Monday, January 25, 2010

Dreams for Your Future


This school year is half over/still half to go.  As the new semester begins, take a minute to think about your goals.  This poem, Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes describes facing the challenges to a greater life. 

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor --
Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

What hopes and dreams does your family have for you? What challenges are ahead of you (stairs to climb)?  What do your parents want to see you accomplish?  How do they picture a better life for you?  Do they see your life ahead half full or half empty?  What successes do they hope for in your future?

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/renatela/265244280/sizes/s/

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Student Blog Rubric

As the grading period ends, Student blogs must be assessed.  For those striving for excellence, here is the expectation.


Student Blog Rubric

Score
Basis for Scoring

--------------------= =

4 or A

  • Concise (3 -4 paragraphs) with a specific focus
  • Shares thoughts, ideas, or opinions
  • Opening grabs the readers' attention while introducing the point of the post
  • Specific details support the main idea
  • Has a "So What?", theme, lesson, or specific point that attracts the readers' attention
  • Demonstrates detailed understanding of the blog topic
  • Positive tone engages the reader
  • Picture that supports post with attribution
  • Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization is correct

The rest of the rubric can be found at The Reading Workshop Blog Rubric.

For examples of students' blogs that earned a 4, check out these sites:
Hannah's Hideout
Hadley's Planet
Ian's Corner
Bethanie's Word
Hannah's Hangout
Katey's Corner
Kaitlyn's Cave

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tell the Story of Your Street

Chicago author Nelson Algren said, “A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street.”  Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of a path sometimes traveled.

The best poems draw us in and make us part of them.  Images bring us into the author's world.  Write a poem that tells the story of your street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.

Thanks to Eye of Amoeba for a link to the University of Chicago's Essay Questions.
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/therefore/27861465/sizes/s/

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blogging for Teachers Made Easy

Roberta Caudill and I had the opportunity to share our blogs and some blogging basics at the Logan Elm Schools waiver day.   Here are some ideas and a few links to help the beginning blogger.

This video by Lee LeFever of Common Craft explains what a blog is, and how it works.






Getting a blog is easy.  All you need is an email address. You can sign up at  Blogger, Wordpress, or Edublogs.  Blogger and Wordpress are free.  Edublogs is free but has ads on it. All are fairly easy to use and have similar features.  One disadvantage of Blogger  is on the top of each page there is a Next Blog link which will sometimes take you to inappropriate sites for a school blog.  You can disable this using HTML code in the layout.

Pictures make a blog much more attractive, draw in the readers, and frequently help make a point.  Three excellent sources for pictures that have Creative Commons License (which makes them legal to use on your blog) are Pics 4 Learning, Wikipedia Commons, Compfight Images.

I prefer Compfight Images because it uses the library from Flikr, but has a filter that keeps the pictures student safe.  You can also choose the picture size.  I prefer the small size--usually around 200 x 200 pixels.   Just save them to your computer (right click and then save as).  Then, click on the image button on the new post tool bar, and upload to your blog.  Be sure to give credit to the photographer.


Whether a blog is used as a means to communicate with parents, as part of instruction, or to improve students' writing skills they are a valuable tool for all teachers.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelinlibrarian/223839049/sizes/s/

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poetry for Self-exploration and a Special Kind of Fame

Who are you?  Do you know yourself?  One of the greatest aspects of poetry is the way it helps the writer explore his/her thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  Feelings need to be understood and analyzed in order to express them.  This poem is an example of one author's ideas about being famous.

Famous
Naomi Shihab Nye

The River is famous to the Fish

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
if famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole,
not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

What do you want to be known for?  In what way do you want to be famous?  Rewrite the last two stanzas to reflect your view on being famous.


Start by thinking about 2 things:

1.  I want to be known for . . .


2.  I am going to show this by . . .
                     or
     The reader will see this by . . .

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/tlk/2379992801/sizes/s/

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Poetry, Just Dig In

Poems are built on ideas, experiences or emotions in a condensed form that makes the reader search for understanding.  The reader should slow down, think about each line and the words in it, and then reread and reconsider.

However, to understand poetry the reader must not go gently, but should attack.  As we begin to spend time in Reading Workshop with poetry/word study, students must overcome their fears and dive into the language of poetry.  Whether it be as a reader, analyzing the work of others, or when revising their own work, students must go full speed ahead.  They need to take the advise given by Eve Merriam.


How to Eat a Poem

Don't be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice
that may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are.

You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.

For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
or skin
to throw away.

What is Merriam's point?  What about the poem makes you think that?  What thoughts do you have when tearing into her poem?

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdot/10362168/sizes/s/

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poetry-worthy Topics

As we begin to spend time in Reading Workshop on poetry, one of the first tasks is to list events  that merit consideration of the time and effort to put them into a poem.  Don't sell an idea short.  Use it if it is something that interests you, something you are passionate about, something that makes you smile, think, wonder, cry . . .

Here are a few ideas from my break:

Nuts and Bolts (Checks Mix)
Teenage Daughters Driving
Presents from My Students
Bubba


This poem was built from my struggles with helplessness as the parent of teenage daughters driving in bad weather.

I sit in my chair,
book unopened
new snow outside my window
sipping a cup of coffee
waiting
and waiting
The ache in my stomach
wishing for time to hurry
while I anticipate the ring.
"I made it.
The roads aren't too bad."
AAAhhhh
Another episode in the life
of the parent of a teenage driver.

What topics fit you and your life?  What parts of your life do you want to put into poetry?

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/visualthinker/363932691/sizes/s/

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What a Teacher Hopes for from a Student Blogger

Hadley has written 45 posts since September 17.  Most students in Reading Workshop write one or two posts a week.  Hadley has averaged four posts a week.  She writes cleanly and in an engaging style that tells a great story, and sparks many questions.

That's not the only thing that sets her apart.  She gets what matters.  Her posts share her thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  Posts often make the reader laugh and lots of times makes them smile. Her writing style draws in the reader. She posts regularly, writing in the evening after school, on weekends, and snow days.  She reads many of her peer's blogs, and comments on them.



Here is an excerpt from the post A Gray/Brown/Non-white Christmas
 Q :I hate it! I hate it, I hate it, I hate it! What do I hate?
A: THERE IS NO SNOW ON THE GROUND!!!! :(
I don’t get it. Do the snow Gods hate me? Was Elvis trying  to tell me something? I don’t know! I do know one thing, though; I WANT SNOW!

Another example from Team Laurelville
In the classroom, there are lots of places for good sportsmanship. Like when your worst enemy gets mentioned because he/she does a good deed, makes a great blog post, or when they get their named mentioned on The Reading Workshop, you should say “Great” or “I like the post” or something like that since they did a good job. Maybe since you did that to them, when you do something you’re proud of, they might treat you the same. The Golden Rule can work with more than just adult life!!


For a great read, and an excellent example of what a student blog should look like, just visit Hadley's Planet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Challenge of Writing Poetry

Poetry is so hard to write.  It is so personal, and no matter whether you are 8 or 80, the difficulty is right there, staring you in the face.  My daughter, Megan is taking a poetry writing class as part of her post secondary class at Ohio University Lancaster.    She shares the challenge.

Poems are Personal

"Poems are personal," he said.
As if I want to share,
with fifteen people I don't know.

I scribble things out
because after two hours
I've got nothing to share.
No love stories, at least not with you.

"Poems are personal."
What's my story to you?
Feelings are hard.
To tell you would leave me bare.
I can imagine me pouring out my heart,
only to see your blank stare.

So nice to meet you.
You'll learn a lot,
because "poems are personal."
I'll have to give this some thought.

Elementary rhymes,
and childish themes.
Poems aren't my style,
or that's how it seems.

As I sit here and write,
with so little heart,
this poem isn't personal,
but it's definitely a start.

As we start our focus on poetry in Reading Workshop, what are your thoughts?  Opinions?  Ideas?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Partner Project with First Grade


On December 18 the first grade students came to sixth grade for the afternoon. Each student partnered up with a sixth grader and worked together to write a poem to take home to the first graders' parents. The students co-wrote first drafts, read it aloud several times, and then published a final copy to take home.

This is a great way for students in Reading Workshop to grow and learn.  They have the opportunity to be the teacher.  They used their skills to help younger students learn and be successful.  Not only did they help write a message to the younger students' parents, but they also taught the art of writing meaningful free verse poetry.

There were smiles all around, and a lot of hard work put into the afternoon project.  Students from both grades benefited and learned from the experience.



 
To see more pictures, you can visit the Reading Workshop Wikipage or go directly to the pictures at Christmas Poems with the First Grade.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Let it Snow


Today is the first day back from winter break.  Well, today was supposed to be the first day back.  Instead, we get one more day.  Fourteen degrees out and snowing hard, so school was canceled.

Oh well, tomorrow is the first day back from winter break.

As a trucker stops for a red light, a blonde catches up.  She jumps out of her car, runs up to his truck and knocks on the door.

The trucker lowers the window and she says, "Hi, my name is Heather and you are losing some of your load."  The trucker ignores her and proceeds down the street.

When the truck stops for another red light, the blonde catches up again.  She jumps out of her car, runs up and knocks on the door.  Again the trucker lowers the window.  As if they've never spoken, the blonde says brightly, "Hi, my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load."

Shaking his head, the trucker ignores her again and continues down the street.  At the third red light, the same thing happens again.  All out of breath, the blonde gets out of her car, runs up, and knocks on the truck door.  Again she says, "Hi, my name is Heather, and you are losing some of your load."

When the light turns green, the trucker races to the next light.  When he stops this time he hurriedly gets out of his truck and runs back to the blonde.  He knocks on her window, and after she lowers it, he says.....

"Hi, my name is Mark, it's winter and I'm driving  a salt truck!"

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/fhashemi/72545435/sizes/s/

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quit That Book


I thought it was funny when she quit her first book of the year, especially when I saw the book.  The Magician's Elephant by DiCamillo is an exciting story and a fairly easy read.  Plus, she seems to like to read so . . .

. . . But then when a teacher from another class brought in the book that she found in her classroom, it all came together.  When you loose a book, you pretty much have to quit reading it.  You don't have to pretend to return it and try to fake out your teacher though.

There are good reasons to quit reading a book.  These include:

1.  The book is boring;
2.  You cannot understand the story, even when you reread parts of it;
3.  There are several words on each page that you don't know and can't figure out;
4.  Once you get into the book, you realize the topic or genre does not interest you;
5.  The topic or some of the details make you uncomfortable;
6.  The book just is not that good of a book;
7.  You can't finish the book in a couple of weeks ( It is too long).

In Reading Workshop, I am hoping for a lot of used books on the shelves by the end of the year.  This can only happen when books are read.  Quit reading if you have a good reason, but not because you lost the book.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/donshall/3922960654/sizes/s/

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Christmas Poem


There is no better present than a Christmas poem.  Students in Reading Workshop will be writing a poem to publish and take home as a gift.  Then, they will partner with a first grade student to help them write and publish a poem to take home to their parents.


Christmas Thoughts
Henry Van Dyke

I am thinking of you today,
because it is Christmas,
and I wish you happiness.
And tomorrow, because it will be
the day after Christmas,
I will still wish you happiness.
I may not be able to tell you about it every day,
because I may be far away or we may be very busy.
But that makes no difference--
my thoughts and my wishes
will be with you just the same.
Whatever joy or success comes to you
will make me glad.
Clear through the year. . .
I wish you the spirit of Christmas.

What part of this poem means something to you?  Why is this meaningful to you?
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/etolane/349044647/sizes/s/

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Students Speak


Students recently completed a Reading Workshop Student Survey.  This is an easy way for me to see their thoughts and opinions about our class.  Frequently new ideas or changes in focus come from information the students supply.  The survey was embedded in the blog using a form from Google Docs.


Thank you to the students for the effort and honesty in their responses.  To see the complete answers, visit the Reading Workshop Blog Student Survey.  However, here are a few interesting excerpts.
  

My Favorite part of Reading Workshop . . .

Kasi
My favorite part of the Reading Workshop is our awesome blogs. I really like to put our opinion on our blogs and have other people comment and even if they disagree with you it is fun to see what they say.


Nash
My favorite part of the Reading Workshop is SSR because I really like to read.


Garrett
My favorite part of reading workshop is getting to write about what I have read and just getting to be able to make post that people can read from all over the world.


If I Were the Teacher . . .

Erica
If I were a teacher I would tell my students to try and not sit at a desk do nothing because if you don't do anything then what's the point in going to school? Students have to understand school is not just a place to chat with friends and spread gossip. School is where you go to learn so you have to try.

Cassie
If I was a teacher what would I help students learn is how to be successful with their life so when they need a job they can just go out and get one.

Kaitlyn
To help students learn I would have them take notes of everything and if they get stuck then they can look back in there notes and if they still don't get it then I would explain it to them. And if that don't work then I have no clue.

What has helped you most . . .

Bethany K
One thing that has mostly helped me to be more successful in the Reading Workshop would mostly be SSR, because it helps us learn words and help you out with life.


Hadley
I think blogging has helped me become successful by helping me be my own original person, and not like everyone else. It also helped me learn how to get into the hard core details and become a better writer.

Hannah Hop.
I think that our blogs have helped me be most successful in Reading Workshop because it pushes me to understand my book, to comment, and to post.



How Much Does Study Island Help You?

1 -
Very Little Help     
5            
9%
2

8
14%
3

12
21%
4

24
42%
5 -
Extremely Helpful
8
14%


How Much Does Brain Pop Help You?


1 -
Very Little Help     
5         
9%
2

4
7%
3

16
28%
4

14
25%
5 -
Extremely Helpful
18
32%




What is Your Favorite Thing to Do in Reading Workshop?




Blog

31          
54%
Read Aloud

15
26%
Study Island

4
7%
Sing

40
70%
SSR

16
28%
Brain Pop

14
25%
Group Work (like on Reading Articles)

9
16%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.


To see the complete answers, visit the Reading Workshop Blog Student Survey.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Tug of War of Learning


What issues are pulling you?  What keeps you from learning?  No one goes through life consciously wishing to fail.  Everyone has thoughts of success.  Some people just find it easier to overcome obstacles.

 On Tuesday, as we returned from a week out of school for Thanksgiving break, the word for the day was "disjointed."  The break was long enough that getting back into doing school seemed weird.  Brains just did not seem to be working quite right.  The tug of a week without in-depth thinking left many students and teachers walking through the day with a dazed look.

One of the biggest problems in attaining a high level of achievement is knowing your road blocks.  In all of us, there is a constant tug of war between success and failure.  In order to maximize the chances of winning, you must first know what is getting in your way.

What is tugging on your rope?  How can you win the tug of war to succeed?



Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/hiroshiken/2104659711/sizes/s/

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Brown's Fan's Thanksgiving Thoughts



I am thankful that the Browns only play 16 games. That way the most they can loose this season are 15 games.

I am glad that Eric Mangini is the coach of the Browns because that gives the fans someone to hate more than the players.

I am thankful that the Browns traded their two best receivers. That way other teams don't have to spend a lot of time worrying about playing defense.

I am thankful that the Browns are losing a lot of games that way the Bengals fans finally have something the brag about after 20 years as losers.

I am thankful for Jamal Lewis because that provides fans at least one voice of reason from the Brown's locker room.

I am glad the Browns had a bye week that way fans didn't have to worry about losing for at least one week of the season.

I am thankful the Browns got to play the Ravens on Monday Night Football because . . . Hmmm. I guess I'm really not so thankful for that.

I am thankful that the Browns have lost a lot of games because it makes it real easy for fans that go to a game to find a seat.

I am thankful that Brady Quinn has a pretty girl friend. Let's face it, he needs something to be happy about.



Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reading Workshop Student Survey

Please answer the following questions. The details you provide, and the honesty of your answers will make Reading Workshop better for everyone.  Please put your name so that I can contact you with any questions that I might have about your comments.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harry Potter Fans, Check This Out


If you are a Harry Potter fan, or are considering reading J.K. Rowling's series, Bethanie has a lot of information on her site, Bethanie's World.  There are detailed descriptions of all of the characters, with enough facts to help understand the books.

As students in Reading Workshop, continue to build their blogs, post by post, Bethanie's site clearly demonstrates the value and benefit of student blogs.  She has maximized the opportunity, finding her voice as a writer while sharing interesting information for Harry Potter fans everywhere.




Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/imnotpolish/438079633/sizes/s/

Monday, November 16, 2009

Are You Getting Ahead, or Left Behind?

Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other, "You stay here. I'll go on ahead.

We had an Award's Assembly today for the first nine weeks.  Many students received recognition for the hard work they put forth.  In fact, 73% of the sixth grade students got their name announced, walked to the front of the gym while the audience applauded, and got a certificate that told of their success.

What about the other 27%?  I guess they need to kick it up a notch and work a little harder.  They are probably not the ones that are getting ahead (working to be successful).  Hopefully by the next Award's Assembly they won't get left behind.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Does Sportsmanship Fit in the Classroom?

Sportsmanship, kindness, fairness--this video demonstrates all of the characteristics that we hope to teach, to model, and to see as teachers.




What would you do in a similar situation? What kind of opportunities are there in the classroom to show the same traits as the Central Washington players?

Thank you to Mrs. Stevenson for the heads up about this video.

Larger Than Life Poem


After I read Larger-Than-Life LARA written by Dandi Daley Mackall, aloud to the class, Katie had an excellent idea in her post Lara at Laurelville.  She wondered what kind of poems Lara might assign to our students.

As I thought about her post, and looked back over some of Lara's poems, I thought this was too great of an opportunity to ignore.

Here are a couple of examples of Lara's poems:


Sara Rivers with the silvery voice,
Reach for the stars! It's still your choice.
You can do it, though it's scary.
Fear is so unnecessary.


Joey Gilbert, I'm not mad.
I just think you're very sad.
Maybe you still miss your dad?
Miss the love you never had?
Joey it will be okay,
If you try out for the play.
I could help you learn your part.
The backstage crew could use your art.
Don't pretend that you don't care.
You can do what you can dare.


Mrs. Smith, it's all okay.
Please don't worry for this play.
Things can always work out best,
Sometimes life is just a test.
I can understand--you bet!
Besides, I'll like to work on set.

So students, the assignment is to write a "Larger Than Life" poem.  Please be sure a lesson, or bit of kindly advise is given, and include interesting details.

Need some help with rhyming, check out Rhyme Zone.
*

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's the Deal With Details?

Students in Reading Workshop are confused.  All year they have listened to me scream about more details.  They hear comments like, use information from the text/book, include support from the selection, tell me more, back up your point, and you need more details. In every writing assignment, whether it was a letter, a journal, or a blog post, I have constantly prodded them to help the reader visualize by including more details.

Now, as we begin to focus more on reading, and breaking down nonfiction essays, I am telling them to forget the details.  All we talked about yesterday was looking for the main points, looking for the gist, and the W's.  The message has changed and the students are giving me that dazed and confused look.

So what's the deal with details?  Do they matter or not?  Well, the answer is yes and no.  As a writer, details are your best friend.  They are how you help the reader understand.  They help you draw a picture so the reader sees and comprehends your points.  Specific details make writing great.

As a reader, fighting for understanding of difficult text, skip the details.  Don't worry about spectacular facts, or engaging opinions.  Ignore grabber introductions written to get you interested in a piece of writing.  As a reader, focus on the W's.  Find out who is the main person (or topic) of the essays.  Look for where and when the event happened.  Determine why this event took place and how it worked.

Then look for the gist.  Find the central idea.  Determine the most vital part of the piece of writing.  Once you understand this, you have successfully read the essay.

Do details matter?  Only if you need them to help you understand the W's and the gist.
*

Stars Shine at Board of Education Meeting


Thank you to the Logan Elm Board of Education for allowing us to share information about the Reading Workshop during their November Board meeting.  As their rotating schedule brought them to Laurelville Elementary, they granted us the opportunity to share how technology is enhancing the education of our students.

Three Reading Workshop students shared how the use of technology affects their education.  Ian discussed how he uses his blog to share thoughts and opinions about books that he reads like in his post on Soldier's HeartHadley talked about having a place  as a writer to share events in her life.  Hannah shared the opportunity she has to be a published writer and to work as an editor on Logan Elm Sports Spot.

These students did an amazing job, presenting like they had long been professional speakers.  All related the benefits of blogging from their own perspective, and used their blog to support their points.  Laurelville Elementary, Logan Elm, and The Reading Workshop can be proud of having students of this caliber to represent us.



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Learning to Read, Adult Style



For the next several weeks, we will be focusing on learning how to read. I am not talking about your overused, "sound out the words, and go back and reread when you don't get it," but real skills that readers of higher level essays use to comprehend.

Learning to read is the main focus throughout elementary school. However, the style of reading must change as students enter Jr. High School and above. By sixth grade, figuring out all of the words is a small part of the reading process. Students must learn to decipher meaning, especially in difficult text. Reading for the gist, understanding the W's (who, what, when, where, why, and how), and comprehending important details becomes the focus.

Although comprehension strategies are taught in the primary grades, the techniques should change as students enter the intermediate grades. That is our objective currently in language arts class.

Over the next few weeks, students will be taught to follow these steps when reading nonfiction.

1.Skim
2.Read and Highlight
3.List W’s
4.List facts
5.Write a topic sentence/Gist Statement

Today we focused on skimming for key words.  As we move forward we will break down nonfiction articles trying to glean the most important facts and information.  In the weeks to come, we will focus on how the parts of speech help determine meaning, what to highlight, and what to ignore, pace of reading, word substitution, and several other skills that will prepare students as critical readers in the years ahead.
*

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Your Homophone is Out of Order


Is your writing ringing in the ear of the reader?  Have you checked for mistakes with homophones?  Since texting and IMing have become so popular, this has become the most frequent mistake in writing.  It’s also become extremely common among bloggers.

Homophone--One of two or more words, such as night and knight, that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling.

Here are three of the mistakes with homophones that show up over and over:
1. Your vs. You’re
All it takes to avoid this error is to take a second and think about what you’re trying to say. “Your” is a possessive pronoun, as in “your car” or “your blog.” “You’re” is a contraction for “you are,” as in “you’re screwing up your writing by using your when you really mean you are.”

2. It’s vs. Its
This is another common mistake. It’s also easily avoided by thinking through what you’re trying to say.  “It’s” is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” “Its” is a possessive pronoun, as in “this blog has lost its mojo.” Here’s an easy rule of thumb—repeat your sentence out loud using “it is” instead. If that sounds goofy or wrong, “its” is likely the correct choice.

3. There, They're, and Their

This one seems to trip up everyone occasionally, often as a pure typo. Make sure to watch for it when you proofread. “There” is used many ways, including as a reference to a place, “let’s go there” or as a pronoun, “there is no hope”. “Their” is a plural possessive pronoun, as in “their bags” or “their opinions.” Always do the “that’s ours!” test—are you talking about more than one person and something that they possess? If so, “their” will get you there.  "They're" is a contraction for “they are,” as in “they're going to answer the homophone."  :)

Help the reader by carefully editing.  Be sure the sounds out of your phone/blog are pleasant to the ear/eye.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaysun/479031890/sizes/s/

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Student Blog Score Sheet

Students have spent time in Reading Workshop reading and writing blogs, so their grade should reflect their efforts.  In a previous post, we looked at How to Grade Student Blogs.  However, students need an easy method to evaluate their work, and  understand the grade that it merits.   A Blog Score Sheet is an easy way to accomplish this. 

Students can easily check the areas they have completed successfully.  This also provides the opportunity to look at different blogs, and show examples of excellent writing.



Once students have evaluated their blog, then I will score their blog.  If there is a difference between their evaluation and mine, then I can explain what needs to be done to improve the blog, and help it meet expectations.
*
 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who Else is a Little Crazy Around Here?


The word for today is sanity. Statistics say that one of four persons is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, it's you.

And what brings up the word for the day?  Tomorrow is the start of a five day break.  We may all be a little crazy, but I am sure when we return on Monday, after a little R & R, we will be rejuvinated, and chomping at the bit to get back in the educational saddle.

Don't eat too much at the Pumpkin Show and enjoy the break!

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Writer's Voice

When someone reads a post you wrote, do they know it's you?  Having a writer's voice and a style of your own comes from writing, writing some more, and writing some more.  Eventually, your writing will take on a style of its own.

Authors with several books published are usually easy to recognize by their style.  Gary Paulsen with his wordy, descriptive, "I have been there and done it" style is consistent in his books.  John Scieszka with his choppy sentences, constant dialogue, and wacky events amuses his readers.

Dr. Scott McLeod wrote the following on his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant:

Blogging cured me of my writing blahs. It provided me with an outlet that fits me like a glove, helped me discover my writing voice, and made me realize that I LOVE to write - indeed, maybe LIVE to write.

What about you, student bloggers?  Are you beginning to write in a consistent style?  Can your readers recognize you by your tone?  Or by the way you discuss topics?  By the end of a year of blogging, will you have found your style?
*

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This is Sharing Your Thoughts


As we start a new year in Reading Workshop, one of the main goals is making writing meaningful using descriptive writing with many supporting details.  It really does not matter whether the writing is a response to a question, a blog post, a journal, a letter, or any other type of writing.  Quality writing brings the reader into the mind and the heart of the writer.  Details help the reader see, and feel, and understand.

When I read Katey's blog post, it grabbed me and I knew immediately, this was a great example of what I expect in  students' writing.  This was in response to a prompt from Larger-Than-Life Lara.

My first impression of Lara was "Whoa, what in the world is she describing?" I actually didn’t know what to say about Lara, it was just like an "OMG!" moment, I was speechless. I don’t know if that was what the author wanted people to think, but that was my thought (sorry if that makes anybody mad). When Lara was first described by Laney I thought she wouldn’t be like she is. I didn’t think that Lara would be always smiling and cheerful. I was also suprised after Laney descibed her, that she was a new student.  At first I thought she was an adult, but when she said that she was a new student I was shocked.
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinhutton/
*

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why Student Blogs are So Valuable


I read Cassie's blog yesterday, and thought about it several times throughout the evening.  I woke up this morning and thought about it again.  She really nailed it.   She compared the meanness in Larger-Than-Life Lara with what she sees and feels some times at school.

As we work towards improving higher level thinking, and writing that supports ideas and opinions with explicit and intricate details, she  wrote a post that was extraordinary.  However, there were many mistakes in PUGS (Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling).  Her post shows how blogging will build writing skills, while pushing students to think, and reason, and consider themselves, their lives, and how people treat others.

Opinions are sometimes really mean like when someone talks about you.  When you talk about them and it is not nice but it could be nice sometimes. When people do that it is just like them talking about you. How would you feel if someone talked about you? It would not feel to good. 

That is why I don’t like it when my friends make fun of people to make them look cool. It just makes them look like a jerk.  I don’t like it when people talk about people. It is just really mean. I really think that if we don’t talk about people there would be no fights at school and for people who do talk about people need to stop.

Don’t talk about people because when people do it just gets back at them and they talk about kids. People don’t like it when you talk about them because all it does is  start a fight. So thats why I don’t but I’m not going to lie. I have talked about people but I quit.

This was a super job relating Cassie's life to the book I am reading aloud in Reading Workshop.  As her writing skills improve, great thoughts like these will be a topic for discussion and growth for her, and her classmates.
Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/robinhutton/86405062/in/set-72157605053379133/


*

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How To Grade Student Blogs

One of the challenges of having students write all of their assignments on a blog is coming up with a fair and objective way of grading.  Writing assignments in Reading Workshop are graded with a rubric that looks at several factors to come up with an overall grade.

After considering several rubrics, I created the Stair Steps to Success.  As students' writing improves and posts get better and better, they can climb the stairs to writing success.  

These questions can help certain determine their grade.

Did you spell everything correctly? I would hope so. After all, who would want to write something that is available to the whole world, and misspell words? Can the reader understand the topic because you stick to it? Following these minimal standards will earn you at least a D.

Did you use correct grammar?  Did you take time to check your PUGS?  Can the reader follow your post in an organized manner? This is still a most basic expectations for writers that want to publish their work. The skills learned in the primary grades are not too much to expect for work posted on the Internet.  A C means satisfactory and not meeting this basic criteria would surely not deserve anything higher.

Do you have interesting content presented in a well-written way? To build loyal readers, you must grab the reader.  Supporting details draw in the readers and give them understanding. If posts are written cleanly with correct PUGS, the words illustrate the meaning, and the reader can visualize your ideas, you will earn a B.

Does your writing cause the reader to pause, and think, or cause the reader to agree or disagree? Sometimes hours after reading an essay, the reader is still thinking about it. When a blog post has that something special, then the writer deserves an A.  To earn this, the majority of posts must be of exceptional quality.

What step are you on? Have you climbed the stairs to writing success?
*

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rules for Blog Comments

Everyone that blogs wants readers.  And, we wish that every single person that visited our blog would comment.  In fact, almost any comment is better than none.  So, the most important rule for blog comments is to comment.  If you agree, say so.  If you disagree, or have a different opinion, say so.  But whatever you do, take a minute and let us know you were here.

As students in Reading Workshop begin to build their blogs, post by post, the need for some structure in commenting is evident.  Hopefully these guidelines will help students engage in meaningful dialogue, comment by comment.

Here are the Reading Workshop rules for Blog Comments.

1.  Be nice. No name-calling and personal abuse, please.

2.  Keep on topic.  Don't write a comment that has little or nothing to do with the subject of the article.

3.  Opposing opinions are welcome, as long as they are respectful of the views of others.  If you disagree with the opinions of the author, express it politely.

4.  Don’t issue personal attacks or insults.  Attacks against  the author, other bloggers, commenters or people will be deleted.

5.  Avoid repeating yourself.  If many people have already said something, please don’t say it again.  Once you make a point, support it, but don't keep saying the same thing over, and over, and over.

5.  Avoid repeating yourself.  If many people have already said something, please don’t say it again  (See how annoying this is).

6.  Don’t make comments like “Great post.” If you read it, say why it was great.  Add some­thing to the con­ver­sa­tion.   Add your own view, or thoughts to the topic.

7.  Don’t use incorrect grammar or mispellings. Doing this makes the blog look like a low quality blog. It makes the blogger feel like you don't care enough to take the time to do it right.

For more information about commenting, see the post Comments That Count. 

Always remember the most important rule for blog comments is to comment.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why Do Students Give the Teacher Control?

Mrs. Scott, the principal stopped by the room as she so often does, just to see how things were going.  Up came Chomper Sue, the gum chewingest kid to hit the class in many a year.  Mrs. Scott told her to spit out the gum.  Boy, did Sue just make her teacher happy.

To this point in the year, Sue had been doing fairly well--much better than last year.  It's a shame she couldn't see that she was well on her way to wrecking her great start.  In less than a half hour, she was chomping away again, slapping her gums together and cracking her bubble gum.  That made two write-ups in one class.

After lunch, Sue came up the stairs for her afternoon class, mouth wide open, chomping on more gum.  What a day--three writeups for the same offense.  This earned her some time on the wall during recess the next day.  Sticking to her pattern of self-destruction, Sue did not stand on the wall today, so this earned her two more days.

In less than two days, Sue aggravated her favorite teacher over and over.  She showed disrespect  chewing gum, which is so trivial, but then she just kept flaunting her disregard for school rules.

In the process of all of this mess, Sue who thinks of herself as an independent young woman, gave up all control of herself at school.  She became a discipline problem, disrepecting teachers and ignoring rules.  In the process, the teachers are forced to deal with Sue's behavior, and deal with the aggravation of a student that can not do the most simple things to be successful.

I wonder if Chomper Sue knows all she lost over three sticks of gum?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/93193895@N00/3714880038/
*

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fake Reading, Will Smith, and Being Successful

Her homework paper said she read exactly 30 minutes a day.  She read exactly 10 pages each time.  As I looked at the paper, I thought, "another fake reader.  Why?"

The Read at Home assignment is meant to be low stress.  All students have to do to get a good grade is read.  And the more they read, the better the grade.  And they can read any book they want.  But still she chose to fake read.

I know grades do not matter that much to her.  So why did she lie about her reading?  I had already been watching her in class and could see that she does not like reading and has no interest in her book.

I wonder if she is a Will Smith fan?  I wonder if she will believe him when he says she can succeed?  I wonder if she has the guts to want  to be something and the strength to chase it?





The student's task for the day was to pick one area that Will Smith discusses in the video and write a post in their blog.  They could rewatch that piece of the video.  The times are listed in parenthesis after the area.

It Can Be That Easy (1:00)
There's No Shortcut to Success (1:38)
Lay One Brick at a Time (3:00)
Focus on Making a Difference (3:48)
Represent an Idea/Possibilities/You Can Make What You Want (4:35)
You Have to Believe (5:00)
Nothing is Unrealistic (5:45)
Our Thoughts are Physical/Make a Choice (6:47)
You Really Have to Focus (8:08)
Attack Your Fears/"I Hate Being Afraid of Anything" (8:30)
Protect Your Dream (9:17)

You can check out their thoughts, ideas, and opinions by following the links to Student Blogs in the sidebar.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Goals and Benefits of Student Blogging



As the Reading Workshop students begin to blog regularly (see links in the sidebar), one might question, what do you want the students to get out of this project? How will it help them? Are the benefits academic and or social? Listed below are the goals and benefits of student blogs.



Goals with student blogs include:

1. Students will communicate effectively.
2. Students will share thoughts, ideas, and opinions, and support them with details that make understanding easy.
3. Students will become better writers, both in content and mechanics.
4. Students will become better readers, improving comprehension and the ability to read critically.
5. Students will share great books and enter into dialogue about them.
6. Students will use Web 2.0 technology as a tool to publish their work to share with their peers, family, and friends.
7. Students will finish the year of Reading Workshop with a published portfolio of their writing projects.

In addition to the goals for learning, there are other benefits to students. These include:

1. Blogging is fun.
2. Students can improve writing in an exciting and engaging manner.
3. Students can share their work with friends.
4. Students can comment on their friend's work, sharing thoughts and ideas.
5. Students can learn about using computers and web-based tools.
6. Students can show off their work to their parents, grandparents, and other family members.
7. Students can earn good grades for doing something they like.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Get it Right, or Do Not Post

Students, as you begin blogging on a regular basis, the need to write cleanly is paramount if you want your audience to take you seriously. Readers will not follow someone they don't respect, or someone they see as unintelligent. Even a writer in sixth grade must produce good writing that makes sense, and is not filled with errors. Plus, the content must be interesting and engage the reader. But, that will not happen if the writing has basic errors that distract the reader.

Chris Pirillo discusses the need for PUGS--Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling in this video.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Student Blogs on WordPress

Student blogs this year were created and hosted at WordPress.  In the past, we used Blogger, but due to the recent changes, (like requiring an access code sent to a cell phone) The Reading Workshop student blogs went to a more user-friendly site.  Even though Google owns Blogger, and provides a great service at Google Apps, hosting a blog is not part of the service.

One of the tools provided by WordPress is a spelling and grammar checker.  Use of this tool will "clean up" student writing, while helping to teach basic writing skills.  Just go to My Account -->Edit Profile-->Proofreading and check the boxes.



Check out the sidebar for a link to all of the student blogs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blogging in the Classroom

Students are creating blogs to post their writing about their thoughts, ideas, opinions, and responses.  Using this Web 2.0 tool in the classroom allows students to share their work, comment on each others work, have a real audience, and lets parents view their child's work in Reading Workshop.

For more information about what a blog is, and how it works, check out this video by Lee LeFever of Common Craft

Monday, September 21, 2009

Just the Right Book

How does the book you are reading fit in with this list?


1) You enjoy reading the book. You are glad you picked it up. You don't want to quit reading when SSR is over. You want to take the book home and read some more.
2) You have pictures in your head while you are reading.
3) You can hear the characters' voices while you are reading.
4) You can read most of the words on each page.
5) You know what the book is about.
6) It might be a book a friend recommended.
7) It might be a subject you want to learn more about.
8) The book is by your favorite author.
9) The book is part of a series and you can't wait to read the next one.
10) You want to talk to friends about the book and/or do a book share.

Thank you to Carol's Corner, where the idea for this list originated.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Giving A Book Talk

How to give a good Book Talk:

1.  Choose a book you like, and that you feel is special enough to share.
2.  Read the book!
3.  Once you finish, ask yourself what made the book meaningful to you
4.  Don't give away the ending or any other secrets.
5.  Do Not do a retelling.
6.  Make it interesting from the start by beginning with a question, sharing a problem, discussing the setting, or a character, or telling a little bit of the plot.
7.  Don't ruin the book by telling too much. Grab the readers interest, but leave them wanting more.
8.  If you read aloud, it should be short.
9.  Prepare and practice, know what you are going to say.
10.  Concentrate on the book and your message.  Don't worry about the audience.

As we begin Book Talks in Reading Workshop, this example shares the book Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Read at Home for Good Grades

Each week students have an assignment to read at home. 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 date, title, time read, and pages. Students are responsible for filling out this chart each week as they read, logging both at school and at home. Only minutes read outside of class count towards their grade. Occasionally, students will have longer than a week when the school schedule is affected by holidays.


Students can choose to earn the grade they want. The more they read, the higher the score. This is the grade scale:

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

Although students have no direct assignments associated with Read at Home and the Reading Log, many of the activities and projects in class are based on the book they are reading. The recent project of a Dear Mr. McGuire letter is an example. When students write about their book, it is easy to monitor comprehension and see if students are "getting it." The fact that students can pick their book to read helps because they can find a book that interests them.


The emphasis on reading is largely based on the research from Richard Allington. Allington cites four "background factors" associated with why students have difficulty with reading. According to the author:

1. the amount of reading that students do in and out of school was related to reading achievement;
2. children who spend more time on workbook activities versus reading text are more likely to have difficulty reading;
3. children who come from homes where reading is not modeled have difficulty reading; and,
4. students who have difficulty providing details and arguments to support interpretations of what they read have difficulty with reading.

According to the author, time on task is the best predictor for reading success in students. Put simply, more reading is equal to greater academic achievement.

The best part of this system for monitoring reading, and increasing reading time is how students can control their grades. If they are willing to work hard, their grades will show it.