Monday, November 21, 2011

Inquiry Buddies...Part Two and Three!

My inquiry buddy journey began with a conversation between two teachers who wanted to find a way to not just wonder in our classrooms, but to act on our curiosity.  We moved to Part One...reading the questions that our first grade partners had and researching the answer.  The next step???  It was the day the fourth and first graders met in the library to celebrate their wonders.  It began with the first graders reading their questions and talking with the fourth grader about everything that they thought they knew about their topic (building background knowledge :).  Then the fourth grader read the text that had the answer to their question, looked at photographs, read captions, and talked...talked...talked!  Together the buddies wrote down the answer to the question in one sentence, glued a picture of their topic in their Questions Notebook, and illustrated a picture that went along with their new learning.  After that...the buddies selected any book that they wanted and just read together.  Here are some photographs of their work...

(coming soon...)

Then, came part three!  My fourth graders have an Inquiry Workshop three times a week.  During one of the workshop times we bring in the laptops in to extend our learning to reading on a computer.  Many students had voiced concerns with reading and finding information on the Internet during their beginning of the year reading interviews.  This provided a great opportunity to guide students through the process.  The fourth graders reread the answer to their first graders' questions and then thought about the question we sometimes never ask...what do I want to know now?  My students generated new questions based on their curiosity and used the Internet to find the answers (great time to talk about credible websites:)!!!  Here were some examples...

The first grader wondered... /The fourth grader wondered...

What do people need to grow?/ What are the healthiest foods?
Why is gold shiny?/Why do we not use gold for daily money?
Why are snails slow? /What is the fastest and slowest type of turtle on land?
How long ago did dinosaurs live?/How did dinosaurs become extinct?
Do sharks have scales?/How many teeth do sharks have?

The students then wrote their new learning in their Questions Notebook and shared it with the whole class.  And...of course...I had their new first grade wonderings waiting to be read! Time to start the process all over again!  It is amazing when you see students filled with purpose, wonder, and choice.  Their excitement for learning becomes contagious!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thank you Wonderopolis!!!

How exciting!  I had posted earlier in September about, Feeling Moody.  My class was exploring the moods that an author suggests with their words and phrases.  My class connected their learning to mood rings. We assigned colors to moods and created paper mood rings to provide evidence of our thinking.  Students would color the jewel at the top and then write evidence inside the text to support the word they had chosen.  I found the idea at  Just type "mood ring" in the search box and you will find several free printables...including the paper mood ring graphic organizer that I used.

The next day a student came into the classroom and had researched everything about mood rings.  How they work, what the colors mean, and when they became a fad.  One student in the class said, "I can't believe Wonderopolis does not have one on mood rings.  They have everything!"  So...our class emailed Wonderopolis and nominated a wonder.  It appeared this past week!  And in less than two months time!  The wonder is called...How Do Mood Rings Work?  I can not wait to share it with my class tomorrow...check it out!  Thanks Wonderopolis for acting on our curiosity!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Off course but on track!

As in all things in life, what you have planned...does not go as planned, but the new journey is worth the ride!  I had done a previous post on developing a Wonder Block for my class.  The vision was designed over the summer, but as special schedules were handed out, team teaching times with intervention teachers were decided, computer times were established, and all the other components that go into developing your classroom schedule were Wonder Block took a detour.  What was developed and what has been explored...definitely worth the detour!

My Wonder Block is now a three day routine.  It actually starts on a Friday.  On Fridays my class explores a Wonder of the Day from Wonderopolis that extends our thinking from a unit we are studying.  For example, we were studying the four regions of Ohio and learned that the Till Plains Region is known for corn and popcorn.  So...we studied the wonder...What makes popcorn pop?   We were studying the Lake Plains Region and found that a point of interest was Cedar we studied the wonder...Where is the fastest rollercoaster?  This past week we studied slow changes that occur to the Earth's we studied the wonder...How deep is the Grand Canyon? Looking ahead to this week we studied weather and erosion so we will be exploring the wonder...Why is the Statue of Liberty green?

Each Friday we do a quick write of what we THINK we know, what we KNOW, and what we WONDER.  We then share and celebrate all of the thinking we bring to this one question.  Next we watch the video and/or I have them watch an additional short clip.  For the rollercoaster one, I found a video of someone who videotaped their ride on the fastest rollercoaster.  Or for the Grand Canyon, I found a video of the skywalk at the Grand Canyon.  One video gets them thinking and the other starts providing details.  Students then "jot" down any thinking that is now KNOWN or CONFIRMED and draw a sketch of their new learning.  After that, we read the article, answer the questions in written form, and ask the most important step in inquiry...what do I want to know now?  I have books on hand that represent the topic or an additional article.  I also open up the computers to research the answer of new questions.

We now use day two and three to continue researching our new wonders or to work on our new wonders that were developed during our Inquiry Buddy time with first graders.  This has opened up three moments in my busy weekly schedule for non-fiction, wonder, and time to act on curiosity in the form of research.  Each wonder branches off of an initial lesson that connects directly with our state standards.  And the best is motivated by choice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Inquiry Buddies...Part One

The big day arrived!  One of our cute first grade buddies (ok...I am was my daughter :), delivered their "wondering notebooks" to our classroom.  Notebooks were stacked up to her nose.  As I bent down to take the notebooks from her she whispered..."You have a lot of work to do" and bounced her way back down to her first grade classroom.

I turned to look at my fourth graders who were wide-eyed, eager, and full of anticipation to see all the questions that our first grade inquiry buddies had.  As we went through each buddy's notebook, I was hearing comments such as...
"What a good question!"
"I think I know the answer but I don't know how to say it."
"I remember seeing a section in the library that had books on cats."
"I wonder if Wonderopolis would have this question."

And...what were some of the questions...
"Why do frogs have long tongues?"
"Why do dogs shed their fur?
"Why do teeth fall out?"

Off to the library we went to find the answer to their questions!  Wonderful lessons occurred for my fourth graders.  We talked about pulling a topic out of a question and using the library database to search for books.  We practiced using the table of contents and index to look for keywords before skimming through a book.  But...I think the biggest lesson we learned was patience!  In a world where "Google" is at our fingertips, we realized that the answer might not be in the first book we look in.  The answer may not be directly stated...we may need to infer the answer to our question and collect several pieces of evidence.  We realized the importance of photographs/diagrams/text features and how they support our explanation of something new.  By the end of the forty minutes in the library, we had worked independently and moved to supporting partners with finding the answers in books.  Whew!  All answers were found!

As the facilitator, what did I notice the most?  I noticed the students were engaged with a purpose.  My fourth graders were motivated by the idea that they needed to confirm their thinking or find an answer for an audience.  The library was buzzing with the research process.  And once was all about patience.  As Edmund Burke once said, "Our patience will achieve more than our force."

Monday, October 17, 2011

100 Pageviews!

I can not believe that one of my posts has already hit 100 pageviews!  Blogging has been an adventure for me.  I am intrigued how a world so big can feel so small.  I am amazed how virtual friendships and connections can be made at all hours of the day.  Most of all, each day I am rejuvenated by the professional thinking that goes on around me both in the school setting and in the blogging world.  I hope you have found my blog as a place to reflect, think, and wonder about all that we do and all that we hope for.

Wow!  Check out the audience!
Pageviews by Countries
United States
United Kingdom
Saudi Arabia

Friday, October 14, 2011

"In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back of the book." -Charlie Brown

The answers may not be in the back of the book but...INQUIRY BUDDIES can help!  Check out how a fourth and first grade classroom are developing a partnership and implementing INQUIRY BUDDIES!

Reading with curiosity and wonder is one of my greatest wishes for my fourth grade readers.  As a teacher, I know that my responsibility is to provide students with the opportunity to act on their wonders in the form of show the readers how to take their wonder and go!  Go find a book that might reveal the answer, find a website that might confirm their thinking, and have the opportunity to appreciate their new knowledge and act on it.  What a beautiful cycle full of authentic reading experiences and choice!

So...inquiry it is!  Inquiry is one of my constant wonders that I have for teaching in the classroom.  All of the professional reading I have read on inquiry, especially the book Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels, has sparked the creation of an inquiry workshop.  I am fortunate to have a colleague who has become intrigued with inquiry as much as I am.  We are constantly discussing what that process would like, how to incorporate Wonderopolis, picture books that would inspire, connections to our content areas...the list goes on!  The best part of the conversation is that she teaches first grade and I teach fourth grade.  It is interesting to me to see the foundation in the early grades and how it is built upon in the intermediate grades.  Through these conversations, INQUIRY BUDDIES were formed!

My classroom will be pairing with my colleague's first grade classroom.  Her students will be "wondering" and questioning from their content area studies and also their own six year old wonderings!  They will write down their wonderings and send them to us.  The fourth grader's job???? To find a text that reveals the answer to their wondering.  Once we have found the answers for all of the wonderings, we are going to meet as inquiry buddies.  The fourth grader and first grader will read the portion of the text that contains the answer.  They will celebrate the answer by writing it in their question notebooks and drawing an illustration of their new learning.  But does the process stop there???? Nope!  When we go back to our own nook in the school, the first graders will ask new wonderings developed from their new knowledge or the classroom.  My fourth graders will develop a new wondering off of "what they know now" and research their own wondering during inquiry workshop.  So...if a first grader asks, "Can penguins fly?" and together the inquiry buddies learn that penguins do not fly.  A fourth grader might come back to the classroom and wonder about Antarctic expeditions and how scientist study penguins.  

Our goal is not for the fourth graders to just find the answers, but for the fourth grader to be a partner in the first grader's first step of the journey to acting on their curiosity.  Also, for the fourth graders to act on the new information that they have gained.  This is where we are starting...not sure where this will go...but we are curious to see!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Homework Discussion...Nightly Reading

As I was preparing to go back to the classroom this summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about my beliefs.  One of the areas I spent a lot of time thinking about was homework and nightly reading.  I just read an article from ChoiceLiteracy that contains a script of a conversation between Franki Sibberson and Kathy Collins about literacy homework.  Kathy points out three main categories for homework: communication, exploration, and reflection. I also spent a lot of time reflecting on a blog post by Patrick Allen titled,"Repent...At Reading Homework Taketh Another Look..."

At the beginning of summer I had a post on taking a closer look at independent reading.  One of the areas I was excited to try was a reading graph approach to reading logs. I really wanted students to become more self-aware of their reading choices and trends.  I anticipated that the students would need support and a visual to sort through a traditional reading log and reflect on their reading.   So...I decided not to use the traditional log for home or school and use a graph.  I use Status of the Class to keep a tab on their daily reading, but that is something I record, not the students.

Now that it is almost, oh my gosh, the end of the first quarter, I wanted to reflect on how the graph approach was going and what I was noticing about my students' reading since I was not using a traditional reading log at school or home.  All I ask is that students read at night and then they are encouraged to bring the book in the next day.  Books are written on the graph only when they are completed, sometimes multiple times due to the categories at the bottom of the graph.  Here is what I have noticed...

1.  Without a home reading log and by doing Status of the Class, my students are communicating more and more about their reading....what they are reading, why they are reading the book they chose, listening for books to put in their Next Stack, and so on.  I feel like our room is always buzzing with conversations about our reading lives.

2.  When a child celebrates a completed book, they write the title on their graph and show the graph to the class.  Students are talking about what they notice about the trends in their reading and others reading.

3.  Midway through the quarter my students took their parents on a "Reading Tour" of their reader's notebooks.  Together, the parent and child, set a goal for their reading and put it on the graph.  I sure did learn a lot about each child as they shared the goals that they had set for themselves with their parents.  For example, some wrote..."to try a new series"...other families wrote "to try a mystery book or a book by Avi".  

4.  At the end of the day, I am constantly hearing a buzz about which book they are taking home.  As we write, "enjoy a book" in our planner, I am immediately swarmed with thoughts from students...EACH DAY :)  
"I am going to take my book home from school because I am going to be sitting at my brother's practice." 
"I want to take my reader's notebook home because I want to preview a book so I can just read during reader's workshop tomorrow."  
"Can I borrow Babymouse tonight because after ____ shared I am really interested in it." 
Reading plans, reading plans, reading plans!!!!!!

5.  As far as assessment, had to say it :), I can tell you right now what each child is reading and what their goal is because I can visualize the graph in my mind.  Half way through the quarter, I also put a new category on their graph. far...I am amazed at the impact of a simple graph!  I am currently trying to brainstorm the categories that I need to collect information on second quarter from everyone and I will be asking the students to decide which goal they are carrying over to second quarter.  Hmmmm...more thinking on that one!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am a Versatile Blogger!

Thank you to A Year of Reading for recognizing me!

After accepting this honor there are some things that I am requested to do:
1. Thank the people who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog...see above :)
2.  Share 7 things about you.
3.  Pass this award along to 15 other blogs that you have discovered.

My List of 7 things about my blog:

1.  The idea of the blog came from a professional development class that I was teaching in my district using Franki Sibberson's Book, Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop.  The group of teachers in that class created a bond based on reflection, conversations, and passion.  Some of the teachers requested a way to keep our "thinking" alive outside of the classroom.
2.  At the time I started the blog, I was a literacy coach for grades 3-5.  So many reflective conversations were going on in our school that I wanted a place to lay them out there.  Since "time" is something we make for the things that are most important to us...this gave my readers the time and place to reflect, spark ideas, and share books that were being used around us.
3.  Currently I am a teacher in a fourth grade classroom and I am so excited to be getting back to the "heart and soul" of the many conversations I have had over the years.
4.  The audience for this blog covers more than 10 countries!
5.  My goal is to reflect and post one time a week and my most popular post has been "Need to make a decision about reader's notebooks".
6. The use of Wonderopolis/inquiry and assessing in the Reader's Workshop are my two main areas of focus on this blog.
7.  Thank you to all of my followers!  All of you who are known and those "silent followers"...I hope that my real words about reading and wondering support you in your literacy journey!  I am also thankful for the "virtual support" that have developed from this blog, specifically Maria@Teachinginthe21century

Ahh....many of the blogs that I follow the most are already can not add 15 more.  I want to say that I concur with the list from A Year of Reading.  I will add one more...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Feeling MOODy????

I know I have been a little lately...interims, grading, planning...oh my!  Now to when being MOODy should happen in the classroom :). I decided this year to start off with a focus in reading workshop called, "Words, Phrases, and Moods".  I wanted to put out all of the strategies, types of figurative language, and the mood/senses the author were suggesting so we could examine it all year long.  To start off the focus...I found a great website link to book trailers.  Scholastic has a section of their website with MANY book trailers called "Exploring Books".  The students and I watched several book trailers and discussed the mood the book trailer was suggesting.  Not only did the students really catch on to "mood", they were itching to write down titles to books!  I even found one student rolling his way toward our classroom library because he wanted to see if we had the book!  Double whammy...teaching mood and finding books for our "Next Stack"! :)  Their favorite trailer was the one on Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
Next week...we will be moving on to explore "mood rings"  We are going to examine a list of moods and assign a color to all of the feelings.  Our focus for jotting this week in our independent books will be to find words, phrases, or sentences that suggest a mood or appeal to one of our senses as a reader.  Then, the students will create a mood ring for their favorite jot at the end of the week.  This week it will be ok to be moody! (or to read Judy Moody) :)

PS...Wonderopolis if you are reading this...I would love a Wonder of the Day on how mood rings work!
PSS...Here is their favorite book trailer from the Scholastic website.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Talking to the text...

"That is NOT a good idea!  How will Annie survive the fall? Why would could they screw the lid on the barrel?  This is not going to be be good..."  This quote came from a student who just HAD to talk back to the text!  Chris Van Allsburg's, Queen of the Falls, was a book that I stumbled upon during a texting conversation with a colleague this summer.  This book not only was a huge "interest" hit with the students, but was perfect for modeling how to "talk back to the text."

I had made it a goal this school year to stay true to what I believe about reading.  Reading is thinking.  I wanted students to be aware and to appreciate all of the moments when during an authentic reading experience students were "talking to the text" and how it supported their understanding of the text.  I started off with Queen of the Falls.  Any time a hand shot up or a comment stumbled out, I quickly jotted on a post-it what the student was saying while they were saying it.  Then, I encouraged the students to "jot" down moments when they felt this urge during their interdependent reading (Sidebar: I love that term!  Thank you Lucy Calkins!  Reading is not independent...we depend on each other for conversations, recommendations, encouragement...).  Share time was amazing!  Students were sharing moments from their post-its, such as...

  • "I get it now because..."
  • "Now I know why the book is called..."
  • "I found out the adventure! It is when..."
  • "What does commotion mean?"
As we shared, the class sorted the post-its by the kind of thinking that they had done.  During each of the three days, we read a little, I jotted their thinking, and then they practiced with their own reading... and of course I left them hanging (and wanting to read more)!  This book is not only beautifully illustrated but the strong main character of Annie Taylor has the students interpreting, analyzing, and synthesizing!  A great book to get their "thinking" going!

PS...When we did our Top 10 List of the week on Friday...Queen of the Falls was number one!  Many students chose it for their ABC book writing of the week!  Little did they know...they were writing the best summaries ever!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Yes...this is a real word!  This word that consists of 36 letters and 15 syllables is one of my fondest and most informative lessons that has occurred over the start of the school year.  When launching word study, I posted this word on our "Wonder Word" board.  I informed the class that this was the first word we were going to "wonder about" and study in fourth grade.  After hearing gasps from the class, watching fingers that began to count the letters, mumblings of "Is she serious?", and comments about how to pronounce this word...word study for the 2011 school year had begun!

I asked the students to share observations about the word.  I heard observations about how it had 36 letters, how they could determine the syllables if they knew how to pronounce it, and that they saw words they recognized such as hippo and pot.  Then...came observations on meaning.  Students were commenting on how they knew what a hippo and a pot were.  Another student commented on knowing the meaning of "phobia".  On and on they went....after deciding that it was not the "fear of hippos sitting in a pot", students started making observations about the connotation of the word.  One student thought it sounded like a magical spell when pronounced.

So...what does this word mean????  It is the fear of long words.  In the word's history, it was intended to exaggerate the length of the word and the idea of the size of the words being feared.  We quickly jotted this new word down in our "Wonder Word" notebooks.  From this moment on, my class has become interested in words of all kinds.  Hopefully we will began to break the "fear of long words" in our spelling and reading and find power in observing words closely!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Best Part of Me...

Wow!  After four years of being in the role of literacy coaching, I headed back to the "heart of it all"...the classroom!  It has been a whirlwind of not only focusing on instruction, but all of those management items that needed to be dusted off in my to do lunch count, remembering my philosophies for math instruction, how to communicate from home to school, and keeping up with all of the technology changes that have developed for classroom use over the past four years.  I have spent a lot of time searching and remembering the best part of me as a teacher...thinking about what I believe and where the evidence would be in my own classroom.

We are two weeks into the school year and Parent/Curriculum Night has come upon us, like a blink of an eye!!!!  I decided to continue the theme of self-discovery this year into an activity my students will be doing for Curriculum Night.  I am using the text, The Best Part of Me: Children talk about their bodies in pictures and words.  A photographer asked children what the best part of them was.  The children wrote (in their own handwriting) about the best part of them and each response is represented with a black and white photograph.  I found this book in the poetry section of our school library.  This book inspired discussion about our special talents, our thoughts, what others' think, and how we are special.  Each child in my room selected the "best part of them" and is writing why it is so special.  Everything from hair to feet to legs to heart to thoughts to being flexible have been brainstormed by the class.  We are going to leave this writing out at Curriculum Night and I am going to ask the guardians to write back to the students on stationary titled "The Best Part of You."  My class (and me too) have learned a lot about each other through this writing opportunity.  I am sure I will learn even more when the guardians write back!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New students + symbols + words = Community

51SUNv6t4KL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp%2CTopRight%2C12%2C-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_.jpg One way I am going to help my students learn about their new community of learners is through the exploration of Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book, This Plus That.  In this picture book, mathematical symbols are used in combination with words to make powerful statements about one's self.  Some of my favorites include..."book + chair = cozy" or "somersault + somersault + somersault = dizzy".  I am going to ask the class to brainstorm all of the mathematical symbols that they are familiar with such as the greater than symbol, less than symbol, %, x, =, etc...Then students are going to write a word equation for each symbol that we discuss to introduce themselves to the class.

For example, some of mine could be...
Chipotle is greater than Burger King. (couldn't find the greater than symbol on the computer :)
whole family + rollercoaster rides + not paying attention to how late it is = best vacation day ever
pepperoni + mushroom - olives = my side of the pizza

I think this will be a great way to assess the students' knowledge of mathematical symbols and at the same time learn a lot about each other!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

And then there is the classroom library...

As I begin to go into my classroom to set up for this year, I find myself doing what I always do...I move around the classroom moving one pile to another pile, creating new piles, distracted by small projects, feeling like I can not move on till I make a small trip to the store, and avoiding the big projects.  As I roamed around yesterday, I found myself avoiding the classroom library section.

Every year at this time I have an internal conversation about how to set up my classroom library.  Do I release complete control to the students?  Do I organize it for them?  Is there a method to do this somewhere in the middle?  I want the students to see all of the books available to them.  I want the students to have ownership.  I want the library to represent this year's class of readers.  As I tried to visualize the flow of students and books...I kept coming back to one thought.  When a student completes an independent reading book and celebrates it with the class, I hope it will immediately go into the hands of another student.  I know that is not always the case.   I want to make sure that a book has a "middle land" to go to before going back to the book bins in the library.

So...I came up with an idea called..."What's in your next stack?"  I created a bulletin board with plastic, clear envelopes hanging from hooks.  When a student finishes a book and would recommend it, they will put a post-it with their name on top of the book (so we know who we can talk to about the book), put the book in the envelope, and hang it on the bulletin board.  That way, not only is the book displayed, it is right at your finger tips with the name of the last reader on it and not lost in a bin.  I have the bulletin board in a high traffic area of the room in hopes that by passing it often a student might become interested eventually or be reminded about that book because they are finally ready to start a new book.  I also displayed the covers to many other books to intrigue the students.

I am excited about this "middle land" for books.  I am still deciding exactly how I want to roll out the classroom library when the students arrive in just two weeks!

Friday, August 5, 2011

A wonder block!

I have spent a lot of time this summer pondering how to immerse non-fiction reading into my student’s daily reading life.  My wish for my students is that they will read with wonder.  They will read, listen, and discuss all of the facts, photographs, and videos that they encounter in their reading.  I want the students to feel the surprise of wonder when they encounter something that is unexpected, mysterious, unfamiliar, or maybe just beautiful.  But beyond that feeling of wonder, I want to provide students with the opportunity to act on this feeling in the form of curiosity.  I need to find a way to provide my students with the opportunity to turn that wonder into curiosity and act on it…to take that strong desire and go!

Through several virtual conversations with Maria at the Teaching in the 21st Century blog (see blogs I follow), I have come up with a way to immerse my students in wonder all week long and provide opportunities to act on their curiosity…a wonder block!  I have decided to use Wonderopolis’ Wonder of the Day as the opening to my day.  Monday through Wednesday students will come into the classroom with the wonder of the day posted.  They will free-write what they think the answer is, have conversations, and stimulate background knowledge in their wonder notebooks.  We will watch the video and share-read the information as a class.  We will also write any lingering questions in our wonder notebooks before our “wondering block” concludes (Although I hope it doesn’t!  I hope it continues into reading workshop!).  On Thursdays, I am going to “dig deep” into the reading portion of a wonder that connects to our content.  At the end of this time, I am going to provide the students with a basket of text for future reading. On Fridays, our “wonder block” will be sharing any new information gained from acting on our curiosity.

I think the opportunities to informally wonder and to wonder about content will be just what the students need to build their stamina with writing and to read with “eyes wide open.”  By providing the students with immediate resources and a share time of further investigations, the students will be given time and conversations to act on their curiosity and share their strong desire to learn something new.  My hope is that by the second half of the year the students are independently going through the wonder of the days, independently finding resources, and shifting to more open inquiry and curriculum inquiry opportunities.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Need to make a decision about reader's notebooks!

Every time I see the commercial from Staples with the dad riding joyfully down the school supply aisle as his children trudge along behind him...I have to laugh!  Not sure if it is the connection to the father (I love getting school supplies and the idea of going back to school), the connection to the kids (uh-oh...Sunday nights are going to have a whole new meaning and I am going to have to start packing my lunch), or the music playing in the background (Christmas is my favorite holiday!).  All I know is right now school supplies are on sale, it is August, and I need to make a decision about how to set up my reader's notebooks this fall.

Here is what I am thinking right now...

The reader's notebook will have four sections and all four sections will be housed in a three ring binder.

1.  Spiral Notebook:  The first section will be a spiral notebook that is placed in the binder using the three rings.  The purpose of the spiral notebook will be to have a place where students can record their thinking about books before, during, and after their reading.  I have chosen a spiral notebook so the students can take it out of the binder and go anywhere in the classroom to jot about their reading.  The spiral notebook will also be a place where students can tape/glue their post-its from their reading after they complete a book.  I think of this section as "thinking on the go".

2.  My Reading: This will be the second section of the binder using a divider.  This will be where the students hold their completed book logs and reading graphs. (Refer to the earlier post on Looking closer at independent reading...)

3.  My Thinking:  This will be the third section of the binder using a divider.  This will be where students will hold letters to me about their reading, reflections on how one of their jottings impacted their reading of a book, book club thinking, etc...The purpose of this section is to hold thinking that has been developed through evidence, conversations, background knowledge and strategy lessons.

4.  My Thoughts:  This will be the fourth section of the binder using a divider.  This will be where students hold their reflections about their reading and reading behaviors.  It will be focused on their thoughts of themselves as a reader.  The students will store book log reflections, book club reflections, and interview answers in this section.

I am excited that at a moment's notice I can grab a binder and have a student's jottings (spiral notebook), their reading log and graph, their more developed thinking, and reflections at my finger tips.  This reader's notebook will hold the evidence I need to inform my instruction for each individual reader. deciding this now...maybe I can find the spiral notebook for ten cents, the dividers half off, and the binders for under a dollar!!!  Happy School Shopping!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kicking off word study...

Word study has been on my mind a lot recently...I really am striving to create a classroom environment that supports students in becoming "word thinkers" and not just decoders.  I want the students to be thinking about a word's meaning, structure, and spelling patterns and not just "how to say it". I also want to encourage students to not only examine words, but phrases and moods created with words as well.  I have always had students do word observations of their names to start off word study for the year, but was looking for a way to transfer it to reading and writing.  Here it is!

While perusing the blog, Teaching in the 21st Century, Maria has a post on "Stretching Wonderopolis into the Summer." (Which by the way, if you have not used Wonderopolis, check it out!!!!! It has completely transformed what I think about inquiry in the classroom and how research can be embedded in our student's everyday reading workshop, not just a research project at the end of the year...but that is a post for another day :)  She refers us to one of Wonderopolis' posts titled, "How Did Dinosaurs Get Their Names?".  There it was!  A video to build background knowledge, an article to inform the students, and a list of root words to inspire the creation of your own dinosaur!  I can transfer our observations about our names to understanding the names of dinosaurs! I am going to do a mini-lesson on having your eyes open for word origins to determine the meaning of unknown words and do what Wonderopolis suggests...have the students create a dinosaur using the root words listed. During this activity they will see exactly how a root word and its origin impacts the meaning of words.  If students still have lingering questions or feel that their reading journey takes them to finding out more about word origins, I will have the following book available...


I am hoping that this activity will be just the right start toward encouraging students to look at the impact that origins, prefixes, and suffixes have on a word's meaning in their reading and writing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book is what?

Over the years I have always had this awkward moment when students finish a book club book or when the whole class would finish a read aloud novel.  It was the phrase, "now what?", repeating in my head.  The book is done.  Do we hurry and pick another book?  Do the students pick an extension that I created?  I never had the time to fully ponder this one because tomorrow was a new day and we had to keep moving.  I was always uncomfortable with this.  What would be the best way to celebrate the end of a book club book?  How do I make sure the book is not closed and forgotten but seen as having an impact on our reading life?  If I believe in authentic reading experiences and choice, how do I support students in seeing what is meaningful in their reading life and begin to inquire about future reading possibilities?  I think I have found the answer toward beginning to make those beliefs evident in my classroom.

I came across four lingering questions that Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey recommend in, Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action (pg. 203), to support the change in us that occurs after reading a book, no matter how slight the change might be.  They suggest asking four lingering questions that encourage readers to dig dipper into their thinking and see where the book's impact, no matter how small, takes them next.

The predictable structure in which I am going to utilize these questions appears in two places.  The first one is during independent reading conferences.  I have decided to use the four questions as the heart of my conferences when students share they have completed a book.  I want to support the students in seeing how one book can impact your next choice and should not be viewed as another "check mark"of things completed.  It will also give students "permission" to leave their next stack of books and follow the journey this book urges them to take.

The second structure in which I will use the four questions is after a book club is complete.  I will have each student independently answer the four questions and then meet to discuss the book's impact on their reading life.   Then, I am going to support the students on the journey they have chosen.  I want students to hear others' responses and listen for similarities, differences, or a common theme that could encourage collaboration.  I tried this last year with a group of third graders who were reading the book, Who Stole the Wizard of Oz, by Avi.  The students surprised me, don't they always, with how this simple mystery book had impacted them.  Two of the students wanted to rush to the library to see what other books Avi had written and wanted to read a different one by this author right away since they had never heard of this author before.  Another student did not like the ending of the book and wanted to rewrite it. A different student was surprised by the ending and wanted to reread it and look for clues that they felt they had missed during the first read.  And yes...two students felt stumped by the questions.  Right there I knew the focus of my next individual reading conference!

So what are the four lingering questions?  All credit goes to page 203 of Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action.  Check it out on this example I am going to use this year.
The four lingering questions

Friday, July 15, 2011

Looking closer at independent reading...

I had read in Jennifer Serravallo's book, Teaching Reading in Small Groups, that "My very first job as a classroom teacher is to get children to feel that reading is for them and to help them identify themselves as "readers," (page 95).  This quote dug deep at thoughts I have been having this summer about independent reading time in the classroom.  I made a list of what I believe about independent reading.  The list contained the beliefs that independent reading should be on purpose and not a filler, it should contain choice and the students should really own what they are reading, it should occur in a predictable structure, the students will need to be engaged to develop plans that support their reading life, that the reading experiences should be authentic, and the students need to be aware of their reading life. So...where is the evidence of it going to be in my classroom?  Here is a new idea I am trying in the fall...

The predictable structure in which independent reading occurs will be a block of time (hopefully building their stamina to 30 minutes, but will start with whatever they can do) just prior to reading workshop. By having it right before reading workshop, the students will be focused on independent reading and they can go back to reading while I work with small groups (strategy groups, book clubs, guided reading, etc...)  after the mini-lesson.  The block will start with Status of the Class so I can hear the title of the book that the student chose and the page the student is starting on.  Then...the kids will read!  I will observe and participate in individual conferences focused on their reading behaviors and strategies.  At the end of the independent reading block, the students will ponder if they need to fill in two forms:

My Reading Log:  This is a log that students complete with the date the book was completed, title, author, and number of pages in the whole book.  The students will only fill in the log if the book was completed.  My status of the class information taken earlier will already tell me how much reading they accomplished that day.   I want the students to spend less time writing down what they are reading daily and spend that time reading! Example

Looking closer at my reading graph:  When a book has been completed, the student will use this graph to make their reading trends visible.  The students will read the categories at the bottom of the graph and write the title of the book in a box if it applies.  It is feasible that a child could write that title several times because it may fit in multiple categories.  The categories listed are the ones that I am currently focusing on for instruction.  The graph has three blank categories at the end for the student and I to set reading goals.  Any time the student and I feel that they need to collect information, we will make it their reading goal on the graph.  For example, right now I want to know the following, was the book a picture book, chapter book, fiction, non-fiction, and was it one they read before.  If I notice that the student mentions that they want to read more Andrew Clements books, we can make one of the blank categories an "Andrew Clements" column.  That way, every time the student completes a book the goal will be staring at them on the graph to remind them about their reading plan. Example

I am anxious to see how this will work!  I think the graph will really support the students when reflecting on their reading choices, will individualize each student's reading life, and will support the student's metacognition.  Hopefully overtime, the graph may take form to other self-created reading logs, but I want to start supporting their authentic reading experiences with a tool that is visible and supports their individual reading journeys.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Greetings from Nowhere

This book had me from the moment our plane took off from Florida and landed in Ohio. (Yes, I finished it on that two hour and 20 minute plane ride while snacking on airplane pretzels and drinking diet coke:)  Greetings from Nowhere, by Barbara O'Connor, is a wonderful story centered around Aggie, a lady who is running the Sleepy Time Motel in the Great Smoky Mountains.  She has had only one visitor since her husband Harold died and spends her days with her cat, Ugly.  Aggie makes the decision to sell the motel and is surprised that her for sale ad is answered quickly by Clyde Dover, Willow's Dad. This event begins the journey of several unexpected characters finding their way to this motel in the middle of nowhere:
Loretta: who is on a trip with her adopted parents and they are following the charms on her mother's bracelet to remember Loretta's birth mother
Willow: whose dad is trying to buy the motel and start a new life for their family
Kirby: who is on his way to reform school when his mother's car breaks down
Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character.  I personally fell in love with Aggie,  an older lady who is struggling with wonderful memories of the past, confronted with present decisions, and encounters relationships with all of the guests at the motel that will change her future.

Also, here is a link to a discussion guide that I found while perusing Barbara O'Connor's blog.
Teacher's Guide

Barbara O'Connor seems to be my "author of the summer".  I have read several books written by her.  All of her books have heartfelt stories with interesting characters and influential settings.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Engagement, Strategy Lessons, and Conversations...oh my!

No doubt that chapters 3, 4, and 5 have left us with numerous items to think about!  Although some of us are also reading chapters 5-8 in Jennifer Serravallo's other book titled, Conferring with Readers, one common theme from each book is the predictable structure for small group instruction and individual conferences.  During small group instruction, a structure of connect, teach, engage, and link is utilized.  During conferencing, the structure of research the reader, decide what to compliment and teach, and teach the reader is used.  Take a moment and think about why those two structures are different...what purpose does each structure have?

"Engagement in reading has been found to be the most powerful instructional activity for fostering reading growth," (page 70).  Thinking back to your you remember a student who appeared to be reading only when you looked at them, a student who was stuck on the same page for days, or a student who could read but just did not choose to read?  The following questions stem from myself and from our text on engaging readers, strategy lessons, and conversations:

  • What do you look for when you check to see if your students are engaged readers?  Any specific routines/methods that you use?
  • Do we know our classroom libraries and all of the numerous books that emerge each day well enough to support our students in finding their "home run" book?  That single book or series that gets a reader hooked on reading.
  • Do we have a sense of the characteristics of most reading levels so we can use book introductions to transition the reader as they grow?
  • When do children look at, evaluate, and reflect on their own reading logs, book bin choices, notebooks, and sticky notes to think about their skill work and process?
  • How do we move kids from conversations about their books to the place where they can talk openly about their work and ideas that they are generating as a reader?
  • What about the idea of "sign-up seminars"?
  • Often the author refers to "bringing their baggie of books" to small group/individual conferences which means all students are not using the same book for small group instruction.  How does that make you feel?  What do you think about that?
  • Instruction can occur in small group strategy lessons, small group engagement lessons, guided reading, and individual conferences...which structure do you use most often?  Is there one structure that you would like to focus on next school year?
  • The author talks about prioritizing time in our classrooms for more regular student talk about reading and that we need to also support conversation strategies.  Book clubs, partnerships, read-aloud book clubs, conferences, all support conversation.  How often do your students have opportunities to be social around books?
  • Notetaking (by the teacher) is a form of formative assessment during small group instruction and individual conferences.  How do you record your notes?  Do you bounce from skill to skill, or do you stick with a skill over several days? 
Now those are some thinking stems! :)