Smarter Charts

You know how you buy cool charts for your classroom? Then they yellow on your walls because you call the things you're teaching something different than what it says on the chart?

No? Are you sure? Because this happens to me all. the. time.

So I started creating my own charts after I saw some on different blogs and in Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop books. But, again, when I copied someone else's words, I kept forgetting to use the same words as those on the charts. "Where's your Hook the Reader?" I'd ask a child. Then I'd glance at the chart and say, "I mean Enticing Lead!" or whatever. It's confusing and not very good teaching.

One day I found a picture of a chart on Pinterest. When I clicked on it, the pin took me to this book.
I did a little research and found out that a couple of teacher bloggers whom I trust and admire really liked the book. So I ordered it. I also started following their blog at Chart Chums.

Now, I'm all about dat chart...not kidding. I can't stop writing up charts alongside my kids as I teach and then referring to them constantly. I sound like a broken record to anyone else, but my kids are getting it in a way they never did before. 

Today I added smaller charts to make it more portable for them. They each have these in their writing folders during our opinion writing unit.
I think the premise is that it is hard to learn how to be a good writer if everything you do is supposed to be completely original. You need some guidelines so that your material is what you think about. This is what I need as a writer too. My students are now talking about their work like pros. They discuss their reasons. They tell other writers that they used an opinion where it should have been a reason. They tell their writing pals that a better hook is necessary. It's a true writing workshop every morning. I'm so inspired that some days I just sit down and get my own writing accomplished alongside these true writers.


Integrating Technology

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. 
When my little friends interrupt my individual conference for 98th time to say, "can I ask you a question?" Sometimes I do say, "yes, fine." because I am so tired of saying, "if this question is going to be about the iPads, the answer is no." Just as in First Grade, the students in my class love Minecraft. It is an unbelievably communal game. Parents ask me all the time if it's okay if their kid plays Minecraft. I tell them that when the kids are alone, they are usually figuring out something in their world that they can share with other kids when they get to school. I do think limiting any one activity is good parenting, but I would say that with outdoor play too. Sometimes you just gotta take a break and eat and chat with loved ones.

Anyway, I wanted to capitalize on their love of Minecraft and literacy learning. So I combined the two. I am reading the book Sophie and the Sidewalk Man because my teaching partner has read it every year as we talk about needs and wants. The kids are enjoying the story. After reading half of the book, I asked table groups to meet to discuss how they would recreate the setting in the story. Then I handed out iPads and told them to recreate the setting in Minecraft. Take a picture of that setting and share it with the class. We put it up on the projector so everyone could see how we each visualized something different. I don't have access to the pictures right now, but I will add them when I get back to school on Monday.

It was great to see how adept they are at Minecraft and how much they all contributed to making sure the setting looked as they imagined it. I can't wait to think of other ways to use the technology they love.


Celebrating the Week

Be sure to check out all the Celebrate posts on Ruth Ayres blog every Saturday.
1. After a long Monday of teaching, I drove to my house with my beautiful tired children in the pitch black dark at 4:45pm. My husband had put candles in every window, strung lights on the outside tree and set up the Snowman we found at the dump swap shop. It was magical. I got out of the car to take a picture.
2. I received a grant from our district education foundation to purchase the same picture book for each teacher's classroom. I chose Ivan: the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate. I brought all the books to our Wednesday staff meeting. It was very special for me. Book love is my passion.

3. Tonight my son sang with the Children's Choir. It was lovely. He was so proud. When I asked him what made him so proud, he said, "Well Mom, I never missed a rehearsal. I persevered." I've been talking about perseverance a lot these days and I love that he always listens.


Mentor Texts

Most of you will have heard about Mentor Texts before. If you click on the picture below you can read or listen to a great podcast interview Franki Sibberson did with Ralph Fletcher about why mentor texts matter.
I have known about mentor texts for as long as I've been teaching. I may not have called them that, but I used books to help kids see and analyze good writing. I recognized early on that I am a mentor text kind of learner. I need to find writing I like from resumes to blog posts in order to craft my own writing. So I like to help kids do the same thing. I find mentor texts like a scaffolding before they can become independent writers.

Lately I have been struggling with my own writing. I want to write picture books, but when I sit down to write I keep writing personal essays. The personal essays don't feel like what I'm destined to do. The picture book ideas I have aren't becoming more complete because I don't love making up characters. 

Today one of my Second Grade teaching partners suggested I read Patricia Polacco's books to help my students with character change and to get them discussing needs and wants for our upcoming unit. I went to our school library and checked out 10 or so of her books. As I sat in my classroom reading them, I was struck by Polacco's personal narratives written in the form of picture books. Then suddenly it hit me...these are my mentor texts. I plan to spend my weekend immersed in her books before I start trying out my own writing.

Patricia Polacco's books have great literary value. Her illustrations are not only beautiful, but also help develop a richer understanding of her stories. Her characters have many layers for readers to discover and develop. She is so prolific, that I will be able to study book after book to see what I might do with my own stories. I am not an illustrator, but I do have many stories and characters in my life waiting to be written on paper.



The New Kid

Setting up your classroom routines in a K-2 classroom is a tricky business. You have to get your work accomplished. In order to do this, you need children to be independent. They also need to be independent because they need to feel like this space is their space too. You put your mailboxes and folders near where their backpacks will be unpacked. You set up baskets for completed work in spaces where crowds of children won't be too irritating. You remind your students 508 times where things are and to use them. You try to use the same language every single time and you try to release the power when you can.
"Please put it in the blue basket."
          "Yes, that one."
                 "Yup, the blue one."
                        "Um hmm."
"Can you ask someone ELSE where to put it? Super."

Today I got a new student. Number 22. Before she walked in the door, I reminded my students of how difficult it is to be a new student in an unfamiliar place. I also reminded them that sometimes we only get one chance to make someone's world a little bit better. I shared this book

From the minute this little girl walked in the door, I knew I'd done my job. She was welcomed by no less than 6 kids who introduced themselves. They helped her unpack her bag. They showed her to her new mailbox and coat hook. They happily brought her to her new book box and showed her how to fill it. They book talked and asked her what she liked to read. When she said that she didn't really like to read, they told her she would by next week.

It was wonderful to watch and I felt like if my goal is to help grow happy, welcoming citizens of the world...I am a success. And so are they.


Raising Sharp Readers by Colby and Alaina Sharp

I don’t  re-post writings from other bloggers very often–but this post from the Nerdy Book Club Blog about raising readers is so wonderful that I just had to share it. PLEASE click through to read the entire post–you won’t be sorry! Enjoy!

I wish you all  a happy Thanksgiving holiday. I am so grateful to be a part of the Nerdy Book Club, and to be a teacher, and to be a writer, and to be a mother.

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:
7 years ago, we were elated and terrified to welcome the first of our three little readers into the world.  As parents, we don’t do a lot of things right – Breslin’s gone to school with his pants on backwards enough times to verify that.  But, we have managed to turn out three little people who love reading fiercely.  Here are some of our thoughts on how we have helped to foster and nourish that love in our home.
1. Have books everywhere.
Our oldest isn’t one to go the bookshelf and pick up a book. He’s not the type of kid that you tell to go and read a book. What we’ve found is that if we have books laying around all over the place (tables, floor, car, bed, etc) he reads a ton. Sometimes he’ll find a book laying on the coffee table and read it cover to cover…read more


Ten Ways to get Primary Readers to Read

As he sounds out the word painfully slowly, he looks desperately to the illustration for assistance. He looks at me. I look back blankly. He says each sound separately, but blends it incorrectly. He shakes his head. He looks at me. I look back with my gentle smile.  He glances over at the boys reading through the books in their book boxes effortlessly, happily even.  

The silence is loud and a little too long.  I want to cover my ears, but instead I hold my hand over my mouth. I must not tell him the word. He should be allowed to feel that power of saying the word and recognizing it first. I am his teacher. It is my job to align the planets so that this miracle can take place.  There is only so much I can do.

1. Introduce books as if they are an ore newly discovered in Minecraft. State loudly and with gusto, “You won’t believe it! The book I ordered came in last night!” Hold it high above their heads as if you won’t let them touch the rare gem.

When he smiles as you read the book, give yourself one tally mark. 

2. Read every single book as if you are auditioning for a shot in a Scorsese film. You are a teacher and, if no one ever told you this before (let me), you are an actor.

If he shakes his head at your impression of the fox in William Steig’s Dr. DeSoto, push yourself to overdo the way this same fox talks with his mouth glued shut. 

3. Order everything connected in any way to a book that has a child excited. Instant gratification is a not a virtue anywhere (you may have heard) except in the reading world. Use your library, bookstore, friend, or Kindle to get them in their hands in 48 hours or less. 

When everyone is admiring the newest Bink and Gollie or Babymouse, pull out Little Mouse Toon books. Make sure he knows he gets them first. Put a finger to your lips to signal that he should keep it to himself.

4. Stop everything some days and make everyone read wordless picture books. Let them tell the stories to each other. Let them write the stories too. This is a sure fire way to accomplish the ultimate in differentiation. There ain’t no one you can’t reach with a wordless picture book.

He will look at these with the kind of discernment that reminds you of all that goes on in his beautiful brain. You will remember to align the stars more completely for this child. He deserves it.

5. Follow bloggers who care about books as much as they care about their own children. If you just have to pick two, follow Carrie Gelson and John Schu. You could live on their recommendations for the rest of your career.

6.  Connect books to other things in their lives. Show them how Minecraft books can help them build electrical systems. Share this video 
before reading Kate Messner’s Under and Over the Snow. Then have the kids create a classroom mural of the Subnivean Zone.
Make sure you tell him you know about his drawing skill. Ask him to draw the fox. He will practice for two days before coloring and adding it to the mural. He will stand back to look at it for a minute or two before taking out a pencil and writing F-O-X in careful penmanship.

7. Write about what you read. In order to write we must process, we must think. If you help students write about what they read, you will help them think about what they read. It’s a little like a magic trick.
As he sits down to write a letter to Ivan, he takes a long time to process and get the words on the page. He brings the paper to you and waits. “Dear Ivan, I’m sorry you were captured by bad people and made to wear clothes. I hope the zoo and the other gorillas made up for the bad stuff.” You tell him his piece is thoughtful and kind. You tell him how proud you are to have a student like him in your class. He smiles and asks if you can read another chapter together.

8. Teach your kids to speed date with books. Invite them to bring a great book to their table spot. Have them all sit down at different table spots. Set the timer for 2 minutes. They must open up the book to any page and read for the full 2 minutes. Then they get up and move to a new book. Do this three times. Then let them choose new books for their book box.

He will open his book and happily try to read something his peers have chosen and loved. He will find some words he can read and he will want to work to read them. He will add a book or two to his book box.

9. Read two picture books a day every single day. No targeted lesson can do what being a well read person does to further reading ability. Having experience with many different kinds of books will make reading easier. Period.
As you pull out That’s Not a Good Idea, he will raise his hand to let you know that he’s read other books by this author. You will smile and agree, but it isn’t until later that you will realize that he has read “Mo Willems” on his own.

10. Make it your business to learn about every new and good book out there. Read The Nerdy Book Club voraciously. Follow great teachers, librarians, authors, and illustrators on Twitter. Become close friends with your children’s librarians. New fantastic books are published every day. These new books support all kinds of young readers where they are in the reading process and reach them with current topics that matter to them.

One day, as you are busy with another student, he will come up to you and wait silently at your left shoulder. You will remind him that you are not to be interrupted, but you are curious because he doesn’t usually initiate conversation. You tell him that he can wait. As the student walks away, he says quietly “I think I read a whole chapter book by myself.” “You think?” you ask. “Yes I’m not sure. Can I read you some?” He goes on to read slowly, meticulously, but completely accurately. He looks up at you as he ends the sentence and smiles. The planets are aligned.