Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Classroom Environment and Organization

It is going to be my fourth year in 4th grade and I'm nesting. If you are going to spend that much time in a place you need an environment that makes you happy! Each year I also try to improve my organization. It seems an elementary classroom can never be too organized.

  • I have picked "dots on chocolate" as my decorating theme. Creative Teaching Press has a lot of really cute items that I have picked up. Here are some examples.

There are also some really cool office supplies in the Hot Chocolate Collection that are a lot of fun for your lesson plans, calendars, etc.

My hubby painted two small filing cabinets brown and I used cling dots to help my teacher supply area fit the theme.
  • I have not found a good space for storing reading boxes. To solve this problem I decided I wanted to use chair pockets for each student to put their reading collection in. The custom pockets were WAY out of my budget so I decide I would sew my own. Then yesterday on Pinterest I found that someone was using stretchable book covers as chair pockets. This morning I picked one up for 57 cents at Walmart and took it over to my room to try it out. For books it works well. (If you need to put notebooks or a whiteboard in the pocket I think you will need to get the jumbo size which Target has for $1.) $17.10 purchased thirty solid blue "pockets" that match my chairs nicely.
So smart!  Use stretchable book covers as chair pockets.  You can stock up during back-to-school sales!    Not sure if they would be strong enough for my kiddos but.... worth a try.  It's Academic Stretchable Book CoverBOOKCOVER    JUMBO SIZE NCF

  • The next area I wanted to tackle this summer was some fun seating for the small group table and during meeting times around the Promethean board.  I explored milk crates with padded tops but found they would be too short for 4th graders.(I'm lucky enough to have a future 4th grader at home to measure things on.) I looked at several kinds of storage ottomans but price turned me away. Once again Pinterest came to my assistance. I found these very cute stools made from 5 gallon buckets.
Paint Bucket Stools   Could also be used for storage (like a storage ottomoman)          United Solutions 5-Gallon Plastic Paint Bucket                   Encore Plastics 5-Gallon Polyethylene Bucket Lid

My sister found a lady from Family Thrift Bakery that is going to save me 10 buckets plus lids. I have found wooden circles at Hobby Lobby, and spray paint, material and padding at Walmart. For about $30 I should be able to create my seating. Did I mention I can also store things inside the buckets as long as I don't get carried away with weight! Actually Ms. Kidd from Hangin' Out in 3rd Grade says that she is going to add some weight to each bucket this year so that they don't tip over so easily.
  • Next let's tackle those messy student desks. I need a better plan for the the unfinished papers laying on top and stuffed inside.Another Pinterest idea for unfinished work, etc. is a folder attached to the front of their desk. And what about the student with allergies that always has tissues stuffed everywhere? Personal trash cans attached to the desk with a suction cup hook worked like a dream last year! (Mine don't have a lid and had handles.) I got then at Dollar Tree.
  Front folders for unfinished work. Helps you keep a better eye on students who are falling behind, and reminds students what they need to finish.   mini garbage can for each table group. take out when working on projects.    Also a GREAT idea for those allergy kids who need to "blow" a lot!  STANLEY Large Suction Cup Hooks
  • I love the planners our school buys for 4th and 5th grades. They are not enough organization for the average 10 year old however. My daughter's FANTASTIC 2nd grade teacher used an organization notebook that worked oh so well for our family. I used one last year and want to tweak it a bit for this year. Here is a picture of one a first grade teacher used.

I didn't make a cover last year, the students used a binder they brought. They were very rough on them and most didn't make it through the year. The ones that were actually the sturdiest were the flexible plastic ones. (74 cents at Walmart) I'm going to buy them and use the one they bring for writing or math.  If I'm buying the binders I am going to have my cute little picture and name too. (I think I've earned it!) I'm going with DOTS: Daily Organized Team of Students

Jot Fabric Zippered Pencil Pouches Use masking tape and hole punch a ziplock bag into student folders to hold library books and flash cards!

Inside they will have their planner, a zipper pencil case (I bought them at Dollar Tree.), and another Pinterest find: a gallon bag "folder". They ripped the folders so quickly last year. These are made by putting duct tape along one side of a gallon bag and 3 hole punching it. When they destroy them, they will be pretty cheap to replace. (The first time or two they will get FUN duct tape, after that it just might by gray!)

These binders come out before we dismiss to make sure everything is where it needs to be. Parents are required to sign the planners. They are then laid on student desks each morning for me to check.

  •  I have already talked in a previous blog about my my plan to make a VOICES of a Writer board. I also, yes you guessed it, found on Pinterest a great Writer's Workshop organization tool. It is always a struggle keep track of where everyone is in the writing process and to make sure everyone is moving through the process. (Not that I didn't enjoy playing "find the post-it notes but....)
Writing Workshop: Tracking who is where               
This chart works rather like the behavior chart where you move the cards. In this case each part of the writing process is labeled in a color and your card shows at what color you are working. Because I don't have a spot where a pocket chart will fit, I will instead be using these cute pockets. I will laminate them. (On a side note: I learned today that you can write on laminate with a permanent marker so that it won't smear. Then when you want to remove it, just shade over the name with an Expo marker and erase. All writing will come off. Cool huh?)

That ends the tour of my classroom for today. I still have some plans for genre charts and boggle boards and I'm also redoing my library, but for now this is my environment. Thanks for letting me share my ideas.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Giving Them the Words

I love teaching reading strategies like making connections.  I  have also always been VERY frustrated by the fact that though they seemed to understand how making connections helped them as a reader, so many of my students could not consistently and clearly express meaningful connections independently. This last year the amazing and talented ladies of the literacy staff in our building gave my class the words they needed to share oral and written connections.

The focus of the lesson on sharing a connection focused on three areas.
    1) Citing the specific reference from their book
    2) Sharing the personal experience that related to that passage
    3) Including how comprehension was improved

The Relatives CameOne of the books we read during this lesson was The Relatives Came.  Then gave the students a form that looked like this.

Name ________________     Date ____________________ # ___
                Title of Book: _____________________________________
When I read the part about ________________________________________
it reminded me of _______________________________________________
This helped my comprehension because _______________________________

 We practiced and shared several times. We did a lot of sharing and discussing what made a Proficient connection and what made a Basic connection. We then transitioned from the form to just having a chart with the format posted. (I am TOTALLY kicking myself I never took a picture of the chart, it was actually rather cute.) I like the the structure of the lesson and it seemed to go well. At the same time I wondered if we had been too structured with it. I was not sure it would work long term.
Product Details   About 2 weeks later, my student teacher did an amazing lesson with Don't Laugh At Me. It was after this lesson that I first began to realize I was seeing results. EVERY member of the class used the format and wrote at least one meaningful connection to this book. (EVEN my IEP students who read and wrote at 1st grade level!) I was beginning to get excited.
Product Details Then came the day, three months later, when our school counselor came in to do her monthly lesson. She shared the book The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. (This was perfect because we had just worked on compare and contrast using different versions of The Three Little Pigs, but that is for another blog.) When she finished, the class began to share and reflect with her. She called on one of my low academic and severely ADHD girls who had a real tendency to give rude and inappropriate comments. I held my breath. The student, in a big strong confident voice said "When you read the part about how the pig's heart changed, it reminded me of  the movie "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". That is what happened to the Grinch's heart too, and that made me understand the lesson in this book."
I was completely BLOWN AWAY. When we started I had worried that we were limiting their thinking. Now I realized that we had instead given them a voice. They had the words and could clearly share their thinking.

If you are interested in our form here is a google docs link. https://docs.google.com/open?id=0Bwb_DZiUmtR7MS0yQy12VzZnTWM

We also created a rubric for scoring connections. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AVnXum_fnDm3ixDp01F_AuuUdhuesNKeO4bWu2sBckI/edit

Friday, July 6, 2012

The FACES of a Reader and the VOICES of a Writer

During the last 2 years most of our school has embraced CAFE and The Daily Five.
The CAFE Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literary Assessment and InstructionThe Daily Five

It was AWESOME last year to get a class that was so knowledgeable and strategy savvy. HOWEVER, I did discover that they were not quite as into my CAFE board as I would have liked. I have a brainstorm that I would like to try in 4-5 at my school this year. I want to rearrange the letters in CAFE to read FACE and then add an S to hit nonfiction text feature, authors tools, etc.

Nancy over at Teaching My Friends posted this picture of her board.

If you head over to her blog she has some really good pictures of her strategies as well.

I really want to try this. As we we switch over to "reading to learn" as opposed to "learning to read" I think this would put some SPARKLE into the program again. (Maybe it will just put sparkle into me, but that will help too!)

While reading Nancy's Teaching My Friends blog I also discovered a perfect companion to the CAFE board. She uses a VOICES of a writer board to record strategies for Writer's Workshop. Why reinvent the wheel, if it works for reading then why not apply it to writing as well. These go very well with 6 Traits or any other writing program.

She has a link on her blog to download PDF's of her headings.

Mrs. I's Class store at Teacher's Notebook has FACES heading posters. They are cute but seem a bit more primary grades so I will probably be making my own. But I wanted to give her credit for the "S" Sense of Print idea.
FACES of a Reader: "S" added for text features and authors toolshttp://www.teachersnotebook.com/product/mrsisclass/faces-headers

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dreaded "Repond to What You Read"

I am a strong believer in having kids write about the strategies that they use while they are reading. I like this not only because it encourages the actual use of strategies, but because it is a great launching pad for discussion during groups and/or conferring. The problem I struggled with was if I asked the kids to stop and write each time they used a strategy it made their reading very choppy and unnatural, not like real reading at all. Last summer I found a product at Really Good Stuff that really inspired me.

The "verbiage" didn't really fit with what we are using in Reading Workshop, so I created my own bookmark. This year during Read to Self, each of my students used Post It flags to mark where they used reading strategies. The flags were stored on a bookmark color coded for each strategy.


While the students read, they put flags into their books to show where they used reading strategies. The ones we worked on were  checking  for understanding, questioning, making connections, making mental images, and predicting.  This system worked well because they could mark the strategies quickly without much break in their reading.

After our reading time, students shared about their strategies in a reading response notebook. The flags in the book reminded them of when and where the strategies were used, making it easier to write about their thinking. (And less likely that they would  make up things just to have something to write about.) We coded the responses with a “?” for questions we asked, a “C” when sharing a connection, etc.

 I have tweaked the bookmark a bit for next year by changing Predicting to Inferences and replacing the Check for Understanding section with one for Tune Into Vocabulary.
If you would like to see a copy of my bookmarks check out the following Google Docs link.

Today I was inspired, while talking to a friend who teaches 2nd grade, to create a bookmark using only pictures that she could use with her second graders.  If you are interested, check out this link.


Going Gooney Over Gooney Bird Greene

About a month ago, while waiting for my 9 year old at the local library, I decided to check out Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry. The story is set in a second grade classroom so I assumed it would not be something I could use in 4th grade, but felt it might be a good read for some of my lower level students. BOY WAS I WRONG! I am now planning on using this book as a read aloud to launch Writer's Workshop this fall.

Gooney Bird tells her class five stories. Each story has wonderful examples of characters, plot, suspense, and complex vocabulary. Each story has the potential to launch several mini lessons. After the last story the class is all excited for another, BUT Gooney Bird informs them that she is through telling stories and that it is their turn to share their stories.

I purchased the book for my E-Reader. I hope that I can read parts of the book as a read aloud and project parts onto my Promethean board so they can read with me. I have never used an E-Reader in this way so I'll let you know you it turns out.