Thursday, December 4, 2008

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.
6. SSSSSHHHHHH
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 Answers.com and Ask.com 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.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Word Substitution in Fiction

Mountain MagicWe showered outside when it rained. What a great substitution for we played in the rain. This excerpt from the book, Mountain Magic, written by Alice Boggs Lentz showed how word substitution is used in fiction. I discovered this during Mrs. Wolfe's read aloud in a fourth grade-six grade co-writing project.

Have a good fictional word substitution? Please share it.

Blogging Genius


I was thinking about the role of this blog in my class. I was trying to decide if it was valuable, and if I needed to make changes or adjust my goals to better meet the educational needs of the students. Once I read this comic strip though, it all became clear. I am a blogging genius. As long as I just keep hacking away at the keyboard, I will achieve my goals, and the blog will be a success!

Dilbert.com

Seriously though, thank you for taking the time to read this blog!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spelling Does Matter

Begal Sign
I was driving yesterday morning, about a mile from the school and saw this sign. At first it caught my eye, because I have beagles. I am not sure if a beagle is the same thing as a begal, but I think it might be, at least at one house.

Now maybe you aren't the best speller. In fact, maybe you can't spell very well at all. Maybe you count on spell check, and the computer's dictionary for everything you write. Maybe you use Answers.com like a peanut butter sandwich uses jelly.

Here is the problem. What if some day you have a begal puppy for sale? Will you have drivers running in the ditch, laughing and shaking their heads, while they point at your sign? Here are your choices, either learn to spell or just buy this product.

Spray Can for Dummies

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Inclusion That Works

I like Dylan, Mr. McGuire.  I like him and he likes me.  He's my friend, Mr. McGuire.
Laurelville has inclusion of handicapped students.  In other words, students with disabilities on an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) are mainstreamed into the regular classroom to the greatest extent possible.  I am a strong advocate of inclusion, both for the benefits of student on IEP's, and those in the regular classroom.
This year, there are two students included, with significant special needs.  They join us in homeroom, special classes like art, music, and P.E., and for part of Reading Workshop.  At the end of the first nine weeks, these students have made tremendous progress.  Part of this is due to a teacher's aide, C. Conrad that is motivated to help them to the greatest extent possible.
The real success story here though, is my homeroom.  I have never seen a group of students act so kindly towards classmates in need.  And all of the credit is theirs.  I have never had to tell them to be nice, or to be helpful.  They have just consistently made decisions that demonstrate caring and helpfulness.  I can't even describe how proud I am to be part of their success.
Standing out as a leader is Dylan.  He has a buddy at his side nonstop.  In class, when we come to the circle, at lunch, in the hallway, it doesn't matter.  And, he offers his friendship, keeps him out of trouble, gets him where he needs to go, tries to keep him quiet when he should be, and does it all in the kindest manner possible.  And his only reward, at least 3 or 4 times a day we hear:
I like Dylan Mr. McGuire, and he likes me.  I'm his friend, and he my friend, Mr. McGuire.  He's my buddy, Mr. McGuire.  I like Dylan, and he likes me.
I like Dylan, too!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Keitha Lane, Super Hero

Keitha LaneI saw my hero yesterday. She came over from her new job as the Jr. High principal to see the Halloween parade. I had been thinking about her lately as I read aloud to my classes, A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom written by Louis Sachar. This is the story of Bradley Chalkers, a student who makes a disaster out of everything. He meets Carla, the school counselor and with her support, turns his life around. I feel like Keitha Lane was the Carla of Laurelville and for me as a teacher.

It seems funny to think of this short little woman as a super hero, but her impact on the teachers and students at Laurelville during her eight years as principal was amazing. Now, in all honesty, I had never met a boss that I liked too much, before she took on our school. And our start together was rockier than the Rocky Mountains. However, she pushed, pulled, prodded, encouraged and demanded, all while being a friend, and supporting me in my growth as a teacher.

During her time as principal, whenever I had an idea that I wanted to try in the classroom, she would say, "give it a try and we will see how it works." She found funding to go from four computers in my language arts class to twenty-four. She purchased an LCD projector and Doc camera, to use to show students' work. When I first found out about Study Island, the on-line learning program, she said, "let's give it a try." Now it is used throughout the district. It didn't seem to matter what the situation was, she was always about finding new ways to help the students.

As I look back on our time together, I could never thank her enough for the impact she had on my life. And, as I look at my students each day when we come to the circle to talk at the start of each class, my hope is that in some way, I can make a student feel the way she made me feel. I guess, as far as I am concerned, she is the superest of the super heroes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

C'mon Parents, I Need Your Help

ComputerI have been pleased with the participation of students this year on The Reading Workshop blog. Their comments have been well-written, with their thoughts, ideas, and opinions shared for all to read. They have posted comments openly and honestly.

I have tried to write regularly, sharing events from the class and our school. I have also tried to share some of the interactions with students that make teaching interesting and challenging. I have tried to respond to some comments, with answers to questions, and discussion of opinions.

Teachers and other visitors jump in and comment occasionally. Nothing makes me happier than to see a teacher share her thoughts and opinions about issues and education in Laurelville.

Now, I need parents to jump in and comment. The purpose of the blog is a three-way conversation between teachers, students, and parents. This is the only format I know of where we can have an open dialogue about school, our class, and issues in education. BUT, for this to happen, we need parents to join us. Please help make this a valuable learning tool for your child. I would be thrilled to read comments from parents on every post. If you are reading, and have a thought, idea, question, comment, or concern, please post it. Let your child, and all of the students from Laurelville know that you are reading, and that their comments have an audience.

I Wanna Quit School

flagI had a conversation with a student this week about why she wasn't getting her work done. I started out with my usual conversation about getting smarter. I asked her if she wanted to learn and get smarter.

She replied, you just don't get it Mr. McGuire. I wanna quit school. Everyone in my family has quit school. They all dropped out. None of us ever graduate. I just wanna quit and get a job. Besides, I'm not smart anyway. And I'll never be smart. All I ever want to do is get out of school. I couldn't graduate anyway. I'm not smart enough. No one in my family cares either. I am just going to quit school as soon as I can.

Somehow, this made me think (maybe too much time reading about the election) about our country. Here was my speech.

Our country was founded on the belief of everyone's rights for freedom, and opportunity. We have compulsory education so that every kid in America can go to school. No matter where you come from, no matter what your family is like, no matter where you live, you have the right to an education. Our country is set up so you can become anything you want to become. And the first step to a great life is to use this education to better yourself.

Her reply, I don't want to get better. I just want to quit school.

My speech continued:

You must want to learn and to grow and to get smarter. You must want success for yourself. That is what living in the United States is all about. No matter what your life has been so far, you must get smarter and work harder. Use your rights for a free education. Use your rights for freedom of speech. Be the best you can be for yourself.

I can only hope that some how, some way, she will decide to become the first high school graduate in her family, and take advantage of the opportunity we have as citizens of the United States of America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Word Substitution

PyramidWe worked collectively to figure out the meaning of a phrase from Coach John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. You can view the entire excerpt here.

This is the phrase we were working on:

I believe the players collectively looked for whoever was able to help the team most on any given night

We discussed that collectively was an adverb which may or may not be needed to understand the essay. I asked two questions:

1. What is the purpose of collectively in the sentence?
2. What word does collectively describe?

We looked at the root word, collect and talked about its meaning. According to Ask.com
  1. To bring together in a group or mass; gather.
  2. To accumulate as a hobby or for study.
  3. To call for and obtain payment of: collect taxes
We decided that collectively tells how the players looked. The challenge when students left class, was to find a word to substitute that was easier to understand, but had the same meaning.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Highlighting is Like Wearing a Bikini

One of the biggest problems when students read nonfiction is deciding what is important. Today's lesson focused on determining what is important and what is not, to understand an essay. Writers add a lot of detail that is not necessary to understand the gist. They use variety in their language through word choice, and sentence structure. Often times they put in entertaining stories or share their opinions to generate reader interest. The challenge with difficult text is to cut through the fluff, or extra details to understand the main points.

OK, by now I am sure you are wondering, what does this have to do with bikinis? When you highlight, you should only cover the essentials. A one piece suit covers things that don't neccessarily matter. A cover-up covers even more, a lot of which is not needed. A big beach towel can be wrapped around and covers everything.

This is just like highlighting. Students' papers usually look like yellow coloring pages when they first learn to highlight. They need to throw away the beach towel, and only highlight the essential information. Think about minimal coverage for maximum effect. Then what is highlighted will help understand what is important.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Talking to Teachers

Student: I have all A's & B's with just one C. I sure wish I could get on the Honor Roll.
Me: What is your C in?
Student: Social Studies
Me: Have you talked to Mrs. Griffey?
Student: No, why?
Me: How do you know what to do to bring up your grade?
Student: I don't. Do you think I should talk to her?
Me: Yes
Student: What do I say?

This conversation today with a student caused me to think about what students don't know about school. Some students know what to say to their teacher, but most will never ask to talk about their grades, or the class. They don't even realize that most teachers welcome a question or concern, if it is done in the right way at the right time. So when? And where?

Guide to Talking to a Teacher

1. Always be respectful and ask for help.
2. Know the problem, and have your questions ready before you talk to the teacher. Write them down.
3. Write a note to the teacher and ask him/her for a meeting to discuss your grades or concerns.
4. Ask the teacher at a time that does not interfere with class, like when you first come in before class starts, or during quiet work time.
5. Take ownership. In other words, admit what you could do better, or what you need to do. Do not make excuses. If you screwed up, say so. Even if you think the teacher or the class is to blame, don't say it. If you take the blame for a problem, you will be much more likely to get help.
6. Be positive. Do not complain. Do not whine. Remember, you are looking for solutions.
7. Write down the teacher's suggestions. Even if you don't like what he says, it may make more sense later and it is the key to a better grade.
8. Thank him for his time. And, if he helps you, write a thank you note afterwards.
9. If you make a promise, follow through. Do what you say you will do. Especially make it a point to do anything he suggests and do it now. If you get an opportunity to do extra credit, or make up an assignment, have it done, and have it done right, when you walk into the class the next time.
The most important point is ASK QUESTIONS! If you don't know, or aren't sure about anything, always ASK QUESTIONS!

I Don't Hate Reading

Many of you read the post on October 8 with the note about I Hate Reading. The student who wrote the note, wanted to comment, but I thought it deserved a post. His new note reads:
To those who left a comment on what I typed I hate reading I do not hate reading. I am the person who typed the comment.
Drive-byThis is quite a change of heart in just a couple of weeks. So, why such a change? Part of this is due to one of the best books ever written for adolescent readers. Drive-by written by Lynne Ewing hooks reluctant readers like no other book I have ever read.
From the publisher:
Jimmy always told me there were only two kinds of gangbangers: Those who were dead and those who were going to die. Joining a gang doesn't make sense to Jimmy..." Jimmy is dead now -- gunned down in front of his little sister, Mina, and his brother, Tito. And Tito is left wondering: Was Jimmy in a gang after all?

As with any student that tries to turn things around, there are several factors involved and this book is only part of the story. What is really happening is a student is making a decision to do better. His attitude has improved. He has decided he wants to get smarter. He is working to learn more, get his work completed, and improve his grade. Much like Bradley Chalkers, in A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, he wants to do well.
Will he succeed? Only time will tell. But, I am sure proud of the effort he is making to do his best.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Election Brings on Togetherness

Teachers Unite for Obama
With the Presidential election being such a hot topic, naturally students at Laurelville are interested in their teachers' opinions. For the most part, I listen rather than share. BUT, enough already. I thought today was a good day to bring both parties together.
As you can see by the picture, my two colleages, C. Griffey, and C. Bower are celebrating the unity with me that is fast approaching our country. It is great to know that friendships endure, even when opinions differ.

How Fast Do You Read?

Are you a fast and fluent reader? Should you be? Today in Reading Workshop we discussed the pace used when reading. Sometimes even the most fluent reader should s l o w d o w n. Sometimes even the slowest reader should speed up and get through the text. The important thing to know is how to pace yourself depending on your purpose.

Reading Rate








If you want to be a better reader, first think about your purpose. Then adjust your reading speed to fit your purpose. Most readers do this, at least to a certain extent, without even thinking about it. In fact, as you become a better reader, you will constantly move back and forth on the continuum, without even being aware that you are making adjustments.

However, with difficult text, it is important to consciously take the time to understand what you are reading. Look at key vocabulary, using context clues to figure out words that you don't know. What part of speech is a word? Maybe it is just an adverb that will not keep you from understanding the sentence, so it can be ignored if you don't understand it. Determine whether a point is a major component of an article, or just a supporting detail. Frequently supporting details are not necessary to understand the gist of the writing.

This decision to slow down, and break down an essay for key concepts and ideas (like finding the W's) will help you become a better reader, improve comprehension, and improve your grades.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gone, Gone, Gone

Between teacher's inservice days and the Pumpkin Show, I am going to be mighty scarce for the next 10 days. This comes at a time when students have been working hard, but are coming up on a break. Want to know more, check out these posts about the Pumpkin Show , and a past Where Am I?

I will be back on October 22. Many thanks to all who have been reading.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Hate Reading

I Hate Reading
The assignment was for students to write a note or letter to me about themselves as a reader. The directions were intentionally vague. I really wanted to hear what students felt about reading.
The student that wrote this note has been working fairly hard this year, with a good attitude. He participates in class. He is friendly to me, though not so much so to peers. He wrote this letter honestly, with no intent to be mean--according to him, these are his true feelings.
So, where do we go from here?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gary Paulsen Interviewed

For all of you Paulsen fans (of which I am one), have a listen to a great interview. My favorite quote from Paulsen is, "kids should read like wolves eat." Enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Do You Say Hello?

Grouchy SmurfEmily and Heather, two of my daughters and Jason were talking and as I listened in on their conversation , I heard:

H:  David saw you Thursday at the cafeteria.
E:  He is so nice.
H:  He said he didn't come over and sit beside you because you looked so grouchy.  He thought you were in a bad mood.
E.  I wasn't in a bad mood.
H.  He said he really likes you, but you never speak to him.
E.  I always say hi if he says hi to me.
H.  Do you ever say hi to him first?
E.  Well, no, but I like him and always talk to him when he says hi.

At this point, I couldn't stand it any more and had to butt in.  I asked Em how come she never tries to be a friend to him.  She said, "I really like him a lot.  I just don't usually talk to people first."

How many people limit their friendships?  Emily had no idea that David felt this way.  She was shocked when she found out.  I'll bet she speaks to him the next time she sees him.

As I start to think back on my morning, I wonder, did I miss out on a chance for friendship?  Who did I not speak to?  Who is wondering why I didn't speak?  Are you missing out on a chance to make a friend?  Or to make someone's day? 

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Connections when Reading

Brain ReaderThe process of reading is when a person reads text and their inner voice makes connections between the meaning of the words, and relates it to their life and prior knowledge. The more closely the reader connects to the text, the higher the level of comprehension.

At times connecting is simple. At others, especially when the text is not in an area that the reader has background knowledge, comprehension is difficult. As students build their ability to connect with text, monitor their understanding of a passage, and compare it to things they already know, their ability to understand what they read increases.

Students should concentrate on their inner voice and connections.

1. Visualize. Picture yourself in the story and think about how the setting and characters look.

2. Focus on the characters. Compare them to yourself and people you know.

3. Put yourself in the story and think about how would react, and how you reacted when you were in a similar situation.

4. Look at problems. How do they compare to problems you have faced?

5. Ask yourself questions as you read. Think about how the story relates to your life, and things that you know.

6. When reading nonfiction, think about ways the information relates to what you already know.

7. If you are reading a book, and don't connect with it, ditch it and find one where you can make connections.

Please share a connection you have with a book you are reading.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Zero Tolerance for Errors

Zero Tolerance This is a new type of zero tolerance set up specifically for Reading Workshop. Students are expected to write without mistakes. Each student has tools available, including a computer with word processing and spell check, a dictionary, online sites like Answers.com and Dictionary.com, peer assistance, and spelling buddies. There really is no reason for writing with mistakes, other than a lack of effort.

Students are expected to use correct punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and grammar. When an assignment is turned in with errors, students will redo it until it is correct. Amazingly, in only three days, the writing has improved dramatically. Students have begun to edit with attention to detail. What seemed to be a totally unfair demand, has shown astounding results.
Surely students would not have been trying to slide by with a minimal amount of effort! Once again, students show how they can rise to the level of expectation. With the drastic improvement already, I cannot imagine the quality of writing I can expect in a few weeks. I anxiously await some of the phenomenal pieces of work that will be produced this year in Reading Workshop.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education is at Mathew Needleman’s Creating Lifelong Learners. If you want to read the latest ideas and information in education, this is a great place to start.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Editing Until it's Right

I was reading the NYC Educator's Blog when I came upon this post. He told this story about one of his students.

I looked at the kid's paper, and there wasn't a capital letter on it. This freaked me out a little, since I know for a fact they use them in his native language.

"Didn't your first-grade teacher tell you to use big letters when you start sentences?" I asked, pointing to the first letter of the first paragraph, a plainly lower-case "t."

"Yes, but I forget."

"Well, remember," I said.

15 minutes later I went back, and the kid had corrected only that first letter.

"You want me to do all of them?" he asked.

"Of course," I told him.

He resigned himself to the miserable task. When I came back, he had capitalized the first letter of every line, without regard to where the sentences had begun.

He probably didn't anticipate my being cruel enough to make him rewrite the whole thing. But goshdarn it, it's all part of the learning process.

As students finish up letters today, I wonder how many will turn in papers with simple mistakes, that they know how to correct?

Based on the grades that students have been earning on their weekly WTC (Words that Count) assignment, I imagine there will be some low grades due to lack of effort editing.

Maybe we should take a page from the NCY Educator, and just keep doing it until they are done correctly.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I am Reading. . .

Students, please complete the following in the comments section. Replace the red with information about your SSR book.

I am reading Soldier's Heart written by Gary Paulsen . I have 65 pages before I finish my book. It will take me 4 days to finish.

The best thing about this book is ...

The best thing about this book is how it brought me into it. I feel like I am Charley. When he faces the enemy in battle for the first time, I felt myself tighten up with the anticipation of what was ahead. When the battle is over, and Charley must face his shame, I felt defeated and sad. Paulsen took me through all of the feelings, just as Charley experiences them. In every step of Charley's journey, I could picture myself, in his place, living his life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Read Aloud to Revise

Kara M. said, "When you go through your essay, you see it like you think it's supposed to be. When you read it aloud, you find the mistakes." Her experience with reading her letter aloud today showed why students learned this writing tool.

As explained in the Reading Workshop Notes:

Reading Aloud to Revise

To revise your content, read an essay aloud. Have the listener alert you at any time when your writing does not make sense, or they have a question. Highlight that part, and after you are finished, go back and rewrite. Then read aloud again to a different person. Repeat the process until your essay is easy to understand and interesting to read.

For this to work, the listener must be actively involved, and not afraid to speak up whenever the essay does not make sense, or has grammatical errors. He must also listen for pauses, and be sure appropriate punctuation is included.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Courage, Do You Have It?

Courage to Face Your Fears
When you are facing something impossible and unknown, do you have the courage to stare it down and succeed? Can you overcome the challenges to be a winner?

The biggest problem facing students that regularly get bad grades is the fear of failure. Bad grades are a habit that is usual and comfortable. No one really expects them to do well. When they do, they get a pat on the back from teachers, who hope it will last, but they don't truly expect it to. Let's face it, a reputation for bad grades is usually earned from lots of assignments either not done at all, or so poorly done that they might as well have not been done.

I think it is interesting how these students that often fail in the classroom, are some of the bravest in the school. They face down bullies with no problem. Teachers and principals constantly punish them, yet they come back every day. Sometimes they go home to situations that would scare any adult. But "doing school" is just too much.

In order to get ahead, students need to know what is holding them back, and leave it behind. What does it take? How do they make this happen? What will give students the courage, judgment and the power to face down their fears until success is a habit.

Monday Morning