Hello everyone! We were back at school today after yet another day off for rotten weather. It sure is hard to have any continuity when we are gone a day or more out of every week!

Our next big unit in reading involves historical fiction book clubs. Getting fourth graders to have meaningful book discussions takes some planning and some practice, so we are practicing by reading and discussing Sarah Plain and Tall as a class. It is the only novel I do all year where all students read the same thing, so most of it is read aloud or done in partners so that everybody is supported at the level they need.

The real heart of the unit is to help the students get a good handle on what the genre of historical fiction is all about so they are better ready to tackle their own novels in the upcoming weeks. The other major goal is to get some practice having quality book discussions. We have done some short discussions in small groups of mixed reading levels so that all students can get some practice having a quality discussion, so I am hopeful that we are building up to some quality book discussions when we do our book clubs starting next week!  I really want my students to have discussions like real people...where they piggyback off each other and don't simply read off a question sheet one at a time.

I have blogged about this before, so if you are interested in reading a little bit more click here to read a post from the past!

Today was our fourth day of having these little mini book discussions, and I was really noticing that students did not seem to know how to behave in the groups so they were on task and not disturbing other people. They seemed to be having decent conversations, but I could tell that not everyone was 100% committed to the group.

I pulled the class together, and we did some brainstorming about what a film crew would expect to see if they came to our classroom to make a movie about how to have a good book discussion.  We had already had many lessons on how to piggyback off other people's discussions, how to stay on topic, how to be encouraging, and more. I guess I did not get into specific details about what I should actually see when looking at their group. We made a list on the easel together and even pulled one of the groups up front to do some modeling so we could see exactly what we would expect to see during a book discussion.

After our brainstorming session, I took all their ideas and turn them into an anchor chart for us to keep up and referred to throughout our unit.

NOTE:  "Typo" has been fixed on poster!  "of" should be "off"...will fix pic soon!

Tomorrow we will test out our new knowledge and see if students can keep their bodies in control, keep from spinning their books on the carpet, sit up and close in with their group instead of lounging on the floor, and so on!  I am confident that the time we are spending practicing will pay off tenfold next week!  Stay tuned!


I'm home from school today on another "cold" day, and as the wind whips through my neighborhood and I sit her in my fuzzy jammies...I am trying everything in my power to avoid working on report cards.  I have created quite a nice "to do" list, so I am working on all the easy ones first!

Today I thought I would share with you a wonderful little book that my best friend sent me this year for my birthday.  I had never seen it before, so forgive me if this is "old news"!  I was immediately attracted to the cover...

It just seems so fitting for the theme I have in my class--the idea that you are UNIQUE!

I wasn't disappointed when I opened it up...each page shares some "wisdom" from a mama and papa fish to their young son...

The illustrations are simply gorgeous and the "wisdom" is so appropriate for students in the intermediate grades (and those of us in our intermediate years as well!).
Sorry this photo doesn't show up well...the page says, "Blend in when you need to.  Stand out when you have the chance."
"Find your own way.  You don't have to follow the crowd."
My mental gears immediately started churning with ideas that I could use with this book in my classroom:
  • Create unique fish art...each of us starting with just an oval like these beautiful fish--maybe asking students to explore patterning?  Not sure yet...but I see a beautiful bulletin board in my future!
  • Use the pieces of "wisdom" as writing prompts.
  • Have students collect other quotations that are meaningful to them and make a mini-book out of them.
  • Create a collage of quotations on the computer to emulate the inside of the covers...isn't it gorgeous?
  • Look for other texts that have some of these pieces of wisdom as "themes".  Theme is a big deal in the CCSS for us, so I am always looking for ways to help students understand it.
  • Work BACKWARDS!  I think it might be fun to have students choose one of the themes listed in the book and brainstorming a list of stories that could be written that have it!  For example, one of the pieces of wisdom states, "Develop a 'can do' attitude."  That might be a great theme for a sports story about a child who isn't very good but really wants to make the team and works really hard to achieve his goal. There are countless other stories that could be written with that theme as well.  I think kids would love this!
Feel free to chime in with other ideas...I am excited to work this little gem into my teaching some time in the near future!

To send you off...I wanted to let you in on a "little" giveaway I am involved with...if little means a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff!  My dear friend Jamie over at Miss Math Dork has celebrated a few milestones this week and is sharing the love.  Click here to check it out!

Finally...if you missed my blog post yesterday about the AWESOME product hop I am involved in, check it out!  Here's the link--and you have a chance to win a GREAT set of products!  CLICK HERE!
Are you up for an adventure this week?  A number of fellow intermediate teacher-bloggers have joined to provide you with blog-hopping fun this last week of January.  Perhaps snow covers the ground outside where you are reading this from, making a real outdoor hike out of the question...so we thought we would offer you a trail to "hike along" from the comfort of your couch!

Back in December, I was partnered with Nicole Shelby from Teaching with Blonde Ambition. Nicole and I spent some time snooping in each other's stores and each picked a resource we would like to try out with our own students.  Although Nicole has TONS of amazing products, I picked Flippin' Through the CCSS: Flip Flaps for Reading Notebooks-Grades 3-5 to use because I knew I could use it in a couple of different ways!

For me, having a resource that is FLEXIBLE is key.  I never teach anything the same way twice, so I appreciate a resource that lets me be creative!  This flip flap resource does exactly that.  I know I will be able to use pieces of it all year long--and in different ways.  I thought I'd show you two different things we have done with it recently.

First of all, we are digging into our latest read aloud, and I really want students to be pushing their understanding of characters.  The main character in our new book, Eight Keys, is a VERY deep and complex character.  Many of my students still haven't developed a "maturity" with their responses in reading, so I thought I'd give one of the organizers a chance to work its magic!  We talked about how a character's words, actions, and thoughts can really help us get to know him/her and we got our organizer glued into our response notebooks.

Sorry this is so small...I encouraged the students to write in bullet points.  We will add on to the lists later and eventually turn it into a short literary essay.  What a great place to begin collecting ideas!

After students worked for a while on their own, they got together in their new discussion groups to discuss what they had recorded and to work cooperatively to add on new ideas as they came up!

I know we will use more of these organizers as the story unfolds...she has a TON of them for fiction AND nonfiction!

Another activity we did relates to our writing unit...poetry.  Figurative language is very new for my fourth graders, so I thought I'd start with similes because our reading mentor text, Sarah, Plain and Tall, is FILLED with them.  Nicole has all sorts of great figurative language activities in this resource so I grabbed the similes page and--instead of using them in our writing notebooks--made learning posters to take home to "teach" families about similes!

Each flap asks them to record a simile...the true meaning of it...and an illustration.  Kids worked in teams to come up with some of their own.  For those students who struggled coming up with ideas, I put some starters up on the board like...

He was as strong as...

She ran as fast as...

The rain was like...

Then they went to town!

By the time they finished, they had a set of three similes to take home to use to "teach" someone at home!  The next step?  Try to incorporate a simile into a poem.

What's coming next for us in this resource?  More figurative language and elements of poetry!

Aren't these SO practical?  I am so excited to have this resource now--I plan on plugging these interactive tools into MANY of my units!  Make sure you check it out as well...you won't be disappointed!

Here is a quick link if you want to see it for yourself!

Now, to help with your exercise for the day, here's what you need to know about our hike and giveaway!
Hiking Tips 
-Start anywhere along the trail!

-Along the way, stop by each blog and read about the resources swapped between bloggers.

-Enter to win the resource that is featured at each blog in the raffle below (the same raffle is at each blog, so you can just add to your entries as you go!). While you are at each blog, if you’re not a blog follower already, sign on to follow! (You can earn bonus entries for following all blogs once you unlock the additional entries.)

-The raffle is open until midnight on January 31, so feel free to take a break from your hike, rest up, and finish it later! 

One winner will receive the entire set of resources being featured by all 14 collaborating bloggers AND a $25 TpT gift certificate! 

Here’s the list of blogs to "hike" to: 
Swap Stop A

Swap Stop B 

Swap Stop C 

Swap Stop D 

Swap Stop E 

Swap Stop F 

Swap Stop G 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Isn't that a fun way to see some new resources--and land yourself a chance to win them all?  Make sure to read the directions above so you know how to "take a hike" with us!
It's hard to believe our first semester is almost finished, and February is right around the corner!  We are digging deeper into our new units...poetry, matter, historical fiction, and fractions and we are making good strides in our newest read aloud, Eight Keys.

As I started doing some longer range planning, it became pretty clear that I needed to get my February ducks in a row pretty doggone soon!  I thought I'd highlight some of the activities I am going to sprinkle in with my content over the next month.

First of all, I love to highlight reading in displays outside my room.  Last year my class LOVED working on the following bulletin board, and I blogged about it and some other Valentine's ideas last year.  CLICK HERE if you want to see the blog post from last year!  I did turn that project into a TpT resource if you are interested, but as you can see, it would be super easy to replicate on your own.

We are also really really really needing to work on our problem solving skills, so I am printing off a ton of my Valentine's word problems...I have a set of task cards and my Seasonal Word Problems.  Different groups of students will be assigned different problems to work on during independent math workshop times while I pull remedial and enrichment groups.

One of the enrichment activities we will do during this time is included in my "Valentine's Day Fun Activities" resource which is a collection of 5 different learning activities...a writing prompt, an open ended math challenge, some word work--and more.

As you know, I am a HUGE advocate for getting students to read, read, read books at their "just right" level.  I am going to use Valentine's Week to challenge the class to set new goals and to see just how much we can show that we "love" to read!  I will be using my reading challenge resource to keep track of things.  One of my math enrichment activities will be for students to tabulate some of the data and present it to the class.

During math time, I needed to find a way for my students to get more practice on their multiplication facts before we did into our "large" number multiplication coming up later in the month.  My "Snowball" dice game was so popular that I created 3 brand new, differentiated math games for my class to play.  Each of the three games focuses on multiplication--and each comes in 2 difficulty levels!

So as you can see...we have lots of fun ways to incorporate the holiday into our learning over the next month!  I did bundle together three of the products at a reduced price for anyone who is interested!

Make SURE to stop by the blog tomorrow and check out a fun product swap I am a part of...there are some amazing blog posts, products, and even a giveaway!
Tomorrow my student teacher starts...I think she's my twelfth one.  Every student teacher I get brings a little sense of excitement--and some nerves the night before.  In case she ever "virtually" finds me--I promise, Miss W, I will never write about you here!  This will be my one and only post (at least without your permission!) but I have to just pose some of my ponderings tonight.

I've had mixed experiences with student teachers--from some of the most outstanding young people who renewed my faith in our profession to...ummmm....others.  The last one I had I PROMISED myself would be my last.  She started her first day by announcing that she had no intentions on ever teaching and just wanted a degree.  Gasp.  Then she would proceed to tell me repeatedly how she struggled to know what to do because she, "just gets so captivated by my lessons that I just can't really think about what I should be doing."  Fabulous.

So here we go again--on the eve of the first day of what will hopefully be the start of something really really big for a young person's future.  I've met her--and she impressed me.  I heard things come out of her mouth like "I'm a risk taker and not afraid to fail," and "I have a soft spot in my heart for students with special needs--it is my goal to reach every one of them," and "I have been waiting my whole life for this."

My heart skipped a beat...could this be another one of "us"?  Someone who is willing to work until midnight looking at writing samples to figure out where to go next?  Someone who can't sleep because she is so worried about her student who had friendship issues on the bus and no one was home to help?  Someone who is obsessed with collecting books because someONE, someDAY, might connect to it?  Someone who knows that the perfect writing tool is worth buying in bulk?

Is she one of us?

Please let it be true.  So tonight I think of all the things I need to tell her...to show her...to teach her...to help her discover.  (OMG...I'm bawling typing this right now!)

I need her to know how amazingly precious each of those little souls is that she will be in the midst of every day.  How NO test is more important than a child's heart.  How there will be so many hoops to jump through over the next 35 years--but they are all worth it because she can make a difference in 25 x 35 lives.  How she can and will NEVER stop learning because she will see that every single year she teaches she will learn that she knows even less than she thought she knew about teaching and learning--and that she will not be content until she has pushed herself more than she thought possible.  How she is going to have days where she is going to question her career choice--and other days where she will sit at the computer crying as she reflects on her vital role in forming the minds and hearts of young people.

So I ask all of you tonight to keep Miss W in your hearts as she begins this most important of journeys.  Help me to help her become the teacher she is meant to be.

Help me to help her become...

one of us

Today I expand my discussion about using concept sorts in math class by sharing a DIFFERENT way to use them!  You might have stopped by for my initial post a while back, but if you missed it, HERE IT IS! I am convinced that concept sorts are one of the many ways to really tackle a whole bunch of the Standards for Mathematical Practice in a fun and meaningful way!
All Things Upper Elementary
Hop on over to All Things Upper Elementary to see yet another way to use concepts sorts--especially if you are a little short on time!  Hope your week started off well...

This is one of those tasks that I KNOW is so important but that I just dread.  Whether it's because I lack confidence or that I am still after 20+ years unsure of exactly what "4th grade writing" is, I struggle every time I need to evaluate student work.

This quarter our big unit was opinion writing.  It's a great unit--and an important one, I believe.  We learn about stating clear opinions, supporting them with quality details, using transition words and phrases, and ending the essay with a solid conclusion.

But what does it mean to do this "proficiently"?  We have a district rubric that we use (thanks to Lucy Calkins), but for some reason, I just never feel like it gets to the meat of what we are teaching and expecting.  What does it mean to "Make deliberate word choices to convince my readers, perhaps by emphasizing or repeating words that would make my readers feel emotions."?  Specifically--what does it mean to do that AT A FOURTH GRADE LEVEL?

We spend time looking over student work samples and we can usually come to some agreement about what pieces rise to the top, but we all struggle with really pinpointing what grade level writing is.  Then there is the issue of grading demand piece versus process pieces.  If you grade a piece that has been shared, peer edited, teacher revised, and so on--what can you grade?  The final product or how students handled the writing process?

As I was filling out the rubric on a demand opinion piece that I gave yesterday, I was beginning to notice that lots of my scores seemed to be similar.  I seem to be reluctant to ever give too many of the "top" scores because it feels like they maybe could have done a LITTLE more...and I think that's because I am not super clear on what that magical standard is.

So today I thought I'd try something...I made a little quarter sheet to staple on top of the required rubric that highlighted each of the key lessons I taught during the unit.  I provided myself a little 2, 1, 0 scoring guide where I could "gut feeling" measure whether I felt the student showed no evidence of applying the lesson, some evidence, or solid evidence of the taught skills.  It looked like this.
It was kind of interesting to cross check it with the main rubric.  I feel like my checklist might do a better job of showing the student how they performed because it clearly states the features I was looking for in their piece. The district rubric perhaps gives a better overall "flavor" of their performance on the essay unit.  I'd love to have people chime in!  Do you find grading writing as challenging as I do?  Do you struggle to find the time to meet with students to go through their writing to help them make changes?  I'd love to have people share their best and brightest ideas!  Hope everyone is having a great weekend--and I look forward to your ideas!