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10/16/14

Kate Messner Evokes Fond Memories

I grew up in NYC, right in the heart of Manhattan. Every other weekend I headed with my dad, my stepmother, my two brothers, and my three step-siblings out to Shelter Island on the Long Island Sound. As we drove out of the city, we passed a huge Animal Hospital. It may have been the ASPCA one, the details are fuzzy, but one memory lingers on. My dad would say, "that's where Kimberley is going to work!"

Oh how I wanted to be a Veterinarian. I spent hours holding our cats. I read every story I could where people took care of animals. I snuck to the horse barns during the summers I was at camp because I was certain I understood the horses.

So it was a bit of a shock when I became allergic to cats at about 13 years old. The rest is history. I spent less time with animals and became more familiar with children and the teaching of them.

But when online billing companies ask me to add security questions, I always add that I wanted to be a Vet when I grew up.

I recently read all three of Kate Messner's books about Marty McGuire and fell in love all over again. Marty's love for animals and what a cool girl she is brought me right back to who I wanted to be when I was 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 years old. Kate intelligently writes about very real female characters who love animals, digging in dirt, and protecting their ideals. I highly recommend these books to kids in grades 1-5. My 2nd graders are dying to make a worm farm and find out how they can adopt a chimpanzee.






10/11/14

Technology in the Hurry Up Era

Margaret Simon at Reflections on The Teche invites others to share some of the technology they find that could be useful, in and out of the classroom. 

I haven't posted about technology since September 21. The beginning of school and settling into a routine has been very consuming for me. In fact, I'm not even fully there yet. One of the biggest snafus I've had is how to incorporate technology as a learning tool in seamless and meaningful ways.

This is supposed to be an inspiring post about technology according to the rules set forth by Margaret, but I find myself in a bind today and am hoping that someone will offer ideas.

This year I feel like I am running on a hamster wheel. I am always racing around trying to 'cover' what my curriculum says needs to be taught. I have a huge diversity in my classroom. Some kids are quite low and some are quite high. All seem to be needy. I know what I need is a system to cycle through the kids and meet their individual needs. I know I need to make myself stick to a schedule so no one falls through the cracks. This is where technology falls through the cracks for me. What I need in order to use technology is time and I don't have it. 

I started the kids using KidBlog and I had every intention for them to blog about their achievements each week. What I found is that kids take a very long time to find the keys and get their thoughts out. A. Very. Long. Time. This is not a bad thing. They seem willing to put in the time and excited to share using this technology. I am working on perseverance and stamina this year, but I never seem to be able to give them the time to develop it. They've only blogged three times since we started school. I've gotten the laptop cart of 30 since I've only got 4 iPads and 21 kids,  but they can't add pictures unless they use the iPads. They want to add images. I wonder sometimes if I should just let them take a pic and post it instead of writing so they can blog more. It's hard to give them the time to do it. Again, I need to be operating on a tight schedule and sticking to it. 

I'm feeling like a failure. Any ideas and or organizing techniques or downloads would be most helpful.

10/8/14

Censorship


Recently a teacher I know told me that she loved reading Clementine to her students, but she chose not to read certain parts because she didn't think they were appropriate. She added that if she put them on the shelves, she would white out the lines she didn't like so they wouldn't be able to read them.

.   .   .

I said "No don't do that."

.   .   .

Lately I've been stalking following Teri Lesesne on her blog The Goddess of YA Literature, on Twitter @professornana, and on Facebook. She is quite simply 
What I'm learning from her right now is that censorship is insidious, but that we need to look at it as problem solvers. For example, if you need to censor something to make it more palatable [not my words], you might want to reconsider whether or not the book is really right for that particular group. Why not wait until you don't feel any concern? There are so many books out there that work beautifully exactly as they were intended.

10/7/14

Losing the Love of Reading

My 9 year old Felix is a lover of reading. He feels the characters he reads so deeply that it can sometimes take me a while to pull him out of that world and back into ours. One night as he read Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn Dixie, he came pounding down the chairs sobbing. "It's so sad Mommy. Why would you tell me it was good?" I laughed which made him cry harder. I said, "you're supposed to feel when you read. That means she's a good writer." He didn't trust me for while.

Tonight he began explaining his current reading life to me. He is 392 pages into his required independent reading of The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, a book he says he loves but wishes he could abandon because it's long and the other kids are going to beat him to the 40 book goal. He also needs to read chapters 1-6 of Gentle Ben by Walt Morey for GT Reading. Lastly, the next six books in the Beast Quest series arrived at our house today. He has already read 42 books in this series and shows no sign of slowing down. He breathes Beast Quest adventure and speaks glowingly of it, but will sidebar note to me that he knows it's below his Lexile level. I make sure the next six are ordered before he finishes the last. Interest in a book is my only priority. I don't care if it's the Elephant and Piggie series or Crime and Punishment.

At this point in our conversation, he begins to cry.

He says he is conflicted about what he is supposed to do. Should he read for pleasure? Should he read his "independent" required reading? Should he read the book his GT group has been asked to read? I tell him to grab the one he wants to read. I tell him I am also happy to read one of the required ones aloud. He says that's cheating. I tell him I can download the audio version so he can lie in bed and let it wash over him. He asks me if I've always been a cheater. I laugh and tell him I'll email his reading teacher. I explain that she bases her program on The Book Whisperer and will understand that his love of reading is most important.

He screams at me that I don't understand. I calmly (sort of) explain that I have a Masters in Literacy and I am a teacher. I know what I'm doing. I tell him I'm even Facebook friends with The Book Whisperer herself and I really do know! He retorts that I have never taught fourth grade. There is a silence because this is true, but it should be noted that I have taught Kindergarten, First Grade, Second Grade, Sixth Grade and Eighth grade. The fight goes from the ridiculous to the sublime as his father and sister look on.

After he calms down, we head upstairs and he says it might be okay if I read a couple chapters of Gentle Ben to get him started and invested in the book. He admits to having read the first page 5 times. We read on his bed. He interrupts me 1000 times to find out more about Alaskan Salmon fishing. He is enjoying the book and I'm glad this got somewhere, but I feel sorry for that Beast Quest book waiting to be loved.

And I wonder what happens to those kids whose mother doesn't have the courage or background to push through. I won't let Felix lose his love of reading if I can help it, but I know these days it's an uphill battle.

10/4/14

Easy Reader Review: Frog and Friends

I taught first grade last year and am teaching second grade this year.
That, combined with the fact that I am a first round panelist for the Cybil Blogger Literary Awards, has generated an almost unhealthy interest in locating excellent Easy Readers that my classroom students who desperately need lots of exposure to print will love to read. As I read I've been thinking that I should be sharing my findings with you people. You're welcome.

Today's Read
I worried when I bought these easy readers that they would somehow be a poor imitation of my much adored Frog and Toad collection. They are not! They are really wonderful easy readers with rich characters who think and do things that matter to all of us.

In Best Summer Ever,  frog wants to take a vacation in order to have a change and spend some time thinking. His friends however, have other ideas. They want to come with him and he doesn't want to hurt their feelings. This story is funny and kind. The story line can easily lead to conversations about text to text and text to self connections. The characters are developed and interesting. The vocabulary is meaningful. I am excited to introduce these to my classroom and will be ordering more.

For those of you who need to know the level of books, they are about an 18 or Guided Reading K. I add this here because I often times see this Level 1 type stuff and when I open it, I find very difficult text. This is perfect for where second graders tend to be at this time of the year or even a bit easier, so that you can really develop their conversation about books and thinking about reading.


9/29/14

Admitting Uncertainty

I am uncertain about my classroom direction these days. I am struggling with vague curricula not clearly aligned with report card standards. I can't help but wonder where each of my kids fits in to the big picture that the district has not defined in a way that helps me move forward. I'm not the only teacher feeling this which is a kind of thankless comfort.

I know lots of teachers feel this heat as well. Right now I need to organize my days and find a way to assess each child on each standard without spending every single second of every day on assessment.

So I turn to my blogger friends for assistance. How do you organize how your kids meet each standard? How do you make sure you meet the needs of the many very different kids you have AND assess what you do? How oh how do you create a classroom where kids are practicing the skills they need and leaving you room to teach directly to small groups so you can target these needs?

Do I make sense? If so, can you help?

9/21/14

iPad Assignments

Margaret Simon at Reflections on The Teche invites others to share some of the technology they find that could be useful, in and out of the classroom. 

Today I am going to share a very simple tip that you may not have considered. 

I have four iPads in my room which I have because I wrote a grant for the first two and went through donors choose for the other two. I have 21 second graders. 

This week I assigned 5-6 kids to each iPad. I put different colored cases on each of the iPads to help kids identify which one is theirs. Then I went into Keynote (like PowerPoint) and created a graphic depiction of their names. 

I added those to dropbox, then I went on to each iPad and made the appropriate image be the background and cover for each. So if a student (or teacher) forgets which iPad is assigned to which kids, one click shows the list. 

Each student will use their assigned iPad exclusively. This will mean that his/her images will already be on the correct iPad when they go to create a presentation in Pixie or write a blog post in KidBlog. 

So far so good. The kids seem to be more attached to their assigned iPads already and it eliminates a lot of confusion. In addition, I've noticed a lot of digital camaraderie which was unintended. The kids are saying to each other, "Hey Yellow team, I took a picture of a cool math project. You guys can use the picture if you want!" One thing I love about technology is how excited kids get to share what they've done with each other.