Saturday, February 28, 2009

Their Pick

I found a book at the library called Their Are Cats In This Book. I thought of my students the minute I read it. I had a hunch it would be a favorite read after buying it for the classroom.

It is full of cats and lifting flaps. The cats invite you in in by asking "Who are you?" and then engage in conversation with the reader throughout the book. The cats are playful and keep kids guessing. I wasn't in love with the entire story but rather by the fact that I knew kids would be drawn to playing with this book. I have seen student after student take the book home to share with their family. It usually lives in our "Dog and Cat Basket" of books but it never seems to find its way home. These days it is quite often in a reader's hands! Check it out!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dublin Literacy Conference

Yesterday my district celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Dublin Literacy Conference. I had so many wonderful conversations and learned from a number of amazing teachers, authors and presenters. I left with many ideas to process and think about.

The keynote address was by Ruth Culham who is known for her work with 6+1Traits. Today she talked with us about the myths teachers often associate with the 6Trait model. For example, the traits are not a curriculum, the traits are not the writing process rather the language and tools we use to talk about with students, and the traits are a model rather than a program you adopt. She said it beautifully when she wrote, "Let's be clear; the traits are a language that empower students and teachers to communicate about the qualities of writing." We use the language of these traits so often in the classroom. Ruth's article, "The Trait Lady Speaks Up: Dispelling Myths About Writing Traits" is something everyone should read.

The second session that left me thinking and nodding was a session on strategies for struggling readers by Pat Johnson. Pat is the author of One Child At A Time. Pat helped remind me that reading in itself is thinking and for so many of my early readers: problem solving. Pat reminded me that as reading teachers we can't enable kids but rather teach them strategies for helping themselves. When strategies aren't grasped, we step back and model, support and then gradually release. If you are interested in learning more about Pat and her book, check out this interview.

The last session I attended was with Samantha Bennett, author of That Workshop Book. She began her session with a quote that summed up what I took from her session. The quote from Tomlinson and McTighe reads,
"There's no such thing as the perfect lesson, the perfect day in school or the perfect teacher. For teachers and students alike, the goal is not perfection but persistence in the pursuit of understanding important things."

The biggest piece of this quote and her presentation for me was that it helped me see the understanding that workshop provides students. She helped me hear and sort the differences in knowledge (spit it back stuff), skills ( strategies for how to get there) and understanding ( the why, the purpose, the bigger picture).

She also said something I believe...teaching is not talking. Teaching is listening.

It was a good day but the weekend has flown by. I am off to read with Moe and then watch the Oscar's ( fingers crossed for Slum Dog Millionaire).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Six Year Old Stories

So much of first grade literacy is about writing, listening to and telling stories. I am always trying to make time and listen to the important stories that happen in the lives of my students. This year I have experimented with a daily storytelling by a student. This has helped my kids "prewrite" their stories they often create during workshop.

Today my little friend S started her story..."My dog's eyeball popped out."

Another Kindergarten friend of mine began our conversation with, "Hi Mrs.. DiCesare, I threw up this morning."

I am not trying to make fun here but rather embrace their storytelling abilities. They have a natural sense for attention-getting leads. Don't you want to know more ?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A not-so happy-post about stress

Have you ever felt like there was never enough time to get it all done?

Have you ever felt like there is constantly "one more thing" that is added to your list and you really have no idea when you'll get to it?

Have you ever felt like schedule changes happen and you know what you thought you were going to accomplish gets pushed back yet another day?

Have you ever felt you are running out of days?

Have you ever felt like the stress you have feeds the stress at home and in your classroom?

Have you ever felt that stress is really created by yourself and the demands and expectations you have of yourself are ridiculous but really they aren't because you know it is what is best for kids?

Have you ever felt like there is no way you will remember one more thing so you start to write them on your hand? ( I know that is bad)

Well, I felt like that today. I want it to go away.

I am sure it will be better tomorrow but it just felt good to vent.

happy Tuesday...blah ( I even had Monday off to catch up)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What do you take away from a meeting?

I attended a Language Arts Committee Meeting this week with many other primary teachers across my district. I love going to these meetings because I love the people and the learning I take away after we meet. The last piece of the meeting was reading and discussion on formative assessment (this isn't the article we read but will explain it) . We will begin the journey of exploring what is most important when looking at student writing.

I left considering first and foremost : Students. Do students have a part in the assessment? Do students have anchor pieces or mentor texts that demonstrate what quality pieces look like? Do students have time to reflect on their strengths or struggles as writers? Do students have goals for themselves as writers?

With these questions swirling (and report cards/conferences approaching) I sat down with two writers to reflect and assess. I asked them to choose 3 pieces in their writing folder they are proud of and to talk to me about why. We discovered strengths and then decided to set a goal for what next to practice. After randomly sitting with two writers, I have loads of information to take and process. I am using this information to guide my writing summaries on report cards, to help me communicate to parents during conferences (student-led would be the best but knowing my family night will take care of this in the spring) and to guide my planning for writing workshop. Below I have quickly shared how each conference played out:

Conference with M: Finding writing
M easily found three strong pieces of writing. ( we have practiced this bi-monthly this year)
1. A poem about her fish where she braved using more exciting first -grade language (gobbles up his food, waves his fin) and used poetry as a means of storytelling.
2. A book called I like where she is writing a pattern book about all the things she likes about her little sister. The book was a work in progress and did not have an ending.
3. A book called My Crayon about M's new crayon where she experiments with voice by directly expressing her feelings to the writer. Lots of repetition with (again) not much of an ending.

I then asked her to read me each piece. She did this easily and as she did, she noticed and fixed (right away) errors that she had with meaning, punctuation and spelling without any prompting. (Hooray... by rereading, and fixing right away, she was practicing one of the many editing/revision strategies we work on all year.) I smiled at her after she read her poem and asked her what she did well as a writer? She shrugged her shoulders. I rephrased the question, what makes it a piece of writing that you are proud of ? She said because it is good. "Ok," I said. "What makes it good?" She answered, " You like it."

Then it occurred to me that M has been progressing along this year without totally understanding "why" her writing was progressing. She has been associating my nods and smiles with (for lack of a better term) "good writing." She is still in the process of being able to explain and acknowledge when she has used a strategy introduced or developed in mini lesson.

M's Strength's
M and I talked through her strengths, I pointed out to her how her practice of rereading and fixing (a goal she had at the beginning of the year) has helped her as a writer. She now knows this is a strength. I also pointed out the voice, language and storytelling strengths in her three pieces. I shared how she easily generates ideas and finishes her pieces.
M's Goal
Lastly, we talked through her goal for the next few weeks will be to practice talking and noticing her strengths. I matched her up with a writer who has an easy time explaining her thinking and decision making as a writer. I am hoping their conversations will help layer support for M developing her own understandings of herself as a writer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Playing with books

Each morning my students begin their day with books. It is not your typical sit down be quiet and read. It is what I am beginning to define as book play. Why? Well, you know, play is natural and enjoyable. Play is intrinsic. It focuses on process rather than product. Play takes kids beyond reality in non-literal behavior or make believe. Play allows freedom of choice and allows kids to practice decision making. Play is pleasurable and I want kids to feel the same about reading.

Here is what I am noticing:

During books in the morning, kids are accessing books they love and finding space to read. They are talking about, exchanging and sharing books.

Kids are reading together, side by side, exploring one text and learning to take turns.

They are creating their own reading spaces and pretending to sell books when a friend comes to borrow one from their basket.

They read a bit, move a bit, talk a bit and then read a bit again.

I took some pictures of the different ways I am noticing play with books in the morning. This half an hour (when I am checking in with kids in small groups or individually) has become one of their most favorite parts of the day. They are in charge of their time with books.

(yes...they are all hovering over a book...I think it is Where's Waldo)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Betsy B. Little

I stopped into Barnes and Noble this weekend and found a read aloud suited for my primary thinkers.

Betsy B. Little is the story of an awkward giraffe named Betsy who is trying to live with an extra long neck. Written in rhyme the story tells the woes Betsy experiences day by day...trouble riding the bus, trouble skating and of course jump rope becomes a total disaster. Betsy begins to dream of ballet and yearns to dance but you can imagine how her first class goes having an extra long neck. She takes up too much space and stumbles to the floor leaving with a not so good feeling. But, she has a never quit attitude. She doesn't allow her neck or what other's say to keep her from her dreams of dancing.

I am hoping some of my kids are inspired by it tomorrow!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Reading Bob Graham's picture books just seems to soothe me. His stories bring me back to what is most important in life and for children. In his most recent book, How to Heal a Broken Wing, Bob gives readers hope when there is doubt. He reminds us to slow down and pay attention to little things in life.
In this story, life begins fast paced with busy people in a big city until Will ( a boy 6yr old or so) spots and unnoticed pigeon with a broken wing. He doesn't think, he just picks it up immediately wanting to help the unmoving bird. His mother quickly uses her scarf to take the bird from Will and they head back to their city apartment. ( This part in the story allowed my kids to talk about how to ask an adult to help rescue a hurt animal, how important it is to use gloves to handle wild animals and local service agencies that can help.) The next few pages are almost graphic novel-like as the story is pieced in multiple frames. With the tender loving care, Will's family helps to nurse the broken-winged pigeon to health and in the end the pigeon successfully flies back with the other birds in the city. You immediately fall in love with Will, his family and the message of hope the book portrays. It is one of my favorite books of 2008.