Monday, June 23, 2014

It's Monday What Are You Reading?

It's Monday... it's summer... I have time... I'm reading a lot! 
I love reading and I love summer, therefore, I love reading in the summer. My family is getting a little tired of seeing me read...but I can't stop.

The first book that I read last week was We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride. This story is told from multiple perspectives and all of these perspectives end up intertwining and contributing to this amazing story.  The story take place in Las Vegas and even includes a child's perspective. It took me 2.5 days to finish this story...I highly recommend this book for a great summer read! 

The next book that I read in 2 days was Fly a Little Higher by Laura Sobiech.  This book is based on a true story of a seventeen year old boy named Zach Sobiech from Minnesota who died from osteosarcoma last year.  After he died, his mom reflected on the past 3 years and wrote it all down in a book to help with the healing process. I knew how this book would end, but the messages in this story were moving. This book has plenty of parts that made me smile and plenty of parts that made me cry. My 8th grade daughter is currently reading it and can't put it down as well. My 10 year old is next in line after her.  Very moving book with lots of parts that will make you reflect on your own life. 

The next book that I read was The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo.  This story just has so many wonderful messages and life lessons. I was constantly writing down lines from the book to save for reflection. This story focuses on  transforming the power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

I just finished reading The Literacy Teacher's Playbook for Grades 3-5. I loved this book and gathered a lot of great thoughts and ideas for going into next school year.  So my next professional read is The Comprehension Experience by Hammond and Nessel.  This book talks about the importance of classroom talk and encouraging a deeper level of thinking in the classroom. This book came highly recommended to me and I am anxious to dig into it. 

Reflections on the Past School Year

Well that was a whirlwind! What a year! It was a year of many firsts and also another year to refine my craft. I started a new school year in September...teaching in a new district and starting a new all-day gifted program.  I was lucky enough to get hired for this amazing job and to start the MOSAIC program in our school district.  I had 22 highly gifted 4th grade students that stayed in my classroom all day long and their gifted needs were met within the confines of our classroom. I tried many new things and learned just as much as my students did this year!
Here is a list of some of my A-HA moments...

1.  Students need choice! Every time that my students had choice they were far more engaged and willing to give more effort.  Even if I give them choices within what I want them to helps. Maybe I allow them to use a Google Doc to share their work or allow them to use an iPad App to show their all gets to the same thing...showing me what they have learned.  Sometimes they even negotiate their own choice and I'm okay with that as long as it meets their learning goal. 

2.  I need to be flexible with my daily plans! I am a girl who likes to have a plan. I'm not big on deviating from that plan but I have learned that flexibility is the key to success.  My students may take me in a whole different direction than I imagined and that's okay. They get excited about different topics and want to learn more or focus in more on a similar topic and I need to be flexible and provide time for these types of learning experiences.  We read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and the students were extremely interested in the process of building a well in Sudan and why the water supply is so different around the world. We looked at online videos, websites, and read other books about water to learn more about building freshwater wells in Sudan. 

3. Jump in and let the students help guide you! This year was a year of firsts and it was the first time that we had iPads in our classroom. Our district went 1-1 this year with iPads at the elementary level and WOW!!!! what an experience! First, I felt so fortunate to have this amazing resource in my classroom and in the hands of my students.  There were so many things that I did not know how to do on the iPads...but sure students did. I would introduce an app and at about 2 minutes into the introduction a student would figure something out that I didn't know, have a helpful hint, or show me how I was doing it all wrong. I let them be the EXPERTS! And they loved that feeling. I had an iMovie expert, a Google Drive expert, an Explain Everything expert, a Notability expert, a website expert, an iPad cart organizer...everyone had their own talent to share.  If someone had a question about building a Google Site...I knew who to send them to. When I learned to let go...we got a lot more accomplished! We even had a class EdCamp that the students LOVED! They loved sharing their knowledge and engagement was through the roof! 

4.  Try Genius Hour! As part of our gifted program, we knew that we wanted to incorporate choice projects and project based learning in our program.  We weren't sure about how EXACTLY this would work but we had some ideas.  I then came across a blog post about Genius Hour and read up on it over Winter Break.  After reading about it, I was hooked! I had to try this! I put some lessons and materials together and mapped out a plan and introduced it in January. The students were instantly hooked! They were engaged at all new levels. They were going home and spending hours working on their Genius Hour projects(even though they didn't have to.) They learned about some amazing topics and explored some really deep questions.  Check out my previous posts on Genius Hour for more information about it. The students thought that it was by far the best part of the year and I was amazed at their projects and knowledge about their topics. Genius Hour also aligns to #1, #2, and #3 above! 

5.  Don't be afraid to try new things! If I had been afraid to try new things...there would have been so many things that wouldn't have happened this year!  Most of the things that I tried...I would do again in a heartbeat.  I tried Genius Hour, Discovery Quests with a technology component, using Notability to keep track of word study words, interactive math notebooks, book chats, book clubs, an after school book club, fully integrated iPad use, air serving presentations, hard core use of Google Drive, and many new collaborative and independent projects. 

6.  Use an online web tool for lesson planning.  I used and loved it! It was only $12 for the year and it was so easy to use. I did not have to lug a lesson plan book back and forth from school to home and it was easy to move things around when my plans changed(flexibility.) 
I now have my plans on my computer and they will be THAT MUCH EASIER to tweak as I make plans for next year. I highly recommend this for busy teachers! 

Overall, it's been an amazing year and I can't wait to see what 2014-2015 has in store for me. Well...maybe I can wait a little bit to see...
It's time to enjoy summer! 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Historical Fiction+Critical Thinking=Summer Fun

This post is by guest blogger and author Stacie Vaughn Hutton. Stacie wrote Shovelful of Sunshine about coal mining in West Virginia.  Shovelful of Sunshine is well-crafted and has many wonderful teaching points for a perfect mentor text or interactive read aloud. Between the traits of writing, figurative language, and Appalachian history...this is a great book to have on your teaching shelf. 

       I have always had a love/hate relationship with the subject... "Social Studies." Though I love American History! For as long as I can remember, I have had a fascination with those who walked this Earth before me.   I have also always had a natural curiosity for other parts of the world. 
       I hate the hybrid, (likely politician created) "Social Studies" -this mish-mash of subjects ultimately  creates deficiencies and a lack of critical thinking among our youth.  Chief among my complaints is that most American students receive only about two years of serious study of American History. With  this disregard for our nation's history, why should we expect our kids to understand other cultures if they do not have a mastery of our own?

       For instance, when American student Amanda Knox was recently re-tried in Italy, one would need an understanding of our Constitution to compare the two and to realize that in the United States you are not tried twice for the same crime. That is what an in depth knowledge of American History can do... make us think critically about our own heritage as we compare it to others.                              

       The good news is that summer is a wonderful time to address deficiencies in the knowledge of American History. When planning a summer vacation it is usually not difficult to include some kind of historical outing even if it's local history.

If an elaborate summer vacation is not possible... look no further than the public library! Stocked with shelves of books, the library has the resources to take kids anywhere. But if your child needs some guidance on inquiry -the how and why about history...look at,  Where was George? The Missing Signatures on the Declaration of Independence.

      It is a fun, intriguing set of stories that I think will make for some fun Fourth of July reading. My hope is that it will lead to more inquiry and then more reading. For it is through reading, asking questions, and then more reading that critical thinking or true education occurs.

Check out these apps on iTunes and Kindle for reading comprehension practice for your child this summer.

By: Stacie Vaughn Hutton