Sunday, September 22, 2013

Spelling. S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G.

This week kicks off our first spelling list of the year.  Oh joy.
(I'm a terrible speller who relies on spell check and an extensive knowledge of homophones!)

Spelling with the Thinkers is a little bit different than most have seen, and though I have made small adjustments nearly every year, the gist is the same, and it's very, very effective.

Did I mention that there are 24 Thinkers this year?  Which means I'll have 24 different spelling lists?  Yep, and it's still an extremely effective way to deliver spelling instruction.  Even though you likely are thinking at this moment that I am nuts.  (Which I am, but that's a different story, and after all, aren't all teachers a little nuts?!)

So, the program is simple.  It's not exactly a program, actually.  It's more of a delivery method.  It actually works with just about any spelling program your district or school might be using.

Here's the basics.....

1.  Start by collecting your students spelling errors.  By this I mean, read everything they write.  Yes, even their math work.

Pink Spelling paper.  Next year it might be blue!
2.  Keep a list of spelling errors for each of them.  (I call this my Pink Spelling Paper, though it's really card stock!  It's pink cause that's the color we had in the copy room at the time!  Double sided, this pink page holds 60 spelling words.  Some kids have one that lasts all year, others go through multiple pink pages.)

3.  Pre-test.  Yes, pre-test.  Use whatever program you have (I use Evan-Moor) and give the kids a pre-test.  The words they know, why bother testing them again?

4.  Whatever words the kids get wrong on the pre-test, well, those go on their list for the week.  The rest of their list?  That gets filled up with words from their individual lists, you know, the ones that you've been keeping throughout the week?

5.  Have the kids write down their spelling lists - I have it set up so they do so on the back of their pre-test. They then copy the words into their planners for studying at home, and I keep the pre-test for use when they partner up to give each other their actual test.

Yes, those are Care Bears.  It's how I
tell the menus apart!
6.  During word study, or for homework, or however you do it, the kids are to learn those words.  Remember, 24 kids, 24 lists.  I have used a variety of spelling menus in the past, as well as spelling tic-tac-toe.  Anything but weekly spelling sentences, cause those get so tedious (for the kids and for me) week after week!

7.  Come test day, partner the kids up.  They trade papers and give each other their spelling tests.  IMPORTANT:  This needs to be modeled and practiced!  Take the time at the start (the first three weeks or so) and it will pay off in the end!

8.  Any words wrong on their spelling test?  Back on the list it goes!  Yes, this means that the word may show up multiple weeks in a row.  Then again, isn't the point of spelling tests to learn words for use every day, not just for the test?  I thought so.

It sounds like a lot, but really, it is only slightly more work than the average spelling program, and the payoff is much, much, stronger.  Cause kids are not only learning the spelling pattern (which is what the pre-test is for) they are also practicing the words THEY need to learn, especially cause they're already using them!

If this sounds like something you might want to try, you can check out the full details of my Spelling Differentiation delivery on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Yes, this is a shameless plug.  You know you'd do the same thing if you could! (And I encourage you to do so!)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Geometry Fun

The first math unit of the year is a geometry unit.  This unit tends to be a bit challenging for the kids, and I do my best to make it as engaging and relatable as possible.

For example.....

To learn about circles, we took chalk outside with the challenge to draw a "perfect circle" before breaking out the compasses and creating all sorts of concentric circles and designs!

To review and learn about geometric terms, we created posters and turned them into an e-book.  One of our math workshop rotations was to read the e-book on Kindle, and write quiz questions that others can answer by reading our e-book.

Check out our e-book: Geometry on Scribble Press

To add a creative twist to the whole polygon practice, we designed maps of whatever our imagination wanted - candy stores, dream bedrooms, dream houses, tree houses, amusement parks - anything!  The catch?  We had to use at least five different polygons!  To wrap up that project, the kids labeled each element on their map with the correct geometric term.

Still to come?  Geoboards and riddles for sure.  Play dough is a maybe. And who knows what else the 2am brainstorms will bring!?!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Dot.....

Have you heard of or read the book The Dot by Peter Reynolds?  It's a very simple story, yet, there are SO many ways it can impact a classroom and connect to curriculum.

For my class this year, I found the book in a backward sort of way.  See, I found this really neat app called colAR via my twitter network.  Yes, it's supposed to be spelled that way, cause the AR stands for augmented reality.  Now, I'm not an expert by any means on augmented reality, but I am pretty good at finding ways to make things fit into the curriculum and justify spending precious instructional time on said activities.

So when I found this app, and saw how you can totally bring to life your dot drawing, I had to dive in.  Really.  It was a must.

How did I connect it to curriculum so that I could spare time in our overly scheduled day?  Good question.

First, we read the book and took it at face value - absorbing and exploring the basic lessons of believing in yourself, trying your best, perspective, perseverance- you know, the good stuff.  From there, the Thinkers illustrated their own dots, drawing pictures that represent them- what they're good at, what they enjoy doing, what they're proud of, etc.

Then came the fun part.

Using the (free) colAR app on our four classroom iPads each table got to play with their dot - which became a three dimensional toy on the screen.  Even better, it was curriculum night, so the dots were proudly displayed on desks so that parents could download and play themselves that evening.

It was a big hit all around, but how, you might be wondering, does it tie in to curriculum?  I mean, this is 4th grade, we don't usually have time for celebrations like International Dot Day (9/15) and things like that.

But this was different.  See, we study a bit of government in 4th grade.  And we always start the year off with a constitutional exploration, including the preamble (we write our own!) and symbols of the United States.

Symbols.  Yep.  Now you're thinking.

So day one was the fun day where we read the book and created our dots, complete with symbols that represent us, what we like, what we're good at, and so forth.

Day two is where the connections connected and the lightbulbs lit.

Cause it was time for us to design a class flag.  With symbols that represent our classroom.  Which is how the Thinkers spent a good part of their afternoon (after, of course, we reviewed the dot story, played a little more with our dots, and discussed symbols that represent us, the United States, and our classroom.)

I can't wait to see what the Thinkers come up with when the flags are revealed later this week!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Math Workshop!

Last week was all about getting to know each other and well, I didn't really hit much curriculum.

This week, though, kicks off with my favorite - Math Workshop!

I based my math workshop model off of the one that Beth Newingham uses - if you haven't seen her site, you've GOT to check it out here!

It's a simple model that has worked really well for me, with, of course, a few tweaks each year to best suit the needs of my current students.

The general system is this:
Three groups.
Mini-lesson, whole class, starts the instruction
Meet with the teacher
Practice (math journal pages or something of the like, sometimes project activities)
Project/Play (fact games, or the like)
Wrap-up, whole class, ends the instruction

I have previews (also known as a pre-test, in parental language) for each unit.  (Everyday Math, third and fourth grade previews and reviews available HERE on my TPT $tore.)
The kids take this a day or two before the unit starts, with the reminder:
"You haven't been taught any of this yet!  Remember that!  I want to see what you might already know - but I don't expect you to know this stuff yet!"

From the preview, kids are split into three groups.  The groups are generally determined by preview scores.  It's usually pretty clear, too.  You've got the handful of kids that really get it (for example, on the unit one preview that my class just took, about 4 kids got about65%+ correct.)  Then there's the handful of kids that have never seen it (same preview, about 8 kids got about 6% correct)  Finally, there's the group that kinda get it, but kinda don't (they got about 40% correct.)

Learning targets are posted for each subject area.
Group one usually consists of the kids that got the lowest score on the preview.  In my mind they are my "support group" but on paper, they're the green group, the yellow group, or the blue group.  They start with me for the lesson, then head directly to the journal page or "practice" activity (often started with me) before they scamper off to play the assigned games.  When group one is with me, I take the learning target and drill it in however I need to, to ensure they are getting the basic concepts needed to be successful.

Group two starts with the games.  From there, they work with me for the lesson.  Finally, they head to their seats to work on the journal pages.  This group is called my "target" group, as they are pretty much right on grade level.  (Though, again, they're either green, yellow, or blue!)  When group two is with me, we're usually following along the general lesson as if it were being taught whole class, keeping the learning target in mind as our guide.

Group three starts with the practice/journal pages.  They are my "enrichment" group.  (Though they are referred to as either blue, green, or yellow, too!)  The goal is that they problem solve to figure out the lesson together.  The learning target helps guide their practice.  Then they head to the games before coming to me.  When they're with me, we clear up any confusion about the practice activity, and I add the next layer - either a more challenging task utilizing the same skills, or extending the activity.  Sometimes, it's pre-teaching for what's coming ahead, too!

The length of each rotation is determined by the group in which I am working with at the moment.  It usually ends up that rotation one is about 20-25 minutes, when I'm directly teaching the support group  Rotation two, when I'm teaching the target group, is usually 15-20 minutes.  The final rotation when I'm working with the enrichment group, is usually 10 minutes.  Yes, this means that the support group only gets 10 minutes for games, but that's about all they can handle by then.  If any group finishes their practice pages early, they then go directly into games.

Ignore project, it should say play!
So where do these tasks come from?  Whatever math curriculum you use!  Of course, I supplement the practice activities and the games from all over the place - Marilyn Burns, MEBA, Exemplars, web resources, you name it.

Mini-lesson - whole class - 5 minutes (math message, review learning target, whatev!)
Rotation 1 - 25 minutes
Rotation 2 - 20 minutes
Rotation 3 - 10 minutes
Wrap up - whole class - 5-10 minutes (correct practice page, review learning target, etc)
Total time on math instruction: 70-75 minutes a day

DISCLAIMER: Sometimes math lessons do NOT lend themselves to math workshop!  In cases like this where whole class instruction is better, go for it!  For example, we have a few lessons where kids are doing surveys of the whole class, or completing probability activities, or geometry building tasks.  I teach whole class as needed.

DISCLAIMER 2:  Once you get to know your kids, groupings may be modified slightly.  For example, especially when I get to a lesson that isn't necessarily clear-cut for the three groups, I will often divide the class into two groups - the group that picks things up rather quickly, and the group that needs a little more time to figure things out.

DISCLAIMER 3:  Practice/Play rotations often include fact practice (using a variety of resources, including xtramath) differentiated to the individual students' needs.

DISCLAIMER 4:  Flexibility is key!  Previews are given before each unit, and therefore groups are mixed up each unit.  While one unit the blue group may have been my enrichment group, to keep the kids on their toes (and clueless to my grouping methods!) the next time around, blue might be my support group!  The process begins over each unit, so that I can best differentiate for the content at hand.

More pictures coming soon!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy First Day!

I love the first day of school!  New faces, new smiles, new energy....  That said, though this was my 12th first day as a teacher, I still get nervous!  When you count up all the "first days" I've had, you'd think I'd be old hat by now.  Not the case.  I'm up way too early, can't eat breakfast (so I drink it, thank you protein shakes!) and my energy comes from a mix of giddiness, delirium, and excitement.

This was a big first day, with 24 smiling 4th graders making their way into the classroom that is now their home away from home for the next almost ten months.  When they came in, a short writing activity and word search was waiting on their desks.  The kids were so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.  A few of the parents looked rather surprised, likely because it was the quietest they've seen their kid all summer!

Alas, the quiet never lasts long enough, and within 40 minutes, the class was eagerly (and quite loudly, I might add) exploring the classroom and getting to know each other, and their teacher!
Learning the new bus loop.

My favorite getting to know you activity for the first week of school is usually a big hit, and this year was no different.  It's a simple activity, really, requiring nothing but a plain piece of paper (scrap paper works, as long as they're all the same size scraps!) and a writing utensil.

Unpacking supplies!
The kids write down two or three things about themselves.  Then, while they wait for their peers to finish, they get to doodle on their paper.  This is the one time of year I tell them to NOT put their names on their papers, which is puzzling, considering this activity usually comes after I teach them the name song:

"The first thing I do is always the same, I get my paper and write my name!"

What do we do with those scraps of paper, you might be wondering?  Well, we crumple them up into balls.  Considering I tend to use white paper..... and we live in Michigan, where an over abundance of white fluffy stuff usually descends from the skies for a few months every year....

Yep.  It's a snowball fight.  Indoors.  In a classroom.  Complete with throwing paper snowballs!

Anyway, the balls get tossed around for about a minute, then at my signal, everyone scrambles to find a snowball, un-crumples it, and tries to find who it belongs to.  We have three or four of these snowball fights each day the first week, which makes for a memorable way of getting to know each other!

And hey, you know the saying about snow in July?  Might not be July, but I love making it snow in September!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Reading Garden

I love my classroom.  I've been in this exact room for 12 years.  Yep, 12 years.  A half of a year spent student teaching.  One third of a year spent in a long term placement.  And ten years calling the room my very own.  (Reader's Digest Version: Student taught in what is now my room, followed by a year and a half of being the building sub, before I got hired into my same room!)

Anyway.  The room used to be windowless.

The Original Reading Garden
Well, that's not entirely true.  It had one tiny window, about two feet by three feet, that I dubbed "the drive thru" as you couldn't leave it open for any amount of time or it would create a wind tunnel.  Because of the lack of natural views, I turned my reading corner into a garden, alas, the reading garden.    I built a white picket fence, lined it with fabric that looked like grass, and mounted it on a wall where there were beautiful blue clouds covering the ugly brick.

Wait.  It gets even better.

I was gifted a beautiful wooden park bench (thank you Original Thinkers!) which only added to the park like setting already blooming.  Then, I bought a tree.  (Not a real one, mind you, cause my black thumbs would have killed it in a month!)  And after weeks of searching, I finally found a stone rug.  Or, more like, I made a stone rug.

It was a beautiful, relaxing, peaceful setting that everyone who visited absolutely loved.

Then, things changed.
Step 2: add the grays

Step 1: purple stones
Last summer, I got REAL windows.  Ones that open.  Like, with screens and everything!  They're awesome!  I love the natural light!  Finally!

Except..... it meant a MAJOR room re-arrangement.  Potentially eliminating the garden.....

Step 3: accent grays
Thankfully, with a bit of creative thinking, garden removal didn't have to happen!  Instead, it underwent a mega overhaul, complete with two brand new bookshelves!  With all the changes, I had to create a new stone rug that would fit the modified space.  Back to Home Depot for a four foot by five foot canvas drop cloth I went!  Here's the outcome:

The new Reading Garden! (Park bench relocated by the math corner)
There's still lots to organize, as with the two new bookshelves (tall ones!) I was able to add about 400 more books to an already overcrowded library..... but hey, that'll be part of the fun, having the kids organize the new and improved Reading Garden!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Compliments Anyone?

Part of the classroom management system I use in my classroom involves compliments.  Lots and lots of compliments.  They're worth a lot!

Current compliment rewards.  I might let the kids
pick one more of their choice....
Each time my class earns a compliment, they used to get a tally.  Once they got so many tallies, they could "cash them in" from our compliment menu, therefore picking their reward (or so they thought!)  The system worked well for about four years.  Now it's time for a few tweaks.

This year, I'm sticking to compliments, but doing something a little different.  I'd like to give credit to the person from where the idea came, but I don't remember if it was a pinterest, twitter, or Facebook brainstorm, so my appreciation to the originator, wherever they are.

I could not find Scrabble tiles to save my life!
I created my own for under $10 using
magnetic tape and scrapbooking stickers!
Anyway.  This year, each time the Thinkers earn a compliment, they'll get to pick a letter out of a bag of letter tiles.  The letter will go on the board, covering the corresponding letter (think hangman, only you already know the word?)  Once they earn enough tiles that spell a complete reward, they get that reward!

Here's the catch.  (There is almost always a catch, right?)

The compliments can NOT come from me.  The Thinkers must earn the compliments based on their behavior everywhere in the school except for the classroom.  This means they need to be on their best behavior in the hallway, in the lunch line, in art, music, p.e., Spanish, media center..... even visiting parents!  Guest teachers are particurlaly valuable in the compliment department, motivating the Thinkers to be on their best behavior even then!  It works pretty darn well, if I do say so, to keep them on their toes!