Monday, August 27, 2012

First Day Theme Song

For Texas teachers, today was the first day back to school. For some of you reading this, you've been back for weeks- and others are savoring their last official week of summer before they go back to school after Labor Day.

Regardless, the first day is not always easy.  I've been thinking a lot about back to school and while  I am not "back to school", I still have a very memorable back to school that I want to share with you now. Some of you have already heard this story, so you'll have to humor me!

Let me set the scene. I left third grade in Michigan and moved down to Texas and was going to teach Kindergarten.  KINDERGARTEN! Third grade to Kindergarten? What was I thinking? It was a mess! I had no idea what I was doing- I was a complete mess!

I came home that "first day of school" crying!  Yes! Crying! I circled the block trying to get myself together before facing my husband who was home waiting for me.  He opened the door, all excited to see me after my first day of work in Texas, and I started balling all over again!

I remember crawling into bed and he just stood there not knowing what to say or what to do to make me feel better- so he said this- "You can do anything for a year! Right?" I cried- a year was a really long time to feel like a failure of a teacher with five year olds!

But the next day- I went back- what else was I gonna do? However, before I went to pick up my students in the cafeteria- the 22 lovely little Kindergarten students that sent me home crying all night long- I closed the door of my classroom and I played my new theme song...

I turned up the volume dial and listened as Shania Twain sang, "Up, up, up, can only go up from here!"

It had to be true right? For a week I listened to that song alone in my classroom to start the morning.

And the truth of the matter is that, yes, it does go UP every day from the first day no matter what the grade level.  It is a slow progression, but I'll tell you that teaching Kindergarten became my favorite grade!

"Up" was my theme song. What's yours after your first day, week, month of school?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Classroom Prayer

A new school year... at the MOMENT I know teachers are NOT in a good place about it! There are still name tags to be made, lesson plans to be created, lamination to cut, and about a thousand things still to do.  I know! I know! It is stressful.  But no matter what, you will be ready! You'll get there. You will greet your kiddos with a smile and you will teach your little heart out.  If you want to know the truth, while I'm not envious of the stress load of WORK at the beginning of the year that y'all are facing right now, I am envious the feeling of success you will have when you turn the lights out on that room and head home the night before the first day of school. I am envious of the smiles and excitement that will fill the halls on the first day of school.  I am hopeful and full of prayer for each and everyone of you who reads this post that you may have a BLESSED school year. You are doing God's work!

A few years ago I stumbled upon this Classroom Dedication Prayer on a teacher's blog.  I have always kept it near my desk and as a new school year begins, I hope it will mean something to you as it sure has for me!

Happy Back to SCHOOL! God Bless!

Powerful and almighty God, You are so amazing! You’ve had a plan for these children since before time began, and you’ve always known that our lives would cross paths this year. 

Please give me the gift of discernment to understand their needs and how I can meet them. 
Show me everything I need to know to teach these little ones and develop the gifts that you’ve given them. 

Let my enthusiasm be evident every day, because my joy doesn’t come from having a perfect classroom, it comes from knowing You. 

Jesus I pray that you would fill me with your strength and perfect peace each morning and carry me throughout each day. Put a genuine smile on my face and help me to be as patient and loving with these children as You have been with me. 

Remind me that this job is a privilege and that I am fulfilling Your call on my life by showing up in this classroom each day. 

Surround me with supportive, positive influences and help me to speak only truth and light so that my colleagues and supervisors will consistently see You in me. 

I dedicate this classroom to You: let Your name triumph over any negativity and may everything that happens here bring glory to Your name. 

I thank you for giving me Your holy Word so that I have a place to turn when I need to be uplifted. 

Thank you for filling me with the passion and enthusiasm that can only come from having ‘God within’. 

May Your name be glorified in everything that happens here as Your mercies are made new each morning.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

Too Good Not to Share

OK all of you out there who READ my blog (I am hoping there are a few people out there reading it)... I just found this website and it is too amazing not to share- and too good to wait until a Write About It Wednesday, so here goes- a blog post on a SUNDAY!

I found this website today and if you have not been to it- you have to check it OUT!

We Give Books

As it explains on their website...

We Give Books is a new digital initiative that enables anyone with access to the Internet to put books in the hands of children who don't have them, simply by reading online.
We Give Books combines the joy of reading with the power of helping others, providing a platform for caregivers and educators to inspire children to become lifelong readers and lifelong givers.
We Give Books also helps some of the world's best, most inspiring, literacy organizations by spreading the word about their great work and by providing books to the young people these organizations support.
We Give Books was created by the Penguin Group and the Pearson Foundation. Together, we support literacy through programs that engage entire communities through literacy and awareness programs like Booktime and Jumpstart's Read for the Record. We hope that We Give Books proves to be a way that young children, together with their parents or caregivers, can come to understand the power of reading—and of giving—as much as we do.

I am not their biggest fan and can't wait to spread the word- tell everyone! Share it from the rooftops! I'm their biggest fan! Join me eh?


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

To Scribe or Not to Scribe?

The more I work with early childhood teachers, the more I realize that the question of whether to write on students' papers- otherwise known as scribing- or not to scribe- is a hot topic. Some teachers have never even thought twice about it. It is just what they do and have done for years. Well lets think about it together.

Scribing is when the teacher writes down for a child what their writing says.  Typically done in early childhood classrooms where children are writing in journals on a topic given to them by the teacher.  If I try to envision this classroom dynamic- I see a class full of students who are all through drawing their pictures and are now waiting for the teacher to get to their writing to add their words.  I also see the teacher frantically running around the room trying to get to every student's paper so as to scribe their words for them.

I think many scribe thinking they are teaching something by doing it. Perhaps one thinks that they are teaching, "What I say, I can write down." While I understand the idea behind that- the point of student writing is THEY write it down what they want to say and I argue that there are so many other parts of the Balanced Literacy day when students are learning that concept.  When are they going to learn that what THEY want to say, THEY can write down?

I have never scribed for students, but it was when I read the work of Matt Glover that my philosophy as to why I don't and never will was solidified.

Why Students Should Do their Own Writing… 

q If a child can’t read conventional writing, then the conventional writing that an adult writes in his book does not help him read what he has written.

q If an adult is doing the writing for a child, then we have no idea what kind of writing that child can do on her own.  And if we don’t know what a child can do on their own, then we don’t know what to teach him/her. 

q If adults are writing for a child, we run the risk of jumping ahead of a child in developmental stages.  For most young writers, conventional spelling is a large push forward, rather than a small nudge.

And in my opinion, the BIGGEST reason of all…

q If adults write for children, we are sending the message that children aren’t really writers, that only adults can do the real writing work.  If we truly believe children are writers, we shouldn’t send a mixed message that tells them they are writers, but not really!  
Matt Glover
                                                                Engaging Young Writers

There are of course times when writing down what a student said their story "says" IS necessary.  They may have made some sound symbol connections, used a high frequency word etc. And let's be honest, if I don't write it down, I'll never remember three weeks later (even three hours for that matter) the message their print conveys.

So, on occasion, I will write the words on the students page, but I'm crafty about it. I don't say, "I'm going to write down what your writing says." Rather, I say, "I'm going to make some notes so I can remember what we talked about today."  It has a different feeling and it is communicating a different idea all together. Students still believe they are the writer- and they are! I just have a bad memory and need to make some notes on their page.

So you decide- do you want to keep running around the room to scribe? Or would you rather encourage students to think through their own writing, holding the pencil, and doing the work of a writer while you encourage them to learn that what THEY say, THEY can write down?


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Organizing Your Books

So I was training in Killeen, Texas this week and talking about Reader's Workshop. One of the first "ah-ha" moments that many participants had was the idea of a classroom library and how to organize.  Maybe you have books that look like this. A teacher in TN shared these pictures with me. They are the before. Her summer goal was to get this "mess of books" organized and accessible for her students.

So how do you organize books? In a Reader's Workshop kids NEED access to books! Richard Allington says an average of 10-18 books per child is a recommendation. Do the math... and it's a lot of book.  They need interesting books! Fun books! Books on their "level,  but not leveled books.  Let me explain.

In a Reader's Workshop we are going to teach kids HOW to pick books that are on their level. ( a blog post on this is coming soon).  We may have leveled books in baskets, but our baskets should be organized by themes, genres, and authors.  So there may be a book that we know is a level G in a basket about animals, but kids are looking in the animals basket, seeking out a book about animals that is a book they could read independently rather than looking for a level G book to read. Does that make sense? Keeping in mind that when kids go to the bookstore or to a garage sale or to the library to "buy" a book, they can't ask someone to help them find a level G. That is "school reading". We need to teach kids how to determine if books are a good book for them on their own because that is "real reading".

So what is a teacher to do? First of all... I want you to take a good look at your books! How many books do you keep OUT of reach of the children in your class? You know what I mean. "Saving" them for read alouds- that NEVER GET READ?!  Stop saving them, sort them into categories and put them into the baskets that kids will have access to all year long.  That is the first step.

Now, let's talk a little more about this sorting. First we need baskets and those are at places like Dollar Tree, Target, etc. Someone today told me you can ORDER from the Dollar Tree online? I never knew that! You have to buy in bulk... but we all have teachers friends we can do that with eh?

Then we need to make basket "categories" which we will label with their respective names.  So look at your books.  What do you have a lot of? What do you have enough of to make its own basket? Do you have a collection of books on dinosaurs, animals, outer space, poetry, realistic fiction, Dr. Seuss, or Lois Lowry? You will need to get an idea of your "labels" and of course get it organized, but one of my favorite things to do is to let students help with the sorting. 

I put stacks and stacks of books (three or four baskets worth- but no more than 3 or four types also known as baskets) by my chair and call students over to the carpet for the mini-lesson.

You are now in my classroom...

"Boys and girls, I need your help. I have all of these books and I need some way to keep them organized so that we can all read them really easily.  It's like when I go shopping for shoes- it is easy to shop for shoes because they put all the same kinds of shoes together. Right? The other day I went to get a pair of tennis shoes at Walmart. At Walmart, they put all the high heels together. They put all the running shoes together and all the flip flops together and it's really easy to find the kinds of shoes I want to buy. I want my books that are like each other to all be in the same baskets in our classroom so readers can find books easily just like finding a kind of shoe easily at Walmart. Let me show you what I mean, and I am going to need your help."

I proceed to hold up a book and think aloud about what kind of book it is. I place it in front of me on the carpet. I do the same thing with another. Pretty soon, we start to see books stack on top of each other- the creation of baskets. Once we have clear categories outlined,  I give each student a book to look at and we go around the carpet asking each student to tell about their book and which basket they are going to put it in. Ta-Da! Kids helping in the sorting. Kids feeling like they had a part in it- and they did- but I was scaffolding the process.

If you are not following Joyful Learning in KC blog... you need to be! Don't let the "Kindergarten" scare you! There is stuff on here for everyone. Look at what she posted recently for your Reader's Workshop and book bins! For this, I say THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

As far as organizing them... we can have the best of intentions, but there's no full proof plan that I know of to keep them truly organized, however I do have some "lines of defense".   I have an Avery label on the back of the book that matches the picture on the front of the tub. (After they have been "sorted" by kids of course) A little matchy-matchy is the first line of defense.

Second, I have a mini-lesson with my students trying to instill in them the importance of keeping these precious books organized and it goes like this.

You are now in my classroom...

"Boys and girls... I want to read the BEST book for you! It is a Fairy Tale." Sitting in my lap is the Fairy Tale basket. "You are going to LOVE this book!" I proceed to go on and on about how wonderful it is. Then I start to look through the basket. Low and behold it's not in there! Bring on my panic!

"Oh no... you guys.. it's not in here! Where could it be? What am I going to do? You have just got to hear this book!" Inevitably, you have one student who say, "Maybe it's in a different basket?" (This is before it could be in a student's reading tub for Reader's Workshop of course).

So I act shocked and I say, "No! It couldn't have been put away wrong could it? Could that happen? Could someone have put the Fairy Tale book in the animal book basket?" I have of course already hidden it there. I head over and get the animal basket and the kids watch me search through every book until it is found!  "Boys and girls, here it is! That was so hard to find though!" Then I proceed to illustrate my point of how important it is to keep books where they belong so every reader in this classroom can find the books they are looking for!  Ta-Da! Second line of defense. Helping kids do the sorting of the books as mentioned above also helps in this process of keeping books organized.

My third line of defense is making a classroom JOB of librarian. That person checks books every day/week/month- whatever! They help you to keep it "right".  I have never had to come up with a fourth line of defense... but that's not to say some of you won't need one. 

And of course there is an APP for THAT! It is only .99 cents and well worth it if you ask me!
See what you think...

What do you do to organize your classroom? What lines of defense can you offer for other teachers reading this blog? I'd love to know.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Book Whisperer Inspiration

I am a nerd you guys, I will admit it, but I will take so many of you down with me if you make fun of me! I think part of the definition of teaching is "nerd".  Isn't it?  Wikipedia defines it... Nerd is a derogatory stereotype of a person typically described as socially-impaired, obsessive, or overly intellectual. 
Yep.. the shoe fits! Teachers love learning we like to be challenged and sometimes it can come off as "obsessive, or yes, shocking, overly intellectual! :)  I have taken nerdy to a whole new level thanks to Donalyn Miller. Many of you may know her as The Book Whisperer, but now I know her as the woman I had lunch with last week! The woman who showed me pictures of her granddaughter, the woman who gave me book recommendations, the woman who signed my copy of The Book Whisperer, the woman who told me about her up and coming book and her process of writing it, and the woman who has inspired me to READ more! And MORE... and WAY MORE than that!

I was fortunate enough to be presenting at a conference for Scholastic where she was the Keynote! The night before at the dress rehearsal, they asked for volunteers of who may want to share her lunch table... and my hand SHOT up! It took everything in my being to stay calm and not shriek when she shook my hand.  This woman knows her stuff and she is so down to Earth about it!

One thing I came away knowing from this Keynote is that I need to be more well read! I've heard about the Book a Day Challenge- have you? I just haven't made it a point to DO it!
I find time to read for myself, but I don't know nearly enough about children's literature and I realized that as she was speaking. This woman is so well read- she knows her stuff! And she is so humble about it! She talks about books like the rest of us talk about Reality T.V.   A friend of mine sent me a quote the other day and I think it sums up my impression of Donalyn...

"Her reputation for reading a great deal hung about her like the cloudy envelope of a goddess in an epic."
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

And look how she signed my book! OMG! I am a nerd, but this brings me such great joy!

So she inspired me. And then that night I found a link to the 100 Best Children's Books...

So how many have you read? Really READ... meaning you remember what it was about? Be honest. Go to the link and make a tally!

I am only at 28 out of 100!!?? That is barely over 25%! Not good enough! So I have a challenge to myself. I have GOT to know more of these books and I have got to know more about children's lit because it is my job!

I know there are lots of books for adults out there- and not enough time to read all of them, but now I've made myself a challenge. I will trade off! One adult lit for one young adult lit/children's lit book.  Can you take the same challenge?

Yes we need to be well read, but we don't have the luxury of just reading as adults. We have to read so that we know how to teach reading to young children! I challenge you to read one book for you... and one book for them! Yes- the books for your students will be below your Lexile Level- but I assure you, Fifty Shades of Grey was too!

Oh- and what were those book recs from Donalyn... she said if you are only going to read THREE- these are the ones to read...

One for the Murphys- I've already read it and it was GREAT
Wonder- On my "to read" list
The One and Only Ivan- (Will be reading NEXT- after my "adult" book- Prague Winter)

Please comment on this post...what are you inspired to do?