Don't get me wrong--we have a LONG way to go in this area!  We have been working hard on this, however, so I thought I'd share a few tips in case you want to start improving the quality of literature discussions in your room!  The information here unfolded during several different reading lessons over the last few weeks.

I am SUCH a visual learner...I thought I would give you a snapshot of what we snapshots!
First, I show my students these four models of "talk" in a classroom...see if you can figure out what each one represents!  
 (Each of these four diagrams is meant to show the different "paths" communication can flow in a class...for example, the top left is a teacher directed discussion...where the dialogue is a two way street where interactions move from teacher to student, and then back to the teacher.  The other models show different ways communication can travel in small groups.  I did a BIG blog post on this last year--just click the picture to take you to that post that explains this a little bit more!)

These are some of the questions we ask ourselves over and over...and even do self assessments after some of our groups to see how we are doing!
Here are some of the ideas we came up with when brainstorming about what our discussion groups would look like and sound like...
We watched a great video of a book club (just click the photo to watch it!) and we "critiqued" it!  We stopped the video a few times to jot down our ideas about what these students did well--and what we thought they could improve upon.
After we jotted down all our ideas, we grouped them together and I "wordsmithed" a little and created this anchor chart for us to use as we move forward with our discussions.

So--we are moving forward with our historical fiction book clubs. We are working hard to have meaningful, student-centered discussions, tracking our thinking in our reader's notebooks, and really digging deeply into the genre of historical fiction.  More to come!
Today we began our preparations for our historical fiction book clubs!  We have practiced our discussion skills and now are ready to try with some "just right" level of challenge books!

In order to keep 5 book clubs running without driving myself insane, I plan to structure all the groups the same way...we are going to track our thinking in our notebooks the same way--but with different levels of support and/or independence.  

Here's what we did today!

First I collected post its in enough colors to divide the next part of our reader's notebooks into useful sections based on what I am going to really focus on in this round of book clubs. 
Here are the categories!  See below for what is happening in each one... (ignore my messy writing...we had a late start and I was rushed to get it done.  Oops.)
1.  The Era:  This is where students are going to record information tomorrow when they research the era that their story takes place.  We have a book set during the Mexican on the prairie...two during World War II and one during the late 1800's in Chicago.  We need to learn a little about these before we start the books so we can better understand the text.  I talked to them about the time I read "The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" and really didn't understand much about the Japanese internment camps that were a key part of the story.  I explained that I stopped reading to do some research--and it greatly enhanced my understanding of the story.

2.  Character webs:  This is where the students are going to track the information they learn about key characters...their internal and external traits as well as other important details.

3.  Character quotes:  We have been talking about how the words characters say can sometimes really help us understand the story, help us understand the characters, and can give us information in a far more meaningful way than if the author simply told us.  We will be on the hunt for really important quotations and will record them in this section.

4. Setting clues: Since these books take place in other times and places, we are going to track the information in the text that helps clue us in to the setting.

5.  Track the story:  We are going to track key events along the way.  After we finish these book clubs, we are going to be doing an event and character study, so we want to make sure we are remembering key events along the way.

6.  My reactions:  We have been talking a lot about what authors do to make us "react" to a text.  They use description language...they leave us at cliff hangers...they make characters do and say things that make us "feel".  This section of the book is for us to jot down our ideas when something in the text affects us.

So...after we chatted it was time to do the work!
I taught the students how to place the post it part way on the page and then... fold it over leaving a little tab to label.
Ta da!  We are ready to record our thinking and use our notes to fuel our discussions!
I was SO impressed with how efficiently they got their post its in the book and how they helped each other!  The whole process took less than 15 minutes.  Stay tuned over the next weeks to see how it goes!

Having a student teacher is always an interesting experience.  It's so wonderful to have more hands on deck to help with students, but it is also an exercise in have to be willing to give up control of your students and your curriculum.  It's certainly easier when you get a good one--but it can be a real challenge when you have one who isn't quite ready for prime time!  Fortunately, I haven't had to deal with very many of those...but it certainly does happen.

No matter what, you will find your students will bond with this person who you share your space with, and having the student teacher leave can be just as much of an adjustment as when s/he first arrived.  Today was my last day with my student teacher this year, and I know many of the students were sad to see her go; she did a wonderful job connecting with them.  She had planned a poetry celebration for the day so it was a fun and special way to end her stay with us.  

To send her on her way, we did a little project so she could remember her time with us--and take a little bit of us with her!  I made a template of a page that let my students give her some advice for her first year of teaching.  I had the students talk a little bit at their table groups to brainstorm ideas for what she SHOULD do and should NOT do during her first year!  It was hilarious to listen to them...and after a few minutes, they got to work on their pages of the book.  I didn't do ANY spelling or grammar corrections...I wanted her to get their "real" writing!

I laminated the cover, bound it, and then bundled the book up in a gift bag with some candy and a "World's Best Teacher" insulated cup...and I think she was really touched.  She read it over and over and laughed at some of the interesting ideas the students came up with.  I thought I'd share the cover and template with you in case you might have a student teacher coming soon...just click the image below and it's yours!

It's time for a "Bright Ideas" link up--and today's is a short and sweet one.  This is one of those ideas I have used for years and didn't think too much about-but I've had so many teachers in my building comment on that I thought "Hmmm...maybe not everyone has THOUGHT about this!" so I'm sharing with you!  Forgive me if I am telling you something you already know!

If you are like me, you are CONSTANTLY using chart paper for anchor charts, to track student thinking, and so on.  If you are like me, you like the juiciest, best markers EVER...but they tend to leak through and damage the next page.  For years I kept a piece of cardboard I inserted in when I wrote until I had the brilliant (well...I thought it was brilliant at the time!) idea to use my chart tablets BACKWARDS and write on the last page first.  The pages in front just get folded over so all I have is the last page and the cardboard backing.  Guess where all the little polka dots of leaked marker go?  Onto the cardboard!  I can tear that last page out when the chart is done, flip the next page over, and use that cardboard as the backing again.

Here are a few shots to show what I mean...the top left corner shows a piece of the back of the front cover (yeah...I use that one too), the upper right shows some anchor charts made with VERY leaky markers, and the bottom shows faintly how the back cardboard becomes my "soak it up" page.  No more ruined pages or speckles on my anchor charts!

Again--this bright idea is nothing spectacular--but it might be something you just hadn't thought about.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Don't forget to check out all the other "Bright Ideas" posts listed below.  If you see something you like, please leave a comment.  We bloggers LOVE to hear from you!

Yep.  Mine.  

Not a huge fan.

Not because I am getting older (though HOLY smokes am I!)...but because it just brings up lots of memories of past disappointments.  Might seem weird.  I used to get SO excited for my birthday--I mean, who doesn't want to feel a little special...get a little attention...get some new stuff.  I can STILL remember a few gifts I got as a child and when I got them.  The set of smelly markers from Ann at my eighth birthday.  The cool dog garbage can from Heidi that same year...

And then I remembered.  I think that might have been my only party as a child.  We just didn't "do" birthday parties that much.  It wasn't like my friends were having them and I didn't...we just rarely did it--but 37 years later I still remember that day.

So I think maybe every year I still think "Maybe this year something really cool will happen!" and guess what.  It never does.  My family may or may not remember.  If I want a new gift, I probably need to buy it myself.  My mom will call--maybe a sibling or two.  It just isn't super valued in my family or my husband's family.  I've had to deal with it.

But why am I whining about this to you?  I guess because of this...

Birthdays might not be so great for some of our students either.  They come to school and hear about their friends getting new TV's for their room or going to overnights at hotels--and they may go home and have very very little.

So--make sure you try to connect with your birthday kiddos somehow.  A birthday pencil.  A treat.  But most of all--let them know you care about them and celebrate them.  I've even told students in the past about my kind of lackluster life of birthdays when I know they are going home to not much.  I work in a school where we are very much the "haves" and the "have nots", so this is an issue we face quite a bit.  Christmas.  Vacations.  Technology.  Some students have these things surrounding them all day every day--but they remain out of their reach.  

Ok.  Enough whining.  What a depressing post!  I just woke up this morning kind of I do many birthday mornings.  I have learned over the last 45 years how to make my own happiness on this day...I treat myself to something or I do something kind for someone else.  Since starting this little blogging thing, I try to share with you guys too!  I decided to throw a little birthday sale today, so if you are interested in anything, today might be your day to check it out!  

Have a WONDERFUL day...I'm going to go take some doughnuts and juice to my 24 little critters today and reflect on how stinkin' lucky I am to do what I do.

Once again it's time for...
It's been a little slim pickins' in the makin' department over the last month!  Most of my "made its" have turned into "eat its" over the holidays!  I have a few things to share out with you...but nothing I am too proud of!
First of all--from 4 batches of caramel corn to a few other pans of "goodies", I always like to try a new recipe or 5 over the holidays.  This year's winner?  UMMMM...listen to the ingredients.
1.  bacon
2.  tater tots
3.  cheese
4.  brown sugar
That's right.  I found the recipe for "Bacon Tator Tot Bombs" over at a new blog I found.  CLICK HERE for the recipe.  I only wish I had remembered to take photos--but the blog link has a mouth watering photo for you!
I have also been trying to "make it" more homemade...when my husband travels it's easy to go through the drive through.  Over the last weeks I have tried hard to "make" more meals.  Thank you, crock pot.  You have served me well.
A little roast beef to take the chill off!
Another thing I have been busy "making" is new bulletin board stuff!  All my units are turning over in the next few weeks so I am making, printing, repairing, and getting organized to update about 6 boards!  Here is the first one that is complete--and we are ready to start our book study of "Sarah Plain and Tall" to teach us how to have quality book discussions!
Eventually the board next to it will be filled with similes and illustrations of the text...we start on Thursday!

I made these to use to help us track our thinking through our historical fiction unit. We are going to "dig deep" to try to study characters, events, word choice, and theme.  These are our "reminders" and talking cues.
They are here for now...and soon will have post its and other notes added around them as we find cool stuff in our shared reading!

I was also busy over break making a bunch new resources.  If you haven't stopped by the shop lately, just click on my store and sort by "Most Recently Added"!  You will find some new literacy task cards, dollar deals, concept sorts and more!  My students have been begging for their next open ended challenge and it's here--but they can't do it yet!  It's a Valentine's Day challenge!  Here it is if you want a sneak peek.

I hope next month I will have actually done something CREATIVE for a change...I am itchin' to get a little crafty!  Have a wonderful rest of your week.  Make sure to click the logo at the top of the post or HERE to go to 4th Grade Frolics to check out all the other great "made it" posts!

It's time once again for "Loved That Lesson" and I think we are going to have some new bloggers linking up!

My student teacher has been teaching quite a bit lately as her placement is coming to an I LEAP at every chance I get to teach!  I kept my read aloud going (I am VERY possessive of my read aloud time!) and I decided to throw in a little summarizing lesson.  We did work earlier in the year to try to clarify the difference between retelling and summarizing--but you know as well as I do that this is a very difficult concept...especially for nine and ten year olds!

After I read a chapter this week, I asked my students to try to capture the essence of the chapter in 2-3 sentences.  We reviewed that a summary should mention the characters and should capture the heart of the chapter...not just the beginning, end, or one single event.  A summary should help you "feel" the chapter and the characters' experiences.  That's hard to do in a few sentences!

I collected the students' reader's notebooks so I could get a feel for how they are doing with summarizing.  I started noticing some patterns, so I started to copy some of them down on a Google doc.

After I filled a page with student work (or variations...if I saw several students with similar summaries I combined them into my own version!), I printed them off to use the next day.

I knew I only wanted to spend another 10 minutes or so on the lesson, so I highlighted 3 summaries on each copy (I made enough copies for trios to work) and asked students to work in their small groups to read the highlighted summaries and to critique them--to find what the good elements are as well as what they may be lacking.  If they finished early, they were welcome to try one or two more.

I overheard some of the BEST discussions!  I loved some of the critical thinking and how students justified their thinking--and I am pretty confident that they have a better sense for what a quality summary needs to have!  Even at the end of our discussion, students were not in agreement about which of the summaries was the "best", but I definitely think that they better understood what was missing from many of them--and hopefully they will be able to do an even better job next week when we try this again!
Want to check out some more "Loved That Lesson" posts?  Watch for more being added all week long!  

We are coming to the end our our feature article unit and I am digging in to all my historical fiction resources, articles, picture books, novels, and the like to get myself ready for this integrated reading and writing unit. I LOVE historical fiction, and this is a perfect time of year to really start to make some connections with the history concepts we have been learning in social studies.

In addition to some work early in the unit with clearly defining historical fiction concepts and characteristics, I like to share some different picture books to start to build interest in the genre and really showcase how different settings can really impact a story.

This unit is also one of the two times in a year that I do a whole-class novel...highly guided, of course, for those who aren't quite at the reading level to tackle it independently.  We use this book (Sarah, Plain and Tall) to really work on our discussion and summarizing skills--and I do it in mixed ability groups.  So often, reading groups ARE made by ability or interest so I really try to make these very diverse discussion groups!

I will be posting more about my historical fiction unit over the next weeks, but I wanted to share an idea that my students always seem to like.  When I make groups that are going to last more than one work time, I like to give them group names.  Now...sometimes the students choose names, but sometimes I like to get them thinking based on what I picked.  

I made our group "name tags" today, and before I introduce the book, I will share the tags and see if they can predict what the book we are going to read will be about!  Each "team" then will have four students in it for the duration of our book study.  Can't wait!

UPDATE:  Had some people ask what we do with this book study...lots of my "stuff" comes from this resource.

It's the first Wednesday of January which means it's time for our monthly linky - Math IS Real Life!! If you want to see how the linky works, or just want other real world math ideas, check out our Pinterest Board of all the posts so that you can look back and find some great ideas and REAL pictures to use in your classroom!
If you are linking up, please include the below picture AND a link back to all four of our blogs - feel free to use the 2nd image and the links listed below!


A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by

So another new year has come and gone...and I am still not in shape or healthy.  I still drink too much soda and only very rarely exercise.  How does this happen?  I stepped on the scale and LITERALLY weighed more than the day I delivered my second child.  I'm so disgusted with myself.

So...I decided to do some soul searching to figure out how to tackle this beast of a situation.  The math is simple. 

Calories in - Calories burned < What I am currently doing

I mean...the math isn't hard.  We all know that we need to take in less calories and we need to burn more calories.  Sadly, for me, neither option is pleasant.  I think I burned myself out on exercise when I was a competitive athlete.  Now everything hurts and it simply isn't fun.  What IS fun is eating...and thus begins my mathematical dilemma.  I decided to get the "My Fitness Pal" app to track the number of calories going into my pie hole AND the number of calories I try to burn off my sitting apparatus.  Have you seen it?  It's free...and I'm all about free.

So I started by tackling (and by tackling, I mean thinking and reading about) a few of my biggest numerical INTAKES...

All of this is very alarming because I have no portion control.  Do you see the Pringles? 16 crisps.  16.  A ten and 6 ones.  That doesn't happen here.  And the soda?  Despite KNOWING full well how bad it is for me and how many calories it has...I can't kick the habit. like a pig and simply increase the exercise, right?  I did a little research on calories burned during activity to see how viable an option this is.

How about these numbers.  In a half hour, an "average" human burns a whopping...
250 calories riding a bike
330 calories on an elliptical machine
150 calories on a moderate walk
240 calories race walking (ever seen this?  We have a race walker in my neighborhood.  This activity is not an option for me.  Just sayin')

So...this is all fine and good but I hate all those activities for the most part so I dug a little deeper.

Hang gliding burns 130 calories (Probably a bad idea with our wind chill at -45)
Snorkeling burns 146 (I repeat...I'm in Wisconsin)
Wrestling burns 220 (I am NOT wearing that lycra thing)

So I continued my quest for ways to burn additional calories!

Butchering animals burns 160 calories (yes...I found this online)
Bathing a dog burns 86 calories (think my cat would be close enough?)
Maple syruping burns 140 (making, not eating)
firefighting burns 446 calories (no comment)

and then I found....

scrubbing floors burns 100 calories in a half hour
ironing burns 44 calories
washing dishes burns 50 calories
grocery shopping burns 44 calories

This news was a bit disheartening.  That's IT for how to increase my calorie burning?  I could do better butchering animals than maintaining my house?  Sigh.  I guess I am going to need to change my fitness equation to

smaller portions + move a little bit more = very slow and steady weight loss

Wish me luck...I have the will power of an eggplant.

(By the way....since starting this post I have decided to try doing yoga (150 calories)...I found an online website called "Do Yoga With Me" that streams a bunch of classes for free--even for "fluffy sloths" like me!  I am on day 3 and am doing it in the privacy of my basement so no one has to see the horror that is me exercising!  Namaste.

(by the way...I could not find the number of calories burned while blogging...but I'm going to guess it's probably the 18 calories burned while knitting.  This may explain my problem.)

Don't forget to check out the other MIRL posts below! Check back over the next few days - more will be added!!
I have had lots of requests for more math posts about every topic from organization to the Common Core to math workshop, so I have some things in the works!

I am going to try to work on two series of blog posts--one on the Standards for Mathematical Practice because I feel that this is truly where teachers can make a HUGE impact with their students.  We really must remember that the content standards (the addition, the fractions, the measurement...) mean NOTHING if our students cannot think, make mathematical connections, and solve problems--the heart of the Standards for Mathematical Practice.  I then am working on another series that might be able to help some of you who are eager to move to a more math "workshop" format--and are finding it overwhelming.  

Today I thought I'd get going on my mathematical practice posts.  Even though it would be LOGICAL to address them in order, I just don't roll that way.  HA!  
This is "kid friendly" language--not the words of the CCSS.  For exact CCSS language, please see the Standards for Mathematical Practice, page 7
Standard #5 "Uses Appropriate Tools Strategically" is one of the more clear cut and easy to understand standards.  Most teachers understand that there are tools that we use to help us solve math problems--whether that be a ruler, a protractor, a spreadsheet ( and apps can be considered "tools"!), calculators, paper and pencil, or manipulatives.  

What I think is CRITICAL with this standard is that we take the use of these tools out of the TEACHER'S hands and put them in the control of the students.  Here's what I mean.  We've all seen and taught lessons where we know tools (rulers, etc) are needed and we responsibly tell our students to get them out (or pass them out if it is a class supply) and the lesson begins.  We've passed out buckets of pattern blocks to help teach a fraction lesson.  We've had the class take out calculators to solve a tricky problem.

This standard is asking much more than having students USE tools.  Read some of the verb phrases in the standard itself.

"students consider the available tools..."
"Proficient students...make sound decisions about when each of these tools might be helpful"
"[They]...use technological tools to explore and deepen their understanding"

So who is the subject of these phrases?  The STUDENT.  We need to help students become independent users of mathematical tools instead of the teacher being the facilitator.  So how do we do this?  I have a few suggestions--and would LOVE for all of you to chime in with your ideas as well!

1.  Think of the types of questions you use with students.  Consider asking questions like:
"Are there any tools that could help you solve this?"
"Would there be something in the room that could make solving this easier?"
"Have you solved a problem like this before?  How did you do it?  What helped you?"

2.  Make sure that mathematical tools are readily available, that students know how to access them and how to use them, and that students can use them independently and responsibly.  Check out the pics below...
OK...I snapped this picture in the middle of math class so this is a typical look...I have bins of protractors, rulers, and templates easily accessible to students in our math area.
This is one of my shelves of math manipulatives.  If students need base 10 blocks, coins, counters, or calculators, they know where to get them and that they can use them whenever needed.
I keep a stacking tray of different papers for students to use.  I have plain white paper, loose leaf filler paper, graph paper of different sizes--all available for students to use to solve problems.  They select what they need when they need it.
3.  Make sure you are modeling, modeling, modeling when tools would be appropriate.  Use phrases like "Hmm...I bet a ruler would help me divide this into even pieces." or "I wonder if using graph paper would help me organize my work." or "I think I could use a calculator to double check my accuracy on this one."  Students need to see how WE make decisions about using tools so they know what appropriate use is!  Using a calculator to solve 50 + 50 is NOT appropriate--but it is very appropriate to check a complicated computation!

4.  Encourage students in all contexts to estimate.  Students who understand "about" how much an inch is, can tell when they use a ruler if their answer is reasonable.  Students who understand how to round and estimate when multiplying money will better understand if what they plug into a calculator makes sense.

5.  Stress precision and accuracy (a part of standard #6) and help students see how tools can help them do higher quality work.  Even using paper and pencil to organize work, draw pictures to solve problems, or to record thinking are all part of the "uses tools" standard.  

So what do you think?  Do you have other ideas for helping make sure students learn how to "use tools strategically" and become more independent with these tools!  Let's hear your ideas and reflections below!