The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
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lesson ideas narrative
One thing I really like to do with my literacy instruction is to make sure that I weave reading and writing together whenever possible.  One of our phrases this year is "Read like a writer and write like a reader!" and we are working to dig into what that really means.

As we started our narrative unit several weeks ago, we spent a great deal of time studying our main read aloud, Fish in a Tree, along with other picture books I selected.  We studied the characters, their traits, their actions, and then--finally--their words.  We actually then worked to create our own characters that we would later insert into some "mini" narratives that we wrote.  The students were SO engaged and I truly saw them thinking more deeply about the characters in their own books.  (Note:  This student had a bad experience with a pigeon...I guess my "hint" that authors often work their real life into their books paid off!)
invent a character
From story arc to detailed plan...this TRULY helps the students plan ahead, make sure they have a clear ending, and gives a place for them to add quality sensory details.


prewriting strategies narrative writing
As we started to realize all the ways writers help us get to know characters, I told my students we were going to work hard to do this with our own narratives--we were going to write so our reader can really get to know our characters.  We went back to our own books (great because no matter WHAT level a child reads at, this activity can be done) and searched for dialogue "tags".  We jotted them on sticky notes and then came back to the large group to do some sharing.  I recorded their findings on a chart and then we talked about the messages writers can send by carefully choosing tags.  What does "mumbled" show about a character instead of "shouted"?  If a characters "demands" something, what does it say?
writing lessons
If you have taught writing dialogue before, you know how challenging it can be to get students punctuating it correctly.  There is a LOT to remember!  I decided to go back into our read aloud and do some practice with this sentence frames...I gave them permission to change the "tag" to match the characters, but I really wanted them to think about what these characters might say--and to use the guides to punctuate these made-up sentences.  They worked in pairs for a while and then shared with others--they had a GREAT time imagining they were these characters and came up with some great dialogue examples!
teaching writing lessons
I then wanted to give them some more practice, so I used this "sort" activity where they had to manipulate the parts of the sentences and mindfully add the punctuation.  It was challenging for some, but I saw many of them referring back to the pink strips from the lesson before!
writing lessons dialogue

punctuating dialogue
Finally, I talked to the students about how a true dialogue involves characters speaking back and forth--and how their discussion helps move the story forward.  It often reveals character feelings or plans and should have a purpose.  We worked in partners to try writing some dialogue scenarios based on my dialogue task cards and we had a blast.  It was a great chance for me to walk around and do some coaching on the punctuation, remind about indenting for new speakers, and so on.
writing dialogue

punctuating dialogue
 It was so much fun to see how creative they got--and how their dialogues REALLY started to show their understanding of how characters can be revealed.
dialogue lessons
 With all the pieces in place, we were ready to write our narratives!  It's funny...we spent 2 weeks prepping for them and three days writing them--and it was amazing to see how all the "quick writes" we did paid off--and the students REALLY saw how the planning made it so their story essentially wrote itself.  When I asked how many of them felt it was the best thing they had ever written, it was almost unanimous!  Also, if you are working on narratives, I can't recommend "Fish in a Tree" highly enough to really look at character development, character change, and more. 

Want to see the resources I used?
My novel study for Fish in a Tree...
Teaching Fish in a Tree
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math instruction
One thing that I have noticed over the years as I have done more "kid watching" as I teach...is that we have most definitely conditioned our students to "fill in the blank".  Whether we use workbooks, do worksheets with cute graphics, or encourage students to track their scores--we definitely convey to them that there is a "right way" to do things.  Of course, in math, we usually DO want a correct answer...but in elementary school, I really believe our focus should be on the PROCESS and thinking involved in learning math rather than a stress on the correct answer.  That will come.

Now don't get me wrong--I'm not talking about accuracy and precision problems!  Do I think students should know their facts and compute precisely?  Yep.  But I also truly believe that many students tend to equate THOSE math activities as the most important.

One of the first discussions I have each fall is that math is complicated.  Much like reading is more than "saying the words", math is more than getting the right answer.  We talk about growth mindset...about the mathematical practices...about persevering...about how math doesn't always happen quickly...about asking for help when needed...and all sorts of other "math behaviors" that lead to success in math.  It is SO important for students to understand what I believe--and that research supports this!  Once they realize what I value, it's time to provide opportunities for students to practice these behaviors and to provide me the chance to observe and see how students handle this climate for learning.  For me, helping coach students in THIS is just as important as teaching them how to add and subtract.

Throughout the year, I use discussion starters to get students talking and thinking about the role mindset has in learning.  By exposing students to this type of conversation, it reinforces the values I have and also gives them the language to talk about their own strengths and goals.  The other day, we had a GREAT discussion about this one...and were able to give tons of examples of what this might look like and what types of situations might be impacted by this.  (Note:  These are a part of my growth mindset resource if you are interested in seeing more.)
math culture math practices teaching math problem solving
Another way I work to build this culture throughout the year is by helping students learn how to work collaboratively in a productive way.  Learning how to ask questions, ask for help, offer help, take feedback graciously, and be willing to share ideas are all skills that not only contribute to math success--but "life" success as well!
math discourse math talk

One great way to do this is to have students play games and be an outsider where you coach not just the math, but the interactions as well.  This group was struggling with being patient with a student who processed more slowly so I sat behind them and coached.  Not only did it help the student who was working slowly to realize that it was ok to work slowly, but I was able to work with the others to learn how to manage that situation with grace while making the other player feel valued.
math culture math practices teaching math problem solving
Another thing I do to help students realize that math is more than an answer blank is to make sure we are constantly doing "work" where we NEVER even address the answer!  That may seem counterproductive...after all, how will we know if they can DO the math?  This is the power of shifting our focus.  When I do activities such as "Thinker Tasks", I do not always even collect them--and I certainly never share what the correct answer is.  Why?  Because there ISN'T one right answer!  The process students use to solve the challenges is the key...and, again, the "kid watching" is where I learn the most--far more than if I simply checked the answer.

I can see who struggles with the math concepts. I can see how students work together--or don't.  I can see which students seem to relish a challenge and which steer away.  I can see if students work with care or if they rush.  I can see if students are independently able to dig in or if they need guidance.  I can see how long they are willing to persevere or if they struggle to maintain focus.  It allows me to start to notice which students gravitate toward each other to collaborate and which students tend to work alone.  I also love that there are so many components--so I can differentiate as needed.  In a few short work sessions, I was able to learn SO much about my students as mathematicians!
math culture math practices teaching math problem solving
Finally, I want my students to recognize how--like reading--math is multidimensional.  In reading we need to sound fluent when we read, need to be able to decode new words, summarize, write about our reading, discuss a text--and countless other things.  The same is true for math!  We need to be able to add and subtract--but also to recognize patterns, solve problems, make connections, explain our thinking, organize our work, and so on.

I use Mind Boggling Math to help with this...because students have the skills to do the addition required--but it's the perfect way to help students realize that there is so much more to it!  Students share organization ideas, share strategies, check each other's work, troubleshoot problems and more--certainly way more valuable than simply doing a page of addition problems!  Most importantly, it is yet another activity that helps students realize what I value in our math community--the answer is only part of the game.
problem solving addition computation

math culture math practices teaching math problem solving

math culture math practices teaching math problem solving
 I hope you have had a smooth start to your year and realize that there are many ways to build community in your math class.  Watch for more blog posts coming soon that will help share more ideas for moving your students to a deeper understanding of what math truly is!

Interested in any of the resources mentioned?  Just click the pictures for more information.

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teaching math



I spent some more time in my disaster of a classroom #justkeepingthingsreal today, and I started unpacking different boxes to begin the process of "reassembly".  I thought it might be fun to share with you a few of my classroom "must haves"!  Note, there are affiliate links in this post.

The first thing I unpacked (because it required no thinking!) was my mobile math cart!  I love being able to move this around my room--from my large group area to ALL the places I meet with small groups.  It has a bin of white boards, a tub of Expo markers and erasers, and then other "stuff" on the bottom shelf that varies depending on what we are studying...could be number lines, manipulatives, calculators, graph paper--you name it!  It keeps all those things at my fingertips and allows students to easily return these items to their proper spot.

The next thing I want to share was a new purchase two years ago--these collapsible book easels.  I have them all around my reading area to showcase new books, books related to a genre we are studying, "forgotten" books (I love finding great books that students may not have heard of to showcase), books I share during a book talk, or even content area books.  I bought a set of them and they are always full!  I also love to have student helpers pick favorite books to highlight as well!

As I unpacked a crate of office supplies, I couldn't help but pause over my prized stapler.  If you are like me, you probably have 9 of them--none of which work well.  This one has been A-MAZE-ING for me...it is like a power stapler that has a super easy "touch".  I am thinking of splurging on a second one--and have given it as a gift to new teachers as well!

OK...let's talk writing utensils.  I have a bit of a problem--I can't lie.  I may or may not have a little problem when it comes to my favorites.  I thought I'd share a few--in case I can spread my love to at least one more teacher.  Let's talk pens first.  I am a bit of a pen snob--and this is my all time favorite! It comes in a few colors--but purple is my color...so I typically buy purple--until I saw the multipack I listed below!  I love the smoothness of the ink and they last a really long time!


Now for markers.  I make a TON of anchor charts, and I really use color to highlight different components of my chart so Mr. Sketch markers are my favorites.  I like that I can use the wide side for titles and the thinner edge for lettering.
But this is only one way I use them...my students' favorite is for signing their assignment books.  Every single day my students fill out their planners, and I'm trying to build good habits with them.  I ask them to share their planner at home with SOMEONE (I don't like to require parents because it puts pressure on families with complicated work schedules, and so on)--it could be a parent, a big sister, a childcare provider--anyone who is home with the student.  If they initial it, that counts!

When the students bring the planner back the next day, I "star" their initial with a smelly marker.  The students love to see which marker I am going to pick...and then on special days (Valentine's Day...Packer games...you get the drift), I may just get a little creative!  I also use the markers to write special comments home like "GREAT job in math today!" or "Max was a great friend today!" or "Ask Anne about her story!".  The bright colors (and smells!) make sure families see the messages and encourage students to share them.
I'm not going to lie--I may have ordered 3 more packs.  


Finally...as I started to put together my math area, I was reminded of how I could not live without my pocket charts.  I keep them up on my walls all year and keep a revolving collection of word problems in them.  Sometimes I have them tied to our current unit...sometimes they are "seasonal"...sometimes they are tied to our content (like human body).  I keep a nice collection printed and cut and ready to glue into math spirals!
Want to read a blog post with a few more details about this?  Just click on the image below...
I used to use this chart until I changed the color scheme of my room...but I loved the fact that you could use the charts together or separately.


So there you have it!  My musings after my first day back in my classroom--and some of my "must haves".  I hope you all have a wonderful school year!

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novel study Tiger Rising
That's right.  I couldn't stand it--and that's rare for me!  Several years ago, my team wanted us all to read "The Tiger Rising" to go with our realistic fiction unit, so I read it.  Then I read it again.  And again.  Each time I disliked it more.  I told them that I just couldn't do it--I couldn't invest that much in a book I didn't enjoy myself.  They were fine with that...so I went on a quest for a new book to use.

Here's the deal--the more I thought about it, the more I felt I should do what my team was doing so we could have quality discussions about how we were using the text and so on.  Our unit was a new one, and I felt it would be odd to be the lone defector.  Besides, I reminded myself, it isn't about ME, right?  So I made the commitment to read the book with my class.
novel study Kate di Camillo

So I took it on and we dug in--despite my misgivings.

And
my
kids
loved
it.

Seriously...each day as we read my students got deeper and deeper into it and we had some of the BEST discussions I have ever had with fourth graders.  From my top readers to my strugglers, everyone found a way to connect to this text.  We talked about bullying.  We talked about characters.  We talked about death.  We talked about animal cruelty.  But most of all...we talked about how powerful books can stay with you forever.  Another amazing thing happened--students all began to understand that they could HANDLE these very "grown up" texts.

So often we break reading up into its small components--especially for our lower readers--and we don't give them enough time to just immerse themselves in wonderful stories.  I've always said, if a child is reading at a "Henry and Mudge" level, they still MUST be exposed to rich, sophisticated literature or they will never learn how to read it and think about it.  Our read aloud texts are the perfect way to do this.

I am getting ready for my fifth year of reading this book with my students, and I can't wait to see what elements this group relates to the most.  Each year we seem to take a slightly different spin on it, but the effect is the same--books can make us FEEL, and when we can learn to do that with a read aloud, we can learn to do it when we read on our own.  So this fall as we begin our study of this masterpiece, I am reminded that teaching isn't about me...it's about my learners and the interactions and experiences I provide for them.  I can't wait--and a good reminder that we don't have to LIKE something...we just have to be open to learning how to love it!
Kate di Camillo novel study
I even invested in a set of 25 so we could use the text later in the year to "dig deeper" and go hunt for evidence!  We ended up talking about this book and the characters ALL year.
To help me and other teachers really dig into this book, I have also created a novel study to go along with it.  I hope you find it helpful.  Use it to help guide your discussions or to provide occasional writing reflection opportunities. It helps me make sure to maximize the content of the book without having to take copious notes.  See what you think.
novel study

Want to see more about it?  This is an affiliate link if you are interested.

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Today is my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots, and I'd love for you to stop by and check out my 10 tips for making sure your classroom is a place to nurture life-long readers!  I hope you'll click the image above and check it out!

Don't forget that my new Fraction Webinars start TODAY!  If you haven't signed up, the registration link can be found right HERE.  

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