Saturday, December 31, 2011

Winter Vacation Linky Party

The Clutter Free Classroom is having a "What did you do on winter break?" linky party, so I thought I would join in.

I worked on improving this blog! Well, after hours spent blog stalking, I decided I wanted a little of what all my favorite blogs have. I have added more of my favorite blog links to the side, and even made a blog button. I added some info to my profile, and just had FUN blog stalking.
I spent the better part of a day working in my classroom to get things ready to roll on Tuesday. I know my kids will like the changes.  I have yet to decide if I like them. I will know on Tuesday when I see how things work. I will get more into the changes at another post.

This vacation was unusual for my family.  We stayed in Michigan.  What a change! Thank goodness we didn't have snow.  My ideal Christmas is 80 degrees and sunshine. My youngest daughter,at sixteen, has only had four Christmases at home. All the others have been in Florida at Busia's house. 

The slower pace, from not going, has let me spend quality time with my husband and kids. The house is in better shape even with decorations still up than it usually is at this time. And we even fit in a Toledo Walleye Hockey game. It was ugly Christmas sweater night.  The Walleye won in overtime. What more could I ask??

Have a wonderful New Year! Looking forward to more blogging.  It is a professional goal for me!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa's Elves

We have been busy for the last few weeks doing holiday projects and completing units of study. Our projects included making gifts for family and friends, and writing letters with our kindergarten buddies. We have two sets of kindergarten buddies with which we make gifts. The project typically involves a foam craft ornament purchased from a catalog company or the local craft store. This year's project was a picture frame. We included a picture of the fifth and first grader buddies. We have limited the amount of glitter glue decorations so they can take them home today. We have had good luck with self-stick foam or using permanent glue dots. They work better than the craft glue usually suggested. I usually do an ornament with my fifth graders for them to give to parents. Last year we used plastic white ornaments with glue dots rolled in glitter. They used glitter glue to write the date. This was a simple, fun project. This year I found a great picture ornament for my colleague to make. It was on a blog, but I cannot remember which one, as I was stalking many. This ornament uses inkject transparencies with the students' pictures printed on them. The transparencies are pricey, but you could use the ones that print on the copy machine for a black and white photo. It took some practice to find the right size circle to use. Also, we discovered using a white background worked best. Using glitter "snow" in the ornament, and tying a red bow completed the project. My own students used unfinished picture frames (found at Michaels) for their gift for their parents. They used a copy of the picture we took in September for the frame. They added their name and a quick message to their parents. They looked impressive, and the children were proud. If doing projects for presents, remember to consider those children with two homes. They may need a frame for both parents. Many of the students also chose to give their pottery to their parents. This was the pottery made in November to go along with their Native American studies in social studies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Differentiating Spelling

I differentiate instruction in Spelling by using different spelling lists and using a spelling contract.  All fifth graders learn words from a grade level spelling list. Some students work with ten regular words. Others do fifteen regular words.  Another group has the original ten regular and ten high frequency words. The rest of the students have twenty regular words.  All students have "Challenge" words from curriculum units for the week.  The number of challenge words also varies from four words to twelve words.  I also allow students to "test out" of a list of words, and the work for the week with a pretest given on Monday.  This has created more work for me, but adjusts the work to the students' needs. We take a pretest on Monday, practice words on Tuesday with worksheets/activities, take a practice test on Wednesday, have a game on Thursday, and a final test on Friday. Students that earn above 90% on the practice test are exempt from the final test.  Students scoring 100% or more (challenge words add to the total) are eligible for a pretest for the following week.  Students scoring 105% or more on the pretest are exempt from the spelling work for the week.  They may have additional vocabulary or enrichment work to do during spelling time.  The work for the week is a contract.  The contract has been adjusted over the last ten years. The original source was a differentiating instruction conference, but I don't remember the presenter's name.  I have tweaked the contract almost yearly to reflect changes in students and requirements for the grade level.  Last year's contract added different learning style to the activities.  This year brought the biggest changes  to meet the needs of all fifth graders when spelling was added to my list of departmentalized responsibilities. Some activities incorporate Spelling City, which is a limited free site. More activities use iPads. If you would like to use my contract, please give me credit.


Sorry the picture is not the greatest! Will try again later.

If you would like a pdf of this, post a comment or email me

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Question Posed During a Program Audit

We recently had a Title I, RtI, and 31A audit.  This visit required an extensive survey and an intense team interview. Although the audit is one of those hoop we must jump through to get the money needed for our at risk students, I looked at as a way to see what we do well and what we can do better. I was involved as building improvement co-chair and a district team member. During the interview we were asked "What do you do to motivate reluctant readers?"
I've been thinking about this a personal note. Typically, reluctant readers are boys that haven't been successful in reading, or find it difficult to find a book that interests them.  I thought about some of the children that have been "hesitant" readers in the past.  Many of them had identified learning disabilities.  Others were unsuccessful in reading because they didn't have books at home, or weren't read to as early learners. But, another group, liked reading non-fiction books and devoured any curriculum support book I had, but struggled to read a novel. Still others struggle to find books of interest. What had I done to foster a love of reading for each of them?
Over the years, I have been purchasing books for my classroom. (see other post on my library). I have 1,800+ books of my own, and access to classroom sets of over two dozen novels. I have a diverse collection including numerous popular author, most children literature genres, and books from picture books to early readers to high school levels. Most students can find a novel, but if they appear to struggle I can give them a title to fit most areas. I 've add more non-fiction science and social studies books with a grant from our Foundation for Excellence in Education awarded me a mini-grant.  This includes books about the Revolutionary War, Civil War, both World Wars, and numerous other history or science topics.  A former teacher was gave me an extensive science support library. These book have appealed to the non-fiction fans. Having a wide range of levels makes it easy to find a book for most readers. I also use Accelerated Reading to motivate, book contracts and reading response journals to ensure students read. I talk about books I am reading myself (usually Children's Literature) and buy the "hottest" selling books from the book clubs to share with students. I encourage students to "sell" the latest read book, do videos of book talks, and host lunch discussions of literature circle novels. Having an occasional all day reading days with blankets, pillows, slippers and stuffed animals also goes over well. The most important thing I have learned is that to motivate most fifth grade reluctant readers, I need to stock multiple copies of "Diary of Wimpy Kids" and "Captain Underpants" books. These series have helped me get even my most hesitant readers to read.  They love to discuss them in our "Lunch Bunch" literature circles.  Give some of these ideas a try.


Discussing Cabin Fever after reading it in 5 hours!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dr. Mary Howard - Literacy Coach and RTI Guru

Our staff had the opportunity to hear Dr. Mary Howard at an in-service in August, before school started.  We previous read her book RTI from All Sides as a summer professional development opportunity. She has taught for forty years as a special education, Title I, and Reading Recovery teacher, as well as being a reading consultant and literacy coach.

We learned last week that she was heading back in our direction for a conference in Detroit.  She wanted to stop by our school on Monday, November 7 to observe lessons and take pictures to possibly include in her new book. My principal asked for volunteers to teach a high quality literacy lesson, not from the basal. I was quick to volunteer, not because I thought I had a high quality lesson, but because I welcomed the chance to meet with Mary.

I spent all day Sunday planning, pitching, and planning again.  I over thought what I wanted to do.  In the end, I ended  up teaching a great lesson on using post-it notes to teach schema.  I had an anchor chart that was not bad, and a great group of kids.  I was using Chris Van Allsburg's Just a Dream to introduce our new unit "My World and Yours." (Also my kick-off to my Van Allsburg author study.) The kids shared ideas on what they thought the unit was about.  I introduced the word "schema" that was also a challenge word for their spelling contract. Students were right on target with their connections. They jotted connections and used thinking stems to tie their schema to the story. Avery caught Dr. Howard's attention with her detailed jottings.
Except for the P.A. announcements during the lesson (to tell about another indoor recess) things went very well.  Dr. Howard came back 30 minutes later to discuss the lesson.  (Kudos to my kids for keeping things quiet during recess, while Dr. Howard shared her thoughts on the lesson.) She gave great feedback and offered an idea for an unused whiteboard, that I am putting into action.
Dr. Howard is an amazing woman! The amount of literacy knowledge she has is unbelievable. I am glad I volunteered!  I was also pleased that the first thing she noticed was my organized library.  See my previous post about it.


My Schema Anchor Chart

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Contracts

One way I differentiate is to use book contracts.  Students set reading goals with me at the beginning of each marking period.  They can choose between reading a number of books, or they can read a certain number of points for Accelerated Reading. The number of points they need is determined by their Z.P.D.  Their Z.P.D. was determined on the STAR Reading test, which is given as Pre-test, mid-year, and as a post test. 
Some students will set a goal of 10 points because they struggle to comprehend lengthy text.  Most of their A.R. books will be half point values.  Many students will choose a goal of twenty points because they read at grade level.  Others have a lofty goal of fifty points or more.  I usually don’t publicize point totals often, but the students will discuss their totals as a way to compete with their friends.  
Students sometimes choose to read a specific number of books.  This allows students to read books that are not Accelerated Reading, or because they are reading a few very lengthy books or they do not take tests well and are afraid they will not earn the points necessary to complete another goal.
In addition to the points or books, all students must either complete a book talk (oral book report), a written book report, or a “Lunch Bunch.”  The “Lunch Bunch” is a group discussion of a book all members have read.  Students eat lunch with me and we talk about the book.  Students enjoy the relaxed setting and the opportunity to eat in the classroom. The problem with this option is finding a group of four or more to read the same book you like. Last year, I had a group of girls that read well beyond their requirements because they loved to do “lunch bunches” with me. This option also works well for the quiet/shy student that may be hesitant to talk in from of the class. I love it because it gives me the chance to get to know students on a more personal level.
I have one other option that we trying this year. Two pairs are doing a talk show format.  I’ve adapted an idea that Mary Blow shared on the Scholastic’s Teacher Blog last year. One student is asking questions about the book, while the other is sharing the book information.  We are going to video tape these with our Flip Camera to post online.


Adapted from P. Charlefour

Adapted from P. Charlefour


Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Classroom Library

I had been acquiring books for my library for many years when I stumbled across a blog by  Angela Bunyi (Scholastic Top Teacher Blog).  She shared her ideas on leveling books and organizing a classroom library. I had my books sorted by A.R. level, and was in need of a change because my library books no longer fit on the shelves.  She suggested organizing books by genre and/or authors, using baskets or crates to hold the books.

Favorite Authors Blue
Fiction Favorite Series, Genre
I started gathering crates and baskets for my books. Next, I began the overwhelming task of sorting books by genre or favorite author.  As I added more books, I realized I needed to a way to inventory books.   I spent three weeks inventorying the books using a bar code scanner. I had to make labels for many of the books, and decided to add my name as well.  During this time we decided to switch to departmentalize, and all fifth graders started using my library.  I ordered Scholastic Arrow books for three classrooms, so I was able to replace copies that were destroyed or lost.  The organization and inventory helped, but I still lost about about thirty books last year.  Compared to the 1,500+ books I had, I didn't think it was bad, but some of favorites were lost!
Multiple copies for literature circles and
Buddie Books and
Curriculum support/Non-fiction
I am looking into using my iPad or cell phone bar code reader to come up with a better inventory system, one kids can easily use. Maybe I even use a library card. If I cannot come up with someway to keep things organized, I may have to restrict the library to in classroom reading, or only allow my students to check out books.  I hate to do that, since I want to instill a love of books in all of my students.
Got any ideas?


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


This is my first post for the blog. I have been stalking some wonderful blogs for the last few months, and wanted to give it a try. I hope to share some valuable tips and ideas, like those of you that I follow. 

We departmentalized last year after being self contained for years. I now teach reading and spelling to all of fifth grade, and writing to my homeroom students. It was a personal struggle to switch to just language arts. I missed their interactive weather reports, green screen videos, and other projects that integrated technology. That said, 

I do love books, and have a large classroom library (that is organized by levels and by author/genre), so teaching reading is a good fit. I struggled last year to know how to get all of reading in during a very short 40 minute time frame. I found myself cutting all of the technology out of my teaching.

This year, I have about 65 minutes for reading and spelling. I am trying to incorporate more technology because I made that one of my education goals. I use technology to differentiate instruction for my various levels of students. I have Skyped with mixed results. I have tried podcasting, and LOVE my iPads, Smartboard, and document camera. I can once again honestly say I love my job!

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