Sunday, February 28, 2016

12 MORE Ideas for Celebrating Read Across America

You know when you have a huge, crazy event and you're running all over the place and totally stressed out, and then as soon as it's over, you say, "Next year, it's going to be even bigger!" That is what I do after every Read Across America Week. And my librarian just about dies every time I do it.

I know everyone else celebrates Read Across America next week, but my school celebrates a week early, so we can avoid trying to overbook our guest readers.  

We do fun stuff all week long to celebrate reading and have a little fun. Here are 12 of my favorite things from this year's Read Across America celebration!

#1 Photo Booth

Before all these shenanigans began, I made some cute frames and props to use in a "Seuss Yourself" photo booth. The teachers used the photo booth to take cute pictures. (We also kept the photo booth up for our guest readers on Friday - it was adorable!)

All of those pictures were printed and we made them into a "Seuss Yourself" bulletin board!

This was our calendar for this week:


#2 Seuss Snack: Thing One & Thing Two cupcakes

#3 Dress-Up Day: Wear green for Grinch Day!

Guest readers: retired teachers


#4 Seuss Snack: Lorax Nutter Butters

 #5 Dress-Up Day: Wear a mustache for the Lorax Day! Always a favorite.

Guest readers: Teachers switch classes and read to their neighbor's kids!


#6 Seuss Snack: Red & Blue Seuss Popcorn Use melting chocolate in Seuss colors. Lay the popcorn out on parchment, waxed paper, or paper towels and drizzle away!

#7 Dress-Up Day: Wear stars for Sneetches Day! This was a new one for us, and honestly, I really loved it.
#8 Fun activity: Read Across Capistrano. Every student (and teacher) sits in the hallway and reads! This is such a fun event for our school. It's about thirty minutes, but it's so neat to see everybody read!


#9 Seuss Snack: Red & White Muddy Buddies Get the recipe here.
#10 Dress-Up Day: Wear a crazy hat for the Cat in the Hat Day! I made this hat myself, she said proudly.

Guest readers: preservice teachers


#11 Seuss Snack: Seuss cookies Our amazing niece made us these beautiful cookies to give out to teachers and guest readers!

# 12 Dress-Up Day: Seuss Yourself! Dress up like a Seuss character!
I dressed up as a scene from The Lorax. I made my shirt out of everything I could find at Hobby Lobby!

Our teachers and kids really outdid themselves with their adorable Seuss costumes! We had foxes in sox, Grinches, cats in hats, Things, Cindy Lou-Whos and more!
# 13 Guest readers: community members We invite members of the community (mostly FOTs: Friends of Teachers) to visit our classes and read to them! My incredible librarian creates a schedule to make sure that every teacher gets a reader.

I've already started planning for next year. It's going to be BIG!
To check out the original 19 ideas for Read Across America, visit my post from last year!
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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mentor Sentences: Grammar, Word Choice & More

Do you ever read your students' writing and go, "Ummm... I am pretty sure there are some sentences in here somewhere." 

I do that all the time. Without reading it aloud and imagining the way the child speaks, sometimes there's really no telling what they're trying to say.

We know grammar matters. It matters because, without it, your reader has no clue what your message is. Like a grandma reading a teenager's text messages,  they will be lost and confused. 

And this is often what I am when I look at fourth graders' writing. Unfortunately, they've been 'learning' about nouns, verbs, periods, and capitals for five years of their lives with basically no evidence to support this claim.

So we needed to take some drastic measures. Enter: Mentor Sentences.

Mentor sentences are models. Just like a mentor text, they basically show us how it's done. I actually purchased a few mentor sentence products on TPT, but they didn't really meet the needs of my kids to the letter, so I decided to make my own.

To help my kids learn about a complete sentence, I wrote a simple sentence with lots of parts of speech. I wanted them to really understand what the subject was (who or what the sentence is about) and what the predicate was (what the subject does or is).

Day One

The first mentor sentence I introduced was "The terrifying tornado spun ferociously through the tiny town."

I read the sentence aloud, slowly, and asked the kids to visualize it. Why was it a great sentence? What did the author do to make it a great sentence? We recorded our noticings on the chart. We noticed things like how descriptive the sentence was and how the writer used some strong word choice.

Then we dissected it: We identified the subject and the predicate and marked them in red and green.

In their notebooks, the kids glued the sentence and marked up the subject and predicate, and the questions that would help them find those parts of a sentence.

Day Two

I gave each student a little table to glue into their notebooks. Each column was labeled with a different part of speech and there was a little space above it. 

A strategy that has helped my students identify parts of speech is questioning. Each part of speech answers a question in a simple sentence.

Nouns: who, what?
Adjectives: What kind, how many?
Verbs: Did what, is what?
Adverbs: How?
Prepositional Phrases: Where?

These questions aren't foolproof, but they are a great place to start!

Day Three

To help kids apply what they were learning about parts of speech and subjects and predicates, we practiced dividing up some run-on sentences. We marked the subject of each sentence in red and the predicate in green. Noticing when the new subject was introduced helped kids realize when sentence were run-ons. 

I don't love workbooks, but we used a workbook page and colored pencils to practice identifying subjects, predicates, and complete sentences, and we continued to build a common language for talking about writing.

Day Four

The fourth day was super fun. I gave a little baggie to each pair of kids. I'd recorded the sentence on a sentence strip and cut it into individual words. Holding my timer aloft, I said, "You have thirty seconds to build our mentor sentence!" 

Their hands flew and the cards were shuffled like mad. They did it, every last kid!

Then I asked them to separate the subject from the predicate. They separated "The terrifying tornado" from "spun ferociously through the tiny town."

We spent a minute or two reviewing parts of speech: Point to the noun in the subject. Point to the adjective that describes the noun. What word shows the action the noun did? The verb! Find the verb. Point to the adverb that explains how the verb was done. Point to the prepositional phrase that answers the question, "where?"

And then we manipulated the sentence. This was tricky. The first thing that the kids did to make a new sentence was that they switched "ferociously" and "terrifying". This resulted in:  "The ferociously tornado spun terrifying through the tiny town." This, of course, brought about a conversation about the difference between adjectives and adverbs and which words they can describe or modify.

Then they tried, "The tiny tornado spun ferociously through the terrifying town," which was pretty funny. At first, many of them seemed to think it was ok. I had them close their eyes and visualize as I read the sentence. When the giggles began, I knew they got it. We discussed how simply flipping words wasn't a great way to revise a sentence. You need to flip phrases.

Because this was the first time, I suggested trying, "Through the tiny town," at the beginning of the sentence. Then I asked them to try, "Ferociously," at the beginning of the sentence, too. They started to realize that adverbs can go in various places around the sentence, and prepositional phrases can, too. This creates more interesting sentences. 

 We charted our revised sentences on our anchor chart.

Day Five 

The last day, we used the mentor sentence to write a modeled sentence. We chose a noun: volcano (by popular consent). I asked the questions to build a sentence around the word volcano.

As the kids came up with words, I challenged them to replace ordinary words (big) with specific and interesting word choice, and this is what we came up with:

Who or what?  (Noun) Volcano.
What kind? (Adjective) Dangerous.
Did what? (Verb) Rumbled.
How? (Adverb) Violently.
Where? (Prepositional Phrase) In the middle of the town.

Whole sentence: The dangerous volcano rumbled violently in the middle of the town.

It was awesome! The kids were excited to try their own, so I asked the questions slowly so they could choose their own noun and craft their own sentence. It was so much fun. 

Have you used mentor sentences in the classroom? How has it worked for you?

Want to get started? Grab my Mentor Sentences Grammar Notebook for the first nine weeks (or whenever you're ready to start!) on TPT
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Beyond Rubrics: Five Steps to Better Revision *Freebie!

Picture this: Tommy is hard at work on his latest expository piece; all about whales. Tommy has poured his blood, sweat, and tears into this piece. He knows it's incredible. It's full of facts and, best of all, all the words are spelled right. Clearly, top-notch writing. 

Before Tommy hands in his paper, you say, "Tommy, did you revise this piece?" 

Uh-oh! Close one! thinks Tommy. He races back to his desk, furrows his brow, and quickly erases the word, "big." In place of the word "big," he writes "gigantic." Phwew! Glad to be done with that chore of revision! Then he races back to the turn-in basket, slaps his paper on top of the stack of reports on hamsters and elephants, and heads back to his desk, accomplished.

If you're like me, this makes your heart hurt a little. We ask for revision, but our little guys have no idea what we're talking about.
Revision? You mean spelling?

You know it's true. How often does the first draft of Tommy's piece look exactly like his final draft? 

Like...almost every time!

But we made a rubric! We wrote it together! I modeled! I conferred! I cajoled! 

To no avail. Kids are still clueless when it comes to revising. Some people are probably excellent at making rubrics work, but for me and my kids, they serve the same purpose as a Carson-Dellosa apple hanging on the wall: decoration.

This. Must. End. We must teach better revision! And here's how, in five steps:

1. Use a rubric to create thought-provoking questions. 
Kids look at rubrics and go, "Yes, yes, I did all of that. I obviously earned a four." But they don't always have any actual reason for that. After having several writing conferences with children who are clearly experts in their field of writing, I'm ready to tear my hair out. Or cry. Or have a nice big glass of wine.

Instead of using a rubric full of criteria or statements, devolve that rubric into organized questions that get kids thinking. Stay focused on the criteria for the rubric and then ask yourself questions that writers ask! 
For example, to help kids think about organization, ask...
* What organizational structure did the writer use?
* Are the ideas easy to follow or does the reader get lost?
* Can you find some meaningful transitions that connect ideas and help the writing flow?

These questions require students to hunt back in the text and find evidence, and that's the difference between thoughtful revision and just looking at a rubric.

This is the Revision Guide I put together for my students this year. Grab it for free on Google Drive!

2. Collaborate by using the questions to analyze a strong piece of writing
Don't start with the worst piece ever. That's overwhelming. We want kids to know "What should it look like," before they learn what it shouldn't look like, or else they have nothing to compare it to. Let's start with the end in mind! You'll still have plenty to talk about. 
There should still be some advice you could give the "writer" (even if they're not in the room) about what they should do on their next piece.

3. Guide students through analyzing a piece of writing on their own
Give everyone the same piece. Ask a question and have students hunt for evidence to respond to the question. Then give them time to talk in teams - that's the important piece. You're building a community of writers with a common language for talking about writing! YESSS!

4. Have students analyze a partner's piece of writing
Revision circles are awesome! Everybody passes their writing to the left and the kids use the questions as a guide for providing feedback for the writer to use when they revise their writing. The writer can decide whether they want to use that feedback or not, but they have some thoughtful ideas to start with!

5. Have students analyze their own writing, every time they write a piece
If students are expected to revise a piece of writing, provide them with the questions so they can find spots for revision in their piece. 

This takes a lot of time, yes, but it is time well spent! Kids who can talk about writing in an informed and thoughtful way become better writers! (That goes for adults, too!) So try it out! 

Need some tools to get started?

Watch this handy dandy video! In it, I model how to guide and question students to help them revise their own expository pieces.

And check out my brand-new product: Expository Writing Revision Guides on TPT! It's full of tips, revision guides, and samples to make this work in your own classroom!

  Want a free expository revision guide? Just enter your email list below! You'll get free ideas and resources to help you improve your students' writing!
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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Test: What Teaching is All About

So a week ago, I got an email that I needed to report to a "mandatory meeting" about the "state test" after school. Needless to say, I. Was. Psyched.

I mean, let's get real: that's why I got into teaching! Watching kids fill in little tiny bubbles with #2 pencils? Who could ask for a more fulfilling day? So I made sure to arrive early at the meeting. I brought my handy dandy notebook and a purple pen. I staked out a spot in the front. I didn't want to miss a thing.

When my AP arrived at the meeting, I could tell she was pretty excited about the training, too. She'd made a powerpoint and everything! And it was full of citations of legal documents and pictures of non-examples! This was going to be good.

I was riveted during the whole meeting. Here are some of the things I learned about:
The day before the test, I get to plan out a new seating arrangement for my room! The kids shouldn't be able to communicate at all. Let's get real here; that's not what education is about. It's about choosing the right answer out of four choices! That's what we do in real life! 

So anyway, my seating chart is really really important. At any time during the test, some person I don't know and have never seen before (can you say Mystery Date?!) can come into my room and demand to see it! I have to show where each nine-year-old is sitting and write their test booklet number and their student ID! Now, that's thorough!
During the test, I get to do this really cool thing called, "Active Monitoring." That means that while the kids are taking their four-hour test, I don't have to sit behind my desk and read a boring magazine or et some work done onmy laptop. In fact, I'm not supposed to bring my laptop on that day at all! Instead, I'm going to actively monitor my students by walking around the room and making sure they're working on the right part of the test.

Here's the really challenging part: I can't actually look at the test! I have to make sure they're working on the test without looking at it! What a riot! I'm really looking forward to challenging my management skills with this fun paradox. At this point in the meeting, I made a cute little sketch of my classroom in my notebook. I used a yellow highlighter to mark the path I plan to take around my room for four hours.

Planning this fun day makes me look forward to it even more!
We learned a lot about what happens when you don't do active monitoring. And that includes: public shaming, getting fired, and losing your your teaching certificate! Wow! I feel really good that our state takes this so seriously.
It's going to be a fun day for my students, too. It'll be their 'time to shine' and show what they know! I know they're looking forward to it because they talk about it all the time. Sometimes I feel like that's what they think school is about! Ha! Aren't kids funny?

I'm so glad I've been working on independent reading stamina, because it's finally going to pay off on the test day! I'm so relieved, because I always felt like it was so much wasted time. It turns out, the kids will have four hours to complete a 40-some question test with about five or six passages. Finally, an opportunity to put all that time spent reading to good use!
During the four hour test, if they take a bathroom break, I have to make a note on their answer sheet. They don't get that time back or anything, but data collection is kind of a hobby of mine. I'm really excited to have data on my kids' bathroom habits. I think it's the missing piece to my instruction. I might even make it into a data wall.

I haven't even told you the best part: this test is going to determine if I am a good teacher and if my students are good learners! I have to say, I am really impressed by whoever came up with this system. Why spend so much time on 'authentic assessment' when a one-shot deal will serve just as well? I can't wait to find out if I'm a good teacher!
Too bad the results on some of the tests won't be ready until a week after school lets out in the summer. At least I'll have something to do on my long, boring days at home by myself! Shout it with me: DISAGGREGATE!

I have to be honest. I was totally pumped about this awesome new teaching challenge, but I was also starting to feel stressed about administering this top-secret test. I mean, it's obviously the most important thing I'm going to do in my teaching career! I don't want to mess it up! 

Fortunately, we're going to have lots of opportunities to learn. I'll get to take some online courses about 'testing security', participate in a few more faculty meetings, and read a really long handbook that will probably clear up all of my questions. When the big day finally comes, I think I'll be ready!
Do you get to give a 'high stakes test', too? Are you as pumped as me?

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