Saturday, June 28, 2014

Celebrate Good Times, Come On! 6/28


Each Saturday  Ruth Ayres invites us to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week. Looking for celebrations has certainly improved my outlook on my week. For that, I am certainly grateful to Ruth and to all of you who choose to celebrate with me

This week was the half-way mark for my summer.  I refuse to be brought down by the thought, so I celebrate the fact that I still have five weeks left!

I celebrate the joy of doing what brings you happiness.  A couple of weeks ago my son's band played in Bloomington, Indiana.  This was their first "public" performance, and I was impressed by the musical talent of these four young men.  Playing his guitar brings him such joy and happiness, that it is hard not to celebrate with him.  They have a few more performances this summer here in our hometown, so many more people will be able to listen to them play.


Ethan is the one on the right.

I celebrate the people who go out of their way to get to know you and make you feel comfortable.  I have not written much about All Write because I came back with so many mixed feelings.  Yes, it was certainly a celebration, but it also left me feeling inadequate.  Maybe one day I will sort through this, but until then, thank you Ruth!


I strongly dislike getting my picture taken
 but so glad I agreed to this one!
Have a great week everyone!  May you have many reason to celebrate!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Reflection is good for the soul.
It helps us see from new perspectives.

~Lester Laminack

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Not a Typical Summer

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

The end of this week marks the half-way point of my summer vacation.  I was looking forward to the typical summer.  You know, reading, writing, blogging, going to the pool...

But not this summer!


The end of the school year found me at a point where I needed to make an important decision.  I was offered a 6th grade ELA position at our middle school.  I just finished my 6th year in 4th grade, and teaching was like wearing my favorite pair of sweats.  It was comfortable.  I knew what I was doing.  I had been offered the position last year, but turned it down because it was the week before school started, and I had everything ready!  I thought being offered it again was a sign, one that I could not ignore.  I said yes!

This was not an easy decision to make, because it is hard to walk away from a place where I have been going for the last 17 years as a parent volunteer, a substitute teacher, a classroom aide, and a teacher.  

Many things went into the decision, but it always came back to the fact that I get to teach the two things I love most, which is reading and writing, to almost four times as many kids - a dream job!

My one little word for this year was REACH and when it found me, I had no idea that it would lead me to this.  I am very excited, but I will miss the friendships that I have with many of my colleagues.  
They were the hard part of the decision.  Many of them were why I became a teacher in the first place, and many of them kept me going each day, even when some of those days were difficult. There are many memories contained in those two buildings, and packing up my room has been very emotional. Walking out last week for the last time was definitely an emotional level of a Hallmark commercial!  It was tough.


My home-away-from-home for the last six years.

I am moving from a school which is 100 years old to a school which is going on five years old.  I began unpacking my room yesterday, and it was overwhelming, but exciting.  I kept saying "one box at a time...just one box at a time."  It is hard for me to envision because right now, my room looks like this.



But the next few weeks, I will be settling in and creating a new classroom.  No, it has not been a typical summer, but I am OK with that.  I know new stories are waiting for me, and I can't wait to share them with you!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Celebrate Good Times, Come On! 6/21

It takes a whole community for a writer to be sustained ~ Ruth Ayres


Each Saturday  Ruth Ayres invites us to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week.  After meeting her this week at All Write and listening to her keynote, this weekly celebration has taken on a new meaning for me.  I am certainly grateful to Ruth and to all of you who choose to celebrate with me.

I have so much to celebrate this week!

One - This week I attended All Write for the first time.  I plan to write more about this, but I celebrate meeting bloggers from this community.  I wish I would have been able to spend more time getting to know them better, but I feel blessed for the moments I did have.

Two - I celebrate the first day of summer!  I have been out of school since May 23rd and I have been going nonstop since.  I plan to write more about this too.  Today I was able to spend the afternoon at my sister's pool and enjoy the beautiful day - my first real day of summer!

Three - It is official!  This fall I will be teaching 6th grade reading and ELA at our middle school.  I celebrate my transfer to 6th grade.  I plan to write more about this too.  I will be teaching what I love the most to four times as many students.  THAT is a celebration!

As you can see, I have many stories to share in the coming days!  

For this, I celebrate!

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading?  Be sure and stop by to participate or see what others are reading and recommending this week.

My reading took a nose last week due to preparations for a writing camp that I am working at this week.  But I did manage to get two books read which I want to share.

Duke by Kirby Larson

I hate to admit this, but Duke is the first book written by Kirby that I have read - although I have Hattie Big Sky on my TBR pile.

This book is about a boy and his dog and the effects that war has on both of them. This is great middle-grade novel which would appeal to both boys and girls, but would strongly push towards my reluctant boys.  I am a heart fiction reader, and I would have liked for this one to tug a little harder, but it is a wonderful story about the sacrifices one makes during a time of war.

4 out of 5 stars


Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig

I was blessed to be given a signed copy of this next book by the author.  This new book by Trudy Ludwig is a wonderful book for all ages. It is a true story about the life of Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener and the acts of kindness of a German woman.  If you enjoyed reading Ludwig's The Invisible Boy, then you will love Gifts from the Enemy.  I will be writing a full review which will include links to teaching resources soon.

5 out of 5 stars
What's up for this week - I am about half way through The Fault in Our Stars.


Happy Reading!



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Celebrate Good Times, Come On! 6/7


Each Saturday  Ruth Ayres invites us to share and celebrate events, big or small, from our week. Looking for celebrations has certainly improved my outlook on my week. For that, I am certainly grateful to Ruth and to all of you who choose to celebrate with me.

This was not my original celebration post, but in light of some Twitter happenings this week, things changed!

Today I celebrate standing up for what you believe in, perseverance, and persistence. Or in other words, I celebrate Donalyn Miller.

Many of us are faced with challenges or attacks on what "belongs" to us (and I use that word very loosely here) or on our character.  This is not an easy situation to be in.  Many times this takes perseverance and persistence.

If you were on Twitter at all this week, you may have seen where a publishing company is using the hashtag #bookaday.  For those of you who "know" Donalyn, you know this hashtag is associated with a reading movement she started many years ago and was published in her book, Reading in the Wild.  You can read more about the Book-a-Day Challenge here on the The Nerdy Book Club.




I started tweeting at the end of 2013 and was looking forward to my first book-a-day challenge this summer.  Now, this anticipated experience has been tainted.  To quote a tweet, Donalyn says, "...because of you, an event for teachers and librarians is getting spammed with garbage."  This is so true.  I looked forward to reading and sharing books this summer with teachers, readers, and librarians and challenging myself to a book-a-day.  Now the hashtag leads me to junk I have to sift through.

I have never met Donalyn, but I do believe that she will prevail due to her persistence, her perseverance and the way she stands up for what she believes in.  I look forward to meeting her in a couple of week at All Write, but until then, I will continue to celebrate what she does and what she stands for.  And I will continue to celebrate and support #book-a-day.

According to another tweet, I believe she has a plan.  I hope you will join her in her quest for persistence, perseverance and standing up for what you believe in.  I know I will.

*UPDATE - Donalyn announced today that The Borough Press has changed their hashtag to #bookadayUK, therefore leaving the real #bookaday for teachers, readers, and librarians, which is where is should be.

This is a celebration of persistence and perseverance!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Writer's Notebook

This spring I took some time here to think about where I want to go with my blog.  I do know one of my summer goals is to reflect more about my teaching.  I want these posts to be similar to a classroom show-and-tell.  Still working on the what that looks like exactly, but I do hope teachers will share.  Sometimes tweets are just not enough, and I find myself wanting to know more.  Hopefully this will be a place to do that.

Teacher Show-and-Tell

I wrote here about the changing of professional development and how that affects my own PD.  Twitter is a constant source of do-it-yourself PD.  Tuesday night was no exception!  I participated in a debut chat, #ReadWriteChat, with moderator, Rachel Small and author/writer, Ralph Fletcher.  And what a chat it was!

Our discussion was centered around writer's notebooks.  Writer's notebooks are many things to different people.  This is an area of weakness for me as a teacher of writing.  I have tried organizing and using notebooks in different ways, but have yet to find the "right one."

Ralph tweeted that he was afraid "the notebook was in danger of becoming a workbook.  Teachers direct kids to try this or that."  I am not a worksheet teacher, and I do not want their notebooks to have this image tied to them.  But I do think a writer's notebook is a safe place to try new things such as a different lead, writing with descriptive words, or playing with words and dialogue.  His comment still has me thinking.  Is it a playground or is it a workbook?


I spend the beginning of the year launching the notebook, starting with making lists of topics and moving to writing entires.  This is where my dilemma begins.  Because I teach 4h grade and they don't care for rewriting things over and over, I try to make entries more of a "snippet" which leads to longer pieces.  I do not want them to write long pieces in their notebooks.  Instead we use yellow legal pads for drafting.  The latter part of the year, we typically do not use the writer's notebooks because we are more focused on our state writing prompts for our standardized tests.  If I only use these in the beginning of the year, what is the purpose of them?

During this chat, I thought I would ask Ralph how he would define the purpose of the notebook.
I loved his answer - "A place to collect the richness around me."  I agree with that.  I want students to capture in words their world around them.  To have a place to keep these words.  I just don't know how I want that to look.


Defining the purpose of the notebook and how to organize it is the question I have for you.  If you have some wise words of wisdom or thoughts to share about writer's notebooks, please leave a comment or write your own blog post and link it here in the comments.

Thank you for reading my first (and hopefully not the last!) Teacher Show-and-Tell!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thursday Thoughts

Not everyone can explore space.  
But we all have our own moons to reach for.  
If you set your sights high, 
You may accomplish more than you ever dreamed was possible.

~Buzz Aldrin

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Five Things I Learned from My Classroom Library

This week I packed up my classroom library.  As I was sorting through and placing books in different boxes, I could hear her talking to me, reminding me of all I have learned from her in my seven years of teaching.  Here is what she had to say.

1.  "If you make me special, they will think I am special."  My library is the heartbeat of my classroom.  When someone walks into my room, I want them to feel the beat and say, "Wow, reading is important in here."

This past year I rearranged some things to where my gathering area for mini-lessons is in the library.  Where else should we learn about reading and writing, but surrounded by books?  At the beginning of the year I stress the specialness of my library to my students by not letting them enter it the first couple of days. Although I have books out for them to read the first day of school, I have the actual library blocked off.  I immediately start to see the excitement and anticipation building.  I have a Library Grand Opening complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a pencil and bookmark to commemorate the event.

2.  "Better to lose the book than lose the reader."  I have tried many different ways of checking out books, and it seemed that checking out books took longer than choosing them.  In the beginning of my teaching career I put the pockets and cards in the back of the books, and the students signed the cards for the books they wanted to read.  This became a lengthy process and quite honestly, I don't like the feel of the pocket in the book because it doesn't open as easily.  Next, I tried to keep a log sheet. The students would write the title of the book and their name.  This became a nightmare because students would abandon books or forget to cross off their names. Now, I have a trust check-out system.  I trust my students to choose, read and return the books in my library.  Many times students know who is reading what, and they will keep them accountable.  But I decided that trusting my students was more important than the work it took to monitor every book in my library.  Do I chance losing books? Absolutely!  But I would rather lose books than lose readers.


3.  "Books need to be organized here just as they would be in the real world." This has been the hardest change for me and my students.  We are an AR school district and students have become readers by choosing books in their level. Therefore, most classroom libraries are organized by AR level.  Because I did not want to be completely rebellious, I gradually added baskets of books sorted by author, genre, or series.  I found that the kids loved this!  I would have students ask me where the second book in a series could be found or another book by a certain author, and we would have to look up the level.  Now, they can easily find those books.

I always tell the story about how excited one of students was because his grandmother was taking him to the bookstore on the weekend.  When he came back to school, I asked him about the books he bought and he replied, "I didn't get any because I couldn't find my level."  Now this is a totally made-up story, but my students don't need to know this.  It is important that we teach them how to find books in the real world, and the real world does not do this by AR level!  Organizing my library has been a work in progress, but I love the changes I have made.

4.  "Reading is more than just a novel."  Because we are an AR school district, most students in the upper grade levels read only fictional novels.  They don't like to read non-fiction because the "tests are too hard," and some teachers don't consider magazines or picture books as "reading" for upper-grade students.  I have slowly added many tubs of nonfiction, and each year I see more students reading from them.  I also allow my students to read picture books, and I have added magazines such as ZooBooks, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids, and Sports Illustrated for Kids.  I read other things besides novels, so why shouldn't they?


5.  "It is all about choice."  If my library is the heartbeat of my classroom, then choice is the blood that runs through it.  Again, because we are an AR district, ZPD's are the way most students select books.  I had a student (not in my class) tell me he could't read The One and Only Ivan "because it is below my level."  I wanted to scream and cry at the same time.  At the beginning of the year we make an anchor chart of how or why we choose books.  I refuse to include because it is in my AR level on this chart.  My students can read what they want.  They soon learn which books strengthen their reading muscles and which ones do not.  They soon learn how to become an engaged reader.  They soon learn what it means to have a real reading life.  In my classroom choice matters.  It is what keeps the heartbeat going.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Evolution of Professional Development

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place to share our Slice of Life. Read more slices or add you own here.

I am addicted to professional development books.  

I know it is an addiction, or maybe an obsession would be a better word.  I am one of those people who constantly try to get better at what I do.  School ends, and I begin reflecting on what worked, what didn't, and what I want to change.  Reading professional development books sparks change, encourages reflection and is a catalyst for new learning.   As a result, I become a better teacher.

Typically each summer I choose a specific area in which to concentrate.  The summer of 2012 was devoted to how to teach reading without using a basal.  Last summer it was writing.  I cannot yet divulge what this summer will be about - but hopefully I can by next week!

My stack of PD books constantly grows.  Do I read each one from cover to cover? Most of the time, but not always.  I may read bits and pieces or certain chapters with highlighter in hand, notes in the margins, and sticky notes poking out.  There are a few books that I read every summer such as The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller.



Here is my stack of new books to read this summer.  Looking at this stack leaves me with many questions.  What does professional development mean to me?  What does it look like?  How has it changed?



Professional development is important to me as a reflective teacher and learner, and it is becoming more important in teacher evaluations.  Actually defining professional development is more difficult as social connectedness becomes stronger.  Teachers are learning from other teachers via Twitter chats, blogs, and Facebook.  Is this professional development?  Is reading books written by experts in the field professional development?

I recently read a post on Edutopia titled "Professional Development:  More Than Just a Checkbox on a Form."  and written by Tom Whitby.  It discusses the evolution of PD from full day conferences which are paid for by school districts, to do-it-yourself (DIY) PD which many teachers take part in today.  Professional envelopment is rapidly changing.  But are school districts keeping up with the changes?

The post further describes what they call "The Proof of Concept Model."  Basically it suggests that when teachers take part in DIY PD and demonstrate their learning and new knowledge successfully in the classroom, it should count as professional development.  I know I have learned so much by participating in chats, making connections with other educators across the country, and reading PD books. I take this information and use it in my classroom, tweaking it as I go.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.  But it continues to challenge me, and I continue to be a learner and a better teacher.  That is professional development!


"A real-world application of learned PD is far better than a piece of paper verifying seat time in a workshop." -- Tom Whitby

Monday, June 2, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?



Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What Are You Reading?  Be sure and stop by to participate or see what others are reading and recommending this week.


Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

I am probably one of the few who has not read Rump!  It was on my Must Read in 2014 Listand as of this week, I can now cross it off.  I am not much of a fantasy reader, because I don't enjoy keeping track of all the make-believe.  Rump was not one of those.  I loved reading about the Pixies, the Gnomes, and the Trolls and the true story of Rumpelstiltskin.  An important lesson from the book comes from this line:  "Simple needs make a simple life."



Wendell Minor - Artist and Author

Last week on Twitter I came across a tweet from Mr. Schu about the new book, Sequoia by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Wendell Minor.  The tweet led me to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and an interview with the artist, Wendell Minor.  If you have not read this interview, I encourage you to do so.  I will wait because then you will better understand why I read the next three books on this list.  After reading this post, I went to our library to find books with his beautiful paintings.  I am in awe of this man's talent.  




Wild Rescue Series by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler

If you could imagine Jack and Annie from the Magic Treehouse, the Spy Kids and the Kratt Brothers all rolled into a book series - Wild Rescue would be it!

Ben and Zoe Woodward are twins who are operatives in WILD, a top-secret environmental organization.  Their missions take them to different places all over the world, but they have one goal - saving animals in danger and protecting the environment.  I have read four in this series and I think these are perfect for third and forth grade students who are reading chapter books but still need some pictures and a larger font. This is also perfect for those animal lovers!



 Happy Reading!