It seems like everyone is blogging these days! What started out as a simple online diary has turned into so much more. Suddenly everyone is a writer!
Fortunately, blogging provides a wonderful platform for writing here in our classroom. Not only can we share our stories and ideas with one another, but blogging provides us with an audience and a purpose that extends beyond our classroom walls!
This year, we have been using kidblog.org, a blogging website designed specifically for classrooms. We established the following guidelines for our blogs:
There is much to do before a blog is ready for publishing! Our classroom is transformed into a bustling "Writing Studio" as we work our way through the process. A procedural checklist is posted next to every computer:
First the writer must choose a topic with audience and purpose in mind.
Next the writer sketches out the details.
Now it's time to draft a lead that will "hook" readers from the "get go."
Next the writer heads to the computer to type up their first draft. Once the draft is finished, it's time for a peer conference.
After revising and editing, it's time to submit an edit checklist and the final draft to the official blog editors (Ms. C and Ms. K) The editor and writer work together to finalize the blog by focusing on a specific skill or strategy (example: word choice, "show" don't tell, spelling, paragraphing).
Finally the blog is ready to be published. The author chooses their design and graphics. Now it's time to push the publish button and share with the readers!
During our Literacy Workshop we read featured blogs and provide meaningful feedback. Each and every author's voice is heard and celebrated.
Now we invite you to read and enjoy our blogs. We hope you will share with friends and family. Comments are welcome!
The Homework Debate
Homework is a hot topic in education these days. Is it valuable or is it a complete waste of time? How much is appropriate? How much is too much? Shouldn't children be allowed to play after working hard at school all day? Should homework be done independently or should parents be expected to support their children through difficult assignments and complicated projects?
I'm fairly confident that if I took a poll, your opinions on the topic would run the gamut from "Stop the madness!" to "Keep it coming-we want her to get into Harvard!"
No matter where you stand on the issue, I think we can all agree that homework should be meaningful, and it should not be overly time consuming. Your child's time is far too valuable to be spent filling in endless packets of worksheets.
As a parent I have had my share of difficult homework sessions. It's heartbreaking to watch your child reduced to tears because they don't understand or bored to tears because the homework is repetitive and mundane.
The challenge for a teacher is of course making sure homework is appropriate and meaningful for all students. Just as class work has to be differentiated to meet a variety of learning needs, homework must be meaningful and accessible to all as well. This is no easy task, and I am the first to admit we don't always get it right.
In math, too often students who are able to complete homework correctly and independently have already mastered the skill and don't need the "drill and kill" practice. Those who need more work on a particular skill, need guided support with immediate feedback. When students practice a skill incorrectly without any intervention, the brain starts to build pathways that are difficult to reverse. So how do we as teachers ensure this doesn't happen when we can't be there to support our students through their homework? We are trying out Moby Max Math this year because it is Common Core aligned and designed to assess individual need and deliver individualized instruction targeting specific skills. This program also gives immediate feedback and strategy review/instruction. Students are asked to do 15 minutes of MobyMax math each night.
For more info about Moby Max Math, see the link below:
Word Study Homework
We began our word study routine last week. Here's how it works:
Students take a spelling pretest every Friday. The spelling pretest consists of five spelling pattern words and five high frequency words. Words that are misspelled on the pretest are transferred over to "This Week's Words" along with additional pattern words to practice if needed. Students self select the rest of their words (10 in total) in order to build writing, speaking, and content vocabulary. Each student will come home with an individualized list each week based on need and interest. Students practice these words for homework each night by choosing from the "Spelling Cafe" menu (each activity should take only 5-10 minutes). We have a spelling "Quick Check" on Fridays. Misspelled words are transferred to the following week's word list. Word study lessons throughout the week are based on the focus spelling pattern (ex. digraphs-th, ch. sh).
Partners give one another a spelling "Quick Check":
Establishing Life Long Habits
As a class, we established purpose for reading and writing. We brainstormed many advantages to becoming life-long readers and writers. We are working to build fluency and stamina as readers and writers by reading and writing everyday.
We believe that reading is the most valuable "homework" we can give. There's simply no better way to become a better reader, improve spelling and writing skills, expand vocabulary, and increase background knowledge. Children should be able to select their own books. They need to read a wide variety of genres and read often. They need to be read to by caring adults who share a love of reading, and they need to share and discuss their reading with peers. We decided to stop assigning a required number of reading minutes for homework after reading several articles that said this practice completely takes the joy out of reading (even for those who otherwise love to read). We hope to generate enough excitement about books in class this year to carry over into at home reading.
Students will be creating and maintaining a blog throughout the year using kidblog.org. Blogging gives students the opportunity to write
for an authentic audience (peers, family, friends). Students need to consider their purpose and their audience as they write about the things that matter most to them. In class we use 5-10 minute "Free Writes" to build writing fluency and stamina and to generate writing topic ideas for blogs. At times students may be asked to write in their Free Write notebooks or work on a blog for homework.
Here is the link to our "Free Write" page:
We use this website to post homework assignments in science and social studies as well. We hope students enjoy watching educational videos, exploring related websites, and posting their thinking.
Keep Me Posted
School is an important part of your child's life, but participating in life outside of school is vital to becoming a well-rounded, interesting,
and passionate human being. Children need
ample opportunities to spend time with friends and family, play outdoors, exercise, imagine, create, explore, and pursue their passions.
Please let us know if your child is consistently experiencing difficulty with homework at home or if homework is taking too long (what takes one child 20 minutes can take another child two hours).
Learning should be a positive experience!
*Blogs about reading and writing instruction in our classroom coming soon.
**In addition to your child's agenda, you can find daily homework assignments posted here on our class website under "Nightly Homework."
There's a whole lot of learning going on in our classroom! We have been designing and carrying out scientific investigations, working with place value into the millions, engaging in "Number Talks" to share our mathematical thinking, developing close reading strategies, using quick writes to build writing fluency and stamina, and the list goes on!
We are also learning about learning.
We discuss how to be an effective learner, and how to take responsibility for our learning. We realize that in order to "Grow Our Brains," we have to take risks and persevere through challenges. We recently "Close Read" two videos that led to deep thinking and eye-opening discussions about our role as learners. Our discoveries impact our thinking and learning everyday in our classroom.
The Broken Escalator
The "Broken Escalator" video reminds us to look at a problem carefully and recognize when we have the ability to solve on our own. We ask, "How can we get ourselves off the broken escalator?" We take pride in our abilities as we "find our way" independently.
~What does it feel like to work hard?
~What does it take to produce quality work?
~How can we feel proud of the work we do?
We watched "Austin's Butterfly" then brainstormed a list of strategies to help us work hard and produce quality work.
We use the "Butterfly Scale" to make decisions about the level of effort needed whenever we begin a new task. We ask, "Where do we want this work to fall on the butterfly scale?" Why? What do we need to do to get there? We stop to monitor along the way and make adjustments when needed.
Feeling proud of our accomplishments is well worth the time and effort!
There are many different kinds of "smarts." We need social smarts in order to make friends, connect with others, and feel like we belong. Our words and actions affect those around us. Showing interest in others and thinking about how others feel doesn't always come easy. When we act in "unexpected" ways, the people around us have "uncomfortable" thoughts. In David Goes to School by David Shannon, David spends the day wreaking havoc in his classroom. His exasperated teacher utters the phrase, "No, David!” over and over again. David is seemingly unaware of the effects of his behavior on his unfortunate classmates.
With a picture of David and a classmate projected on to our whiteboard, we add thought bubbles and brainstorm David's classmate's uncomfortable thoughts. We decide David needs clearly defined expectations and reminders to use his social smarts, so that he can be successful and his classmates can feel comfortable around him.
After reading David Goes to School, we agree that every classroom needs a set of clear and reasonable expectations. Promises we can make to one another to ensure that all members of the community feel safe, comfortable, and successful.
We ponder this important question:
To begin the process we consider the following:
1. What kinds of student behaviors will make our classroom an uncomfortable place to be?
2. What kinds of student behaviors are important for making our classroom a safe, happy, and fun place?
3. What kinds of teacher behaviors will make our classroom an uncomfortable place to be?
4. What kind of teacher behaviors are important for making our classroom a safe, happy, and fun place?
5. What kind of behaviors drive you completely crazy in a classroom?
6. What promises can we make to one anther in order to make this the best year ever?
In small groups, we rotate around the classrooms jotting down our responses to these questions on large sheets of paper. Each person has a different color marker, so we can be sure everyone's thinking is represented. Next we read our classmates' ideas and comment back. We can agree, disagree, give an example, or ask a question.
Now it's time to "close read" our responses. We look for patterns and similarities, and we record our noticings and realizations. We write down the big ideas on sentence strips and work in small groups to combine these ideas into paragraphs. Finally, the teachers take all the drafts and combine them into one draft. We look over this draft together and make a few revisions before printing out our final draft. Here's what we came up with:
It was important that the class work together to establish these expectations, so that everyone felt valued, invested, and represented. The promises we made will have an impact on our classroom community every day throughout the school year!
*To learn more about social thinking visit Michelle Garcia Winner's website at socialthinking.com
**Thanks to Bill Ferriter for sharing this process!
Peach dangles on a tree limb above the pond. She is ripe, juicy, and ready for picking; her days are coming to an end. Below, a blue-bellied toad is startled by the tear drops that fall like rain from the tree above. How will these two unlikeliest of friends help one another see the world in a whole new way?
This beautiful picture book written by Sarah Kilborne and illustrated by Steve Johnson leads to a thoughtful and insightful discussion about strengths and challenges. Blue uses his ability to problem solve to help Peach down from the tree, build her a floating nest of leaves, and help her see a world she has never seen before. Peach, in turn, uses her gift with words and her ability to appreciate true beauty to help Blue "see" his world in a new light. We have to "think outside of the box" to understand how Blue becomes Peach's "legs" and Peach becomes Blue's "eyes." Each character uses their strengths to help the other with their challenges.
Through discussion and an invigorating movement activity, we realize that we all have strengths and challenges. We raise our right hands and promise to use our strengths to help others with their challenges and allow others to do the same for us.
Strengths and challenges come in many different forms not just the traditional "school
smarts." While some of us struggle with reading, writing, or math, others find it difficult to make friends, take risks, or see someone else's point of view. The list of strengths and challenges goes on and on. By appreciating our own strengths and recognizing our own challenges, we can begin to connect and empathize with others. We can also begin the important work of setting individual goals and making explicit plans for improvement.
Let the learning begin!
The buses pull up to the curb. Doors slide open, and children with fresh haircuts and brand new sneakers climb off. Weighed down by backpacks stuffed full of school supplies, they find their places in line.
As teachers, we know our new students come to us with apprehension. Will I know anyone in my class? Will I make new friends? Will my teachers be nice? Will I feel comfortable? Our students need to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel comfortable and safe in order to take the risks necessary for learning. They need to feel valued for their strengths and their uniqueness and feel supported when it comes to their challenges. Taking the time to develop a sense of community within the classroom is the most important thing we can do to start off the school year. The time invested now pays off every single day throughout the year.
Getting to Know you
The first thing we do on the first day of school is get to work! Some students create sculptures, others make posters or fill out questionnaires. It is important to offer choice, so all students can find a "Just Right" way to express themselves.
Over the next several days we use our creations as a springboard for "Dynamic Discussions" during our concentric circle share. First, the teachers role-play a less than dynamic discussion; students are quick to make suggestions for improvement. Next, we brainstorm a "Recipe for Dynamic Discussions."
Now we are ready to begin! We form two circles, one inside the other. Each person on the inner circle turns to face someone on the outer circle. Partners take a few minutes getting to know one another before rotating to the next partner. We stop frequently to assess our discussion skills. We add to our "Recipe" and revise where needed. Somewhere along the way we realize it feels really good when someone listens carefully to what we have to say and shows interest by asking questions. We realize certain kinds of questions lead to more interesting discussions. We brainstorm a list of these "Deep Thinking Questions" for reference. We will continue to add to this list as the year progresses.
It takes several Morning Meetings, but by the time we finish, each one of us has had the opportunity to get to know everyone of our classmates!
We are off to a great start and well on our way to becoming a caring community of learners!
We can't wait to get to know you! Please click on the button below to take our "All About Me" survey:
Who we are:
What we are Working On:
~Close Reading fiction and informational texts
~predicting, questioning, and inferring
~Identifying "Big Ideas"
~Supporting thinking with text evidence
"S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g a Scene"
~Listing the Details
-including action, sensory detail, thoughts, and dialogue
~Place Value and Number Sense
~Reading and Writing large numbers in unit and standard form
~Solving word problems and demonstrating thinking
~ Life Cycles, Adaptations, Environmental Factors
~Using "Claim, Evidence, Reasoning"
~Using Map features to find a location