January 2016 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
The other day I blogged about how I have been trying to incorporate more "informal research" into my instruction...and how we dug into our pioneer research.  Miss it?  Just CLICK HERE to find it!

So...the entire reason for our research (besides learning about some of our country's history!) was to help students understand that reading historical fiction WELL requires a certain understanding of the "era" where the story takes place.  After we developed our background knowledge or "schema" about pioneer life, we were ready to tackle some literature set during that period of time.  
Our first book?  "Dandelions" by Eve Bunting!
 Here's what we did...as I read the book (without showing pictures--I really wanted students to visualize the setting and events), I asked students to really tune in to the setting clues used by Bunting to help "paint a picture" of pioneer life.  
We also need to start to tackle "point of view" and this book is fantastic for that--since Mama and Papa have such differing viewpoints on their travels west.  We had some lively debate about whose point of view was "right"!  To continue linking our research experience to our literacy block, I decided to collect a quick sample of summary writing--something we evaluate on report cards--by using a quick Google form...I LOVE this approach for quickly collecting thoughts about texts and other "quick write" experiences.  Everything ends up in a quick spreadsheet and I can take a quick status of the  overall performance level.  I printed off the summaries and... 

So...what was meant to be a quick snapshot turned into a "oh boy...better reteach this!" moment.   I copied and pasted 7 of the summaries from the spreadsheet into another document, changed a few words so they weren't EXACTLY like any one student's work, and made enough copies for groups of three to study and critique them.

The next day, we started off by referring to the anchor chart we built earlier this year...
...and then got to work with our trios to study and "critique" the summaries.  I asked students to continue to refer back to the anchor chart--and to write some suggestions, improvements, and cross out unnecessary information.  I walked around and "spied" and heard some GREAT discussions.  Hopefully, our next round of summary writing will be slightly improved after our studies! 
So...next on the list--the one "whole class" novel I do each year--Sarah, Plain and Tall.  This novel is a perfect way for us to continue our pioneer studies, refine our ideas about historical fiction and "setting", and to look at a book that most students haven't experienced before.  I read aloud the chapters so all students have access to the story...we track setting clues...we talk about the characters...the plot details...and how this book represents this pioneering era that we are learning all about!
 As we read, we continue to build and track our thinking and meet each day in small discussion groups to practice our book club skills and to work to deepen our understanding of the book, the era, and how to improve the quality of our written responses.
 Each day, we wrote our responses to some key comprehension and writer's craft questions and then shared them with our book clubs.  This is a perfect gentle warm up to the BIG book clubs we start later this week with a variety of historical fiction books in other eras.
So...just thought I'd share some of the latest adventures in our classroom...and stay tuned for more details about our historical fiction book clubs!  Interested in a study guide for each of the books mentioned?  Check them out!

One thing that I have done more and more of over the last few years is to infuse more "informal research" into our curriculum.  I call it "informal" because we are researching to learn--not necessarily to create a "product" like a report or presentation.  Sometimes I simply want students to deepen their understanding on a topic--WITHOUT me spoon feeding information.

So, when the point in our curriculum to talk about Westward Expansion and pioneer life came up AND it was time to kick off our historical fiction studies, I knew it was time to infuse a little more research into my plans.  I knew there was a little bit of information in our textbook, we had a few ebooks on our library homepage, and we had about 20 books and magazines in the library that I grabbed so we could dig in.

First, I created a research guide with the topics I wanted them to hunt for and made copies.  We quickly reviewed some key research concepts--like writing information in our words, using bullet points instead of full sentences, and using text features (index, table of contents, etc).  We partnered up and spread around the room to work!

After two work times of research, I presented our "lap book" project... I was tempted to just use these research "flaps" in their notebooks as interactive notebook features, but I thought it might be kind of fun to shake things up!
 After students cut, folded, assembled, and glued, they were ready to take the information they learned and SYNTHESIZE it.  That's right--we talked about how to take ALL their information from their notes and reduce it to a few key facts or details...not an easy task!
 As students finished recording their ideas, some decided to take their lap books home to add some extra details--but that was totally optional!
Now...to continue deepening our understanding and to start to apply our new knowledge to help us make sense of historical fiction set in this era, We read "Dandelions" by Eve Bunting to see how she used information about pioneer life to make her book more authentic...tune in tomorrow for part 2 of this series to see what we did to tie this all to our reading unit!

Interested in the research guide and lap book resource?  Here it is!  

After a few weeks off from school, I noticed that we were missing a little "spark" in math class...students seemed flat...a little "out of practice" with all our work of collaborating and talking about math.  I decided it was time to break out some challenge problems and to remember this phrase off our growth mindset bulletin board...
I think in our time off, some of us forgot how powerful learning from each other can be--so I decided to force the issue with a few perseverance problems as warm ups...problems I knew they wouldn't get right away--and certainly would need to struggle with a bit.  I was even hoping that we could find all sorts of mistakes and different ways to organize our work--and I wasn't disappointed!

I first asked students to read the problem BY THEMSELVES.  I reviewed some of our problem solving "tips" we have worked on all year...and then asked them to work completely alone for a while.  Some students dug in right away...others were obviously stumped on how to even get started.  I gently reminded them of our first few steps with challenging problems.
1.  Read the problem slowly.  Read it again.  Read it more if necessary.
2.  Underline important information.
3.  Find the question and make sure you understand it.

This reminder DID get a few more students "unstuck" and I heard more pencils scratching across notebooks.  I waited a little bit longer and then invited those who were still stuck to join me in the hall for "emergency coaching".  I had a half dozen or so students join me and I gathered them together.

I first checked to make sure they had done the three first steps and they all assured me that they had.  I reminded them of one of our next problem solving tips--draw a sketch and add labels.  I asked them what in this problem could be drawn (the pies) and what labels could be attached  (cherry and apple) and sent them on their way.

Now after my students had worked for 10 minutes or so, I gave them them option of continuing on their own or to start to collaborate and the healthy buzz of math started filling the room.  Some who had good starts just kept working.  Others eagerly buddied up and compared notes.  

After a few minutes of working, I reminded students about the beauty of working together is to learn together--and to remember to ask questions when things are confusing and to make kind suggestions when things aren't going well.  I gave my 5 minute warning, reminded them that problem solving is a verb--and if I wanted "answer getting" I would just show them how to do it.  This is such a culture change for some of them....we OFTEN don't finish problems to completion, but today enough students finished that we had plenty to talk about--and learn from.
I asked for a few volunteers to share...not their answer, but their thinking.  Three students shared their work.  One who solved it quickly and very algebraically.  I looked at the vacant looks as he shared, and I could tell his math was just way over their heads...but he DID have the correct answer.  The second student DID have the correct answer but was brave enough to share that it took her THREE different tries to figure it out--and that it was the hint from a student in her desk group that unlocked it for her.  As she explained her three tries, I heard murmurs in the group like, "That's what I did too!" and "That's the part I didn't get!".  I reminded students about how powerful learning from others can be and flipped that card back under the projector.

Finally, my last students shared and she admitted that she never DID get the answer--and wanted help figuring out where she went wrong.  It was SO much fun listening to the other students try to coach her along...until that light bulb went off!
 So after we finished, I took some samples from pages I had noticed, made photocopies, and highlighted some of the other "organizational tips" that we could also learn from!  This is the third time we've done this so far this year, and it is SO reinforcing to those students who are working to improve their organization and serves as such a great anchor chart to hang up in the room.  I OFTEN refer students to these charts to look for ways to improve their math work.
 So--not bad for a 30 minute warm up!  Our "real" lesson today was a down and dirty 15 minute minilesson--but I am pretty confident that our warm up was more meaningful!
This problem is one of the challenge problems in my "Digging Deeper into Problem Solving" resource if you are interested in checking it out!

Have a great weekend, everyone!
When I grew up, poetry was all about rhymes, and rules, and patterns.  I remember writing couplets.  And cinquains.  And all sorts of other "rule" poems where the pattern was more important than the message.  Times have changed in my world--and although we READ a million types of poems in my class, we really focus on free verse writing--where we try to capture topics we feel passionately about and express them in a way that helps us make our reader "feel" too. Throughout the unit, we try to "dig deep" into our own thoughts and feelings as well as the thoughts, feelings, and messages of other poetry we explore.

To launch our unit, we begin by having a discussion about where poets get their ideas--and I have to say, I am always flabbergasted by the depth of some of my students' thinking.  We first worked in pairs to do some thinking, then came back and shared out in the whole group.  I jotted everyone's ideas down on the easel and then we consolidated, elaborated, and discussed our ideas.  Check out this amazing list that resulted from our brainstorming.  Pretty impressive, right?

I mean..."Poet sometimes write about their passions, Mrs. A--so others can feel what it is to love something so much."  Ummmm...really?  You are 9.  You know this?


"Sometimes poets might be inspired by something they read or hear."  Inspired?  I asked him to explain what he meant by "inspired" and he explained it so eloquently that there was no need for me to say another word.


"Sometimes poets might want to write about their feelings so they don't keep them inside."


"When you write about your wishes and dreams, it's a way to remember them."

So--needless to say--I was pretty impressed and felt like we were off to a pretty amazing start.  #happiness

So our next lesson involve talking about how to "study" a poem so that we really understand it at a level that is respectful of the time and energy the poet put into writing it.  We talked about how many poets (not all) try to capture their feelings or ideas in very few words--so sometimes we, as readers, need to work a little harder to uncover the meaning.  This is the chart I use with my students.  The ideas are a combination of my own and some other reading I have done about poetry over the years.
So...to kick things off, I selected a poem I have used in the past because, at first glance, it seems like a poem about a little girl learning to roller skate.  I ask the students to read it to themselves and--as the first bullet point on our anchor chart suggests--read it several times.  I printed off the poem and glued it to the middle of a piece of chart paper, ready for action!
I kept the anchor chart handy and as we discussed, and I recorded our thinking on the "poem page"...I drew arrows and annotated ideas as we went.  We started adding highlighter to text we wanted to focus on...and the discussions built.  When you start to hear your students making observations like:

"This must be in a city like New York because small towns wouldn't have a 74th Street."


"At first I thought it was weird how we never learned the girl's name--but now I'm thinking that maybe the poet just saw this happen and didn't even know the girl."

which was followed by...

"I think the poet saw this happened and was inspired by the fact that the girl never gave up and had a growth mindset even though she kept getting hurt."

And the discussions continued.  We turned and talked...we debated...we asked questions...and after a while I had a few more things to point out that no one had noticed...
 It took a little prompting...but look what happens when I started highlighting the first words of some of the lines!  The students started going crazy!  We had a little lesson on verbs--and then talked about WHY a poet might do this...
 By the time we were finished, we definitely had decided that this was NOT a poem about a girl learning to roller skate--it was much, much more.  And that, after all, is what we are going for--readers that think.
I'd love to hear your thoughts if you try this lesson--and I even have a little freebie in my store to help you out if you want--with another poem to use...

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