Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Research Can be Like a Box of Chocolates!

Giving students choice on research is like opening a box of  chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. My students have chosen their topics, and I am so impressed this year with their overall choices.  The topics go way beyond the typical ones I have seen in past years. For animals their thinking goes above and beyond habitat, food, shelter etc. Beyond their favorite sports team: the roster, favorite player, winning/losing record etc.  Once again if I allow the box to be opened they pull out more than I ever expected.  I can't believe the connections they made with their learning from our content areas this year as well as Wonderopolis topics and watching their amazing videos. Here are a few of the topics, and some of the reasons why they chose their topics.
Based on Wonderopolis video and wanting to learn more
about why they are  endangered as well as how can they help.

One of the students wanted to extend their learning about
hurricanes from fourth grade research.  They want to interview a
friend who is in meteorology.  Also he connected with the
recent disaster in Japan.

One student chose Greek Mythology because she wants to learn more about the  topic
 since she is reading the Percy Jackson series. Then wants to use her new
facts to write her own book similar to Percy.

This topic surprised me when I read the reason why: My dad is a rocket scientist,
and I want to learn more about his career.  Can you imagine the dinner
conversations at this house?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Connecting Social Studies with Evernote!

If you ask any teacher what are your top three areas of concern in your classroom? I know TIME would be in the top of three if not the #1 concern in the classroom.  Not only the time to teach new content but also time to do mini lessons to help students who need reinforcements of skills.  As a self contained teacher, I have to make decisions everyday on how to use time most effectively working in six different content areas. I am going to be starting a new read aloud when we return from Spring break, I have chosen a Dear America book: A Journey to the New World:  Remember Patience Whipple.  I chose this book for several reasons. First we will be starting our new SS unit on exploration. Next, during my reading conferences I noticed that many students need to expand their genre choice to historical fiction.  Finally, I want to review the idea of "theme" with my class prior to the OAA reading test in May. 

As far as time goes, I have decided to teach my mini lessons on the book including theme, focus on vocabulary using context clues and the historical facts of the story.  I plan on having the students use their iPods evernote feature to record their thinking. When I used this with Wonderopolis it was extremely successful. The students like it because it was a quick way to respond as well as they were able to read their friends responses automatically.  I love it because it is a quick way to assess if the students understood the mini lesson prior to reading the story.  Also I am able to use strong student responses as mentor examples and that is very powerful.  I also am able to pull students together if they need reinforcement on the focus skill and I will have their thinking right there. I am excited about starting our new read aloud Monday!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pushing The Outer Limits in Research

The Sky is the Limit!
Since we spent 2nd trimester focusing on reading Non Fiction, and we did this primarily through Wonderopolis and our Scholastic News, I have decided to push the students thinking this trimester in research. I have decided to use Wonderopolis as the mentor text/site since the students have enjoyed the site so much. Let me explain why this is a HUGE shift for me on teaching research.  Through PD this year and reading so many different blogs, I have really tried hard to find out where my class is currently as learners with research.  I spent an entire class period discussing what research looked like in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade. This was time well spent. Some students even brought in their examples from previous years to share-that was really fun!  I have to admit I was pleased with what I heard.  First all students had a choice in their topic (LOVE that idea) they all used a wide variety of resources (books and internet for facts primarily) and finally most of their final projects were traditional reports/posters.

As I reviewed my writing expository and research indicators, I decided that this year our focus is going to be push the limit-go beyond the "average" research.  I have decided to allow my students to choose their own topics based on 3 reasons why they want to learn more about their topic.  Once they have their topics, the students are going to write 6-8 questions that they have about their topic.  This is going to reinforce the higher level questions we did with Wonderopolis.  I am excited about this because I believe this will push the students to higher thinking as well as a higher level of research. I am going to encourage the students to go beyond typical research tools like books and internet (facts).  They are going to have to interviews, find videos/podcasts, graphs/data, and write a letter of request to someone for information. When they use their iPods for their research, they are going to bookmark all the sites so later for the final project they will be able to use the links etc. I am very excited about this shift in my thinking as well as the opportunity to differentiate their instruction for research. Check back in two weeks because we are spring break this week-

Friday, March 18, 2011

Expanding Poetry Friday!

I decided long ago that Poetry Friday was going to be a celebration of poetry as much as enjoyment of poetry.  We accomplished one of the main goals of focusing on fluency. One way to have fun practicing fluency is through the book Runny Babbit which plays on switching initial consonant of two words.  In addition, some students chose to make their poem interactive as well as help the audience with understanding the poem especially  from one of the class favorites:  Runny Babbit by Shel Silverstein. 
Sharing the xeroxed poem as well as helping the audience see
the play on words with the sentence strips.

Here is a video to help you enjoy Runny on Rount Mushmore.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wonderful Word Wednesday-Celebrating Word Transfers

You ever have one of those days when you are so thankful that you are able to do the job you love!  Well that happened last Wednesday for me.  I love Wednesday because some how even with OAA testing breathing down my neck, we always celebrate words on Wed.  We started our new trimester, and I asked the students how they were going to extend their word learning this trimester.  And up popped two hands ready to share!  Both girls who happen to be great friends decided to start a word notebook.  Now I have been suggesting this idea since last October after I read Donovan's Word Jar.  Many students started word jars, but I did not see any notebooks. Imagine my surprise when the girls shared their notebooks and the different sections. One of the girls divided hers into three sections: wonderful words, figurative language and new words. 

The other girl has decided to collect words, create a chart to if she transfers her words into her writing (YES/NO) box and the page number from the book as the reference.  Notice the book title? She was reading The Fences Between Us after having Kirby Larson just visit our school.  Hopefully after the two girls shared their excitement about their word notebook possibly it will catch on and more students will start their own word notebook. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

State Testing Follow UP-Workshop or Not?

One of the comments left on my post: Does State Testing Fit in the Reading Workshop asked me to stop and reflect on this question.  After looking at my data and realizing my students really were missing key concepts, I did choose to give up two days of my reading workshop for the past four weeks.  I did choose my verb carefully:  give up.  I gave my state test (OAA) long practice test in December, and I am giving a similar test again this week so I can compare my data.  I taught four focus lessons over the past four weeks. The four focus lessons that my data showed my students needed were:  main idea with support from the text, identifying figurative language,  sequence test (which came before/after) and extended 4 point written questions.

I have to admit I was saddened by the first three areas that my students needed help with on the state tests. I would have thought my instruction throughout the year would have helped the students be stronger in those areas.  We have focused on those skills in all of our read alouds, small/whole group lessons, Poetry Friday mini lessons etc.  I am left to wonder and question:  Was it the way I instructed my students?  Was there enough individual practice for the students?  Or could it possibly be the way the OAA test questions are written or possibly the text choices made for the OAA test?  

I am accepting responsibility for the 4 point questions,  I have to admit I had not focused on longer extended responses until 4 weeks ago.  We had done many 2 point questions and overall my class did well on those types of questions.  I also know from the data that I need to have my students work alone more on test prep.  In the beginning, I would lead the lesson, discuss the questions and then have them finish.  Now I give the the OAA prompt - have the students complete it on their own-discuss as a class and finally make a professional decision what is next for instruction.  This week I will be giving the OAA reading test for a second time. This test could possibly take 2 1/2 hours out of my class time on Thursday.  I will compare my data and then use the next 4 weeks for more test prep during my reading workshop.  High stakes testing is here to stay, and I need to allow my students the best opportunity to perform well on the test-right now this is where I am living.  What do you think?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Amazing Two Days with Kirby Larson

I don't know who was more excited about Kirby Larson visiting our school for two days:  me or the students. I have to admit Bill at Literate Lives had to tell me a few times to be quiet and let the students ask the questions.  I was so excited about all of the ideas from her two presentations entitled "My Life as a Writer" and "Writing a Nonfiction Story."  There were so many fun memories that it is really hard to choose.

This is Winston the Wonder Dog "digging."
 Let's start with an amazing analogy of writing with Kirby's adorable dog Winston.  Kirby shared with the students about her love for animals and how she finally got her first puppy named Winston.  As she learned many lessons about having a new puppy she realized those lessons connected with writing. I LOVED these ideas and all 24 of my students said it really helped them to think about writing differently.

#1 SIT/STAY (sometimes as a writer you have sit and stay and continue writing)
#2 DIG (many times as a writer you have to dig (research for facts to support your writing)
#3 EXPLORE (be willing to go a little out of your comfort zone in your writing)

As she discussed these ideas and the way she connected her thinking to her Hattie Big SkyNubs and Two Bobbies.  I have to say this was a HUGE lightbulb moment for me as well as my students.

Newberry Club members with Kirby Larson.
  Next as I mentioned in earlier blogs, Bill, Joyce and I  started a Newberry Club this year to try and encourage 5th graders to read and predict the Newbrery Winner.  Our Literacy Committee decided to allow this group of determined readers to have lunch with Kirby Larson on the second day.  I can't begin to tell you how proud I was sitting there listening to all of their questions as well as learning more about Kirby as a writer. Thanks Kirby for a wonderful 2 day visit and visiting our classroom.

Our class picture with Kirby Larson!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sonic Pics Celebration!

I believe strongly that it is important to celebrate authors in my classroom.  First trimester we celebrated because the students' published their first book of the year.  As the students finished their persuasive commercials on Sonic Pic, I was not sure if I would invite the parents in again to celebrate. As I thought about it, I decided that I wanted to send the message to the students as well as the parents that digital publishing is as important as paper publishing. So I invited the parents to a Sonic Pics Open House using the Smart Board, Mr. Mark and I showed all 24 commercials.  Each commercial was about 2 minutes, and we just "rolled" through them. I am happy that I made this decision for a few reasons first we celebrated our writing, the students were proud of their commercials shown on the BIG screen and finally as a class we celebrated our technology knowledge. Here are a few more examples of the students' work.   

Friday, March 4, 2011

How to Integrate Wonderopolis into Reading Workshop

I recently presented  at the Dublin Literacy Conference on integrating iPods in my classroom.  After the presentation, I was asked by several colleagues to explain in more detail how I use Wonderopolis in my reading workshop.  This will be a great time for me to reflect since I have been asked to participate in a panel discussion about how I use Wonderopolis.  I will be presenting at  the National Conference on Family Literacy April 3-5.  

#1  Our first week was spent exploring the website and discussing how the site is organized including the set up which I LOVE!!!  The video, word list and the clues for the next day's wonder are three of my favorite parts.

#2  Next we focused on how to integrate the reading strategies with Wonderopolis.  Prior to the students clicking on the second page, the students are required to make predictions, apply background knowledge, and write their own questions about the article.

#3 After reading the article, I introduced higher level questions that the students had to answer for HW and then we discussed the answers the next day.

#4  Next we integrated Wonderopolis with evernote which was a totally a digital workshop for the first time in my classroom.

#5 Finally we practiced all of these strategies preparing the students for our third trimester research topics.  

I have started thinking about how I am going to use Wonderopolis to launch my research  indicators.  I am looking forward to this thinking as well as presenting at the National Conference of Family Literacy.  Check back later for an update on both-

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

February Apps of the Month

Each month I ask my students to submit their favorite app of the month-we have a tie for February. Rocket Math won this month for many different reasons.  I chose the app because I knew the students would love building their own rocket while practicing all 4 operations. Each time they get an answer correct they earn money to purchase the parts for their rocket.  Finally they get to fly their rocket and their space missions range in difficulty. Here is why the students chose Rocket Math.

*I can change the levels to be more difficult.
*I don't like practicing subtraction but no one knows I am doing it on this app.
*I like working towards the gold medal.
*I have to read descriptions and interpret what the directions mean.
*It is so fun and you want to just keep playing!
*It's fun to upgrade your rocket.
* It helps me manage money to decided which parts to purchase.

On the other hand, the Dictionary app tied with Rocket Math.  I have to admit I was not sure if I needed to get a dictionary app because I thought the students could just connect to the internet. This app was free so I just added it to see if they liked it, I guess they do!!
*It has a sound button so I can hear the word pronounced.
*It has a word of the day, so I can increase my vocab.
*It has a wonderful thesaurus that I love!
*I am starting to build my own BIG word dictionary.
*It has helped me use stronger words in my writing.

Enjoy checking out these February apps of the month!