Sunday, April 27, 2014

Goal Setting in the Classroom

In our classroom, each student has a data binder in which they set goals, collect data, and reflect on their work and goals. We call this binder their "STAR" binder.  This stands for Students Taking Academic Responsibility.  We have done quite a bit of goal setting this year, but I feel that the students are not always focused on reaching their goals. They forget about the goals when they are on a page in their binder and when it is out of is out of their mind.  I saw an idea on twitter and I thought that it may be the perfect solution to our problem. 

I made this grid and posted it on my wall right by where they line up when we leave the classroom. It is a constant reminder of what their goals are on a daily basis. As with everything that I do in the classroom, I have tweaked this process along the way. As you can see, some students had a couple of post-it notes in their square because they were still working on their old goal. Some students just kept adding post-it notes and never taking down their old goals. Some students were setting very broad goals or goals that were very far out in the future. After taking time to reflect on our goals in class each Friday, the students realized that they needed to narrow the focus of their goals. On Monday when they arrive in the morning, I have them get settled and think about a goal that they want to focus on for the week. I have the students set a SMART goal that they can measure and decide if they have actually reached it come Friday when we reflect. 
We usually share our goals on Monday during morning meeting and then we reflect on them on Friday during morning meeting or even later in the day. The students are getting much better at writing meaningful SMART goals and really trying to reach them by Friday, if not sooner! I am even setting a SMART goal each week with them and I have found it has helped me reach my goal by having it posted in the classroom for all of my little friends to see! The students will often remind each other of their goals, whether it is an academic or a behavior goal, and they will even update their goal as the week goes on. It is also a great visual reminder for me to let me know what I can be working on with each student during that week. These goals are making us more focused and more accountable as well! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday...What Are You Reading?

It's Monday...and what am I reading??? Nothing but professional teaching books or middle grade books. And after today, I have a new book that I need to put on my wish list. This happened the day after my husband had the, "Why do you get a new box from Amazon every week?" talk! He asked why I don't go to our public library...well...I have a good reason...I don't have time! Amazon is way more convenient! 

The first book that I'm reading is...

Loving this book! A boy in my class recommended it to me and has been wanting me to read it all year. I am finally getting around to it and so was a great recommendation. 

The second book that I'm reading is...

This is a big one...419 pages. I chose this one as our new after school book club book. The students wanted an adventure-like story with lots of action and I found this gem. It seems like a mix between 39 Clues, The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Secret Series, and the Percy Jackson series.  I have over 1/2 of my class signed up for the book club and they are all carrying it around and engrossed! Trying to tackle this book by May 20th!

The next book that I'm reading is...

This book showed up on Saturday and I've had a chance to read the very beginning and the very end. Don't ask...This book is going to our next professional book club book at our school. It looks awesome and it is all about looking at all of a child's literacy data and coming up with data driven goals for the child. This is going to be a great book! Thanks Lisa Birno for recommending it! 

And the new book on my wish list is...

I found out about this book today and it is all about student engagement and creativity. 
Looks like a fairly quick read but it will compliment my Genius Hour work in my classroom. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Every spring, I teach a poetry unit that ends up resulting in a beautiful collection of Mother's Day poems for each student's mom. I expose the students to different types of poetry, reading poetry with proper fluency, writing poetry, comparing poetry, and looking at the structure of poetry. 
This spring, I decided to turn my "tree" bulletin board into a "Poet-Tree."
I decided that when I taught the students how to write haikus, I would have them write one for their mom and one about spring. Since our spring has been slow to arrive and everyone has been patiently awaiting spring, I figured that they would have fun writing poetry about spring. I was impressed with their haikus about spring. See for yourself...

This last poem pretty much nails it! He wrote this after we received some MORE snow on April 17th. I had to laugh when I read this, he was SPOT ON! 
Of course, we had many other great poems, but this is just a sampling! The students enjoyed writing haiku poems and the haiku's that they wrote for their mom's made my heart melt. I can't wait to see their new poems this week! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Igniting a Passion for Reading

Our staff book club just met this week to discuss our 2nd book from our newly formed book club. We read "Igniting a Passion for Reading" by Steven Layne. We met at a local coffee shop in town and took some time to get together and discuss this amazing book! 

Book Club Selection #2

We all agreed that we loved reading Steven Layne's voice in this book. It was easy to read and we could tell that he could relate to teachers. He has had a lot of experience in the classroom and he gets the things that we have to deal with on a daily basis.  He also had quite a bit of humor in his book which made it an extra enjoyable read! One of our teachers recommended this book with the words, "This is the best book that I have ever read on literacy." So we decided to delve into this one after we read "Reading in the Wild." This was a great choice! 

We discussed his idea of a reading lounge in the school. Great idea...but we had some hesitations and we also have space issues in our school. We discussed the importance of recommending books for our students and really trying to find books that connect with them and invite in the love of reading. We shared stories of approaching our students with stacks of books and the time spent looking for books for these kiddos. And then finally...finding that perfect book that resonates with a child. 

We then talked about goal setting and how this could impact a child and their reading life. Is it good? Can it backfire? Is it too much at certain grade levels? Is it necessary at certain grade levels? How can the focus of a goal change a reader?

Then we had the age-old discussion about book logs! Do you make your students do them? Do you not do them?  What about those students that never write their books down but read 10 books a week? What about those that never finish a book? What do you do with information? How would we feel if we were asked to write down the title, author, etc. of every book that we read?  Then I heard a fabulous idea...what about having your students take a picture of their book with their iPad and then they will have a running photo stream of their books. This helps with the reluctant writers and the students that lack organization skills, and best of all of the photos can be put into a folder and kept together. 

I told the group about how I had started book chat groups and how they were AWESOME! This was my favorite part of Steven Layne's book! I put my students in groups of 4-5 and we meet about 3 times a week.  They read to self for a period of time and then meet with their group. They are given a question to reflect upon and discuss in their group. They share their book, the author, what page they are on, their initial rating of the book and then they discuss the question as it relates to their book. For example, "identify something about the main character that is really bothering you or something that you really like about the main character and why do you feel the way you do?" or "compare and contrast two characters in your book and which one do you prefer and why?" As the students meet in groups, I meet with a group, take some anecdotal notes, and participate along with them. After they finish their book chat, they are to read to self until all of the groups are done. These groups have worked beautifully and have been a great alternative to Lit Circles at the end of the year. They are holding students accountable to their reading, exposing students to new books, and the students love sharing what they are reading with their friends. 

It was great to get together with good friends outside of school and talk about how we are implementing some of these things in our classrooms and what we are finding that works for us. We never have enough time to talk and share in school so this was the perfect opportunity for us! 
Next up: The Literacy Teacher's Playbook by: Jennifer Serravallo

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Snicker of Magical!

So I finally picked up A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd at our recent school book fair. I have read so many good things about it on blogs, twitter, etc. that I decided to break down and buy it. The cute cover even draws me in and my oldest daughter even said, "that cover is so cute that it makes me want to read that book you are reading." Hey...whatever works right???
Cute cover...right???

Well once I started reading it, I realized that this book had a lot more going on than it's cover! I finished this book in record time. I could be caught reading it in the car(as a passenger), on the treadmill, while waiting for my kids, while blowdrying my hair, etc.


There were so many parts of this book that resonated with me. The first part that resonated with me was when Felicity Pickle's teacher Miss Lawson tells her class, "Maybe some of you write poems, or stories. You are welcome to share those, too. Your words are pure magic, after all. Your words are necessary enchantments." These lines changed Felicity's life and encouraged her to share her words in public at "The Duel."

Then Natalie Lloyd writes, "I knew how that felt, to love a story so much you didn't just want to read it, you wanted to feel it." I mean many times have you felt this way about a book? This was a great way to describe those books that I hold so close to my heart and a quote that voracious readers can all relate to.

Later in the story, Felicity says...
"The way he said her name made my heart cramp. In all my years of word collecting, I've learned this to be a tried and true fact: I can very often tell how much a person loves another person by the way they say their name. I think that's one of the best feelings in the world, when you know your name is safe in another person's mouth." after listening to 
Oliver(owner of Dr. Zook's Ice Cream Company) talk about Sweet Eldee Mae. This made my heart melt...period!

The theme continues throughout the book that "your words matter more than you know." A powerful theme for all who read this little book of magic.

The lines..."But good stories take your heart someplace else. My body'd never been out of south Georgia. But my heart lived everywhere. I'd lived a hundred lives without ever leaving my tree." completely resonated with me and I found myself saying, "Yep, I can totally agree with this!"

The friendship that develops between Jonah and Felicity makes everyone who reads this book...just happy!
I found myself smiling as I read about these two characters. Felicity says,
"And no more words passed between us.  That day Jonah became more than just a friend who kept my words safe. I realized he was the kind of friend who kept my words safe. I realized he was the kind of friend who didn't mind the silent places. The quiet fell between us like a comfortable old quilt and we both settled into it."
I hope everyone has a friend or two like this...I know I do!

"Firstly, most importantly, they were family. And if they had it to do over, I don't think they would have abandoned each other out here on the hillside. I think they would have said, 'Sorry for what I did to you.' and 'I choose to remember the good.' And they would have said, 'I love you.' Maybe if you say those words, maybe if you believe them, no curse in the world has any power over you...And if you say 'I love you,' and you mean it, then love makes up for a whole lifetime of mistakes. That's some kind of magic."

If everyone in the world lived by these words...wouldn't life be magical? I know some people who could benefit from reading these words and living these words. They completely resonated with me and spoke to my heart...especially after the week that I had had!

"You never know which person's going to steal your heart. You never know which place is going to settle your soul. All you can do it look. And hope. And believe."
Wise words my friends! Wise words!

Factofabulous-this book is a must read! Make time for it, share it with your students, share it with your own children, share it with others!
Way to go Natalie Lloyd!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Student Book Club...Part 2

Today I had the privilege to host our 2nd book club of the year with one of my colleagues.  
We read Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. 

The students didn't seem to love this book as much as Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein, but you couldn't really tell that from their discussion! Once they got talking about the book, you could tell that they had some strong feelings and strong connections to this book. 
We started the book club by reading a passage from the book that described the museum and we had the students close their eyes to visualize themselves standing in the museum as we started our discussion. We discussed how the author used such descriptive language to help us imagine the immense museum. We also discussed how past experiences with museums and our background knowledge came into play as we read this book. 

My absolute favorite part in the book was when Ophelia came across a letter. 
It read...

"Be kind to everyone whom you meet along the way, and things will be well.
Kindness is far stronger than any cruelty.
Always extend your hand in friendship.
Be patient.
You may feel alone, but there will always be people will help you along the way.
Never, ever give up." 

What a fabulous mantra to live by and such a fabulous piece of writing to discuss with 4th and 5th graders. I just loved hearing what the students had to say and their reaction to these lines. If everyone could just live by these would just be better...and more peaceful!

We discussed the lines
"...and you might think a name is just a name, nothing but a name, but this is not the case. Your name is tacked to you. Where it has joined you, it has seeped into your skin and into your essence and into your soul.” 
as well as the lines...
"The strangest thing I ever learned is that it’s impossible to know what’s inside someone. I have learned this myself. Those who appear tall and straight and very good are sometimes rotten on the inside, and others, huge and clawed and apparently very bad, sometimes contain a pure and sweet form of goodness. The biggest trap is to judge someone by their outer casing. Their skin. Their hair. Their snow-white feathers.” 
These lines speak volumes and resonated with me. 
The boys were fascinated with the story of the Snow Queen and the misery birds and leopards. The girls were fascinated with beautiful Alice and Ophelia and Ophelia's connection to her dead mother. The discussion was lively and I think that they realized how much they truly did LOVE this book! 
It was a wonderful afternoon spent with some pretty special readers! 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Reflections on Round 1 of Genius Hour

It all started with a Genius Hour pin on Pinterest. It intrigued me since I teach
in a 4th grade gifted classroom. I didn't even have time to research Genius Hour until Christmas Break. 
Once I started looking into it and learning a little bit more about it...I knew I had to implement this in my classroom. I was already doing project based learning in my classroom and had one project that had been successfully completed.  I wanted to change things up and give the students even a little more choice and also integrate inquiry into the process.  Enter in...Genius Hour! 

Throughout this whole process, I have learned a TON. The following are some 
"take-aways" from this process.

1.  It's important to front load expectations and to focus on the 4 C's(creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.)
2.  The book "Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action" by Stephanie Harvey was a great resource and useful for mini-lessons when setting up Genius Hour. 
3.  Take time to teach students how to form a good inquiry-based question that can be heavily researched. I used Wonderopolis to help illustrate this tough concept. 
4. The option of choice is new to students and you will witness engagement like you have never seen. 
5. All students should have a chance to participate in Genius Hour.
6.  It's important to provide an avenue for students to reflect on their projects and ask for help, whether it be Google Forms, a reflection sheet, email, or conferring. 
7. Conferring with students on an ongoing basis is paramount. I use an anecdotal grid to keep track of meetings and to keep notes. 
8.  Allow choice with the products that students come up with to showcase their work. (I was amazed at the ideas-websites, books, 3-D models, movies, slideshows, etc!) 
9. Google sites, Google presentations, Google Docs, Google forms were all utilized over and over. 
10. Scatter out the presentations over a period of time(I did the month of March) so that students do not lose focus during the presentations of others. 
11. Let students collaborate with each other if it's a good fit and they are willing to work well with  each other. 
12.  Provide a rubric of expectations for the students so that they are aware of the expectations and give feedback to each student. 
13. Debrief after the projects are done and make a T-chart of things that went well and things that could be improved upon next time. 
14.  Get on Twitter and Pinterest and seek out all of the amazing resources out there about Genius Hour. There are lots of great people out there willing to help. 
15.  Start the process over again, as the momentum is strong! 

The Genius Hour bulletin board has blue post-its that state passion ideas,
yellow post-its that state product ideas,
green post-its that state what they enjoy about Genius Hour,
and purple post-it notes that state what they learned.