Monday, December 19, 2011

Reading During Christmas Break

Are you going to have a little spare time over the holidays?  Want to do something enjoyable and earn some extra credit?  All you have to do is READ!

If you complete two or more books over break, and comment on them, you will earn extra credit!  

The best part is the more you read, the more extra credit you earn.  And it will count as minutes on the next Read at Home assignment, too.  A couple of years ago, one student read over 1,400 minutes during Christmas break.  How many books will you read?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Feeling of Christmas at My House

As the holiday season approaches, family is what matters.  At my house, the Christmas breakfast is where all of the greatness of Christmas comes together.

The Christmas Breakfast

As the season approaches
sentiments turning to family
and the Christmas breakfast
eating together.

Steaming mugs of coffee
amid piles of torn wrapping paper.
Thankfulness for all we have
and the joy of the day.

We come to the table
with warmth in the house
and in our hearts
and celebrate our lives.

The assignment for students is to pick one part of their lives that best reflects their family and the holiday season, and write a gift of poetry.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some Student Poetry

Here are a few samples of students' poems.  To see more, just click on the links on the sidebar.

From A Daily Bailey
I Think I'm Going to Puke
I’m not really feeling well
It’s something that I ate
I think I’m about to puke
It tasted like fish bait

Uh oh!
I’m gonna spew
I’m really, really sorry
If I get some on you

It’s all over the carpet
It kind of looks like plums
Hey! What’s that thing there?
It looks like lots of thumbs

I shouldn’t have eaten that food
It looked like an old baseball mitt
I’ll never eat it again
Not even a little bit

It’s all over the room
Even on the couch
I’m sorry it got everywhere
No need to be a grouch

I went and cleaned up                                                                       
Now it’s all gone
Next time I’ll go puke
Outside on the lawn
Divorce, Divorce
Where do I start
It’s a course.

Divorce, Divorce
Why do our parents do that?
It makes me sad.

Divorce, Divorce
My sister and I
Had to cry

My Sister by Keifer
Inspired by Sara Holbrook

My sister is
a splinter
deep down in my skin

My sister is
a baseball game
one I can not win

My sister  is
a rat
with her little mice

Keifer's sister is the sweet looking one on the left.  Hhhhhmmm!
My sister is
a cucumber
one I want to dice

My sister is
a bug
one I want to crush

My sister is
an apple
that has turned to mush

My sister is
a bumble bee
always stinging me

My sister is
just mean
come on can’t you see

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Are You Bored with School?

Reading Workshop students, what do you think of school?  Are you excited each morning to come to school?  And, if not, if you think school is boring, whose fault is it? 

Do you live every day to get the most out of it?  Do you walk around thinking positive and ready to have fun?

Do you have a smile on your face?  Do people look forward to seeing you?  Do you look forward to seeing people at school?

Who is in control of you anyway?

Image from

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So Many Ways to Say it in Poetry

How else can you say it?  As we looked at one student's opening line of his poem, so many ideas for sharing were discovered.  We started with Poetry is not me

And came up with this list:
  1. Poetry is unreasonable
  2. Poetry is not what I write
  3. Poetry is not my thing
  4. Poetry has something I don't
  5. Poetry is not bad
  6. Poetry is not understandable to me
  7. We can't connect
    1. We play phone tag
    2. The call is never answered
    3. The meal doesn't fill me up
    4. The hot sauce is mild
    5. Poetry doesn't add up
    6. We can't be together
    7. Poetry and I aren't alike
    8. Poetry doesn't have Internet
    9. Poetry is like a game with no Xbox
    10. Poetry is like eggs without bacon
    11. We are two peas from different pods
    12. Poetry is like pancakes without syrup
  8. Poetry never answers my phone calls
  9. I don't go with poetry
  10. Poetry doesn't pick me up
  11. Poetry and I don't mix
    1. Poetry won't get in the blender with me
    2. Poetry isn't the ice cream for my milkshake
    3. We just don't mesh
    4. Poetry is the book with no words
    5. Poetry is the gun with no powder
    6. Poetry is like the butt with no gas
    7. Poetry is like bird doodoo on your windshield
    8. Poetry is a clock with no hands
    9. Poetry is a clock out of time
    10. Poetry is an IPod with no music
    11. Poetry is a battery with no charge
    12. Poetry is a sentence with bad grammar
  12. When I ring the door bell, poetry never answers
  13. Poetry and me don't fit
  14. Poetry is like a shirt that is just too tight
  15. Poetry and I don't see eye to eye
    1. Reading poetry is a fistfight
    2. Poetry is like an annoying little brother
    3. Poetry is like Lane on a bad day at school
    4. Poetry is like black and white TV
    5. Poetry bullies me
    6. Poetry is a charging bull (and I am a red cape)
    7. Poetry punches me in the mouth
    8. Poetry is a hole in the shoe of a snowy day
  16. Poetry is like reading with foggy glasses
  17. Poetry is the seed that just rots in my garden
  18. Poetry pizza has no pepperoni when I get my order
  19. We were never meant for each other
  20. Poetry and I are breaking up
  21. Poetry loves me but I don't like poetry
  22. Poetry is like a crap sandwich for lunch
  23. Poetry and I don't get along
  24. Poetry is a pie with no crust
  25. Poetry is a puzzle with missing pieces
  26. Poetry tortures me with its bits and bangles
  27. Poetry is the math that just doesn't add up
  28. Poetry was never my type
    1. I'm smile and poetry cries
    2. Poetry isn't the girl for me
    3. Poetry is not my sweetheart
    4. Poetry is sweet to my sour
    5. Poetry is the wrong kind of tissue for my cold
    6. Poetry is night to my daytime
  29. Poetry was never my thing.
  30. Poetry just ain't my bag, baby
  31. Poetry is a baloney sandwich
  32. Poetry is like last year's fashion
  33. Poetry is to reading like the Bengals are to football
  34. Poetry is like my wife's shopping problem
  35. Reading poetry is like kissing your sister
  36. I don't exactly like poetry
  37. Poetry is like shopping for groceries with mom
  38. Poetry is like slipping on oil
  39. Reading poetry is like having your mom pick out your clothes
  40. Reading poetry is like shopping without money
  41. Poetry is like playing with your sister
  42. Poetry is like life without video games
  43. Poetry is colder that my ex-girlfriend
    1. Poetry freezes my heart
    2. Poetry freezes my sun
    3. Poetry freezes my turkey on Thanksgiving
    4. Poetry is the dark side of the moon
    5. Poetry and Pluto are twins
    6. Reading poetry chills my eyeballs
    7. Reading poetry is like being burried alive

  44. Poetry is the cold water shock of breaking through ice
  45. Poetry is like looking in the mirror before makeup
  46. Poetry is a poor sport
  47. Poetry is like a car that won't start
  48. Poetry is a rainy day
  49. Poetry is like lunch in the loo
  50. Poetry is reading quicksand
  51. Poetry is a green vegetable
  52. Poetry is like a broken heart
  53. Poetry is like a sauerkraut sundae
  54. Poetry is more of a pain than my little sister
  55. Writing poetry is worse than cleaning your room.

It's amazing how students that don't like poetry can come up with so many poetic ideas.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Want to Put a Little Ryhme in Your Life?

We are working with poetry in Reading Workshop.  We have focused on free verse poems, and a few concrete poems, but sometimes it is fun to write a rhyming poem.  A great tool for this is at Rhymezone.

Pick a topic and see what you can do.  Write something that makes the reader laugh, or cry, or both.

I knew from the first day,
these students were weird.
But partway through the year,
It's worse than I feared

I tried to help them,
they definitely needed steered
But partway through the year,
It was worse than it appeared.

I wasn't sure what to do,
Their brains had been cleared.
And partway through the year,
No senses had reappeared.

I gave them good advise,
because I knew they needed steered.
But partway through the year,
their brains were still smeared.

It could be the teacher,
at first I feared.
But partway through the year,
His efforts should be cheered!

Have a nice day students!   You don't like my poem?  Well show me what you can do!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hey Students, Don't Hide

Even though you think you are hidden, I see you.  Don't be like this gecko, feeling like he can't be seen.  When we have class discussions, you may not raise your hand.  You may not look up.  You may stare at the floor, hoping not to be noticed.  But everyone knows you are here.

Maybe you are afraid your answer will be wrong.  Maybe you are afraid someone will laugh at your opinion or think you are dumb.  Maybe you are just quiet by nature. 

Please do me a favor.  Take a chance.  Speak out.  Raise your hand.  Share your thoughts and opinions.  Everyone will benefit by your participation.    Classmates will learn from hearing your ideas. And you will learn more, too.

 Image from Lorenzo Menendez/Nature/National Geographic Photo Contest

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Have a great Thanksgiving break.  Some of the Reading Workshop students and maybe even a teacher may be a little bit ready for a long weekend, but at least we can enjoy a few days off.

Come back Monday ready to work.  :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Vocabulary Practice and Help the World

FreeRice is a non-profit website run by the United Nations World Food Programme. They offer an easy way to learn vocabulary, math skills, geography and more.

According to FreeRice

FreeRice has two goals: 

1.  Provide education to everyone for free.
2.  Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the generosity of the sponsors who advertise on this site. Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your education can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide.

Want to learn in a fun and exciting way?  Check out FreeRice.

The Best Thing About Computers

Hey Reading Workshop students, share your opinion!

You can see the results HERE.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Poetry--I Ain't No Poet

Staring at blank faces,
students whispering,
bored and uninterested
as we start a new project.

Trying to spark a fire
that energizes and makes believers,
hoping Love That Dog
will bring out a Jack.

The unbelieving boy, Jack
who couldn't write
and didn't believe
he had a message inside.

With several Jacks
looking so miserable
as thoughts swirl around
filled with dread.

But there's a writer inside
waiting to overcome
a mind screaming
I ain't no poet.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Veteran's Day

Thank you to Austin for this Veteran's Day post.  I couldn't have said it better, so I just used the post from his Reading Workshop student blog.

Many people may already know this but Veteran's Day is on Friday, 11/11/11. At my school we are going to have an assembly to honor them for their service to our country. I know a lot of people who were in the armed forces.  More than I can name and count have been in the air force on my grandma’s side in the Lallier family. 

My grandpa is going to be at the assembly.  He was in the army in Vietnam. I think it was 5 or more people on my grandma’s side who were in the armed forces. Veteran's Day is a day to honor people who have died or served or still serve in the armed forces. So don’t forget to honor them and their service to our country.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Yes, Commas do Matter

Take a breath, and then another, and another.  How do you know when to pause when you are reading? 


Or, as the picture says, save a life by using a comma.  Besides, Grandma is probably old and tough anyway.  No one would want to eat her.

Another example of the need for a comma is a song we are singing as part of building fluency in Reading Workshop.  The song Crazy Girl by the Eli Young Band uses a comma that changes the meaning of the phrase crazy girl or crazy, girl throughout the song.

Crazy girl, don’t you know that I love you?
And I wouldn’t dream of goin’ nowhere
Silly woman, come here, let me hold you
Have I told you lately?
I love you like crazy, girl

So, Reading Workshop students, when there is a pause in a sentence, but not a complete new thought, be sure to put in a comma.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hey Mean Boy, Get a Clue

As part of our reading class, we are singing Mean by Taylor Swift which asks the question, "why you gotta be so mean?"  The current read aloud is The Revealers and students commented about bullying on a recent Reading Workshop post about bullies.  Every day for the last week the class has discussed bullying and not being mean to other students.

 So tell me, what is up with this one boy?  Why does he still think he can say mean things to other students? This class has so many kind and caring students.  No one else acts like him. 

He struts around like he is so cool, but then sneaks around and says mean comments that he knows will tear kids up.  He is good at pretending to help when the teacher is watching, but watch out when he thinks no one can see him.

I hope as we continue to discuss meanness a light will click on and he will stop.  I don't know if he realizes how many people see his sneaky ways of hurting others.  Maybe once he catches on to that, he will try out kindness and compassion.  I guess right now he is the only one in the whole class that doesn't get that everyone else gets that he is mean. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reading Strategies, Making Connections

Can you connect with the book you are reading?  Can you imagine yourself in it?  Does it remind you of things from your life?  If not, maybe it's just not the book for you.

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

At times connecting is simple. At others, especially when the text is not in an area that the reader has background knowledge, comprehension is difficult. To be a better reader, think about how the story relates to your life.

Readers should concentrate on their inner voice and connections.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the start to connections.

This is similar to my life . . .
This is different from my life . . .
Something like this happened to me when . . .
This reminds me of . . .
This relates to me . . .
When I read this I felt . . .

This reminds me of another book I’ve read . . .
This is similar to another thing I read . . .
This different from another book I read . . .
This character is similar/different to  another character  . . .
This setting is similar/different to an other setting . . .
This problem is similar/different to the problem in  . . .

This reminds me of the real world . . .
This book is similar to things that happen in the real world  . . .
This book is different from things that happen in the real world . . .

Students, as you read today, what connections did you have?

Image from

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If Russell was a Student Here . . .

Well, the easiest thing to say is Russell would be the same everywhere.  But do you act the same at school as you do at home?  Would you act the same at a new school?

But, you are who you are, right?  No one really changes too much, do they?

As we continue the read aloud of The Revealers, share your opinion about Russell at Laurelville on the wall.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Get Your Grammar Right!

Do you know which word to use?  Let's see, is it to or too?  There, their, or they're?  Your or you're?  Does is really matter?  IT BETTER!

When you write online, your thoughts, ideas, and opinions can be viewed by everyone.  That makes it paramount that you write correctly.  The reader will only respect your writing if it is clean and error free.  Part of your editing responsibility is to use the correct homophone.

A special thanks to Gineriella for allowing the editing of this video to use with sixth grade students in The Reading Workshop.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bullying Revealed

Every school has a Richie.  He is bigger than most of the kids, and way meaner.  Normal kids like Russell just stay away from him.  Unfortunately, an attempt to be funny puts Russell straight in Richie's sites.

The latest read aloud in Reading Workshop is The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm.  The book opens with Russell, the main character being harassed by Richie Tucker.  Russell is already having a tough time with the start of middle school.  Somehow, he found himself without a group.  He was alone even though people were all around him.

This brings us to the question, if you were in the same position as Russell, what would you do?  What can you do about a bully? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What, I Can Really Listen to Music in Class?

You can see the shock on this student's face.
Students were amazed when I told them they could start listening to music as they read or worked. They had never heard of anything like this. First it was singing in the class. Now, I was telling them they could bring their IPod to class.  This just had to be too good to be true.

Each students has his/her own computer, so each has a CD ROM at their desk.  Or, if they choose, they can bring in an MP3 player.  When I surveyed each class, the majority of students listen to music each night as they read and/or do their homework.  Why not allow it in school?  When I have done this before, it seemed to help a lot of students avoid distraction.

There are a few rules:

1. You put a CD in the computer at the start of class, and leave it for the entire class.
2. You cannot play it loud, or bother peers.
3. Once you hit play, you must work.
4. You cannot use class time to switch from track to track.

There are several benefits when students play background music while they study, read, or write:

1. increase attention levels
2. improve retention and memory
3. extend focused learning time
4. expand thinking skills
In the brain there is a band of white fibers connecting the right and left halves of the cerebrum called the corpus callosum. Very recently researchers have discovered that the corpus callosum increases in size when humans are exposed to music. This increases communication between the two halves of the brain which increases learning efficiency.

Yiftach Levy of the Department of Educational Technology at San Diego State University studied the use of background music in the classroom. This is part of his finding.

Davidson and Powell (1986) took up this exact subject in their study of American fifth-grade science students. They reported the observations of on-task-performance (OTP) of children in the classroom over 42 class sessions, with data recorded every three minutes (10 times) per session. Treatment, in the form of easy-listening music, was delivered in between two control observations (i.e., 15 sessions without background music, 15 with, and 12 without, in that order). They determined a significant increase in OTP for the males in the classroom, and for the class as a whole. 

Image from

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Letter About a Book

Students in Reading Workshop recently had to write a letter about a book they were reading.  Specifically, the letter had to address "If I was the Main Character . . ." and talk about how the book would be different if they were in the book.

Letters were graded using the Friendly Letter Rubric on the Wikipage.

Here is Lexi's letter, which is an excellent example of what I expected.

Dear Mr. McGuire,

I know you love to read and so do I. I’m reading this amazing book by Leslie Connor. It’s called Waiting For Normal. But this book pulls you into the actions that’s going on. Sort of like the books you like to read. It’s kind of a girl book but then again it’s not. I would recommend it to anyone. I think that you might like it. You should definitely read it!

The main character in my book is Addie. She is 12 years old. Her and her mom live on the side of a highway in a trailer. Addie doesn’t really care that’s where she lives but if I was her I would not live there for anything! They even live right next to a rail road and the train goes by often!

Addie also lives across from a mini mart. There is these 2 people that work there. Their names are Elliot and Soula. Addie becomes great friends with them! I would be friends with them too because they are really nice and they would seem like family to me if I was Addie. Soula can’t walk because she has cancer. Addie doesn’t mind that though. Actually I wouldn’t either. But in the end Soula dies! Addie cries and cries and cries! I would have too because Addie got really close to her!

Addie's mom isn’t the type of mom I’d want. I doubt anyone would want that type of mom. Addies mom will leave Addie alone for 2 to 6 days in the trailer! I would be petrified! But the only reason why she does that is because she found a new man and she didn’t tell him she has a twelve year old daughter! Addie's mom says she’s away for work but you can tell she’s not. Towards the end of the book mommers (Addies name for her mom) tells Addie she’s pregnant. Addie didn’t like that because she don’t take care of her, How would she take care of a baby too. I would absolutely feel the same way as Addie did. If my mom treated me like that and then said she was pregnant I don’t even know what I’d do!

In the book there’s also another guy named Dwight. That was mommers ex-husband and the father of her other 2 children. Dwight loves Addie dearly even though she isn’t his, and Addie loves him. Dwight knew mommers wasn’t very good at taking care of Addie so he tried to get custody of her but mommers wouldn’t let him. I would want to go and live with Dwight if I was Addie because Dwight is just way better than mommers and knows how to take care of kids. But in the end Dwight got custody over her because Soula called children services and ratted out mommers. I would have thanked Soula but Addie didn’t!

That’s the end of my letter. I hope you liked it. Thanks for reading it! I hope someday you recommend this to one of your other students! Or you maybe even read it!



A New Way to Read

Patrick Carman is changing the way students read.  It started with the Skeleton Creek series which takes the main characters on one frightening adventure after another.  But what sets this series apart are the online videos that accompany each chapter.

You can hear Carman tell how a multi-media books works in this video.

The latest book, 3:15 has eight scary short stories.  Each one begins with a sound bite that introduces the story, characters, and setting.  After reading the story, there is a video conclusion.  These are chilling tales that grab the reader.  The best part, with the multi-media support, good readers will enjoy them and struggling readers will be able to comprehend them.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Better Listen and Listen Fast

Better pay attention! Why you ask?  Because this isn't a teacher standing in front of the class and talking all day blah, blah, blah, blah, blah kind of class.  

Have a look at this.

Now I am not going to teach quite like that (I hope) and I am not going to talk all day.  This is a class with a five minute mini-lesson, and then students work hard and then work some more.  As famous California educator, Dr. Harry K. Wong said, "the one doing the work is the one doing the learning."  And of course, I want students to learn as much as is possible.

Please give me your attention.  I'll keep it short.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Do You Know a Lot of Words?

One of the most limiting factors in students' achievement and their ability to read is a poor vocabulary.  If students want to learn more, comprehend better, and be a dynamic writer they must have an extensive vocabulary.  Also, test scores almost always reflect a student's vocabulary.

With this in mind, we will focus even earlier in the school year than normal on vocabulary.  We will be using Rags to Riches on Quia, classroom discussions, and other activities to help build stronger vocabularies.  For easier access to the words assigned each week, take a look in the sidebar.

To see Reading Workshop Vocab lists, assignments, practice links and word meanings, go to the Reading Workshop Vocabulary Page.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Want Some New Books?

Online Ordering Information
Web address:
Class Activation Code: J3VGG

Now it's easier than ever to find the perfect books -- shop Scholastic's new online Book Clubs Web site. Choose from a much-wider selection of books than in the printed flyer. Plus, you can send your orders directly to me online and use your credit card to pay.

Best of all, we earn a FREE book for the classroom library every time a parent places an order online.*

It's so simple! Here's how it works:
  • SIGN UP at On the parent page, click the "Register" button in the "First Time Here?" section. Register for your own user name and password. When prompted, enter the one-time Class Activation Code shown above. This unique code ensures that your order is sent to me.
  • SELECT the books you'd like to order -- choose from thousands of titles -- many more than in our monthly flyers.

  • SEND your order to me online by the due date and your child's books will be delivered directly to my classroom.
Ordering online is fast, easy, and secure.

Of course, you can still order using the form from the printed flyer. But why not see for yourself how convenient it is to order online?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Working Like Brady

Tom Brady, MVP quarterback and three time Super Bowl winner for the New England Patriots has worked hard to make the most out of his career. Last night on Monday Night Football he passed for a team record 517 yards in a win against the Miami Dolphins

In this video he discusses his road to success.

In your opinion, how does his success relate to success in the classroom?  How can his ideas help you, as a student learn more, earn better grades, and be successful?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Collecting Information the Easy Way

I need to collect blog titles and URL's from students to post links in the sidebar.  Looking for an easy way to do this without having to type and link each blog, I decided to use a form from Google Docs.  This will put all of the information in a spreadsheet and make it easy to copy and paste.

Check out the right sidebar for links to all of this year's Reading Workshop students' blogs.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Excellence with Distinction

Laurelville Elementary earned the rating of Excellence with Distinction on the Ohio Report Card. This is the result of high standards and much hard work by students and staff.  This is the first year for this rating that follows several years of steadily improving scores on the Ohio Achievement Test. 

Students at Laurelville are remarkable in the amount of effort they put into their assignments.  Each year students amaze me with their effort and positive attitude.  The great test scores from students in Reading Workshop  year after year show a history of students' success.

Great job to all of the students and staff!

A New School Year

It's a new school year and four days in, students are doing great.  Most have started to adjust to their new school schedule and get back into the habit of getting up in the morning.  There are some adjustments this year with fewer teachers and more students in each class, but we are already starting to get used to this. 

This year's sixth grade classes are starting out working hard and have come in with a positive attitude.  If they keep this up, they can be the best sixth grade class ever!  

Welcome to sixth grade new students.  Keep working your hardest and you will be successful!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wallwisher, A Great Web 2.0 Tool

My teaching neighbour, Mrs. Jayne Stevenson shared this great idea and Web 2.0 tool to allow students to post comments and/or answer questions.  

Post Edited on April 28, 2011.  

Although Wallwisher seems like a great program, there are problems.  Students tried repeatedly over the last two days to access the program.  After several million error messages, I changed my mind about Wallwisher.  The first requirement for any web 2.0 program is reliability.  The inability to post makes this program frustrating, and not at all worth using until the glitches are worked out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Life of a Test Grader & Your Test

So Martha, the Test Grader is sitting in her cubical and opens your test. She turns to the first short answer and this is what she sees.

Needless to say, her headache screams out and she wants to be anywhere, rather than try to read this mess. But, she really wants to be fair so she starts to fight through the misspelled words, lack of organization, and off-topic response. She quickly realizes though, this just isn't worth it, scribbles down a 0 and moves to the next answer.

Within 3 - 4 seconds, she has decided this student does not deserve to pass any type of test. As she sorts through each extended response, she becomes more and more agitated at the obvious lack of effort. Sorry, but you failed.

Now it's time for the next test and here is the response.
Martha is smiling now. She is thinking, "this is from a good kid. This is so easy. Why can't all of the kids write like this?"
And little does she know, but somewhere in a state far, far away, a student is smiling as she thinks back to that day of the reading test. She knows she passed, because she did her best, and used all of the test taking strategies that her teacher taught her.
There is someone else smiling. As this student was taking the test, a teacher sat at his desk and watched her work. He knew she would pass. He watched her work hard all year. Today as he thinks back, he knows she did a great job, and anxiously awaits the test results that will show a real success story.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Life of a Test Grader, Continued

OK, so Martha has your test and answer booklet. She doesn't know you, and doesn't care to. In fact, she doesn't even know about Reading Workshop, the name of the school, the town, or the state where you live. You are just a number in a stack. A tall stack of answer booklets that have to be graded before she can take a break.

Whether or not you pass this test means less than nothing to Martha. The things on her mind include sneaking out to get a diet coke, getting rid of this head ache, figuring out how to avoid listening to her sister complain about having to babysit, and about having to do laundry after work, or she will have absolutely nothing to wear tomorrow. She is also thinking about surfing and last summer's vacation.

Now it all comes down to you, the student, and your answer booklet. Will your hard work be in vain? Will eight months of learning be wasted? Or will you be a success story making yourself, your parents, your teachers, and your school feel proud?

The first thing, can she read it? Did you write legibly? Trying to strain her eyes and her brain to read cat scratches is going to irritate Martha. She probably won't even take the time to sort through it. She will just give it a big, fat, zero. Did you write neatly?

Next, if you restated the question and numbered your responses, Martha can easily find key words and information. Using a rubric to score short answer and extended response answers, Martha is looking for specific words and answers. Did you organize your answers to make finding key points easy?

Going back and finding specific details in the passage is paramount. Any time a questions asks for specific details, they are looking for examples word-for-word from the text. Did you go back into the essay and find specific details?

Another factor that makes grading easier is correct spelling. Most of the words that you need to spell are either in the question, or in the passage. It just takes a second to look back and find the correct spelling. Did you use the passage to help you with your spelling?

Did you use the basic test taking skills that you have learned in class?
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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Life of a Test Grader

Martha is a single mom, with a four year old daughter named Emily. Martha is just trying to get by day to day. This morning, at 6:00 AM, as Martha was getting ready for her job as an Achievement Test Grader in a state far, far, away, her babysitter called and said she couldn't watch Emily today. 

After three phone calls, she finally reached her sister, who agreed to watch Emily for the day. The only problem was her sister lived 20 miles away, so Martha barely had time to get there, and then make it to work on time.  

As she rushed around the kitchen, eating a piece of toast while she picked up, Emily spilled her cereal all over the floor. Five minutes later, after cleaning up the spill, Martha glanced at the clock and realized she was going to be late. She grabbed a cup of coffee to go, snatched up Emily and bolted out the door. She put Emily in the car, and jumped in her seat. As she reached across to buckle the seat belt, she spilled her coffee down the front of her shirt. "Oh @#$#@@#$," she thought. 

She unbuckled Emily and ran back in the house to change. She searched high and low, but there was nothing clean to wear. She grabbed her cleanest dirty shirt out of the laundry, shook it out, and slid it on. Once again, she and Emily headed for her sister's house. Naturally, she hit a construction zone two minutes from her sister's. After sitting for 10 minutes, she finally got through. She sprinted in, gave Emily a kiss good bye, and headed off to work. She had 11 minutes to make the 20 minute drive. 

She was lucky, the construction only held her up for 5 minutes this time through. Unfortunately, her head pounded with a migraine from the stress of the morning. And work hadn't even started yet. 

She reached work, late again. She stopped by the pop machine, but didn't have any change for her daily dose of Diet Coke. As she rounded the corner, there stood her boss, with a mean look on his face, and her daily stack of tests to score. "Late again, I see," he said with a scowl. "Don't even think about taking a break until you get this school's tests scored."

With her head pounding, no Diet Coke, and no time for Advil, Martha reached for the first test. Martha, the test grader opened your test. 

How will you score?
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Friday, April 8, 2011

What are You Thinking About the Achievement Test

Students have been working hard, preparing for the Ohio Achievement Assessment.  They have done a kazillion (this is a very high number that students learn about in advanced math at the sixth grade level) problems until they are suffering from carpel tunnel.  They are getting attacked by numbers in their sleep and there is no hope of survival.

In Reading Workshop, students have read passages, wrote and rewrote answers, and been rubriced into submission.  They now know the disasters that await those that don't give specific details, quoted from the selection.  They dream at night of back in the day when Reading Workshop was about reading and writing, thinking and discussing.  There is no chance of them being a child left behind because they are getting whipped into shape. 

Although we only focus specifically on the test for a month in Reading Workshop, in student years that equals seven lifetimes.  But students are surviving.  Not only are they surviving, but they are getting smarter.  They are reading critically, and attacking questions to find the point.  They are shredding selections to find those details that earn all 4 points on  an extended response question.  Best of all is they are learning words, and they are much better than the words they learned on the back of the bus in third grade.

Good job students!  It will all be over soon and your success on the test will make me smile.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Wanna Be Perfect

I am tired of making mistakes.  I am tired of not knowing the right thing to say.  I am tired of all kinds of problems.  I want to be perfect.  AND, I just found out a way to make it happen.

The latest read aloud in Reading Workshop is Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days written by Stephen Manes.  After the first chapter, I got some really good news.  Dr. K. Pinkerton Silverfish is going to tell me how to become perfect.

No more bad jokes!  No more saying the wrong thing and upsetting people!  Every student will learn all that they are supposed to every day.  Life will be great and it all starts next week.  In just a few days, you will see a new me and I WILL BE PERFECT!

What about you my brilliant young students?  Are you going to join me and become perfect?  Will you soon become flawless?  How will that change things?

Oh, by the way, wanna is not a word and if I was already perfect, I would have said want to in the title.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

A Fun Way to Learn Test Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is never fun for students.  However, a large part of success when taking the Ohio Achievement Assessment is determined by students' working vocabulary.  Looking for an interesting way to build the vocab of students in Reading Workshop led me to Quia.  This is an online site that features games and quizzes.  

There is a library of items created by teachers that are available to anyone to use.  Creating new games and quizzes is easy to do when you want to use specific terms.  My personal favorite is the Rags to Riches game which is similar to Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

To see the activities that students are participating in so far, you can visit my Profile Page.

Give it a try. Maybe you can learn a few new words and win a million dollars!

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Hate Grades!

The end of the nine weeks is here.  Work has been turned in and graded.  But what if a student's average doesn't fit what they have accomplished?  Should a teacher adjust it to reflect what the student has earned?  Or should it be the result of vocabulary quizzes on Quia, Study Island, and objective scores on writing assignments?

Student #1
He has given everything he can possibly give to be successful.  He started the year hating to read.  Now, he reads almost every night at home.  He pays attention in class and does his best on every assignment.  He asks for help if he doesn't understand.  He has turned in every assignment.  Low Study Island scores have been a big detriment to his grade.  Although his grades reflect his ability, his growth should earn him an A+.

Student #2
She is the model for all students.  Her attitude and work ethic is unbelievable.  She has always struggled finishing books.  This nine weeks she has finished three of the last four she started.  The book she quit was a bad selection, she recognized that, and found a better book.  Her writing has consistently improved all year.  Her blog posts have become more detailed and cleaner.  Poor vocabulary quiz grades have lowered her score.

Student #3
The work he turns in is not close to his best.  He completes assignments quickly, with the main idea being just to get them done.  He is a pretty good student so his grades are good.  He has not shown much growth, but does OK because school comes fairly easy to him.

Student #4
His attitude stinks.  He has turned in most assignments, but not all.  His grade is poor and does not reflect his ability at all.  He should be on the honor roll but isn't due to lack of effort.  As a reader, he is able to do high quality work.  Even though he has a low grade, his ability is in the B range.

What grades did these students earn?  What grades do they deserve?  Are they the same?

Should grades be solely based on achievement?  Or should a student's effort and attitude be part of the grade?  Should improvement matter?   Should missing assignments count even if a students has mastered the objective?  Or should all grades be based on results of classwork and quizzes? Should students receive a class participation grade that reflects their in class involvement and work ethic?

What if the teacher knows with absolute certainty that a grade does not reflect a student's output for the grading period?  Should the teacher adjust the grade accordingly?

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sometimes You Have to Laugh

A student downstairs in Ms. Wooten's third grade ask if she thought the world was going to end in 2012.  

Her answer to that was that she didn't know when the world was going to end.  She said, it could be tomorrow, it could end in 2012, or it could end a million years from now.  I believe that there is only One being that knows the answer to that, and that is the big man upstairs.

The student, without missing a beat, promptly replied, OK, so I'll go ask Mr. McGuire.

If he only knew . . .

Friday, March 4, 2011

Predictions Make Reading Exciting

You start reading and after a little bit, your mind wanders.  After a few minutes, you are bored with the book, ready to quit it and find a better book.  So you look through the books, find one that looks good, and begin to read it.  

Later that night, you get out your new book for the Read at Home assignment.  The first few pages are interesting and you really get into the book.  After about 20 minutes, you start to get bored, and quit reading for the night.

What is happening?  Why are you losing interest in books?  Why is reading boring?


Predictions are what makes reading exciting.  As you read, wondering what will happen next is what makes you part of the book.  And when you predict one thing, and something different happens--WHAM, that is what makes a book exciting. 

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Special thanks to Mrs. Tonya Blubaugh, Intervention Teacher for sparking the conversation that led to this post.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Should Students Be Ability Grouped?

The current read aloud in Reading Workshop is Freak the Mighty written by Rodman Philbrick.  Max, a struggling reader is placed with the "smart" kids so that he can be with Kevin, his disabled friend.  Although the placement is based on the needs of Kevin, it brings to question the decision about placing students in classes.

Ability grouping is the practice of sorting students, mostly in elementary and middle school, into classes based on their ability level.  Those for ability grouping claim it increases student achievement because teachers can provide instruction at the appropriate level that is neither too easy nor too hard for most students.

One of the main arguments against ability grouping is that it creates classes of low achievers who miss out on stimulating discussions with higher achievers.  Labeling students may also communicate self-fulfilling low expectations.

Will Max benefit from being placed in the class with higher achievers?  Would you prefer to be in a class that is ability grouped?  Why or why not?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Was the Author Feeling?

Have you ever thought about what the writer was feeling?  In most instances, great writing is the result of situations or problems that spark strong feelings.  The writer is faced with an emotional situation and uses writing as an outlet.  

Sometimes feelings of joy need to be shared.  Other times relief in dealing with sadness or grief comes from sharing through writing.  In this poem, Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes, he describes facing the challenges in 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 --
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 was he feeling as he wrote this poem?  How does that relate to your feelings as a reader?  Do think there is usually a connection between the author's feelings and the reader's feelings?

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Monday, February 21, 2011

How Does the Book Make You Feel?

The writer sits at his desk with a purpose in mind.  He just finished a chapter and then he reads back over it.  He puts himself into your shoes.  Imagining the feelings you get as you pour through his words.  He is wondering, does that sentence work?  Is that problem believable?  Can you picture yourself as a character?

Good books separate themselves from poorly written ones because they bring in the reader.  The reader lives the story in her mind.  She pictures scenes and imagines being in them.  The readers' feelings are strongly affected.

Good readers know that their feelings should be affected as they read.  They expect it, and when it doesn't happen, they stop and think about the book.  Why isn't it striking a chord?  Why aren't their feelings jumping out of their heart.

What about the book you are reading?  What kind of feelings do you have as you read it?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reading Strategies, Connections

Effective readers constantly connect to the text as they read.  Their inner voice  relates the text to their life, other books they have read, and prior knowledge.  Readers with higher levels of comprehension consistently and constantly make connections between the meaning of the words, and background knowledge.

As students build their ability to connect with text, their ability to understand what they read increases.  At times connecting is simple. At others, especially with difficult nonfiction text, connecting and comprehension is difficult.  However, to be a good reader, students must relate what they are reading to what they know and what they have read. 

Students should concentrate on their inner voice and connections.  As they read they should picture themselves in the story and compare themselves to  the characters. 
This brings us to today's question.  Reading Workshop students, as you read your SSR book, what connections did you have?

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Igniting the Light of Success

Does Katy Perry's song Firework apply to you?  If there were no limits and you could accomplish anything, what would you do?  

The latest song we are singing as part of Reading Workshop to help build fluency and vocabulary has a terrific message. 

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe you're reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will GLOW
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

What about it Reading Workshop students?  If you could accomplish anything, what would it be?  Ditch the limits.  Don't let anything stop you, because you can do anything if you set a goal and work hard.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why This is a Great School

The recent spotlight on school quality should help ensure a better education for all students.  Everywhere you turn there is constant conversation about the need to improve schools.  Newspapers, TV, and all over the Internet, people are screaming about how public education is a mess.  But you almost never hear about what a good school looks like. 

However, using one tool, and one as limited as a one or two day test doesn't accurately portray schools.  Although test scores are important, rarely do you hear about examining all the factors that make a  school successful.One paragraph doesn't tell the story of a book.  Similarly, one test doesn't tell the tale of a school.

The characteristics that make Laurelville Elementary exceptional include:

1. Students Want to Be Here
Effective schools have a warm climate.  Students know they are welcome and know that the staff cares about them.  Although there is pressure to perform, it comes in a way that promotes learning, with an expectation that students will excel and the support is provided to make it happen.

2. Highest Expectations For the School, Teachers and Students
Only the best is good enough. Quality is expected, and nothing less is acceptable. Passion for excellence is a driving force each and every day. The staff works together, pushing themselves and their students to be the best. Failure is not an option for the teacher or the students.

3. Dedicated Teachers
Teachers work to improve their ability to teach. They read and explore the techniques used by others in a never-ending effort to better themselves and their skill. Effective teaching demands that the teacher be knowledgeable in the subject area. The teachers have a detailed understanding of what is being taught.

4.  Effective Discipline
Discipline is not be an issue. Students respect others and failure to do so is not tolerated.  Students understand school and class rules and expectations, and adhere to them. When discipline is necessary, it is not vindictive, but just a consequence when a student does not do what is required.

5.  There is a Variety of Instructional Techniques
No two classes, or two students are identical. Laurelville is effective because teachers understand this and differ instruction to best help students be successful. Key concepts are presented in ways to enable visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners grasp it.  Students are actively involved in learning with a variety of opportunities to grasp key concepts.

6. Students Individualized Needs are Met
The staff understands differences in students' abilities and needs and considers this as part of instruction and intervention.  The teaching and interactions with students reflect the needs of each, with the understanding of each as an individual.

7. Leadership
The building principal, Vicki Scott has the respect of students, parents, and staff with a vision, high expectations, and the ability to help others succeed.  The school leader must be a person that can understand people, and motivate them, creating a positive attitude throughout the building.  Successful schools have a sense of trust built on the back of an honest and caring leader.

Being a teacher is an amazing career with many rewards.  Working in a school like this makes it even better.  Each morning when I walk in the building, I am grateful to be part of something so meaningful, working with a dedicated staff, and superb students.

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