Monday, October 31, 2011

Let Kids be Kids

Caplin Family Pumpkin
Our school had their "Harvest Party" today and yes our students still dress up in costumes and yes we had a wonderful parade throughout the school and ended up outside on the playground to tons of parents taking pictures (it is similar to the red carpet experience).  Yes we had great food (peanut free of course) and finally yes we played many fun games including Mad Libs!  Oh yea, and YES I am tired, but I have to say sometimes in education we just need to allow students to be students or better yet: kids to be kids!

Today was a GREAT example. We had a normal Monday morning and my class did wonderful with prime and composite numbers in math, shortened library with Mr. Prosser where they are playing the Amazing Race with QR Codes and right before lunch we talked about Letters to the Editors.

On to the "Harvest Party" the students loved it! Almost all of my students dressed up in costumes and some of them got together to make their costumes.  A group of four girls were different colors of nail polish and a group of boys were the Blue Men Group including Poppa Smurf!  They had a wonderful time, laughed, enjoyed being kids and most of all just had fun!  Our staff dressed up as farmers and I of course was very excited about that choice and was ready to go with jeans, flannel shirt and pigtails.  It was a wonderful day!!

Random Thoughts:  I was not excited for the party and in fact I don't like Halloween and never have.  Ask my own kids, thank goodness for my mom because she made their costumes every year when they were young!  However, in this world of high stakes testing, pushing learning from all angles, and taking the fluff out of learning I have to say today was awesome!  Kids were kids and that is what school should be about.  PS:  I didn't assign any homework so I hope all of them are outside right now Trick or Treating and going to remember to bring me a Take 5 or Almond Joy tomorrow-then all will be perfect.

BFF having a wonderful day!

Blue Men Group on their own terms!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Digital Storytelling part 1

Last year was the first time I used Story Kit-this year it is so much easier.  I worked out all of the kinks but the BEST part is I have 23 model stories to use with this class.  We started our story telling by reading and examining last year's stories and that was so powerful!  As we looked at their stories, I recorded what they liked about the stories.  This is so powerful because they had ownership of the indicators that we used on the rubric.  

As you read the rubric, I have decided to teach dialogue early in the year.  I know this may be a little crazy, but the students are really doing a nice job handling the challenge. The reason I chose to teach dialogue early is because the two mentor text that I am using had excellent examples of powerful dialogue.  We used: The Summer My Father was Ten and  Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street. I highly recommend both of these books and I will use them all year as an anchor in my writer's workshop.

The next thing I changed was incorporating writing goals into their digital story telling. This year's class needs constant reminders that everything they learn builds in writing. After our first published piece, Summer Memories, I had my students write one goal for their next piece of published writing.  As you can see below, I added a section to the rubric to have the students' focus on their goal as well as the indicators listed above.

When I passed out the rubric, one students actually said out loud, "Mrs. Caplin you mean I still need to work on strong topic and closing sentences. I thought I was done with that." Oh the joys of learning..............check back later for an update on digital story telling.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Word Study Looks Different!

I love word study, and I would teach it all day if I could - oh wait I do teach word study all day!  This seems like an oxymoron but it isn't.  With our new program, I continue to focus in on how to weave word study throughout my day.  We are required to teach a short mini lessons daily 10-15 min.  I have not achieved that time yet typically I am way over, still focusing on that time element.  Here is what I have learned so far about word study (WS)  from our first 8 weeks of school.  I have a lot to learn!!

First I learned something new-totally new-light bulb moment new!  I decided to start the year with focusing on prefixes, base words, and suffixes.  I chose those indicators so that I could easily connect 4th grade WS to this year's WS.  Silly me I thought that would make the beginning lessons easier. My students had a pretty good understanding of these concepts until last week. Our focus was on prefix:  dis, di, dif.   This is where my learning started.  Thank goodness I prepared for this lesson because I had a lot to learn.  As I looked at the focus lesson, some the words included: distribute, dislocated, dispose, differ, direct, disturbance.   I felt comfortable with dislocated-I got it. However, the other words in this list-wow!  I will pause here if you would like to think about the base words or base meaning?

As I studied about the Greek and Latin bases I had to make a decision how do I shift my students thinking?  This was a difficult conversation but the thinking was huge.  Many students commented that it was fun to look for those parts of the word and then collect other words with the same base.  For example,  disturbance.  "turb" means shake or agitate so we discussed words like turbulence in plane or even a turbine engine.  The connections really started to happen and I was thrilled to see their light bulbs go off.

On a side note, I know you like to see our anchor charts well l need to start remembering that my anchor charts might be published so  apologies for the messy thinking.

This is our first lesson: Word Observation. We had a huge conversation about syllable boxes.

HW: students collected words in their WS spiral and then chose their favorite word and used it in a sentence.

Assessment: students wrote sentences showing meaning. Extra stars were BIG words from previous WS lessons

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Class Meetings & iPod Guidelines

You know when you are thinking about how to manage your time in classroom better?  You know when you are thinking how to create more time for instruction in your class?  You know when you think I could get rid of this and put in that?  Well I am so thankful that I did not give up class meetings.  It was on the chopping list at the beginning of the school year, but I believed it was too important for building of community.

Ever Monday, we start our week with a class meeting called "Weekend Share" every student gets to share their #1 favorite event of the weekend.  In fifth grade, that is not always easy to choose 1 event but it is another part of the communication indicators-choosing important information.  The students share about their families, sports, boy scout camp outs, visiting relatives and some even travel on the weekend.  I listen with open ears because I learn so much about them and more importantly I learn about their lives outside of school.  I can follow up later if someone shares they were at the hospital visiting their sick grandma or their dad did not get to come home from India.  Those are the connections that I believe are important and I want to build throughout the school year.

Every Friday, we end our week with our class meeting.  I have written about it before because this is where we choose our top ten events of the week.  But prior to this, we always have the QUESTIONS, COMPLIMENTS and CONCERNS.  This is a chance for the students to voice their thoughts in this area as well as for me to bring up concerns which brings me to last Friday's class meeting.  This year's group have been not focused during study hall, so we developed a T chart on the dry erase board.  On the left hand side, What should study hall look like and sound like? I wrote ideas down as they told me their list included:  finishing HW, getting extra help if needed, studying for tests, and if time play on the iPod.  "Playing on the iPod" was the interesting part of the conversation as you can see from the chart below. This list started in green with what does study hall look like is....

We set new guidelines for the  iPods this year.  I told them the "play" is all connected with their learning as well as the opportunity to review skills.  Look at the very bottom of the chart-people might take advantage.  That was great conversation about how they needed to make the correct choices for them and not always follow their friends-a life lesson from our class meeting.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Going to the "Other Side"

My friend, Bill @ Literate Lives posted about how busy September was for him and how he just didn't have much inspiration to blog.  I also felt this way and was extremely busy but now that the calendar says it is October which happens to be one my favorite months I am feeling a shift of energy.

But first I want to reflect on September because I sure learned important lessons about my life as a teacher.  First of all I learned that experience doesn't always make things easier in fact I learned it could hold you back.  For two years, I have been hearing about the D word-for those of you who read my blog who are not in education the D word is data.  The key to my last sentence is the verb (which itself is a little joke if you live at my school) the verb is: hearing.  My thinking shifted last week when I spent the whole day with my team members, principal, Mr. Mark and our instructional support teacher (IST). We spent the morning looking at 4th grade data since now they are my students, looking at OAA diagnostics that my students this year have completed as well as observations.  I was not thrilled walking into this  meeting however when I walked out--- I finally got it.

Here is what I got for those of you like me who just are not quite there yet.  OAA testing is here to stay, and I have to be accountable to it because I want my students to do well and have the skills they need to be successful on a 2 pt or 4 pt extended response question in addition to the multiple choice.  However most of our conversation was based on extended responses.  I want my students to have the opportunity to be successful on future high stake tests by building a strong positive environment about the state tests etc. Even this week, we discussed the ACT and SAT because in word study we were discussing the importance of building strong vocabulary. More about this in a future blog.

I have come over the the "other side" I continue to think about how to integrate test taking strategies and OAA text within our school day not everyday but more than I used to.  I am not willing to admit that there is a testing genre, but I am willing to admit I need to hold myself accountable to the tests by allowing my students the best opportunity in May to pass the Reading, Math and Science OAA with at least a year's growth which is another really long story.  Let me know where you are with your thinking-

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Read Our Amazinng Comments!!

The buzz in the room this morning was amazing!  Mrs. Caplin did you know?  Mrs. Caplin I never knew.... I was excited when I learned.... and the best of all THANKS for letting us choose our own wonder!  I am so proud of their progress with comments, and we can continue to build on these focus skills in our future WONDER Wednesday conversations!  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We Have to Teach Commenting

Most of my learning comes from extending my school day into conversations on twitter, and I enjoy when we just start tweeting a topic.  Last week, we were tweeting how to build stronger comments on a blog, and I tweeted about how I taught this skill in my class and a blog entry was born. Thanks Mary Lee, Karen, Franki and Gretchen for the conversations.

Having students leave comments on our class blog or on our favorite website Wonderopolis is a skill that I needed to teach my class.  I have to admit at the beginning I didn't even consider that I needed to teach this skill until I was reading their comments and honestly they were very weak. They were short and not reflective. I wasn't even sure if the students were reading their own comment let alone pulling new information from the WONDER article.

I have had the most success with using students' work as models, so we started looking at past comments on Wonderopolis and discussing which comments were strong and most important WHY?
From that point, we started a class chart about what makes a STRONG comment.  This chart really helped the students begin to focus their comments as well as evaluate their friend's comment. I was very excited to see that they are connecting the WONDER to our word study as well as our word wall.  Many students commented that the links from the WONDER created questions for them, so they thought they could post those questions back to the website. The student who suggested taking the new knowledge and transferring it to another area was very excited about learning about idioms and then using them in her writing.  How cool is that!!!  

Finally after creating our new chart this week, I typed it up and gave it to everyone to refer back to as their own personal anchor chart at home.  Tonight's HW was to go home, choose any WONDER and leave a thoughtful comment. I can't wait to read their comments and see how they applied the new anchor chart.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wonder Wednesday=Connecting School & Family

WARNING: A giant secret is about to be revealed about teachers.  If you don't want to know, don't continue reading below the picture.

One of the family designed flags. Can you guess their last name?  KING-love it!

Some of the BEST learning in a classroom is unexpected and not planned.  Last Wednesday our focus was on WONDER #274 Who Made the American Flag? We continued focusing on reading strategies: background knowledge, new facts, building vocabulary through transfer to their own writing and finally enrichment which is where the secret starts.

These were the directions that I gave to my class for their WONDER homework on Wed.  I have never had so many students excited about designing their own family flag and choosing the colors as well as discussing the meaning of the colors.  Finally the family signatures around the flag are PRICELESS!  Enjoy the pictures-what an unexpected fun part of learning about the history of the American flag-oh yea have you ever heard of Rebbecca Young? You might want to read the wonder?
A family flag description-if you can't read the bottom it says "the orange diamonds on bottom 2 lines stands for marriage of my mom and dad"

Here is the flag that is explained above.

Check out all of the thinking and family signatures.