Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lists and poems

Whew wee...Goodness! I think that the first few weeks of school is a lot like child birth in that we forget exactly how crazy it is or we would never do it again. I am being dramatic, but a whirlwind of DSA,  DRA, DIBELs and seemingly impossible deadlines is about to wear me out. I would much rather sit down and read to, read with, or write with my sweet kiddos. Funny thing is that I will do it all over again next year just to spend each and every day reading and writing with a new group of sweeties. So, deep breath...sigh...on with our crazy busy but wonderful day together!

So sad to see some of our wonderful books play hide and seek behind our growing anchors. We have discussed, reviewed, and learned much in a small amount of time. We are definitely on our way to a successful year in reading and writing. 

Students are still enjoying storytelling, and I am so glad to have added such a fun piece to writing workshop. Notebook Now How by Aimee Buckner has been an excellent addition to my professional library, and it has really given me some fun ideas regarding establishing a community of writers that feel as if they truly have a story to share, big or small. 

Another gem I found on my own bookshelf was given to me by someone in my family years ago.  Telling Your Own Stories by Donald Davis has opened so many new ideas for the kiddos in sharing stories. They have enjoyed sharing with their teammates. The fun part of all the storytelling and sharing of ideas is that the first time these kiddos tell me they don't have anything to write...maybe I will have some things to remind them of. And I am sure if I don't, their teammates will. :)

I want to share a fun little read aloud that was a perfect addition to our writing workshop launch as we continue to add a variety of entries in our writer's notebook. Lists are a perfect addition to any notebook. 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to do Anymore by Jenny Offill is a cute list book that starts out, "I had an idea to staple my brother's hair his pillow... I am not allowed to use the stapler anymore." Giggles EVERY time :)

Today's list was our Happy/Sad list. We brainstormed ideas that make us happy or sad. We then discussed how many stories were hiding in this list! This sweet group of kiddos are so open and honest in their thinking. I cannot wait to see what stories they write for me this year.

Rimshots by Charles R. Smith Jr. is way up there on my list of favorites for poetry and launching writing workshop. "Reading books filled with stories and poems inspired me to write my own. The more I read, the more I wrote. And if I wasn't reading a book, I was playing a sport; I played everything, particularly basketball, and spent many afternoons on the court, perfecting my jump shot." ~ Charles R. Smith Jr. What could be more perfect to show where writers get ideas, how they write from what they know and love, and the variety of writing styles they can bring to their notebooks! Not only that, his poems are amazing! 

Off to finish last minute plans for tomorrow ~ 
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

29 again ;)

A promise is a promise, and since I promised to do better this week, here I am! Excitedly so even! We have had a very productive two days considering that I am wading through the river of denial as yet another birthday has come and gone. Thankful to have them but wishing I could slow them down sometimes; the closest I have come is convincing each new batch of fourth graders that I am 29. Guess that will have to do. I wonder when they will stop falling for it? 

Still, as birthdays go, I certainly cannot complain. My daughter dropped by class surprising all my kiddos and me. Katie, or Katie Bird as she is called by family, is somewhat of a star in my class as she is center of many of my stories during writing workshop. As soon as she walked in a hush of sighs and "Katie Birds" were whispered across the room. She enjoyed every minute of it, too. :) I was treated to a wonderful steak dinner by my team and daughter, and I now have a beautiful new butterfly charm hanging in my room. 

We are chugging right along in our launch of both Reading and Writing Workshop. This group has done an amazing job building up their stamina in the Daily 5. I have pulled in my favorite pieces of Guiding Readers and Writers, Daily 5, and The Book Whisperer, along with some super fun ideas I have found on Pinterest, of course. Each year one of my biggest frustrations is watching students abandon book after book. I decided to be much more proactive about it this year and try to meet that head on before it becomes such a road block to the success of some of my kiddos. I was very impressed with Donalyn Miller's, aka The Book Whisperer, approach to establishing a community that practically feeds on the love of reading. Early in the launch of this Reading Workshop I have already given many book talks, going on and on about how funny or scary or thrilling each is! I end each talk with students lining up asking if they can read the book. Before I let students in my library, I conferred with each student getting to know their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences in reading. Kiddos walked away with stacks of books to make a selection from. During "Read to Self" students sit around comfortably in Nooks reading books of their choice and interests, but my favorite part is watching most of my students walk in first thing in the morning, pull out their book, and start reading. This morning one sweetie shared, smiling ear-to-ear, "Mrs. Dunn, I took my book home last night and finished it. It was the best book ever!" ahhh Music to my ears! Ms. Miller wrote that students in her room read every moment possible, and I am ecstatic to see just that in my room! Nothing makes me smile more. Sometimes, I stop whatever it is I am doing, just to look around the room and soak it up. 

Some of our productive week! 

As students complete a book, they fill out a small ticket and drop it in our Book Worm. Just before I send off each month's book order, I will draw three names from each class for a FREE book! Have to keep them reading!

This is our new interactive bulletin board. I first found it on Mrs. Newingham's Third Grade website. I have noticed many teachers using it and sharing on Pinterest. This is a work in progress (just hung it up today,) and I cannot wait for this group of kiddos to start making recommendations for each other. We have spent lots of time turning and talking about our reading, and I have watched a number of students excited to try their next book on the recommendation of their friends.

Today I read Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind by Judy Finchler. Makes me smile when kiddos exclaim she is just like me! Like Miss Malarkey, I try my best to find the perfect book for all kiddos. I wish I could say that it is always easy, but I give it my best. :)

Welcome readers and writers is how I often greet my kiddos each morning. It tickles me that when I chime and ask students to mark their places in their books, a collective groan sweeps the room, but it is so quickly replaced with "Yays" as I ask them to join me on the carpet for a quick writing lesson. They really are little readers and writers, and I truly hope they continue growing a love for it.


Each day as we work in our notebooks, we will continue to add a variety of entries and meaningful topics.


Still focusing on how each of us has a story to share, we are moving forward in our launch. My Very Own Room by Amada Irma Perez has a wonderful note from the author. After reading and discussing why she may have written her story, I share her note. Family is very important, and it is easy to see how many of our own stories can be pulled from family. I cannot say enough how precious Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is! (So if I say Mem Fox is one of my faves will that make me sound like I say that about them all?)  Such a sweet little story about how small trinkets and objects can inspire memories and stories; even more important how special friends of all ages and sizes can be, and what a wonderful stories for us to share!

We started my all time favorite read aloud this week as well! It does not get any better than listening to a little wit and wisdom from Grandma Dowdel! A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck is a book that I read early each year because without a doubt, we will refer back to it all year long! Grandma is such an amazing showcase of character traits, and the story is littered with figurative language! I usually have students won over with the first chapter, and I can also promise you the minute I read the last page, students are clamoring for the next book! Who would want to miss that? 
I was very fortunate to meet Mr. Peck at the Arkansas Reading Conference. "Giddy book nerd" does not even begin to describe what I looked like in line waiting to meet him, but what fun! I would just love to sit down and pick his brain for a while; such amazing talents he shares with his stories and unique characters!

Special day for me! LOVE me some Richard Peck :)

I think I hear my bed calling already...Happy Reading!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Didn't I tell you?

So do you remember a few posts back when I mentioned that I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew? Well, case in much for a picture book a day! Wow! What is it about a first week back at school that takes it out of you? We had a wonderfully easy and productive first week in our room, yet more than once I found myself taking a nap as soon as I got home. When deciding between jumping on the laptop to update or taking a nap, well I guess you can see which won. So today's post might be longer than usual (or needed, wink wink) but here is to catching up and sharing all of the fun things we did in class this week.

Our Morning Meetings have been a big hit! Watching my students greet each other first thing in the morning has to be one of the cutest things I have ever seen - so,  so stinkin' cute! By the time we are finished, we all have a smile on our face! What an amazing way to start the day. We spent much of the first few days sharing our hopes and dreams for the year. Considerable discussion went into what our goals should be, but even more importantly, how we could reach them. Students have decided that we must invest hard work to make our dreams come true. Our next step was to decide how we could help each other achieve our dreams. We anchored many ways that we could work together for our goals.This discussion led to our "Commitments to Each Other!" 

Students will sign our Commitments :)

Launching Writing Workshop has become one of my favorite parts of teaching writing. We have read many wonderful mentor texts already and shared our ideas as to "why writers write" or "where writers get their ideas."

One very MAD Katie rescuing a puppy
 that someone threw off the cliff...
she was off the cliff, in the air before
the puppy came out of the water.
As part of our launch into writing, we have been storytelling. I told many stories from my own writer's notebook. I still cannot tell which story they like better so far, the tiger at the zoo story (my sister will get me for sharing that again ;) or the one about Katie saving the puppy at the lake. Next week, we will move our storytelling into our writer's notebooks.

One morning while getting ready for work, I heard a song that reminded me of our own storytelling at school. (Some of my greatest lesson planning happens in the shower. And to keep from being too embarrassed about sharing TMI, I will just pretend that everyone gets most of their amazing ideas while washing their hair. ;) After our morning meeting, we talked about writing and storytelling, and I asked my kiddos what that might have to do with music and songs. My brilliant kiddos instantly said that songs "tell a story."  (Their words exactly...yep, it is going to be a great year!) We watched the video The House that Built Me by Miranda Lambert. 

We talked about stories, happy or sad, and how Ms. Lambert has shared the story of  her childhood in a song. We also wondered what kinds of things she might have on her heart map. (The song was actually written by Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas, but for the goal of this lesson, we discuss it as Miranda Lambert's story.) After plenty discussion, I shared with students an article from Parade Magazine that I had clipped out a number of years ago and added to one of my writer's notebooks, coincidentally titled The House that Built Me by Connie Schultz.  

The House That Built Me
The home that inspired Connie Schultz to share her story.

Because writers learn from other writers, if I find an article that moves me for one reason or another, I like to clip it out for future reference.  (I can already tell this will be a lesson that I do in future years as well. They loved it!) We  found that much of what was written by both writers was from their childhood memories, EXACTLY where my little readers and writers are now. We looked at the different things that each writer shared and the different things that may be on their heart maps. Here are a couple of ours...I will share more soon!


Our writer's notebooks are ready and kids are anxious to get to writing in them! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that they are excited about writing! Here are a few of our notebooks:




I am so proud that students took their time to find pictures, words and phrases that created a clear image of who they are and the stories they might want to share. I was even more pleased at how proud they were of their writer's notebook!

Some of our Reading Workshop
commitments to each other.
This first week was full of procedures and expectations, and Reading Workshop was no exception. I told our class how special it is that in our class, they will read the books they love most! Building a strong reading community is very important to me, and hopefully before long, it will be just as important to them. Students have been focused on building reading stamina during workshop. We have begun reading recommendations, and many students are on their way to completing their first Reading Olympic level. I am beginning to wonder if I did not set our initial goals high enough; I will let it play out for now to see how we do. We can always work at challenging ourselves with higher goals. 

Now to share some of our reading from the week :)


When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant and What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan are both beautifully illustrated examples of writers writing from what means the most to them. When thinking about why writers write, these are perfect mentor texts. 

"I love being a writer because I want to leave something here on earth to make it a better, prettier, stronger. I want to do something important in my life, and I think that adding beauty to the world with books like The Relatives Came or Waiting to Waltz or Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea really is important." ~ Cynthia Rylant

"I, myself, write to change my life, to make it come out the way I want it to. But other people write for other reasons: to see more closely what it is they are thinking about, what they may be afraid of. Sometimes writers write to solve a problem, to answer their own question. All these reasons are good reasons. And that is the most important thing I'll ever tell you. Maybe it is the most important thing you'll ever hear. Ever." ~ Patricia MacLachlan from Word After Word After Word

Have I mentioned my love of David Catrow illustrations?? Just kidding, I am sure I have rambled on about it at length, but here is another of my favorites illustrated by Catrow and written by Alan Zweibel. Our Tree Named Steve worked its way into my heart instantly! Such an adorable little story about how something as simple as the tree in our front yard can work its own way into the important moments of our life. It is the small things in life that can make the most impact in our stories. 

Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter is a fun example of writing about what you know. Funny stories can happen in the everyday moments of living. I love the language and vocabulary throughout this story, and we will revisit it often as we begin our daily pages in our writer's notebooks.

Are you starting to see a theme today? Yes, I know - I have launching writing workshop on the brain. One of my goals has always been to have my readers read like a writer! A Chair For My Mother by Vera Williams is another example of writing from what we know. In this sweet story, Rosa shares her story of working hard to earn money for a chair for her mother. The objects around us can tell a story, and here we see a families effort to recover from a fire that destroyed all of their belongings. Lots of inferring here as we see how the concern that Rosa shows for her mother. Super book for character traits as well. What everyday items create powerful memories in you?

Many of the mentor texts above are shared in Denise Leograndis' Launching Writing Workship; A Step-by-Step Guide in Photographs. As mentioned in an earlier post, this is a favorite standby of mine every year. So much so that when I could not find my copy this year, I ordered a new copy to be overnighted. Over the years I have added my own mentor texts to my launch and work to add to my mentor library as often as possible. 
Well...hoping that gets me all caught up on my quest to share a picture book a day. Does it count if I have to share multiple books on one day? Hope so :) but I promise to make a better effort next week!

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Finally the first day

What a blur today was! It is amazing how fast a first day in fourth grade can go! We did lots of "get to know" you activities, and it seems that I definitely have some southern BBQ rib lovin' boys in my room. Lots of modeling and practicing of procedures also took place today - whew - enough to make a teacher tired.

With all the practicing and procedures, we didn't get to as much reading and writing as I would have liked, but I guess we got a small start. I read my favorite first day book, Scaredy Squirrel, which I already shared here. When I asked the students to turn and talk about why I might have picked Scaredy Squirrel to share, I was glad to hear them say that I wanted them to "take a chance." What a safe place we are working hard to build!

I also read another fun favorite of mine, Bark, George by Jules Feiffer. This is another of my just "put a smile" on their face stories. Even though we giggled along with it today, we will come back and revisit this when we talk about different kinds of endings in our own writing. This was a surprise ending for the kiddos, and it cracks me up to see those gaping smiles every time. 

The first time I heard this story was when I listened to author Michael Shoulders speak. Mr. Shoulders is author of many alphabet books including N is for the Natural State. If he could get up and read that in front of a room full of teachers missing a day of their summer and make us giggle, well, I knew my fourth graders would love it as much!

We also shared some stories in preparation for our writing workshop. I showed my latest writer's notebook to my students and told one of my favorite stories from it. We will do lots of oral storytelling this first week as we prepare to tell stories on paper. It is funny how when you turn students loose to tell a story, they have a million of them, but turn them loose to write a story and they look like you're speaking Greek. Well, we are going to work on that this year! Students are also eager to personalize their own writer's notebooks. ~ Parents, feel free to send pictures with students for this process, but please make sure they are copies as they will not be getting them back. 

Today was the day we began thinking about our "Heart Maps." Here are a few of mine.


Sometimes what is on my heart map stays the same from year to year, and sometimes it changes. These maps will be small guides to our writing later. Students really have fun creating them, and I am always pleasantly surprised how honest and open kids can be when they create from their heart! I will share some of theirs later :)

We created a few goals regarding our Reading Workshop, and I was certainly smiling when students decided that something important for us to do in reading was to challenge ourselves! What a way to set high goals for ourselves! I am also looking forward to sharing our commitments to each other later this week. I cannot wait to see where their thinking leads us with this. 

One more book to share...

As we continue to build a safe place to grow and learn from each other, this book is a MUST! The fact that it is illustrated by David Catrow only helps. I love anything illustrated by Mr. Catrow and usually will buy it without even reading it. There are a few of his that I will share early on, but let's start with Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell.

I feel like I say, "This is such a sweet story," so often, but this is really a sweet story! Not sure of how many other ways to say it. Molly Lou Melon is a precious character who is not afraid to be just that, her very own character. In our room it is perfectly fine to be different; that is what makes us special, and we will revel our differences and use them to help each other in every way possible! 

"Walk as proudly as you can and the world will look up to you."

Happy Reading!