Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Going to participate for the 1st time EVER in "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?"
Right now, I'm juggling quite a few books...
Here they are...
For our class read aloud, we are reading Rump! The students are loving it! We started by reading the actual fairy tale and the students have had fun comparing this version so far to the actual fairy tale. We are only on Chapter 5, but the students are loving learning about how each name is that character's destiny! Great read aloud!!

I am reading the book, Better Nate Than Ever. I am previewing this book and it will probably be our next read aloud. Only on page 50, but I can tell already that Tim Federle is an amazing author and there are so many great points to talk about in this book!  I can't wait to find more time to finish it!

Professionally, I am reading 2 books right now.

Igniting a Passion for Reading is our latest staff book club book. We have a group of literacy lovers that are reading this book and then we will meet to chat about it in April.  It's a great book and author Steven Layne writes it in a way that is super easy to read and follow! Rigorous Reading has been a great book for me to look at and study. I'm learning how to teach using complex texts and adding rigor all throughout my day. It does a great job of breaking down the ELA Common Core and how to use complex text effectively.

My personal read right now...

Loving this book by Brene Brown. I picked this up at Barnes and Noble after looking at it online about 10 times. So glad I did! A must read for any adult! This book is especially resonating with me as I am heading into 40 later this year! Basically, my take away so far is to make time for yourself, to be okay with "your story," and to get rid of the negative energy that interferes with a "wholehearted" life. Slowing reading this book so that I can take in all of the great stuff! I'm definitely practicing "close reading" with this one! Pen in hand while I read! 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Class Book Club

This week we had our first book club meeting after school! It was more awesome than I thought possible! We had all read Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein.
This book was THE PERFECT first book to help kickoff our classroom book club. It is about some kids that win an overnight in the town's brand new library.  The overnight then turns into a game where the students have to find clues and solve a puzzle to help them get out of the library. The first kid to get out of the library is the winner. This book is filled with numerous literary references, logical thinking, and life lessons. There was so much to discuss about this amazing book!

We started by meeting right after school. I had scheduled 90 minutes for the book club, not really knowing if we would fill the time or not. We started with a quick snack and I called it "chat and chew." They had about 20-25 minutes to eat and just chat with their fellow book club members. One boy said, "This is just what my mom does in her book club!" It was cute! Then we got together in a circle on the carpet to discuss the book. I had some questions that I had prepared and some passages that I had marked for discussion ready to go. We talked for an hour straight about this book and could have gone even longer! 

We discussed the antagonist in the book quite a bit...Charles Chiltington. We talked about his family philosophies and how he played the game. The students had a lot to weigh in on when it came to Charles. We talked about the quote, "Knowledge not shared, remains unknown." We discussed foreshadowing, quotes, behaviors, and favorite parts. The students just went on and on! It was one of those proud teacher moments where you think, "Wow, all of these kids here are so excited to be talking about THIS book!" We tweeted out some photos from our book club on our class site and Chris Grabenstein even retweeted us the following day! The climax of the book club was when Chris Grabenstein emailed back one of the students who had asked him if he was going to write a sequel to this book and to tell him that he had solved the puzzle within the book. This student about fell out of his chair! The email from Chris couldn't have been sweeter, going on about how he was so smart for solving this puzzle and that yes he was going to write a sequel! The sequel is going to be about Mr.Lemoncello's Library Olympics. The students want it to be ready next week...I explained it will take some time! 

At the end of the book club, I gave the students some time to share why they liked this book and they all had such great reasons. They definitely left wanting to have another book club, so I decided our 2nd book would be Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy.  My copy should be here this week! I can't wait to start reading!  If you haven't done so...definitely consider starting an afterschool or morning book club with your students! It was so inspiring to me as a teacher!

I'll leave you with some words that resonated with us from the book club,
"A library doesn't need windows, Andrew.  We have books, which are windows into worlds we have never dreamed possible." -Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library pg. 53. 

1st Book Club-not all students are present for picture

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nonfiction 10 for 10!

When I saw Mandy Robek's post announcing "Nonfiction 10 for 10," I knew I wanted to participate. So I gathered my top 10 Nonfiction Books that I can NOT live without in my classroom! It was hard to choose...but I tried my best to get it to 10!  Here they no particular order...

Thank You, Sarah...The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving

Thank You, Sarah...The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving is a book that I always look forward to reading each year! I love to read this book before Thanksgiving, because my students are always surprised to learn that Thanksgiving was almost NOT a holiday! The book is about Sarah Hale who wrote persuasive letters to many of our country's presidents to demand that Thanksgiving be a national holiday.  She didn't give up and it's a great book to help teach perseverance.

All About Turkeys

All About Turkeys by Jim Arnosky is such a detailed nonfiction book!  I love this book about turkeys! I was lucky enough to be a teacher at a school where Jim Arnosky visited for an Author Visit.  He was great with the students and we were all amazed that he does the research for his books, takes the photos, writes the book, draws the pictures, and plays guitar! He includes so many great facts in his books and the students always walk away with a new appreciation for turkeys.  I always tell them to dazzle the dinner table on Thanksgiving with their "turkey knowledge." 


Locomotive by Brian Floca is amazing!  This is a new book, as well as the new Caldecott Winner! I love this book! I love the nonfiction text features in this book, I love the figurative language in this book, I love the illustrations in this book, and I love the topic!
The students were mesmerized by this book and they learned so much about the Union Pacific Railway. There is so much information to take in while reading this book and I could definitely understand why it won the Caldecott Medal! 

The Story of Ruby Bridges

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles is a book that I never get tired of reading! The students love it just as much as I do! They are always amazed that racism like this actually existed.  We always have great conversations about this book and it is just a great interactive read aloud! Lots of deep thinking with this book! 

America: A Patriotic Primer

America: A Patriotic Primer by Lynne Cheney is a  book that I find myself reading every year! I usually read it in September around Constitution Day.  I love the ABC book format and there are so many great facts about our country in this book! This year we actually brainstormed words for our own ABC book and created our own! It turned out great and having this book as a mentor text for ABC books is a must! 


Frogs by Nic Bishop is just an AWESOME book for sharing text features. From photographs, to close ups, to captions, types of print, comparisons, glossaries,'s my "go-to" text feature book. All of his other books are equally great and engaging. I've also done reader's theater with these books...the students love it! 

Now & Ben

Now & Ben by Gene Barretta is a book that compares Benjamin Franklin's inventions to the modern day versions.  This book is great for kicking off "Invention Convention" or the design process.  It is filled with great facts and fun illustrations. My students have always enjoyed listening to me read this book to them comparing and contrasting his inventions.  Lots of great discussions about how Benjamin Franklin changed our world! 

The Story of Snow

The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, is one of my new FAVORITES!!! I LOVE this book! Especially since I live in Minnesota and snow is part of our lives for a large part of the year! This book explains how snow starts and how it forms.  It explains the entire "life cycle" of a snowflake. The students were enamored by this book! They still talk about the difference in snowflakes and the causes of why a snowflake may look a certain way.  This book contains great diagrams, close-ups, comparisons, and photographs to analyze. Definitely can not live without this book! 

Turn of the Century

Turn of the Century by Ellen Jackson is another long time favorite! I bought this book back "at the turn of the century" in 2000.  I read it every year in January to my class.  The students love to see what times were like back in different centuries. They are always amazed that in the year 1000 most people live their entire lives without ever handling money and have never seen a book. They beg me to keep reading through each century and it is a great way to teach timelines as well. This is probably one of their favorite nonfiction books that I read all year. I recently found a new book that ties in really well with this book called A Street Through Time. The students enjoyed this book just as much as Turn of the Century and it will definitely be added into the curriculum.  

My Brother Martin

My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris is a fabulous read aloud to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The students love this book because it is told from his sister's perspective about his life as a young boy.  This book has many great talking points to facilitate a successful interactive read aloud.  It is a touching book and we always have great discussions about the author's purpose for writing this book. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Formative Assessment in Order to Maximize Student and Teacher Learning

I happened upon a "twitter chat" last night as I was scrolling through twitter to avoid the 100 other things that I NEEDED to do on Sunday evening in order to get ready for the week ahead! I noticed that there was an #nctechat going I decided to take a look. Well, I took a look and the topic was...formative assessment! It was fast and furious and I was trying to catch up and keep up! The chat was focused around the NCTE Position Statement on Formative Assessment. So I checked out the position paper quickly and I was in! 
I came from a district that was 100% formative assessment driven so I have some background knowledge in this area. We had a six-year professional development plan, where as teachers we learned the UbD process, how to create quality learning targets, how to give effective feedback, how to design quality assessments aligned to the learning targets, how to use assessments to drive your instructional practice, and then how to take all of that knowledge and differentiate in the classroom.  My old school district even brought in Dylan Wiliam to speak to us about formative assessment in 2009. We literally lived and breathed formative assessment.  Meanwhile, we were STILL confused about "formative assessment." "Am I doing it right, is this formative assessment, what do I do with this information now that I have it?" were questions that we found ourselves asking each other frequently.   As a building Language Arts chair,  I was involved in a book study of 
Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning
by Jan Chappuis. 

This book finally broke it all down for me! After reading it...I got it! I got what they were trying to teach me! It all started to come together and make sense! It was my A-Ha Moment!  This book is an amazing resource to help guide teachers in creating quality learning targets, giving effective feedback, implementing self-assessment and goal setting, using quality formative assessments, and using reflection throughout the entire process. 

When I read the position paper last night and again this morning, I realized that this paper does the same thing! It breaks formative assessment down into something that isn't "scary."  This paper would be perfect to share and dissect with staff as "text as expert."  It helps everyone approach the text on an equal playing field.   When people hear the word "formative assessment," they often get that certain look in their eye, that "what kind of formative assessment are you talking about" look! We think we know what it is, we think we know how to use it to drive instruction, we think we know how to use it effectively, but do we? As stated in the position paper, "teacher-created classroom assessments designed to inform instruction are much more likely to function as real requests for information that can change instruction and improve learning." 

There were many parts of the paper that resonated with me.  I especially connected with "formative assessment is the lived, daily embodiment of a teacher's desire to refine practice based on a keener understanding of current levels of student performance." I also whole-heartedly agreed with the statement that teachers must develop an "assessment literacy." They must have a deep understanding of why they assess, when they assess, and how they assess in order to positively impact student learning. So true!!! 

The ten elements of Formative Assessment could be analyzed by teachers, shared with parents, or used to scaffold professional development for teachers.   I also love the Do's and Don'ts! A great list to reflect on and to keep in mind! 
I mean really...let's encourage students to assume greater responsibility for their learning by monitoring and supporting their own learning. Using data binders in the classroom is a way to start this process and to have students focus on goal setting, reflection, and growth. 

To close, the NCTE's Formative Assessment Stance that states, "Teachers deserve protected time and quality support as they learn to observe closely and analyze deeply; students deserve a classroom context that allows teachers to do this.  Over time, this professional development raises the quality of teaching and, in turn, the level of student learning." has the most potential to impact student learning. As I read this, I agreed with the importance of this statement and how it can change the whole dynamic of learning in the classroom. I also had a teachers, we should be doing the same for our students. We should be giving our students time to "observe closely" and "analyze deeply" in the classroom and this will in turn maximize student AND teacher learning! 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Genius Hour Development

Well, I must say, this Genius Hour concept has really taken off in my room! The students are LOVING it and they ask everyday if they can work on "Genius Hour." At this time, we are working on it 3 days a week for about 30-60 minutes each day. 

The students have all developed their open-ended questions and have tweaked them to meet their needs after starting their research. A few students have decided to pair up with another student and collaborate.  This has created a lot of great energy in the classroom. Those collaborating are getting together outside of school to work together, collaborating via google docs, and bouncing ideas back and forth between "Genius Hour playdates."

Collaborating about "What is dark energy?"

The most important thing thus far has been making time to conference with the students. It has been important to confer with them in order to help them narrow down their choices of products that they wish to create, help them organize their research on Google Drive and cite their sources, and to make sure that they are on task while given this gift of time. Surprisingly, they are all on task and working diligently.  Many are even working on this at home in their free time. 

The students have been experimenting with iMovies, iMovie trailers, Explain Everything, and Educreations for product choices on their iPad. I've been very impressed so far with their iMovie trailers about their topics and they LOVE making them! I mean check this one out on snow crystals...

Impressive, right? 

When I asked the students this week, what their initial thoughts were on Genius Hour, this was some of the feedback that I received...

"I love this because I get to research what I want."
"I love this because I have a choice on the products that I make for my topic."
"I get to be creative!"

"I created a folder in my Google Drive called, 'Yay I get to do this' because I'm so excited to do this!"-I's true! 
"I get to use critical thinking skills AND be creative."
"You can pick your own topic!"

"Besides time, there are very few barriers with this project."
"You are free to do your project in any order." 
"You can take any path...there are no barriers to your learning." 

Yep...they really did say all of that "stuff." I was a little shocked too! It just reaffirmed my decision to do this project. Hoping we will soon have some answers to "What exactly are black holes? What is the science behind snowboarding? Why are all snowflakes different? How do people acquire mind powers?" :-) They certainly have a lot to research in order to find out! 

Quietly working and very engaged learners!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Flora and Ulysses

It has been great timing...needless to say, but I have been reading Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo to my class for read aloud. I SHOULD say...I have been reading the Newbery Award Winning Book...Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo instead!  We just so happened to be right in the middle of this book when the awards were announced recently. 

I have to be honest...when I first glanced at the book and flipped through it, I thought, "Oh this will be too easy for my class." Boy, was I wrong! The vocabulary in this book is rich! I mean, we have learned words like malfeasance, cynic, indomitable, obfuscate, surreptitious, slanderous, capacious, manifestations, appellation...the list goes on! You get the idea! Lots of great vocabulary discussion and lots of words added to our "word collector." 

Today as we finished Chapter 50, I asked the students to write in their reading journals. Flora's mother had just finished reading Ulysses' poem that started with the word "jelly" and ended with the phrase, "I promise to always turn back toward you." The class was amazed by this squirrel's poetry! So, I asked them to write a quick poem about the book. I had no idea what I would get...but here is a sample...

Super hero, inspiring poems, 
Broken tail, vacuum cleaner, 
Very big teddy bear,
Jelly donuts, horse-hair sofa
I am still very HUNGRY!!!!

I have lost all my hair,
And don't you dare,
Touch my food!

The squirrel has come,
to vanquish the darkness.
He will turn the darkness,
into brightness. He feels
pride, and thirst for battle.
He is also very hungry.

Dinner please
having cheese
There's a roar
He is still hungry
He eats jelly
And his belly
still roars
He is a hungry squirrel.

I must say...I was really impressed with this impromptu writing. Sometimes impromptu results in the best lessons! Love this book! A definite MUST-READ!