Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Slow Down for Practice

I've been thinking a lot lately about the pace at which I teach, especially when it comes to writing time.

The list of skills and strategies students must learn is a mile long.

Every day, I teach a mini lesson. We practice it. We talk about it.

The next day, we repeat.

I hope (wish, pray) that my students will learn the daily concept and apply it to their writing, magically transforming themselves into expert writers by the year's end.

But the truth is that in 5th grade, I still have students who cannot identify a fragment from a complete sentence, tell the difference between dialog and description, and can write five pages without a paragraph's indent in sight.

Why don't they get this? I frustratingly wonder to myself.

Maybe....it has something to do with pace.

Yes, mini lessons are important, but so is practice time. Students need time to practice and play with the new concept, to take ownership of it. If we are constantly rushing to the next lesson without allowing time for this to happen, it's no wonder that some kids can't write a coherent paragraph when they get to high school.

I'm going to try to be more aware of how much practice time I offer my students before moving on to the next skill.  My hope (wish, prayer) is that with more time, my students will internalize more writing moves that will help them grow into strong lifelong writers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Should Students Know Their Reading Level?

Last week, I came across this post titled "A Level is a Teacher's Tool, NOT a Child's Label" from the Fountas and Pinnell blog.

F & P are gurus of reading assessment, so the post quickly caught my attention.

If you don't have time to read the post from F & P (although I hope you will), here are a few highlights that really hit me:

* Reading levels should guide, not limit, student choices when choosing a book for independent reading. (Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, has said this too.)

* Reading levels aren't meant to be shared with students OR parents. They should not appear on a report card or in a teacher's evaluation.

* Reading levels are an estimate, not an exact measure of a student's reading ability.

* Reading is not about moving up levels, it is about enjoyment and building a lifelong habit. (Yep!)

* Reading levels are a teacher's tool to be used for assessment and instruction only.

This got me thinking about how I communicate with my student readers about their progress.

I do not use the F & P system for assessing my students, but we do take the Star Reader test every month to check for progress. (It is even a component in my teacher effectiveness plan.)

My students keep a chart in their goal notebook to track their growth. Some months, there are cheers as good growth is made.  Other months, they take a peek at their new score and quickly shut their notebooks.

This made me think about an assessment experience that I think many of us can relate too -- getting on the scale when I am trying to lose weight.  When the numbers on the scale go down showing good growth in my weight loss goals, I am happy and motivated to keep going. But when the numbers are stalled, or even worse, go up, I am deflated and want to go find a pack of Oreos and gallon of milk, ready to give up.

I need to think more about the post from F & P and how I can communicate reading growth to my students in a way that is positive, motivating and accurate.

I think the answer lies in conferring.

Do you have any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Wait List

It was quiet reading time the other day when I heard two of my students deep in a muffled negotiation about a book. They were whispering back and forth then I saw an exchange between them.

One student opened the cover of the book, pointed to a Post-it inside, then handed the book to the other student. The other student put aside the book he was reading (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and began reading his new trade.

I was curious as to what was on the Post-It so I went over to ask. I smiled when I saw that it was a Wait List of students who wanted to read the book.
The book?

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner.

If you haven't read it, you should add your name to the Wait List. My kids know a good book when they see one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Research Writing: Forget the "Expert" List

As I was writing my plans for our new research writing unit, I was concerned that my students would write about something they already knew a lot about, thereby foregoing the need to really dig deep into their research. By 5th grade, most kids have figured out on their own that if they choose a topic to research that they already know a lot about, their job will be easier.

But this unit was to be more than just about writing. I wanted them to learn something about their topic and really get into the research process too.

Knowing this, I thought of a way to help my students choose a fresh topic to research....and here's how:

We began by creating a list of everything we were an expert at or knew a ton about. I set the timer for three minutes as my kids wrote away. Creating this list was easy.

When the three minutes was up, we created another list -- a non-expert list. These would be the things we've always wondered about, wanted to learn more about, or held our curiosity. Another three minutes on the timer, but creating this list was a bit tougher for many.

After both lists were created, I asked the students to look at their expert list and circle the thing they knew the most about. We then did a whip around the room and as each student read his or her most expert topic, everyone either added it to their own expert or non-expert list. This helped the lists grow.

When we were finish sharing, I told my class to put a giant X through their expert list. They could not choose a topic for this project from their expert list.




After I explained that this writing project would not just be about writing, but should also teach us something, they understood the method to my madness. Everyone relaxed and got busy picking a new topic to research that would take them from having non-expert to expert status in no time!

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Students Need a OLW Too!

Happy new year!

As we return to school this coming week, it is the perfect time to plan for and set goals for the new year.

Many of us do this in the form of a resolution, but I prefer to choose a word that will serve as my mantra and guiding light for the year. It's just easier to remember than a bunch of things that I will or will not do that come in the form of a resolution. (Even the word 'resolution' sounds harsh, doesn't it?)

By now, you may have chosen your One Little Word (OLW) for 2017. But have you considered having your students choose an OLW as a part of their goal-setting for the new year?

I have put together some resources for you to use to make this easy and fun.

This video can get things started:
This graphic organizer will help students choose a word. You can find it here.

Once students have chosen their word, they can reflect on how they will use it to meet their goals. This graphic organizer will get them thinking and help organize the writing process. You can find it here.

Looking for other ways to bring your students' OLW to life?

* Work with the art teacher to have students create a graphic representation or collage of their OLW.

* Give students a mailing label. Have their write their OLW on the label as a sort of name tag to wear.

* Students include their OLW after they write their name on their papers.

* Students write in their reflection journal at the end of every day of how they called on their OLW for guidance in decision making and action.

* Change name tags on desks (or add another one) to include students' OLW. This will help keep the word front and center during work times.

* Create a class book of OLW's. (Thanks Beth Foraker @inclusionchick for the suggestion!)

Best of luck to you as you begin 2017! I wish both you and your students much success in meeting your goals this new year!