Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: July 2014

Diggin' Into Next Year: Technology

So I started back to school last week! Our first day with kiddos was on Wednesday. I have 26 students and I am LOVING my new schedule! I only teach from 7:20-11:40. Sweet, right?!

I will be showing you pictures of my entire classroom very soon. I was just too busy last week to even take pictures.

...how I will be integrating more technology into my classroom this year.

Some of the most meaningful assessment data that we collect comes in the form of observation. Everyday, we listen to our students read, watch them problem solve and encourage them to participate in class discussions. These observations give us so much insight into topics a student has mastered and areas for future instruction.

However, the observations are only useful if we remember what who we observed doing what! I know that I can’t keep every student’s needs organized in my head. (And believe me, I tried.) So I started writing observations down on paper. I would grab any scrap or sticky note that was closest to me. After a couple of weeks, I would find sticky notes on nearly every surface of my classroom and several more in my bag and at home. I tried to organize them in a binder, but I never could keep up with that. I also found that I never had the binder or the sticky notes in meetings or while lesson planning.

I needed a system that  allowed me to quickly record observations for each student and then be able to access it whenever and wherever I happened to be doing my lesson planning. And wouldn’t it be great if I could keep pictures, work samples and recordings with my observations?That is when I discovered Evernote.

Evernote is a FREE app and website that allows me to create electronic notebooks for each of my students! I can type text into the notebooks, post pictures of student work and even recordings of a student reading or speaking! And it was SUPER SIMPLE to set up!

I made a free detailed picture tutorial to get you started! Just click on the picture below to download.

I am off to tackle some of my school to-do lists (which I keep in Evernote, of course)! Happy Sunday!

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Falling in Love with Close Reading: Chapter 3

I can't believe that we are already on our third chapter of this close reading book study! If you have missed any of the previous posts, you can click HERE to read them.

Prior to reading this book, I was very stuck on the idea that close reading had to be informational passages and articles. There is NOTHING wrong with this...but now I am thinking outside of the box and adding tools to my toolbox. When I read chapter two, I fell in love with the idea of having students close read music lyrics. Well chapter three was even more exciting! How about having your students close read advertisements?! Advertisers carefully choose every word that they use because space and time are expensive. Students can learn so much about the power of word choice when the close read these advertisements. Why did the other choose these words? What alternative words could they have chosen? Wouldn't this make them better readers AND writers?!

After this lesson on close reading advertisements to look at word choice, students are ready to read informational or narrative texts to look at word choice. The authors remind teachers that it is important to carefully choose texts that will engage students and/or hit on themes that are being covered in science and social studies. I personally find holidays to be a very engaging theme!

One thing I noticed while reading the chapter what that the author's had the teachers reading the text to the students. The teacher would read once while students were jotting down what they thought the main idea was. Then the teacher read a paragraph or two at a time while students jotted down interesting words. Finally, they discussed the patterns that were present in the words they listed. When close reading, I have always had my students read the text themselves. I very rarely read it out loud to them. Hmmmmm............ Something for me to think about!

During close read lessons, do you every just ask your students to listen and write, rather than read?

Don't forget to enter the giveaway and hop around to see what the other bloggers thought about this chapter.

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Guided Math- Chapter 8

This week in our Guided Math book study, we are talking about assessment. The word "assessment" would make every teacher at my school groan last year. We were required to record three assessments for every student for every standard. Oh boy, it was so much work! And it felt like all I was ever doing was assessing! Thank goodness, it seems our school is going in a different direction this year!

Sammons talks about the need for assessing often when using a guided math model. A teacher using guided math needs constant feedback from their students in order to effectively plan mini lessons and small-group lessons that meet the individual student needs.

The thing that I really took away from this chapter is the need for students to have rubrics so that they new exactly what was expected for mastery. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the idea of having students create the rubrics!!! I want to do this with my math journal. I can ask students to come up with the expectations of a response that meets the standards (Includes a drawing, explains each step using complete sentences, has accurate computation, includes relevant math vocabulary, etc). We can write exemplars together. Students will know exactly what I am looking for!!! They can also self assess.

What do you do to make math assessments meaningful?

Be sure to enter the weekly giveaway and check out the other posts about math assessment.

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Falling in Love With Close Reading- Chapter 2

In case you missed the first post, I am currently reading this book about close reading.

I am hoping to discover some new ways to help my kiddos read deeply without making reading a chore.

In this chapter, Lehman and Roberts talk about some introductory lessons on close reading. The examples are from a sixth grade classroom, but I still think I will be able to use some of the ideas with my third graders.

The first lesson that they did involved close reading the lyrics to a popular song. WHAT?! Doesn't that sound fun? My third graders are just getting into music. When the song Dynamite comes on, the whole room breaks out in chorus. It's awesome. (I actually turn it on sometimes just to get a laugh. Lol) But I digress..

Lehamn and Roberts would play a popular song for their class. They would ask students what they thought the song was about. After making a list, the students would be provided with written song lyrics. After closely reading the lyrics, students found that the song had a different meaning and they found deeper understanding.

I think this is a good way to illustrate to students that we often miss things the first time around. We need to look deeper or we will overlook or misunderstand out on some of the most important details.

I think the students will enjoy reading popular song lyrics. Can you just hear them the next time the song comes on at home? "Mom, did you know that this song is actually about...."

I am all about starting close reading in a fun way so that kids do not relate close reading with BORING!

What do you think? Is this something that you could do in your classroom?

Make sure you read the posts from my bloggy buddies about this chapter and enter the giveaway to win a copy of the book and a TpT gift card!

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Guided Math- Chapter 7

I have to admit that this chapter about having math conferences with your students, was the toughest chapter for. That being said, it is probably the chapter I needed to read the most to improve my instruction. Isn't that the way it usually works?!

In this chapter, Sammons breaks down the framework of a math conference. First, the teacher must do some research. The research phase is the time that the teacher is observing the student as they work on independent math work. During this time, the teacher is watching the strategies that the student is using and making note of any misunderstandings. After a couple minutes of observation, the teacher must now decide what and how they will teach to this child. The "what" should be a particular skill or strategy that you noticed the child struggling with or one you believe they are ready to learn. The "how" might be through guiding a child using anchor charts from mini lessons. You might also choose to model for the student while think aloud. The third step is to actually do the teaching. Once you have modeled or guided the student, you will then give them a link to future use similar to the link you give at the conclusion of a mini lesson. Finally, the teacher should record data from this conference so that you will remember to observe this student again soon to be sure they are using the skill that you taught.

This all sounds so amazing! It is differentiated so that every student is getting the exact support that they need. I don't doubt the necessity for math conferences. The challenge that I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around, is WHEN??? I mean, I am just barely able to squeeze the mini lesson, guided practice, and small-group/workshop into my allotted math time.

Here are the ideas I came up with:
  • I can conference with 1-2 students during the guided practice time. I would probably pick students that seemed a little lost during the mini lesson. 
  • I can conference with students at the end of small-group instruction. Some students might be released to work independently at their desk while 1-2 students stay at the table for a conference. 
Either way, it will take me quite a while to confer with all of my students! I was afraid that I might forget who I had conferenced with. I notice that it is the enrich kids that often get skipped when it comes to one-on-one help. So here is the system that I came up with for keeping track of the conferences.

The clip board holds a page of sticky address labels. Once I have my class list, I will print a page with each students' name. After I conference with them, I will make some notes on the label and then stick it on their running record sheet in my guided math binder. 

I will be able to quickly look at my clipboard to se who still needs a conference. When all the labels are gone, I will start over with the next sheet. I am going to leave some blank labels. Some students will require more conferences than others and I want to be sure to document each conference.

Another thought I recently had is to use the Evernote app for conference notes. You could make a notebook for each student and then make a note for reading conference, another for writing, one for behavior and one for math. The app allows you to take pictures and store them in the notes. I think it would be helpful to take a picture of a student's work on their whiteboard as a reminder to myself or evidence. Anyone ever used Evernote for this purpose?

I need more help with math conferences! I am looking forward to reading along with Brenda from Primarily Inspired as she does a book study on Laney Samons' book Math Conferences. In fact, I think I NEED that book! You can buy it on TpT. :-)

Do you do math conferences with students? If so, how often and when? How do you keep your data organized?

Be sure to hop around and see what other have to say about guided math conferences and sign up for the weekly giveaway.

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Paperless Open House

Every year, I watch as my class parents spend a good 30 minutes filling out paperwork at open house. They have the paperwork required by the school and then the ones that I ask for. I know that after they leave my room, they will be heading to the sibling's class to fill out another stack of paperwork.  I have four kids. So I can feel their pain. By the time I get to the fourth set, I just write "See siblings' paperwork" at the top. I kid...kinda..

After I am done feeling bad for the parents, I start to feel bad for myself. I know that I spend the next two weeks tracking down papers that are missing, making check lists, typing email addresses, sorting and filing all this paperwork that I will not look at again until I shred at the end of the year.

Am I the only one who thinks this is madness?

I vowed to make this year different! I can't change the amount of paperwork that the school requires, but I can limit all extras from me!

This year I made a Google form for my parents to fill out! It is simple, user friendly, does not require any paper AND will spit out a spreadsheet of the responses for me! YES!

This really is quite simple, but I took lots of screenshots to help you out.

First, log in to your Google docs. Click on the orange create button at the top and choose "form" from the drop down menu.

Then you can choose from one of the themes they have. I chose a book one. I will warn you that they don't have many choices. You get to title your form from this screen as well.

Now you type your first question. Mine was "Student's First Name." You can choose to have a yes/no answer or multiple choice. But since that won't work for this particular question, I chose "text." The parents will be providing a text answer for this question.

Once the first question is written, click on the blue "Done" button. Click on "Add item" and do the same process with your second question.

Continue this process until you have all the pertinent info that you want from parents. I asked for parent names, parent cell phone numbers, home phone numbers and if the child had any food allergies.

This is what my form looked like when I was finished.

A really cool thing about using this form is that after parents fill it out, I will have an instant spreadsheet of their answers!

This will save me time and filing cabinet space!

Now how will I get parents to my google form?

It gives you a super duper long address that you can use. I knew that my parents would be pretty annoyed if they had to type this address into their phone or computer browser. So I went to https://bitly.com to make a shorter address! It's simple! Sign up for a free account. Then at the top of the home page is a spot that says "Paste a long URL to shorten." Just paste the super duper long one in the box and it will spit out a short address for it. You can even customize the address to make it easier for parents to remember!!!

I went one step farther and made a QR code for the address. This is not necessary, but kinda neat. Just go to http://www.qrstuff.com. You can paste in your form's address and then just download the QR code. You can post the QR code around your room during open house. I needed to make my families a check list of the things they need to do during open house, so I just put the website and QR code on that check list. Now families can either use their cell phones to fill it out during open house or go home and enter the web address on their computer or iPad.

All of this took me about 30 minutes to put together and that included making the checklist with cute borders and clip art. :-)

How do you make open house paperwork more parent friendly?

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Monday Made It

I am excited to be linking up with 4th Grade Frolics again for Monday Made It! Of course my project is for school again! I actually made a couple other things, but they haven't been photographed yet. So stay tuned!

I am super excited about my new math vocabulary display!

I purchased a couple of yard sticks and some clothes pins. The clothes pins were spray pained and then glued on to the yard stick. They will hold the words we are currently working on.

The words that we are not using are on a jump ring organized by domain. Students can still access them but they aren' cluttering up the board. The word cards are by Teaching and Tapas and can be found HERE.

What projects did you complete this week?

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Falling in Love With Close Reading: Chapter 1

I am super excited to be participating in a book study on the book Falling in Love with Close Reading by Lehman and Roberts.

My school started really talking about close reading two years ago. We had a brief training and were told to make sure our kids were close reading. I felt a bit lost. I didn't feel like I really knew what I was teaching them to do. Needless to say, the first year was a mess. I don't think the kids got anything out of it and I gradually stopped asking them to do it. Last year, I gave it another go. I taught some specific procedures and did lots of modeling. It went much smoother. But I still feel that something is missing. I am hoping that something will be found in this book! I will be rioting about one chapter each Sunday.

The moment my book came in the mail, I dove right in and read chapter one. My husband thought I had completely lost my mind when he saw how excited I was to get a book about reading! The first chapter is an easy read about the history of close reading, the Common Core and close reading and what we will find inside the book.

The authors defined close reading as having readers interact with the text, making observations about the text and rereading the text. I like to tell my kids that they should be looking at the text through a magnifying glass so that they can see all the smallest details.

Powerful close read instruction increases student engagement and joy. This might be what is missing from my close read instruction! Many of my kiddos roll their eyes when I tell them are going to close read. Quality close read instruction in just one of your reading tools and should not be used as the only reading instruction. With powerful close read instruction, teachers are helping their students to become more independent and not rely on questioning and prompting from the teacher. Close reading takes time and the skills should be practiced and developed throughout the year. Close reading instruction requires the teacher to allow students to read over an extended period of time without interruption for discussions and writing prompts.

As I mentioned, close reading went a little smoother last year in my classroom. Students were given informational text passages. They were asked to read them to themselves first. Then they would reread and mark up their text. I told them that they should write whatever they were thinking. So if a question came to mind, they would write it in the margin. If a word was tricky, they would try and use context clues to come up with a definition. When they got confused, they would write question marks. When they got excited, they would make exclamation points.

I would give students multiple tools to work with including pencil, pens, highlighters and sticky notes. They all chose to use the tools in different ways and I allowed that freedom.

After they finished the second read, they would discuss their thought with the group. This was a student-led discussion. Sometimes they were great. Sometimes they were frustrating!

After the discussion, they often had questions or a graphic organizer to fill out.

I almost always did close reads in my guided reading groups and would differentiate passage Lexile levels based on the group.

Although this worked so much better than the year before (when it was a free-for-all), it needs some revamping. I'm anxious to read on and make some powerful changes for next year!

Make sure to sign up for the giveaway and head over and read what other bloggers are saying about chapter one.

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