Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Last One Little Word Reflection of 2012

2012.  It was a year full of wondering, learning, reflecting, changing, hurting, adjusting, and listening.





Below were my three goals for this year...the purple writing is the "now" feeling!

1.  Listen to my heart-
Listening to my heart took on a whole new meaning for me this year.  I did stick with my goal of listening to my beliefs in the classroom and being ok with slowing down before deciding if I was riding the latest education wave.  I listened to what I saw in my students and planned instruction off of what I recognized...following the students' needs.

The lesson I did not expect during this ride was listening to my heart in my personal life.  After experiencing my dad's five month struggle with cancer and now his passing, listening took on a whole new meaning.  I learned to listen to the meaning of words not said when holding someone's hand and how to listen to the true message behind acts of kindness from family and friends.    

2.  Listen to conversations-

As I moved back into a literacy coach role this school year, I was reminded once again how amazing my colleagues are.  I am so lucky to have the opportunity to listen deeply, hear viewpoints, and be a part of journeys that create aliveness and possibility in our education world.  The one common word you always hear..."students".  I was able to listen to this word over and over again and found it to be the center of all that we do, believe, and think about.

3.  Listen to reading-

From January-June...this was my obsession...making sure that the thinking and listening that was done while reading had as much value as the thinking that was done when the book is closed.  As my role changed in the school come August, so did my focus...but this obsession of WHILE reading led to so many realizations about my students and their level of engagement with a text that have impacted my beliefs forever.

What a year!  Thank you to Maria for encouraging me to post each month. So what will my one little word be for 2013????  I have it narrowed down...find out in a few days.  Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

When times are difficult...look around...read a book...

Our family has just begun to experience the loss of my father, my children's grandfather, my mother's devoted husband of over 40 years...  His five month struggle with cancer was full of many feelings, but the one lesson I learned was to look around.  Although there are no words to describe the hurt and loss right now, I can look around and find peace in my dad's comfort and strength to find courage in the day's ahead.  There are so many loving memories of my dad that I will forever hold in my heart.  To look around and see the presence of friends and family...a smile, a hug, a photo, his glasses, a laugh, a card, a hand holding out a tissue, a book...

There  are two books that I have found that I will be using to support my children with the death of a grandparent.  Thank you to the church and friends for recommending the following books to help our family during this difficult time.  Please give your families an extra squeeze during this holiday season...


Link to Amazon

Link to Amazon


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

WONDERful Wednesday with Wonderopolis...Part One

Today was the day!  Wonderopolis sent a crew of three to our school for an author visit!  Words can not express how grateful we are for Sara, Donna (who talked to six groups!), and Jon.  The day was full of wonder, the writing process, the "investigation" process, and choice for the students.  As teachers we were able to have meaningful conversations about how inquiry, acting on curiosity, and technology are major components of the home-school connection.  We also spent time creating a more personal relationship with the mission of Wonderopolis and the crew members behind the scenes.  There were so many great moments to the day...I can't possibly put them all in one post!  So I am going to retell the day through photographs and then leave you WONDERing about how the rest of the day went.



Getting ready...
Wonder Jars made by a third grade classroom.  We used these to decorate the lunch tables.


Our librarian encouraged students to wonder off of photographs from home.

How do cell phone signals travel?

How many neck bones does a giraffe have?




Second grade's wonders focused around curriculum.
Fourth grade's favorite wonders from Wonderopolis...(cookie jar:)
Kindergarten's wonders around science.

Look who arrived...dressed alike and ready to show off the answer to the first Wonder of the Day...
Why are flamingos pink?
Sara, Donna, and Jon...ready to make us wonder!

Let the wondering begin...
 Stay tuned for part two!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

OLW: Listening to our vocabulary instruction

A few days ago during our professional development day, teachers were discussing vocabulary instruction. After reading vocabulary thoughts from Beck, the Common Core Appendix A explanation of acquistion of vocabulary, Fountas and Pinnell, Debbie Diller, and so on...I found that vocabulary instruction had around 8 common themes that were reappearing.


  • Balance of direct and indirect instruction
  • thought-provoking
  • interactive
  • encourages wide reading
  • promotes word consciousness
  • includes high quality literature
  • playful
  • balance of dictionary and context

 The teachers were asked to sort these components into three categories.  The teachers were given no headings for the sort.  They were thinking about their knowledge and their experiences to sort these components in a way that connected to their students, their teaching and teaching structures.  Some found this activity frustrating because they were not given the categories.  Some teachers were quick to sort.  Some were quick to sort two ways and spent time looking at the sort to see a third way.  Here are some of the sorts that teachers used to anchor their conversations.

Sorting by what we do, what we need, and areas to wonder about.
Sorting by teaching strategies, components for students, components for the teacher.
Sorting by what the classroom would appear to look like, the benefits, and the structures needed.

It was during these conversations that I was reminded of what I already knew...teachers need time to discuss and listen to colleagues about the WHAT and the WHY of what we do/teach so that we can make informed decisions on HOW this could occur in the structures we have developed and the needs of our students in our individual classrooms.  

PS...If you are interested in supporting the "balance of using the dictionary and using context"...check out Wonder 127- How do words get added to the dictionary?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Guess who is coming to town...

I just got the final word last week that Wonderopolis is coming to our school for an author visit!


In the spirit of instructional shifts that are occurring with the Common Core, we decided to reach out to our friends at Wonderopolis to see if they could come and support our learners with building knowledge through content-rich informational text and informational writing.  We are so excited to have a team coming to our school for, what we are calling, Wonder Wednesday!  We are so grateful to Wonderopolis for supporting us with an idea that was new for them and new for us...merging the writers in the digital media world with their real-world audience...21st Century Learning!  Wonderopolis will be sharing who writes for them (I think we have a misconception in the primary grades that a computer writes for them...not people:), how they select wonders that are nominated, how their writing process actually occurs, how they validate their facts, and so much more!  I am so excited about the partnership Wonderopolis has shown in acting on an idea and making it a reality.  Sharing pictures, moments, and ideas on this blog will be WONDERful!   Can't wait to spread the wonder!!!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My OLW: Listening to so many different types of readers...

Our classrooms are filled with so many different types of readers.  The avid readers who enjoy reading, plan to read in the future, and enjoy being called a reader.   The dormant readers who enjoy reading, but don't make time for it or wait for you to tell them what to read.  The developing readers who are still working on their commitment to reading, their purpose for reading, and the skills/strategies needed to work through reading. But...no matter which type of reader you are....there is one thing all of these readers have in common.  The one thing they all need.  Choice.  A time to say..."I am in!  You have my attention."


"Eyes on print time" has been quite a buzz phrase as classrooms enter into fully implementing the Common Core Standards.  In order for this time to be purposeful, meaningful, and successful...the students need a plan...a plan with choice.  A plan that is flexible and is easy to adjust and change to each type of reader.  The avid reader will chase the latest title.  The dormant reader will be searching for a series that will send a message that reading is worth the time by getting to know a character and author's structure so well that they can dive right in.  The developing reader needs permission to adjust to what they need as they find their path through instruction, opportunity, and support.  Of course with these plans, teacher will nudge their readers toward new genres, authors, and levels of text complexity.  But we can not forget to listen for the "choice" and "decisions" in their reading so that no matter which type of reader you are...you are engaged in reading.

Here is the latest series I have been using with a reader who needed a series to say "I am in!".  Disruptive boys, monsterous teachers, and little snips of graphics mixed in to keep the events moving...Cody and Dr. Farley are characters that will bring you back for more at the Splurch Academy!

Here is a link to the whole collection at Amazon.




Sunday, September 30, 2012

My OLW...Listening when planning small differentiated reading groups

Every year I am looking for that perfect form, recording keeping tool, or system for planning small differentiated reading groups.  Whether it be...guided reading, strategy groups, book clubs, or individual conferences...I needed a tool that encouraged me and reminded me to LISTEN to what my students' needs were as readers.  I think I found it!  It came in the most simplistic form.


I did recopy an example...my handwriting
was awful and I wanted to remove students' names.
My right-hand resource for planning small differentiated reading groups is the Continuum of Literacy Learning by Fountas and Pinnell.  From interactive read aloud, to writing about reading, to individual reading levels...it has it all.  I have owned and used this book for almost three years...why it took me to year two to connect the heading of the page to my planning for small groups...I will never know!  Over and over again, you see "Behaviors to NOTICE, TEACH, AND SUPPORT" written on almost every page.  It took me to January of this year to make the connection to my recording tool.  It is simple.  I write NOTICE, TEACH, SUPPORT at the top.  Then, six boxes to record student information.  I do not plan out the week.  I plan out the day.  This form encourages me at the end of each reading group to reflect and reminds me that what I notice is important.  It encourages me to respond the next day and reminds me to define my focus.  Here is how I interpret the NOTICE, TEACH, SUPPORT on my form.




NOTICE: Why am I bringing this small group together?  What do they have in common?  What did I notice today that will help me support their reading life tomorrow?

Check it out!
TEACH: What is the one thing I want them to experience?  I use the Continuum to help me and always note if it is within, beyond or about the text.

SUPPORT:  What type of media am I going to use to support their learning? Their independent reading books? A short text selected by me?  A group of short text that the students can choose from?  A book from a specific level?

Slowing down and LISTENING each day, instead of conforming to my agenda, helped me to ride their reading wave...not mine.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Common Core...evidence and OREOs


Now that we are reaching October and the school year feels like "full speed ahead"...I am sure it is the Oreo part in the title that caught your attention!  I can always infer how teachers are feeling in our building based on the level of my candy tin (evidence #1), based on the number of teachers standing around it (evidence #2), and how open they are about how often they visit the tin even if I am not there (evidence #3)!  In fact, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Common Core has shifted my thinking toward evidence.

One of the instructional shifts that the Common Core is bringing to the forefront is grounding our students' reading, writing, and speaking with evidence from the text...from kindergarten classrooms using prompting and supporting to respond to questions about key details in a text...to third grade using the text as the basis for answers to demonstrate understanding...to fifth grade quoting accurately when drawing inferences from the text...it is all about the text.  The text is put to center stage since it is the one thing all readers have in common during conversations.

In order to make this shift in our teaching and in our classroom discussions, it is all about the OREO.  I came across a blog (check it out for the full acronym), written by a kindergarten teacher, that uses this acronym for encouraging students to think deeply when writing persuasive pieces.  Then I got to thinking... we could nudge our students to deeper thinking in conversations using this same model.  The thought process is very similar...

"What are you thinking?" (opinion)
"Why are you thinking that?"
"How does your thinking connect back to the text? (evidence)
"Tell us more"(evidence)
"So what are you thinking now?"

I was in a third grade classroom modeling this thinking with the book, The Sweetest Fig.  Students had jotted their thoughts down in their notebooks and we were examining thoughts that we could think deeply about.  By thinking about the OREO in my head, I was able to nudge the students to not accept their first statement as their only thought...but to see how grounded it was.  Here is an example of one student's response...

T: What are you thinking?
S: I think the owner is just mean.
T: Why are you thinking that?
S: Did you see the way he pulled the leash real hard?!?!
T: We did (and I pointed to it in the text). Tell us more.
S:  The poor animal was not even allowed to bark.
S2: Yes, the owner was very clean and fussy.
T:  We did hear that (and I turned to that part) So what are you thinking now?
S: I do not think Bibot is a person who should own a pet.

T= teacher   S= student

This acronym is a great tool to keep in your back pocket to support grounding our thinking in evidence and to support students in having conversations, not just reporting an answer.  It encourages the process of supporting with evidence in our conversations with the class, with book partners, and when we are engaged independently in a text.  Of course, eating an OREO while reading is great too!






Thursday, September 13, 2012

If you go to the zoo...



If you go to the Columbus Zoo, what do you find?
A gift shop full of many surprises.
If you look at the surprises, what do you see?
An intriguing section of non-fiction texts.
When you look inside the text, what do you think?
The following texts are engaging, new, and just what we need!


Animal Eyes and Animal Tails are a great series that takes a broad topic and breaks it down to specific sub-topics.  Perfect for using text features to gain information and to focus on understanding one main idea or drawing conclusions with a text on a one page spread.


Who Pooped At the Zoo? is an engaging read.  By examining complex one page spreads, readers will learn to dance around text features and various ideas on one page.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Welcome students...welcome digital learners...

This was shared at our opening convocation to kick off the school year.  Welcome students!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Plus Two More...

My credit card balance survived Cathy and Mandy's Picture Books 10 for 10 on August 10th.  Now I am grateful that Mary Lee at A Year of Reading suggested Plus Two More on August 12th.  I realized after I posted that I had left two off of my list.  Here are my PLUS TWO...and they come in sets of two!  I have started buying text sets to be able to act on wonder when reading a historical fiction picture book.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot meets Candy Bomber:  The Story of the Berlin Airlift's Chocolate Pilot:  Mercedes is one of the many true stories you will read about in the Candy Bomber...a biography about Lt. Halverson who loaded candy parachutes with chocolate and gum to feed the children of West Berlin during WW2.








Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing meets You Wouldn't Want to Work on the Brooklyn Bridge!:  A beautiful account of how one man seized the opportunity to show the people of Brooklyn that the bridge was safe and strong and a creative text to help readers understand this enormous project that seemed impossible!

Friday, August 10, 2012

10 for 10...just my favorites

This is my first year participating in the picture book event: August 10 for 10 hosted by Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek.  As I was getting my room ready yesterday, I spent the day reorganizing all of the books that I have bought over 16 years of teaching.  I was remembering so many wonderful moments from teaching in first grade, second grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade classrooms.  Here are my Top 10 Picture Books today.  Disclaimer:  It could change by tomorrow :) and they appear in no specific order!

1.  Chicken Cheeks:  This book has come up with more synonyms for a "behind" then I could ever think of!  Students love the fact that they have learned so many new words for a body part that they are often asked...do you mean "but" with one "t" or the not-appropriate word with two "t"'s.  I love the fact that the students always remember what a synonym is and the mood that is appropriate with each one.  You will love "the end" :)






2. Duck! Rabbit!:  This is my go-to book at the beginning of the year!  I show just the illustration below the title and ask the class what they see.  Great conversation about listening to each other's point of view and using evidence "from the pictures" to convince us.









3.  Queen of the Falls:  This historical fiction account of the first lady to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel has students on the edge of their seats.  Perfect for understanding a character's motivation and struggles to achieve a dream.

4.  Pulling the Lion's Tail:  Patience and time are the clear message while a child learns to use her grandfather's advice with adjusting to her new stepmother in an Ethiopia community.









5.  Questions, Questions:  Of course my list would include a book that inspires wonders around us to promote inquiry.






6.  Read Anything Good Lately?:  This is an ABC book that lists all of the ways we read around us... both with genres and our world.  Great mini-lesson at the beginning of the year to try to create an ABC list of what we read...M for menus, B for blogs, etc...This book does not contain any digital reading...that would be fun to add in!



 7.  Little Dog Poems:  These simple poems about a dog make the best mentor text for writing poetry!











8.  The Empty Pot:  Honesty is the lesson while trying to succeed in the emperor's contest.








9.  Courage:  This book shows us that we can find courage in what seem to be simple tasks around us.










10.  Pete the Cat:  This book puts anyone in a good mood...especially if you play the song with it! If you have read it, you know that it is "all good"!!!





Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Inquiry Workshop...opening minds with text sets


"In a dynamic world, when you run into difficulty it just means things are becoming more interesting.  Challenging activities present no threat, only the promise of learning something new." (page 12)
-Peter Johnston (Opening Minds)

The promise of learning something new.  This message is one that I have continued to think about after participating in this year's CyberPD.  Yes, I want students to learn new knowledge, but I also want students to know how to adjust when a challenging text or task presents itself.  I had shared about using Design Squad to reach all students in an inquiry workshop and to build teamwork with inquiry-based tasks.  These tasks promote not only brainstorming, designing, building, and testing...but most importantly redesigning and conversations.  Now what about a text that would ground this thinking to our world?


I discovered the book, Mistakes that Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be.  On page 1 you read, "Intelligence is not to make no mistakes.  But quickly to see the good in them."  This is the message I want students to hear right from the start of the school year as we use begin to use conversations to learn from each other.  This book includes the invention of coca-cola, doughnut holes, dog guides for people who are blind, silly putty, and even places in our world that were named on accident.  By using different text sections from this book, students can read about times in our world when challenging activities presented something new.  I know I am grateful for the accident that led to the invention of the chocolate chip cookie!  Students will have the opportunity to choose the text section that they would like to explore.  This choice will drive the student's engagement into the text. Then, when groups come together to discuss their text.  Students will share the text that impacted their strategies and engagement, hold on to their thinking by jotting, and synthesize in a group about how their big ideas connect to our world.  By using various text sections from this book, students can use familiar inventions to drive their motivation to continue to make learning more interesting in the year to come.





Friday, August 3, 2012

The latest buzz...

As always, as we turn the calendar page to August, our minds start "buzzing".   It is the pace at the beginning of August that I always enjoy...going into the classroom when you are ready, taking a break to reflect (even if at 2 AM), meeting up with colleagues, giving ourselves permission to take "one more day" to soak up summer, and time to wonder about our future learners and their reading lives.  And, as always, there are changes that come up.  My change includes a journey back into the literacy coach role.  I am leaving the fourth grade classroom and heading back to focus on one of my passions...job- embedded professional development.

I have been fortunate to have many conversations with teachers in our building, with teachers in other districts, and other literacy coaches.  The latest conversations have been focused on reflecting on who we are as teachers, what we believe, and what we vision as we embrace the shift to the Common Core. Here are two resources that have developed from discussions during the "latest buzz"...

1.  Reader's Notebooks-  It is the time of year where we look for the "perfect" organization methods and tools for a Reader's Notebook.  Of course, we have not found it yet.  We probably never will.  Each year brings new readers, new experiences as a teacher, conversations that build new ideas and then... our vision changes.  Here are two anchor charts developed by fourth grade students that reveal ways that they use their Reader's Notebook.  Maybe these "ideas from the learner" will inspire this year's version of a Reader's Notebook.  Helpful hint:  Keep it simple.  This allows the readers room to bring their learning and needs into the notebook.  Leave freedom for your journey and your reader's journey to change.

2.  Common Core-  That definitely is the latest buzz word as districts begin to transition or complete the transition to the Common Core.  One resource I found helpful last year was A Curricular Plan for Reading Workshop.  I had blogged about it earlier, but it reveals a happy marriage between the a workshop model and the Common Core.  Definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Opening Minds...Cyber PD...Part 3

I am amazed how with each section of this book, my response or focus has been completely different!  During Part One, I focused on thinking deeply about how one single word can change everything and inspire action.  During Part Two, I made many connections to this fall and how I wanted to develop a structure for inquiry in the classroom.  During Part Three, I found myself reflecting to past thoughts and building a bridge between known learning and new learning.  Same book, three sections, three different levels of engagement! (This week is hosted by Laura.)

"But it is equally true that our ability to think alone is substantially dependent on our ability to think together. Individual minds are nutured in the conversations-the interactive thinking-of the community.  Thinking well together leads to thinking well alone...But by thinking together...the emotional and relational support we provide for each other in the process of thinking together is usually important for the development of individual minds." (page 96)


My classroom community of readers, my virtual community of bloggers, and my reading life all contain communities.  In each of these communities, no one reads alone.  Each particular community has members and the members within that community rely on each other to experience the joy that reading and conversations can bring.  As readers, we are free to choose what we read, but this choice is influenced by book recommendations, book trailers, and book previews.  As readers, we can "jot" and have conversations, but no one can control our own experience and thinking while reading a book.  As readers, we need guidance.  We need to see how everyone's thinking connects back to the same text that we just read, how it connects to other texts and experiences, and we need the care and support of other readers to try anything new or to understand a new perspective.


Think about the way blogging is set up.  We give "blogs we follow" along the side...recommendations.  We have a "comments" section so we can virtually talk...conversations.  We have a "followers" section so we can see who else we can talk with about a blog....blog partners or blog clubs.  We have an "about me" section so we can understand the perspective of the writing.  I know that my blogging is inter-dependent as well.  I anxiously await comments because I feel I have "put it all out there" and want others to connect thinking back with me.  Also, without the care and support of other bloggers, I would not have tried blogging or made Twitter a NEXT goal instead of a YET goal. (That was for you Maria and Cathy...I still have three weeks:)


"The first step (for children to appreciate each other as interesting and as a source of learning), is to arrange for children to be interesting to each other.  This requires enabling them to bring their interests, experiences, and perspectives to their work." (page 100)


How happy was I to have a whole section on my One Little Word for the year?  And...what a powerful statement as we begin to develop our planned opportunism for the fall.  My thoughts fly forward to inquiry workshop, appreciating our wonders through wondering wishes, book partners, book clubs, book recommendations and choice in reading.  This section also took my thoughts backwards to listening to Chris Tovani in the spring and remembering my notes that I scrambled down.

How does your thinking connect back to the text?  What a powerful use of language!  But what I realized most is that connecting it back to the text is the key to getting access to information and putting it all in perspective in our world. Every reader will enter into engagement with the text at a different point based on their needs and experiences.  By connecting it back to the text through conversation, we are focusing our discussion on the one thing we all share in common...the text.  It is those different entry points that will enrich our discussion and provide opportunity for all readers to find or affirm the point that solidifies their thinking.

Thank you to Cyber PD and to the blogging community for helping me to realize that reading experiences matter and that when we share them...it is priceless.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Inquiry...reaching all students

Inquiry workshop is a model that I have incorporated into my classroom to create a predictable structure for students to act on their curiosity.  The inquiry workshop I have developed has a more informational text focus that revolves around curiosity, engagement, research, and presentation of new knowledge.  But does this model work for all students?  Can students be curious in different avenues?

To kick off the school year, I also begin with a series of inquiry-based activities to further reach my students that are more hands-on, more visual, and more interdependent.  Not only do I want to encourage language that includes what to do next if something is unsuccessful, but I also want to encourage listening to each other, brainstorming, and adjusting plans based on feedback/trial and error.  During the first few weeks of school, I use Design Squad Project Ideas to promote...

  • brainstorming
  • designing
  • building
  • testing
  • redesigning
  • team work
  • conversations


First, we watch Episode 110: Pumped from Season One.  (free on their website!)  We discuss the levels of conversations, parts of inquiry, and teamwork that occurs as two teams face off to build a manual contraption that puts water on the slides at their local YMCA.

Next, we use Wonderopolis 236: How Long is the Longest Bridge for examining bridges.  Little do they know that I am supporting them with background knowledge to attempt their first Design Squad Challenge... How to create a table that will hold a book using one piece of cardboard, a heavy book, masking tape, and 8 sheets of newspaper...it is called the Paper Table Challenge. (Last year's class designed a table that held 32 books!)  Our focus is more on conversations, meaningful observations, and determining variables while examining scientific inquiry.  We also do the Pop Fly Challenge and a Marshmallow Construction Activity in teams.  All year long the students beg for more Design Squad Challenges.  Design Squad by PBS is a great resource for promoting inquiry, community, mistakes, and accomplishments in the classroom at the beginning of the year.