Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections on Read Aloud

This summer, I read The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child and was inspired to change my entire reading block.  I loved every word that was written and found myself nodding in agreement page after page.   As I began this school year, I was determined to have a "Book Whisperer" classroom.

Then the year began.

And I went back to my old ways.

Now, part of this is due to the fact that I was really only in my class for 4 weeks before my little one was born.  But the other part was due to my own ingrained habits.  Old habits are hard to break!

So instead of going all in, I decided to make small changes.  I can do small changes.  The small change came with my read aloud.

I have always read aloud to the kids, however, if something needed to "go" for whatever reason, it was always that.  I decided that my read aloud time would be a sacred time in the class this year.  That it would be something that we would never not do.  So I had to get it woven into my daily schedule so seamlessly that it couldn't be forgotten.  It is now part of our clean up routine at the end of the day.  Kids clean up, come to the rug, we read.  Done and done.

And I have to tell class excites me so much now.  We have read some books that are rather heavy and difficult.  The Giver .  Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) Among the Impostors (Shadow Children #2) (the kids wouldn't let me stop at just the first book in the series ;))  The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread .  I know that these are books that the kids would have passed up in the library.  Yet each of these books has illicit a response from the kids that would make any teacher's heart smile.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know how much I talk about the books we are reading.  I just LOVE the feeling I get when I walk to my line in the morning and the kids greet me with questions or predictions or inferences they have made about the reading from the day before.  My students beg me to read more when I stop at the end of a chapter.  They check the books we are reading out of the library so that they can read ahead.

What's even better is that the kids aren't just checking out Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Dork Diaries from the library anymore.  They look at the Newberry winner list and check out books from there.  They have learned that just because a book doesn't grab you within the first 4 pages, doesn't mean it isn't worth taking the time to read.  The Giver didn't get us until about 2/3 of the way through.  But once we were hooked, it was all we could do not to keep reading every minute of every day.  I remember vividly the moment Among the Hidden got us.  Page 40.  Every pair of eyes was staring at me as I read the last line in the chapter, then begging me to keep reading (which, of course, I didn't....gotta build up the suspense ;))

I know that this year I have created lifelong readers out of these students, which was the ultimate goal of The Book Whisperer in the end anyway.  While I didn't make major changes in my room, I am taking baby steps.  And those baby steps are working.  As one of my students said, when I was "convinced" by my class to read just one more chapter of our book, "Mrs. M is the BEST teacher ever!"  Just for reading aloud.  What could be better than that??

Monday, April 14, 2014

Disney Nature's Bears {a movie review}

My family (minus my photographer hubby)
Last weekend, I was invited to see the Disney Nature movie Bears.  This movie, which will be released this Friday, April 18, is the story of the first year of life for two little bear cubs and their mama in the wilderness of Alaska.

This is movie is true to form for Disney.  A story has been artfully woven from the footage the photographers were able to get while following these animals over the course of the year.  You see the bears in the den after birth, exploring the new snow-covered land around them, attempt to navigate the dangerous world of other bears, and desperately try to find enough salmon and other food to make it to the next winter.  The scenery itself is breathtaking and the bear cubs are just too cute!

My two children, ages 7 and 4, (well, I did take all 3, but my 6 month old was more interested in me than the movie ;)) really were very invested in the movie by the end.  They enjoyed the visuals and narration.  I think the "G" quality of the movie really spoke to them.  There were a few parts that had my daughter snuggled up a bit closer to me (the single male bears are territorial and do fight quite a bit...scary for some of the younger folks) but overall, the kids learned about the life of the bears and enjoyed seeing their trials and tribulations over the first year of life.  This clip here was their favorite part.  They couldn't stop talking about the crabs and the bears!

As a teacher, my mind was spinning on how I could incorporate this movie into my classroom.  I think what really spoke to me was how the filmmakers were able to take a nonfiction nature film and weave a "fictional" story into it.  There was a plot and end goal (the bears were trying to find food, make it to the "golden pond" and not starve.)   There was personification through the narration.  There was suspense and action.  I think that using the elements of both fiction and nonfiction, the storytellers were able to grab the audience and bring them in.  Showing students how both of these genres can be woven together would be a great lesson (or set of lessons.)  With all of our talk about text dependent questions and pulling evidence from the text, I think a lot could be used with this movie along those lines.

Here are also some activities that Disney Nature has put out to accompany the film.  There are some great photos in here that would definitely be a good addition to your classroom, as well as some good lesson starters that could spark even deeper exploration of issues facing these bears and our environment.

Do you ever use nature films in your room in this way?  Are you planning on seeing this one?  I would be interested to hear your thoughts!

disclaimer:  Though I was invited to this movie by Disney Nature, the opinions above are in no way influenced by that.  The thoughts are my own.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bright Idea: The 60-Second Clean-Up

I hate when my classroom is messy.   It drives me crazy when there is paper or other things strewn all over the floor.  I mean, why does there have to be a junky mess everywhere?   It makes sense to me that if a mess is made, it should be picked up.  So from day one of class, I teach my students how to clean up and show them the that I expect that their workspace will be spotless. (seriously, I don't allow trash on my floor.  Ever.  I just can't take it.)

One thing I implement in my room is the "60 second clean up".  It is the easiest, fastest way I know to get the room spic and span.  Here is how it goes.

I count down aloud from 60 to 0.  During that time, the students are moving around the room, some with brooms, some without,  picking up any mess that they made.  Pencil shavings are swept.  Pieces of paper are picked up.  Anything that has been dropped is removed from the floor.

By the time I get to 10, the students begin heading back to their seats.  When I reach 0, they are all sitting with their hands folded.

There are only two rules:  Everyone helps.  No talking.

It is quick and simple and painless.  My room is clean and we have a place to function that we can be proud of.

How do you get your students to keep their areas and the common class space clean?

Want more Bright Ideas??  There is a whole Pinterest board dedicated to awesome ideas you can implement in your own classroom!

AND Then hop around to the blogs below for even more awesome bright ideas!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Colony "Balloons"

Do you ever have an vision of a project that you want your students to do, but no real sample, and no real idea of what exactly it will turn out to be?  That is what the following project I am going to describe started out as.  I knew in my head what I was visualizing, but needed to figure out a way to get that mental image translated for my students.

We are just beginning our studies about the 13 colonies (the time between the first English settlement and the Revolution) and I wanted to share with you the "Colony Balloons" we made to get us started into the research of everything.

Now, here is a little disclaimer:  These aren't actually balloons.  I just didn't have another name to call them, so in class I called them "balloons" once, and it stuck.

To begin with, the students broke into groups of 2 or 3 and were assigned one of the original 13 colonies to do some research on..  I gave them this Colony Research Organizer and set them loose on their social studies books, the few encyclopedias we had access to, and some teacher trade books with information to begin the process of researching the colony they had been assigned.  Since we also happened to have Computer Lab that week, they continued their research in the lab.  (luckily, we have been learning how to parse the question when searching in Google and it REALLY paid off.  Made for quick and focused research....but that is a post for another day.)

Once the research was done, the students drew the outline of their colony on a large piece of white butcher paper.  I asked them to make these big, not to scale.  So Rhode Island and Delaware are actually HUGE.  I just wanted the kids to have a lot of space to do the project so I wasn't so concerned with scale.  They cut out the colony shape with a second piece of paper behind it.  That way, when they were all done cutting, there were actually two pieces of paper in the shape of the colony.  I immediately stapled these together, leaving a small part unstapled so we could stuff them with paper later.

The next step was to take the information that they had researched and place it within the colony border.  I wanted them to use visuals and captions to portray the information (going back to our unit on text features ;) ), not just words, so the kids were creative here.  They found ways to use pictures and diagrams that I had not actually thought of!  I was immensely impressed with how they were able to take what I was visualizing in my brain and bring it to life on paper!

Once the visualization of the research was done, I asked the groups to work together to write a paragraph summarizing the most important parts of the HISTORY of the colony.  Not just random facts about it, but the actual history of its founding.  (who founded it, when, why, what made it unique as compared to the other colonies)  This paragraph was then written on the back.  I asked them to write large so as to take up the majority of the space with the one paragraph.

Finally, the kids stuffed the balloons with crumpled up newsprint and scrap paper.  I stapled shut the last little bit, and these fun puffy balloons emerged!  My plan is now to hang them up from the ceiling over our cupboards.

This idea can be adapted for pretty much any subject that you are studying in class.  My friend Susie, the Panicked Teacher, is using this same idea for the 50 states.  You could do it for a project on the California Missions, or symbols of the United States.   Even a report on a science topic would work (ie: in the shape of a tree for a study on plants.)  How do you think YOU could adapt this project?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Student Work Display

I wanted to share something that I shared on Classroom DIY, but never here with you guys!  It is a student work display that allows the students to show off their work in a fun, attractive way, while at the same time allowing them to show their own growth in writing.  

To create the display backdrop, the students will need the following materials:
  • construction paper 11" x 14"
  • tissue paper
  • paintbrush
  • glue
  • lamination
  • two prong fasteners 
  • hole punch 

After gathering all of the materials, the students will use the tissue paper to create a collage on the construction paper.  

To create the collage, brush glue on the paper.  Then place a piece of construction paper over the glue.  Brush glue on to the tissue paper.  Then layer another piece of tissue slightly on top of the first piece and brush glue over it.  Continue in this manner until the entire paper is covered.

Be sure to cut off any hanging pieces of tissue paper and laminate.  This leaves the backdrop with a nice, clean look.


Punch two holes, the size of the prong fasteners, to the top of the laminated project.

Finally, punch holes in your paper the same width and, viola, you have a display that can easily be changed out...just by opening up the fasteners!

I use this on my walls that can not be stapled into.  It also is a great way to house on-going writing projects in an attractive displayHere are a few projects that my students did (before we laminated them) so that you can see the variety and creativity they can produce.