Saturday, August 31, 2013

Five for Friday: This is why I teach....

I had such a great week! I had my first common plan meetings with all the grade levels at my school, had tons of former students connect with me, and started my second Master's program. I've been wanting to write all week, but I've just been too exhausted. Well, the good news is I get to link up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for their Five for Friday. Here's a look at my last week!

1. Came home from hot yoga on Monday night to these texts:

Andrina was my student during the 2005-2006 school years. Here were are at her 8th grade promotion:

She's such a great kid! I'm so glad she's kept in touch with me over the years...she's now a sophomore and going to school in Southern California. I think this year she's going to be deciding with four year university to transfer to...Andrina, I say make it a PAC 12 school! No matter where you go, I know you'll do great, and if one day, you find yourself in a position where you get to help kids, I know that you will love it just as much as I do. I'm so glad to have you in my life!

Freshman in High School? No matter how old, always happy to reconnect!

2. This week also brought me visits from more former kiddos:

HMS Class of 2011 -

HMS Class of 2013 - 

We got to catch up and I heard from the two freshman how they missed Heritage so much and the Juniors we just so funny - remembering stories from when they were on our team at Heritage.

Stephanie was so surprised to find that I still had her story in my library. This girl is really hilarious. She was remembering back when she had to stay after school in our "Responsibility Room" and she retold an interaction she had with my coteacher, Mrs. Bray:

Stephanie: Mrs. Bray, can I go to the bathroom?
Bray: about you wait a few seconds and go when you all leave?
Stephanie: Well, there's still 10 minutes left of class....?
Bray: you're doing math? Well maybe if you did your math homework you wouldn't be here!**

**You have to know about our team - while kind of sarcastic, we had awesome relationships with our kids and it just worked. Stephanie retold this story laughing about how Bray would always be so straight faced and strict and kind of making fun of kids. Totally Team Heartless. I def need to write the Team Heartless blog!**

Anyways, Stephanie then went on to tell me how she figured out, "I just couldn't win with you guys. I realized the best thing to do was probably just stop talking!"

Such a great visit with all these kiddos!

3. I started my second Master's this week. It's kind of crazy. I was sitting there in the first class hearing about all the things we had to do and thinking to myself, "Michelle, you can still back out. You can save this until later. Forget about homework and just go to yoga and blog and watch college football on the weekends." The thing is, right now the district will reimburse at 80% and I just can't pass up that kind of financial help with a degree. I would be stupid not to do this now...

So I am doing Educational Administration at Northeastern Illinois University. I kind of picked this college randomly, but I am so glad I ended up in this program. The director of the department said, "We know what the hell we're doing here," and after being with three different instructors on Wednesday night, I can see they are totally right. It's going to be a lot of work, but nothing I can't handle. So, I'll have an M.A. in 2015! Excited for that. I'm going to write more about this on a different stay tuned!

4. Yesterday I got to teach in a first and third grade classroom and had so much fun. Both were writing workshop sessions but I was so glad one of the reading specialists came with me to first grade because I had no idea how to get the kids to do the writing after they did their ideas with the pictures.

Brainstorming a list of careers for when they grow up...

Kids drawing four reasons why they want that particular career...

And then, my colleague, showed me how to teach first graders to write the sentences to go with their pictures. If I had to do this, I would have just given them a sentence frame and said, "Ok, go write your sentences!" She, however, broke it down so easily for them! I loved learning from Chrsitine!

5. I found this picture on another blog awhile ago and saved it:

There has never been a time I found it more true than right now...all the visits and texts and even learning new things from my peers. I love my job, so much, and even though I think I should be paid more, what I get from it intrinsically - well, you could never put a price tag on that!

Well that's all I've got for this week....have a great weekend!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Five for Friday

Happy to link up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for her Five for Friday blog! My first week back and at an elementary school and not a middle school - here you go!


I was in my classroom (which will soon be a PD room) this week with one of the reading specialists when the announcements came on.They were about to do the Pledge and we looked at each other and were all, "Wait, do we do this, too?"  First time ever not having kids during the Pledge of Allegiance! Then we're laughing as we're looking all around the room for the flag....there was none, so we figured that as long as kids didn't see us, it'd be okay to skip it. But, I do feel a little unpatriotic telling you all this!


So at the elementary school I have to do recess duty and we finally got the schedule so I'm out with the 2nd - 3rd graders every day. Ummm...before I get to the story - recess duty is all year (I'm in Chicago) - and you always go out in all seasons, unless the windchill is like 10 degrees or 10 below, I can't remember. Hi...10 degrees? Boots and coats and scarves and gloves on a bunch of little kids? and then have to take all that stuff to lunch with them? Sounds fun.... : )

Anyways - there was this group of maybe 20 girls doing some cheerleading so I went up to them and asked them all peppy, "omg. Are you doing cheerleading?" They all shouted back yes, so I taught them a chant and then today they asked me to show them again. Good stuff, but that's not the what was my first glimpse of seeing I just might like little kids....

Fast forward an hour after recess and I was walking to the office and one little girl walking by and chirps, "Hey, Coach!" Heart melting.

Friday was the first day for our Kinders. I wish I had had my iPhone with me out when we picked them up to show you... The little kinders were all in their lines, their backpacks bigger than they are, smiling and waving to their parents. Their parents - a wall of them, probably 5 deep, all with their phones, taking pictures, feeling so happy but probably super sad to let their kids go. As the  kids walked into the building, the teachers kept the parents out, even though it's so hard for those parents to say goodbye. There  were a few who were late, so I got to walk one little girl in.

She took my hand, and was so small - I had to squat down to talk to her, but took her to her classroom. I told a few people, "Uumm... if I don't ever have kids, I think I'm fulfilled!" It was so, so cute!

Our kinder rooms are BEAUTIFUL - seriously - I need to get pics of all of them. They're organized and clean, and clutter free. There are little lamps and a kitchen area and a library. The bulletin boards are up, themes are set, and it's the most beautiful learning environment ever. I'd want to be in these rooms if I were a kid.

And, the best thing - I also don't have a pic...but they made a little frame that said "My First Day of Kindergarden" and had each child hold it up and took their first day pics. (It was like the pic below!) Just everything - was so great! I feel so lucky to work with these amazing teachers!


So as I mentioned above, I was at the middle school level (10 years) and now is my first year at an elementary school. Turns out that my elementary school is, in fact, connected to the middle school. The kids don't really ever cross paths, but the teachers and maintenance can go between the two buildings. Well, yesterday as I was leaving, driving out the back way around the middle school, I heard my old AP say to some kids, "Oh, there's Ms. Brezek!" So I pulled over and got out to talk to two kids from my homeroom (and they stayed with me for two years!) and then another from my team, and a fourth from the other team.

The three from my team have already started freshman year at a charter network in Chicago and first thing B lets fly was, "It's so strict there. I just want to come back!" The three of them go on to tell me yes, it is in fact strict, but that the work isn't too hard yet. One girl told me about a boy who got 57 detentions last year, so he was held back. He happened to meet her parents and her dad said, "Don't talk to my daughter!" (Sidenote: she's got The Best Parents EVER - I'd want to be just like them if I had kids!)

I love these kiddos so, so much, even the third who when I told her not to get behind with her homework, and she said she already was, I read her the riot act: "Do you want to be a bum like that kid repeating freshman year? Are you going to make excuses for your whole life or stop with that now? Do you want to be successful?" I love having these kinds of relationships with them - discipline hard, but love the you-know-what out of them. That's what's up.


Finally, feel so happy that I got to know the new teachers at my school just a little bit more this week. I was mostly working on a book room all week, but I did stop to talk to a few of them. Next week we begin our common planning meetings for Literacy that I will attend, so it'll be even better, but there are such great people at my new school and I couldn't feel happier!

And, I got to see all my old friends at a happy hour close by school, and then Jon, the social studies teacher on my old team, had another one down in the city. Loved seeing all my best friends from Heritage and the friends I've made through them. Perfect ending to a great week.

Well, sorry it's late! Definitely couldn't blog after those happy hours last night (due to the fact that I was falling asleep in the cab on the ride home....not other reasons!) : ) Hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Words Their Way: The 5 Day Plan

If you don't know much about Words Their Way, start here for an overview of this Word Study system. Then you will be ready for a lesson plan format, which is what this post is all about!

With Words Their Way, students will be given a word sort every five days. You will have up to three groups in your class - I will talk in a future post about the assessment and grouping, so hang tight for that.

Don't think that your word study groups need to be on a Monday - Friday schedule. For starters, there's always three day weekends, so that will throw you off, but also, you'll want to meet with your group for day one of the lesson plan, so it's best to be staggered anyways! (You'll also need to be with your groups on day five to assess....I'm still figuring out how this will all play out scheduling wise in my head!)

Here is a place to start with your plans:

Day 1: Introduction
Introduce the word sort with your group. This involves a few things - first, you may want to tell them the pattern for the sort but you might want them to figure out what the patterns are themselves. So, introduction begins with going over the patterns if you choose.

Introduction also means going through the words - saying them aloud and discussing meaning. You can start this with kids - perhaps highlight the words that they may not know, and then let them finish on their own (in pairs or triads within their group). It is very important though that they know how to say the words aloud.

After the introduction, the children will sort their words into the patterns. They will also write the words in their notebook. Notebooks: Some teachers devote a whole notebook to word study, or this could be a section of your Reader's Notebook. Up to you! (Note: I don't think primary kids will be writing - probably just reading the words or pictures and listening to the sounds. I'm justing getting into working with the primary grade levels, so not 100% on some of this stuff for kinders, 1st, and 2nd grade....please leave me comments if you've done this with the little kids!)

Day 2: Building Vocabulary
First up - sort the words. The kids will always sort the words first thing each day. While it may seem repetitive, the goal here is to develop speed and automaticity. The sorting will change as the week goes by, but always - sorting is first thing.

The other thing children will done on day two is work on  vocabulary with the words. They can draw pictures of the words or find pictures online to represent the words. They could act out words for a partner(s) to guess. They can basically do any game that focuses on word meaning.

Day 3: The Reading-Writing Connection
After students sort the words again, day 3 is when the word study goes even more authentic. This is a non-negotiable part of word study - kids have to find vocabulary in context.

Students may look for words that are in their sort or that fit the patterns in their sort in their Just Right books, in poems that the teacher shares with them, in leveled readers....whatever authentic reading materials they happen to be working with. They are essentially becoming word detectives - looking for new words and adding them to the lists they already have.

Be prepared though: They will find the "Oddballs." Oddballs are the words that should following a pattern (either for how it sounds or how it looks) but don't. Don't hide the oddballs. Use these words - talk about them, and then just have the kids file the words in an oddball category.

Day 4: Blind Sort and/or Games
On day 4, kids will do a Blind Written Sort with a partner. With this exercise, child A has the words in front of them and child B has a notebook and pencil. Child A reads the words to Child B, who writes them in their notebook with the correct pattern. The purpose here is that you'll want the kids to have the words in their vocabulary so much that they don't need the visual cue. When the words from their list are done being read and written, Child A checks the work from Child B and then they switch.

Now, you'll have to change things up - after awhile kids are going to get used to all these procedures. Day 4 can also be a day for word games - the Words Their Way text has lots of ideas for games, but you'll have to create them.

If you're not wanting to make tons of games for your Word Study but you'd like them - check out Teachers Pay Teachers. There are tons of docs you can buy on this website that other teachers have made - if you're in a pinch for time (or just don't want to make the games) there's so much on TpT that you can buy. You can also create an account there and sell your games! Extra money, whoohooo!

Also: day four could be the time of the week when the upper elementary kids begin to use the words in context - writing stories or sentences with their words.

Day 5: Assessment
On day 5, you will assess the group. They will create the columns with the headers as the word patterns. You will choose three to four words per pattern to dictate to them and they will write them in the correct column. If you assign grades: one point for spelling it correctly and one point for placing it in the correct column with the correct spelling pattern.

Also: add one word per pattern that wasn't in the sort but fits the pattern. You'll add these words to see if the kids get the generalizations that they worked on over the course of the week. Make sure to use that clearly fit the pattern - don't pick tricky words that could maybe be in two categories or fit in oddball. All you're trying to see by adding words is if kids get the generalization.

And that's it!

So there you have it! Now the vision is that most of this is small group work that fits in your Reading Workshop as part of the work students do each day. Of course, it won't happen magically over night that they know how to do all of it's okay to start with a super easy sort and do it all together as a whole class for a few times first. Teach the procedures. Remember: Go slow to go fast.

Don't get stressed, either. Transformation in your reading instruction (or any area of your life) isn't a's a marathon. As long as you are moving forward in your journey, you're on the right path. As much as we'd like to have everything perfect the first time and on a super quick timeline, it's just not possible.

So that's all for Saturday morning! Have a great weekend!

PS - One more (HUGE) thing that I didn't mention. Not sure what sorts to do? You can buy these books and it's all done for you - sequenced in a great order, building on one another...etc. Although only four are pictured here, there are five - one for each of the five stages: Emergent (kinder), Letter Name (first), Within Word (first-second), Syllables and Affixes (third-fourth), and Derivational Relations (fifth and up).

Emerson teachers: I have the original text of Words Their Way and I have the third, fourth, and fifth stages of word sorts. We will be ordering the others, just don't have them yet....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

1. Grab a tissue. 2. Read this.

Hi to all my teacher friends in blogging land and maybe some of you who I really know in real life! As we get back to our routines and our school years begin again, remember above all else to love the heck outta your kiddos first and foremost. Even those kids who drive you nuts, the ones who have no filter and let the most random things fly out of their mouths, the kids who talk back...basically just picture the kid who you had the most difficult time with in the past. Yes, that kid. Love that kid.

Need some help getting there? Meet a truly amazing teacher:

Our work is so important, but before we can get to publishing memoirs, or solving for x, or guided reading, we must, above all else, show our kiddos how much we really care about them. Do that first, and then watch as your kids take amazing risks for you all year long.

Thanks to my bff Katie for sharing this video.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Words Their Way: An Introduction

Are you familiar with Words Their Way? It's a word study program - ehhh, maybe not program - Let's just call it word study. The aim of word study begins by helping little kiddos with phonemic awareness (hearing sounds and then connecting them to letters), and as they grow, to help the bigger kiddos make generalizations about word and spelling patterns. Word study is also about vocabulary development - in the younger grades, it's talking about words on any given word sort, and in the upper grades, it's about Greek and Latin roots.

Word study is NOT:

  • memorizing a list of spelling words
  • taught in a whole group setting (perhaps in kinder it is...but after that, it differentiates.)
  • about homework completion
  • taught as a separate component outside of the reading and writing instruction.

Word study IS:
  • constructing meaning through examination of words
  • talking about words with peers and teacher
  • differentiation to meet student needs
  • encouraging an interest in words
  • comparing and contrasting words to form generalizations
  • integrated into your literacy workshops

So what does word study look like?

First grade student with short e, and long e patterns: ea, ee

Did you watch the video? This first grader is using the vocabulary words consonant and vowel to describe what he was doing. He also found the oddball - been - which should say (bean) but doesn't. It follows the pattern of the -ee- but the sound doesn't follow the pattern, making it an oddball. Amazing thinking he does aloud as his teacher tapes it.

So how do you do it?
Of course you will have do a little assessment and figure out which kids have like needs. You'll create up to three groups within your class. Then, you will give them sorts based on what their needs are.

The teacher will start with a fifteen minute introduction to the words with the small group. Then, children sort the words based on sound, pattern, and/or meaning. As children sort, they work with another student or two, discussing the words, and why they grouped them the way they did. The important thing here is that they:

  • Say the word they are sorting,
  • Lay the word into the appropriate group, and
  • Explain why they put the word where they did.

For example, the following words may be in a sort:

As the children are sorting, they are saying each word, talking about meaning (vocabulary), and putting the words in the correct place. Now, this one is obviously a suffix difference in how the words look, but there is more to this conversation. All of these words are adjectives, but the -able words are with base words that could stand alone. Also, the base words in these cases are verbs, and adding able changes it to an adjective. On the other hand, the words with the -ible suffix have a root word and these cannot stand alone.

Can you see how there's much more to the conversation than just the suffix? Students are talking about word meaning, grammar, and they are comparing and contrasting base and root words. They determine the pattern - the teacher is not telling them the pattern. Students are constructing their new learning in a social way. This kind of learning runs much deeper than being told about a rule or memorizing a random list of words.

Well, there will be more coming on Words Their Way - I will talk about how to integrate it into the workshop so it goes with their reading and writing, I have a five day plan for each sort, and will also be writing about assessment. In the mean time, you can pick up their book:

Do you already use Words Their Way? Any helpful tips or ideas? Please share!

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Well, all my things have been moved from my old building to my new building. The floors have been waxed, rooms cleaned floor to ceiling. I have this week and next week before school starts, so I thought I should get going on the room!

When I got to my PD yesterday, one of my old students happened to be running by school so I asked her to come back at 3:30 with a friend and help me unpack.

So cute, Lillian and Emily - going through my books and putting all the ones that are more middle school appropriate into a separate box and keeping the K-5 books in my room.

They were so sweet....

"Ohhhh I remember Scary Stories! They were so creepy in elementary school!"
"Aren't Grimm's Fairy Tales too scary for little kids?"
"Emily, did you read The Uglies? Soooo good!"
"The Giver will always be my favorite book!"
"Oh, that book Son - I knew that baby was Jonas - no, Gabe! I never got to finish it!"
"Ms. Brezek, I never liked books until you!"

Box after box, comment after comment, I unpacked my desk, they melted my heart....all over books.

Super love literacy and my former kiddos!

More classroom pictures coming soon!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Currently August

So excited for network for the second time with Farley's Currently Link Up! Thanks for hosting!

Also, thanks to all of you who are stopping by to get to know a little bit more about me here at BigTime Literacy!

Listening to Eli Young Band

So this album has really helped me this summer getting over a breakup. Never easy, but I am finally starting to feel like I'm in a good place and ready to move forward. I've worked a lot on me - found yoga, really got into blogging, and have been working on keeping my thoughts positive. Anyways, love this band and their whole Life at Best album is amazing!

Loving Friday Night Lights

I was just in Seattle visiting a friend....actually I just got back yesterday! Anyways, we wanted to unwind each night and so we started watching this show on Netflix. It's kinda old I think, but super good. About high school kids and their football team, but it's lots more than just sports. If you need a show for some mindless unwinding after your busy school schedule starts....highly recommend this one!

Thinking about endings and beginnings

Summer is coming to a close...crazy that the school supplies are already out in all the stores! I had a great summer and wish it could just keep on going, but, at the same time, I'm super excited to get back into a routine and try out my new position as Emerson's Literacy Coach. In case you couldn't tell, I love, Love, LOVE all things reading and writing. Love workshop and teaching vocab, and phonics, and novels, and book clubs. Love reading and writing with kids, and I'm so excited to share all of that with new colleagues. Looking forward to make lots of new friends this year, too! And work for an amazing principal again!

Wanting to travel more and more!

Like I said above, I just got back from Seattle. I had so much fun with a dear friend. She teaches a literacy class to preservice teachers, so I got to go with her, and we went to the Market on Pike Street, the Space Needle, and spent three days on the beach.

Being there made me realize how much I like seeing new places! I'm so excited for my trip to Europe next summer, and even though it's so expensive, I'm still trying to figure out how I can get to Phoenix for Thanksgiving with Katie. Visiting old friends, seeing new places....LOVE travel!

Needing groceries

Traveling does cause some problems: No food and no money. Luckily I get paid tomorrow so fridge will get restocked then.

Yep, still empty.

Back to School Must Haves

Well, this is a first. I won't have my own kiddos! I don't have a big need for lots of supplies....but I do want some new clothes! I hear Ann Taylor Loft, Old Navy, and The Limited calling my name! Also, I always love getting new pens, Sharpies, Sketchers markers (you know, the smelly ones?), and I love picking out a new composition book that has a pretty color to use throughout the school year. Love shopping this time of year!

That's it for Currently August. Thanks for stopping by to get to know me and please come back often for tips and tricks for your literacy classroom!

Happy Thursday!

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