Monday, December 29, 2008

What Makes a Good Teacher

What makes a great teacher--a list to live by!
with thanks to Doug Johnson for sharing his idea

1. Interpersonal skills trump professional skills.

Students like the teacher, like the class, and like school. This happens because they know the teacher values them and what matters to them. They can tell this because they are treated with kindness and respect.

2. Give students a job and let them do it.

The teacher has faith in his students, respects their expertise, and lets them do their assignments without interference. Although he is there to help when they need it, students have the room to try new things, and can fail without being a failure. This makes the success students' success.

3. Be open and collaborative, but step in when needed.

The teacher values opinions and ideas expressed by students. Discussion and disagreement are valued and used in the process of learning. However, a level of control is expected and maintained.

4. Be visible.

The teacher talks to students, in the cafeteria, the hallway, on the way to the bus, between classes, and all of the non-class times.

5. Keep a sense of perspective.

The teacher realizes school is about the students. Academics are important, but not the most important thing. The "test" is important, but not the most important thing.

6. Finally, be a decent human being.

A single word to describe the teacher is "decent." The teacher doesn't lose his temper, put down a student, or treat anyone disrespectfully. His sense of humor is never far from the surface. He rarely accepts credit, but credits others for the school's wins. He is honestly humble and self-deprecating.

Doug Johnson on the Blue Skunk Blog discussed what made a good boss. This list has been adapted from his comments about a great boss. I thought his post was a remarkable tribute to someone that achieved at the highest level.

With this in mind, I thought about how this related to being a good classroom teacher. Now, I am not claiming to do these things--I am just thinking about goals for the new year (You don't suppose students will have to set goals, do you?) Wish me luck as I formulate my goals based on this list.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Top 10 for 2008

As 2008 comes to a close, this is the Top 10 posts of 2008 on The Reading Workshop blog.

Everyone loves the beach, and the favorite post of 2008 had to do with bikinis and highlighting.

Questioning courage was popular as discussed in the post, Courage, Do You Have It?

Two posts discussing the trends in reading and writing by teens were popular in Teen Writing, ru lol? and Is Surfing the Net Reading?

Everyone seemed to wonder, Do We Really Need Books?

Knowing What Doesn't Matter when you are reading was important to many readers.

Lots of people seemed to want to be Smarter Than a Seventh Grader, and read about how this helped students prepare for the Ohio Achievement Test.

Many students seemed to want to Be on the Road to Smarter.

The Where Am I's? were a favorite of last year's class with Where Am I #5 having 107 comments until Josh and Caleb nailed it down.

I Hate Reading and I Don't Hate Reading, two posts that discussed a student's struggle with how he feels about reading gathered a lot of interest.

Thanks to Alltop, which lists top educational news and blogs for placing The Reading Workshop on their site in October of 2008. Joanne Jacobs also shared posts from the blog. Hopefully everyone found at least one post that made it worth the time visiting . Thank you for reading!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why No Rules is the Best Rule

I was reading Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game, written by Red Auerbach. Red won eight straight National Basketball Association championships with the Boston Celtics. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1965, and in 1968, was elected into the NBA Hall of Fame. As General Manager, Red Auerbach teams won seven more championships. He is credited today as being the main factor in building the popularity of the NBA.

Red had one rule when it came to team rules: he didn't have any rules.
If you make rules, set curfews, things like that, then you put yourself in a position where one guy screwing up can hurt the whole team. I never had an ironclad rule on anything because I wanted flexibility. If I had ironclad rules, then I had to enforce them equally. That's not always the best thing for the team.

I started thinking about how this relates to the classroom. A strict, law and order based classroom might work for some teachers and students, but for the majority it fits like a shirt collar that is too tight. It starts out causing a little irritation. As the day goes on, it begins to chafe more and more. By the end of the day, little else matters but to get free of the irritation and get on something more comfortable. Or, in the case of the classroom, get to some place more comfortable.

Bill Russell, the Hall of Fame Center for the Celtics, said about Red:
He never made any pretensions about treating players the same. In fact, he treated everybody very differently. Basically, Red treats people as they perceive themselves. What he did best was to create a forum, but one where individuals wouldn't be confined by the system. And he understood the chemistry of a team. People tend to think teamwork is some mysterious force. It isn't. It can, really, be manufactured, and he knew how to do that, to serve each player's needs.

If you were to ask, I am sure all students would say they want to be treated fairly. But, this brings up the often argued point that being treated fair is not the same as being treated equal. No one could ever argue for treating students unfairly, but there are a lot of reasons for not treating all students the same. This would only work if all students were the same.

In Reading Workshop, there are only two rules:
1. Work your hardest;
2. Treat others with respect.

If students follow these two rules, they will be successful. Every student I know of that followed these rules was successful. I think Red had it right--treat every player student as an individual, and help them find the way to their own success.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What a 6th Grader Reads During Break

Collin came up to me and said he needed a book to read over break. I started to recommend a book, but then I caught myself. Collin reads a book every day to two. Hhhhhmmmm, what's a teacher to do?

I have been reading Gordan Korman's Chasing the Falconers from the On the Run series aloud to his class. I am almost finished with the first book. I started grabbing books off of the shelf. He left the room carrying all six books in the series.

I looked up and Christian was watching us. He came up and said, "Mr. McGuire, can you recommend a book for the break?" In just a second, Christian headed back to his seat with the On the Run series in tow. He already had a Tucket book by Paulsen, but he is almost finished with that series.

While all this was going on, Rachael headed out to the book room. As she packed up to leave class, I checked out the stack of books she had picked up. She was all set with books from Joan Lowery Nixon.

Kyndrah, Bree, Peyton, Kara, and a couple of others are into the latest vampire craze and are reading the Twilight series.

Kayla and Jolene are the latest checking out the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I have Book 3, The Last Straw ordered and will get it when it is released on January 13.

All of these are great choices! BUT, the most important thing--just read! What are you going to read over the holiday break?

Special thanks to Mrs. Bower for the reminder to load up on books before break!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Paulsen--Read Aloud, Reminiscing, and Rethinking

I read aloud the first chapter of Woodsong today. Gary Paulsen describes a scene running a team of sled dogs. He talks about the beauty of a sparkling sunny, but cold day. His dog team was working in tandem and everything was wonderful. Then a doe busts over his lead dog, and onto a mostly frozen lake as she was being chased by a pack of coyotes. The scene turns from one of unbelievable beauty to unbelievable horror. And this led to Paulson questioning his thoughts and ideas about nature.

Later, as I thought about how students responded to this story, it caused me to reminisce about meeting Gary Paulsen. Much in the same manner as the first chapter of Woodsong, he comes across first as this kindly, little old man. Then as he begins to tell his stories, you realize that maybe you don't quite know him.

As each story unfolds, you begin to realize that the more you listen, the less you understand. Obviously the tales from his childhood that forced a premature self-reliance also impacted him in other ways. His love of nature, at first as an escape, and later for the wonderment, always shows through.

Talking to him though, quickly forces a reevaluation of all of the preconceived notions based on reading blurbs and enjoying his books. This is a rough, tough, crude, man's man. This is someone who can stand tall in any crowd, but doesn't care. He has lived his life based on his decisions.

He doesn't write of the horror he witnessed that day by the lake to amaze his audience. He does so to share his feelings and help the reader understand his journeys. I am sure his goal is to write in a way that will cause the reader to think and reevaluate what he thinks he knows. And hopefully the students today did just that.

Several students said they didn't like this book as a read aloud. They wanted me to switch to a happier book. But I am going to read some more. At least then, maybe they will understand how a master writer shocked them, to make them think and make them learn.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The More You Do, the Better the Grade

Grades in Reading Workshop are earned based on students' work. Most assignments are graded using a rubric scoring work with 1 - 4. This tanslates into 4=A, 3=B, 2=C, and 1=D. As long as students make an effort to complete their work, they do not recieve an F.

However, doing extra work can significantly raise students' grades. This rewards those students that take the time, and make the effort to earn higher grades. There are several ways students can improve both by doing extra reading and extra writing.

As a teacher, I reward the students that make the most effort. Although grades are not entirely tied to how hard a student works, poor grades are reflective of a lack of work ethic.

Students weekly Read at Home assignment rewards extra effort. Students choose a book that they want to read from home, the library, or the book room. The only requirement is that they log the title, time read, and pages.

The grade is based solely on time read.

A = 180 + Minutes
B = 120 - 179 Minutes
C = 60 - 119 Minutes
F = 0-59 Minutes

Students online journal is scored using a rubric, but by writing more, they can drastically improve their score. The more detail in each entry, the more likely journals are to earn an A. Time in the classroom to write in journals is limited to about ten minutes. Students that are willing to spend additional time can obviously have more detailed entries. By having the journals online, students can work on journals anywhere they have Internet access, including during library and study hall classes.

Commenting on the blog earns extra credit. Several students raise their grade by at least one letter every nine weeks, by commenting frequently. This is an excellent trade-off for me, because students read posts, think about them, and then write responses. Consistenly reading the blog also gives students a better understanding of Reading Workshop goals and expectations.

There is no excuse for poor grades in Reading Workshop. If students don't like their grades, all they need to do is read more and write more.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Failure, and the Right to Succeed

Da dada da da da da da, the Lone Ranger is on his way. He will solve all problems. He will rescue poor grades. He will ride in on a white Accord and save the day. No chance of failure here. Just raise your hand and he will come to your rescue. Wait a minute.

Micheal Jordan said:
I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

So what is reasonable to expect from a student when they walk into Reading Workshop? Should I expect failure? Or better yet, demand it? Shouldn't students have the right to fail? Shouldn't students have the opportunity to fail? If I rush in as soon as a student struggles, it seems like there is no chance of failure. This means a there is a limited chance to succeed.

So often in schools today, we will go to absolutely any means to prevent failure. If students even struggle, someone is demanding a parachute to immediately stop the decent. Many educators see our job as rescuers. Failure is seen as a terrible thing that must be avoided at any cost.

Perhaps we should redefine our role. Our job is not preventative maintenance. At the first sign of a break-down, we should not be coming to the rescue. There is no need to charge in at the first sign of a raised hand and save our students from struggling. Better yet, let them work through a problem, and figure out how to succeed.

In the words of Samuel Smiles:
We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Benefits of Blogging

Recently I was involved in a conversation about the role of blogs and the value of blogging in our district. As the use of blogs and wikis expand throughout education, many questions are being asked. The use of Web 2.0 tools in schools is a known entity to some, but blogs are still of questionable value, or just not understood by many people. I started thinking about all the benefits that I see.

Benefits for students:
1. Authentic audience
2. Encourages pride in writing
3. Motivates students to think and question
4. Encourages students to share
5. A finding place for ideas
6. Opportunity to express ideas and opinions
7. Better communication with teacher
8. Can learn tips about reading and writing
9. Improves vocabulary

Benefits for parents:
1. Better home/school communication
2. Can be involved with child's education
3. Can interact with teachers and students
4. Helps to know assignments, expectations, and homework

Benefits for teachers:
1. Sharing of ideas
2. Reflect on craft
3. Converse with peers
4. Meet and connect with educators
5. Showcase students' work


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Parent & Child Online Assignment

Parents, your child's homework assignment for tonight includes you. Students have been working hard on their online journals. Tonight is their chance to share their work with you. Hopefully you will enjoy this opportunity to see what your child has been doing in Reading Workshop.

The online journal is used daily for students to write on topics about the fictional books they are reading in language arts class. A lot of emphasis is placed on supporting their thoughts, ideas, and opinions with specific details from the book. Keep in mind though, they only have 5 -10 minutes each day for this writing task.

Please look over your child's online journal, answer questions on the sheet, and score the journal using the Online Journal Rubric.

Please feel free to look at other students' journals also. This will give you a way to gauge the overall quality that I am looking for in their journals. A couple of excellent examples are Sarah's journal, Lily's journal, and Makayla's journal. Take a minute and leave a positive comment in any of the journals if you see something you like. I am sure the students would really appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Do We Really Need Books?

Reader at the WindowShould schools still be buying books? Is reading something online on a computer, or on a reader the same as sitting down with a book? Instead of replacing books in the book room, should we instead try to find online editions or invest in Amazon Kindle? Or is there something about holding a book in our hands that we should never give up?

Are books about to be something of the past? Should I give up my newspaper and read the news online? Instead of the sports page, should I visit Instead of reading a magazine, should I just visit the website of T.H.E. Journal?

Adrien Sannier in his article Context to Core in Campus Technology says stop air conditioning the books! All the books in the world are already digitized! Change it (library) into a gathering place; a digital commons.

At my house, I have a spot by the window, with a lamp on the ledge, where you can often find me reading. After school it is usually a newspaper. Then I usually check out a magazine. Later in the evening, I often sit there reading a book--sometime fiction, sometimes nonfiction. If I am at home, more times than not, you can find me here reading. Do I want to give this up? Not in this lifetime.

What do you think? Should we give up books and go totally online? Or is there something special about books that we need to save and appreciate? Will there ever be a day with no books?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Age of Screenagers

Who are these kids? It used to be we worried about too much Sesame Street and Barney, or other TV time, but those days are gone. Today, we worry about another type of screen time. Kids are either texting, IM'ing (instant messaging), on Facebook, or possibly even doing a Web 2.0 assignment for school. Should we be concerned? Is all of this time staring into a screen of one kind or another harmful to kids?

Many educators are concerned about the adverse affects on students' writing. They feel that the slang, or casual language used extensively in texting and IM'ing will have long term detrimental affects on students' writing. Most seem to ignore the fact that kids today are writing constantly. In fact, putting thoughts into written words is part of the natural lives of kids today. Anyone who cannot share their thoughts through texting is at risk of becoming a social outcast.

Another concern is the constant focus on a screen. Although this has shown to have some merit, this has basically replaced other forms of entertainment such as hours spent watching TV. At least many of the hours spent today are somewhat interactive.

Another worry, especially at the secondary and collegiate level is how students spend class time texting instead of focusing on the lesson being taught. However, forward thinking instructors have begun to use this to their advantage by engaging students in real-time dialogue and assessment.

In many classes today, students are participating in online learning, web-based collaborative projects, and various other computer uses throughout their school day. Often students are much more motivated in class by the use of video and interactive Smart Boards.

Obviously, the screenagers of today have lifestyles, both in and out of the class that are much different than the traditional classes. Many educators are concerned about the long-term affects of these changes. Some of us though, are celebrating the advancement of education. Our goal is to open doors and encourage students to push forward using every tool available for a more interesting and challenging learning environment.

If you qualify age-wise, go for it. Become a Screenager!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Students' Speak, Computers in the Classroom

Recently students were surveyed about their feelings regarding computer use in the classroom. As we continue to find more and more ways to integrate technology in Reading Workshop, I thought it would be interesting to see students' viewpoints.

I found it interesting that overwhelmingly, students prefer to use computers for language arts tasks. The fact that only one student would prefer to not use them at all is amazing. I am not sure that you could poll students about any topic and find such a consensus.

As the year progresses, we will be doing even more innovative activities, which would push the data even farther in favor of the use of technology in the classroom.

Stay tuned, videos are on the way!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Online Journal Assessment

Evaluation is a necessary part of any assignment. Online journals are no exception and with this in mind, I adapted a journal rubric to score students' Online Book Journals. This Online Journal Rubric is still in draft stage, but will soon be used to measure students' work as they write about the fictional books they are reading.

These are the expectations to earn a 4/A on the Online Journal:
  • Entries are detailed with a sense of completeness
  • Specific details from book support the topic and thoughts, ideas, and opinions
  • Minimum of at least one paragraph (6 - 9 sentences) each day
  • Detailed understanding of book demonstrated in journal
  • Explanation and analysis of the "So What?", theme, or lesson ( Thanks to Sara)
  • Format is correct and consistent
  • Reading from SSR and home is complete and logged in book journal daily
  • Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization is correct

Visit the Reading Workshop Wikipage to view the entire Online Journal Rubric. Please comment with ideas and suggestions so this can be best written to fairly assess the quality of the journals.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who Wants to Know about The Reading Workshop

Of the last 500 visitors:

They came from 35 states.
They came from 16 countries.
Sixteen visitors were from Texas.
Thirteen were from California
Twelve were from New York.
'Ten were from Florida.
Sixty five visits was the most by any one person.
Fifty nine was the second most times visited.
Two Hundred Sixty Nine started out on The Reading Workshop home page.
Twenty-two had questions about how to do Reading Workshop.
Sixteen had questions about Study Island.
Seven queried good books for student readers
Six wondered about the book Freak the Mighty.
Fifteen had question about listening to music as you work.
Twelve wanted information about the affect of texting on students' writing.
Thirteen visited for longer than an hour.
Thirty six wanted to know about Rambunctious Reading.
Ninety two percent that used a search engine, used Google.
Sixty seven percent are first time visitors.
One Hundred Eighty are using the newest version of Firefox.
Seventeen came from the latest Carnival of Education which list Educational blogs
Seventeen came from the Laurelville Elementary website.
Twelve came from Alltop which lists education news and headlines from across the web.
Three came from Joann Jacobs educational blog highlights and links.

So if you're like me and find yourself wondering, who cares about The Reading Workshop at Laurelville, the answer is a lot of people, from a lot of places, for a lot of different reasons. For all that take the time to visit the blog, thank you!.

Principal with Principles

Laurelville Elementary got a new principal named Mrs. Scott at our school this year. Here are some observations so far:

1. She always says "we." I haven't heard her say "I" one time.
2. When she talks about Laurelville, she always talks about our "school family."
3. She always listens first, and talks second.
4. I have heard her say, "how will it help the students," over and over.
5. She says, "no excuses." She expects every student to succeed.
6. She looks people in the eye when she talks to them.
7. Our school is a happy place this year, reflecting her upbeat attitude.
8. She is all over the school, stopping in rooms just to see what is going on.
9. She smiles at students and says hello.
10. Students smile at her, and say hello.
11. Teachers like her.
12. Cooks like her.
13. Custodians like her.
14. Aides like her.
15. Students like her.
16. She has high expectations for herself, the teachers, and the students.
17. We had a tree lighting. The staff brought in cookies and every student got one. We went out to the tree and Ms. Fraley talked about our Laurelville family. We sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." It was almost perfect, as the snow flurries fell on us, and we were all proud to be part of Laurelville Elementary.

From a student's viewpoint, according to Seth:

I like Mrs. Scott because she is so friendly when you walk up to her. Also if she has a concern about something she will walk up to you very kindly and ask you what is happening. When we are doing something she will be really quiet so she will not disturb us when we are working on a paper. She always says hi to you when you are walking along. If I had to use one word to describe her it would be approachable and that's cool.


Facing Problems, the Solla Sollew Solution

Students are good at solving problems, you see,
And usually they do it without help from me.
They face their troubles with a smirk at fear,
To become workshop stars by the end of year.

Today's read aloud was I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. Students had been reading rambunctiously to an excerpt from the book, so today I read aloud the book and modeled rambunctious reading.

As a follow-up assignment, in students' online journal, they wrote a response to the prompt--Tell the "So What?" What is the Point of the Story?

Here are examples of their responses.
I think that in the book Solla Sollew the point is you will get trouble in life and you will not like it, but you can't run from it. You have to face it. Even if you don't think it could get any worse it will get better soon or later. In the book the little guy learns that you will have trouble, you will think that the grass is greener somewhere else,but you can't run all your life. One day you have to stick up in life and grab a bat!! Your life will get better soon. So he went back to Valley of Vong with a bat to stop all his trouble (have fun with that)!
The book I Had Trouble getting to Solla Sollew is a really good. I think that the meaning of this book is if you have troubles don't let it mess with you, just do something about. Like what the main character did. At the end of the book, he went back to the Vally Of Vung That's why I think that the meaning of the book is it don't let any thing bother you. You should do something about it. then you can be left alone and nobody would bother you.

Another meaning of the book might be don't do something so big and then go back to that same thing. Like what the guy in the book did. He went on this big trip to the city where there are no troubles. Then he went right back to the Vally Of Vung. This time though he was prepared. So don't try running away from the troubles, just fight back and be prepared for what ever happens. Then nothing or nobody can mess with you and ruin your day. I enjoyed the book and I'm sure I wasn't the only one who enjoyed it.

This story was written by Dr. Seuss. The So What of the story is also the main point of the story. (I think!) So the main point of this story is to not try and hide from trouble, just deal with it.the more you try to hide from it, the more you get!

I think the So What of the story I Had Trouble In Solla Sollew is that you will always have trouble where you go and you should not run away from your problems.

Student thought in responses these surely show,
And facing trouble is something that they know.
The road to stardom, they're on their way.
Getting good grades should be child's play!

You might say that I had rhyming and Dr. Seuss on the brain as I posted today.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Stop the Bus, I Want to Go to School!

I saw the flashing lights ahead, and eased to a stop. The bus stopped but no one was there. Then it took off. As I passed by, I looked over and saw a student chasing after it, waving her hands wildly.

I traveled on down the road towards my school and watched in my rear-view mirror as the bus was chased out of sight by a student who wanted to go to school.

As we return to school, after a five day break for Thanksgiving, I thought, "what a sight." I felt sorry for the student, and I was sure glad to see how badly she wanted to get on the bus and get back to school. Any kid that tried that hard to get on the bus after a break is bound to be a hard worker.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rambunctious Reading

Get fired up readers! Be the character! Live the story! READ RAMBUNCTIOUSLY! The only way to get the story, and truly enjoy the book is to become part of it.

Read this excerpt from I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. When you are happy, show me you are happy. And when you get careless and are gawking, show me. Live it! When you stub your big toe, I want to see pain on your face. Give me some tears.

Rambunctious (energetic, boisterous, lively) Reading is a method of reading aloud where students work in pairs to improve their reading. One student acts out the words as he reads. The other student actively listens, affirming thoughts and statements, and commenting to the reader. Both the reader and the listener must be totally involved in the telling of the story.

If students are to comprehend fiction, they must be in the story. Imagining themselves as the main character is not enough. Picturing the setting is not enough. Hearing the characters' voices is not enough. Students must be the main character. His joy must be their joy. His pain must be their pain.

Now is the time students, READ RAMBUNCTIOUSLY!

You can see the excerpt at The Reading Workshop Wikipage.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Commenting vs. Writing on Paper

Emma, a sixth grade student recently asked, "would you rather comment on the blog or would you want to write out a comment on paper?" She was talking about everything we do on computer in reading workshop. We just added online journals and reading logs to the daily routine, and she was trying to decide if she liked the change.

I thought it would be interesting to see opinions about computer use in Reading Workshop. Please take a minute and participate in the poll in the sidebar. Also, feel free to comment with your thoughts about the results.

From a teaching standpoint I see many benefits with computers in the classroom. Online journals make it so much easier to keep track of what students are reading, and what they have to say about their books. I can check online journals and know how SSR is going for each student. This means I can check them more often, and leave more comments. It also means no lost papers, where students lose assignments, or their reading record.

From a student standpoint, no low grades from lost work is an obvious benefit. There is also the opportunity to view peers journals and comment. Commenting on the blog is a writing assignment that lets students share their thoughts and opinions to a world-wide audience. There is also the issue of writing out on paper or typing, Some students prefer one way, others another.

Thanks for your participation in the poll. I look forward to learning about your feeling about computer usage in the classroom.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

This turkey is going to school.  To all the turkeys with the weekend off--enjoy your break!  I will see you Tuesday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why Student Success in Reading Workshop is So Important

Students that have characteristics that help them succeed in Reading Workshop, will most likely achieve throughout their life. The more relaxed and student-driven workshop environment forces students to make choices. This decision making can serve as a learning model that will have life-long affects. Knowing this places a significant responsibility on teachers, if we choose to run our class in the workshop style.

If a student works hard in reading and writing workshop, they will have a work ethic that will most likely lead to success in other places. Conversely, if student needs constant supervision and prodding to work, they will most likely struggle in other classes, and later in life. Similarly, the attitude they approach tasks at hand, can provide the impetus for overall academic success.

Last week after the Awards Assembly, I heard a boy say, "I haven't got an award for the last 3 years. It's been since 2nd grade."

I thought to myself, "what a terrible thing. This boy has been to at least 9 awards assemblies in a row, and hasn't been recognized."

So I asked him:
Me: What did you do in 2nd grade to get an award?
Student: I don't know.
Me: You must have done something.
Student: It was at my old school.
Me: So what did you do at your old school to get an award?
Student: I don't know.
Me: You must have done something right.
Student: Yeah
Me: Do you work hard in class?
Student: Wellllllllll

I wondered:
1. Do his parents ever talk to him about success? Or lack of?
2. Will he think about our conversation and decide how he succeeded before?
3. Will it have any affect on his work ethic?
4. Next year, when he is in my class, will he get an award?
5. When I see him in 8 - 10 years, will he have found the means for success?

Hopefully next year he will learn the work part of reading workshop.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Welcome Ball State Students

Welcome to students attending Ball State University in Dr. Ford's class for reading educators. It is gratifying to see that college professors are interested in how blogs are being used in education and providing resources to use to compare with students' ideas on reading workshop.

The assignment:
Your written task is to develop a graphic that identifies: (1) how your reading workshop is like the examples in the web resources, (2) how your reading workshop is different from the examples in the web resources, and (3) some aspects of the reading workshops you examine that you would like to "borrow" to use in your classroom.

I found this an intriguing task. In fact, I even checked out the other blogs listed. It seems like the rest are basically "how to's." Now I am going to have to study them to see what interests me. I do appreciate the fact that a college professor is encouraging realistic research, and asking his students to compare it to what they do in their classes.

Thank you for stopping by The Reading Workshop. I hope you find something useful, or at least interesting during your visit. While you are here, please join us by commenting with your thoughts and opinions.

Conferences, Who's to Blame?

Probably from reading his teacher's blog!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top 10 Overused Awards Assembly Comments

According to Doug Johnson, on the Blue Skunk Blog most of us would prefer shallow wit to deep intelligence in our writers and speakers. Thank goodness. Granted, this is taken from his biases, but I read it on the internet, so I know it is true.
I guess that justifies publishing much of what we read on blogs. Using this line of reasoning, I can write many a post that veers on the edge of smartalecky. I can throw it out there and justify it by saying that I am just trying to share a little humor.
Oh well, here it goes--my top 10 tired and overused comments at an awards assembly.
1. I am so proud . . .
2. She is doing sooooo much better . . .
3. I never get an award.
4. He gets all the awards.
5. This is boring.
7. This is the best class . . .
8. I knew I wouldn't get an award because he doesn't like me.
9. She is a teacher's pet.
10. Keep trying and you will get an award next time (when pigs can fly). Oh sorry, somehow my thoughts snuck in here.
Can guess which are the teachers' comments and which are the students? By the way, have you figured out that we had an awards assembly yesterday?

Congrats to all of the award winners!

We Don't Have Time For Fun/Fluff

I recently attended a district-wide grade level inservice. This is a required "training" where testing, test results, and teaching for better scores are discussed. The meeting had just started when the presenter started talking about an extremely successful friend from another district.

She took the fun out, and just concentrated on the curriculum from the content standards approved by the state. Well, not the fun, but the fluff. She only taught 'what she was supposed to teach.' If we want to be successful we need to get this fun or fluff out of our teaching and only teach what we are supposed to teach.

Hello--did you check out our report card? According to it we are an excellent school. And who would believe it, we actually had a little fun. Even if we were only an Excellent school, not Excellent with Distinction, would you really choose to give up all of the fun, just for test scores? Is this what parents in our district really want? I can assure you it is not what students want.

So where do we go from here? Should the district have scripted teaching where fun/fluff is removed and teachers are told what to teach? Should testing and content standards be so important that they totally drive instruction? If a student has a question that doesn't fit in with the day's script, should we say, "sorry, but we can't discuss that because it is not on our curriculum map until May?"

Maybe we should have the new Reading Workshop. We teach the content standards and only discuss indicators as outlined by the Ohio State Department of Education. Students can think and can question, but only if it relates to the indicators we are teaching today.
I don't think so.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where are the Workshop "How To's?"

What is most important to know about reading workshop? Some might say knowing what mini-lessons to teach is especially important. Others might think the format and how to set up a workshop is most significant. Activities students complete might be the choice from some that carries the most weight.

And the next question is, where should a blog called The Reading Workshop focus? Should it be on how a workshop looks and what activities take place? Or is it about students from classes in a workshop? I started thinking about this after I got this email.

I really like reading your blog . . .
Have you ever considered more posts with "how to's?" So many of your posts are about the students. I enjoy reading about them, but I think most teachers would like more on how to do reading workshop.

After reading this email a few times, and thinking about it for a couple of day, I thought about what controls my reading workshop day-to-day and how that has changed.
Originally it was the "experts." I read In the Middle and modeled my class after it. Today there are thousands of sites to get the "how to's." Nancie Atwell is still an excellent resource for the fundamentals of reading and writing workshop. The internet is filled with ideas for teaching, and examples from classes.

For me though, reading workshop starts and ends with the students. Every activity is only as valuable as it is relevant to the class I am teaching. The best book only matters if it reaches the student. And it is only the best book because of what it makes a student think and feel. The best lesson is only good because of how it impacts the class and the students. A good journal topic only matters if it lets a student share a thought, idea, or opinion that is meaningful to him.

It all starts and it all ends with the students. That should be the focus.

Monday, November 17, 2008

If a 12 Year Old Gets It, Why Don't You?

Constant controversy about spending on education, NCLB, and the value of technology in education controls the news media. In this Reading Workshop, one twelve year old brings it down to the most basic level.

Seth said:
I like typing on the wiki page because if I have something to say that's very exciting I can type it. I just finished a book called Soldier`s Heart and I couldn't tell my friend Dylan because he is reading the same book. I didn't want to spoil the ending for him so I am anxious to get it out. So I typed it on the wiki page and I felt relieved after that. I like this year because I'm using the computer more and having fun with it at the same time.

There are those who doubt the value of technology in our schools. They don't think the dollars spent are worth it. They believe schools should focus on the three R's. They want high test scores. They want students in their seat, being quiet, and doing their work. When they picture a class, they see the teacher in front lecturing, while students sit in their seats, taking it all in.

I say, please get out of your Model T. The Industrial Revolution is over. We are moving on. There is a new expert in town. His name is Seth and he is a twelve year old that knows what makes school and learning challenging and interesting.

The time to move on is here. Hey Jr. High, are you listening? We are sending you tech savy students that want to be challenged. Quit diagramming sentences and figure out how you are going to make learning meaningful for Seth.

A Pain in the Lower, Lower, Back

Bree comes in class every day with a big smile. And at least 3 or 4 times a day, she has something smart to say. Then she just grins. It's almost like the other teachers hired her just to come in and aggravate me.
I would like to yell at her, but she always does her work, and does her best. She walks in the door with a great attitude and never complains. She is a star! But, I think her goal for the year is to jab me every day and then laugh about it. And, she is reaching her goal.

When I dish it out, she grins and comes right back. Today, after one of her jabs, I had this conversation with her.
Me: You are a pain.
Bree: Mr. M c G u i r e
Me: You are a pain in the lower back.
Bree: Mr. M c G u i r e
Me: You are a pain in the lower, lower, lower, lower back.
Bree: Mr. M c G u i r e, that's the same thing my dad always says.

Kids like this are what make reading workshop so special. You gotta love it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Need More Head Nodders

I tried Google and Yahoo, but I could only find bobbleheads and gremlins. I got a purchase order, all ready to turn in for approval. Can anyone help here? Where did Kara come from?

It started when students came to the circle for the mini-lesson As I discussed the topic of the day, I looked across at Kara. As she started to get it, she began nodding her head. The better she understood, the more she nodded. When she was not getting it, she looked at me like I was way out there in outer space, staring in a way that said, "what is he talking about?"
Animations - smiley-04Kara didn't even know she did this until I told her. When I first started noticing it, I watched for a few days, just to be sure I was reading her right. After a week, I decided this was a fail-safe method of knowing when students in this class understood. As I finish the mini-lesson, all I have to do is look at Kara and I know if the day's lesson needs more explanation.

As a teacher this serves as a good reminder of just how important it is to focus on the students as I teach. The key to knowing what is working and what isn't, is in their reaction and their body language. Although all teachers know this, sometimes we tend to forget how we need to concentrate on the student the entire time we are teaching.

Here is the problem--Kara makes it too easy. I have immediate feedback on everything I say. I either get the stare, or else the head nod. I have decided I like this. So, where do I get a few more head nodders? I have two other classes. I want one in each of those classes, and one to spare, in case someone is absent. Anyone know where I can find a few more head nodders?

P.S. They are the kids that are always paying attention.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Come on Readers, Let's Sing

Kids live for music. There is never a day that they don’t listen to music. BUT, we rarely use it as part of our educational program in intermediate classes. Many teachers in the primary grades use songs to teach letters, words, numbers, and counting. For some reason though, we rarely see it in 4-8 classes. And, interestingly enough, this is the time when music begins to play a major role in our students’ lives.

Turn that down!
Can I have some money to buy Rhianna’s CD?
Where's my IPod?
That video is not appropriate, Emily.
How can you do your homework with that music up so loud?
Dad, change that station.
Will you give me money to get tickets to go see Pink?

All of this was said in the last few days in my house. Do you ever hear similar comments? Yet even though we know that music is totally intertwined in our lives, we rarely integrate it into the curriculum. So, we are singing as part of Reading Workshop.

Each day for 10 minutes (usually two songs), lyrics are shown on the wall using the projector. Music is played and students sing along, reading the lyrics as they sing. Every week, we sing at least one new song. As students get too familiar with a song, they know all of the words, so they stop reading. Changing songs is important to keep students reading. It also helps with vocabulary instruction. With each new song, there are new words to learn and discuss.

The best part of singing in reading class though, is how it helps academic achievement. When students read fluently, the ability to comprehend increases dramatically. Conversely, when students fight to read each word, starting and stopping, and starting again, comprehension decreases dramatically. We have all listened to a student read, struggling with each word, never reading a sentence through, and wished we had a magic bullet. We know if we could just get him to read fluently, he would have a better chance of understanding what he reads.

As we know, there is no magic pill, to cure all ailments. However, with modeling, and repeated readings, we can significantly increase fluency. In fact, primary teachers use this daily. Adolescent learners will quickly turn us off though, if we try to read as a class every day. This just wouldn’t be “cool.” This is where singing plays an important role in the language arts classroom. Singing their favorite new hit is most definitely “cool.”
The available evidence provides reliable, scientific evidence of the positive impact of repeated readings on a variety of reading tasks and outcome measures. These studies also indicate that engaging children in repeated readings of a text is particularly effective in fostering more fluent reading in children who are struggling to develop proficient reading strategies.

What better way for repeated reading than through singing?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Using Technology for Education

Having computers and other gadgets in a class is great. But, does it increase student learning? According to many, the only reason schools can justify any expense on technology is if students achievement improves.

This list details many of the ways that technology is integrated into our daily classroom routine.

1. Students do daily online lessons on Study Island. This is tied directly to the curriculum of the state of Ohio.
2. Study Island Student of the Day is awarded to recognize students with excellent performance.
3. Lessons on Ohio Department of Education academic indicators are viewed by the class using the DLP projector, and then sample Study Island questions are answered.
4. Students journal about their SSR book on their Blogs.
5. Students log their reading book titles, times, and pages on their Book Journal to keep accurate records, and to allow easy access for teacher evaluation.
6. Grades are kept on at Engrade, which allows parents and students to always know their grades.
7. The message feature of Engrade allows students and parents to contact the teacher with questions regarding a grade
8. Every student has a computer at their desktop with Internet access which can be used to research any time questions come up, and for informational reports.
9. BrainPop videos are shown to assist visual learners understand main concepts.
10. The Reading Workshop blog is used for information and communication between students, parents, and the teacher.
11. Class notes are kept the blog so students can access them at any time, even when absent from school.
12. Words that Count (spelling words) with example sentences are online so students can access them from at home when doing homework, and in the class whenever they are writing.
13. ATandT Labs Text to Speech is used by students with reading difficulties to read aloud questions, or parts of passages with difficult text. Students also use it as a revision tool when writing by listening to their essay to be sure it sounds right.
14. A discussion board is used for students to write about character elements in the SSR books they are reading.
15. Homework is listed daily on the blog so parents always know what has been assigned and when it is due.
16. Online editing tools like and are used daily to assist with writing corrections.
17. A storage server is used so students can access their files anywhere in the school.
18. The doc camera and projector are used to show real-time examples of students work to help demonstrate teaching points.
19. Open Office software is used for students to do word processing on writing projects.
20. The networked laser printer is used for students to print out their written work, revise and edit, and then print a final copy.
21. Students sing, reading lyrics projected on the wall, to music from the computer. This builds fluency and vocabulary is taught also.
22. Students create presentation projects combining the use of many of the tools already listed.

Some of the skills learned are measurable by a mandated test, but not all. In Reading Workshop, students learn to use technology as a tool. Also, they learn technology skills that will help them throughout their life. To me, this makes it all worthwhile!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How to Build a Daughter You Can be Proud Of

I only know this mom second hand, but I know her daughter. And I keep learning more about what this mom is doing to make her daughter successful. And the more I know, the more I respect her.

She doesn't have a computer, but she gets on the blog at work, just to see what is going on in her daughter's class. When she reads a post about a struggling child, she relates it to her struggles. She tells her daughter about mistakes she made. And she comments with advise for a struggling child, because she cares. She doesn't try to hide her mistakes. She uses them to help teach her daughter about making good decisions.

She has talks with her daughter about school, and grades. She worries about her daughter, and asks her about assignments. She is not checking up. She is making sure that her daughter will succeed.

And the daughter is nice to other kids. She does her assignments. She works hard. She never complains. She never argues or disrespects other students. She is a daughter you can be proud of.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Journaling Online

I found a combination that is better than peanut butter and chocolate. We took our class wikipage and combined it with journals students write about fictional books. Then we added a table to log daily reading. When you put it together you have online book journals.
Each student has their own page. Each day after Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), they have a few minutes to write in their journal. On some days, they have an assigned topic. This usually relates to the topic of the day and will also be discussed during writing assignments, read aloud, and Study Island.
Recently we focused on making predictions. The assignment for students was to write about what they thought might happen in the future in their SSR book. Here are some examples of their work.

Sarah said
11/7/08 Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
I predict that Harry will have to fight a Chinese fireball dragon for his first task in the torment because a lot of bad things have been happening to Harry. Like a reporter came to the school and said bad things about Harry in a really BIG newspaper. I think Ron and Harry will start talking to each other again because Hermione has tried to persuade them to try to talk to each other. I hope so. The book is really weird without Ron in the book. It's like he's not even there.

Desire' said
11/7/08 - Warriors
I predict that Rusty will get into many fights with the other Clans. I also think that Rusty will not have the Warrior blood to become a warrior in the Thunder Clan. But I am only on page 30. Rusty is just a kittypet who has lived in a Twoleg place his whole life and has never stepped foot off of his garden post. That is why I don't think Rusty would make a very good Warrior.

Makayla said

11/7/08-Something Upstairs is really a good book. What I read today is that Kenny is going to help Caleb find his murderer. Then he told Caleb that he is not real sure if he's going to help. I predict that he is going to help. Then they both can prevent Caleb's death from happening. I think that Kenny should help Caleb. Then I'm not real sure he should go back in time again. I think he should probably stick with the library. I don't think he will though. I would help Caleb just because he was a slave and if he helps he could prevent it all from happening. He could change Caleb's history. I also predict that Kenny won't move for a couple of years. He's probably going to live there for three or four years.

This online journal keeps a running record of what books students read, how long they read, how many pages they read, and their thoughts about books. It is also a great way for me to assess their comprehension of their book, read about their thoughts, ideas and opinions, and comment on them. Although we have just started this process, I am already seeing significant benefits.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Class Full of Technology For Cheap

Twelve years ago I started on a quest to use technology to improve language arts instruction. I had one computer that worked a little bit, a little bit of the time. Fast forward to today, with a little investment each year by supportive administration, a good district Technology Coordinator, and we have a class where technology is fully integrated into the classroom.

Each student has one of a total of 24 Dell OptiPlexes at their desk. These refurbished machines were purchased for about $100 each. These are networked into our LAN, with internet access and a storage server. A networked HP4240 laser printer provides economical printing. These PC's are loaded with all free software. They use the Ubuntu operating system. This Linux based program eliminates the problems of spyware and adware that caused so many issues when we used Windows. For word processing, we use Open Office 3.0. This newest version works seemlessly, and will read and save .doc files from Microsoft Office. For internet access we use Firefox, the Mozilla based browser.

For instructional purposes, I have an Optima DLP projector. This is used for whole-class instruction so students can easily see what is being taught. I can project the computer's image onto the wall, making a six by six image. An Avermedia doc camera is hooked to the projector. The doc camera takes a picture and feeds it into the projector. I use this to show examples of students' work. I also have a digital camera that is used to, among other things, take pictures for the blog.

I have a desktop computer that I use to keep grades, write lesson plans, write the blog, and email/message parents and students. I use a laptop to bring work back and forth between school and home.

When you walk in the classroom, the use of technology is everywhere. Teachers often marvel at all of the equipment. The most amazing fact though, is the cost, or lack of. At the most, there is $5,000 invested. So for much less than $1,000/year, students can have computers to use as a tool, every day in language arts. I average about 60 students total each year in sixth grade. This means this technology-based classroom costs about $16/student/year.

I have to ask, why doesn't every language arts teacher have a class equipped with technology? This journey we started twelve years ago has sure paid off for the students of Laurelville.

Read at Home Change

Title ________________________________________
Start Time ___________  Page ________________
End Time ____________  Page ________________

On each day in their assignment book, students will put a label with this on it.  Instead of logging on their reading log, they will be posting it in their assignment book.  
This will eliminate the need to carry and keep track of an extra sheet of paper.  Also, students already have to take their agenda book  home anyway, so they will have it when they need it.  It will also keep an ongoing record of books they read, how long they read, and how many pages they read.  Students will be keeping an on-line comprehensive reading log on their book journal page.
The requirements are still the same:
A = 180 + Minutes
B = 120 - 179 Minutes
C = 60 - 119 Minutes
F = 0 - 59 Minutes

Students must read at least 4 times/week for 15 minutes each day.

For more information see the Read at Home homework post.

I Miss Are Blonde Times

My daughter, Heather got this message from a friend she hadn't seen in a while. She was glad to hear from her, and is going to make plans to see her soon. Heather, and her friend are both brunettes, but capable of blonde moments.
However, as told by Heather:
I might miss our blonde times, but I sure don't miss are blonde times together.
Now hair color has absolutely no bearing on the ability to write a sensible message, and the girl that wrote this is not a blonde, but she sure made her point. Hopefully they can get together soon and there fun times will continue! :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Oh, So Slow To Grow Up

C'mon boys, you can do it. All you have to do is just grow up a little. The girls are waiting. The teachers are waiting. I am sure your parents, and brothers and sisters are waiting.

We have high hopes for you. We all want you to do well. We believe in your ability to act age appropriate. The rest of the class has done it, so you can too. And your life will be sooooo much better.

The sixth grade class this year has been amazing. Their behavior has been exemplary. They do their work, to the best of their ability. Assignments get done, and students give their best. The teachers have all commented on what a great class we have this year.

But there is a group of boys that stick out from the rest. They laugh at all of the wrong times. They act so goofy that the girls just look at them and shake their heads. The other boys just ignore them. No one seems to know what to do with them. Usually when sixth grade boys come back to school in the fall, the fifth grade behavior is long gone. They grow up over the summer. But this small group of students just doesn't get it.

In the race to maturity, they are hopping along on one leg. Their car seems to have a flat tire. Will they come out of it? Will they grow up, and become students that care about their grades? And their reputation? Only time will tell, but I hope they grow up this year, just for their own sake.

C'mon boys, you can do it. You may not win this race, but at least join in with the rest of the sixth grade.