Wednesday, October 2, 2013

An App(le) a Day...

When I came to this school, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was an iPad lab, stocked and ready with a class set of iPads. I've set a personal goal of trying to implement at least one new app with my students each week. While I'd love to do an app a day, I have to find a work/home life balance, and I want to preview all the apps and have solid ideas for using them with my students. So for now, it's "an app a week."

This week, we're checking out Book Creator and how we can use it during our Writing block. As a class, we previewed the app earlier this week and started working with it today. We decided to make the best of this unseasonably warm Chicago weather and head outside to the playground to create How-To books. First, I grouped students to hopefully minimize personality and behavioral conflicts. Groups brainstormed three possible ideas for their books. Some ideas were: How to cross the monkey bars, how to play hopscotch, how to be safe on the playground, how to play basketball, and how to play freeze tag. We headed to the iPad lab to be sure that all of the iPads had Book Creator installed and that we weren't having any issues with the ios7 update. Then we briefly talked about how to be extra careful with the iPads outside, and off we went.

Groups got to work right away and were very engaged, which was great. I didn't observe anyone noticeably not participating with their group of three. I popped around from each group a few times, taking pictures of course, and observing their interactions and answering questions. Then I tried my best to get out of their way and let them figure things out. It was about at this point when the first class of students came out for recess. This didn't seem to pose any problems as the playground area is quite large and students still had plenty of space. Shortly thereafter, another class came out for recess. This is where things got a little sticky... When we had wrapped up our time and returned to the iPad lab to reflect, my students mentioned both good and bad parts of having additional kids on the playground, which I thought was really insightful. A few of my students mentioned that it got much harder once a second class came out because there just wasn't that much space. A few others countered that by saying that yes, it was more crowded, but the extra bodies just gave them more "characters" for their books. They added the students from other classes into their how-to books. I love that they were able to find the good and challenging parts of this activity. Good reflecting on their part!

So, end result, let's see.... well, the writing was so-so.... but it gives us a great jumping off point for working on revisions. The engagement was awesome. We had a few questions about how to switch from camera to video in ios7 (you have to slide your finger on the right side of the screen). It's a start. We will be using this app for further writing, definitely, as the engagement was tremendous. It also was a great way to get their feet wet with this app. The actual writing quality itself... well, that would have needed work in a notebook, too, so I can't really view that as a negative. A couple of kids did say, "we explained that in the video" instead of adding text, but I view that as a learning curve and something I must not have been clear enough about when frontloading them. Work in progress, on all of our parts.... Here's a few pics. Enjoy!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Get your learn on!

Today I received a wonderfully cute and inspirational video from the parent of one of my students. Please check it out here:

So I decided to include a few pictures of my class "getting their learn on" so far this year.

Madi is demonstrating our "Smart Readers" wall. This is where students add their connections, questions, and inferences while reading.

Lanasha, Mike, & Trey are working on Word Study at their seats while CJ quizzes Serena and Nick on the meanings of their words. 

Today during math we had a planned fire drill. We also had three students absent. So rather than start a new lesson, I decided to let the kids have some time to "play" with the math manipulatives, and they were SO engaged. They had the choices of playing a math game, doing any type of math problem with dominoes, using pattern blocks to make tessellating patterns, etc. This group of students chose to make patterns. They worked incredibly well together and stayed on task the entire time with no arguing over blocks. Impressive!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Growing Pains

Tomorrow is the 20th day of school. Yes, I counted. And I'm finally beginning to feel like we're getting into a groove. The beginning of the school year is always an exciting time... the prospect of a fresh start, the fun of getting to know the kids, getting the room "just right"... It's also an exhausting time for all of those exact same reasons. I liken it to growing pains.

This year, I'm feeling a bit more challenged because I'm not only in another new school, but I'm also teaching a new grade level (albeit the one I've wanted to teach for quite some time). I was (am) very attached to my "old" school, both the staff and students. I only taught there for two years, but we had some great ups and terrible downs that brought everyone closer.

First, I did my National Boards work there, which is beyond exhausting both physically and mentally, but also incredibly rewarding (for me, anyway). Then in April, the unthinkable happened when one of my fifth graders passed away suddenly from an accident while playing over the weekend. We grieved as a class and a school. It was a painful and difficult time for everyone, and we just all did the best we could. Then, about a month later, I learned that one of my second graders from the previous year had drowned. The thought that this could happen again, especially so quickly, was very difficult to process. I'll never forget running into a coworker right after I was told about the second child, and she just gave me the biggest bear hug. Thankfully, there were only three days left in the school year, and I had the summer to regroup. I was fortunate enough to be teaching many of the same kids the second year because I was teaching a 5/6 split. Even more than usual, those children became "my kids," and thanks to their amazing parents for sharing them.

So, at the start of this school year I found myself in this new role, excited but feeling bittersweet about the change at the same time. I admit, I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched last year's fifth graders nearly tackle the other fourth grade teacher with hugs that first week, because "my kids" weren't there, and I didn't know anybody well. As if they sensed it, I got five emails from last year's kids that week, just checking in (I told you they were great kids). That brought a smile to my face and had me wishing to be about another month into this school year, to that "magical" phase when routines, expectations, and most of all rapport with my students would be already established. I was reminded of my first year teaching, when I was participating in our district's wonderful mentor program, and a phrase came to mind... "I don't know what I don't know."

So back to the present. Twenty days in. And I'm reminded that you cannot wish yourself into that magical place. You have to WORK to make that happen. And today, I started to feel that beginning in our class. The kids are starting to share more with me and chat with me more. They're definitely feeling more comfortable. And I'm figuring out the building's idiosyncrasies a little at a time. My new coworkers have been wonderful to get to know. And most of all, the kids and I are finding our place as a classroom community. One precocious nine year told me the other day, "ya know, even though you're new, you're becoming a really good teacher." Thanks, bud, I'm tryin'.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Each new school year (well each day of each year, really), I consciously remind myself that each child is someone's whole world. Being a parent of three young children absolutely shapes me as a teacher, and this particular school year, that is even more tangible than ever.

I have (finally!) made my home teaching fourth grade, and my oldest child is also a fourth grader. While that may earn me some cool points with my students because it means I "speak" the language of Minecraft and legos, even more cool is that I have a live-in specimen by which I can guage classroom activites and expectations. I've already caught myself asking, "would I let Justin (my oldest) read this?".

It was in this spirit that I found myself reflecting on respect at the start of this school year. However, I was thinking about how *I* can show respect to my students. I began thinking about those in-service meetings and asking myself how it would feel if I had to ask to use the restroom or be told where I must sit. I certainly would be less receptive to whatever information being presented under those circumstances.

I decided to treat my kids (students) the way I would expect to be treated and let them choose their seats, at least at the onset, with the understanding that if a child demonstrated that they could not handle this, they would lose the opportunity. Same goes for the bathroom. So far, albeit only a week and a half in, it's going really well. I have had to move a couple already, but I'll be sure to give them another opportunity.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. What is working so far in your class,  teachers? What are you finding yourself mentally tweaking already? I know we will make changes as the year progresses, but I also know that mutual respect will always guide my decisions for our classroom.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ready for a new year in a new school!

I'm sure it feels like this every year, but this particular summer truly seems to have flown by at mach speed! I've spent many hours these past couple of weeks getting my room ready to go, and now it's ready for fourth graders! :)

While I don't yet have my final class list because registration just ended, I based my room on 28. I know I was at 25 before registration, so we shall see where we end up... it's much better than the 34 that so many of my friends have in other buildings in our district,  so I'm feeling thankful. I can't wait to get to know all the kiddos and their parents and to get started on moving everyone forward in their learning.

Anyway, here's a sneak peak at the room in it's just about done phase... what a difference paint and a ton of elbow grease makes!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Importance of Reading Aloud (to Older Children, too!)

My favorite part of the school day is right after lunch. The kids are notoriously unruly from recess and the cafeteria, and the best way I've found to wind them back down a notch is to get them hooked on a good book. And the best way I've found to do that is to read to them. For many, when you hear the term "read aloud," you envision young children or a librarian or parent reading to toddlers before bed, but read alouds don't need to stop once kids can read themselves. In fact, reading aloud to older students is not only beneficial academically, it also opens them to a world of books that they otherwise might not be able to explore.

One of the best known authorities on reading aloud is Jim Trelease ( His best seller The Read Aloud Handbook will be released in it's FINAL edition (and I know you don't know me, but happy retirement, Jim!) at the end of this month. It is a must for a new teacher, a parent wanting to learn more, or anyone who just wants to hone their read aloud skills. Some of what I've learned from his book and from my own practice is briefly outlined below:

*Use funny voices and intonation!!! I cannot stress this enough. What better way to engage kids than to liven things up a bit? There is nothing better than watching thirty faces JUMP when you get to a suspenseful part, knowing you read it just right to make that happen. THAT is what the author intended, so make it happen! Get in touch with your inner actor. I promise they'll be laughing WITH you, never AT you.

*Skip the dull parts. If there's a part that you just know is going to take away from the "performance" of it or disengage kids, skip it. It's okay!

*Kids can listen and understand texts far more complicated than they can read on their own. This applies to big kids, too! (even gifted big kids) You have the power to tap into that to expose your students or children to texts that they may not have the ability to handle on their own just yet.

*Use props! If the story allows, bring in some props or dress in character. Your kids will love it!

*Slow down! Just like when the kindergartners do the pledge on the intercom, most people rush when reading aloud. It takes practice to get it down naturally.

*Big kids like picture books, too! I always start the year with a fun, childish picture book, even when I've taught sixth graders. Everyone likes to enjoy a fun book.

*Leave them wanting more. This is just my personal favorite with older students. If you stop at just the right part, it's like watching your favorite TV show right before the season finale ends. They will yell for more. That's how you want them. They don't get much more engaged, folks! This leads to them reading more, and we all know, the more they read, the better they'll do in all areas.

Happy reading! Here is a short video of a read aloud I did with my 5/6 split at the end of this past school year. It's nothing magical. Just a quick read. Don't skip this super important piece of a balanced literacy block. You're missing out on a huge opportunity to engage your learners if you do! Enjoy!

Mo Willems Read Aloud 5th 6th grade

Monday, June 3, 2013

Another school year comes to an end...

The room is quiet and empty. It's a bit sad. Five minutes ago I was barraged with tearful hugs and goodbyes. I'm going to miss these kids! Everything is packed and ready to move to my new school and grade. I'll start the first trip over today and let the district do the rest. But yes, it's definitely bittersweet. While I'm excited about the grade level change and the stability that this new spot will offer, and the new staff seems absolutely wonderful, I loved my two years at this school. And having gone through my roughest year ever last year and coming out the other side with these guys, it's a bit overwhelming to think of starting over. I know it'll be wonderful and things happen for a reason. I am optimistic and happy, but also a bit sad, if that makes any sense.... Much how I felt watching the kids today as they watched the slide show of their year pass by before their eyes.

So. Their gift! I found this idea on pinterest from another teacher. I used to make these. Play with it a bit. It's pretty easy to figure out. (To get the names prominent, change the "we" setting on that word to 4, and leave the rest at 1.) I made a sheet with everyone's name on it, and then everyone had to describe each other in one word. I asked students to write their favorite colors (so I'd know which colors to use). These are a few pics of the reveal and the final product. Enjoy! Have a wonderful summer!

                                                 Waiting for the "Big Reveal"

Checking them Out!

Finished Product!!