Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Helping Students Choose Just-Right Books

I am so pleased to welcome Amy from Active Readers and Writers today. She has lots of fabulous freebies and resources on her blog, so I hope you stop by to check it out!
Active Readers and Writers

Helping Students Choose Just-Right Books

Expectations run high the first few weeks of school for teachers. You have spent the summer preparing your classroom and curriculum, yet do we ever feel 100% ready for those students to walk through the door? Along with getting to know them as individuals and building a classroom community you must spend those first few weeks getting to know them as readers.

Within these first few weeks of school it is important to help students in deciding what is a Just-Right Book for them? Before we can allow them to choose books of their own spend a couple of mini-lessons doing the following:

Ask them to write and sketch about a time when reading went really well for them and a time when reading did not go as well for them. I've included a printable to use and have them keep in their reading binder. Click Here to view and download.

Have them reflect on books that they read last year or over the summer and think about what qualities of the books made that book: too hard, just right, or too easy for them to read. Have them complete a chart and list book examples if they would like.  Click Here to view and download.

Go over the iPICK Acronym:
P: Purpose: Why do I want to read this?
I: Interest: Does the book interest me?
C: Comprehension: Do I understand it?
K: Know: Do I know most of the words?

Go over the 5-Finger Rule: Pick up a book and read the second page. Hold up a finger when you come across a word you do not understand. If you hold up 5 or more fingers, you should pick another book.

Have them set reading goals as to what types of books they would like to read, possibly trying new genres, increasing the amount of minutes read during the day, etc.

Once you do these mini-lessons with students it should help to guide them in picking books that are close to their just-right reading level during the first couple weeks of school. It will then give you some breathing room to complete your reading assessments to gain further information. Hopefully you will see your students filling their book bins with appropriate reading material from your library!

Amy Gregory lives in Massachusetts and has been teaching 5th grade for the past fourteen years. She is the creator of the blog, Active Readers and Writers, where she shares teaching strategies and connects with other teachers who are interested in best practices around reading and writing.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

First Week - DONE! (Plus a Classroom Jobs Freebie)

Well...I survived my first week as a 5th grade teacher! And boy...oh...boy am I BONE tired. I forgot how exhausting the first week of school is - my feet hurt, my head aches, and I can barely string together a coherent sentence.  But...it was a great first week of school.

Here are a few things that went well:

1. Our Get-To-Know-You Bingo

2. Collaboration lessons learned from a group competition - 5 groups raced to put together their SpongeBob puzzle first. Terrific opportunity to discuss working together, "divide and conquer" strategies and recognize persevering students who did NOT give up.

3. Dictionary Hunt -  After discussing a few dictionary terms, kids worked with a partner to hunt through a dictionary to find guide words, parts of speech, and definitions. They really loved this activity. Maybe I even won over a few dictionary naysayers.  :-) You can read more about this and get the handouts for free here.

4. Great Poetry Race Intro - more on this later!
5. Reflection Post-it Activity 

6. Classroom Jobs - Students generated ideas, I added my own, and then they applied for a job.  Here is the description and application sheets for you to download for free if you like. They are left in Excel format so you can adjust them however you want!  Just click here for the Classroom Jobs and click here for the Application.
So how has your school year gone so far?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Thoughtful Classroom - Takeaways

Have you heard of Dr. Harvey Silver?  He is the author of The Strategic Teacher and our new (New York State required) teacher evaluation tool - The Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework.  Dr. Silver was our presenter for a full day of learning about this new system. Truly - I was dreading it. Who wants to spend 6 hours cooped up in an auditorium viewing the details of what your boss will be looking for as they observe you? But actually, it was a surprisingly pleasant day.  Silver was funny, warm, and actually practiced all the teaching behaviors he recommended.  I won't bore you with all the minutiae of the meeting, but I did come away with several things I want remember this year that I thought I'd pass along to you.
  1. You only have 7 seconds to make a first impression. Make those first moments count - smile, make a connection, and make them feel welcome! 
  2. Use your students' names in examples and while speaking to vastly increase their attention and engagement.
  3. Let your students get to know you - tell stories about yourself, share your own goals, and maybe even show them a picture of yourself when you were their age.
  4. Post surprising pictures or intriguing questions to hook your students into the lesson and engage their thinking.
  5. Stop often to ask for QCC: Questions, Concerns, Comments.
  6. When you ask a question during class, don't just use "wait time" until you see a hand or two go up - ask all students to jot down an answer to engage their thinking and then have some share - with each other and then you.
  7. Emphasize Learning - not Grades. If the learning is happening, then the grades will come. Have them record what they've learned often.
  8. Have students "mumble read" their writing to themselves so they can catch more errors and smooth it out. Then have another student read it to them to help them spot even more areas to improve. 
  9. When looking for areas of your own growth - try looking at the "opposite" of what you do well.  For example, if you're great at fostering an appreciation for diversity, try working on developing unity in your class.
  10. Ask students what they need - Example questions: "After looking at the goals for this project, what will you need to accomplish this by Friday?" This increases motivation and engagement.
Many of these I incorporate into my teaching already, but I plan to add them in a more "thoughtful" way now.
If you're interesting in learning more, you can check out Dr. Silver's book:

I'd love to hear from anyone who has used this system.  How are teachers evaluated in your district?