and some with adults.  My favorite Prezi is this last one.  I used to do a PowerPoint show each morning.  It guided the students and made sure they were ready to start the day.  I think this shows the path setting and zoom features best - What do you think?

Now I'm thinking about how to compensate for all those Reading Street PowerPoints I no longer have.  I'm debating between doing Prezis or Glogs or maybe a combination of both.  Or maybe neither?

What other uses do you have for Prezi?  How do you introduce stories from a basal textbook?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sixth Grade Reading Outline

So, thanks to Shannon's lovely website, I got my act together! I feel so good - practically giddy. In fact, if I didn't have a migraine as I typed this, I'd probably be downright giddy! I'm that happy, relieved, excited. I could go on, but I won't.  Without further ado, here is my outline for the new school year!

I made it in Word, printed to PDF, and took an image capture from there. The images should enlarge a good bit if you click 'em.  The scroll-y box above is the Google Doc - who knew you could embed it?! I just wish the box was bigger!  Here is the link to the file on Google Docs - Sixth Grade Reading Outline.doc.  If you'd like to see the original doc file (or my month-by-month year long plan that is VERY specific) just post a comment or find me on Twitter.

I need to investigate more options for linking doc's and things. Any ideas?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Resources I Use: Pinterest

I was introduced to Pinterest through my personal Twitter account. Folks are using it for all kinds of things but it immediately struck me as a way to save ideas for using in my classroom. Here is a shot of my view of my Teaching Ideas board on Pinterest. ( I have no idea why it says my past pin was 3 weeks ago - I was pinning last night until the wee hours!)

Clicking the image will take you to my Teaching Ideas board on Pinterest
You can see that the ideas I've "pinned" are arranged nicely and my comment/caption shows up underneath them.  On the right are links to my other boards and to the boards of people I follow and who follow me.  There is a search box at the top that lets you search everyone's pins.  Here's how Pinterest explains what they are.

I think Pinterest is a great tool for teachers.  We spend lots of time surfing the web looking for ideas.  Now we can save them for ourselves, remember the source, and share it with others in one click. (They've got a nifty little bookmark tool that installs into your browser.  Find and idea, click "Pin It," choose your options, and done.) Fantastic!

What web resources do you use?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mid-Month Reflection

So I've been blogging daily for a solid 2 weeks - 16 days, over half a month. And it feels really good! I have been using the scheduled posts feature - I must write when time allows. It frees me up to be more creative and to spend more time on posts, instead of feeling rushed to hit Publish and be done.

I started blogging again thinking I'd be teaching a self-contained 4th grade class of mostly AIG students.  And I reflect 16 days later as a new, slightly scared, 6th grade Reading teacher.  I'm excited - I feel like this is my chance to really stretch my wings and my skills. I'm looking forward to being the "new one" for a change. For many years, I've been the "veteran," the one people turned to when they had questions.  I liked that - but it was a huge responsibility.  I was the only experienced teacher in 4th grade last year, working with 2 brand new teachers. It was hard for all of us - they are sweet ladies but I'm glad I'm not in the same position this year.

I've got many worries, concerns, and ideas floating around in my head.  And they've kept me awake some this week.  But I got a really good night of sleep last night - and I feel like I'm getting my act together.  I don't have teacher manuals and my classroom needs to be moved (Help me, Rhonda!), but I know my subject matter inside and out. And I'm ready! Next week, I'll start outlining some of my concerns, worries, and ideas - maybe getting them out of my head and into print will continue to help me.

So here is how I'll end the month - do you have anything you'd like to see me blog about?
  • Resources: Pinterest, ScoopIt
  • Prezi
  • Discovery Ed
  • Brainpop (?)
  • Spelling City (?)
  • Into The Book (?)
  • NCTEP - the new NC Teacher Evaluation Process - a post on each standard and a final post with a way to document it all.
  • My ideas, concerns, and worries about being in 6th grade
  • Final Reflection

Friday, July 15, 2011

EOG Review

I reviewed for EOG's differently this year. In the past, I've focused lots of time and effort on drilling and killing the test-taking strategies kids will need.  This year - I didn't.  And it was ok! Here's what I did differently.

I used my time tested method of one test genre per week, for 5 weeks prior to testing. But instead of reading passage after passage, we turned into test makers. Here is how a week looked for each of our 5 genres (nonfiction, poetry, fiction, consumer, and content.)

  • Monday - Read an exemplar piece. This was from a test-prep book or a released item from the state. We used our strategy (Runners) and QARs. We sorted the questions, worked in pairs to answer them, and checked the text for support when possible.  This was done whole group with the document camera. We discussed common question stems and wrote them on a chart for future reference.
  • Tuesday - Student pairs are given a selection from a) the reading book or b) a magazine to read.  Then students used the common question stems from Monday to generate questions for their article.  I did this both with and without a framework. They sometimes wrote short-answer type questions and sometimes did multiple choice questions. It depends on your testing and your particular group of students.  I got better responses with a framework and the students doing multiple choice questions.
  • Wednesday - Students re-read their selection and finished their questions.  We used the mobile laptop cart to document the questions on our class wiki. This is set up by our school district. (If you'd like the link, Twitter me or comment below and I'll send it to you.)
  • Thursday - Students chose one of the other selections to read. Then they answered the questions on the wiki. They went to the original group to have their questions checked.
  • Friday - Paper and pencil quiz on the genre. I usually used released items from the state or passages from a test-prep book.
This worked wonderfully!The kids really understood more of the nuances of test writing and how important it was to use the text.

Math worked a bit differently.  The students and I each created an EOG Review notebook.  Then I introduced 10 centers.  Some of the centers were reading and some were math.  Students had a partner (based on needed math skills) to rotate with.  These centers became our whole day - in the weeks directly before testing, we often did EOG centers for up to 2.5 hours a day!  One of the centers was ME. I was able to work with what I started calling "micro-groups" of students - 2 or 3 kids at a time. It was wonderful!

What did I do with those kids?  I used the NC DigIns.  I discovered them through my school district's use of ClassScape assessments.  Unfortunately, I do have to log in to view the site - so I'm not sure if you can access it or not.  Here is a screenshot...

Right now, the DigIns are available for 4th and 7th grade math and for Algebra 1.  They are so useful!  Each word problem - many taken from the released items produced by the state - is on a single page. Multiple choice, multi-step - typical EOG stuff.  The following page(s) are the gold! There is an answer key for the problem, but it goes a step further. It explains what the student may have been thinking to have chosen that answer.  Then there is a simple problem solving process to take the students through so they can discover it for themselves.

This combination - micro-group and having some insight as to why they might have chosen what they did - proved super powerful for my students. We were able to go through problem after problem, breezing through stuff they knew and taking more time to discuss and explore the tricky ones. The small group allowed me to closely observe their use of strategies (or lack!) and to catch issues quickly. The students were super engaged - after all, they had my undivided attention! I took notes and was able to differentiate instruction down to an individual level - if one partner mastered a concept, they could move on and the other person could keep working on what they needed.

I'll close by saying this - review for testing seems awkward at first.  However, if you pay close attention to your students (we had done some previous centers that they really liked) you'll find a way to review that won't bore all of you to tears.

How do you review for high-stakes testing?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ruminations on Reading

So I had on my schedule that yesterday's post would be about Reading Groups. (Yes, when I promised myself I'd do NaBloPoMo, I sat with my Google Calendar and brainstormed a month of topics. I'm a geek like that.)  When I scheduled Reading Groups as a post, I was planning to teach a self-contained class of 4th grade students - like I had done for the 2 previous years.  Now though, things have changed! I'm going to be teaching 6th grade in a block/rotation schedule.  I'll be teaching ALL the 6th graders Reading. Whooooooooooo.

So my plan is still mostly the same - reading groups and some independent work/reading combination.  It is a school and district requirement that I meet with the kids in small groups - and I enjoy it.  I'll have 85 minutes - I'm thinking of dividing each block class into 6 groups. I'll meet with 3 groups per day, per block.  I'm starting to lay out a plan for obtaining grades too - we have to have at least 2 per week, the admin likes to see more than that when possible.

I found a recommendation from Shannon for The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.  I was able to grab it from the library today - and it has reminded me of my long-put-off desire to have a "reading workshop" approach in my classroom.  So that is something else for me to think about. On page 15 she mentions several books I've got - sitting right here in front of me in my home office. I LOVE that!  Here are the books mentioned:
You can see the 2 I've typed in red - those are the ones I have. I'm already hunting in online library listings for the other 2.  I've got several others that fit right along the same lines:
I am going by my school today - I saw the principal and she said I could.  Everyone knows and the room is ready. Hopefully picking up some manuals and seeing my space will make things easier for me.  I'm a planner and I love to organize and research and study.  After I get a game plan together, I'll post it.  Maybe you can help me with resources.

How do you handle a big transition like this? Are you a planner or do you like to fly by the seat of your pants?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Now Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Blogging....

to tell you that I'm moving to 6th grade! And I'm going to be teaching reading! (which is my teaching-passion.)

I'm excited but also scared to death.  The only things that make this remotely acceptable are:
  1. I've taught these same kids year before last when they were in 4th grade. (I'd love to be a fly on the wall when they discover I'm moving up - they'll freak!)
  2. I'm getting to reunite with a teaching colleague that I get along wonderfully with - we're like long-lost sisters. We have similar teaching styles and behavior management styles. Yay!
I'm terrified because this is something SO FAR out of my comfort zone - I don't even know where to begin. I feel super excited - like this could be IT - the thing I've been waiting for my whole career. I'm ridiculously excited every time I think of something I won't have to deal with any more (math, science, social studies) but worried when I think of things I do (class library, storage, organization, class jobs) that I'll have to make fit 6th grade.

I'll end this freak out post by saying this - HELP! I need resources for 6th grade Reading/Language Arts. I know it isn't all that different from 4th grade - just longer, harder texts. But I need mentors and buddies and Twitter helpers! I've NEVER been departmentalized - I've never had to collaborate on this level with colleagues before.

I'm excited - 43 days until I have my students for the first time! Let's get started!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Local Workshop: Integrating Science and Social Studies into Literacy

My local district is really wonderful about providing staff development opportunities for teachers.  The classes are free for us and give us renewal credit.  I attended this workshop on July 11 from 8:30 to 3:30.  Here's what I learned.

Integration is a best practice. Various research studies say that a curricular unit must be seen to involve more than one discipline or subject. And the Common Core standards will require us to be using 50% or more informational text.  We need to integrate to get to that level.

Here is where I was a bit disappointed - the focus turned from integrating Social Studies and Science to teaching reading strategies to use with nonfiction text.  I'm ok with that because I learned a few new strategies - but it wasn't what I thought it would be.

New Learning #1 - Do more active reading with the students. 
This means do more things like jigsaws, buddy reading, scavenger hunts, and graphic organizers to guide the reading. Also things like anticipation guides, a "Tea Party," List-Sort-Label, Semantic Feature Analysis, and Semantic Webbing/Mapping.  These all require kids to be actively engaged in the text and discussion.

New Learning #2 - Do more with author's purpose.
The presenters had several large wall charts.  One I especially liked was for author's purpose.  My students have had trouble with this in the past.  The chart is used to track every piece of text that crosses the students' collective desk - a basal reading story, a read aloud story, a Science or SS textbook lesson.  Identify the purpose and add it to the chart.  This lets the students see commonalities and lets the teacher see areas that may need a boost.

New Learning #3 - Be more deliberate in the teaching of text structures (instead of just focusing on text features.)
We did some in-depth work with 5 different structures of text - description, sequence, compare/contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution.  I now have some good examples and activities to use.  I'll definitely be adding this to my bag of tricks - I think I will start by using it in my nonfiction unit and then work it into fiction as it applies.

I also found some very useful websites.
Last, I was referred to some books and authors that sound excellent (now if I can just find them at the library!)
  • Nonfiction Matters by Stephanie Harvey
  • Laura Robb - she has written many books about vocabulary and some about teaching Science and Social Studies during Reading. I'm hoping this book will pick up where the workshop let me down.
Overall, a useful day. I wish it had been more focused on the actual nuts-and-bolts of integrating Science and Social Studies. However, I understand the limitations the presenters had - time, district expectations, testing requirements.

Here are a couple of sites that a quickie Google Search netted - these look promising!
Social Studies in Literacy Routines
SS Content Integration (not as good, works reading strategies into SS not vice versa)

How do you manage to teach it all? Do you integrate? What resources have helped you to be successful?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Social Studies Notebooking - 4th Grade

 When I moved to 4th grade, I was extremely excited.  Finally, I would be teaching a SS curriculum that made sense!  If you have ever taught primary grades, you know the topics covered tend to be vague - communities, holidays, citizenship. In NC (and most states I've learned), 4th grade is when students begin learning about the history of their state. To me, this made it perfect for interactive notebooking.

My first year in 4th grade, I followed the textbook. And quickly got frustrated.  Our textbook covers NC history by covering the 3 regions: Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountains.  So we learned about the past and the present of each region. That means we discussed the American Revolution, Civil War, and other topics 3 times in varying amounts of detail.  In the end, I didn't feel like my kids had a sense of the chronological story of our state. I vowed to spend my summer doing something about it.

So I did my research and found this: North Carolina History: A Digital Textbook.  This is meant for 8th graders - but it worked great for my purposes. I used their time periods and reorganized my 4th grade textbook chronologically. It took going down to page level - because some lessons had a huge span on a time line - what were the textbook developers thinking?!  This is what my plan looked like:
This reflects the revisions I made at the end of the 2010-2011 school year. I went ahead and included my Science curriculum too, so I can make sure it gets done.  I love this SS so much that I'd spend an hour a day on it and never do Science.

My next step was to revise my expectations for our notebooks.  My first year, I started with the typical notebooking idea of, "left for student reflection, right for teacher info."  This quickly fell apart, as my students just didn't have the maturity or skills necessary to really use the left side for reflection and interpretation.  Another part that did not work was keeping a table of contents.  I abandoned this idea after students lost valuable class days trying to catch up.  It just wasn't worth the effort.

We had a good title page and then started straight in on our first topic - Geography, Government, Regions, and Symbols.  We flowed through the year, doing different activities (you can see some in the slideshow below.)  I really tried to focus on how NC History fits into American History.  We spent a lot of time on landmark events like first explorers, the American Revolution, Westward Expansion, the Civil War, and the 1900's technological marvels.  The pacing didn't work quite as I wanted - I ended up rushing through the last several chunks as centers.  Next year I'll be able to pace things out differently.

Social Studies Notebook - 4th Grade on PhotoPeach

So, where do I go from here? Well, I made unit plans for each unit on my main document.  I've gone through my resources and the classroom library to find activities and literature to support each unit. I'm going to rely less on the textbook and more on the digital textbook, primary sources, and authentic literature.  I've tried to find lapbooking resources (another post on another day!) to go with the literature and the general American History topics. I've gathered Internet sites and sources into my unit plans as well.  It is amazing what is out there - if you just go look!  So I feel well prepared for another year of SS notebooking - all I need are some students!

Have you used interactive notebooks? Do you teach SS (as opposed to teaching other subjects)? What strategies do you use to make sure they are engaged and learning the content?