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!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

New Unit in the Works!

For the first time all summer, I've actually had a few days in a row at home!  Since June 4th, I've been to my Grandma's in rural Missouri, a road trip to Orlando for 10 days, Wichita to see my nieces play softball and t-ball (which was canceled because of rain), brought my nieces home for 4 days, went to a zoo, and went back to Grandma's farm for 4 days over the 4th of July. I've been busy, but I love it.  It's why I will never teach summer school!  And it's really not slowing down between now and August 11th (my first back-to-school meeting).  I still have another trip to Wichita to watch a softball game and the Lion King play (leaving today!), a long weekend with my cousins and aunt on my dad's side, and an annual camping trip with friends for 5-6 days. Throw in my birthday trip to the state fair (first time ever going because we're starting school later this year!), and summer will be gone. :-(

I have managed to work in a little time to begin a new Social Studies notebooking unit covering Geography.  I'm really excited about this unit!  I always start Social Studies out with a study of geography, but I had no materials for it.  I made a few small items for their notebooks, and that was it.  I've worked really hard on building this unit, and even though it's been the toughest one for me so far, I've enjoyed it and learned a lot myself!

I think this unit is going to be massive.  It's already 55 pages long, and I still have one more theme of geography to complete, as well as the end of unit activities!

Here's a sneak peek at the unit so far:

Now, if I can keep myself from becoming distracted (Again! Although, the turtle coconut cookies I made this morning are awesome!), I can probably have this unit finished by the weekend!
Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Classroom Library Under Construction!

Before school was out, I had this fantastic idea to bring all of my classroom library books home over the summer so I could sort them out and get them all organized.  After loading up several tubs and boxes with books, making many, many trips with the school's shopping cart to my car and back, and telling coworkers that no, I am not moving classrooms or schools over the summer, I finally got every book out of my classroom. Then, I had the joy of unloading all of these books from my car to my sewing shopping cart around this time.  

I wish I had taken a picture before I started working on this project.  There were stacks of books EVERYWHERE.  It was chaotic.  It was a mess.  It was a challenge!

Yes, this looks better than when I originally started sorting all these books!
I've worked a little bit each day, and it's starting to look pretty good.  First I sorted all of my chapter books into genres: Realistic Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction, Informational, Biography/Autobiography, Fantasy, Mythology, Historical Fiction, Graphic Novels, Poetry, Historical Diaries, and Choose Your Own Adventure.  I'm planning on initiating the 40 Book Challenge next year, so I wanted the challenge genres to be easily identified, so I put a little sticker with the genre code on the upper-right corner of each book.  

After sorting genres, I started to break down the books by theme/topic/author.  I put another little sticker with the theme/topic/author written on it in the bottom-left corner of the cover.  This way, my trained classroom librarians can easily return books. 

Some of the theme/topic/author tubs: Ghosts, Pirates, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Civil War, Gary Paulsen, and Dear America.
These little stickers are great!  I put them on some of my books three years ago, and they're still on there, but easy to remove.  So, they hold up, but don't leave a sticky residue!
I still haven't tackled any of my picture books, but once I get the chapter books done, hopefully these will go pretty quickly.  

I'm excited to have a nicely organized library for once, and hopefully, with these detailed stickers, the students I train to be librarians can put them away correctly!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Social Studies Notebooking Units

I love using notebooking in my classroom, and my students love it, too!  It's amazing to see their learning progress through the year by looking through their notebooks. I've created some complete social studies notebooking units and posted them on TPT.  These units have everything you need to teach that part of American history.  Mini-books, vocabulary, and foldables are all included!  These are the most complete, and useful, notebooking sets I've found, which is why I created them! 

I'm constantly working on more units, so if there's a topic you're dying to use, let me know, and I'll see what I can do to create it! 

My complete units available right now are: 

I've currently got a United States Government notebooking unit in the works, but I can't seem to find much time to work on it!  I'm also planning Westward Expansion and Civil War units! Hopefully I can find some time to work on these during the (much needed) summer vacation!
Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jelly Bean Dichotomous Key

I loved teaching science last year, and I have REALLLLLLY missed it this year, but I have found ways to work it in!  I have been creating my own close reading articles and pulling out science ideas that I know students need to know.  These articles have really been pretty easy to put together-- just search "articles for kids about ____" and you'll usually get a wide spread of articles.  You can also use Google to search by readability level, but I haven't had as much luck with that. 

Today's activity centered on Jelly Belly jelly beans and dichotomous keys.  Since Monday, my students have been reading a pretty tough article I wove together about how dichotomous keys work.  The final paragraph introduces them to the activity of naming jelly beans using a dichotomous key.  After going through all the steps of close reading, and having a day-long field trip to the University of Arkansas on Wednesday, my students finally got to work with the jelly beans today.  They were so incredibly excited to do this, and the engagement factor was probably 110%.  This was NOT a quiet activity whatsoever.  And I was completely okay with that!
I borrowed a posted jelly bean dichotomous from here, and edited it to fit on just a front and back paper.  Then, I explained directions to small groups at a time before turning them loose with a bowl of 10 different beans.  They basically had to describe the bean, write down all of the numbers they went through on the key, find the name of the bean, then break it in half and let each partner taste it.  Then they had to decide if they had followed the correct steps and found the right name for the flavor.
I had students finish identifying their 10 jelly beans and ask for more!  Some students worked through 20 jelly beans!  They definitely know how to use a dichotomous key now!  And trying to hold back my laughter as students tried Sizzling Cinnamon, Black Licorice, and Buttered Popcorn added to my enjoyment of the lesson!

I am not posting the materials I used on TPT, since I didn't really make them, but I will post them on my Google Drive.  Here is the link if you want to access these pages for free!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Schedule and Reading Stations

When reading blogs, one thing I really look for is how the reading block is broken up.  There's no perfect solution, in my opinion, and I've worked REALLLLLLY hard to figure out the best plan for this year's reading block.  In my school, we have 2 5th grade classes.  I teach all of 5th grade reading and writing, while my co-teacher teaches all math and science.  We also mix up our students so that all Read 180 kids are together, all special ed kids are together (with a push-in teacher), and all System 44 kids are together.  This makes scheduling a billion times easier, and we're thankful that our principal allows us to do this!

Here's a look at our day:

7:35-7:50      Morning routine (planners, lunch cards, attendance, etc)
7:50-8:40      Specials (Art, PE, Music, and Library/Computers)
8:40-10:00    Reading 1/Math 1 (all Read 180 kids are in Reading 1, and leave for Read 180 at 9:30, when we start stations)
10:00-10:50  Writing 1/Science 1
10:50-11:40  Writing 2 (all Read 180 kids)/Science 2
11:40-12:00  Lunch
12:00-12:20  Recess
12:20-1:45    Reading 2/Math 2 (all Read 180 kids are in Math 2)
1:45-2:00      Recess
2:00-2:30      RtI
2:30               ESL bus packs up
2:40               Bus riders pack up
2:45               Walkers/Car Riders pack up

Now, breaking down that 85-90 minute reading block even further:

40 minutes- Instruction and work time
30 minutes- Stations (2 stations at 15 minute each)
15-20 minutes- Read Aloud

Now, I wish that we stuck to this schedule every day, but sadly, my favorite part of the day, Read Aloud, gets bumped 90% of the time.  This is something that I have always LOVED, and the last two years, we've gotten through 5-8 novels during the year.  I hate gypping this year's group of kids, and I feel like their reading skills are lagging because they haven't been encouraged to read by the read aloud.  That's what happens when you're too focused on "raising test scores," and not on actually educating children...ouch...that's a sore subject...(on a side note, my previous students have scored very well on their tests, and were not exceptional readers...I honestly think it's because they were exposed to tough literature for NINE WHOLE MONTHS, and were able to decipher the meaning of it. But, being the obedient person I am, I have ***reluctantly*** agreed to the whole "stations is best" mindset that my building has adopted...)

Reading stations is something that I've always dreaded.  I hated doing them in school, in college, and in my classroom.  I've always seen it as busy work and play time.  I still don't really care for them, but after a year of HAVING to do them, I've tweaked mine to be a bit more bearable.

Most of the year, I have 5 stations that pretty much stay the same.  They are Word Work, Fluency, Teacher, Writing, and Library.  I worked all year long to find things that would work in these stations.  I'm still not completely happy with them, but the kids enjoy them, and they're making progress.

 Word Work:
This is when my students work on their Words Their Way activities.  My students complained about the sorts being boring, so I took those out.  I can't say that I disagree with them about that...Most of my 5th grade students tested at the Within Word level, and a pretty big group tested at the Derivational level.  There wasn't too much in between.  I guess this happens when your school district removes spelling instruction for two years and then brings in WTW! I found some great "homework" packets for Words Their Way on TPT, and I've been using these for Word Work station.  Students basically sort the words by writing them, then put them in alphabetical order, or unscramble them.  I also have a packet of fun spelling activities also from TPT, that includes things like writing the words in Morse Code (a favorite!), using Scrabble tiles and finding the point value, making crosswords, building word pyramids, etc.  Students do the sorting page first, then the fun page.  I've seen huge improvement in their spelling this year!

We have to do a bi-weekly running record on students, so I use Fluency station for them to practice reading passages out loud.  Students work with a partner and take turns timing each other for 1 minute.  They time each other 5 times total, marking each ending word with a different color (red for the 1st read, orange for the 2nd read, yellow for the third read, green for the 4th read, and blue for the 5th read).  They then count up the total number of words and record it.
I started the year with using fluency activities from

This is a station I dread...I hate doing structured guided reading.  We were supposed to use the "trade books" that came with our new reading program, but these were DULL.  I hate having predetermined conversations, questions, and vocabulary.  I hate having to follow along with a card that tells me what to do and when.  Reading instruction/discussions should happen naturally, and should be about interesting topics/books.

I finally ditched the reading series on this, and brought in some of my favorite novels.  Right now, we are reading Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  This is one of my absolute favorite books to read with students!   It's full of places to make inferences and discuss this skill, make predictions, history lessons, lots of vocabulary, and it's just a wonderful story.  It's about a girl named Jessie who lives in Clifton, Indiana, who is selected to leave the town to retrieve medical help for the diphtheria epidemic.  I can barely hold in my excitement when my students are about to learn the "secret" of Clifton!  I LOVE THIS BOOK!

During "teacher station," my students and I take turns reading aloud, paragraph by paragraph.  We discuss how the paragraphs are set up, the difference between dialogue and regular paragraphs, reading with expression, etc.  We have these conversations regularly, and as problems arise. 

I also pause to quickly explain a difficult concept or word, or to have students recap what has happened, make predictions, make inferences, describe a character, or ask questions.  I also mention things that happened earlier in the book and talk about if they were clues or not to what would happen later.  I don't have students record anything on paper, as that takes away from the enjoyment of reading, plus we get through a lot more of the story in 15 minutes than if they had to write, too.  My students don't need to write everything down, because we review people and ideas frequently with our mini-discussions. Ask any one of them, and they'll be able to rattle off the entire plot of the story with plenty of details.

As we finish books in "teacher station," I have students complete a reading response activity.  With Running Out of Time, I have them make postcards about the book.  They choose 3 of the following: a character, problem/solution, setting, theme, important event, compare/contrast. I give them many more details with this, but I don't want to give any of the story away! (I will probably post their postcards in a later blog post!)

In writing station, I post a prompt of Edmodo, which the students then transfer to paper and respond to.  These prompts vary from things like answering questions about themselves, finishing a fictional story, researching a topic, writing a poem, etc.  On the back of their paper, there is an activity for fast finishers. Some of their favorite fast finisher activities have been making a list of as many "M" words as they could without using a dictionary, finding rhyming words, writing concrete poems, and writing letters.

I would like to say that I am organized enough to collect all of their writing station papers and keep them together in a journal of sorts, but I am not.  It's something I'd like to do next year, though!  I tried having students write in a notebook, but I found that students wouldn't do the work unless the pages were turned in and graded, so loose papers is the best solution I've found.

Students read a book of their choice during this station.  This group has been really great about actually reading during this time!  Again, I require no paperwork from students here, because it takes away from the enjoyment of reading.  I do conference with my students as time allows (sadly, not scheduled conference times...), which keeps them honest and on track with their reading.

Now, as test-taking time nears, I've changed my stations up a bit.  Instead of Word Work, they're working on skill based task cards, instead of Library, they're working on MobyMax, and instead of Writing they're working on a Jeopardy review game. 

So there you have it (I'll try to post pictures of stations soon) schedule and reading stations. I may not be in love with stations, but I've nearly completed a whole year with them in my classroom.  Does that mean I'm going to use them again next year??? I guess I'll just wait and see.
Sunday, March 30, 2014

Drop a Pebble in the Water

We tried out a poem during close reading late last week.  I found the poem, "Drop a Pebble in the Water" by James W. Foley, that I thought was perfect for 5th graders. 


We've had quite a bit of "girl drama" this year, and rumor spreading was at the center of it.  This poem fit in perfectly with that problem, and encouraged students to spread kind words instead of unkind words. 

My students are starting to get the hang of annotating text, and they're doing a pretty good job, if I do say so myself.  Like I've said before, close reading allows my struggling readers time to dig into the text and figure out what it is talking about, and it makes my advanced readers slow down and really think about what they read.  I've seen every student's written responses and comprehension improve in just the few weeks we've been doing close reading. 

"One thing the author compared dropping a pebble in the water to was unkind words.  The author ment that when you say unkind words you have made waves of tears.  Another thing was cheer and kindness.  The author ment their is sweet music going miles and miles over the water when you drop a kind word.  That is how he compared dropping pebble in the water to the poem." -Rachel
"First the author said was drop a pebble...But there's half a hundred've disturbed a mighty river just by dropping a tiny stone.  The author restates this point using kindness and unkindness.  This means 1 rumor could keep spreading, there isn't a way to stop it.  1 word could make the best day, or the worst." -Kadin

This note made ME happy!

 I love reading poems with my students, and they typically enjoy the challenge of figuring out what they mean, but I have trouble finding poems that are age appropriate.  If you have a good resource for poems, please share! 
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

First Attempt at Close Reading

I've fallen into the trap of the newest "buzzword," and I actually really like it.  I've read about Close Reading on many blogs this year, and I've seen many items for sale on TPT, but I hadn't really investigated it until Spring Break.  Our end of the year state testing is at the end of April, and normally after Spring Break, we start preparing for it.  I've never really liked this, as I think we should be preparing students all year long.  Yes, we need to review some things, but I don't like spending all of reading time on prepping for the test.  So, to do this a little differently, I introduced Close Reading.

The first day back from break, I basically told my kids that 5th grade would normally start prepping for the test now, but I didn't want to do that.  I told them that they've spent the whole school year prepping, and that they should do well on the test if they use all the tools they have.  To review/introduce these tools, we're doing close reads with various science/social studies articles that I found online and put into a word document.  It's super easy to find articles by searching things like, "articles for kids about _______".  You can find a multitude of articles from various sources and at various readabilities.

I introduced close reads slowly over three days.  On the first day, I passed out the Susan B. Anthony article (from Scholastic's $1 eBook sale- these also have comprehension crosswords, which are really good!).

I also had a Close Reading Guide that I made for students to organize their processes and ideas.  This chart includes a spot for the topic, guiding question, 3 vocab words,  annotating symbols, and a paragraph response to the guiding question.

I had made the anchor chart shown below, and we went over the steps verbally, then I modeled with the article on the SmartBoard, then students completed the steps on their own.  Here are my steps for a first read (I think everyone does this differently and modifies it to meet their own preferences and needs):
First Read
  • Vocab. Check- I introduce one or two words that students will need to know 
  • Number the paragraphs
  • Chunk the paragraphs (I was amazed at how well my students did this, they tended to chunk things naturally, based on the flow of the article, but I also gave them some guidelines: if it's less than 5 paragraphs, chunk each paragraph. Otherwise, chunk every 2-4 paragraphs.  Chunking basically means drawing a line to separate the article into smaller pieces.  Every time they get to the line, they stop and think about what they just read.  This has helped TREMENDOUSLY with my lower readers, who can easily become overwhelmed by a full page of text. 
  • Read the article/story/poem on your own
  • Find the gist of each chunk- this is just a short summary of what that chunk was about.  Students write the gist near the chunk.  I tell them it's clues to what that part was about.  They fill this out when they reach each line they drew to chunk the text.

The next day, I introduced the steps of the second read.  I had my first reading class decide (with just a tad bit of guiding suggestions from me) on what symbols they would use when annotating the text.  We needed symbols for: unknown words, key words, important details, parts they don't understand, parts they do understand Here's my steps:

Second Read
  • Annotate the text
  • Discuss the text with a partner or whole class
My students did pretty well with annotating.  They marked up their text quite a bit, but it all had a purpose.  As they came to unknown words, we'd have spontaneous conversations about prefixes, root words, context clues, etc.  If they absolutely could not figure out the word, they could look it up or ask a neighbor.  One word they got stuck on was inequality, but after asking them if they saw any smaller words inside it, they pulled out equal, and knew what that meant.  Then I asked if they remembered what the prefix -in meant, and by knowing both of those, they came to the definition of "not the same."  Not bad, with just a few prompts.  Hopefully, they'll start prompting themselves as they read.

One part I liked was having students underline key words.  We talked about key words being words that are repeated over and over and over and over, words that are defined for you in the reading, and clues to the main idea.  Students underlined these words, and decided, on their own, that the key words for the Susan B. Anthony article were suffrage, vote/voting, and women.   We decided that these words would make a pretty good summary of the entire passage.

We also had a whole class discussion with this first article.  I created a list of discussion starters/frames to use during the discussion, and this was really helpful.  The quality of responses was great.  We also worked through the toughest part of the text, and they were able to get a better grasp of it.  I'll vary our discussions by switching between whole group, small group, and partner talks.

For the third read, students searched for answers to the guiding question.  They said this was so easy, because they already knew what the story was talking about.  Bingo.  Our question was something along the lines of telling what Susan B. Anthony did to change history, and how she did this.  I didn't want to give away any details in the question, as I wanted students to really read the text to figure out what it was talking about.  Students put a star next to anything that could be part of their written answer.  This was then put together into their written response on their Close Reading Guide.

All in all, I think our first attempt went pretty well.  I was impressed with how my lowest students were able to tackle a tough piece of text, and how it made my speedy readers stop and slow down.  I think Close Reading will be here to stay for awhile, and I kind of like that.  I did a lot of research, watched a lot of videos, and even purchased some items from TPT, but I had to tweak it all.  I had to make it work for me.  I had to create a document for my students to keep them accountable (at least for now), while they're reading.  I had to find articles that I was interested in and that I knew my students would be interested in.  Their responses aren't all super fantastic yet, but I think all the practice and work will

be for good.  And, I hope it will be something they can really use on their end of year test!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Student-Led Conferences

Since my partner teacher and I have all 37+ fifth graders for have the day, we decided to do joint conferences, and to make them much more bearable, we decided to try doing Student-Led Conferences.  Let me just say...I am COMPLETELY sold on this idea.  Seriously.  If you haven't tried it yet, you must!  I'd heard about them, and I'd seen posts floating around the internet, but always thought, "'ll never work."  I was wrong.  And I'm not wrong very often.

We only have 15 minute conference blocks, so we had to really search for some guidance on how to do a student-led conference without setting up rotations for students to go through with their parents.  We watched some youtube videos, and finally found one format that would work for us.  We also searched TPT and found some student-led conference organizers.  We chose a couple, and adapted them to fit our needs.

Basically, students are describing:
  • their grades
  • why they got those grades
  • their goal for 4th quarter
  • a plan for reaching that goal.  
We are also having students discuss:
  • their third quarter math assessment
  • fluency words per minute
  • informational writing piece
We also included:
  • their behavior during 3rd quarter
  • what they're looking forward to for the rest of year
  • their favorite part of the year so far
  • a little blurb about their progress on fundraising for our end of year trip
After Day 1 (of 4!) of conferences, the parent feedback is excellent!  I love being able to watch the parents as their child is explaining their progress.  You can just tell that the parents are proud of their babies (umm...we haven't had our "less than pleasant" conferences yet, so I'm sure the parental looks will be a little different for those!).  I believe that the parents are actually listening MUCH closer, as it's their child explaining their difficulties and strengths.
My favorite part is the concluding statement students give, thanking their parents for taking the time to listen to them explain their grades and such.  I don't think children today thank their parents enough!

I'm posting my conference form in my TPT shop as a freebie!  Click on either image to find it. It's editable to meet your needs.  It's scripted at the beginning and end, and provides places for students to write. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

MobyMax Rocks!

One day, I stumbled upon MobyMax, the best site I've ever found for my students! It's easy to use and has a great free trial for new users.  Warning: You will want to pay the $79 for the license when the free trial is over! 
A snapshot of my dashboard on MobyMax.  You can select which subjects and activities you want your students to see on their dashboards. 

MobyMax offers individualized work aligned to the Common Core for students in Math, Language, Reading, Vocabulary, and Test Prep.  It also has a math fact drill for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Students can earn game time by completing so many minutes of work.  I love this feature, because you know that they are not just playing games the whole time!

A snapshot of progress in Fact Master

You can motivate students to work by creating a contest for them through the site.  Students can earn points in the contest by working in math, language, and reading.  To ramp this up a bit, I ordered some cheap, personalized trophies with my BoxTop money.  I have trophies for Most Time on Reading, Most Time on Vocabulary, Most Time on Language, Most Time in Test Prep, Most Time Spent on MobyMax at Home, Girl with Most Points, Boy with Most Points, and Most Time on MobyMax.  Each week, I check their time and points, then write the winners's names on charts I have displayed above my whiteboard.  The winners then get to keep the traveling trophy on their desk for the next week.  They love this, and it's really motivating them to work! (I didn't order trophies for math, since I don't teach it, and I really want my students to work on their ELA skills!)
I've set up a semester contest, a quarter 3 contest, and weekly contests.
Students earn badges by completing questions.  1 badge for every 50 questions answered correctly!
Unfortunately, our daily schedule has been off the last 3 weeks due to a DARE project we have to complete.  Students have to write, direct, film, act, and edit a movie through iMovie on their computers.  This project always demands SO MUCH TIME, but the students love it, and in the end, it's worth it.  We've been spending our recess time (since it's been indoor recess because of the weather) and our RTI time on these projects, and we are FINALLY almost finished.  Because of these projects, our RTI time, when students would normally be working on MobyMax, has disappeared.  Hopefully our times and stats will increase again this week, since our projects are about finished!

Back to gushing about MobyMax...I love how each lesson is set to each student's individual needs.  Most of the curriculum areas have them start with a placement test to determine where they should start working.  I noticed that one of my very top students placed in the .4 grade level area on the language test, and I was able to reset his placement test after I talked to him about effort.  You'll know when the kids blew off the test and when they really worked.  

I also like the graphs and charts that are provided for each subject and for each student.  I've shown my students their graphs, or lack there of due to such little work time recently, and it's motivated them to work harder.  

My favorite part of MobyMax is the language and language test prep.   We don't have a lot of time during the day to spend on grammar, and this is filling in the gaps quite well.  I asked MobyMax a question the other about their reading program, and was pleased to have them respond very quickly through Facebook.  Right now, the reading program is just stories and questions, and this is the least liked area by my students.  Soon, MobyMax will be adding lessons that will focus on teaching/reinforcing CCSS.

A snapshot of progress in Language Test Prep.  Not too bad, since there are so many things to choose from, and with our messed up schedule the last few weeks!
I love MobyMax because it combines many of the websites we've been using in class.  It has a messenger (where you can send messages to students, and they can only send messages back to you), a place to post announcements, discussions, and assignments, and vibes (which you can distribute based on behavior and work).  It's all I'm planning on using next year, which also means ONE password and username for students to remember!
You can create your own vibes, or choose from a list of pre-made vibes.  You can also type a note telling how students earned their vibe, or what they need to work on.  I've just been giving these out for work, not behavior, but I might add that next year!


***Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored review!  This is just a teacher wanting to share a great resource with other teachers!