Saturday, March 8, 2014

At Least Use the Correct Terminology

Warning...Political rant to follow:

Appalling and sad. That's all I can manage to think right now after reading Sen. Scott Beason's bill, SB443. I take issue with many things in the bill, but will only tackle one in this post. The terms 'curriculum' and 'standards' are not interchangeable. In my opinion, this incorrect use of terminology is meant to confuse the issue. In SB443 he proposes local school systems be able to "...opt out of the Common Core curriculum..." (emphasis added) Common Core is not curriculum. Common Core is a set of standards. Here is the difference:

Standards-- goals that students are supposed to meet. Things that students should be able to do and understand.
  • Example: Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. [5-NBT5] This is a fifth grade math standard. It and any other Alabama standards are available to the public here
Curriculum-- the method and resources used to help students achieve required standards. Curriculum refers to teaching materials such as text books, the sequence of instruction, and the delivery of instruction. 
  • Local school districts already have control over the curriculum. With input from teachers, parents, and other stakeholders, the districts review curriculum materials and decide together on which ones to purchase. 
Think of the standards as the finish line of a run and curriculum as the actual running route. I may set a goal (my standard) to run five miles. There are multiple starting points and routes that I could take to reach my goal. My running buddies and I usually decide together which route we will take, and sometimes we even change our minds mid-run. The route I take may be different from someone else's route. We may even run at different speeds or stop to walk. That's okay as long as we reach our standard (goal) of five miles. 

These terms are two completely different things. If we are to have a conversation about a subject, we need to have a shared vocabulary and understand what the terms we speak and write mean. Common standards ensure that Alabama's children will be prepared to compete  locally, nationally, and globally for jobs. Our graduates will be as ready for college and a career as students from any other state. 

Senator Beason, I'm asking you to please use the educational terminology correctly. I invite you to visit classrooms and see what our students are doing (curriculum) each day. Our local systems are already deciding how best to educate our students to meet the goals (standards) our state has set.

Readers, currently this bill is still pending committee action. I'm asking you to contact your senators and ask them to stop this bill while it is still in committee before it gets to the floor. We can't allow this for our students. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Seuss-Tastic Writing and a Freebie

What would it be like if Thing One and Thing Two came to visit a classroom of second graders? The 7-8 year olds I taught today had some very interesting things to suggest! After talking to their teacher last week, I designed a writing lesson to go along with Read Across America week and taught in her classroom today. It was so much fun getting to see the students share ideas, talk to one another, and make connections from the story The Cat in the Hat to their own writing.

Here's how it went:
The goal was to teach students that we can look at the way an author organizes his/her text and use that same structure in our own writing. We were focusing on sequence (CC.W.2.3) for our text structure and used The Cat in the Hat as our anchor text. As we read and looked at the pictures we talked about what the author did (not just what he said). He introduced characters, told us where they were, and set up a problem and solution.  I jotted these ideas on the Promethean flipchart I made:

 Next, we talked about the story elements and the sequence of events in our model text:

Then I gave students a copy of this organizer and we looked at our prompt. Students did lots of talking to partners and with table groups about possibilities for the story. We worked on the planning process together.

I gave students the writing paper and we wrote the beginning of the piece together. (Note to self: Second graders don't write as fast as I do. It's okay to slow down.) We focused on looking back at how our mentor text began and we used that as an example for writing our own beginning. I also modeled looking back at my organizer when it came time to write the middle and ending. And of course, we had to color the Things and add pictures to the stories when they finished writing!

Overall, I thought it was a really great experience! Students wrote in sequence and noticed the author's structure and applied it to their own writing. If I had it to do again I think I would do this over a series of days. It took us about an hour, but it really didn't seem to take that long because there were so many elements that were involved...reading, writing, listening, speaking, partner talk, group talk, jotting then sharing...

And here you have it--your reward for reading all the way to the end (or just scrolling). Either way, here are the materials I made to go with the lesson. Enjoy!

Monday, February 24, 2014

A New Journey Begins

A little over a month ago I did something I never dreamed I would do. I left my classroom mid-year to become something called an "Instructional Partner." (In other parts of the country this position may be called Instructional Coach or Reading Coach). I thought that perhaps one day in the distant future I might consider doing this job, but never imagined it would come so quickly.

So what makes a person who has a wonderful class in an amazing school with fabulous coworkers decide to leave? For me, it was the leading of the Holy Spirit. I always pray for direction in life, and felt led to make this move. For several years I've enjoyed working with teachers and providing professional development for them. I get so much joy from being able to help teachers. It's my way of giving back to all of those wonderful educators who have helped me along the way. Plus, I know that by helping out a teacher, I'm impacting countless students!

One thing led to another, and within about a month's time I was the new Instructional Partner at two elementary schools in my system. (This is why my posts have been sporadic lately--I'm still learning my way). One day I was teaching fifth grade. The next day I was the Instructional Partner. And so my journey began. So far I have delivered and attended professional developments, worked the presentation booth for a major school program, greeted sweet little faces in the mornings at car rider duty, set up testing sessions, planned lessons, created instructional materials, and about a hundred other things. I'm learning as I go, and loving it! But what I've enjoyed most is the time I've spent with the teachers and students at my new schools. I hope I will be able to impact them as positively as they are impacting me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

alnbctnetwork: Our Annual Conference

alnbctnetwork: Our Annual Conference: Be sure to mark your calendar for our annual Alabama NBCT Network Conference which will be on January 25, 2014  at Spain Park High School in...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Book Report Game: Can You Relate?

I recently took my students to see the play Charlie Brown Christmas performed by a local group in our area and was in stitches when they performed this scene:

I found myself making so many connections while I watched, especially with Lucy and her word counting strategy. Oh, how I hated the dreaded book report! I loved to read, but the book report was a necessary evil that I sometimes had to bear. 

I also started thinking about my own students and even my son. I looked around and noticed they didn't quite get it in the same way I did, and it's because they never write book reports. We use AR instead. So I began wondering how this particular scene would have gone if AR tests were substituted instead of a 100 word book report. 

DISCLAIMER: Before you read any further, please note that I am NOT against the Accelerated Reader program, or even the occasional book report. I'm not someone trying to ban any reward program from schools or classrooms. I believe that both can be used successfully in the hands of a skillful, thoughtful, and careful teacher/administrator. I'm just someone who really wonders what IS the best way to motivate readers, while still holding them to a level of accountability? I'm also not trying to overgeneralize. Many of my students love to read and actually love AR and challenge themselves with their own goals. I'm talking primarily about the hard-to-reach readers. 

With that said, I started thinking of all the ways that some students play the AR game (much like the Peanuts gang and our generation did with book reports). 

I imagine they might think or say something like this:

Lucy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, more half point books until I reach my AR goal. Oops I made an 80, now I'll have to read three more to get my average back up!

Charlie Brown: I'm reading all my books, but never seem to have the time to take the tests. I work better under pressure, so maybe I'll just take all my tests at once.

Linus: Oh no! That book I read was way below my level! There aren't any books in the library on my level. Can I take a test on it anyway? 

Schroeder: I read a book by the same author (or watched the movie), so maybe I can try an AR test on this book and see how I do.

If someone rewrote the scene to include some of those lines, I think many students would make more connections. And that makes me sad because I haven't quite got the answer to the question at the heart of the issue:

How do you instill a love of reading, and yet ensure that students actually ARE reading? Can inspiration and accountability co-exist? I think the answer is yes, but I'm not 100% sure I know how to do it effectively with every child. 

Perhaps it's time to pull out The Book Whisperer again and reread it!

Comments? Connections? Suggestions? 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bringing Vocabulary Practice into the 21st Century

Here's a quick post to share something that was a huge hit today with my kiddos. Building vocabulary is a large part of our reading instruction. We talk about the words, make sentences with them, have collaborative conversations about them them, write about get the picture. We do a lot with our vocabulary, but today I wanted to shake things up a bit.

If you haven't used this awesome website, you have to go check it out. It is really easy. Just type in a conversation, hit create, and your text conversation opens in a new web window. You can save the picture using your right click or copy the web link to post onto Edmodo, email, or wherever.

We have a class set of Kindles, so my students used them to create their fake text conversation. The only stipulation was that it had to make sense and include at least three vocabulary words. Once finished, they copied the URL of the fake text and posted it to Edmodo. Success! This activity was just the change we needed right now, and it provided the practice they needed.

It also gave me some very good feedback as to who was using the words correctly and who was not. Here are a few of our creations:

I can think of so many uses for this website, but I really loved using it for vocabulary practice today. Maybe next week we'll incorporate it in some other subjects. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Digestive System

A few weeks ago we wrapped up our study of the digestive and urinary systems and thought I'd share some of the activities we did. Since I'm in a new grade level this year, just about everything is brand new and I'm having to do lots of research and learning. It's been hard, but really rewarding. I absolutely LOVE to teach science, and had a blast doing these activities with the kiddos.

First up: Digestion in a bag: What happens to food as it enters your mouth and travels through your body? We modeled the process using a crackers, water, orange juice, paper towels, zip-lock bags, and our hands. Stephanie over at Teaching in Room 6 posted this awesome activity, and as soon as I read it, I knew I had to do it. What a blast! The kiddos were a little grossed out, but that's part of the fun, right?

The next day (amid cries of, "Mrs. Kilgo, please tell me this isn't going to be gross!"), I pulled out the Play Dough. Who knew the level of excitement a bunch of fifth graders would have at just the sight of Play Dough?! I put together four learning stations.

  1. Promethean flipchart on the board
  2. Build a model of the digestive system with Play Dough
  3. Links with videos and games to explore
  4. No Saliva, No Taste? experiment

Each child received a lab sheet (which you can snag for free here). We worked in groups at each station, with me guiding the last station. What a blast!

Do you have a favorite activity to do during this unit? 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Settling In--Favorite Routines

Day 7 of school is completed, and let me tell has been a whirlwind! We're all settling in to a new grade level (myself included), and I have to say I LOVE fifth grade! It's been such a great experience to see how my kiddos have grown and matured over the summer, and I also enjoy learning new curriculum. (Yes, really).

I know many of you haven't yet started school so I wanted to share some of my favorite routines with you...Many of these are old favorites, but some of these I literally didn't learn until two nights before school started and I've implemented them easily. I knew I wanted to integrate more signals and group responses into my teaching and went searching. Here's my list of favorites:

Attention Signals:

  • Class/Yes (Teacher says "Class?" and students stop what they're doing, turn to teacher and reply "Yes?") I try and vary the way I say it.
  • Did you know there's a student response to the old "1, 2, 3, eyes on me?" I didn't until I watched a video the other day. Who knew? The students stop, turn, and look at the teacher and reply "1, 2, eyes on you!" I love it!
  • Super Scholar Style: I think this came from one of the videos below. When I say "Super Scholar Style" students sit up straight, clap twice, turn to look, and rest their hands on their desks or in their laps.
Hallway: "1, 2, 0" One line, Second tile, Zero talking. This is actually from a good teacher friend of mine from another school. There was a school rule there that required students to walk in a straight line on the third tile from the wall. The rule there was 1, 3, 0. At my new school, the hallways are a little more narrow so I changed it to "1, 2, 0." I love this procedure because it gives the students specific guidelines and visual reminders.

Restroom Sign-Outs: I used to use silent signals for restroom and water, but a few years ago I implemented a sign-out sheet. It's just a three-column chart labeled "Time Out, Name, Time In." Students are taught that they may sign the sheet and leave the room to go to the restroom as needed as long as I'm not directly teaching them. (For emergencies they just go!) They're expected to use our regular class restroom breaks, and use the sign out sheet sparingly. I've never had to say anything to them about overuse because they know it is a privilege. Our class restroom breaks are any time we are outside the room as a group: To and from PE, to and from lunch, to and from computer lab.We don't necessarily all line up and wait at the restroom during all of those times. If a child needs to go, they just get out of our line, go to the restroom, and join us when they're finished.

Hand Signals: This is one I've done for years for oral group responses. I say the question, hold my finger next to my temple (think time), then bring it down palm-up in front of me. When the hand comes down all children respond orally. Here are a few new ones I've incorporated this year. I absolutely love these signals! We've incorporated every one except for the "complete sentences" signal because I haven't had a need for that reminder yet and the "unsure" signal. This video is pretty amazing and details silent hand signals:

Whole Brain Teaching: Okay, this is not new for me, but I HAD to add it to the list because I use at least the Class/Yes routine and the scoreboard every year. This year, I'm hoping to add the multiplication practice portion.

Morning Meeting: Here's another favorite I've been doing for years, but the way I'm doing it this year has changed thanks another fabulous video from Mrs. Noonan:

Do you have a favorite? Maybe one of these above is a favorite of yous? 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back to School Sale!

Tomorrow is the first day of school for us, and I'm really excited to get back in the swing of things and be with my students. In honor of this awesome time of year, I'm joining TPT's sale. All of my items are 10% off.  Be sure and use the promo code to get the extra 28% off!


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