December 2014 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating

So much fun!  I have had a BLAST sharing resources with you all the last few days...and the fun continues!  If you don't follow me on Facebook, you might want to...and stop by today and tomorrow for some flash freebies!  

Also on the schedule is a giveaway starting New Year's Day to say thanks for all your support...I can't believe that I am now 3,100 followers strong!

As a final bit of fun--my "Upper Elementary Snapshots" friends and I have decided to celebrate the new year with a one day sale.  Check the link up if you want to visit our stores.  






I am always on the quest for new and interesting books to share with my students and last year I happened across Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur.  My students loved it, and I knew it was going to be one of my "go to" books from that point forward.  From bullying...to "coming of age"...to friendship issues...to "belonging", this book has SO much to talk about.

Elise is entering middle school and suddenly realizes her best friend (a boy, Franklin) is not "cool"--and neither is she.  She starts off the first day of school making an enemy and things turn from bad to worse quickly.  Elise takes out her anger on the world around her and it takes the guidance of those others in her life to really help her recognize what is important as she searches for what it means to truly "be" Elise.  I don't really want to give away more...but I am hoping I have enticed you a little bit!

I think what really "clicked" for me this summer was when I read "Notice and Note" by Kylene Beers is how a book like Eight Keys can really help teach this deeper comprehension.  In fact, the signpost "Words of the Wiser" is a perfect match for this book in that the main character, Elise, has a number of people in her life that serve as this "guide" through her journey.  After introducing this signpost, my students are SO tuned into noticing when characters are serving as those guides to Elise.  I am SO hopeful that it will soon transfer into their own reading!


So if you haven't seen this one, maybe grab it and read it for yourself.  See what you think.  I think it's a perfect read aloud for grades 4-6.  Want a closer look?  Check below to see more.  I also put the link to Notice and Note above.  If you are an intermediate teacher and haven't read it, I highly recommend it.  Seriously--it should be required reading.  It was a very powerful game changer for me!


I can't believe it.  If you would have asked me 2 years ago where I thought I'd be today, I never would have imagined that my "I wonder if anyone would read a blog if I started one..."

And here we are.

It's the time of you to celebrate friends, family, and the season--and now I have even more reason to celebrate with you.  Here are the details for now...I hope you find some deals over the next week that you can enjoy!

First up?  My entire store is on sale today, tomorrow, and Friday--even bundles!  If you are looking for some things to get you started in January, now's a great time to buy.  I'll be back soon with the rest of the story!


It's so nice to finally be on break...we had a very relaxing day yesterday with a read-a-thon...some math games, and popcorn and juice.   My kids LOVED their set of 5 dice and game list I gave them and they all named their snowman jars and took them home to share with their families.  I am spending today with my mom and siblings as my father is very ill and in ICU.  Any positive energy would be appreciated.  




Finally, congratulations to Lori Raines for winning my $10 TpT giveaway!  I hope you all had fun...I loved to read your comments.  It looks like I am not the only person with a clip art problem.  :)
I knew my students were excited to get started on our latest open ended problem solving task...they have been asking about it for a few weeks!

I kept putting them off and putting them off--because I wanted them to have the holiday edition to work on THIS week!  After our minilesson and practice time, we move into our workshop time--and this task was one of the choices I opened up today.  Of the 16 students who had the time to work, 12 of them grabbed this to do first!  You could have heard a pin drop as they dug in. .  . some alone, and some in pairs.  Before I let them get started, we reviewed expectations and the task itself.  Our goal?  Not just to solve it--but to find the MOST cookies that could be made AND to keep our work organized and precise.
This guy went solo...it will be interesting to see if his final results are as good as those teams who collaborated and shared brainpower!
This team was so careful about checking their math data page...and worked SO well together--and neither are top students...just hard workers!

After 15 minutes, this team hadn't written much down but you should have HEARD the math talk!  They are ready to roll now!

They got a good start today . . . and will keep working tomorrow!  Want to pick it up for your class?  It's on sale all week!

Many of you might only be teaching through this week--and some of you might have a few days next week like I do.  What I DO know is that we have to work extra hard in those days before vacation because our students have their minds and bodies in different "modes" in those final days!

One thing I know for sure...that I need to make sure I plan fun and interesting tasks for my students in the week before a break if I have ANY hope of keeping their attention!

So here we go....5 6 things to think about this week (and the next!)

1.  They are excited.  Can you blame them?  This is seriously one of the coolest times of year.  Take a few minutes to just sit back and enjoy it with them.  They are just little kids, after all!  Maybe we could take a little lesson from them and enjoy the magic of the season instead of worrying if we collected enough data in those final weeks before break.

2.  Keep it fun!  This week might not be the only week to use games in your instruction...but it sure is a good one!  Just assume it will get a little louder than normal...and roll with it!  Here are a few winter freebies if you want...and a link to a holiday "Dollar Deal" as well!






3.  Read aloud more.  And more.  The one thing that has remained relatively constant over my 22 years of teaching is that students of all ages love to be read to.  Whether it's a chapter book, poetry, a picture book...build in a little extra time to read some great stuff to your class this week.  Funny books...seasonal books...beautiful book...anything.

4.  Plan for engaging instruction.  Try readers theater.  Do a science lab.  Do a cool math challenge.  I know you need to get through your content...but I bet you can find a way to reach it through active learning.  I challenge you!  I've put a few winter/holiday resources on sale to help you if you want!  My kids are SO pumped about the cookie challenge!




5.  Recognize effort and focus.  It is very easy to get caught up in the mode of "correcting" behavior to try to keep the students in line; try meaningful, genuine praise when students (individual or the entire class) are doing well.  Spread it even more--compliment other classes of students you pass in the hall that are doing great stuff!

6.  Finally--if all else fails . . . keep THIS in your desk drawer.  I mean . . . I haven't TRIED it--but I've heard . . .

Best of luck to all of us as we navigate these last days!
It's time once again for "Loved That Lesson" linky!


This month I wanted to share a lesson (actually a "type" of lesson) that I am using for a reading intervention group.  I have a group of boys who I would say are "gray area" readers.  They do "ok" on everything we do...but I can tell they are just not comprehending at the level I want them to--or that they will need in upcoming years.  It's SO hard to find good resources to use with students for intervention groups...ideally, I would like to use short texts so that we can dig in and do a lesson in one or two sittings.  Doing full novel studies can be SO overwhelming...so I have started using only chapter 1 and 2 of books that I think students might like.

Why?

Because I know that many of these gray area readers have struggled making the leap from short books and easy chapter books to more challenging chapter books.  They don't "get" how chapter books work...namely:
*The first chapter of books tend to set up the story, especially helping us get to know the main character.
*Each chapter in a book tends to function as its own "story" with a beginning, middle, and end.
*Sometimes stories change time or place between chapters and we need to pay attention in order to understand the story.
*Sometimes chapter books actually have more than one story going on at once.

...and more, of course!

What I want to do is create a set of lessons that help these struggling students really "unlock" the code of chapter books!  I started with this group this past week by tackling chapter one.  Here's what I did.

First, I picked a book that I thought was at an instructional level for my group.  I thought they might like this book, I have multiple copies, AND it's the first book in a series in case they like it!  I made a photocopy of the first chapter because I wanted them to be able to interact with it.

I used a trusty dusty takeout container for the crayons we would need...I created a system for color coding.
What was the color coding for?
ORANGE: To highlight important information that helps us get to know the characters.
YELLOW: Key events that are happening in the text
GREEN: Setting clues
BLUE: Character feelings and thoughts

I started by explaining my thoughts about doing a "Chapter 1 and 2 book study"...that I was going to help them learn how to read and understand chapter books better--and possibly introduce them to some books that they may want to finish on their own.

I talked to them about chapter 1 of most books...about how we learn WHO is telling the story and usually some of the other main characters.  We often learn about their personalities, their families, their likes and dislikes, and more.  I had them each grab an orange crayon and sent them off with a partner to read the chapter and to "code" in orange where we learn about the main characters.  While they worked, I did the same thing to my copy of the text.

After they finished, we came back together and compared notes about what information we learned.  We had some of the same excerpts highlighted--but not all of them.  

When we finished talking about they key character points, we moved to the other colors...and we made a discovery!  First of all--we didn't learn the setting at ALL!  The students "guessed" he was at home (though one thought he was at school) but we looked and looked and realized that there were NO clues--because the entire chapter was really TELLING us information, not showing it.  I explained to them that often this happens...that the first chapter is full of background--and not much action!  In fact, we couldn't find ANY text to highlight in yellow or green!  It was interesting...there were a few "flashback" moments and students wanted to highlight the setting of those--so we had a great talk about being careful when settings and characters are mentioned...they aren't always evidence of the PRESENT.  That seemed to be kind of an eye opener for a few in the group.

Finally, we went hunting for any evidence of character FEELINGS...we only found one--the last sentence of the chapter.  I told them that this is something authors frequently do--they leave us with either a very important event or an important feeling...something to lead us into the next chapter.

I can't wait to dig into chapter two on Monday so they can see just how different chapter 1 is...and how important it is to really read it carefully.  We will read chapter 2 on Monday, really track the events and setting clues, and then I will give them the choice about whether or not they want to take a copy to read on their own.  After that? I'm going to repeat the process with a different book...so we can study chapter 1 and 2 again and really start to learn how chapter books break down.  Let me know what you think!  

And one more thing...I need your input!  I am looking to do a series of blog posts about math workshop--I've had so many requests!  I'd love for you to click the image below and give me your 2 cents!  It should only take a minute or two.  Thanks in advance!


Don't forget to check out the other links below!

Happy Holidays!

Have you heard of Sit Spots?  I've seen a bunch of primary teachers using them to mark spots for students to sit.  One day I jokingly said to my coteacher, "I think WE need Sit Spots!".  I decided to snoop around their website a little bit and then my brain started working overtime.  I learned that they work on classroom carpet without damaging it (note...they do NOT work on area rugs) and come in a zillion shapes and colors. 

I started to think--would having some of these portable "spots" help me with transitions and organization?  Would they help my students stay focused and know what to do?  In the intermediate grades, we don't necessarily need our students to "stay put" in one spot, but I had some ideas for how to use these in intermediate classrooms...and the Sit Spot people wanted me to test them out!

Here are a few things I am using my spots for!  See what you think!
The first thing I did was to order my dots...I got 6 dots in 5 colors because I thought it would offer me lots of options.  Notice how I put two of the same colored dots next to each other.  Those are their "turn and talk" partners!  No more wasted time trying to make partners and no more kids being left out!
I even started having students go stand on a dot and then move to a new color...that kept them from always finding the same dot.  In fact, sometimes I would tell them to find a dot they had never sat on before to use!  It was a great way to shake up routine and get students sitting by new friends.
Although I bought circles (seemed the most "intermediate" and flexible), I did buy a few long strips.  I have one area in my room where traffic crosses my small group work.  I put the stripe up as a sort of "boundary" for my group area.  It worked!
Another great use of these dots was to help with organization.  I do a lot of small group work so I started experimenting with using my dots to mark the places I wanted groups to meet.  It was an easy way for students to find a spot, pass out supplies, etc.
I also tried putting spots in a semicircle for a reading group...I am NOT a table person and this did keep my students right where I wanted them!
This was another use...if you are like me, you have your desks in groups--but those groups keep moving around the room--and creeping forward into our large group space.  The spots really helped desk groups know right where to line up their desks at the end of the day!



So I have some great news!  The Sit Spot people are so excited about the thought of extending their reach into more intermediate classrooms that they have agreed to give a FIFTY DOLLAR gift certificate to one of you!  It's super easy to enter the giveaway...they want to reward my followers!  If you are interested, just enter below!  You could get a set of Sit Spots of your own for the holidays!


A project I have done for the last few years is one of my favorites...and it was PERFECT this week as we are not quite ready to tackle our big feature article writing.  I simply ask my students to think of a book they have read this year that they think someone else might want to "chill" out with!  Here's what we made...

First we wrote our paragraphs, got them checked, and recopied onto the final copy template.
We used different tracers to design our snowpeople.
We started to give them "personality"!
We lined them up above our lockers for a festive touch!
Too cute!
Enjoy!  We've already had a bunch of compliments!

Last year I posted about this project and had some requests for the letters and template, so I did put them together in a resource.  Click the picture below if you are interested.


In case you didn't know...it's FRIDAY tomorrow!  Enjoy!
If you haven't been following along, my collaborative blog, Upper Elementary Snapshots is doing a totally fun set of giveaways this month.  Each day for 12 days, one blogger is giving away an item for FREE!  It's only free for that one day, so you need to stop back often!

Today is MY day to give away a resource, so stop by...just click our logo below to check it out!  Have a wonderful day!

Want a hint?

Be sure to watch for some upcoming blog posts....with a new product I tried in my classroom, with an update about my formal observation, musings about fractions, and more!
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