Friday, January 31, 2014

Loving Literacy Blog Hop: Stop #12: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Welcome to...

Welcome to BigTime Literacy! I'm Michelle and this is my first year as a Literacy Coach, but my 11th year teaching and loving literacy. I'm going to share a great book with you - one in which the character learns what it really means to love another.

But before I get to that, here's a little bit about me...

I actually never knew I was to be a reading specialist or a literacy coach - I was not a fan of reading until I became a teacher. I went back for a Master's in Language and Literacy because I'd have students - as sixth graders - who couldn't read. I had no idea what to do!

Through my coursework, I began reading so much great literature. I'm not sure how I stumbled on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, but I remember I read it in one sitting (on a raft in my mom's pool in Arizona) one afternoon. To say I fell in love was an understatement. It's a beautiful story of how a china rabbit learns what love really means. He happens to get lost from his owner, and then over the course of his life, bounces around from family to family. Only then does he learn to appreciate what he had.

My product is a unit based on this novel. It can be used with third-sixth grade students, as a read aloud and together as a whole class, as a shared reading, or in smaller book clubs. The whole unit focuses on the character development of Edward Tulane and answers the guiding question, "How does Edward Tulane change as his journey progresses?"

Prior to getting started, you will have to give a few mini-lessons on character traits (review meanings) and making inferences. Perhaps the class as a whole will work on the beginning the novel together, and then gradually release responsibility to individual students. Students also need to be shown how to cite evidence from the text to back up their claims about the character traits they select. Details of Edward Tulane's transformation will be recorded on a chart and at the end of the book, students will write a response to literature to answer the guiding question.

The unit includes notes about character development, chapter summaries, and suggested vocabulary. The freebie version includes these notes for chapters 1-5. You will be able to purchase these notes for all chapters if you'd like to! (Please note: I don't have vocab suggestions for all chapters...but most!)

One last little goodie - a stationary page to use for writing those responses. Gotta make the writing cute when you publish!

You can find this product in my Teachers Pay Teachers store at this link. It's free for the weekend! Additionally, if you'd like to purchase the notes for the entire book, you can find those here.

So that's that. A story of one china's rabbit journey to know what love feels like...right in time for Valentine's Day!

Make sure to follow me on Bloglovin' for literacy ideas, TpT products, news, and ramblings of yours truly!

Our hop doesn't end here! Cruise on over to Teacher's Take Out to see what Stacy has for you!

Have a fabulous weekend!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I *do not* want to give up teaching

I keep seeing this article in my facebook feed:

I began a comment to reply to someone's post one day, but then decided not to post. Then I noticed it again because another friend, one of my best, had commented on it. And now, today, it came up again, posted by a family member. So, I decided I must reply.

If you want to read the article first, click here.

The author says, "Unfortunately, government attempts to improve education are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children. The Common Core standards require teachers to march lockstep in arming students with "21st-century skills."

I say: Well, yes, politicians are making laws that impact our teaching. But, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are better than what we used to have: each state with their own standards and no way to compare progress state-to-state. So I say, that's a win.

I also say: No one is stripping the joy out of teaching for me. The CCSS isn't making it harder to be a teacher, it's just refining my focus. You can still do all the things you did before - you just need to make sure you are using assessment to guide your teaching, which is what good teachers do anyways. The author mentioned not teaching her favorite novel. Ummm...the CCSS didn't tell you to do that. There are still literature standards in the Common Core! What it does say is don't only teach literature - expose kids to nonfiction, too. And guess what? That's important!

The author says, "The Smarter Balance program assumes my students are comfortable taking tests on a computer, even if they do not own one."

I say: Totally agree. It's going to take some time for the kids to get used to completing the test on a computer, but remember how technologically savvy our kids are? I think this may be a bigger problem for teachers than kids. They'll be fine. Plus: I'm sure someone, somewhere, is doing a study about testing on a computer vs. testing on paper. New research will emerge. Be patient.

The author says, "My most important contributions to students are not addressed by the Common Core, Smarter Balance and teacher evaluations. I come in early, work through lunch and stay late to help children who ask for assistance but clearly crave the attention of a caring adult."

I say: I totally agree. These tests and evaluations don't measure these things, or if children are avid readers, have favorite authors, or are kind and compassionate people. As teachers, we see those things in our students, just like our principals see those things in us. I don't think these changes make principals out 'to get' anyone. They are a measure of accountability, but at the end of the day, I know that my work ethic and contributions are valued at my school. There isn't a test or evaluation that is going to tell me that. It all lies in trust and the relationship I have with my boss. I have been lucky to work for *amazing* administrators. And...if the day came that I didn't feel that way, it would be time to move on. Bottom line: Our principals are well aware of all the great things we bring to their school, and there isn't any test or evaluation document that would change their mind.

The author says, "Until this year, I was a highly regarded certified teacher. Now, I must prove myself with data that holds little meaning to me. I no longer have the luxury of teaching literature, with all of its life lessons, or teaching writing to students who long to be creative."

I say: Okay, I've been careful not to go overboard about the woman who wrote this article, but this is ridiculous. She no longer has the luxury of teaching literature? There are ten standards that revolove around literature! (For anyone not in education, don't be so quick to believe every piece written on the Internet!) Also, I am sure she is just overreaching. I'm sure she's still highly regarded as a certified teacher. This isn't the first year of standardized testing, and that data is just one piece of the puzzle! Remember what I said about trust from your admin? Same thing applies here.

The author says, "Teaching is the most difficult — but most rewarding — work I have ever done. It is, however, art, not science."

I say: It's actually both art and science. There is a science to how we implement instruction. There are certain things we can do as educators to enhance our lessons: State objectives, define key vocabulary, have kids work in cooperative structures to equalize participation and build language among ELL students. We can give assessments to measure how well we did and then go back and reteach or enrich based on what the data says.

But it is also art. In college, no one taught me how important it is to build relationships with kids. No one taught me that sometimes kids just need a hug. No one told me to go to Jesus' house every morning with the School Resource Officer and pick him up because he couldn't read and didn't like school. No one told me buy supplies for the girl who couldn't afford them or show up to soccer games and talk to the families of the kids I teach. No one taught me those things and no test measures it - that is the art of teaching.

Teaching is, in fact, both an art and science.

Teaching isn't easy. There are a lot of demands. Often times it is overwhelming. But if I didn't teach, I wouldn't have got this text from Lillian yesterday:

Or met a best friend:

Or met awesome kids who make me laugh and teach me patience (among other things) every day:

Petie was in my very first class!

Singing the school song....

Or got a Master's in Reading:

Or found my favorite book (The Giver) and shared it with multiple groups of kids:

Or taught (and had fun with) the most amazing group of teachers:

No job is perfect. There's always going to be something about it that isn't awesome. Since most people went to a public school, they think they know what it's like to be a teacher...but attending school isn't the same as teaching it. Anyways, good or bad, not sure what other career could offer all this...and a snow day.

Your thoughts?

Stay warm!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

On quitting...

Life is too short to do anything but what we love. We only get one life, gotta make the most of it, right?

In my free time, some of my favorite things to do are...

  • On the weekends, waking up slowly and reading facebook or playing Candy Crush in bed before I get up.
  • Drinking a cup of coffee while I look at the sale ads
  • Writing a blog or working on a doc for TpT
  • Going to yoga (haven't been in ages)
  • Binge watching some TV on NetFlix
  • Hanging out with friends and/or the bf
  • Reading a book

Some of my least favorite things to do on the weekends:
  • Homework for grad school

I've been complaining about this since I started last fall. Every weekend, the homework is like a weight just sitting there on my shoulders, waiting to be taken care of.

I'm working on a second master's - in admin. I have no desire to be admin right now...not even sure ever! Last week, in my HR class, we were working on predicting enrollment for future school years. That doesn't sound like fun at all. And if I was doing a job where I was predicting enrollment, where would the kids be? Probably in another building, as I'd be working at district office. So there's a problem:

I love kids!
I love curriculum!

I decided last night, after the fifth conversation with my best friend, that I should drop my classes this semester. So that's exactly what I did. And let me tell you: I feel great!

I don't want to spend my weekends doing homework (or worrying about doing it). I want to do all those things I listed above and really relax and unwind from the week. And I already have a Master's, so I'm not sure why I felt like I needed another one. I guess it was something I could do while I have the time and no kids and big responsibilities at home, but it doesn't make me happy.

So, I quit my classes and now I have all day to work on my blog hop blog for next weekend. I bought ingredients for a new recipe, too: Green Chili so I can make that and not feel stressed about doing homework.

Plus, I'm really interested in that Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce and finding out about how I can teach an undergrad literacy class at a university. Additionally, a friend just emailed me about getting involved with the National Writing Project, which sounds amazing. I've also been wanting to take a class on graphic design so I can make my blog look better and figure out how to make my own clipart.

I guess I wanted to finish that degree because I was worried about disappointing people - the best principal mentors who drop everything to put beautiful words of recommendation down on a paper for me. Also: myself. I didn't want to drop my classes because I don't like quitting things. It's not like I can't do this degree - I could totally finish it and even with a 4.0...I'm just not interested.

I need to stay close to kids, and even as a Literacy Coach, I still have Anabelle, Naylani, and Rodrigo next door in third grade who talk to me all the time, my group of four boys in second who I teach guided reading to every day, a bunch of kinders who I'll hear calling, "Hi, Ms. B!" as I walk through their hallway. And can't forget my fourth and fifth graders who I see at the end of the day for our reading intervention group. Every day they ask if they get a new book, and every day they are all smiles to see what I share with them! Love kids!

So, I say - do what you love. When you do, it never feels like work.

Are you doing what you love today?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Five for Friday and an Announcement!

What a great week...busy, but got so much done and now I have time to relax a little bit. I'm linking up with Doodle Bugs to share my Five for Friday!

First, I was happy to work with second grade coteachers to begin implementation of word study following Words Their Way. The kids did a great job learning the procedures of the lessons and learned lots about special vowels: short a, i, and o. Here's a few pics from our time together this week:

A word hunt in Just Right Books

Playing games with short a, i, and o

On Monday I presented at our Institute day - and I wish I had a picture of my co-presenter and I, but I didn't take one. But, Rachel, I have to tell you that I love, Love, LOVE working with you and I'm so happy to have you as a colleague and friend!

Rachel and I presented about close reading to middle school and then I did another session on Reading Workshop based on an article by Combs. After my Workshop session I realized how un-interactive it was, so definitely going to have to work hard to make my next one more hands on. Either way, good info in both!

This week I also had another presentation - with a Kinder teacher for our second Academic Parent Teacher Team meeting. We presented to parents about comprehension and how the kids are assessed with the Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessment. We showed parents books from levels A-D (and boy were they surprised at how much the kids learn in kinder!) Then we showed classroom data related to sight words, letter name fluency, letter sound fluency, and comprehension. Parents set goals and then the kids taught them how they did their word study. Such a great night for parents, teachers, and students to be working together!

Here's a pic of one of our families...nothing but smiles!

This week in my research class at grad school, we had a guest speaker from the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce (CGCT). 

I'm not going to get into it in detail here...I'm planning on writing about it more in depth later.... but they are a group who writes relevant curriculum for students. T
heir first unit of curriculum is called Urban Renewal or Urban Removal: A Grassroots Look at Chicago's Land Grabs and the Struggle for Home and Community. This unit starts waaaay back in history and explains how land was taken right out from under the Native Americans who lived here (in many cases through trickery) and still some of the same issues are going on where groups of people are being displaced by campaigns to "renew" our city.

These readings are appropriate for 8th grade and up, but I wanted to have it to learn about the history of Chicago for myself, and maybe share with some of my middle school colleagues! More to come on CGCT soon!

Last but not least...I'm excited for the Loving Literacy blog hop coming up next weekend! I'm linking up with all the reading specialist/literacy coach bloggers again to share our loves of literacy - favorite books and freebies to go with them! Make sure to check back on my blog next weekend to hop through all our blogs and collect lots of great freebies!

And, just a reminder - the 30th of every month is book club! Please link up with BigTime Literacy to share whatever you've been reading lately!

That's all for this late edition of Five for Friday! Thanks to Doodle Bugs teaching for sponsoring the Link Up!

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Awesome Teacher = No Assignment too Big

When you have an awesome teacher, you pretty much have no problem doing any assignment they ask.

Case in Point:

I was kinda dreading one of my new classes: Research Design & Analysis of Educational Data.

But then, I went to class tonight and this happened:

First thing, Dr. Cortez says, "Okay well, I care about my students and it's 7:05 already so I want to help you reduce your stress. You've had a long day, and we still have over two hours of work to do. So, we are going to do some deep breathing and stretching. If you don't want to participate, that's okay, but if you do, please stand up."

He then led us through about 5 minutes of this, which was awesome.

Then, we watched this youtube clip:

That brought us to the fact that all you have to do is some research, so pick something you love and then it won't be so bad.

Is it nerdy that I'm (a little) excited to do my very own research study? So far I'm thinking about possible topics: Close Reading, something related to blogging and teaching and learning or - I actually like this stress management idea with teachers...and maybe kids, too! More to come on that later though.

This teacher continued the class in a laid back, yet strict way. Laid back...said things like, "I don't want people talking out of their butt," and "Can you believe some people do research studies like...'Do students like to come to school earlier or later?' Umm...what do you think?" Then, "Please don't do s*** research." 

But he was strict, too: "I'm going to need you to close your computers when we have discussions. We're a classroom community and I love when we're really getting down exchanging ideas," and "You're going to need to make sure you follow the outline for your paper. It helps me grade it when it's formatted just. like. this.

Side note: I felt rather creepy writing down what he was saying. I knew I wanted to write this blog when I came home, and wanted to remember...but, nevertheless, creepy!

Dr. Cortez let us introduce ourselves first and didn't spend a whole hour on himself. He's going to give us feedback on our one assignment (the research paper) as we go, so by the end, there will be no surprises. The guy has a PhD, along with his Master's and Bachelor's all from University of Illinois. He is from Chicago and knows all kinds of history of our great city...he's smart. I admire smart people!

So all of this got me thinking: If you are a good teacher...rather, if you care about your students, and you do things (i.e.: are funny, do deep breathing and stretching, use different media to give your lecture...etc) to make your students like you - you can pretty much get them to do any kind of assignment you want, and it's no big deal.

Write a 15 page paper?

With a title page, abstract, table of contents, introduction, and review of literature?
Add in the methodology?

Don't forget your findings.

The same is true for us as teachers and our students: Show them you care about them, make it a point to learn their names ASAP, and let them have a piece of the lesson - kids will do anything.

Me: Which letter is the vowel?
Kids: <sing-songy> The A!
Me: How does it sound?
Kids: /aaaaa/ !!
Me: For homework, sort and say the words again and read the Thunderstorm book.
Kids: YES!!!

Love being a teacher. Love being a student.

That's my slice of life for today. Link up every Tuesday with the Two Writing Teachers.

That's all for now. It's 10:13 and I'm cashed.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rethinking Parent-Teacher Conferences

In November, I held my first Academic Parent Teacher Team (APTT) Meeting with one of the kinder teachers and the families of the students in her class. We met in the evening - all the parents and Melinda and I. The kids were invited too, but went to a childcare room with another teacher and National Junior Honor Society students from the middle school. The kids got to play games while the parents got to learn about what their kiddos were doing in class.

The APTT meetings were developed by Maria C. Paredes from the Creighton School District in Phoenix, Arizona. Maria was working on her PhD at Arizona State and developed this system for parent teacher conferences. Her meetings are different than your traditional parent-teacher conference in a few ways:

First, parents meet as a whole group - all parents in the whole homeroom come together for 75 minutes and learn together with the classroom teacher.

The picture above was from our first meeting in November. Because this was a kinder class, we held the meeting in our library so the parents had a little more space for working (and sitting!)

For this kind of meeting to be an APTT meeting, you have to have three parts: student data, goal setting, and aligned activities.

We decided to show data in two categories: sight words and letter names and sounds. This data was collected the week of the meeting. It was translated into a class-wide bar graph that was shown to parents, but the individual student data was anonymous. As you can see below, data on the whole class is presented, but each parent only knows their child's scores based on the letters along the horizontal axis of the graph.

In an APTT meeting, you start with student data like this. Each parent is given a folder with all of the materials as well:

In the folder, the parents can find the documents I used to collect data so they can see exactly which letter names, sounds, and sight words the children did and didn't know. In addition to the data sheets, there are lists of sight words and sounds, goal setting sheets, and the materials that go with the aligned activities.

Which brings me to the second part of the APTT meeting....

Based on the data the parents see, and in comparison to the child's peers and the expected benchmark norms, the parents set goals for their child. The goals are expected to be met by the time we meet for our second meeting, which in our case, is coming up this month.

After sight-words and letter names and sounds were described and data was shown, parents were asked to write a goal for their child in each category. Parents recorded this goal on a sheet that we gave to them, which was to be turned in to us at the end of the session. We wanted to make a copy of this form so we had it and then we would send it home on the following day.

Now, in order for a goal to be accomplished, we had to provide parents and their children activities to use to reach the goals. So, we gave them two ideas, in addition to the materials that they would need to complete them.

Our activities included two games:

As we carried out our conversation about these games, Melinda ended up going over how all the letters sound - common mistakes that parents and even I make - like when you say the letter m: sometimes people say it /muh/ rather than /m/. It's little moments like these (and a parent saying, "Ohhhhmigosh! I've been saying it wrong all these years!) that are so great about the APTT meetings.

Our first meeting was a success and I know the next one will go even better. In our first meeting, parents probably weren't really sure what to expect and maybe even feeling a little out of their comfort zone (as was I!) But, by the end of the meeting, many parents had met and talked with other parents in the room. One other outcome of these APTT meetings is the networking that naturally takes place as parents get to know one another and discuss the objectives and activities students do in class. Someone even said on their way out, "Oh yeah, we were pretty quiet tonight, but I'm sure it will be different at our next meeting because we'll already all know one another!"

I think overall it was a great experience and I'm really looking forward to seeing the parents again this month!

Thank you to all the parents who participated and we're looking forward to seeing you later this month!

Hope you're keeping warm with this arctic blast across the country!

If you're interested in learning more about these meetings, you can google Academic Parent Teacher Teams or look at these websites:

Going Deeper: Academic Parent Teacher Teams from Wisconsin RtI Center  - This link has a few videos of a teacher conducting an APTT meeting!

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