Monday, August 31, 2015

One Big Party, sort of...

Our second week was one big party! I am more than sure your kiddos told you all about my birthday. That is because I have teammates that totally spoil me, and every year they spoil me MORE! And this year, the kiddos were pulled into all the fun.

The day started with balloons and doughnuts. Sarah even remembered my favorite and picked up a couple of blueberry cake doughnuts! Whoo hoo! Diet was out the window this day, but I am pretty sure that it is a rule that on your birthday you are NOT allowed to count calories. There were flowers and cards, too. I will overlook the glitter on the card because there was so little of it, Sandy. ;)

Before I knew it, we had more flowers and gifts! What girl doesn't love gifts, right! But not only did I get gifts...a special parent brought birthday goodies for both classes. I would love to share pics but in the madness that ensued...I didn't get any. However, every kiddo received a cupcake, a few laughs, and more fun outside for about 10 extra minutes of recess. 

Now I don't want you to get the idea that we were all play and no work....nope, not this room! We have been trucking right along. I mean just look at my beautiful bookshelves... all covered in anchors. Yes...yes... I know my anchor charts are important to the kiddos, and we refer back to them so often. However... every year I miss looking at that beautiful shelf with all those amazing books ready to be in the hands of my voracious readers!

But what do you have to do with limited wall space for all those anchors we work so diligently to create together each day?...Well you use what you have and for me, that is book shelves. *sad sigh....

You might have noticed a few furniture changes between the two pictures. After our first week, we could definitely see things that needed to be changed and rearranged. A few pieces were taken out, and others put to use in different places to make for a smoother running space. 

Goodness.... I digress....

As I started saying, we have been trucking right along, and I am more than proud of our accomplishments thus far. 

I think we are off to an amazing start in our shared reading.  This is a small thing I do each day with the kiddos...about 15 minutes...and it gives me so much! I have promised my students that if they work really hard during our shared reading and participate by SHARING their THINKING, then they will more than likely never get reading homework from me. Of course other than reading a book! 
I mean no more worksheet-homework, YUCK. I have found that I can get more from this 15 minutes a day than I ever could from all the time it took me to track down the homework that was more than likely slapped on the paper during the bus ride to school the next morning...IF they remembered to do it at all. So for now....they are working their tushes off to give me what I am looking for...because no one WANTS to do a reading worksheet if they don't have to... :) If you know my former students, please do NOT tell them about this because there might be a riot if you do. I haven't always been this nice about homework. I am pretty sure I once heard a kiddo say that they really wanted to be in my class but they hoped not to get me because they heard through the school grapevine that I was the homework queen.YIKES!

Now a little handwriting/ word-study practice is all that they will get from me. Of course other than reading a book! They must always read a book, or two, or three! Not all in one day of course. ;)

With our shared reading, we have created a glossary in the back of our reader's notebooks. Each day as we share and discuss the week's passage, we take note of any new or important vocabulary. We add these words along with their definitions to the correct page of our glossary, and then we create a sentence using that word. When possible, I will allow the kiddos to sketch their ideas or visualization of each word. 

I will then post the vocabulary word on an anchor titled, Our Glossary. This way students can always monitor themselves to make sure they have all needed vocabulary.


We have also had tons of fun with our morning meetings! Love, love, love that we have a Responsive Classroom! We have become a family and gotten to know each other so much more quickly with our morning meetings.

I Mustache You is one of my most favorite shares. 

Brain breaks are just as important as our morning meeting shares and activities. :) Sometimes you just need to get up and move and maybe even giggle a little! This is quick idea that I actually stole from one of our back-to-school meetings in the beginning of the year. Yes... I have played this game too, and let me just say my kiddos are far better than I am. Ha!

Below is a picture of our weekly journals. These are journals that we write in each week as a reflection of our learning and accomplishments. I wish I could take credit for this insanely brilliant idea, but if you know me, well then you know I probably haven't had an original idea in years. I get all of my magic from the wonderful teachers around me, and this beauty came from my friend, Dawn from Teach to Each

At the time she was teaching first, so I had to tweak it a little for fourth. Let me tell you though ...this has quickly worked its way to becoming one of my most favorite learning tools. We do this from the first week of school to the last week, and watching the growth in writing is so fun! 

Each week as we cover new skills, students are expected to use those skills in their letters. This week we discovered how to correctly use a semicolon, so the kiddos had to use a semicolon correctly as they wrote to their families. Such a quick assessment and parent communication all in one!

I try to include pictures throughout the year, a few every couple of weeks. Again, watching my students grow not only academically but emotionally and physically as well is so fun and enlightening. Man the growth spurts in fourth grade... you don't even realize it until you compare those pics. So crazy!

I am not the only one that gets to enjoy this...the parents and family members that invest in this two-way conversation each week have such an amazing keepsake at the end of the year. A complete journal of their fourth grade year, written in their own sweet little voices! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! And I love that I work with such talented teachers that share their inspiring ideas!

I will share more examples and photos here as we continue journaling away!

I came up over the weekend and spent a good amount of time working around my room and on bulletin boards or displays in the hallway. I am so excited about these. These are more magic from Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer! Have I mentioned how much I love her ideas? I can't wait to see this grow!

I am still giving it my best to stay on it my best to become healthier step by step. My most favorite walks always include Josh or Katiebyrd. Katie and her fiance came and walked with me the night before my birthday. Nothing better than spending time with my own kiddos. Now that they are all going off in their own directions, anytime I get with them at all is so special.  I now have a new favorite picture of Katiebyrd and Joshua...look at those cuties!

Speaking of Katibyrd...have I told you? She is engaged! She will be getting married in June, and she could NOT be more excited. Here she is after having just decided on her venue. She will be getting married at St. John's Chapel by the Creek, and I cannot wait to see what an amazingly beautiful bride she will be! I know... I know.... right now you are thinking that I couldn't possibly be old enough to have a daughter getting boggles the mind doesn't it! ;)

So much happening in such a short time! I am so blessed to have such sweet and hard working kiddos and just as blessed to work with such an amazing group of teachers and parents that I call friends.... and that spoil me so!

Happy Reading, friends!

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Monday, August 24, 2015

First week in the books ~ 2015!

Just look at that sweet group of cutie patooties! I totally love them already. We are going to have so much fun this year... I can't wait to see what amazing things we learn from each other!

As first weeks go, ours flew by so quickly. I have to admit our first day had me a little their excitement we had a chattery group of kiddos. I wasn't sure if it was the classroom set up, getting to see old friends, or if we were in for a long chatty year, but by the end of the week we had ironed out most of the kinks to have a smooth running classroom. I am so glad that I did not chicken out and start the year with desks. I do believe these kiddos love our classroom setting as much as I do....*sigh :)

Just look at these book lovers reading away! One of our first goals was to really establish firm expectations for our writing and reading workshops, and I would say that we accomplished that. Of course we will need to revisit and maybe even make adjustments throughout the year, but we are off to a great start.


While setting up our reader's notebooks, I really stressed the importance of our reading record and our book status forms. These forms can tell me a lot about a kiddos reading when I call them up to conference with me. 

This example is one of my own reading records... if I ask the kiddos to read 40 books and keep a reading record, then I feel I should do the same. This is a mix of young adult and adult books which is what I tend to do throughout each year. 
There is so much I can learn about my young readers from this one form... 

Our book status form is an idea I took straight from the pages of Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. I fell in love with her philosphy of reading instruction with The Book Whisperer! Her books inspired me and gave me the courage to really reach out and teach reading the way I always envisioned it. If you haven't read these two books yet, you should pick them up as soon as possible!

In writing workshop we worked just as diligently to establish routines and expectations, and create a safe place to keep all of our fun and creative writing ideas.

Every year while creating these writing notebooks, I ask myself "why".... so much work and such a crazy-messy time but when I see the final products, I know exactly why I stick to it an have my kiddos create these.

One of our first entries into our notebooks is our Heart Map! This is another activity that can be wild and crazy, but I sure do love the results and the discussion.

Another of my favorites has become my students' weekly journals. This is a journal in which kiddos tell about their week and share their thoughts on school and their learning - and sometimes outside school events make their way in, too! They share these journal entries in the form of a letter to their families, and the exciting part is their families respond as well. The kiddos love that their parents have homework just like them.... my parents have always been so good to respond and participate with these, and the kiddos LOVE, LOVE, LOVE reading their responses. I will share more about these later. 

Look at this beautiful group of ladies that I have the privilege of working with every day!
Of course we had to do a silly pic :) ~ great things ahead for this group!

Well, I think that wraps up our crazy-busy first week! I am so excited for all the fun and learning we will have this year with this cute little group!

Happy Reading, friends!

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Project Based Learning: Leap of Faith

Last spring when my principal pulled me aside and asked if my partner and I would be interested in doing project based learning with our class, my first thought was, "WHAT IS project based learning?"

Now, I had heard a bit of buzz about project based learning, but if I were to be perfectly honest, I had no true idea exactly what it entailed. So my first step was to hit the internet and do some research.

There was an overwhelming amount of information out there....often more than I could wrap my head around. 

Of all that I found, this short video from Edutopia gave me the clearest visual of what she was asking us to do, so this became our starting point. 

Real-world Connection

Our first step was to create a real-world connection... because this was our first attempt at project-based learning, we decided to keep it small. After researching project examples, we decided to create a brochure of our school, and our guiding questions to the kiddos became, "What would we need to include in a brochure to tell visitors as much as possible about our school, and how will we create it?" (For future projects, I would approach this as something that is more student driven...allowing students to create their own project.)

Mrs. Hanna came in and introduced the project to some very excited kiddos!

Core to Learning

Mrs. Whitt and I then sat down and discussed which Common Core Standards would be addressed in this project. The most challenging piece of this was to include as many subjects as possible within the project. 

Structured Collaboration

Students first browsed many examples of brochures, noting what the best brochures had in common and what each group felt was most important to include in their own.



Student Driven

After deciding what was most important to each group, they took off in their research. Here collaborative groups are looking through school scrapbooks dating back to the opening of the school, noting how it is displayed and written.

Students asked Mr. Dalton, the first principal at Southside, to come and share more of its history. Students took notes that they felt would be most important to their groups finished product and then worked with other group members to present it in the best way possible.

Groups had to be responsible to work throughout the building without interrupting the learning of other classes. This group is working together to create the map of the building that would be shared during their presentations. Maps had to include the length of each hallway and the distances from major points of interest within the building. Often you could find other groups interviewing students or taking photographs for their brochures. It became our job to monitor and guide them with questioning to the next step needed to create a finished product.
Multifaceted Assessment

Students had to email specific project requests to me. We would work together to revise and edit all requests to be appropriate and formal, and I would forward them to the appropriate parties.

Although we started the project with a number of forms to help the students maintain accountability and help me assess throughout, it quickly became clear that sharing our documents through Google Docs was a much more appropriate way for Mrs. Whitt and I to measure progress.


We assessed groups and individual students throughout the project and within the final presentations and projects. 

A few finished brochures.....

This group interviewed students from each grade level asking, "What do you like about Southside?"

Students learned about and created QR Codes to direct readers to important web pages. 

This group approached me about interviewing the superintendent of our district. My first step was to ask what they wanted to ask, and when they couldn't answer, I sent them back to the drawing board. Later they emailed these questions to me, and I have to admit to being impressed. When I asked them how they came up with these questions, they told me they researched "good interview questions." I was very proud, and they were just as proud when Dr. Thurman responded to their email.

This group spent a considerable amount of time with the formating of the panther in the background and how to line it up with their content. Their focus and determination really drove them and kept them busy for a while. This part of their project took more collaboration/ facilitation from me, but with them guiding me, we reached their goal. You may not be able to see it, but their text is a guide to what your student should know at the end of each grade level. 

When it came time to present, the students decided they wanted to meet their guests in the hallway and shake their hands, welcoming them to the presentation.

Each group worked out how they would present to a room full of elementary administrators AND our school superintendent. We were all nervous, but it was so fun to watch them shine for a job well done. 


Our presenters!

Although this was our first experience with Project Based Learning, I found it to be an amazing learning experience for not only the students but for Mrs. Whitt and myself as well. Letting go and allowing students to guide their learning was at times a leap of faith, but like I have said before, I have often found that when I am willing to take that leap, the kiddos are willing to meet the challenge. The students were very proud of their accomplishments and many were more than excited to share their finished projects with the guests at the presentations and later with their families.