Writing About Reading

I figured out today why I have such a hard time deciding what to write on this blog: I like for things to fit nicely into categories/tags/subjects/projects, and so often, the things we do around Rm. 202 are not that way.  I find that maybe I’ve gotten to that place where many of our subjects overlap–just like I’ve always hoped they would!  I know, that sounds like I’m not doing it on purpose (which of course I am, as I carefully plan how and when and why), but I think sometimes when you’re in the middle of something you can’t really see the big picture (isn’t there some quote about forests and trees that would fit here? LOL).

So as I think about how to describe what we’ve been doing in Writing lately, it’s hard to explain just the writing part, because it includes reading (which is perfect, as those two subjects go hand-in-hand anyway, right?).  We have been working on writing opinion letters, with most of our topics being about the series books we’re reading in our book clubs.  Luckily, though, there are lots of other things to have opinions about, so we’ve been trying out that structure with other topics, too.

We’ve gone through many versions, with me teaching mini-lessons and kiddos then trying out the big ideas.  We’ve talking about format of a letter; stating opinions; adding reasons as well as details and support for those reasons; using transition words like one reason is, another reason is, last but not least (which many kiddos were doing already just based on learning them last year!); as well as just using interesting words and making our letter match our audience.  The procedure became that they would write a letter, but then rather than actually delivering it to that person, they’d give it to me, and I’d note what they did right and what they could work on for next time.

We wrote about books, 100th Day of school suggestions, ideas about why their weekends were good, as well as many other things about which you could have an opinion.  I was noticing, though, that over the last few weeks our letters had been getting shorter and less detailed (which was obviously not the goal!).  We had a class meeting and Millie suggested that the reason this was happening was because they had written so many letters that actually they were getting really sick of it and weren’t trying their best anymore.  While this was sad, I totally saw how that could be, and as impressed by her insight.  Others agreed and so I made a plan that we would work our hardest to create our best final letters (to Mrs. Meihaus, our librarian, about our vote for the Show-Me Reader Award) over the next 3 days and then be done.

So as I thought about what we would do for those next 3 days, I knew I needed to give another model to my writers about what that letter should look and sound like.  And since I wanted them to write about books, I did, too.  My letter was about my favorite read-aloud choice, Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher.  It looked like this:

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I had hung the letter up there before the day started, and it was one of the first things (thankfully) that kiddos noticed when they came in.  Yeah, the first response was “Wow, that’s long!”  Later on, I had them look at it, studying it to answer this question: How do I write a STRONG Show-Me letter?  Not surprisingly, they were able to notice a whole page full of things that I had in my letter that they needed to put in theirs.

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As they made their list, I marked their ideas on the actual letter (notice the different colors and the things we boxed in) so we could reference it later.  I was impressed to see that they had been paying attention, and that they could come up with that all on their own!

After this, I gave kiddos a graphic organizer to use to plan their letter and we got busy.  We’re almost done, so I’ll share our progress in the next few days.  It’s pretty good stuff!

A Little Further Into the Woods

Since we’ve begun our Little Red Riding Hood culture study, some exciting things have happened!  Let me tell you about what’s going on!

Alongside the LRRH books that we shared was another book, full of all sorts of organizers, charts, and a map.  This would be where we’d record our thinking and learning throughout the study.

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As we read a book, kiddos would fill in a chart that marked certain features of each story, which we would later use to compare stories and use the information to learn more about each culture represented.

Additionally, we kept track of where our countries are in the world, by adding a star on the map for every one we read.  Later on, we added a US map to our book (which I don’t have a picture of yet) as we learned about regions.

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As we read different versions, we also compared how certain books were alike and different…

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…as well as finding other things that we needed to add into our book (note to Mrs. Bearden to make sure to put this in there next year!):

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Once we got the background of the stories, talked about characters, compared and contrasted and decided on our favorites, we were ready for the really fun part–researching more about the cultures from our books.

Each kiddo chose their top 3, then randomly came and declared which culture group they wanted to be in.  I wanted it to be about the country/region/culture, not the people in the group, so this part was all done first, then I shared their groupings.  Each group has 3 people, which is kind of ideal.  I could hardly get the directions out before they were ready to get going (kind of like with our spelling investigations this week–they were eager!).  I had found books for each group to start their research, but groups had to go book shopping to find the right ones.  Once they had books, they were busy digging in, collecting information about land (not culture, but related to the geography focus), language, holidays, food, games, religion, school, music, art and then a topic of their choice.

After our initial book search, kiddos were allowed to use website that I had found, as well as World Book Online and Kid Info Bits, which we have subscriptions to from our library.

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We even had an opportunity to learn about German culture from someone in Germany! I sent out a request on Twitter for friends from our countries/regions of choice, but was unable to work out any Skyping situations.  Then I remembered that Mrs. Appelbaum’s daughter is studying German in GERMANY and that she might be available to help us out!  She was more than willing and so we worked out a FaceTime call for last Thursday afternoon.  Those girls were so excited (and so was I!)!

We are just about done with research and are excited to start writing–we’re going to take all of our information and make books to share with other Robinson kiddos!  Stay tuned for updates on that part of our work!

 

 

More on Spelling Investigations: Kids at Work

I was excited and inspired by the conversation I had last week with my teammate about spelling.  To share with each other this week as we’ve put the investigations into practice has been even better.  Similarly to the punctuation studies I’ve done over the years, kiddos figure out all sorts of amazing things when you get out of the way and let them discover!

We began with a story about names.  As I had talked with Mitzi, my teammate, she started telling me about how they had decided to spelled her new grandson’s name, explaining the rationale behind the combination of letters and connections between his first/last name.  It made me remember doing the same thing when we chose how to spell my daughter, Allison’s name (Allison, Alison, Allyson; should it be Allie, Ally, Ali for a nickname–it was hard work!), and it became clear that this would be how we could introduce the investigation to our kiddos, too.

After I told Allison’s story, I showed them that thinking with my name…

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…and then we tried it together with Grant’s:

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By this point I think they knew what I was going to say was next (and they were excited to do so), and so I gave them the invitation to try their own name.  We talked about how it was easy to see the different sounds/chunks/letters when we did it in different colors, and we talked about the kind of paper to use, but beyond that, they had free reign to find whatever they could.  Before releasing them, though, I made sure to help them see our purpose as I asked this question:  How does knowing about our names help us become better readers and writers? Some kids worked alone, and some talked to their friends while they worked.  Whatever they chose to do, everyone investigated their names. 🙂

The room was abuzz with conversation and electricity as they worked, asking questions, making suggestions and trying things out with their names or their friends’.  By the end of the first day, everyone had found some pretty interesting things about how their names work.

On Day 2, we went a little deeper, and our job was to take the chunks/sounds/letter combinations we’d found the day before and do something with them.  I showed them an example with the -er in my name:

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Together we made a list of as many words as we could think of (or find) that had that -er chunk.  Along the way a couple of suggestions were made that I knew had /er/ spelled with -ir, -ur and -or, and we saved those for later (that’s more for Days 3 and 4!).

After this inspiration, kiddos did the same thing with whatever part of their name they wanted to work on.  Again, some worked alone and some worked with partners, some just wrote words they knew, and some used other resources.  It was great to watch how differently each kiddo approached the challenge.  As I looked around the room, I saw iPads, dictionaries, and kiddos using classroom text (including the word wall!) to find words that matched their patterns.  Students had even more energy and excitement about this job today and spent more time digging in and investigating.

As with our punctuation studies, the focus is not on the activity itself, but on how the learning that comes from it will help us in future situations.  Even though we’re only 2 days into this official investigation, there are already glimpses of how kiddos are using this knowledge in other places.  In almost every reading group I worked with this week, someone’s name was used to help us figure out other words.  We kept adding to a big ‘ole list of words where the letter a sounds like a u (like almost half of kiddos in our class!).

I’m excited to see what happens this week as we continue to use our names to connect to new things!

Jumbled Thoughts

One of the things that happens to over-thinkers thinkers like me is that there are often loads and loads of jumbled thoughts all up there in my head at the same time.  I find it a very rare occurrence that I am only thinking about or planning thing at a time (is this called multi-tasking or just crazy?!).  Today is one of those days when there are many things filling the space between my ears, and so as a means to think some of it through, I’m writing about it.

This weekend means that yes, I’m “off” because it’s not a school day, but when you’re a teacher you’re never really not not thinking about school or how to make your classroom a better place for the learners you spend every day with. Today this thinking was magnified as I was attending #edcampStl (Ed Camp St. Louis), learning and growing with other fabulous educators.

As with every EdCamp experience, I left with my head spinning because of all of the inspiring conversations.  Along with the general planning I’m thinking about for next week and the coming month, I’ve got some other things on my mind after today:

  1. Teaching Artistic Behaviors–100% Choice Learning:  Today I went to a really great EdCamp session with Kelly Lee (@yogagirly).  I wasn’t really sure what I was in for (but thought maybe it was how to add more art/design into regular subjects), and then I found out it was by an art teacher and I was really more unsure (I have a good record of picking badly by the title of the session…).  It ended up being something really inspirational, and now I’m trying ot figure out how to use her ideas in my own classroom with 2nd grade.  The basic premise is that in her art class, Ms. Lee has her room broken into “studios” based on mediums (collage, drawing, fiber, digital and painting).  Each day, artists listen to SHORT lesson or inspiration (based on a concept, artist, etc.) and then choose which studio in which to work for the day.  In their plan book, students make a goal and plan for the class time, and then spend time in that studio working to achieve their personal goal.  At the end of the class time, 5 minutes is provided for reflection on the day’s work.  As I sat and listened, I tried to imagine how I could tweak this idea to include all the subjects I teach, perhaps with just 5 studios (or decks since we’re working on being pirates!) that would work for everything we do.  Right now I’m trying to decide if something based around the multiple intelligences would work….
  2. Biography as Narrative Non-Fiction:  I am not sure if I’ve mentioned here before that my team does a really cool thing with planning, and each person (there are 5 of us) is responsible for creating the plan for everyone for one subject.  I’m in charge of writing, and so I’ve had the opportunity to share some exciting things with my teammates (and therefore their students!) this year, like blogging, a new way to think about Writer’s Notebooks, and a punctuation study.  Right now we’re about to start a new unit–biography per the curriculum calendar–and I’m having a hard time getting started.  I remember teaching that unit with 4th and 5th graders and it was BRUTAL!  I’m really not so excited about 1) trying to write that genre with little kids, and 2) planning a non-fiction unit right after we did one (we’re all working on creating picture books about the cultures we’re researching in Social Studies).  So…I’ve been on the search for some fresh ideas of how to teach biography to young writers and help them be able to successfully write about inspirational characters–most of whom are probably from long ago and hard to understand.  I know that I want to include lessons on important vs. interesting information, as well as investigations into the elements of a biography as well as the definition of a paragraph, but beyond that I am dreading the whole thing! I ran across a unit online the other day, though, that explains how to write biography as a form of narrative non-fiction, rather than expository or descriptive non-fiction (which is what we’ve been doing anyway).  I like the idea of trying something new, as well as thinking about how this could be a good transition between NF writing and the narrative fiction that we’re doing next.  This could be the bridge.  Most of the texts we share with students are written in this genre anyway, so it might not be as hard as maybe I first thought…..
  3. Valentine’s Day Questions (yep, I question a lot of things….): ‘Tis the season to celebrate.  Two weeks ago it was the 100th Day of School–which I think we ended up with a great plan for–and now this week has Valentines’ Day (ok, well, V Day is not until Sunday, but we will celebrate it on Thursday).  Again, I feel pulled to do a litany of “cute” things that kids will enjoy, full of glitter and glue and hearts and fun (here’s how we decided to spend the day last year).  I’m not at all opposed to having fun (we’ve talked before about how we have fun every day in Rm. 202!), but to put aside our learning to….wow–even as I just typed that I had an epiphany….(weird, right?)…

Let me show you a picture to explain the thought I just had:

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This wrapper was funny to me because it came from a friend the day after my coach and friend, Amy, had reminded me of this question when we were talking about 100th Day Questions.  Just now as I was in the middle of saying how I didn’t think it was the right thing to do to just abandon our work and PLAY, I was reminded of what I say I’m about; play and fun and laughter are important parts of the learning we do together.  So….see why the thoughts are all jumbled?  Who knew teaching 2nd grade would be so hard!?  It’s the parties and fun parts that make me crazy, not the curriculum!  (Maybe it’s me who’s the crazy one…).

Have any suggestions?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of my jumbled thinking. 🙂  Remember, it takes a village!