Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dear Mrs. Caplin Letters

One of my favorite times of the year is when my students begin to write to me about their reading life both about their Just Right (JR) book and personal opinions about their book. That week quickly approaches with the first week of November. I call these student letters "Dear Mrs. Caplin letters"  This idea comes from the mentor text that I use called Dear Mrs. LaRue Letters from Obedience School. I have spent two weeks getting ready to launch my students into Mrs. Caplin letters. This year I believe I finally have come up with an organized system that really taught my students the importance of letter writing as a genre. 

I start the conversation with reading Dear Mrs. La Rue aloud to my class, and the students just listened. The huge connection this year came when I asked the students to write a letter as homework to Mrs.LaRue on suggestions on how to help Ike come back home after obedience school. We then discussed how the book is organized which starts with a newspaper article, then many letters from disgruntled Ike, and finally ends with another newspaper article. I have made overheads of many of the letters, so the students come up and underline what they like about the letter and these examples build our TREMENDOUS LETTER chart. Using this anchor chart, the light bulbs went off when the students used the same criteria to judge their own letter. This was a huge learning curve because most of the students did not have the criteria, so they worked hard on making their letter TREMENDOUS! What a great way for them to understand and practice the criteria that I will use to create a rubric to assess their DEAR letter.

From this point, I wrote the students a letter as a model as well as writing a letter to the parents explaining the DEAR letters. One important aspect for me as well as the students is that they get to pick their day on which the letter is due to me. Which means the week the letters are due,I will get letters turned in on every day but that works for me especially with spreading the reading of the letters out over the week.  They will write a letter about every three weeks. The key to success for DEAR letters is the conversation that I have with my students by writing back to them-actually I write all over their letters -questions, comments, suggestions, ideas about other books as well as a personalized conversation that I really value as a teacher.  For me DEAR letters are one of the key components in connecting my reading and writing in my class!  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bump in the Road

I knew it would happen at some point with technology. Honestly I would have thought it would have happened sooner than now. We have completed our Story Kit stories and the students are ready to submit them through email however, that is the problem.  Email is very difficult in my perspective with student iPods. I want them to be able to email me their projects, but I don't want them to be able to receive emails from anyone but me.  After much conversation and lots of support from Mark we thought we had it figured out.  The students tried to submit their final story this past Thursday and the email system did not work at my school.  The crazy thing is that the email addresses worked in other buildings in my district as well from Central Office.  How many times has that happened to you with technology?  Ask my friend, Bill at Literate Lives about our crazy technology glitches. The difference now is that I value the iPods as an integral part of our instruction in the classroom, the students ability to create a story on the iPod as well as the opportunity to use a new app.  I am frustrated but not ready to give up which is what I would have done five years ago. A HUGE thanks goes out to Mark and Mike for their help on this glitch! I know this glitch will get figured out for our class, so I can post their wonderful stories in a future blog.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Amazing Halloween Books

This week in class I started sharing some of my favorite Halloween books. My class suggested that I write a blog about the books, so I decided to do a quick book preview.  If you have not seen these books they are lots of fun for Poetry Friday, word study and figurative lanuage all rolled up into some amazing books.

 This is a great series of books that my students love on Poetry Friday.  The poems are written so two students can read the separate parts. I use these poems even to assess fluency with my readers who need additional practice. One of the favorite poems is "The Witch and the  Broomstick"  This year the students are even acting out the poem.

How can you go wrong with a title like this? First of all the curiousty of the title gets the students hooked on the book. Second the illustrations are really spooky and also support the text because there are some new words in in the poems. The next part that makes this book special is all of the poems are sing alongs.  My class loves to sing so this is perfect. Our  class favorite is "Blow, Blow, Blow Your Nose" to the tune of
"Row, Row, Row Your Boat."  Can you imagine the acting out of this song-watch out! 

I have to admit I bought this book for it's cover. I definatley judged this book for it's cover!  But when I opened it up I fell in love with the riddles and the beautiful illustrations that are similar to the cover.  I love using this book for context clues, illustrations that support the text as well as having fun with words.  The students love the first riddle:  What do you call two spiders that just got married?  (Newly webs)  Enjoy these new books in the month of October.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wonderful Word Wednesday

Our class continues to have fun with exploring BIG words.  After starting the year with our Hallmark bulletin board, we have now moved towards adding BIG words to our writing.  Some of my favorite books to start the year include the following.

 Max's Words by Kate Banks This is a very powerful book showing the importance of words.  First it is a great book to talk about student's collections Ie: baseball cards, etc. The idea that Max loves to collect words is wonderful. I enjoy it because the way the book builds from words, to sentences, to paragraphs. I also love how Max uses everyday items like a newspaper to collect his favorite words. My class starts their word study spiral with this idea, and the students go home and collect words and glue them on their first page of the spiral. They often refer back to this page in their own writing.

I also share Big Words For Little People by Jamie Lee Curtis with my class. I hesitate to share books written by actors however this book has been a huge jumping off point for my class. As I read aloud the book to my class, I have the students listen and collect the BIG words in their word study spiral.The students enjoy sharing the new words and then we connect these words to our figurative language simile bulletin board.  The students begin to use these words in their writing and that is my goal for any word work.

Finally I collect many books about words and keep then in a basket on one of my favorite spots in my classroom. I love how a round tables brings the students together as well as taking the legs off the table seemed to make it a perfect height for conversations.  I often observe students pulling out the word books and looking through them for fun as well as searching for new words for their own writing. I have to say my favorite day of the week is WONDERFUL WORD WEDNESDAY!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing Workhop with iPods

Just looking around my classroom this week during writing workshop was wonderful.  First of all to watch the students complete their entire publishing piece on iPods is amazing. Second to observe and listen to their conversations about writing was fun.  I heard ideas about word choice, writing stronger closing sentences, moving sentences around to support text better and best of all that writing is fun on iPods.  I sat down with a reluctant writer and asked him how iPods have changed his thinking about writing. He told me that writing on iPods is more fun because he felt like he had more freedom because he did not have to erase and use his color pencil for editing.  Also he loves the idea that next week he is going to add his own personal illustrations that he will draw. He said thinking about the illustrations made him add more details to his writing.  Lastly, he realized when we did our share at the end of workshop that he needed to add more details so he went back to his brainstorming and added details. Next week, I wil blog about their final pieces including how adding illustrations and importing photos support their writing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Simplemind and Time to Explore

I always knew that students need time to explore that includes the classroom the first week of school, the new books on the shelves, the writing workshop toolbox that I have in my classroom, and of course new apps on the iPods.  After adding five new apps this past week, all week I had students come to me and say, Mrs. Caplin did you know.......?  I love those moments.  It is even more fun when I observe the students teaching each other about the apps.

But this week, I was really impressed with some of my students.  We are getting ready to start Story Kit on Tuesday and they are in the middle of the writing process.  I had some students that wanted to use Simplemind app which is a mind mapping tool that is a brainstorming, idea collection and thought structuring device. I was really impressed with their map when they shared it with the class.  I was not sure how to show their web, but I took a snapshot of the map and saved it to my desktop. I then showed the webs on the Smartboard.  It was amazing to hear them explain how this app really helped them organize their writing.  First they liked the color options for putting similar ideas together.  Next they liked being able to move the ideas around and also duplicate ideas if it fit into two categories. The best part for me was that one of the students told me he worked on the app on the way to soccer and another worked on it at their brother's football game.  Learning is everywhere!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rethinking Final Assessments

Since getting the iPods and working towards my goals of allowing the tool to extend students learning as well as using iPods in productivity I have really struggled with
final products.  The teacher in me wants to have the piece of paper to assess and
attach to the final rubric, but my learning curve is pushing me towards allowing the tool to house the final product. This has been hard for me to let go of.

I tried this for the first time in word study/Poetry Friday.  Our focus has been on figurative language-defining, searching, describing and writing it.  We finished our unit, and I had the students take their final assessment in notebook on their iPods. They were so excited, and I was able to see quickly who got the concepts and who I needed to pull for some small group instruction.  I just looked at their iPods and used a check list to mark off each student-it was quick and easy in the process we saved a tree!  Here are  a few samples of the student's work.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Thinking Day with Christian Long

Saturday I had the opportunity through The Literacy Connection to listen to Christian Long speak. Christian speaks nationally and internationally on topics ranging from emerging trends in education to innovative school planning practices.  His research focus is on making connections between emerging technology, educational trends, and school design. As I sat for his introduction I was mesmerized, and I listened and wrote down several thought provoking ideas.

words are the chess game of language” 

the collision of kids learning is why we teach”  

everyone can fight not everyone can build” 

 “innovation and creativity are the goals

"let go of assumptions"

As I begin to think about these quotes within my classroom, I am now thinking differently on how to approach my teaching.  Probably one of the key points that hit home with me because of implementing the iPods this year is the idea that creativity is the goal. This is why I am so excited about launching Story Kit this week in my classroom.

The rest of our day was spent on activities that made us think differently and have us work with many different people in the group.  This was fun for me because I was able to reconnect with teachers from my district as well as see people I haven’t seen in a while. I was able to meet Mandy who writes the blog Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and also meet some new people from a district that is next to mine.  These exchanges are as valuable to me as the presentation.

I have to admit I was never quite sure what the next step was because he had us thinking, writing, and moving quickly.  This whole process was interesting, and I am still processing it.  However, the one thing Christian definitely solidified for me was the idea of choice in my classroom.  I am a huge believer in students’ choice however; I tended to still narrow their choices in writing.  Not so much as give them a topic, but I always had them lift something out of their writer’s notebook if they are going to publish. I now ask myself what is the purpose for the assignment? My answer is to go through the writing process while practicing the new vocabulary and writing skills that we have working on in class and finally publish their piece of writing using Story Kit. Therefore, if a child wants to start at the beginning of the writing process with a choice topic for publishing, then that is their choice.  I am still thinking about his presentation as I write this blog, but my thinking is different so I believe Christian would be happy.