Sunday, April 29, 2012

Another Milestone

I had to stop writing my classroom newsletter tonight to announce...


I am so excited!  Thank you for joining me on this journey!

If you haven't taken a chance to go check me out on Facebook, feel free to come over there to see me too!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Random Thoughts

I was aiming for short post today...but I'm just full of randomness!

After five days of testing, my brain is just as fried as my students'!  We spent Friday afternoon celebrating...First with a Reading Festival--students bring in blankets, towels, pillows, and slippers.  We pushed all the desks to the side of the room and just read!  It was so relaxing...and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it!  (Sorry I didn't take pictures!  I was enjoying reading too!)  We stopped for lunch and came back for some game time.  Almost all the students brought in board games and a snack to share with everyone.  Back to learning on Monday!

Friday was also the day to say good-bye to my student teacher.  Well, not really!  She lives in the neighborhood next to the school, so she says she will be back!  Plus she is going to go with us on our field trip to the Georgia Aquarium in a couple of weeks...so it was the official "goodbye" but more like a "see you later!"  We gave her these books...

(My student teaching supervisor gave this book to me...and I had to pass on the tradition!)
and

and also a framed class picture signed by all the students.  One of my girls also sang her a song that she wrote.  Too sweet!

I'm also beginning my summer professional reading.  During the school year, we completed a book group on Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers by Stephen Layne.  He has so many great ideas in this book that I have been inspired to make some major improvements in my Reading Workshop.  Because I have seen so many cute things coming from the The Daily Five and The CAFE Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literary Assessment and Instruction that I thought that maybe these strategies may be just what I need.  I can't wait to get these books read, so I can get to thinking about how I will adapt the Sisters' ideas to my classroom! 

Are you using The Daily Five or CAFE in your upper grades classroom, please share with me about it!  I would love to hear about how you have adapted these ideas into your classroom.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When Money Burns a Hole...

I recently came into a little windfall of money...no not my tax refund...that came months ago!  My school's fabu P.T.A.  held a fundraiser in March called the Boosterthon Fun Run.  Since the fundraiser takes a little of our classtime, ten percent of what my class fundraises comes straight back to my classroom.  This year my class fundraised enough for me to have $135.51 to play with...yippee!

So since this money was burning a hole in my pocket...and I wanted some more content area books...and I feel like I never have enough good options for boys...and I honestly have difficulty resisting Amazon's 4 for 3 Books...I spent all $135.51 on books!

And just look at how many I got!  If you don't mind, I would like to tell you about some of my favorites...



Looking for fantastic biographies...well then these are for you!  On my grade level, we call these biographies Big Head books.  I love using these during our nonfiction unit in the fall.  They tell the life stories of their subjects in a way that is interesting for my fourth graders (I can't put them down either!).  They include text boxes, maps, diagrams, and other nonfiction text features to give more information to the reader about events that occur in the subject's life.  Some of the biographies I purchased are Who Was Ben Franklin?, Who Was Jackie Robinson?, Who Is Neil Armstrong?, Who Was Steve Jobs?, and Who Was Walt Disney?.


Have you heard about the I Survived series?  These are very popular in my classroom, and they don't stay on the shelves for long!  The author Lauren Tarshis writes major events from the point of view of a child actually living through the event.  For example, I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005takes place during the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.


Here are two more books that haven't stayed on the shelf since they arrived.  Fourth graders love the classics!  Maybe because they have seen older siblings or parents reading them or hear them referred to or maybe because they are just that good!  I enjoy the Classic Starts series because the reading level is just perfect!

Now this next pick was for my students that were asking me about the Hunger Games.  I read the series and love them, but I did not bring them into my classroom for my students to read.  Instead I am recommending to those students the Underlander series by the same author.  Gregor The Overlander is the first in the series.  It is number one on my Summer Read list.

After a quick preview, some went to their temporary new home in the Brand New Books basket...
and some went straight into the hands of excited, happy readers.

I always love new book recommendations.  What are some of the new titles that you have added to your classroom library?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mom of the Year

I am proud to say that we already got our Mother’sDay projects finished!  This is theearliest I have ever had these projects complete...and it feels so good to beon top of it!  Curious what our projectis?  Take a look..

Isn’t that cute?  Ican’t totally claim this idea all for my own...when I came to fourth grade, twoof my teammates told me about this cute idea they do that moms love!  It is a persuasive writing piece about whyour moms should be on the cover of People Magazine.
Itake time to introduce this writing piece. We talk about People Magazine, and how in this magazine, whilethey do talk about celebrities, they have stories about normal people as well.  I talk about how only extremely specialpeople are on the cover of the magazine though, so we have to convince themthat our moms should be on the front.  Iput up this outline on the Mimeo Board...

(You can click on the picture to get your own copy!)  We talk about roles Mom plays in our life...that’sthe list we created on the side.  Then Igive the directions about the outline. This is the minimum that I want to see in their final piece.  We talk about how they can expand on this anduse their own words.  I also remind themthat in a persuasive writing piece that every reason we give should have twopieces of evidence or examples to support it.
Sooff they go getting to work on their rough drafts...while I circle the roomconferencing and providing help when needed. After they get their ideas down, they take the time to revise and edittheir piece.  When it is time for thefinal draft, I give them some special lined paper (only because it looks nicerthan loose-leaf notebook paper) to write their final piece.

Then I give the student a cover page.  To combat, the too tiny drawings that fourthgraders sometimes, I have already lightly drawn a circle on the paper and givethe student instructions mom’s head should be about the size of that circle andmake sure mom has shoulders so there are no floating heads!  I have the students outline their picturewith an ultra-fine sharpie marker.
We gluethe finished writing piece and cover on a folded read piece of constructionpaper and add a People banner to the top. Here are some more examples of finished pieces...


Do you like this idea and want to try it withyour own students?  Click here to download your own copy of the cover sheet,lined paper, and People banners.

Do you have an interesting Mother's Day project that you do with your students?  Tell me all about it! 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Exciting news!


Thank you to every follower for helping me reach this milestone!  When I wrote my first post, I wasn't sure if I would actually get here, but I am so glad I made it!  I appreciate every single one of you!

Let's get me to my next big goal of 250 followers and then maybe, just maybe, I will do a giveaway! How fun would that be!?!:)

Friday, April 20, 2012

I don’t think this what they mean by "Going Green"...

We have been really been growing in our classroom...

mold and bacteria!  You just can’t study food chains and webs without growing some of your own decomposers. 
We started this experiment a month ago.  Partners placed an apple slice, bread slice, and a piece of cardboard into separate baggies making sure to label them just in case they became unrecognizable.  After taking time to record some observations in the forms of drawings and words on the sheet below...


each partnership placed their small baggies into a gallon-sized baggy and found a hiding spot for the baggy somewhere in the room.  (Kind of scary for me when I open my math manipulatives cabinet and pull out one of these bags!)
This week, we pulled out our experiments for the final time.  You would have thought that we discovered a secret tunnel to Disney World in our classroom from the glee my students expressed when we pulled out our experiments for the third and final time this week.  I heard many “Ewwws!”, a few “Coools!”, and even a “Mine’s got pimples!”

After much discussion, the students have a very solid understanding of the decomposers' role in the food chain.

Is the food chain part of your curriculum?  What experiments do you use to help students under the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review Time

This is sad, but this is my reality this week...test preparation.  I put up questions on the Mimeo board...the students use the strategies I have taught to find the correct answer...then we discuss what answer is correct and how we got there.  This is a necessary evil and neither my students nor I enjoy it...but I have tried to find some ways to bribe encourage engagement in our preparations.  From these pictures, I think it may be working...

First, any time we are doing test review questions...we bring down slates (dry-erase boards) and markers...
This makes completing review questions much more fun than a packet filled with test question after test question.
Well, my buddy here doesn't seem too enthused, but it gets better...
Another motivator I use is awarding points for questions.  I found a website that would let me enter in my student’s names, and it tallies and stores points for me.  I can also use my iPhone to enter points to the website as well.  It gives positive entries a “ding” and negative entries receive a buzzer.  Students earn points for every correct answer they choose.  I only take away points when misbehaving is going on this calling out or talking/distracting hard working classmates. 
But I don’t stop there...I also give points for doing hard work to reach an answer (like math...actually working out the problem rather than trying to make a lucky guess!).  When the students hear the ding...their heads pop up to see who got the point.  The student who got the point sneaks me an excited “thank you” smile.  They love it!  After testing, their points will transfer into reward coins that they trade in for prizes at the end of the quarter.
Can you find the next motivator in this picture...
If you spotted the student responder, you are correct!  If you don’t know what these are, basically they are like a remote control that talks to the computer and allows students to input answers. 
I pull out the responders occasionally to keep engagement up.  See look at this face...
I think that’s a face that’s having some fun!
If all else fails, I am also armed with Skittles! J

Monday, April 16, 2012

Feeling, Seeing, Hearing, Tasting, and Smelling Feelings

One of my favorite books to use in writing poetry is...

by Vladimir Radusky
   
If you have not read this book, the author uses children’s descriptions of what peace feels, looks, smells, tastes, and sounds like.  Their descriptions are precious!
After reading this book to my class, we brainstorm ideas for a different feeling, joy, using the Mimeo board and the document below. 
Here is an example of what we brainstormed for joy...
Once my student are bursting with the excitement of their ideas, I ask each student to choose a different emotion to brainstorm on their own.  I give them this sheet to guide them...(Click on the picture to download this sheet!)
After I give the students a day or two in writing workshop to brainstorm, we are ready to take our ideas on to the next step.  I model for the students how we take our brainstormed ideas and put them into the poem.  I make sure to let them know that it's okay that every idea is not used, but we do want to use the one that are the most powerful and can help our readeer use their senses too.  We play around with some of the ideas that we brainstorm together.  I remind the class how the good ideas that we are looking for are the ones that will make us feel joy as well as our reader!  Just simply saying "the playground" is not going to make our reader feel that joy...instead "bursting into a run from the school doors onto the playground" would make our reader feel more joyous.  Here is how our class poem ended up...

Student then get time to play with their ideas and write their poems.  I work with the students in conferences to improve on some of those ideas that tell the feeling instead of showing it.  After some hard work and revision, we have poems that are just as precious as the book that inspire them.


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Friday, April 13, 2012

Gotta Have It

It is a night of Linkys!

To celebrate her move to a new school
is having a Linky to get some ideas for her new classroom.  I had to contribute because decorating my classroom for the new year my favorite part of summer.

So here are my
These are just the top 5 things that really make my classroom!

Testing Time


Since this is all I'm really thinking about right now, I decided to join in on the High Stakes Testing Link-Up at Empowering Little Learners.  So here it goes...

I teach in Gwinnett County, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta).  My school system is the largest school system in the state serving nearly 161,000 students.  During the school year, we give two different kinds of tests. 

In my system, we give the Benchmark assessments at the end of every quarter.  They are four percent of a student’s final quarter grade, and the data from these help to drive instruction. 

The other test we give is the state’s Criterion-Reference Competency Test.  This test is given in April, and it is really the HIGH STAKES TEST since it determines AYP.   There are five sections to the C.R.C.T.: Reading, English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies.   It is an extremely fair test!

I teach fourth grade, an extremely high stakes year in my school system.  Fourth grade is called a Gateway year.  This means that students must pass all five sections of the test for promotion.  If they do not pass one section, this means coming back summer school and retaking the test at the end of that session.  If students do not pass during the summer, they are considered a transition student which means they are placed in a fifth grade class with a fourth grade label.

The C.R.C.T. is given over five days.  Each subject of the test is given in two sections with a ten minute break in between.  Each section takes a minimum of 45 minutes and maximum of an hour and ten minutes.  Scores come back in one of three categories: does not meet, meets, and exceeds.  At my school, we strive for not just having students meet but exceed standards.

At this point in time, the tests count more for the reputation of the teacher than anything else.  The state of Georgia is revising the teacher evaluation system, which has not been presented to us yet, so who know what the future may hold!

To prepare my students for the test, obviously, I teach the curriculum!  Beyond that, stating a month before the test, I expose them to standardized test-like questions.  We go over test vocabulary.  We study tests as a reading genre and are able to identify the types of questions that will be asked.  I teach strategies for test-taking and give test-talk upon test-talk upon test talk.

My biggest tip is build students confidence.  Discuss questions and strategies for answering test questions.  I repeat and emphasize good testing strategies over and over.  I have told my students that I want my voice in their head when they are taking that testing with reminders about smart test-taking!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poetry Book Favs

Ever since I could start reading, I have loved poetry.  My mom introduced me to an aging copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, and I was hooked at first reading of “My Shadow.”  I moved onto other poets...Jack Prelutsky, Shel Silverstein..., and as I matured so did the poets that I grew to love.  This is why I love to introduce my students to poetry, too.

Like I told you I would earlier in the week, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite children’s poetry books. The poems in these books are less about rhyme but more about imagery and language.

The first book is...

I love this book of poetry because these are relatively simple poems, but the ideas come across strong.  They show my students how a few words can communicate very powerful ideas.  Plus there are fabulous examples of voice as some of the poems are written from the perspective of trees!

Next is...

I love most poetry books by Douglas Florian.  He has written books filled with poems on just about topic you can think of...planets, amphibians, trees, animals, baseball...in all kind of formats like list poems and shape poems.  These are the kind of poems students can see themselves writing.

Another poetry book I enjoy is...

If you love dogs like I do, you will love this poetry book!  These poems are written from a dog’s point of view...students love these! 

A final book that I rely on a good deal when we are working on writing poetry is...

These poems are fabulous to teach similes and metaphors.  I also use the book as a model to for students to write their own color poems.

One last book I want to share with you is kind of a poetry book and kind of not...

This is one of my favorite books!  If you have any rock collectors in you class, they will really be able to connect to it.  The author describes skipping rocks and wishing rocks, chalk rocks and resting rocks.  All the description that is used is just fabulous!

Do you have any favorite poetry books that you share with your class?  Please share them with me!
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