Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Carnival of Education, A Day at School

Welcome to the 208th Carnival of Education, A Day at School with The Reading Workshop. For those unfamiliar with the Education Carnival, this is a weekly event consisting of a collection of blog posts by those with a passion for education. The Carnival is hosted by a variety of hosts, but Edwonk maintains it. And now, on to the day.

Each and every day is a fun-filled Carnival-like day at the home of the Reading Workshop. Lucky for us on this day, many interesting thoughts, ideas and opinions were shared. I hope you enjoy reading about this day (all the great posts) as much as I did.

For breakfast, Travis and Tom served up a cereal analogy while explaining WASL: New and IMPROVED! 25% more for 45% less. On the drive to school, Tom DeRosa remembered 52 Teachers, 52 Lessons: Week 3 and thought, today I must be firm, fair, and consistent. Meanwhile Mark Stock was wondering if Scripted Programs are Good or Bad for Your School?

Before school, Julie spent a few minutes trading books because she has Book Mania. Then the principal stopped by to tell Mathew Ladner and Jay Greene that they have all the right qualities based on Son of a Super Chart. Margaret got a phone call and then talked about the Top 20 IPhones Apps For Overwhelmed Students.

To get the day started, Carol rang the bell then explained to the teachers Deadlines, Surviving, and Things That Will Get You Fired. Then we had a Brain Teaser to Exercise your Memory and Reasoning Skills.

Class started with social studies and in a timely lesson with all the interest following the Presidential Inauguration, Larry Ferlazzo showed The Best Way to Learn About Presidents. Core Knowledge decreed that there is More Than Symbolism to Obama's Inauguration. And then, Susan Graham reminded us of the Simple Gifts in our country based on freedom.

As we moved on to writing Lorri Encouraged Children to Write About Their Hopes for our New President. Pat said to be successful, maybe we should think and write about cheering for the others because some things are Better Than Winning. Rani thought a Personal Letter of Apology was needed.

Hillary Kay took students to the library and told them Read, Read, Read. While at the library, meeting about conducting the Exit Exam, Darren once again found that Prior Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.

At lunch, conversation centered around educating college students. It started with 7 Ideas for Rejuvenating Education. Moolanomy discussed Expected Family Contribution for College. Patricia Turner wondered if anyone had thought about Open Courseware Projects from Around the World? Sara Goldrick-Rab, while on the topic of college, asked for opinions about college students Not Coming Back for More?

Liam Goldrick questioned Who Says Democratic Governors Have A Monopoly on Education Policy? While discussing politics, Tamir Birk let us know that Back to Work Legislation for CUPE is Ending the York University Strike. Dave Johnston thought Bill Gates is Right. J.M. Holland mentioned Obama's Top 10 Pre-K promises.

Time for recess according to the Hall Monitor because Recess Makes for Better Students.

When students got back to class in the afternoon, it was time for science, but Steve Spangler had to alter his experiment today, due to the Severe Effects of the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act.

Then, Denise declared it math time and started a Math Notations Contest. Someone from a Right Wing Nation said math this way is EduInsanity.

Jena stayed home because she wondered if Schools Kill Creativity. Dana wondered if NCLB testing was bad for schools, but good for homeschools? Miss Amanda read from a Book List for home-schooled college student.

At the end of the day, Joanne Jacobs told students there was No Escape from Homework.

After school, Chris Wondra needed to speak to the parent of a child. He received an email from the gassy one's parents in Parent Communication. Corey Bunje Bower shared Some Realities of Low Achievement. Dave Saba doesn't think mentoring is the whole answer and is Still Searching.

As she laid her head down to sleep, Woodlass decided that tomorrow she was going to be an old-style teacher, Doing it Our Way.

I hope you enjoyed your day with The Reading Workshop. Thanks to all who participated.

Submit your blog article to the next edition of Carnival of Education using the carnival submission form.

Images from


Friday, January 23, 2009

The Absolute Best Job

We were having coffee and Oreo pie at Bob Evans. That in itself is almost perfect, but then things got even better. I looked up and a former student, A.J. (Ashley Jones) walked in the door. It had been a couple of years since I had seen her. She had her ever-present smile as the hostess escorted her and her date to their seat.

After we finished and were preparing to leave A.J. rushed up. With that big grin she asked, "Mr. McGuire, how are you?" As we talked, she told me that she would be graduating from Ohio University in the spring. She was doing an internship with an accounting firm this quarter. In fact, she was doing so well they had guaranteed her a job upon graduation.

As we talked, I realized, I have the best job in the world. Listening to A.J. talk about her life, and the success that she was having, and the credit she gave to her time at Laurelville was so gratifying. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was so lucky. There is no other job where you get a gift like A.J. gave me. Seeing her appreciative attitude, and her extension of friendship was better than Christmas morning.

Of all of the aspects of teaching, none compare with seeing former students. There is something so special about hearing about their successes, and seeing how students grow and mature. Luckily, I live in a community that is small enough that I have this chance frequently. But, I can't ever get enough. The more I see former students, the more I enjoy it. More and more, I appreciate having a job where I can see young people work hard and earn their success.

When A.J. was a sixth grader, there was no doubt she would be successful. She worked hard, was responsible, and treated everyone with kindness and respect. However, seeing her as an adult, earning her way in the world, makes me feel great to be a small stop along the route of her success. Nothing beats seeing former students build a successful life.

To all of my former students, you make my day, every day, and as I always say, stop by when you get a chance and tell me about all of your successes. You make teaching the absolute best job!


Study Island Student Assistance

The problem was he was a clicker. He could answer more questions on Study Island than any other student in the school. He figured out, the easiest way to do a session was to just keep clicking on that Enter button And because the questions were multiple choice, he could always get about 25%. Unfortunately for him, his teacher soon caught on to the fact that he was blowing away lessons like a windstorm blowing leaves in an oak woods. He could complete ten questions in about a minute.

Study Island is based on state standards. It is an excellent online learning program that features lessons, and remidiation by bumping students down to lower grade levels if they are unable to pass the tests. Each session features four answer multiple choice questions on a chosen topic. The test is an excellent predicter in the likelihood of students passing the Ohio Achievement Test.

A third grade teacher, Mrs. Kable approached me with this problem. She had a student who was rushing through lessons on Study Island. I picked three Reading Workshop students, Trindi, Dylan, and Jacob to take turns helping this student with his sessions. One goes each day for 20 minutes, rotating so none miss too much class.

After the first day, this was my conversation with Trindi:
Me: How did it go?
Trindi: OK
Me: Did you help him?
Trindi: Yes
Me: How?
Trindi: He wasn't even reading the questions. He just clicked on an answer.
Me: What did you do?
Trindi: I told him to stop clicking, and read the questions.
Me: Then what happened?
Trindi: He got the rest right.

Here you go. A fool-proof method for improving Study Island scores. Thanks to these students, working as teachers, to help a third grade student be successful.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/96dpi/501424691/

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Free Writing Choice Friday

Students need time to write. Students need to be able to pursue writing projects. Students need to make choices about their education. Students need to prioritize and work on projects they deem important.

This means, choose a genre and write. If students haven't had as many opportunities to write poetry as they would like, forge ahead. Read some Sara Holbrook, I Never Said I Wasn't Difficult or follow the steps of Sharon Creech in Love That Dog and Hate That Cat. Write poetry and publish it to share.

Every Friday, students will have one hour to write whatever they choose. It can be any project, as long as they are writing. I will be available for conferencing, and can meet with students to address their individual needs. Peers can assist with revision, and as listeners to essays being read aloud to find errors or inconsistencies.

Students, if you have been wanting to write a fictional narrative or a memoir, plan on it. Do some prewriting, and/or spend some time thinking. Consider your characters and the problems they face. Decide how to get the reader into your story with a great opening, and how to build the excitement to the climax. Write an ending that will make the reader think about your story a few hours or maybe even days later.

Maybe your online journal needs some work. You can take this time to add details to entries, or to write a separate entry about your SSR book. If a book has especially touched you, or forced you to think about something, tell the reader about it.

Did you notice a blog post, where you wanted to comment? This is a time that you can share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Spend a Free Writing Choice Friday and give the readers of The Reading Workshop something to consider. Or, challenge an idea or opinion with facts that make the reader reconsider.

Free Writing Friday is a chance for you, students to write about what matters to you, writing in whatever genre you choose. The only requirement--write.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/outlandos/

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Scoring Online Journals

Students have been writing in their online journals on Wikispaces since November. They also log their reading at home and in the classroom during SSR on a table in their journal. This is a convenient method for me because I can easily sit down and see how much they are reading, and decide if they are understanding the book they are reading.

This method of Web 2.0 journals is also easy for students because they can access their journal any place that has an Internet connection. If they are absent, or don't complete a journal entry, they can write in it at home, or from the library. Many students take advantage of this and spend the time to add details to their entries outside of class. This is a great way for their extra work to result in higher grades.

Journals are scored using the Online Journal Rubric. We discussed scoring using the rubrics during minilessons. Also, in order to help students better understand the process, they scored their journals with a parent. This proved to be one of students' favorite activities of the year. Most really enjoyed going over their writing with their parents.

As the end of the nine weeks comes up on Friday, I scored journals this week. I used the rubric, and changed text to red in areas that students need to improve. Entries have greatly improved since the first few days. This is partially a benefit of understanding and streamlining the process.

The ever-pressing need for time is evident in many journals. Students sometimes feel frustrated by only having 5 - 10 minutes each day to write their entries. Having journals scored, with areas for improvement so visual, students should continue to make improvements.

For an example of what earns a 4 or A, you can take a look at Heather's Online Journal. Here is an example of one of Heather's posts:

12/16/08 The Problem in My Book
In my book, the kids that are staying at Jenny House, for the summer are having a problem. Well unless you think that Jenny House burning down is not a problem. The fire all started in an elevator shaft. Katie, Lacey and Chellsea thought that Dullas started the fire and they blamed it all on her. Then they found out the truth. The girls all said that they were sorry and she asked why that they thought she did it. So they told her how she was being so mean to everyone. "You said that you hated Jenny House."

Remember that about all of these kids are about 7-18 and they just lost the place they were staying at. The kids that were staying there live all over the U.S.A and they are trying to fined out how to get home. Right now they are staying in town in a hotel.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Am I #7?

Ready for a challenge? Has your brain been frozen by the frigid weather? Here's a chance to get it thawed out with a brain teaser. The winner, if it's a student will get 7 gazillion points of extra credit. If the winner is not a student, the prize is in the mail.

Each day I will add another stanza of clues. Post your answers in the comments.

It's winter time,
And cold as ice.
Stick with it,
Guess at least twice.

Clues added 1/22/09

This is a Classic,
The Challenge for today.
Have no fear,
and give the game a play.

Clues added 1/23/09

Des took a Schott
And the net was in sight,
But to win this tournament,
You must be exactly right.

Clues added 1/24/09

The setting is where and when
That's as plain as the nose on your face.
Sometimes it might include an event,
Where OSU got first place.

Where Am I?

The Inauguration, Almost Unbelievable

Students sat in class today and watched the inauguration of the 44th President. Throughout the day, I thought about what we watched, and then discussed. I tried to understand two million people who came to the National Mall to witness this historic day. I thought about Aretha Franklin singing. My Country Tis of Thee. I kept remembering faces shown throughout the Inaugural Address.

When I got home, and was watching Katie Couric on CBS it really all hit home. When Bob Scheiffer, who has watched the last 12 inaugurations said he had never seen anything like this, I realized a lot of people felt like I did. He said "It's impossible to overstate the atmosphere," Schieffer said. "There's this feeling of good will that seems to have settled over the capitol. I've never really seen anything like it. Nothing can really describe what we witnessed today."

Today wasn't about parties, or whom you cast a vote. Today was a celebration, and a hope for our country. Today was about the hope of a great future for our children, and our childrens' children. Today was about a country and the road ahead.

In the words of Barack Obama,
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old.
These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

And then Beyonce sang the Etta James classic, "At Last" at the Neighborhood Ball. It was quite a remarkable day.

Image from http://flickr.com/photos/mattborowick/3207635903/

Monday, January 19, 2009

Why Writing Correctly Matters

Texting, IM'ing, and the casual language of students today is a concern to many people in education. When talking to students, by far the majority realize how different types of writing require different styles. Most students know the difference between formal and informal language.

However, grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills still tend to trip up many writers. Part of the challenge is recognizing just how much of an impact mistakes have on the reader. Often times, we teach the how, and not the why. Occasionally, something comes along that really points out the reason most of us take writing correctly so seriously.

With permission from Sister Salad, this edited version of their video, "Yo Comments Are Wack!" points out the disasterous commenting seen on the web and explains why writing matters. I first saw this video on Joanne Jacobs, but it needed a little editing to make it appropriate for use in school.

Thanks to Lizz, Alexandra, and Invisisis for allowing the editing of this video so students everywhere can benefit from their knowledge of wacked out comments!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are You OK?

Sitting at my desk yesterday, I watched the class working. As we approach the halfway point of the school year, and we get to know each other fairly well (Yes, students figure out the teacher every bit, if not more, than the teacher figures out students.), I started thinking about what lies ahead for this class. We all know, whether you are a teacher or a student, certain behaviors determine success. How do you stack up?

Do you accept new challenges and/or change? Especially in today's world, the need to adapt to new circumstances and situations is necessary. Although education moves more slowly than much of the world, a lot of today's classrooms look much different than 20 years ago. Emerging technologies is just one factor that is changing schools and lives in general.

Do you accept criticism? Nobody likes to be told what they are doing wrong. When someone points out a problem, our first response is to become defensive. The ability to overcome this is what determines the level of success. After all, if it wasn't a problem that you need to overcome, why would anyone take the time to point it out?

Do you work hard, even when the task is boring or one you don't necessarily care about? It's a fact of life. School is boring sometimes. Jobs are boring sometimes. In school you have to do things you don't want to do. At work, you have to do things you don't want to do. Pushing ahead with consistent effort is necessary regardless of the task. After all, anyone can work hard if they are doing something they like. Working hard all of the time is the difference maker.

Do you respect everyone? Treating friends with kindness and respect is easy. Treating someone we don't like the same as a friend is the challenge. If a teacher you don't like talks to you, listening and doing what she says may be more of a challenge. But, not respecting her is more of a reflection on you, and affects you, much more than it does her. An unpopular person may be much harder to treat fairly, but the rewards are greater.

Do you complete what you start? Taking responsibility to see projects through is not always fun. The beginning of anything is usually easier than finishing in style. After all, nobody wins the race at the starting line, and the last lap is always the hardest. Success demands having the determination to finish what you start.

Does success matter? Having a plan and setting goals are just part of being successful. You must have the drive to do well. You must think about being successful, and consider what is needed to achieve success. This can't be something brought on by others. You must have the inner drive to succeed.

As I look at this list, I am not sure how I stack up. Whether you are the teacher or a student, living by this list is a challenge. What do you think? Do you have what it takes? Are you OK?
Photo from http://flickr.com/people/wasabicube/

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Power of Blogs

Woohoo, we're 27th! Now, I know this is not close to number 1. And everyone wants to be in first place. That honor goes to Joann Jacobs. Usually when someone celebrates, it is for being first, not 27th. In fact, the Cleveland Browns were close to 27th place this year in the NFL, and nobody celebrated their season. But when you consider the thousands of educational blogs, this is significant.

Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer listed the top 50 educational blogs worldwide based on user engagement. He researched using input from several sources including Google searches, Alltop, and Technorati and then used Postrank to rank them. He did this project for a client, and approached it objectively, without any preconceived notions about who or which blogs would be on his list.

This ranking is not so much about the success of this blog, but rather, it points out the value of blogs for teachers. Blogs allow writers from everywhere to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. A teacher from Laurelville can converse with Dan Froelich, a technology coordinator/professor from the North Carolina Teacher Academy and learn from Doug Johnson, a Director of Media and Technology from Minnesota. Teachers from classes from around the world like Chrissy Hellyer from the International School of Bangkok Thailand, or Tracey Bowes from Canada can share their ideas and work together to better help students.

This ranking is also a significant success for the Reading Workshop students. It shows that this blog provides them with a worldwide audience. Their thoughts expressed as comments proved valuable to readers. Their experiences in Reading Workshop served as models for teachers and students.

Being number 1 is great, but sometimes being number 27 is okay too.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who Needs Recess

Instead of hanging around for the 20 minute recess after lunch, the sixth graders at Laurelville have decided to get fit. Students have volunteered to give up their recess in an effort to get in shape. They are walking and/or jogging every day for twenty minutes after lunch.

What started as an idea to just give the opportunity to walk to students that were bored during recess has evolved into one of the high points of the day. Some students jog, seeing how many laps they can make around the gym. Others get with a partner or group and talk as they walk.

The biggest benefit seems to be in the classroom afterwards. Students are more attentive and mentally alert, while being more relaxed and restive in their seats. Their output in the first hour after walking has noticeably improved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that fewer than one-quarter of children engage in daily vigorous activity. In this class lately, 100% of the students are getting busy each day. Taking turns carrying the pedometer, students are charting the miles. So far, they are averaging about 1.3 miles/day.

According to WebMD:
1. Exercise Boosts Brainpower
2. Movement Melts Away Stress
3. Exercise Gives You Energy
4. Fitness Can Help Build Relationships
5. Exercise Helps Ward Off Disease
6. Fitness Pumps Up Your Heart
7. Exercise Lets You Eat More
8. Exercise Boosts Performance

This sixth grade class is going to see the benefits of exercise, if they keep up the pace each day during recess.

Great job to the McGuire's Milers!


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Skimming Matters Most

Is skimming the most important skill needed by readers today? In the technology driven, Web 2.0 world, readers are faced with information overload. Just the number of words thrown out at readers on the Internet causes an overload for struggling readers. Web pages are jammed with facts, opinions and statistics. Links to everywhere just wait to lead the reader astray.

Just looking at the main page of the Reading Workshop blog must be daunting for someone struggling to get through the words. On top of that, you have the words in different colors and in different places. The day of just reading from top to bottom and left to right is over. Now readers must know, at a glance, what is relevant.

This week as we began reading and writing persuasive essays, the challenges of just a simple Google search overwhelmed some struggling readers. Limited vocabulary made for unsuccessful or irrelevant searches for many students. Even when provided with key words, the need to quickly skim the results and evaluate for relevancy, was quite a challenge.

Determining whether or not an article was just on topic, or if it provided information to support a persuasive essay was another challenge. Students searched for facts to support their opinions. Just this part of the writing/reading process was hard work.

In order to search successfully, students needed to follow these steps:
1. Choose appropriate search terms,
2. Skim the search results,
3. Find links that most likely fit the topic,
4. Determine if the web pages provided appropriate information,
5. Decide if sites might include facts to support their opinion,
6. Go to the websites and skim for facts and information,
7. Save appropriate information and sources,

On top of these tasks, the ever-present web filter blocked many search results, and students only had 30 minutes of class time. Even faced with all of these obstacles, many students found research results with statistics and facts to begin to build a convincing persuasive essay.

As students continue their search today, maybe the best topic to write about would be "Skimming is the Most Important Reading Skill."


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Twilight, For Only the Right Audience

With all of the buzz surrounding Twilight, I decided to see what the vampires did for me. Students were going crazy for the books about the cold ones, and now that the movie is out, they are obsessed.

This series of books, written by Stephanie Meyer tells the story of Bella Swan, the main character, who moved to Forks, Washington. She did not want to be here. She's not fond of her father and missed her mother. She was miserable.

Magically, her life was saved by Edward. She found out he is a vampire and immediately they're in love. And it all happens in the first few chapters. Meyer then spends the next 400 pages telling how handsome Edward is and how much Bella is in love. Finally in the last 100 pages, there is some excitement and action.

With each book (I almost made it through the first three) in the four book series there seems to be an abundance of fluff with too much repetitiveness.

However, I must admit, even though this series wasn't a good choice for me, the affect it has had on occasional readers is amazing. Students that couldn't hardly fake read themselves through a 100 page book, are spending countless hours engrossed in this series of books. If nothing else, Meyer's ability to reach her audience is note-worthy.

If you are a graying, male teacher with an appreciation for complex stories, this may not be a good choice. BUT, if you are a teenage girl, looking for a great romance book, dive in to Twilight and enjoy!


Friday, January 9, 2009

Unbelievable Readers

In the last three weeks, Heather, a student in Reading Workshop has read 1,448 minutes at home! Plus, she read 30 minutes each day during SSR time in class. She read Falling From Fire, Six Months to Live, the Kidnapped series, and the six Spiderwick Chronicles books.

What started as a conversation about what students would read over break, turned in to an unbelievable accomplishment for one class. Students piled up on books the last day, as they prepared to leave for winter break. BUT, I never would have dreamt that they could read anything close to the amount that they read. In fact, 80% of the students earned an A for their read at home grade.

Even more surprising is the total minutes read by a number of students. As I looked over reading logs, student after student totaled up a significant amount of reading and a great collection of books.

Here is a tally of the top readers:
Taylor 465 minutes
Desire' 690 minutes
Kyndrah 1,000 minutes
Collin 664 minutes
Christian W. 1,115 minutes
Heather 1,448 minutes
Tyler S. 445 minutes
Rachael 361 minutes

Students from some of the other classes racked up the minutes:
Jessica 455 minutes
Emma 450 minutes
Kara 544 minutes
Makayla 520 minutes
Corbit 403 minutes
Ryan 511 minutes
Lily 685 minutes

One thing that I know for sure, these students will have a lot of academic successes ahead. Students that read this much will benefit from an ever increasing vocabulary, increased knowledge, and a broader view of the world. Great job to this bunch of unbelievable readers.


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Freak the Mighty - the Mightiest Read Aloud

Freak the Mighty strikes again. Each year this book is students' favorite read aloud. This book, written by Rodman Philbrick grabs the reader into a story about two boys that are the most unlikely friends. The only thing they have in common is that they are both misfits.

Max begins the book with, "I never had a brain until Freak came along." He is the biggest kid in the school, but one that has always been labeled as the dumbest. Kevin aka Freak is a "crippled kid" with amazing intelligence. Together they become Freak the Mighty.

Students relate to Max and Freak, feeling united with the challenges they face. This is surprising considering how most students are so different from these two characters. But, everyone can feel the pain of not fitting in with the crowd, and being picked on by peers.

We will spend a lot of time discussing character development in this book, especially the way Max changes and grows. In the first chapter his low self-esteem jumps out at the reader. His loneliness is evident with his tears of joy after eating dinner with Freak and his mom, the Fair Gwen.

As we progress through the book, questions upcoming in the online journals include: How would you react if you met Max? If you met Freak? How would Kevin and Max be different, if they attended school at Laurelville?


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting in the Groove

There is nothing like a nice long break to help feel rested and rejuvinated. BUT, boy is everyone slow getting started. It seems like brains are moving in super slow motion (mine included).

Students were eager to come back from winter break on Monday morning. Everyone had stories to tell from Christmas. There was a lot of bragging about winning at Wii and tales of who slept in the latest. By 10:00 though, students started to sag. Those that had been getting up at noon every day, looked sooooo tired.

Students wrote goals for 2009 in their online journals, but I am thinking maybe we should have waited a few days. The ability to think ahead and plan for the rest of the year seemed to be a daunting task for many. Just getting through the day seemed to be an insurmountable challenge.

The sluggish response after just two weeks off made me think about coming back from summer break. This losing momentum and loss of learning is the strongest reason the idea of year-around school often gets mentioned. I can't see that happening in the near future in Ohio, but it is an interesting idea?

What do you think? Should we avoid the summer slow slowdown and go to school year around?


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 NBA.com 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.