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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A "Novel" Idea for Teaching Reading

After our soon-to-be-famous Snow Day Debacle, we have another, real, district-wide snow day tomorrow!  So, as promised, I'll delve into my revolutionary approach to teaching reading!

Here it is...are you ready?  I let my students read books of their choice.  I let my students read by themselves.  I let my students read with a group.  I let my students read along with our read aloud.  I encourage my students to read at home.  I challenge my students to read.  I read books they recommend to me.  They read books I recommend to them.  We read interesting news articles.  We read picture books.  We read novels.  We read poems.  WE READ.  A LOT.

So, how does this work?  Well, here is my daily 90 minute reading class schedule.  I think it's pretty awesome. 

15 minutes: Reading Quiz Group 1/ Everyone else free reads
15 minutes: Reading Quiz Group 2/ Everyone else free reads
15-20 minutes: Reading Instruction
25-30 minutes: Work Time
10-20 minutes: Read Aloud

Reading Quiz:
I found this idea when I was stalking a teacher's website at a high performing school in our state.  I thought it looked like a great way to spiral back on some previously taught skills, plus it would give students some practice reading and responding on the computer. 

Basically, I just found some short articles and created some open-ended responses to go along with them.  I created these on Google Forms, and it's been a great way to quickly track who has finished and who hasn't.  I get all the results on a Google spreadsheet, then I can sort by name, time stamp, etc.  This is great for quickly checking to see if my "repeat offenders" have completed their daily task. 

Free Read: 
Free reading is just as it sounds.  It's when students get the freedom to choose any book in my library, my co-teacher's library, the school library, the public library, a book from home, etc, and they get to read it.  I don't have formal reading conferences (because, as a student, I WOULD HAVE ABSOLUTELY HATED THOSE), but I check in with students sporadically to see what they're reading.  I also give lots of book recommendations.  One of my students has been stuck on graphic novels all year, and I'm trying to move her into reading books with more words.  So, recently, I recommended the Geronimo Stilton books, which still have pictures, but have bits of fun fonts, and lots more text than a graphic novel.

I really dislike most fantasy books, but I have one student who keeps recommending dragon books to me, so I've read some of them...mainly to hush him up for a couple of days...but he loves when I read books he recommends, and he loves to talk to me about the book.  I love this.  I think this is a hugely important part of reading instruction.  If I want kids to read books I recommend, I should read the books they recommend.  It builds a great reading community within our classroom, and it begins to creep throughout the class...students are recommending books to their classmates all the time!

Along with giving choice to the free read...I also take orders for new books.  I had a student who LOVED the book Savvy by Ingrid Law, so when she asked about the sequel, I told her I'd order it if it was in the next book order.  Well, there it was!  So I ordered it with bonus points, and put her first on the list to read it.  It's since been passed around to more readers. 

Reading Instruction:
We've been working on creating unit plans this year, which I really enjoy.  It's allowed me to really dig deep into concepts and push my students to really understand what they're learning.  I like being able to spend 3-4 weeks on ONE topic.  So far, we've focused on genres, main idea, theme, text structures, point of view, historical fiction.  Obviously, we've covered other standards within these topics, but the main focus is our unit.

I first spend some time working with my students to develop our success criteria for our learning intention.  This was a huge pain and time waster at the beginning of the year, but we can pound them out pretty quickly now.  These HAVE to be posted in our district...I don't know if they make students "smarter" or more focused, but we do it.  It still takes about 5 minutes to get through these.  Basically, we're taking an "I Can Statement," (which is now called a "Learning Intention"), and list what students need to do in order to be successful.

After that, we move on to modeling the skill, introducing an article, reviewing from the day before, etc.

Work Time:
I typically give my students an article or story to read on paper.  I make them annotate the text as they read.  They  can work with a partner or by themselves.  Some students love working together, and some love working alone, so I give them the freedom to choose how they learn best.  During this time, I monitor groups, check in with them, clear up misconceptions, have students explain what they're doing, and sometimes pull a small group of people who are struggling. 

Read Aloud: 
This is my favorite time of the day, and luckily, I get it twice, since I teach two reading classes!  During this time, I play an audiobook for the class, while everyone, even me, follows along in a copy of the book.  I've built up my read loud library through DonorsChoose projects and by scavenging the Saint Louis Book Fair (where I can get kids paperback books for $.25-$.50 and hardcover books for $1-$3!!!!).  Sometimes, I have students fill out a short read aloud log.  Mostly, we just discuss what we've read.  They NEVER have to fill out novel packets.  Who does that in real life?  Seriously? Who reads a book, but stops after every chapter to answer questions or write a summary...ick.

Book Clubs:
Twice a week, my students meet for 10 minutes to talk with their book club group.  I first started assigning students to groups based on their Lexile score, but recently, I've let them pick their own groups.  In book clubs, students choose from a list of books I have available, and all read the same book.  They decide on their reading schedule, too.  I give them three weeks to get the book done, and that's been more than enough for most groups (even the groups that have chosen Lightning Thief!). 

I usually have some type of accountability that students need to complete for book clubs.  I've changed this up almost every time.  Sometimes, they had to bring at least 3 sticky notes to share.  Other times, they had typical lit. circle jobs, and most recently, I've given them a booklet of reading response activities they can share.  I got these from a Scholastic book, and the students really have enjoyed them.  They've done different things, like create an award for a character and create scrapbooks for the book. 

For the next round of book clubs, I think I'm going to give students a task to think about and take notes on while they read, like theme or characterization.  Then, during book clubs, I'll have groups work together to create something, like a character sketch, or a movie poster.  It might take a little more time, but I think the conversations would be deeper, which is really my main point of book clubs. 

My school requires students to read at home for 20 minutes three times a week and record this on a reading log.  I also have my students log their time on Biblionasium, which tracks books they've read, minutes read, and number of pages read.  They like this, and they like sending book recommendations to each other!

So that's my typical day in reading class. WAIT!  WHAT ABOUT STATIONS AND GUIDED READING?  Sorry. You won't find those in my classroom.  Why?  I think they're a waste of time.  I've always hated reading stations in fifth grade, because it's simply busy work and socialization time.  I can think of SO MANY MORE things to do during that precious reading time that will actually benefit students than doing centers.

Does this actually work?  I guess so.  I mean, my SRI Lexile scores have SOARED THROUGH THE ROOF this year.  Right now, out of 42 fifth graders, we have 17 who scored over 1000 Lexile points, and 13 who scored between 830-999 points.  We were one of the lowest elementary schools in the district last year, and our scores have improved so much this year, that admin was bragging on us yesterday. 

I feel like this post is kind of scattered, but I'm basically calling it a brain spill.  I released all my knowledge about my reading class onto this page.  It may be sort of all over the place, and I may think of other things to add later, but I just wanted to share!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

George Washington Carver National Monument

We've had some family friends here for the past few days, and we've enjoyed sharing some local tourist sites with them.  Today, we ventured out to George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, MO. The forecast showed rain basically all day, but it was our last full day with our friends, and we just needed to go.  It was raining when we arrived, but it was a wonderful 68 degrees when we set out to walk on the trails.

View of the fields from the Carver house.  It was a little cloudy, and cool enough for jackets in July!
For those of you who don't know, George Washington Carver was known as the "Plant Doctor" and the "Peanut Man."  He was a artist and scientist who was born in a slave cabin on the park's land.  His father was hanged by bushwackers, and George and his mother were kidnapped and taken to Arkansas to be sold.  Moses Carver, the farmer who owned the land where George was born, re-bought George, but couldn't save his mother.  George spent many of his childhood years in Diamond, but soon moved on to pursue education throughout Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa.  After graduating college in Iowa, he began a teaching career at Tuskegee University in Alabama.  Here, he began experimenting with crops that would do well in the barren southern soil.  He worked primarily with cow peas, peanuts, and sweet potatoes.  He found over 300 uses for peanuts alone!  GWC also went on to speak around the nation on segregation, and was an early Civil Rights leader.  It's amazing to think that this man was from a tiny town down the road!

Isn't the trail through the woods beautiful!
The GWC National Monument was built in 1953, and is the first national park/monument to recognize an African American.  It is a GORGEOUS park, with lots of wonderful hands-on activities for kids.  There were enough fun things to keep the two year old in our group busy the whole time we were there!  The video telling about GWC's life was a fantastic addition since my last visit.

I was really excited to find some articles for my classroom around the park.  One article is GWC's memoir, which was typed up to include spelling mistakes and all.  It's a wonderful article we'll read some time this year. They also had a list of quotes by GWC and some other things he's known for.  4th graders in our school study Missouri history, and always visit this park, as well as write biographies about GWC, but I think they'll enjoy these articles.

I asked the worker if I could find articles like this at other national parks/monuments, and she said that they should have them at many places.  I'll definitely be looking for some when I head over to the Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas!  If all parks have articles like this, I'll have a wonderful collection for close reading!

In college, I created a national parks literacy project, and I wrote to every national park in the country.  I received pamphlets from almost every one of them, but if I had known about these articles, I would have most definitely asked for those, too!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Social Studies Notebooking Vocabulary

Every one of my notebooking units begins with vocabulary.  I include the lists of words in a definition mini-book, as well as on cards that can be used in a memory match game.  I first have my students write down the definitions of the words in their booklets, then I have them cut out the cards.  These cards can be stored in the included pocket, or in an envelope glued to the cover of the notebook.  I like for my students to keep their cards in the pocket, as they'll have many sets of vocabulary cards as the year goes on.

I DO NOT have my students cut directly on the lines when cutting apart their cards.  This would take a REALLLLLLLY long time!  I have them cut in the white space between each card.  
I show my students a quick way to cut their cards: First, cut into strips...
....then stack strips and cut into squares. 
After my students fill out their definition book, I have them partner up and play the memory match game.  Matching definition and word cards have the same icon in the bottom right hand corner.  It helps students match the words/definitions when they first play, and I find many of them use it to define words throughout the unit ("Oh, that's the triangle word...").

When everyone is finished filling out booklets, we'll play a few rounds of vocabulary Bingo.  Bingo cards are also included, but markers are not.  I have my students cut out several squares of paper, which they keep in their envelope.  I print out a copy of the words/definitions for myself to use as the calling card.  I'll choose a word/definition, read it out loud, and students find it on their personally filled-in card.  They LOVE playing this game, and usually beg for more!  We'll play it several times throughout the unit, as well, and any time we have a few extra minutes.  It really does help them remember the words!

Vocab Bingo is one of the favorite activities of each unit!  
All of my units include similar vocabulary activities.  These units, Geography, Native Americans, Explorers, Colonial America, and Revolutionary War, are available in my TPT store!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Books I Love to Read with 5th Graders (Round 2)

Yesterday I posted 4 books that I love to read with my students ("Sideways Stories of Wayside School," "Wait Till Helen Comes," "Hatchet," and "The City of Ember").  This really is the best part of my day, each and every day!  We were lucky enough to get to build our master schedules for the fall on the last day of school, so I definitely made sure to carve in some time for our daily read aloud.  Last year, we rarely had time because of a brand new reading program, and I feel really bad for that group of kids.  They only got through a couple books last year!  the year before that, we read at least 10!  Anyways, here's a few more books my kids love.

I said in the previous post that my favorite juvenile fiction book was "The City of Ember."  That may be a lie, because I love this one, too.  We'll call it a tie.  "Running Out of Time" by Margaret Peterson Haddix is an amazing story!  I use it to work on our prediction skills, which it is perfect for.  However, I've never had a student predict the big surprise in this story.  I love seeing their reactions as they find out the truth about Jessie Keyser and her town of Clifton, Indiana.  We have to pause many times in this story, as the ripple of chatter about the book goes through the room.  It's a thrilling adventure, and it constantly keeps you guessing!

Another book I read with my students is "Among the Hidden," also by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  She's probably my favorite juvenile fiction author. I love the Missing series she has written! This book I'll read only with certain groups.  Last year's group was pretty immature, and overall, a young class, so we didn't read it.  It's a bit heavy in certain points, but the story and characters quickly capture you.  This story's about Luke, who's the third child in his family.  It's bad news for him, because third children are illegal.  Luke must hide in his family's home/yard every day.  He can't be seen by anyone, or he could be killed.  It's a great read, but, like I said, parts of it can be heavy for 5th graders.

"Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume was one of my favorite books from childhood.  My mom would read this books, and the others about Fudge, to my brother and I, and we would laugh, and laugh.  Probably not great for bedtime stories...My sister gave the Fudge books to my eight year old niece for Christmas, and she's just recently started reading them.  When I was out in Wichita for her softball game, I asked her about them.  She giggled as she told about her favorite parts.  Melted my heart! Anyways, this story is the first in the series about Peter and his little brother Fudge.  I love this one because of all the trouble little Fudgie gets in.  Trying to fly, sticking stickers all over the place, and, most tragically, eating a baby turtle. My big, cool 5th graders are always a little reluctant to read this one because it mentions 4th grade in the title, but they quickly get hooked by all of Fudgies antics!

I was first introduced to "Chasing Vermeer" by Blue Balliett on a car ride.  Whenever we travel, we take a stack of audio books with us.  This year, on a trip to Disney World with my mom and sister, we listened to "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library," "Unwind," "The Giver," and "A Tale Dark and Grimm." Great books, with Lemoncello definitely being my favorite of the group, though "Unwind" was a fantastic dystopian teen novel which I loved (not sure if "love" is the right word for a story about unwinding children...").  But, back to "Chasing Vermeer..."  This story is a great interactive mystery.  I say interactive, because there are clues in the pictures, and Calder and Petra use pentominos to help them figure things out.  Make sure you have a set of pentominos on hand, because your students will want to work with them, too!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Books I Love to Read with 5th Graders (Round 1)

Reading aloud with my 5th graders is definitely my favorite thing to do at school.  I love introducing them to books I loved as a child, and books I've found since then.  I usually don't actually read these books aloud...I use audiobooks and  One of the best DonorsChoose projects I ever did was for a whole bunch of audio books.  Love them!  The narrators (usually) bring the characters to life!  For most of my read alouds, students follow along in a copy of the book while the story is read.  We talk about how this increases their fluency and comprehension, and it really does, especially fluency.  They're hearing correct flow and intonation while seeing the words in the book.  95% of my kids usually follow along, of course, there are a few kids every year that seem to be staring off into space during this, but with gentle reminders, they'll usually focus on book.

Every year, I start out reading "Sideways Stories from Wayside School."  This is a great book that students, especially 5th graders, love.  The narrator of this story is actually the author, Louis Sachar, which is pretty cool.  I alternate between reading this aloud and using my CDs.  Sometimes, Louis Sachar reads it slowly.  There's not much of a plot to this story, but I use it to introduce character traits.  Each chapter is about a different kid in the class, with a few about teachers.  These stories are cute and funny!  My kids talk about things from this book all year long!

My co-teacher always reads "Wait Till Helen Comes" by Mary Downing Hahn.  I'd never read this until last year, but I'm hooked.  5th graders are fascinated with ghost stories, and this is a good, mild, yet intense one.  It also provided one of our best memories of last year when Ms. Dianne, our secretary buzzed the room on the intercom during the climax of the story and EVERYONE in the classroom jumped (and a few even screamed).  Can you say "student engagement?"

"Hatchet" is a must read for every elementary-aged kid.  I consider it a rite of passage.  Seriously.  It's an amazing story, and the narrator is one of my favorites (with Jim Dale, narrator of "Harry Potter" definitely being #1!).  I love that this story starts out with a bang, and hooks the kids by the first few pages.  Even reluctant readers get in to this story!  If you are an elementary/middle school teacher and haven't read this story, you are missing out.  For real...go to the library and check out a copy right now. Now.

"City of Ember" by Jeanne DuPrau may be my top juvenile fiction book of all time.  I love this story and the world created in it.  The story talks about how there is no sky, only black, and only light bulbs to provide light, and I've had kids completely surprised when they find out where Lina, Doon, and Poppy really live.  Other than cheesy chick-lit set on southern beaches, dystopian stories are my favorite, and this one doesn't disappoint.  It's got action and a mystery, and the writing just grabs you.  I seriously love this book.  And so do my kids when we read it.  The only bad part of the narration is when they start to read the letter.  The letter has been chewed up by baby Poppy, and some words and letters are missing.  So the narrator reads it letter by letter and piece of a word by piece of a word.  It drives everyone crazy, and we usually skip it, since everyone has a copy to actually see the letter in the book. *Note: The only additional book in this series I enjoyed was "Diamond of Darkhold."  I was sort of disappointed by the others.

I usually don't have my students fill out big novel packets when we read these books.  I value our discussions and short notes made much more than busy work.  Once, I felt guilty about just letting my students enjoy the books and not do much work with them.  But, then I thought, "How often do I read?  How many times do I stop and summarize a chapter while I'm reading?  Gosh, wouldn't that make reading a wonderful story just plain AWFUL?"  So, that was the end of novel packets for me.  I don't want to teach my students to read just to answer a packet full of questions.  I want them to learn to read for fun.

Geography Social Studies Notebooking Unit is Finished!

I have FINALLY been able to finish my geography Social Studies notebook unit!  This one was tough for me, as it was something I never really learned in school.  We always just skipped geography and went straight to Native Americans in our textbooks. You can download this unit at TeachersPayTeachers by clicking here or on the picture below!

I had hoped to finish this over the weekend, but I had to stop and mourn the loss of my sweet kitty, Knox.  I adopted Knox (short for Mr. Obnoxious) from the humane society last fall.  He was the sweetest, fluffiest boy I knew.  He loved going outside, and I couldn't find him when I left for my grandma's before the 4th of July.  No big deal, as he would stay out for days at a time.  I left out food and water, and went on my way.  When I got home, I didn't see him.  I waited around a few days, since he wanders, and some kids had picked him up once before.  When he wasn't back Friday, I started asking around.  My next door neighbors said they had put out food for him and their cat one morning, then found him on their carport later that afternoon.  We have no idea what happened to him.  He wasn't hit by a car, and didn't have any other marks.  I figure he had eaten a bad mouse or gotten into poison left out for mice.  He was a great kitty, and I'm glad I got to give him a good home for the last part of his life!