Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spoiler Alert: I Failed as a Reading Teacher Last Year

In my first year of teaching, I was lucky enough to have a stellar mentor teacher who taught me a lot of hidden secrets about teaching: "start with the bulletin boards...",  "it's okay to cry...", "you will get sick...", "sleep.....", and my personal favorite, "if you aren't reflecting and changing, that's a problem..." She instilled in me the power of reflection.  Reflecting about the rewarding, the funny, the ugly.. and most importantly, the "stuck places." Reevaluating who we are as educators and the impact we are having on students is crucial work, and should never be complete.

So my stuck place at the end of last year?  Well, I'll be honest... I had a few. But where did I feel the most stuck?  Reading.  I had successfully navigated a year with new curriculum and standards, I had taught the concepts I needed to teach and checked them off as the year went on.  I pulled literature I was instructed to pull for mini-lessons. I had conferences with my students (when I could squeeze that in...) I hung anchor charts I had seen in books to make myself believe I was doing what was right and yet, I still felt in my heart that I had done a disservice to my kiddos.  I hadn't gotten to know my students as readers, we didn't have conversations about books, I wasn't a reader.

Now as the end of this year approaches, and as I continue my reflection of the past year, I feel as though I'm a bit more on track.  No longer am I looking at recommended text lists to teach an isolated strategy.  No longer am I giving a reluctant reader a book that has a level on it... (I cringe to admit that happened...) No longer am I sitting idle by a student, rehearsing the next conference phrase to say, making plans about who I need to make it to before the reading block ends.

So what does reading look like in Room 18 this year?  Well, just that... reading.  I am reading new genres and books to recommend to those reluctant readers.  I am checking in with students to keep them accountable, as they do for me.  I am listening to readers share about their feelings about the text, and why the author made the choices they did.  I hear conversations about books, and see readers cringe when the characters they have come to love in their stories make that terrible decision.  We learn about things that matter to us. Recommendations about books fly around the classroom to those readers who need them most.  And most of all, my students are establishing habits that will lead them to become avid readers in the future.. and to me, that's what is most important.

Do I have it all right?  Heck no.  Will I ever?  No way..  but I'm feeling a little more "unstuck," and as I reflect on the readers I have seen grow inside our classroom walls this year, I can't help but feel a little bit proud.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mystery Skype: A Reflection

Mystery Skype is something that I've been hearing about for quite some time... and just like my previous post, it has been another thing that I've been a little hesitant to dip my toes into... 
am I starting to see a trend here?!

Anyway... I was hesitant for a few reasons.  First of all, Skype is daunting to me.  I think it might be that terribly nerve-wrecking ring when someone is trying to connect with you.  Seriously, it makes my pulse sky rocket!   I also didn't want the whole thing to flop.  Being connected with another class, I didn't want to let down any other learners, or be responsible for taking too much of their time.  But, as with my other post, I decided to rip off the band-aid... (and, I had the help of some wonderful tech experts through the district who would help me troubleshoot, if needed.)

So what did I learn from the whole experience?  I learned that sometimes it's okay to go outside of your comfort zone as an educator.  After all, we ask this of our students daily. We require them to make sense of the unknown, to problem solve and to work together.  What an awesome reminder of how uncomfortable this can be.  I also learned, that sometimes I need to sit back and watch my students.  They absolutely floored me with the amount of team work and collaboration I saw today.  It was such a needed reminder on how sometimes, we need to lean on each other and offer assistance...  We are unable to do everything on our own. 

So needless to say, my heart is full this evening.  I'm thankful for such an awesome job that continually pushes me a bit out of my comfort zone.  A job where I am lucky enough to learn from the young minds around me each and every day.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Hello my long lost blogging friends!  I know, it's been awhile... and I could give you the long list of why I haven't been around here lately, but I'll save the pity sob story and just continue with the blog post.

If you follow any sort of teaching blog, you are probably familiar with the 10 for 10 picture book blog posts that happen each August.  I have been a big fan of this event, and love to stalk other teaching blogs for book recommendations...especially right before the school year begins.  This has been something that I've wanted to dip my toes into for a long time, however I always chicken out at the last second as I think about how there is no way I can recommend books like the rest of you people in 'blog-land.'

I recently stumbled across the nonfiction version of 10 for 10, and thought I'd bite the bullet and finally post some book recommendations.  What better way to get this blog up and rolling again, huh?  This year, I've really tried to up the ante to get some high quality nonfiction in the hands of my fifth graders.  As I think about reading nonfiction in elementary school, I don't have the best memories.... actually, I have very few memories.  So I am excited to learn from others and grow my nonfiction library. So, without further adieu, here are the top nonfiction books that are currently on the shelves in room 18:

This is one of my favorite nonfiction books to introduce to 5th graders... especially boys who are reluctant to dive into this genre.  This is the story of Negro Leagues, and about the leaders who rose up to overcome segregation. The illustrations by Kadir Nelson are unbelievable.  In fact, everything  illustrated by this man is breathtaking. It was hard for me not to create a list of 10 books not written or illustrated by this man.

So, instead of choosing all 10 books from Kadir Nelson, I decided on just two.  This book, Heart and Soul is the beautiful story about America in a time of change.  In a time of overcoming differences and working together for education.  Again, this story has beautiful pictures that I could and sometimes do, drool all over.  Nelson is an incredible writer and illustrator, who is able to tell a story in a powerful way through joining words and pictures together.

 For a while, I would get really upset when I realized our classroom library was missing a book I had purchased.  I have never been a fan of the book checkout systems in classroom libraries (mostly, because they seem like a lot of work.)  I recently read a quote somewhere.. and I can't remember from who, that said losing a book meant another reader had gained one... or something along those lines.  Anyway-- where I'm going with this is that EVERY copy of this book in this series has been "misplaced" from our library.  This is an awesome book, filled with unbelievable, jaw dropping facts.  This is a great book to pull to fill those 5 awkward minutes while waiting for lunch, or having someone read aloud during restroom breaks or transitions.

 One World, One Day is a book about perspective.  This story is told through beautiful photographs that capture a day in the life of kids all over the world.  From brushing their teeth, to going to the store, heading to school and playing outside.  This story allows us to travel to other parts of the world to see how our normal routine might not be the norm for others.
As much as possible, I try to bring nonfiction into science and social studies.  I am typically on the hunt for quality literature in these areas... because let's face it, just using a text book, is not a good use of resources... and it's quite boring!  A Drop Around the World follows a single raindrop in it's journey through the water cycle.  Students get to see just how one drop makes it's way through our world.  I especially like the way this is told through poetry.  Rich language and description explain the cycle of H20. 

This list wouldn't be complete without a book by Steve Jenkins.  I could have chosen any one of his books for my list, but decided to go with a popular choice in Room 18:  Bones.... which of course, is very interesting to 10 year-olds.  I love that Steve Jenkins presents information is a simple way, then gives more complex info at the end of the book.  This allows us in upper elementary to extend thinking even further.  He uses comparison, so we can see just how big a leg bone of an elephant is compared to that of a stork

Owen & Mzee: Language Of Friendship
What is cuter than a baby hippo being best friends with an 130 year-old turtle?  And it actually being a true story?  I love this book, especially at the beginning of the year, or recommending this book to a student who might be having a rough day.  This is an awesome addition to any library!

We just recently read this book as a read aloud in our classroom.  I might be a little behind the times here, but I have never formally read a nonfiction book as a read aloud over an extended period of time, and I have to say.. I really enjoyed it.  We had the opportunity to have many conversations about note taking, and picking out the big ideas within nonfiction.  This book also introduced a lot of new vocabulary within the context of the story.  Two thumbs up!

There is a point every year, when a fifth grader brings this book to me with pages literally falling out of it.  This book has more tape inside of it than any other book in our library.  Which makes me think it is well loved.  I love the way that James Swanson has set this book up... the characters in the beginning of the story, the photographs embedded within the story, and the map that shows where everything took place.  This is such an interesting book to talk about with kids. The efficiency of how people could communicate back then is mind blowing to these kiddos who can contact people with their thumbs.  An awesome way to look at how our ability to communicate has changed!

Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon
Okay, I'm going to be honest with this one.  I have heard nothing but fantastic reviews about this story.  It has won many awards, and raved about on countless blogs I routinely browse.   I was so excited to get this book for our library, and I honestly couldn't get through it when I began to read!  I told my students about my inability to finish it, and several of them picked it up and biting at the bit to read this book.  Although this isn't my personal favorite, it has taught me to be honest about my reading life with my students.  It's helpful for them to see that sometimes, I struggle too!

So there ya have it, folks!  This honestly wasn't as scary as I had made it out to be...whew!  Now, I'm off to read all the other wonderful posts about nonfiction.  I will apologize to my Amazon credit card in advance.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Connected Learning

I know, I know.. it's been awhile.  A LONG while.  It's been a great year, and a fantastic summer thinking about practices and enjoying Greater Kansas City's National Writing Project class.  Very rejuvenating.  I'll give more of an update soon.  But until then, here's a video that really has me thinking.  Fellow educators, enjoy!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do the Cricut!

I had my first experience with a Cricut this weekend.  Thanks to my soon to be sister in law.  And... holy heaven was I impressed.  The options are endless.  I made two signs this weekend that are now hanging in my apartment, and using sticky letters it was so simple.  Check them out:

And EVEN though Christmas doesn't come from a store... I wouldn't mind if Santa dropped off a Cricut to me Christmas Morning!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

It's Reading Cats and Dogs!

Ever since I was a little girl, I have LOVED book orders.... like... loved them. I remember the excitement when my teachers passed out the little flyers, and I'm sure I spent a little too much time circling all the things I wanted in the evenings.  Then after I had JUST about forgotten I had even ordered books in the first place, a stack of new, unopened, fresh books would be waiting on the corner of my desk... thrilling.  As a teacher, I love book orders even more.. I still get excited to search through the orders and I feel so important putting the order together every month.

Although I love everything book order-ey related... I've never been a fan of the reading incentive programs.. you know, read 50 pages get a free personal pan pizza.. read 50,000 pages and get a free class party..  I am all for encouraging reading to happen, but I also don't think you need to be rewarded with a greasy pepperoni pizza and a cake.  However, in this months book order box an awesome surprise awaited.  

Scholastic is donating one book for every twenty minutes spent reading this month. Up to 500,000 books will be donated through December 14th through the PAWS for Reading program.  As I explained this and asked if it was something my kiddos would be interested in.. their faces lit up, which of course made me proud! So today each child got to decide whether they wanted to team with the cats -- or the dogs.  They each got a username and password in the chaos of our afternoon dismissal.... and then I sent them on their way home.  

Now I had forgotten all about this until about twenty minutes ago, when I decided to log myself in and see what this was really all about.  As I logged in, this is what I found:

We have already donated 11 books to those in just one night... how awesome!  Now others have the opportunity of having a new, unopened, fresh book and I think that's a great incentive to read for!  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What Keeps Me Going

An extra hour in the day.  That's sometimes all I wish for...  An extra hour to spend in deep discussion about that tricky fraction concept...  An extra hour for readers to build and connect their reading in their reader's notebooks...  An extra hour to experiment and question...  An extra hour to grapple with mentor texts to find that perfect opening sentence... An extra hour of sleep... An extra hour to clean off the piles on my desk that have been collecting since August... An extra hour to reflect.

A new school, new faces, new adjustments... just one extra hour.  As the end of first quarter approaches, I find myself overwhelmed with what we have yet to accomplish.  I find myself arriving at home later and later, and waking up earlier each morning.  I find myself squeezing things in, penciling arrows in my plan book over to the next day, and leaving our read aloud story unopened for "just one more day."  As I sit here overwhelmed, I have to stop and reflect on where we started that day in the middle of August. 

New friendships have been made.  A new teacher, new students, new relationships have formed.  We know who to turn to if we need a friend to make us laugh, we know who to count on if we need a listening ear.  We recognize the power of those willing to voice their opinions and we recognize the power of those who are observant.  We know who would like to read that new book about reptiles that just entered our library and who we should go to if we need help adding description to our writing.  We have learned to think about numbers in a new way... and that the floating one above the division bar isn't really a one at all.  We know the power of our science notebooks and how to collaborate digitally in the classroom.. and although it may not be visible to the naked eye with the piles on my desk and the arrows in the plan book, the foundation is slowly building.

As I find myself searching desperately for that extra hour, I realize again how important it is to slow down in the twenty four that we are given.  That rejuvenation can come from a quiet moment when you force yourself  to put off grading that stack of papers to add something to a blog you haven't touched in a month and a half...   to search deep in your heart and reflect on what you believe in... and to believe that it is right. To me, that's an hour well spent.  

So this is my promise to myself... to reflect a little more, be content with the yet to be accomplished, and to move forward with what I believe in.  To value the twenty four hours in the day and to slow down to make the most of what I have been given.  And to more importantly realize, that everything must start with a strong foundation.