Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Keeping Readers and Writers Motivated: Classroom Parade

A few years ago, Marni Lipton was MY wanna-be-a-teacher-grad-student; these days there are some MIGHTY lucky students in HER class.  It's tough to keep kids motivated and thinking on the eve of a holiday weekend as the snow descends upon us, but here is a powerful way.  I am totally confident that Marni has a winner in this project and I too plan to use it next year! 

Classroom Parade 
Create a classroom parade loosely modeled after the famed Macy's parade.  Responding to images of past parades and creating visual images to explain ideas and using details to explain concepts is certainly part of the "core."  The idea and graphics are referenced here as an online reference for Melissa Sweet's text: Balloons Over Broadway: :

The First Thanksgiving: Wisdom From the Wampanoag About Wearing Fur

It's no secret that this site is one of my late November favorites.  It's a winner for close reading and determining meaning from complex texts.

Another reason I return year after year is that Scholastic keeps updating the site!  This year, I learned that we've been wearing our "furs" all wrong!  You need to wear the FUR side next to your skin in cold weather for maximum warmth and the fur side to the outside in rainy weather as fur naturally repels water.  Now I know!

Wampanoag Homesite: Witness the day-to-day life of the indigenous people who were part of the Wampanoag Nation in this 17-minute video for all grades

Grammarly: Just another Spellchecker, or your path to better content?

To all of us who may have gotten a little "sloppy" with the old grammar in the past generation or so,

   You should read this article: 
   Grammarly: Just another Spellchecker, or your path to better content?  It starts with this pretty great quote:

Grammarly is an Online Tool that claims to “reviews and improves your text, correcting grammar, spelling, word choice and style mistakes with unmatched accuracy.”  There is a free trial even if it will be a bit pricey after that.  I am doing the free trial right now myself.   starting a free trial
This program picks up not only subject-verb agreement, but also dangling modifiers and better word choices.  One thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that our written English ha become quite sloppy over the last hundred years or so.  As I tried this program last night, I could imagine my Grandmother, a teacher long ago, smiling from ear-to-ear. "Thank goodness grammar is back in vogue," she'd say.   
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#sol14 Let's go for a walk

"Put on your sneakers.  Let's go for a walk," he said hurriedly waving his hand towards the door as if I were a puppy awaiting his arrival and my walk.

"I'm almost done with this closet," I frowned surveying the piles of winter-ready wool still on the bed and the floor. If the weather turned cold, again, I wanted to have more than a cotton sweater to put atop a summer skirt!

"It's gorgeous outside," he assured me, "turning on his heel and looking pathetic, "but if you want to stay in and clean, I will go out and blow some leaves around."

The practical, organized and perfectionist side of me looked straight into the embrace-this-moment-of-life-that-you-can-never-get-back-a-sort-of-date, love-a-good-walk side of me and I joined him halfway down the driveway.  I suspect, after all these years, he knew that the desire to be organized and ready for the week ahead would give way to a crisp fall afternoon's potential.

We headed down to the "pond" and trudged through the piles of crunchy leaves, mostly in silence, looking at the newly fallen branches.  After all these years, we both knew, on some level, what we were looking for.

About halfway around the pond, the sun leaned into the horizon and cast an orange shadow that nearly ensconced the entire pond. It seemed to be saying, "I'm glad you came to stopped by to visit in these hours before hunting season begins in earnest in the morning."  This time, quietly acknowledging the darkness that takes over in minutes this time of year, we decided to head home.

"I was remembering," I began.

"That time when we got lost in the woods, back when the kids were little," he finished.

I didn't need to respond as we were in a silent-symphony as we trudged home in the fading light of day.  The clothes were not straightened out this weekend, but I was absolutely grateful for the "afterglow" in my muscles and peace in my heart that follows a brisk walk through crunchy leaves on the edge of the "don't walk in the woods season."

The next morning, the temp was close to 60 degrees, a clear reminder I had made the right choice to let go of preconceived notions about what "needs" to be done. Truth be told, I "needed" that walk filled with the sights and smells of late fall far more than I will ever need a sweater!    

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sharing: Dan Wees Suggestions for Formative Assessment

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Dan Wees has written a few time about Formative Assessment on his own blog and shared on Edutopia.

This particular Google Doc is a KEEPER:

Among his many suggestions for formative assessment: 
  • Summarize what you learned in 10-13, 20-25....words 
  • Write, 1,2, or 3 things a fellow student might not understand about...
  • Whiteboard share - turn and see if you agree 
  • Thumbs up, fist to five 
  • Wiffitti  (gotta try this with some lucky grad students) 
  • Google Docs  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

#celebratelu That First Thanksgiving: No one talked of cleaning

I celebrate each Saturday

This week, am celebrating the Pilgirms and the Wampanoags from whom I have learned much! Once again, I spent some time "closely reading" the fabulous Scholastic site this week in preparation for that big eating fest heading down the pike.

I know about the houses, the crops and about the helpful Native Americans.  Yet, I smile every year as I think about raising kids in the days before Pampers. I giggle with the kids as they think about little boys wearing dresses in the days!  I chuckle as I watch those settlers eat the food they could find or grow with their fingers.  I remember the reason why we celebrate as I watch those fascinated eyes, my little ones and my grad students alike, watch in awe as those Pilgrims recreating-actors talk in such odd ways about the journey and the hardships. Surely, they had reasons to celebrate those who survived such a dangerous adventure.

Each and every year, I as I revisit with a new bunch of readers, writers and thinkers, I am reminded that there is NOT ONE MENTION OF CLEANING in preparation for the holiday!  NOT ONE!

SO today, I celebrate that first Thanksgiving where no one cared about your dust balls and cobwebs.
No one talked about Pinterest worthy decorations. 
No one worried about candles or pie crusts.
If you happen to take a peek into my kitchen or into my dining room on Thursday, remember I am embracing the spirit of the first Thanksgiving.  We'll be eating locally (squash and kale from the farmers' market; pumpkin gelato made down the road) and there will not be anything on the table worthy of Pinterest. I will be thinking about (and praying for) of my own reasons to celebrate, this long and dangerous journey called life. .  

May your week of Thanksgiving be one where you (and I) focus on family, friends, food, and fellowship. May your dust balls and cobwebs (*along with mine) enjoy themselves, too.  
Picture from Pinterest.  Perhaps I could put the picture on the table?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#sol2014 Don't you love your job?

I was working on lesson plans for the next week when he arrived in my room late in the day; however, I hurriedly put away my papers as I had several assessments for him and a short timeline with buses soon to be rolling into the lot.

"What you workin' on," he questioned me.

"Some lesson plans for next week," I responded.

"Do you have to go to a meeting?" he asked me.

"No," I smiled thinking that kids must associate plans with meetings.

Then, hearing the words of an administrator dancing in my head, I added glibly, "teachers should always make plans 'cause IF they win the lottery, someone could come in and do their job."

He was silent and looked at me sullenly as if I had committed a serious faux pas (and I had indeed ). "Don't you love your job?" he asked slowly taking my breath away and poking a hole right through my heart.

It took me a moment to regain my composure and respond.

"I guess you know me pretty well," I smiled as I patted his hand in the way you assure someone you really are THERE for them.  "I have the best job on earth and that is the real reason I do lesson plans.  I want every minute of our reading club to be great."  

"I knew that," he said,"and that's why I do my best."

"I've never even played the lottery," I thought to myself as we began and perhaps, this is why.  "Politics, paperwork, and annoying people aside, I really do have the best job on earth."    

Sharing NPR article: Overboard With Leveled Texts

dive into reading

In this article over at NPR, they compare learning to read to learning to swim! It also suggests we may have gone a bit "overboard" - pun intended - with leveling books!Yes, kids at the beginning need to have texts that are just right, until they learn to swim a bit.Then, one day, they swim into the deep end....or take on a book that is a bit challenging."Chucking a kid into the deep end without any help isn't likely to teach him anything except to hate swimming. But no child ever learned to swim with his feet firmly planted on the bottom"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sharing Research: Can Graphic Texts Help Readers Find Information?

I was never a huge fan of comic books; however, my close-in-age cousin and my sister were ginormous fans and I was a voracious reader, so I read Archie, Superman and all the rest of the image laden texts.  
When they came back in vogue wrapped up in nice story book forms a few years ago, I began reading them again, so that I could recommend them to my students.  Somehow, I knew my reluctant readers might find the images and limited text appealing!

Naomi Kruger-Arram went a bit further and shared her research in the link above. She wasn't a huge fan of graphic works either, but as a teacher, she plunged in and has done lots of reading and research ABOUT TODAY'S GRAPHIC TEXTS.

She shares her research: 
  • They are not only motivational because they look cool.  Some of the readers found pictures made it easier to visualize or understand what was taking place in the text. 
  • Students felt like graphic texts had fewer words even when there was not much of a difference when compared to traditional texts.

She concludes that graphic texts may not just be "cool" or "easier."  They might actually help readers and support learning.  No matter what, it is an area that we teachers need to consider when teaching and supporting diverse learners.  it's also an area for action research in our classrooms 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

#celebratelu That old "ahhah" moment feeling

When I looked out the morning in the predawn darkness, the snow was everywhere.  My first impulse was to "sigh" with a realization that our color-laden-crispy-sunshiny-fall was morphing into a white-tipped-barren-dark-cold-to-your-bones-winter season. Perhaps, I wondered momentarily, if I should climb back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and forget this day!

Instead, I showered and dressed in layers, emerging in an old-favorite-wool sweater that had been waiting all summer for a chance to come back into the line-up. I fortified my insides with a bit of Quaker's finest that tasted surprisingly delicious as I shivered in the cold!

As I headed to work, the darkness gave way, somehow, to a glorious, early morning "ahhah" moment so lovely I wished I could have taken a picture while driving (so I borrowed this one from a Facebook friend!).  I celebrated the beauty, and the miracle, of thin branches carefully balancing inches of snow while the roads, still warm from the fall's sunshine, remained beautifully-bare!  

A few hours later, I was once again having one of those "I should have climbed back into be and pulled the covers over my head" moments as I coerced my first-period-amoebae-like first-graders into reading an old classic, Get In.

"Sure didn't plan this well," I thought to myself as I guided the amoebae through a short text where Mindy is encouraging her raccoon friend Buzzy to get in a blow-up pool!
"Point to those words," I implored them as word-to-word correspondence is still sporadic.
"Get your mouth ready for that word," I encouraged them.
"We have that word right here on our list," I said hopefully as I pointed to "you" on a short list.
"Now, read it again," I strongly encouraged one particularly reluctant amoeba as I wrapped my arms around him and placed my hands over his own, strongly, scaffolding the reading experience with my mouth moving for his and my heart not too far from his own.

"Will you get in?" we said together.
"I will not get in," he said softly, miraculously pointing to the words as I held him securely.
"Will you get in, Mindy," he continued, effortlessly getting his own mouth ready to say the words as if he had been doing this for a long time.
"See me get in," he said as if he had been doing this a long time.
My breathing slowed so I could hear every soft word coming from his mouth and I smiled from ear-to-ear as I felt that lovely "ahhah" moment-feeling for the second time in as many hours.

"I'm not sure who is more excited right now," the principal, who knew this amoebae quite well, offered as we celebrated our "ahhah moment rereading a page to him and to anyone else who would listen.

There is nothing quite as lovely as snow laden trees, except, if you teach beginning readers!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

They, their, there

I still say, "i before e except when it says a as in neighbor or weigh" softly when writing a word that is impacted by such a rule.  So, o a new line for the new generation is NOT only NOT rocket science, it makes good sense!   

Sunday, November 9, 2014

#sole2014 Sprinkles, Showers, Storms and Tsunamis

This weekend, I went to a bridal shower (start the song track for Fiddler on the Roof) and to be honest, I could almost hear the sound track from Fiddler on the Roof playing in the distant background.  The event was a lovely gathering that turned a home already filled with love, into a winter wonderland filled with aunties, cousins and friends from far and wide. 

A quick Google search suggests that the idea of a "shower" goes back to 16th century Holland where friends offered small gifts when families were opposed to a marriage or too poor to pay a dowry! 
In the financially strapped early 1930's, it became an opportunity for friends and families to gather and gift an new bride small kitchen implements, like a potato masher, fork or plate.  Now, depending on you circumstances, it can mean pots, pans, and mixers or Tiffany place settings!  
At thus weekend gathering, there was handmade pottery and family heirlooms shared with the new family.  Many of the gifts suggested the new couple had a lot of books and liked to eat!  The timing of their own event, days after Christmas, means they will never lack ornaments for their tree!   

There were also some amazing discussions from both sides of the family tree as we each remembered our "own" and others' showers!

"Perhaps we should have sprinkles for kids before they head off the college," one astute senior in HS offered!  "I could use some dishes, towels......."  
"I could use a sprinkle too,"  offered a nearby guest thinking of her place, "cause it might be a while before I get married!" 

"Perhaps we should have storms, or hurricanes for those of us who survive 10 years of marriage," a newlywed nearby offered!  "I'll know what I really need by then!"

"Perhaps we should have a tsunami for those of us who make it to 25 years.  At this point, I could really use some new things!"

So, I propose some "new" events that would embrace and rejoice our homes and the support of individuals at all diverse points of life who need a little "pick me up" and a "few new things" to spruce up their nests.....especially those nests that have been battered by daily life!  

PS....We are copyrighting the term Tusnami as a party for those who weather the storms of everyday life.....with a spouse, with a partner, with a roomate, with a BFF, with kids, without a roomate or without kids at home, with dogs, with cats, without pets, .......basically every single one of our diverse possible living arrangements.......details on how to "have one" to follow :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

#sol2014 Kale Sticks

Throughout much of time, most dogs, of most breeds, of most ages, in most parts of the world, have chased sticks. Sometimes, the game is referred to as "fetch" and other times it is called "get" or "retrieve the stick". The game is simple.  The human tosses the stick and the dog runs off excitedly to get the stick and return it to the awaiting human.  Most of us have watched it even if we have not done it.

In our more sophisticated society, dogs (and their human friends), especially those who strive to eat healthier and live more purposeful lives have altered this age-old game.  Rather than randomly chase a boring, leafless stick, they are taking kale sticks and purposely, systematically, and methodically, fetching, getting, and retrieving kale sticks.  Yes, those tough as nails stems of the fall-friendly kale plants can provide entertainment, nutrition and fun for diverse dogs who in the past would have waited days or even weeks for a boring stick.  Now, every night of every day that humans eat kale for dinner can be game night for our dogs!

PS Who would have ever guessed the value of defoliated kale sticks?

PPS I do think there is a marketing possibility in this:)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

#celebratelu2014 Breathing, Reading and Treating

Another week is coming to a close and thanks to Ruth's urging, I am linking up to "Celebrate This Week" and thinking about how amid the stress and strife, there really are things to celebrate!

  • My mother has not been doing well. She's been struggling for every breath and often tired of the "fight" to live. Then, she tried the Prednisone her doctor suggested, and as is possible with the magic of pharmacology, her breathing eased and her talking increased.  The women sitting in her chair last night, looked and sounded like "my mother."  So, I celebrate  Arthur Nobile and the Schering Corporation.  
  • One of my struggling beginning readers joined me on the journey to becoming a reader yesterday.  He turned the page, confidently and began.  " to s.s.s.sssleep with me. My little dog likes to with me...."   I watched him point to each word (a first) without me urging (forcing) him to do so.  I glanced at his mouth "getting ready" for each word by making the sound of the first letter. I looked at his confidence as he looked at pictures, read ahead, tried again and literally "wrestled" each and every word to the ground.  Perhaps it was because he was dressed as Captain America, or perhaps it was just his "time" to put those strategies to work  Whatever it was, I celebrate assessment-guided- differentiated instruction and a great B level story! 

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  • Last but certainly not least is this:  Yes indeed, teachers (but not parents) are celebrating that THIS Halloween was on a Friday.  They MIGHT just come back down to earth by Monday.