Starting to Get Settled…

I love to share what things look like when I first walk into the classroom in the summer.  Remember these from a couple of years ago?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s the classroom I was in 2 years ago, but gives you a good idea of my first sights when I return to school at the beginning of the year to get stuff put together again.  This year’s view was very similar, only in the room next door.

Putting a classroom back together is a tedious process, with lots of bits and pieces to put in their places and a big puzzle to work out.  And that’s if you put everything back where it was last year!  If you decide to make any changes (because something didn’t work last year or just because you want to try something new for a new group of kiddos), then it’s pretty much like starting all over.  Your plan has to be completely different.

So I started by putting all of my furniture back right where it was at the end of last year.  And then I started thinking….

We really loved our room arrangement last year, and it worked for us based on our traffic flows and how we used each part of the room for different activities.  Except…that I knew I wanted to trade my desk with the table right next to it so that I could use the only whiteboard in our room for small group teaching times (instead of just having it behind my desk and covered with random things I tacked up there and didn’t really use).  Smart, right?  Yeah, it took me all year long to figure that one out…:)

So once I got the table and desk switched, I really liked it.  But then I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and it so it got me wondering what else I could move around that might work even better than what we had last year.  My carpet was the next thing on my list.  Maybe moving it into the corner (where my desk had been and where that new table was now sitting) would be a good idea–again because of that whiteboard.  Having it in our meeting space might be even better than for small groups.  So I picked up the fabulous carpet (remember when we got it last year?) and moved it into the corner, along with my easel and my chair.  That left me two tables, two filing cabinets and a supply shelf to figure out.  I think I like the new changes even better than last year.  I figured out that putting the rug in the corner also meant that the doors of my closets can now be used for charts and other things we’ll refer to during lessons (more on my ideas for that soon!).

And then….I looked at the spot where my next was and agreed that I liked it there…but then had another (even better!) idea: maybe I don’t even need a desk anymore.  I’ve gone back and forth over the last few years about whether or not I really need one; I don’t sit at it except before and after school, and it’s space that kids could probably use in a better way.  It really just serves as a place for me to house all my stuff.  What I really have wanted for a while is to have a dining room or kitchen table in my room.  I love the idea of kids (who are really a part of our learning family) sitting all around it having lively conversations and growing together.  The problem?  I still had a desk, and no table.  I knew I could probably find one on Craig’s List, after having no luck at Goodwill and garage sales over the last few weeks, but I thought instead to appeal to my friends on Facebook.  It worked.  I really quickly found a friend (who also happens to be a parent from our school!) who had a table that she’d been hoping to do something with–perfect, right?

I don’t have it yet, but I am SO EXCITED for what the room will look like when it’s in place.  My new plan is that it will go where my next was, and all of my stuff will find a new home.  Then, if I need a place to perch, that will be my primary home, but kids can also sit there with me when they like, as well as using it for conferences and small groups.  What do you think about that?  (Really, you can tell me. I promise. 🙂 )

So the title of this post is starting to get settled, then, because I feel like with the furniture in the right place, then I could start to get some things on the walls.  This makes me feel like things are closer to coming together, and it definitely makes it feel a little more like home.  So here’s where I am so far:

I got our We're Connecting with the World map up!  It's just waiting for some time zone clocks (a new addition this year!) as well as all the pins to represent the new friends we'll make around the world this year!  This is definitely an important part of our room.

I got our We’re Connecting with the World map up! It’s just waiting for some time zone clocks (a new addition this year!) as well as all the pins to represent the new friends we’ll make around the world this year! This is definitely an important part of our room.

I moved the calendar this year around the corner.  We only really use it for reference, but on this wall we can see it more easily from most parts of the room (as well as if I'm sitting at my new table or if I'm on the phone).  We'll see how we like it.

I moved the calendar this year around the corner. We only really use it for reference, but on this wall we can see it more easily from most parts of the room (as well as if I’m sitting at my new table or if I’m on the phone). We’ll see how we like it.  Oh, and I found that little bucket in my closet–it has the calendar numbers in it.  Cute, right? 🙂

This will give you a better idea of all that craziness I was trying to explain before: rug in the new corner, my desk which will become our new table.  You can also see (as well as in the previous pics, too) that I got our Read Aloud Timeline hung up and we're ready to get started adding to it for this year's new titles!

This will give you a better idea of all that craziness I was trying to explain before: rug in the new corner, my desk which will become our new table. You can also see (as well as in the previous pics, too) that I got our Read Aloud Timeline hung up and we’re ready to get started adding to it for this year’s new titles! Oh, and that big mess of books on the table is the middle of a reorganization project in our classroom library.  Anna and I are going to start tackling it on Tuesday, and believe me, I’ll share when I’m done. 🙂

The new birthday wall will be next to our meeting space here, as well as those closets I mentioned before.  I plan on changing the titles there to other topics...

The new birthday wall will be next to our meeting space here, as well as those closets I mentioned before. I plan on changing the titles there to other topics…

Ok, one last picture:

Just a little treat from the littlest Bearden's in our family!  Had to keep them busy while Mommy was working in the room the other day. :)

Just a small treat from the littlest Beardens in our family! Had to keep them busy while Mommy was working in the room the other day.

What does your classroom look like right now?  What about at the beginning of your work?  How do you tackle that big pile of “stuff?”  I’d love to hear how it works for you!

Put Your Cub in the Den

If you’ve visited our schedule page, if you’ve been here a while, or if you know me, then you know that writing is a big deal in my classroom.   So getting into Writer’s Workshop is also a big deal.  There is a very special way that I introduce Writer’s Notebooks, a special way I share myself as a writer, and so then writing becomes a very special thing to my students, too.   It works out really nicely.  🙂

So…a couple of years into teaching 4th grade, I came up with what I thought was a great idea.  At that point, Steno notebooks were EVERYWHERE, and I found a new way to use them.  Rather than having my kiddos jump right into their Writer’s Notebooks, I gave them a “practice” notebook where I would teach them my way of using the notebook, a place to give it a try and make mistakes.  Then, once they had proved to me that they were ready, they got to “move in” to their real notebook.  Back then my class came up with the name of “training wheels” for that starter notebook, because of how you go through that learning stage before you ride a real bike.

This year, I knew I wanted to get back to this whole starter notebook idea (I hadn’t done it with my 5th graders yet), so I got to work.  Instead of using Stenos, though, which are strangely hard to find now, I decided to use a half-sized notebook.  Just a few quick slices of the paper cutter and you have a class set like this:

I liked how they are pint-sized, so are therefore portable, but have big enough pages that you can finish most thoughts on one page.

I told my class the story of the training wheels, and set goals for how I wanted them to use these notebooks over the next few weeks.  Then I asked them if they wanted to stick with the old name, or create a new one that was just for us.  And so the idea of the “cub” was born.  Instead of having  training wheels that led them to a bike, they decided that they would instead have a cub that grew up into a bear!  Then, they even renamed our cubbies (the places where they store their stuff) DENS, so they could put their BEAR in the DEN.  Get it?  Like Bearden?  That’s actually how I tell people how to spell my name: like a bear in a den.  HA!  And so the cub was born.  And very soon everyone’s cubs will become bears.  🙂

But what do we put in our cubs?  What am I teaching them to put in their notebooks?

It all started with a definition, courtesy of Ralph Fletcher:


A container.  A ditch.  A place to live like a writer.  I want my writers to think of this little notebook as a place to collect ideas, to save secrets, to start stories.  It’s a place they will visit each day, writing in a variety of different ways, collecting entries that they will come back to over and over again in their future–for sure in their 5th grade futures, but hopefully (if I do my job right!) their farther futures, too.  I am up to my 11th WNB, the first of which dates back to 2005, and I still use them everyday!

So far, we’ve learned these strategies for our writing toolboxes:

1. Lists: you can use this strategy for anything!  A list of favorite things, least favorite things, names, places, foods, story ideas–ANYTHING!  Like this, for example:

 

2. Memories:  I define a memory as anything that has happened to you in your past (and remember–5 minutes ago is the past!) that you want to remember.  It doesn’t have to be huge or monumental or “special,”  just memorable.  And important to you.  We’re learning that almost anything in our lives is “worthy” to be kept in our notebooks, and that we can write about these ordinary events in an extraordinary way.

A 5th grade memory or two:

 

 

3. Artifacts:These are really an extension of memories, and involves the “stuff” you put in your notebook that triggers memories–photographs, newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, flower petals, cards, notes.  You name it!  Someone even taped a quarter into his notebook the other day because it sparked a story he’d heard before.  For us, it’s been mostly magazines lately.  I give them very specific directions about how the WRITING and THINKING is more important than the picture, and that they should not just cut out any old picture and write “I like…”  They are totally rocking at finding the deeper stories behind plain pictures they find in our classroom magazine bin.

For example:

 

4. Questions: We call these “fierce wonderings” (again per Ralph Fletcher’s smart thinking!).   We talked about how we wanted the focus to be on big questions that may not have an answer–at least not one that we can find easily or at this point in our lives.  We discovered that often fierce wonderings start with “why.”

5. Observations/Descriptions:  We added these to our strategy list today, and I can’t wait to share them with you soon!

I love the stories I keep hearing from families about how excited their students are to be writing!  They are already doing an AMAZING job with this!  But hey, that’s because they’re AMAZING kiddos!

What do you write about?  Have you ever tried any of these strategies in your own writing?  What can you add to our list of entry suggestions?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts! We LOVE to read comments!