Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hour of Code

Hour of Code last week was, hands down, a success!!

The high school coding teacher and I coordinated our schedules for Hour of Code, and my kids got to take a bus over to the high school to code with the "big kids!!"  Oh my goodness, was it ever incredible!

I blogged about our plans here, so head there now and read that first.

Now that you're all caught up, let me show you a "few" pictures of our time.

It turned out a little blurry, but this was our Tweeted picture before we left for the high school.

This high schooler looked at me and said, "This kid is coding at my level!"  That was exactly what I wanted to have happen - for everyone to see that anyone can code . . . and be a rock star at it.

All of the yellow shirts are mine.  Don't you just love this lab?  And look at the expressions on their faces.  Engagement!!

I loved seeing so many girls totally into coding.

I loved how the high school students coached more than anything.  See who's got the mice?   They let my kids take the lead and just guided as necessary. 

This is my favorite picture.  This one seldom smiles.  Just look at that face!!

This was one of my favorite days ever.  We also had two newspaper reporters, the director of our local Chamber of Commerce, and a rep from the organization responsible for the lab grant with us, along with several administrators.  To see the kids collaborating with others twice their age hopefully had a significant impact on everyone there.  I wanted them to see that our kids are capable of so much, and that the 21st century skills of collaboration and problem solving that we talk so much about are not only doable but achievable.  

Of course, it's not too late for you to start coding!  Go to www.code.org, sign your class up for free tutorials, and get them started.  NO prior experience is necessary (believe me).  This was a big risk for me last year, but one that I'm so incredibly glad I took.

Happy coding!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Words Their Way - Assessment

If you missed last week's post, be sure to check it out here.  I've listed all of the supplies you need to do Words Their Way - and why you should consider using it in your classroom.

This week's post about assessment is short and sweet because the ladies at Second Story Window have already done such a fabulous job, I'm just going to send you over there!  Their method and forms are the exact ones I used in my classroom, and they're working wonderfully.

Click here to head on over and read the "Assessment" portion of their post!

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hour of Code is Here!

I learned about Hour of Code last year and kinda sorta did it with my kids.  I didn't think much would come of it - until I saw them doing it.  Holy cannoli - these kids were writing html and Java like bosses!!  And they were loving it!  They were collaborating and problem solving and celebrating.  In fact, it was so exciting, I texted our principal to just come down and watch them.

So I knew that I wanted to do it bigger and better this year.  I began at the beginning of the year, setting up a class account with usernames and passwords for each of my kids (which is super easy to do, by the way).  Then, I coordinated with the computer programming teacher at our high school (our high schoolers are coding for the first time this year), and my thirders are going to get to take a bus over there Tuesday to code with the big kids!!  I honestly don't know who's more excited - me, Mrs. Colbert, my kids, or her kids.  We've planned some time for the high schoolers to mentor my kids on the Hour of Code site, some time for lunch in the big kid cafeteria, and then more time later for the high schoolers to help the thirders turn their "Naughty and Nice" holiday paragraphs into customized web pages.  

I'm so excited for a lot of reasons.  I can't wait for my kids to see this incredible computer lab - I blogged about it here.  I can't wait for them to see that their skills aren't that far behind those of the high schoolers.  And I'm excited to share the importance of coding with media - we'll have reporters there to join in and see the fun.

It's not too late for you to participate in Hour of Code this week!  All it takes is one hour and a computer lab.  And you do not have to have any prior coding experience - the videos and tutorials take care of it all.  If you do join in, be sure to Tweet and share with the hashtag #hourofcode.  Be a part of this global movement to make sure all kids have the opportunity to learn programming!

Happy coding,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Words Their Way - Resources

Let me tell you about spelling in my classroom.

My first years of teaching, we had the regular spelling list.  I give it out, you study it, I test you on Friday, and we move on.  I tried to get creative with homework and such, but that was basically it.

Last year, we had no spelling at all, the reasoning being that students don't REALLY learn it, we are already learning spelling within the context of writing, no spelling was provided with our curriculum, etc.  Students - not surprisingly - didn't leave much better in spelling than they were when we got them.

So, this year, back to spelling we went.  I began the year with the standard list, which actually came from an old reading series.  I pretested on Monday, the kids studied, and then we posttested on Friday.

But what was happening was this.  About a fourth of my class aced the pretest - which meant they didn't have to study any words at all during the week.  Another fourth or so of my class STRUGGLED with the words - and regularly failed the posttests.  The rest of the kids were rocking along pretty well.

And I thought - don't ALL of my kids need to be learning words?  And don't these words need to be just right for them - so that they aren't studying for hours and then STILL failing the test?  I mean, I teach how to choose a just right book.  I differentiate my reading materials.  I scaffold their work in math.  What about spelling?

I know this may not be such a shock for many of you, but it really was an eye opener for me.

So, I got to digging.  I found lots of good stuff, but everything I read that I liked kept circling around to Words Their Way.  It had everything I was looking for - differentiated lists that matched kids' spelling development, an emphasis on learning spelling patterns rather than a random list, and a heavy use of sorts to practice spelling.  I also noticed that it was a lot of work, but what's a little hard work, right?


Well, so far, so good, and I'm far enough into it to feel comfortable sharing what we've done, where we are, and what I have planned next.  I'm planning a series of blog posts on Words Their Way so that if you, like me, are a little lost about the best way to implement the whole system, you can learn something from someone who's found a way to make it work for her.

Today I'm going to share what I've bought - which is really very little.  But I'm one of those who likes to have all of my materials in hand before I dive into something.

The first purchase you'll want is this:
Buy this now.  This is the latest and greatest edition.  I have an early edition I snagged for really cheap from Thriftbooks, and it works just as well.  This is your absolute must have.  Skim through it and read the parts that really interest you.  Don't try to read it cover to cover.  You'll find yourself reading chapters here and there later on.

Buy these later.  You won't need all of these, but you'll want to pick up the ones that most match your kids.  They have these books of words sorts for each level of spelling development.  Again, you can snag them pretty cheap on Thriftbooks.  You'll get these after you assess everyone and see where they are.

Buy this now and later.  You'll want to go ahead and get some so that you can get started with making sort cards.  You may need more later, depending on much you like it and how much you need.

Buy this now and later.  You'll want lots of these to use to file/organize your sort cards.

Buy this now and later.  You'll use these to store your sort cards.

Buy this now.    You'll only need one package, so go ahead and pick it up now.  You'll use these to label your sort cards.

These supplies will help you develop your entire spelling curriculum, so even though there may be some initial investment now, you won't need to buy anything else in years to come.  And even these supplies are pretty reasonable.  

But for right now, you want the book.  Get it, skim it, and check back in next week when we talk assessment!

Have a great weekend,

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Instant Student Engagement

This happens.  Not often, but it does.

I got the idea from somewhere - if it was you, please let me know.  But I ordered the stamp from Vistaprint, and when someone does something extraordinary - I mean really, truly, out of this world fantastic - I dance on their desks.

They know what's coming when I go for the stamp.  I stamp their paper, ask them to scoot back a bit, and do a 10 second boogie on their desks.

I haven't fallen.  Yet.

However, if you want to get students paying attention and engaged, this is one strategy I've found that works every single time.

It's not pretty.  But it works.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Chatterpix

I hope you had a wonderful, safe, turkey-filled Thanksgiving weekend!  Mine was especially special because my oldest, who's in the Air Force, got a couple of days at home, and I got to see him for the first time in MONTHS.  I'm so very thankful for that and for the sacrifice that he and all of our service members make every day of every year - but especially at this time of year when we want everyone home more than ever.

Right before we got out for Thanksgiving, our school hosted a Night at the Museum parent involvement evening.  Our second and third graders had spent a couple of weeks researching and writing about famous people, and it all culminated on this evening when the kids arrived at school dressed as "their person."  They were stationed in classrooms throughout the school, a la wax museum, and parents "toured" the classrooms as the "exhibits" shared their learning.  It was a big success!!

To have something in the hall for parents to view student work, we created Chatterpix of their famous people!  Here are just a few of the clips:

Are they not the CUTEST?

I've done researching famous people for several years, and I always have a few kids who drag their heels and don't want to get it done.  But when I told them they could make their Chatterpix only after every other part of the project had been done and approved - well, they were off like a shot!

And it's really easy.  Here's how to make your own Chatterpix!

1.  Download the app onto your iPad.  It's free.  Open it up.

2.  While in the app, take a picture of whatever you want to Chatterpix.  I had the kids draw just the heads of their people on paper WITH NO MOUTHS and then take a picture of that.  Which looked a little creepy.  But we added mouths before they were displayed in the hall.

3.  With your finger, draw a line where you want the mouth to be.

4.  Click the record button and record what you want to say.  Make it quick - you only have 30 seconds.

5.  Review your Chatterpix.  Don't like it?  Redo!

6.  Like it?  Save it to your gallery and then (if you're like me), export it directly to your YouTube channel.

Done!  After that, we displayed their drawings in the hall (with mouths added).  I got the link to each one's video and turned it into a QR code that I printed and glued onto the bottom right of each picture.

We loved working with Chatterpix - and I'll definitely be looking for ways to use it more!

Happy Tuesday,

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Focus on Primary Sources - Jackie Robinson

My kids love reading about sports stars, and when I ran across this material about Jackie Robinson recently, I knew it would be perfect for them.

And it was.

The National Archives has put together a fabulous set of resources, including primary sources and lesson plans, about this incredible baseball player.  A staunch advocate of civil rights for African Americans, Jackie wrote letters to several presidents, corresponded with NAACP leaders, and worked tirelessly for equal rights.  Fortunately, these artifacts have been archived and are available in digital format for students' use in the classroom.

They ate it up.  We began by doing a one minute quick write, to check and activate their background knowledge, and we were all surprised that very few students knew of him . . . and those who did had some pretty significant misconceptions.  Then we dove into the material, reading and talking and arguing and writing.  At the end, we revisited their quick write, and they were all astonished at how much they'd learned about the great number 42.

Of course, this isn't the only group of resources the National Archives is curated, but it is one that my thirders really enjoyed.

Which means they learned.

Home run.

Monday, November 16, 2015

What's Going On in This Picture?

My kids are LOVING this resource I stumbled across.

What's Going On in This Picture is a part of The Learning Network Blog at The New York Times.  Here's how it works.

Each Monday, The Times posts a new picture . . . but there's no caption.  You discuss it with your kids, closely analyzing the picture, and see if you can determine what is going on.  If you want, your class can contribute to the comments on the blog, comparing their answers with others from across the nation.  Then, on Friday, they post a caption, a short explanation, and a link to a full news story explaining the event.

We are using a lot of See, Think, Wonder with this, and I am amazed every Monday at what the kids are noticing.  It's great for getting them to slow down, really notice details, discuss and debate, and support inferences.  For example, this past Monday, my kids inferred that the guy jumping the fire was American (the clothes), that it was happening on or near a roadway (the tires and if you look REALLY closely you can make out the outline of a road sign to the right), and that it was likely cold (again the clothing).  Some of their ideas were right, others wrong, but they loved finding out on Friday how close they were to the real story.

It's easy to incorporate in your classroom.  On Monday mornings, I have the picture up when they come in and begin working on morning work, so they have plenty of time to really study it.  After the bell rings, we take 5 or 10 minutes to discuss and write our comments.  Same thing on Friday - it's up to remind them of the picture, we review what we talked about on Monday, and we unveil the story.

Since today's Monday, now's the perfect time to give it a try!

Because, you know, a picture's worth .  .  .

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Christmas Gift Giving

I know, I know.  I was saying it myself yesterday as I desperately hurled myself through calmly perused the aisles of Wally World.  

What happened to Thanksgiving?

The poor Pilgrims.  They have gotten shoved aside in the materialistic free-for-all that is now known as The Season.  

I have traditionally been a Scrooge about The Season.  It's just (as my middle child said when he was 2, sobbing in the midst of a mountain of boxes and wrapping paper) much too much.  Too much money and time and angst and stress and food (yes, food) and pretending that everything is great when what we really want to do is curl up in our flannel pajamas and sleep till spring.

Or maybe that last part is just me.  Sorry.

So this year I am really going to try to be less Scroogish, and I thought I'd try to do that by eliminating as much stress as possible.  And the BIGGEST source of stress for me during the The Season is shopping.  I'm not a shopper, for me much less for someone else, and knowing that "I have to have the perfect gift for the party that is tomorrow at 5:00 and my immediate shopping possibilities are limited to Fred's and Dollar General" really makes me crazy.

My goal?  Have my shopping done by December 1.  My weapon?  The Internet.  My mission?  Have meaningful, thoughtful gifts for everyone purchased and wrapped by then.

I love giving gifts that truly mean something (particularly ones that are local), so now is the perfect time to sit down with a list, a movie, a cup of coffee, and my computer and put some thought into my shopping!  And you can join me!

With that in mind, here are some of my favorite places to shop, where your gift benefits more than just your recipient:

I love to give gifts that donate money to worthy causes - particularly ones that are close to home.  St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is located in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, and I have known many children who have benefitted from their work.  And no child is ever turned away, no matter their ability to pay.  They have lots of gifts available, from clothing to Christmas ornaments (my favorite), and a portion of every purchase goes to childhood cancer research.

Thistle Farms is located in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a community of women who have survived addiction, trafficking, and prostitution.  Proceeds from their natural body care products go back to helping women regain their lives through education and training.

Dolly Parton has done more to promote early childhood reading and literacy than just about any other organization I know.  Her Imagination Library began in East Tennessee and has quickly spread nationwide and internationally.  New parents register their child through her website, and kids will receive one book per month from birth through age 5.  And these are really good books, sturdily bound and carefully selected to appeal to young kids.  A sweet handmade card with a donation notice inside would thrill any teacher's heart.

Still not sure?  Check out Inspired Gifts, a division of Unicef.  Plus, Kid President (who happens to live in my town) likes Inspired Gifts, so how could you need any more reason to shop there?  You can choose to give desks, books, meals, blankets, and more to kids in need throughout the world.

Consider these options as you begin your shopping this Season.  Because what better way to practice a little gratitude at Thanksgiving than to make sure that the gifts you buy for Christmas give back, too?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Power of Perception

Watch this.  Then keep reading.

I watched this this morning.

And I wondered.

Do I do this?  In my classroom.  Do I?

I try really hard not to.  I like to think that I am open minded, that I have high expectations for every kid, regardless of what I know about them.  That I don't let my perspective paint a picture of their life before they've even picked up the brush.

But if these professional photographers can be duped, can't we?

Have you ever been surprised when the student who constantly acts up turns in writing that takes your breath away?  When you catch the girl dressed in head-to-toe pink reading Captain Underpants? When the shyest kid in the class offers an insight most adults miss?  When the kid with dirty fingernails and too short pants shoots to the top of the math class?

Let's face it.  We all make snap judgments about people based on what we know or see.  That's a part of being human, and to be honest, it's likely kept our species alive, this ability to quickly identify and evade a potential threat.  But in a post-fight-or-fight society, this skill can hurt us far more than it helps.  Because it can keep our most precious resource - our kids - pigeonholed before we ever know what they can truly do.  Before THEY can know what they can truly do.

And so they don't believe.  Because they know that we don't.

So my challenge is this.  Let's remember this video, and remember that every student who steps through our doors holds a universe of possibility within them.  No matter where they live, what choices their parents have made, the color of their skin or the thickness of their cumulative file, every student can achieve greatness.

Don't believe everything you see.

Just believe.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Caldecott Challenge

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will have an idea of my passion for reading.

If you haven't, or if I have in some way made myself unclear, let's remedy that now.

I love reading.  I don't ever remember learning how to read, though my mother claims I learned by watching Sesame Street (yes, I am a child of the 70s).  I do remember reading being a source of incredible comfort to me all through my childhood and adolescence - and into adulthood, really.  I remember the cool oasis of the public library, with its cracked, vinyl-covered chairs and musty smell, that was such a relief in the sweltering heat of the Mississippi summers of my childhood.  I remember the sound of my mother's voice on the back porch, as we sat on a swing and she read to me from "Little House in the Big Woods."  I remember the thrill of being a library assistant in fifth grade, with the authority to use the adjustable date stamp to mark due dates in the book pockets and check out as many books as I wanted.  I remember waiting anxiously for the latest edition of Sweet Valley High to come in my classroom Scholastic book order. I remember getting lost in the worlds of Madeline L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, Louisa May Alcott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Ayn Rand, and James Michener as I continued to grow.  And I remember reading to my own children when they were little, rediscovering classics such as "Where the Wild Things Are," "Goodnight Moon," and "Chicken Soup with Rice," and finding new beloveds such as Harry Potter.

I love to read.  Reading has made me a better person, and it has made my life richer and fuller.  It has helped to make me successful.

And so I want my students to love to read.  I believe that students who love to read are usually better readers - we all are willing to practice something we love, right?  And the more we practice the better we get?  (If you haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, get it.)  I believe that students who love to read become lifelong readers.  And that lifelong readers lead richer, fuller, more successful lives.

The question becomes - how do we get students to love to read?  That is a complex question (hence the plethora of books, blog posts, scholarly articles, and opinions on the subject), but I believe that a huge part of getting kids to love to read involves reading a lot to find what they like - wide reading.  James Patterson says that there's no such thing as a kid who doesn't like to read; there are simply kids who haven't found the right book yet.

Or something like that.

I really should Google quotations before I use them.  But it's pretty close.


Now we ask, "How do we get kids to read widely?"  Again, there are tons of different ways, but one way I like to try is through a reading challenge.  No big incentives (I'm not a fan, but that's for another blog post).  Just a group of people working together through a reading challenge, talking and borrowing and sharing their way through great books.

I've tried a 30 in Third Challenge (similar to what Donalyn Miller does), and it was somewhat successful.  Admittedly, I probably didn't follow through as I should have with it.  But I thought I'd try something different, and a Caldecott Challenge sprang to mind.  We have three quarters left, plenty of time to read our way through the Caldecott Award books!

So, we'll be starting this week.  I've made a booklet for each kid to have to check off their reading as they go, from the 2015 winner all the way to 1938's award.  If you want a free copy of it, you can get it here from my TpT store.  For accountability purposes, I'm planning on having them take an AR test on each one.  Even though I have a love/hate relationship with AR, but that's for another post.

I have many of these books already in my classroom library.  For those I don't have, I'll probably be purchasing a lot - after all, these are the best of the best, so I should have them in the room - and others I'll be checking out of the library.  I'm also thinking that for long or particularly challenging ones, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we may have book circles during lunch to read it aloud and talk about it.

Also, I have never read through the Caldecott books, so I'll be doing it right along with them!  Eeeeeek!!

But, I hope that this challenge will get the kids reading some great stuff before they leave third grade - particularly since some see picture books as "too babyish" for older kids.  (Which is a rant for another blog post.  Again.)  And that, in the long run, it will help them to love reading.  There is a time and a place for "fluffy" reading, but there's also a time and a place for the good stuff.

And this is it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Book Checkouts Made Easy

My kids check out books from my classroom library, because I can't think of better reading "homework" than . . . well, reading.  Do I lose a few here and there?  Sure.  But as Richard Allington says, I'm way more concerned with losing students than losing books.

Or he says something like that.


The only big rule I have about checking out books is that they have to show it to me every morning.  They don't have to turn it back in, but I want to at least see if it's in their possession.  And, over the years, I have tried many different methods of checking out books.  I've let kids write their book titles on index cards (took way too long).  I've kept a checklist (worked okay, but still kind of time consuming).  I've let my class librarians keep a checklist (okay until it got to where I couldn't read their writing).

Nothing was convenient enough; every solution had too many moving parts to be efficient.  I thought about getting one of those fancy shmancy bar code scanners (which really appealed to the OCD side of my that, deep down, always wanted to be a librarian so I could spend my days organizing books, straightening shelves, and hearing the satisfying blip of the bar code scanner).

But then I ran across this idea!!  Disclaimer:  I found it.  I did not think of it.

Materials needed:

  • books
  • kids
  • iPhone, iPad, etc.
  • Assign this job to your classroom librarian.  Gotta love student ownership!
  • Let them use a class iPad or (as in my case) an old iPhone you have left over after upgrading your daughter's phone.
  • In the afternoon, each kid holds up the book they want to check out.  Make sure they are holding it up where the librarian can see their face AND the book cover.
  • Your librarians snap a picture.
  • The next morning, your librarians go around the room checking for books.  (See the need to have the face AND cover in the picture?  If not, you don't know who's checked out the book).  If the kid has it, their picture is deleted.  If not, the picture is left in the camera roll, and they don't check out again until it is brought back.
There are just no words for how fantastically simple and smooth this process is now.  I have been sitting here trying to think of words, but there just are none.

But I will use this procedure for book check outs forever.

If you are the one who thought of this idea, please contact me so that I can recognize you in some way.  You know . . . flowers, gift card, national day of recognition.  

The usual.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What I Learned About Teaching from Disney World

I just got home yesterday from a week of this.

I have been meaning to get to Disney for years.  So, this past winter, on a very cold day when we were snowed in for the umpteenth time, I touched base with a friend/neighbor of mine who's a Disney travel planner, took the plunge, and booked a trip for Fall Break.

Best money I ever spent.  

Because during the week, much more happened than riding Space Mountain, watching "Wishes," and eating Dole Whip (though those were incredible moments).  And on the flight home, as I was thinking about the week, I realized that the moments that meant the most, that were the most memorable, are really lessons about teaching.

Which may seem like a stretch, but bear with me.  

1.  Personal connections are everything.  

So, it's the first day of our vacation, and we're in the middle of the mayhem that is Magic Kingdom on a weekend around 2:00.  It's packed, we're hot and thirsty, and the lines are long.  We were getting water at Liberty Tree Tavern, with is a stone's throw from Cinderella's castle, and out of nowhere music starts playing (which I quickly learned meant SOMETHING was about to happen).  And then.  Then the Disney princesses actually came out of the castle.  I mean, we are talking Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty . . . the whole stinkin' lot of them.  They came out, did a little dance or something, and where we were was just to the back of them, so I got a pretty good view of what was going on.   But then, as they were going back in the castle, they spotted the crowds where we were, and I waved like a madwoman, and I promise you Snow White waved right back at ME.  At me.  No five year old was more excited than I was right then.

And I thought.  It wasn't that she waved.  It was that I felt like she was waving at me.  It was that personal connection that made all the difference.  Seeing the princesses out was one thing, but having one actually wave at me was another.  

I saw this happen all week long.  At the electrical parade one night, a little one next to me - who didn't speak English, by the way - danced up and down when she waved at Cinderella and Cinderella blew a kiss back to her.  Another cried when she got the chance to talk with Belle.  Maybe that's one of the reasons the lines to meet the characters are so long - it's your chance to make a personal connection with someone who means so much to you.

Isn't it like that in our classrooms?  Sure, we can get up and do a dance - we can make things explode, create PowerPoints with animation, dance on the desks - but it's the personal connections that we all (especially our students) crave.  It's having someone notice YOU.  Having someone see you and care about you and make time just for you.  Personal connections mean kids don't just go to school - they learn lessons from great teachers who impact their lives.

2.  You may have taught something for the 27th time, but it's your students' first time to learn it.

My favorite park at Disney is Magic Kingdom, largely because it's just so quintessentially Disney.  And it has the aforementioned castle.  On our last night there, my daughter and I were leaving the park, and as we walked to the end of Main Street I said, "Okay, turn around and take one last good look at Cinderella's castle.  It's the last time we'll see it this trip, and you'll want to remember this moment."  We both turned to see the castle brilliantly lit up against the night sky, took a moment just to drink in the sight, and then turned again to go.  Right as we rounded the corner to exit the park, we met another mother and her young daughter on their way in, and I overheard the mom say, "Okay, honey, you're about to get your very first sight ever of Cinderella's castle!  You'll always remember this moment!"

And I thought - wow.  One girl's taking the time to remember the castle as she leaves while one's taking a moment to remember what it's like when she sees it for the first time.  And it reminded me of lessons I've taught, time and again, that are old hat to me.  So, sometimes, I just kind of go through the motions, forgetting that what's familiar to me is still brand new to my students.  I need to see it through those "remembering" lenses.  To take the time to really think about how this lesson is going; just because I've taught it a lot doesn't mean I've taught it well.  To try to see it as my students do, be truly present and in the moment, make it better, and get excited about it just as I did at the beginning.  It may be my 27th time to teach it, but it's their first time to learn it.

3.  There are a lot of parents with ninja-level skills out there.

Let me tell you about the parenting I saw out there.  

Case 1:  Mom has a 4-year-old having a complete meltdown in the stroller.  Mom rolls the stroller to a wall, with the child facing the wall, turns around, and leans back against the stroller.  A passerby kind of raises their eyebrows and Mom replies, "She'll have to quit sometime, but she won't get a bit of attention from me until she does."  I applauded.  Literally.

Case 2:  Mom and Dad have what appear to be three - count them, three - children under the age of 2.  Mom has a baby carrier on her front and back, with kids in both.  Dad has a backpack on and a carrier on his front, with a kid in it.  Plus a double stroller.  They are waiting to board a bus, and they are happy.  Smiles on their faces, having an honest-to-goodness conversation with each other.  I didn't applaud.  But I really wanted to.

Case 3:  It's after midnight, and my daughter and I are in line to ride Splash Mountain.  A family ahead of us, composed of two teenage girls and mom and dad, are waiting, too.  Dad is bleary-eyed and obviously tired, but when one of the girls asks if they should go, dad replies, "No, honey.  I can sleep later.  This vacation is about family."

Case 4:  We are waiting for fireworks, and a family behind us has backpacks on.  A toddler nearby is whining, and one of the kids in the family whips out a thing of bubbles, asks the mom if he can give them to the toddler, and the grateful mother readily agrees.  The kid spent about half an hour blowing bubbles with the toddler until the electric parade started.  Later I learned that the family regularly packs extra things in their backpacks to share with other kids who are tired or having a hard time.  It's their way of helping to spread the magic.

Wow.  Just.  Wow.

4.  Your kids come first.

If you are a parent yourself, listen to me.  Your kids come first.  At the end of your life, when you are looking back at how you spent your small amount of time here on earth, you will think of your teaching and how you used your talents, but I believe that you will be most concerned with how you parented.

Will you do a perfect job?  Um.  No.  Will you feel guilty?  Um.  Yes.  That comes with the job.

I can let my priorities get out of whack.  The kids I still have at home are teenagers, and it's easy to think that they're self sufficient.  After all, they love pizza for supper.  And what they mainly ask for is transportation and money.  And there is SO MUCH work to do at school.

But my favorite thing about this time at Disney was that for the first time in what feels like forever, we just hung out.  All in the same place.  Doing the same thing.  If you have teenagers, you know how rare that is.  And while the magic of Disney totally worked on me, it was the time that we spent laughing and eating and walking and talking and playing - and even waiting in line - that was truly magical.

Jackie Kennedy once said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much."

Put your kids first.  You'll be a happier and better teacher for it.

So, that is the teaching wisdom I learned from Uncle Walt this past week.  Qualify for PD?  I think it should.  :)

Have a magical week!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Read Aloud 15 Minutes Campaign

I am on a mission to improve early literacy, and reading aloud is one of my favorite things to talk about when people ask how we can do that.

There is a ton of research about the importance of reading aloud:  how it prewires children's brains for later reading when they are young, how it exposes them to more sophisticated language and vocabulary, how it can improve fluency and foster a love of reading.  And I agree with every last drop of it.

Read aloud time is sacred in my classroom, but it's becoming more and more difficult to protect.  There are so many other things that pull at my time, and it's so tempting to get "one more thing" done instead of taking the time to turn out the lights, settle the kids down, and spend time with a book.  But it is a time in my classroom that I hang onto for dear life.  You know that scene from "Gone With the Wind," where Scarlett is hungry and she's on this hill facing a glorious sunset, and she finds herself eating something she just scrabbled out of the dirt?  And she stands facing the sunset, raises her fist, and says, "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again!"  That truly dramatic scene?

That's me and reading aloud.

So we do it.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I have favorites that I turn to every year, classics I feel every child should read or hear, like Charlotte's Web, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  I have seasonal favorites, such as Bunnicula.  And we have good reads that the kids always love, like The Chocolate Touch.  I also like to try something new every year.  Last year it was Ivan the One and Only.  The year before that it was The Penderwicks.  But I read, and they listen, and we have that shared reading experience that leads to conversations and comparisons and recommendations during reading conferences.

Reading aloud is important, and I'm out to share that with anyone who will listen.  So are the good folks at Read Aloud.  They have created a Read Aloud 15 Minutes Campaign to share that message with as many parents and caregivers as possible.  They are so passionate about it, they have got nationwide partners and they conduct wide-reaching media pushes to share the message.  And YOU can become a partner!  All you do is sign up and then agree to share the message through any avenues available to you.

It's one more way to share the love of reading aloud, and I'm so very glad they're here to help.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Genius Way to Post Learning Targets

We all know that it's important that kids understand what they're learning, and that posting those targets often helps them to do that.  The thing to consider is, what's the best way to post them?  Some use pocket charts, others use picture frames as mini dry erase boards, and still others incorporate learning targets into their PowerPoints.

It really becomes challenging during our reading block.  We use the ReadWell reading curriculum, which means that our reading is taught exclusively in small groups.  So if you have three small groups, that's three different learning targets to coordinate.

Well, here's one particularly clever way of displaying learning targets that our principal saw during an evaluation last week:

All this teacher did was to write the target on a piece of card stock and fold it into a tent.  It stayed at her table while the students were with her.  The genius part is when the students left her to transition to independent work at another table . . . they took the learning target with them!!  The kids knew what they were working on, and any assistants or interventionists who might be in the room helping knew, too.


Inexpensive, easy, and effective.  A teacher's three favorite words.