Sunday, January 25, 2015

R.A.C.E.S. booklet

Sitting in staff development classes is kind of a conundrum. The information is usually good, but if you're like me your mind is thinking of all the OTHER things you could be doing right now. As the county guy was hitting us with the scoring guide associated with the upcoming GA Milestones test, my brain was thinking, "How on Earth am I going to get my students used to this test formatting?" It's so different than the CRCT with all of its multiple choice questions. That in and of itself has its issues. But this new format asks students to write comprehensive essays in the FOURTH GRADE! I'm still struggling to get them to remember to put capitals and  punctuation, forget paragraphing.

Since my other lesson on Close Reading slowed the process down for students, I began to think how we could do that again with another article. The county guy shared (another) acronym to use with students in helping them prepare for these essays.

This sparked an idea to create a booklet for my students that broke down the process for them. We have this time during our morning schedule called DBQ (Document Based Questions) that I could use to have them conduct this lesson.

It starts with them reading an article I wrote about using electronics in school and how it helps improve your academics. There is a question after the article that asks what they think the main idea would be. So they brainstormed some ideas for what it might be for this article. We shared in class and looked for a common theme amongst them all.

Now I 'sound the gun' and they are off to the RACES! There's a page for each of the letters of the acronym as students build up their response to the question.  Citing evidence and explaining how it fits with the main idea puts meat on their essay bones.

The final day (or two) has them writing the essay with an introduction, their answer, evidence and reasoning behind it. They cap it off with their conclusive summary and we are done.

Right now, we have gotten up to the 'E' page. I'm happy with what I'm seeing them produce. Hopefully we are well on our way to preparing to knock out that essay come testing time.

Oh, you can find this booklet at my TpT store. Hopefully you can get some good practice out of it as well.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Author is Coming! The Author is Coming!

I am so very excited! My good friend from college has managed to become an oft published author in the 20 or so years since we've graduated. I am so proud of Kristine Asselin , and yes, slightly jealous. With the upcoming release of her first YA novel, Anyway you Slice It, I thought it would be cool to have her come visit my school and talk to the kids about her process.

And she said YES!!


It took some finagling with my school's media specialist, emails and about 19 phone calls on Kris's part to other schools to secure two elementary sites for her to visit while she is down here. I mean why fly for three hours and only visit one school when you can grab two?
Right now Kris has a ton of non-fiction titles available through Amazon, Capstone, Barnes and Nobles, and even Walmart online. I love that so many of them fit perfectly with my Fourth Grade curriculum. I've managed to acquire some great titles.
The first one I bought was this:
I use it to start off every year. As it addresses how our great nation began. It's a perfect way to lead into our unit on Native Americans and how they arrived here 12,000 years ago. I can also see how their minds open up to new ideas as we take what they THOUGHT they knew about who discovered America and add new knowledge to their memory banks.

We also cover the Solar System each year and the students can't get enough of books that show actual photographs of stars and celestial bodies light years away. Shouts of "Look" and "Wow" always follow sharing this book. Kris also has a title just on the Sun that I want to pick up soon, so I can have her autograph them for me.

Later in the year we move into our unit on the American Revolution and what better way to start it off  than with something cool.

The boys especially think this title is way cool. It has great information about the War for Independence that we can't find in the history text. Such as the fact that arrows were much more accurate and deadly than the guns they had at that time.

Once our nation was established they needed to create a governing body. I always find this such an obscure section of history to teach to 9 year olds, but this book helps:

It adds some spice into a very dry curriculum. It has taken the information and presented it in a straightforward manner that the kids can easily understand.  This title has been reviewed for the School Library Journal, and Hornbook.

Kris is going to be conducting five sessions working with our Fourth and Fifth graders on writing informational pieces in her talk titled: Just the Facts, Ma'am. She has designed a couple of other great presentations that you can take a look at on her website. If you're interested in having her at your school let me know, I can put in a good word for ya!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Close Reading - A Beginning Lesson

 We've been doing a lot of staff development training at my school about Close Reading. Having more exposure and scenarios to draw from, it's starting to make more sense now. Getting the students to dig deeper into their understanding of a piece helps them practice picking out details and responding in much more elaborate ways.
I've tried the strategies of having interact with pieces for the past two years now. As they read a new piece they highlight certain information throughout. I have them draw a box around any key vocabulary, underline main ideas, put question marks next to statements that confuse them, and to draw a 'cloud' around any words they don't understand.
I've now learned to slow them down. Have them pick things out piece by piece and read with a purpose rather than try to make them accomplish it all in one go. We read an article from the Chicago Tribune about bullying through independently once just to get the 'flow.' It can be found on the Georgia Department of Education website in the Third Grade packet.

Then I had them write down what they thought the main idea of the WHOLE piece was about. We had talked about not picking out details from one section, but really thinking about what all of the information was saying together. I drew this chart and had the first student come up and read out his sticky note. Then he placed it in Quadrant One of the chart. Student two came up and read her sticky note, thought whether hers was similar Student One or did it warrant placing it in another Quadrant. We went on from there until all the stickies were on the chart. Not one of the ideas shared was wrong as to what the main idea could be. That was interesting.
By the end it was quite clear what the majority of the class thought the main idea of the piece was.
In the next lesson, a Second Read if you will, the piece was broken down into smaller sections already so we looked at each and discussed what we thought was the main idea of those. Once we had all of the section main ideas, we thought about how each were used to help out the overall main idea and wrote out explanation sentences.
For the Third Read, I set the purpose to be looking for the author's opinion. What words did they use to let the reader know how they felt about bullying. Students responded in the margins as to whether they agreed or disagreed with the author's opinion. Then we used this information to write a constructed response sharing our opinion as to whether we agreed or disagreed with the author.
Having the students go through the piece more than once with a set purpose allows them to focus on one big idea at a time rather than asking them to comprehend everything about it.  
Next week I'll be sharing a booklet I made with another Close Reading strategy. I'll have more to share once we've worked through that.
But for now I am pleased to see them thinking and paying attention to the passage in a more aggressive manner. That's sure going to be helpful come testing time.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Currently - January 2015

Starting the year off right. Joining up with Farley from Oh Boy, Fourth Grade for her awesome Currently blog linkie.

She's added in some rules, so make sure you read the fine print!

Okay, I'll just tell you:
- Once you link up your blog you go to the two blogs who linked up before you and leave MEANINGFUL comments ***Great idea for finding new blogs!***
- Visit the blog that links up AFTER you and leave some love
- You must link directly to your blog post for the January Currently, not to a store or something

So here's my first CURRENTLY board of 2015:

Listening: This is my newest addiction. I can learn right along with them.

Loving: It's only one more day, but I need it! Traveling across the country and visiting for the holidays takes it out of me.

Thinking: I finally have time to work on some new stuff and where is that extended text I need for it? Sitting on my desk at school. AAAHHH!

Wanting: My prime rib and bean soup has been cooking all day. It's time I ate me some!

Needing: Money, it always comes down to money. If you have any hanging around, would you send it my way? Please?

Yes: I've gotten so far away from the routine that helped me lose all that weight. Time to get back on it.

Maybe: I'm halfway through my supernatural thriller, Temple Hall. The outline is complete. I just gotta dig in and finish it.

I wish: My family is increasingly spread out every year. Wish I could get them all in one place. We've already set up some time throughout 2015 when we can get together. But it's usually only one or two other people at a time.

How's your January shaping up?

Friday, January 02, 2015

2015 - New Year's Resolution #1

Hi guys,
Remember me? It's been a while...again. I'm making my first New Year's resolution to be more committed to my TpT blog. You'll have to keep me honest with this one. I'm counting on ya!

I started off the year meeting up with some fellow Georgia Bloggers at a local restaurant. It was great getting to match some names with faces and picking up some great clues to try.

Just so you know, check out Plickers and Cahoots as some possible apps to share in the classroom. Thanks Deanna!

Here's a picture of my newest friends in 2015!

From left on back to right on back:
Natalie, Amanda, Jessica, April
Meghan, Felicia, Deanna

Georgia Bloggers Unite!

Sadly, I had to get back home and didn't take any cheesecake from the factory with me. So many sweets already waiting at the homestead.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Look to the Stars! Earth Science is such fun

My students always love talking about the universe. They come to me knowing tons about it already, and that's great. But as I slowly move through our curriculum guide I find that they aren't exactly clear how it all works. I have to stop every five minutes to answer the waggling hands in the air.

They have questions like, "Will a black hole suck up the Hubble Telescope?" Nope, kiddo. That telescope is in a low Earth orbit it isn't anywhere near a black hole.

"What will happen when our Sun dies out?" Our planet will more than likely wither away and become a cold barren rock.

Which leads to my next answer...

"No, you will not be around in the 10,000 years it will take for our Sun to burn itself out. Don't worry."

We usually take a look at our universe from the outside in. Starting with stars, moving to planets, and finishing with our Moon. I separate it into two sections of stars and planets and then the Moon. This way I can get more grades for the ole report card. Oh, and I've only got two weeks to cover all of this information. Don't you love it? We just took our stars and planets test today. I haven't graded those yet. I'm saving up all that fun.

I planned ahead for our Moon stuff this year. I had them start the Moon calendar as soon as we started talking about stars. This way we can at least see some of the phase changes for ourselves. Getting them to conceive how this happens on a cyclic pattern every month is difficult to say the least. But as we were filling in our Moon calendar they had tons of questions which will definitely help us later on (I hope).

Oh, and did I mention that we are doing our Moon Phase chart soon? Why am I excited? Because we use Oreo cookies to do it. YUM! It's a guilty pleasure to walk around showing them how to scoop out the cream to represent various phases while nibbling on a chunk of chocolatey goodness.

I've got some task cards up in my store that we use to quiz each other before we take an assessment. But my biggest fun is when they start bringing in their Solar System models. Who would have thought I'd get so excited over Styrofoam and poster board?

But that's just me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Literal Conversations with Fourth Graders

I've been trying to get my Fourth Graders to have more conversations. No, not that kind. They definitely have NO trouble talking to each other.

I'm talking about more in-depth conversations where they take what another person has said and respond to it in a positive manner. Sitting in a group, taking turns, using good eye contact. All of that good stuff. This kind of skill can only help them with college work later on in life.

I started by posting some Sentence Stems around the room such as "I agree with ____ because," "I disagree with _______ because," "I see your point, but," "I can piggyback off of _________." I refer to them heavily as I model responses to what they say. When they get ready to respond to me I remind them to think about using some of these stems.

Next we created an anchor chart that brought out even more stems to use with each other. Plus I added in some reminders on good conversation behaviors. Here's what we came up with:

Then, through some staff development I learned some new techniques to help them move into writing their responses and then responding to someone else written response. I started using this 'Literal Conversation' sheet with my whole class as we read an integral part in Sign of the Beaver.

Students write down their own response then pass it to a partner. Partner has to read it and respond with either agreeing or disagreeing and adding their own take on it. Then they pass it back to the owner who reads and responds as well. They loved it!

Next I'll be trying something called a Discussion Roundtable with a group of four students where they respond to a posed question. Taking turns they each read out their response as their team members are taking notes on what they said. After all this, they take all the information they heard and write a summary of their final response.

After nine weeks of this stuff, I have witnessed them using the vocabulary and techniques on their own without any prompting. Does an old teacher's heart good!