Saturday, May 31, 2014

Celebrate : Almost June

Seems like a perfect day to be celebrating with several important events that happened this past week.Thanks to Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all the blogs that are linked up HERE

I completed my 26th year of teaching and continue to be thankful for the opportunity to work with my students everyday. This week we celebrated Take Apart Day in fifth grade. 96 students spent the afternoon applying Reverse Engineering. Most students brought in something that was broken from home. Above the girls are learning about the inside of a printer. The excitement and the aha moments made the craziness and loudness all worth while.

Personally I am celebrating two exciting events for our family.  Anna has completed her second year of teaching in South Carolina.  She is an intervention specialist with 34 IEP students on her caseload.  Her determination as well as her desire to always put her students first continue to impress her father and I.  I am at times a counselor to help her with nuts and bolts of teaching, but all the time we are her consummate cheerleaders.

Our other celebration is a praise along with several blessings that have all molded together this past week.  Marcus has started back to summer school and will be taking two classes so he can enroll in the Fisher Business of College at The Ohio State University in the fall.  He is also working full time at the Columbus Zoo and Water Park.  

Finally I want to thank Ruth for encouraging us to Celebrate each week. My #OLW is choice for 2014. I never knew on January 1 what that word would really mean to me. As I type this and June 1 turns the corner on the calendar. I realize six months of 2014 are behind me and again I know that the power in my choices allows me to make the best decisions for that point in my life.  

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Slice of Life: Mid Day Thoughts

I''m excited to be joining Two Writing Teachers for Tuesday Slice of Life at midday.  It's lunch time and most days I am eating lunch.  Today feels different. As I greeted my students this morning quickly, they didn't even have time to unpack their backpacks. We had a fifth grade assembly to kick off "Take A Part Day" which will be celebrated in fifth grade for the next three afternoons. It was difficult for me when I wasn't able to connect with my students first thing especially after a three day weekend. B. wanted to share some concerns about his graded paper that he got back Friday.  M. wanted to share that she continued to collect words over the weekend.  E. shared that she won her soccer game.  It's the personal connections that matter even more as we start our last five days of school. I am thinking now it is important to stay in our routine and continue to celebrate scientists, historians, readers, writers, mathematicians and wordsmiths right up until the last day of school. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Short Research and Lessons Learned

Working on her rough draft big book page. Final presentation choice.
Short research projects have been our focus the last month of school. My students have completed 3 different projects in a month (Thinglinks, Wonders, Big Book pages) I sure have learned several important lessons about “short” research projects. 

A)  Not only do I like short projects, but my students also commented they were enjoying them too. “It has been fun choosing different topics to learn more about.” For conferences, I felt like I was able to keep better track of their progress, and the students saw continuous progress. 

B)   I am exploring what "read closely" means.  One of my biggest goals was to continue to ask the question: What did you learn new?  Which resources helped you the most in gathering evidence?  There were tons (literally) of conversations about how to research on line. The importance of skimming an article for new facts and not just “Googling it.”  I know that this did not sink in yet, but I have set some strong groundwork as they move into middle school.

C)   Students continue to love choice! They chose their topics, their resources, the end presentation and final due date. Our mini lessons focused on these areas, and I really felt several students used the mentor text as examples. When I give them these choices, they all “buy into” the writing.  Often I heard conversations include: “Mrs. Caplin gave us a choice.” 

For next school year, I am already thinking bigger. I plan on integrating non-fiction short research projects throughout the entire year.  We have read non-fiction all year and the students definitely know that fiction, non-fiction and poetry are all integrated in our class, but I need to send a clearer message about connecting it to writing workshop and have time for all types of continuous writing projects.  Lessons learned about short research.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Celebrate: Lifting Power Text

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE

I remember when listening last summer to Jeff Anderson #Allwrite 2013 as he put an excerpt on the overhead of Three Times Lucky. He modeled for us how to lift a strong piece of writing and teach around it. I remember saying to Mary Lee I want to do this….fast forward to Wednesday's workshop.  Why did I wait so long?  Lifting text  from our read aloud is extremely powerful, and I wish I would have tried it earlier in the year.  But I celebrate that I finally did.

I created a poster from our read aloud: Snicker of Magic for our word study mini lesson. I placed it on the board and remained quiet allowing students to buzz around the room.  I passed out the corresponding text and asked them to write around it.  I have recently using a new strategy during workshop which has helped students focus on choosing only one aspect to share.  I ask students to circle what they want to share, and I begin to record their thinking on the chart.  At this point in the year, I was excited to see students pushing their thinking to a higher level. Several students were asking questions, collecting strong vocabulary especially verbs, and choosing juicy similes. The conversation was rich because several students had circled the same ideas and as they shared I heard, "I agree."  "Did you notice?"  But the best part of the lesson came when R. asked why did we do this in our word study spiral?  I paused and asked her to "phone a friend" several hands popped up. R. called on a friend who replied because all thinking starts with strong word choice and Mrs. Caplin wants us to think always as a reader and writer.  Celebrating still on Saturday.

I asked students to reflect on the mini lesson.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Slice of Life: Confessions of a Technology Teacher

Sometimes I go overboard on technology. 
Sometimes I don't give enough choice in technology.
Sometimes I don't think of ways to integrate technology into my lessons.
Sometimes I use technology as the end product and don't integrate it throughout.

I have felt every statement this year several times. Every year I continue to shift my thinking and continue to make purposeful choices when to embed technology.  I remind myself often to focus on the learner and the lesson objective prior to choosing the tech tool.  Too often when I first started integrating technology, I always thought it would be the culminating activity.  

One of the areas that I have made the largest change this year was with choice. Allowing my students to brainstorm with me and have conversations as a whole group.  We are working on our third mini research project, and last week during workshop we discussed way to organize notes. The class chose three ways:  Google document, pocket folders or writer's notebook. Interesting note: 15 of 23 students chose pocket folders not what I would have guessed but reassures me that everyone needs a voice in organizing their writing.

Decorated cover for research topics

Example of questions on pockets with new research on index cards.

Example of notes answering inquiry questions

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Exploring Math Visual Literacy

I have been thinking differently about math all year. Actually my thoughts started to shift last summer when I drove with Mary Lee and Mandy to a writing retreat. I learned when our children were teenagers to volunteer to  drive anywhere and just "sit back and listen." As Mary Lee and Mandy discussed the idea of math visual literacy, I thought about that conversation several times this year during math lesson planning. Last week I followed some tweets from Franki, Mandy, Katie, and Brian about #nerdymathclub. Their conversation was about professional books that they were planning on reading this summer.  I have accumulated visual math photos throughout the school year and collected my own math books to read.  I think I am ready to focus on math literacy for summer 2014.

Last week, after OAA testing, and I refused to use another worksheet or packet for the last few days of the week, I passed out colored graphs that I tore out of Kidbits book that I love for graphing. I purchased two - one I tore up and the other one is in my math library. Once I use these graphs, my students are excited to check out the rest of the graphs in the book since they are organized in student friendly categories: food, sports, music, clothing.

Thinking about math as integrated literacy has shifted my instruction. Our focus this year has been "MATH is about READING".  My students say the phrase with me. We look at "reading" computations and "reading" story problems. I have always enjoyed math because I was the student who always tried to solve the problem differently than my teacher showed us.  "IT HAD TO BE DONE" this way. But not for me. This idea has also shifted my math instruction this year. I always begin this is one way to think about... do you have another way? 

This year we had two days of release time for professional development for integrating Common Core math next year in fifth grade.  The focus of both PD sessions were about rich story problems. I have to admit I did not see enough practice problems on the strategies, and I continued to ask the facilitator about practice. There needs to be a balance within my required 80 minute block, but as I reflect on this year I believe starting with math visual literacy is the best place to begin.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Slice of Life: Opening Up Reader's Notebook

 Excited to join Two Writing Teachers for Tuesday Slice of Life writing community!

The calendar has turned, and the month of May has arrived. I am not sure about most classrooms, but our classroom is more of a buzz and the pot is beginning to boil over with excitement. Controlled excitement is the goal. I am always breathing easier in May - state testing is over, and I have a huge desire to circle around to where we started in September. Focusing on our lives as a reader, writer, or wordsmith. When the students arrived to school this morning, I had three new blank bulletin boards ready to start collecting their ideas from their notebooks. I am borrowing this idea from Donalyn Miller and how she uses a graffiti wall in her classroom.

I modeled for my class how I collect vocabulary, lift lines and share their thoughts from our current read aloud. It is fun to begin to share our connections with current Just Right books. For example I am reading The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage, and I have highlighted several favorite lines and shared using my document camera. I then opened my writer's notebook and shared where I recorded my thoughts from last summer from The Real Boy by Anne Urso. I plan on encouraging my students to continue to collect favorite lines, vocabulary and share them on our class bulletin boards. Hopefully they will be covered by the end of May with a celebration of readers, writers and wordsmiths.