Wednesday, November 5, 2014

It CAN Rain in Death Valley

Scrolling through my blog roll, I came across a great TED talk. It really got me thinking, so I thought I would share it with you.

Enjoy! Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments if you would like.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Pass-Along Oct. 12 (Reading and Writing and Math Freebie Thrown In!)

Happy Sunday, y'all!

I am so excited to finally have a lazy Sunday morning and catch up on some blog reading. The beginning of the year has busy and it's taken me awhile to get my feet back underneath me after starting in a new district and school. Today, as I read through my blog feed and find ideas I'm thinking about implementing, I'll pass them on to you! You may or may not follow the same people I do, so hopefully you'll find something that will help you and your students!


First up... an excellent strategy from the amazing Michael over at The Thinker Builder. This is an excellent idea-gathering strategy for kids to use for personal narratives. FOD stands for First, Only, and Different. I love this idea because it gives the students a clear direction when thinking about ideas. Head over to his page to read more about this great strategy. We are in the opening weeks of our personal narrative unit and I'm going to use this little baby pronto!

Writing Clubs!

Tamara Lynn at Live, Love, Literacy had a great idea to create a writing club with her students, complete with a name and logo- The Mighty Writers Society! Her kids worked together to come up with guidelines for their writing club and deadlines to create their first product. I love this idea! My students already love forming impromptu reading clubs and I'm excited at presenting them with the idea of creating a writing club! We could even create a club that meets during lunch! Ah, the possibilities are endless! Thanks, Tamara for sharing this idea! Head over to her blog to read more about it and see some great pictures!

I also picked up some new things on TpT that I can't wait to use:

This Stop, Collaborate and Listen pack from Amanda @ One Extra Degree will a perfect way to provide for more accountable talk and give my students some interesting things to talk about!

I always love a good graphic organizer and this pack from Erin @ I'm Lovin Lit is perfect to add some rigor and variety. Even though the pack is for upper elementary students, there are some great resources for my third graders. 

Last spring, I stumbled upon these Super Text Detectives reading passages from Jenny @ Luckey Frog's Lilypad and fell in love with them. Not only are the texts about content relative to the time of year, they also require students to use crayons to color-code their evidence when answering the comprehension questions. Who doesn't love to use crayons?! These passages were engaging for my students and were great for locating details. I'm super excited to have the fall edition to use this year! 

Lastly, I realized that I never shared some math stuff I made last year for October. Even though I no longer teach math I still want to share anyway! Click on the link below each picture to download them.

(You'll need digit cards and dice)

Hope you're having a great weekend! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Short Texts for Prefixes (mid- and re-)

I'm just popping in to share some things with you! 

I love for my students to be able to read vocabulary words in context and infer the meanings, especially when it comes to prefixes and suffixes. In the past I've had some decodable readers that came with our textbook series, so this year I had to improvise and write my own! I was hesitant to share because these short stories aren't the greatest, but they serve their purpose. 

So far I have only written two- one for the prefix mid- and one for the prefix re-. Feel free to grab them for yourself if you think they would be useful for your students! Just click on the link below each passage. 

If you know of any resources available that would be similar to this that would save me from having to make my own, please let me know! I am no author!! :)

Happy Thursday!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dear 2015 Me

Browsing through my blog feed I came across a linky from Crystal over at  Kreative in Kinder I just had to participate in- writing a letter to myself for the beginning of next school year.
Some of the letters are pretty hilarious.

Here's mine:

I'm going to put this in my back to school binder and hopefully give myself a bit of perspective in the midst of all the craziness that is the beginning of the school year!  Thanks, Crystal, for such a wonderful idea!

What would yours say? Link up us share!

Happy Thursday!

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Homemade Easel

My goodness, I can’t believe how crazy the last several weeks have been. I always seem to forget just how frazzled I feel during the first weeks of school until things settle down a bit. I crave routine, so I’m feeling much better now that I am slowly getting into a regular schedule. 

When I first moved into my new classroom, the one thing I missed the most was an easel. I knew that I couldn’t teach without an one, so I took matters into my own hands and made my own! I wanted to share this just in case there is anyone else out there who doesn’t have an easel but may want one!

Here is my homemade easel!

I started with a piece of MDF from Lowe’s and had it cut down to the size I wanted. I then bought a sheet of shower board and had it cut to the same size. The shower board can be used as a dry erase surface, so it was the perfect choice to cover the MDF.  I used a tub of vinyl floor adhesive to adhere the shower board to the MDF and painted the other side white. I made a giant mess on the driveway and had a mini panic attack when I couldn't get the adhesive off of my fingers, but I managed to get it on!! 


When it dried, I stuck two large Command hooks on the top to hold my chart paper and two smaller hooks to hold my pocket chart.

The MDF is pretty heavy, so it’s very stable. I was able to simply lean the board against the wall and it created an instant easel! The shower board creates a dry erase surface and the hooks hold the paper and pocket chart which makes it multi-functional.


I also stuck two smaller hooks at the bottom to hang a basket so I had a place to store my markers and other materials.


I am in love with my easel! It doesn’t take up much space at all and it’s versatile. The shower board is not magnetic, so I do miss having that ability, but other than that it has worked beautifully!

This was a relatively cheap project. I spent about $100 on all of the materials including the Command hooks (and those babies aren't cheap). It was worth it!! 

I have had a truly amazing first few weeks of school and I love my new group of students! I hope you are having a great beginning of the year! 

I’ll be back soon!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Time on the Bike: An Analogy for Teaching and Learning

This summer has just been amazing. I attended several professional development trainings and had time to read several books. I’ve done a LOT of processing and thinking and re-thinking, but one analogy described at a particular training has stuck with me.

Nancy Motley, an amazing presenter and also the author of Talk Read Talk Write, came to speak to us about acquiring academic language and to describe the techniques provided in the book 38 Great Academic Language Builders. Although her entire presentation was fabulous and filled with great information and strategies, her introduction made my wheels turn. It all had to do with riding a bike.

To give you the most authentic experience with this analogy, because I’m obviously not her, I’m going to speak to you directly just as she spoke to us that day. I am also not a mommy, so this will obviously not be my voice. 

So here we go.

When it’s time for us to teach our child how to ride a bike, we do not sit the child down on the sidewalk, get on the bike ourselves, ride around for a bit and say, “Ok, watch mommy. Do you see how I’m moving my feet to pedal? Are you watching me? Do you see how I’m holding the handlebars and using them to steer? Watch me. Do you see how I have to keep myself balanced on the seat? Are you watching? Ok, now here. You try it!”

(end Nancy voice) :) 
Of course, that is not how we teach a child to ride a bike. Riding a bike requires practice. We put the child on a bike with training wheels first so they get the feel of being on a bike and learn to pedal and steer. Then we take off the training wheels but we hold on to the seat as they ride to guide them if they start to sway. Then, eventually, we run beside them as they ride, not holding on anymore, but still right there ready to intervene in case they start to fall. To learn to ride a bike, the child must spend lots of time actually ON THE BIKE.

This is a direct analogy to teaching and learning.

So, thinking about this analogy, I thought: How much time do I give my students to actually “ride the bike?”

Nancy did an activity with us that really brought this idea home. Would you play along with me for a minute?

Ok, grab something to write on- anything- and something to write with. On the left hand side of the paper, list the four language domains: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It doesn’t matter what order. 

Ok, now imagine a student in your classroom. Not just any student, but the student who struggled the most. That one student that no matter what they did, they just didn't seem to get it. Get a picture of that student in your head. Got it? Great. Now, thinking about THAT student only, beside each of the language domains write the percentage of time during a typical class period that THAT child would spend writing, listening, reading, and speaking. Be honest. Also be sure that your percentages all add up to 100. To get the most out of this, really put yourself in that student’s shoes.

I’ll wait. :)

How did it go? How do you feel? Any aha’s!? Which domains had the highest percentage? The lowest? 

Let me tell you, when I did this activity my heart completely sank. It was embarrassing how little time that child had opportunities to write and speak- the two expressive domains.

Here’s the takeaway for me. Acquiring new language, just as learning to ride a bike, requires lots of practice. I’m great at providing opportunities for students to listen to me talk about the new language or read about it, but I need to provide more time for students to speak and write and really interact with the new language. They need more time ON THE BIKE.

The two trainings I attended this summer that Nancy presented on were fabulous and provided lots of strategies for giving students more time “on the bike.” 38 Great Academic Language Builders is great for any grade level. Her book that she wrote called Talk Read Talk Write is a lesson structure designed for secondary students but is also applicable to elementary students as well. I highly recommend both of these books if you are looking for ways to increase the amount of time students spend “on the bike.”

This sign is going to hang on my cabinet in my classroom as a constant reminder to myself when I'm planning:

Have a great Sunday!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Why I Don't do Classroom Themes

The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time for me. I love re-organizing my classroom and preparing for a new set of students that I get to learn about and love. But there is one thing that I do not do each school year. I do not have a classroom theme.

Before I get too much farther, let me start with a little disclaimer:
            I have no problem with classroom themes and I’m quite impressed by the creativity of many teachers. This is simply an explanation of why I choose not to have one. If you are an adamant classroom “themer,” please do not take offense! This is simply my lowly opinion.

When I read Debbie Miller's Teaching with Intention this summer, I was thankful that my philosophy lines up with hers. She says:

I couldn’t agree more.

I feel the pressure every year of making my room “cute.” I feel the pressure of coming up with a theme for my classroom and making everything match. These are things that I just simply do not want to spend my time doing. I just don’t. I use the same bulletin board border year after year because it’s functional and I like the color. Simple as that. My walls are mostly bare and will stay that way until my students and I share an experience that is worth documenting and taking up wall space.

I also don’t want to spend the money it takes to have a theme. Classroom d├ęcor is not cheap and definitely not something I want to have to keep shelling out dollars on year after year. Not to mention the time it takes to print, laminate, cut, or put up all of those decorations. If it comes to choosing between Mr. Sketch markers or a new welcome sign, markers will win every time. No question.

Does this make me a bad teacher? I don’t think so. If the overall goal of having a classroom theme is to establish a classroom culture or a feeling of comfort, then I take solace in the fact that those things will come through the procedures I put in place the first few weeks of school. We become a unit together, with all of our personalities intertwining and our classroom becomes a reflection of us, not me.

I hope that when my students leave my classroom they love learning, they love reading and writing, and that they have an insatiable curiosity about the world. I hope they remember our classroom not because of how cute it was, but because they have been a part of a learning community and are forever connected to people who will support them for the rest of their lives.

So, as the beginning of the year inches closer, I will enjoy these next two weeks and actually relax. My room may look bare and my room may seem “unfinished,” but I know my purpose and my kids will too. I’ll spend my time (and money if necessary) focusing on the things that will impact them the most this year—my expectations, procedures, and most importantly, the learning experiences I will create for them.

When they come to our room for the first time, they will see this note on the board-

Although our walls may now be bare,
soon they will be full
of all the things we’ll learn and share
together here at school!

I can’t wait to start!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Becoming a Wild Reader- Update and LINKY!!

Happy happy Friday!!

I blogged earlier in the month about Donalyn Miller's amazing book, Reading in the Wild and shared how my goal was to work on becoming more of a wild reader myself in order to serve as a more knowledgeable reading mentor for my kiddos. So, here's my evidence that I have actually been working toward some of those goals! 

These are the books I have read in the last three-ish weeks. Besides the typical "teacher" books, I managed to read some books from my classroom library (one big benefit of having my entire classroom in my dining room!) that I normally wouldn't read- Goosebumps being a prime example. On that note, I am proud of myself for facing my fear, but I just have to say that I feel incredibly silly for being so afraid of them. I mean really, really silly. I'm not sure what I had imagined in my head, but an infestation of worms was not quite what I was expecting! I'm sure this means I'm ready for some Stephen King- NOT! Baby steps....

Besides the Goosebumps books, I read a Captain Underpants book that literally made me laugh out loud, an A-Z Mysteries book that I thoroughly enjoyed and that actually had great examples of foreshadowing, and a Magic Tree House book that taught me some things I never knew about the Civil War! I read James and the Giant Peach for the very first time (no judgements allowed), Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which I absolutely adored, and the first book in the Puppy Place series which left me wanting to read more just to find out if the family ever gets a dog of their own!

I continued to read my professional books, but also read Finding Alaska, another book by John Green, who I fell in love with after reading The Fault in Our Stars, and Sphere, a Michael Crichton book that was totally outside of my comfort zone but I loved and couldn't put down.

I've had so much fun reading the books in my library. I have lots of books on my to-read list and I can't wait to expand my reading horizons even more- just no Stephen King quite yet!

The idea of "edge time" really stuck with me after reading the book. I've tried to be better about sticking some paperbacks in my purse before I leave the house. I took some along with me when I went to get my hair done and I had the perfect opportunity to sneak in some great reading time. What did people think when they saw a grown woman reading A-Z Mysteries in a salon?? Who cares! I was able to tune the world out and tune in to my book and the time that normally creeps by so slowly was enjoyable. And yes, just in case you're wondering, I had to swallow my pride and ask my stylist to take a picture of me in action. I explained that my plan was to show this picture to my students loudly enough so the strangers giving me the "what-in-the-world-is-this-girl-doing" look could hear. I'm telling ya, the things we do for our students!!

I joined goodreads! I'm loving it! I'm still not quite sure what all I can do with it and I'm still exploring, but it's super easy to use and I love that I can see what my friends are reading now, have read in the past, and what they plan to read in the future. It's a great way to keep a log of my reading and keep me motivated to read new books.

Now on to the linky part!! 

Taking the picture in the salon gave me the idea for this linky. I'm thinking that for the rest of the summer I want to try and take pictures of all the "wild" places I may read, especially when it's seizing an edge time opportunity.  That made me think about how cool it would be if I could show my kids pictures of my teacher friends doing the same thing!!!

So here's what I'm hoping: if you are willing to take a picture of yourself reading "in the wild" and you feel comfortable sharing those pictures with others, I would love for you to link up!! I'm hoping to compile the pictures into a PowerPoint to show my students. Remember that this is for kids, so if you have the habit of reading in the bathtub or some other place that would be inappropriate to snap a picture of, please keep those little photos to yourself! I am so excited to see pictures of other teachers reading and I can't wait to see how my students respond!

If you are not a blogger but still want to participate, no worries! Simply leave a comment describing how you utilized your edge time or where you read. You could also e-mail me your picture if you are comfortable with that. 

So wild readers, let's link up!

If you are on a journey of becoming more of a wild reader yourself, I would love to hear your thoughts! If you have any great book suggestions - any genre - I would love to hear those as well!

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Building Academic Vocabulary- "Brick and Mortar" Words

Earlier in the week I attended a training based on the book 38 Great Academic Language Builders by John Seidlitz and Kathleen Kenfield. I learned a TON of great information and some fantastic new strategies, but one particular discussion served as a huge Aha! for me. 

We were discussing the importance of developing academic language and how critical of an issue it is not just for English language learners but for all students. Even as adults we encounter new academic language in various contexts that we must internalize to continue to be successful- think mortgage, annuity, etc. An analogy was made regarding academic vocabulary that made so much sense that I just have to share it with you.

Susana Durto and Carroll Moran, two educational researchers focused on English language development, coined the term “brick” and “mortar” to describe types of academic vocabulary words. They use the analogy of building a house to explain the importance of both types of words.

Using this analogy, imagine building a brick house. The bricks are very important, of course. Imagine if I stacked bricks, one on top of the other, to make a wall. I may have a temporary shelter in the form of a wall, but what would happen if I leaned on it? Yikes! Without the mortar holding the bricks together, my beautiful wall I worked so hard to build would fall over.

Now imagine the “bricks” of my wall are the academic vocabulary words that I pile on my students day in and day out. Durto and Moran describe “brick” words as words that are specific to content. These words would be bolded in articles or show up in your key vocabulary word boxes in a textbook. These are the words we are focused on throughout the lesson and work hard to make sure students understand. So, in my case because I teach third grade language arts, my bricks would be made up of words like plot, character, theme, detail, main idea, you get my drift.

So here I go piling on brick after brick. We’re discussing the words, they’re on the word wall, we’ve written about them in our reader response journal, we’re on a roll and I’m feeling good that my kids understand. I then give them this task: Write a sentence describing the relationship between the words ‘characters’ and ‘plot.’ How successful would my kiddos be at completing that task? Think about this task through the lens of an ELL or a struggling reader.

If you’re like me you’re probably imagining all the creative responses you might get. The point is, in order for my students to connect those two content terms and to fully demonstrate their understanding, they have to use other academic words to do so. All of these other academic words besides “characters” and “plot” would be considered “mortar” words. Durto and Moran describe “mortar” words as basic and general utility vocabulary required for constructing sentences. Your students' familiarity with and knowledge of “mortar” terms will vary.

Going back to the task I mentioned earlier, one possible response could be something to the effect of: Characters are related to plot because they drive the story with their actions. If I take the two “brick” words out of that response, look at what is left: _______ are related to _______ because they drive the story with their actions. Look at all of the language that has to be supplied by the student! But for others, whether English is a second language or not, this task would be frustrating. They may know the terms 'plot' and 'character' in isolation, but describing how they are related is equally important. Students must have familiarity with both “brick” and “mortar” words in order to communicate successfully and deeply cement their understanding. I want them to have a solid, strong house! 

In our world of STAAR, these academic “mortar” words are significant. Here is a sample question from the 2013 STAAR. As you examine the question, keep the “brick” and “mortar” analogy in mind. What words appear to be “brick” words and which would be considered “mortar?”

This question is assessing TEK 3.13(b): draw conclusions from the facts presented in text and support those assertions with textual evidence. Based on this TEK, the only “brick” word in the question is “supports” or you could include the entire phrase, “supports the idea.” Looking at this question from the lens of an English language learner or a struggling reader, look at all the other academic vocabulary words that must be known before the question can be answered! Depending on your kids, you might include other words in the "mortar" column that I didn't. Scary! 

Not all of the STAAR questions are so heavy on vocabulary, but even some of the straightforward questions still include important "mortar" words and phrases students need to know. Take a quick look at this question:

In this question, the only “brick” word is “problem.” Academic mortar words would include “according,” “selection,” and “bothered.”  

Knowing about these “mortar” words is hugely important to me. I can plan the best lessons, but if my students aren’t familiar with the language used on the test or they struggle with "mortar" words, they will be unsuccessful and I will be left feeling frustrated. Imagine an English language learner or a struggling reader just learning and owning the term “problem” and then imagine having to learn those additional mortar words as well. I cannot simply focus just on the content objectives; I must also focus on and strategically plan the language I will use to teach those content objectives.

Luckily, the authors suggest that “mortar” words do not have to be directly taught like “brick” words because there are simply too many of them! In no way could I possibly cover all of the “mortar” words floating out there in the world. Instead, what they suggest is to scan assessments and assignments students will be completing, pull out the “mortar” words and strategically use them in your instruction.

When I question, I will still use higher-level mortar words like “according to” and “represents” but I may have to clarify the meaning of those words. However, once I’ve explained the word or phrase I will go right back to using it and expecting students to use it too. The “mortar” words aren’t being directly taught in the way “brick” terms are, but students will still have plenty of exposure to them and they will eventually become part of the natural classroom dialogue.

To sum up:

If you have any thoughts or Aha’s! or strategies for increasing academic vocabulary or for using "brick" and "mortar" words, I would love to hear them! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Behavior Reflection Quick Post!

I recently attended a Thinking Maps© training. I guess I have lived under a rock because I had never heard of or seen these before, but I loved learning about them! Does anyone use these in the classroom? If so, I would love to hear ideas! 

One of the maps is used specifically for cause and effect and when I Laura Candler's behavior reflection form utilizing a similar format, I just had to share!

I love how this allows the child to reflect on WHY they behaved the way they did and also think about the consequences of their actions. I also love that it leaves space to make a plan for improvement.  This is a great visual and more clearly shows the child the chain of events based on their actions.

I can’t wait (well, I’m not rushing misbehavior!) to use this with students.  I’m interested to hear their thoughts about the process and work with them on being more proactive. I like this option much better than anything I have used in the past.

Click the link below the picture to get your free copy from the Laura Candler! This form is part of her Creating a Caring Classroom series.

Have a great day!!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reading in the Wild- Aha's Abound!

I went to a PD session last week and the presenter asked us to come with our "Aha's" and "Amens" about the book we would be discussing. I loved that phrasing! When I read "professional" books, that pretty much sums up my reactions- I either have an Aha! moment of new learning or a realization or I'm affirmed in what I already thought and want to say a big Amen!

So when my new teammate and friend, Lillian, surprised me with my very own copy of Donalyn Miller's new book, Reading in the Wild, I was ecstatic! Not only because she thought of me and I had my very own copy of the book and someone to share my reading obsession with, but I also had a new book to read and document my Aha's and Amens!

So this past week while vacationing in South Padre, this was my view as I read through the book. Nothing like reading in the semi-actual wild!

I read and absolutely loved Donalyn's first book, The Book Whisperer (you can read about that here) so I knew I would love this one as well. I love her ability to be frank and honest about what hasn't worked in her literacy instruction as well as offer practical solutions and strategies to try. The fact that she's from Texas doesn't hurt either! Today I want to share just a few of the major Aha! moments I had during my reading.

Before I get into those, I want to share with you the definition Donalyn has for being a "wild reader." In her words, wild readers are "readers who incorporate reading into their personal lives along with everything else that interests them." My goal is to develop myself and my students into wild readers.

Research shows that children who read the most will outperform those who don't read much. Wild readers don't read because someone told them to or to answer questions on a quiz, they read because they truly enjoy it and benefit from the experience reading offers. If that is the goal, how do I get there? Donalyn and her colleague, Susan Kelly, polled adult wild readers to gain insight into their reading behaviors. Those findings provided the structure of the book. Now, with their help, we can identify those behaviors and help design our instruction to foster the development of these habits.

In my Aha's, I'm only sharing the things that spoke the most to me as a fellow reading teacher. Although the book is overflowing with great quotes, fabulous ideas, and useful tools, my Aha's are just that- mine. They may seem trivial or obvious, but they resinated with me long after my eyes left the page. My hope is that maybe some of my Aha's will resinate with you, too.

This one hit me right in the gut. I love to read. I have read lots of books over the last few years. I read stacks of books over the summer. I call myself a reader. But can I call myself a wild reader?  What happens when school starts? The same chapter book will sit on my nightstand unfinished for several days... weeks... ok, ok, months! My primary goal is to instill a love of reading that will last a lifetime, not just for the short amount of time my students are in my classroom. Along with that comes teaching and developing the habits of wild reading. If I am not a true wild reader and "cannot" find the time or energy to read during the school year, is it fair to expect that from my students? Of course not! I am the reading mentor. I have to start walking the walk.

In the book Donalyn cites study after study that prove the positive effects of having a teacher who reads. I know the feeling that I get when I read steadily- my imagination is piqued, my vocabulary is expanded, my knowledge base grows, I feel less-stressed. Why would I give this up during the year? Yes, I'm tired, have long days, the list of excuses goes on. But as Donalyn stresses in the book: wild readers make time to read. If I'm going to serve as the lead reader for my students, reading must become a priority. I have to make time to read. No more excuses.

Connecting right back to what I mentioned in my first Aha!, if I am the lead wild reader, I must also model and teach behaviors that support being a wild reader. I love that Donalyn calls the time in between the main events in our life "edge time." She heads this section of the book "Reading on the Edge." What a great way to think about it! And how true! I hate when I find myself sitting somewhere with nothing to do- getting my oil changed, waiting at the doctor's office- all of those precious moments that could be spent lost in a great book just simply wasted. I'm fairly good about remembering to bring a book along with me when I know I'll be sitting somewhere for a long period of time, but I need to be better about keeping books with me in the car and even in my purse. I never know when those unexpected delays will pop up.

The biggest moment of clarity came when Donalyn discusses how wild reading consists of behaviors and habits that require teaching and discussion. Kids can be taught how to take advantage of this "edge time" in their own lives. I had a student last year who had mastered the art of reading on the edge. I practically had to pull her nose out of a book so she would avoid walking in to a wall! But most of my students did not have this skill and it never crossed my mind to bring it up.

Donalyn shares a story about a student stating that he just didn't have enough time to read because of his sports practices and other responsibilities. When Donalyn asked if he could read for a few minutes in the car and then read a few minutes before bed his reply was, "You would let me do that? Reading a little bit here and there counts?" Reading that pained me. How many of my students felt that way about the reading time- all or nothing? I never imagined that they would think of reading as a time distinctly set away from the rest of their day. If I thought that reading time only counted when I was alone in the house and in my favorite recliner, I would never be able to fulfill a twenty minute a night requirement! I never discussed with my students that wild readers read at all different times during the day, in all kinds of places, for different amounts of time. Reading on the edge will become one of the many topics for discussion within the first few weeks of school from now on!

So...ask me how many Goosebumps books I've read... go ahead... I'm sure those of you who know me well will already know the answer... NONE! Pitiful. I have a bin overflowing with Goosebumps books, kids who read the entire series and beg for more year after year, and yet I couldn't tell you a single thing about them. Why don't I read them? I'm a scaredy-cat! Plain and simple. I go out of my way to avoid anything remotely sinister and that just so happens to include the bin of R.L. Stine's beloved books. This is a shortcoming I have shared with my students in the past. Reflecting back on that now, I want to shake myself. What kind of example was I setting for my students? The same students who I pass book after book to with the (what I thought of as) encouraging message to "Just try it! You never know, you may end up liking it!" are watching me purposefully discard a reading experience that could be quite exciting. 

I have my go-to genres and my not-so-favorite ones.  But if I have the mindset that I want to be a true reading mentor, a lead reader for my students, I simply cannot be that mentor if the only knowledge I have of the books they may potentially read comes from the front cover and blurb. As Donalyn says, "We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students- as role models who read for diverse purposes and reading advisors who know a lot about books that appeal to all types of readers." If this was a test, I would have failed miserably. 

I'm setting a personal goal for myself this summer. I'm going to read books from the genres I typically avoid- graphic novels, fantasy, and yes, even horror. I may be sleeping with the light on some nights or pep-talking myself to finish some of the books, but I will at least be able to engage in authentic conversations with my students who love them. I want my students to see me as a true member of their reading community instead of an outsider who offers inauthentic recommendations. 

I love talking about books with others. I love the conversations that ensue. I love hearing what another person took away from a book especially when they bring up a point I hadn't considered. There's a certain joy that comes with sharing the reading experience with someone else that fuels my desire to read even more so I can discuss even more! I read books based on recommendations from others and love seeing what my friends are reading. There's nothing quite like sipping on a hot cup of coffee and chatting about a book with a dear friend. That social factor of reading is a huge one for me. If I didn't have a circle of people around me to share and enjoy books with, reading would not be the same. 

So what am I doing in my classroom to set students up to experience this same joy of sharing books with others? Besides the standard book club meetings and book talk sessions, how am I exposing students to the rich benefits of being a member of a reading society? Donalyn states, "We are all social beings who seek affiliation with others who share common values and interests. Readers need other readers." I want to be around people who enjoy reading. I want my students to be surrounded by other readers so they are immersed in a culture of reading and are inspired to continue reading regardless of where they are on their "journey to become a wild reader."

Wild readers do not only read books for a book club nor do they write a review of every book that they read. I do not want my students to see reading as a chore or as an activity necessary to satisfy another requirement like a book report or quiz. So how do I promote wide reading? Donalyn discusses ways to use "epicenter readers," those students who are experts in a particular genre or author, as mentors for other students. She provides ideas like decorating a reading door, setting up a wall for "reading graffiti," and reading community-building read-alouds to help foster a community of readers. I'm going to critically examine how I structure my classroom and incorporate a variety of ways for students to share books with each other and help create a comfortable reading home for all types of readers.

This is the culminating idea. What do I do in my classroom day in and day out that fosters my students' growth as wild readers? Do my current practices align with what wild readers do? If not, what needs to be changed or removed? Do my instructional practices help develop the habits that transform my students into wild readers? This is going to require some critical thinking, but it must be done.

 I'm going to reexamine every aspect of my classroom from entry procedures, lesson design and each moment of edge time in between. I'm not going to do this part alone, however. Another great perk of being a teacher is that I'm surrounded my amazing people who have wonderful ideas and who push me to reflect and improve. I can't wait to sit around and chat (with a hot cup of coffee, of course!) with my colleagues about how I can improve my instruction to support the goal of developing every student into a wild reader.

So now I forge ahead- rethinking my instruction with wild readers in mind while I work on developing those wild reading habits myself. As I type the Goosebumps books beckon....

If you have any ideas for how to cultivate wild readers or any other comments about Donalyn's book, I would love to hear!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rafe Esquith: Real Teacher, Real Inspiration

Several years ago as I was browsing the education section at Barnes and Noble, I came across an intriguing book called Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by a guy named Rafe Esquith. I had no idea who he was but the title intrigued me, so I decided I had to have it. Little did I know that Rafe, as his students call him, would become one of my most inspirational teacher role models.

Rafe teaches in inner-city Los Angeles at a school with a poverty rate above 90%. Most of the students speak a language other than English at home and the area has earned the nickname "The Jungle." Yet none of these things have deterred him from working hard to help his students be successful. He is most known for his student group called the Hobart Shakespeareans. Each year this groups performs a full Shakespeare play and mixes the classic language of Shakespeare with contemporary rock and roll. The result is something truly remarkable and memorable. You can read more about them HERE

Rafe has had tremendous success- the kind of success every teacher dreams about-students who return years after leaving his classroom to thank him for making such an incredible difference in their lives. Despite his success, he is the first to say that his failures have been just as important to his career. He is humble and acknowledges that although he has done lots of things right, he has made mistakes and suffered heart-wrenching failure. 

Rafe is outspoken. He's a straight shooter. He's honest and real and doesn't beat around the bush about any issue. He has won many awards, been recognized all over the world, and could easily be a principal, instructional consultant, or anything else, but he still chooses to teach fifth grade at the same school, in the same room, that he has for the past 31 years. He has no plans of leaving his classroom anytime soon and has plays picked out for his students to perform for the next several years! That is so amazingly admirable to me.

He has written several books during the course of his career. In the books he describes what happens behind the doors of his classroom, room 56, and offers practical advice, tips, and techniques. In order for me to do the books justice, I've included reviews of each book that I found on Amazon. To see each book on Amazon, click the link listed above each book's image.

 Esquith might be the only public school teacher to be honored by both Oprah Winfrey and the Dalai Lama; he is the only school teacher ever to receive the president's National Medal of the Arts. For the past 25 years, Esquith has taught fifth graders at Hobart Elementary in central Los Angeles. Like most progressive educators, Esquith is outraged by the tyranny of testing, the scripting of teaching under "No Child Left Behind" and the overwhelming bureaucratization of the education industry. Still, he's done wonders with the basic curriculum—developing a hands-on arts program, a money-management curriculum and a sports-based statistics unit. Esquith and his Hobart Shakespeareans are world famous for the rock opera they create every year. Throughout each school day, Esquith teaches life skills: how to think about problems, how to plan a strategy to solve them and, most important, how to work together and be nice to each other. While his goals are inspiring, he's also practical—most chapters include affordable, how-to directions for a variety of his most effective classroom activities; he's even got a few tips for revamping those inescapable "test prep" sessions. (from Publisher's Weekly)

What's a Los Angeles middle-school teacher to do when charged with a bunch of fifth and sixth graders, none of whom speak English at home and most of whom are eligible for free lunches? If you're Esquith, you have them read Twain, perform Shakespeare, play classical guitar and study algebra. You take them camping and to concerts and the theater. How do you manage to do that? If you're Esquith, your school day doesn't run from the usual 8 to 3, but from 6:30 to 5, and you're available on Saturdays and during recess, lunch and vacation time as well. You take on extra jobs and go into debt to pay for the supplements. "I have never claimed to be rational," says Esquith in this intimate, lively account of his 17-year career at an L.A. public school. Part memoir, part manual, but primarily a call for action, Esquith's book is explicitly directed to parents and "concerned citizens" as well as teachers. Esquith has known "anguish and disheartening failure," but hasn't given up. For him, education's "bad guys" often occupy the district, union or school offices and frequently the classrooms. Despite his struggles, Esquith's account is upbeat, witty and usually good-humored. There's rewarding professional success-college for his former students and honors bestowed on him-and refreshing personal achievement: his own development and transformation as he moves from saving the world to setting limits on himself, even though, of course, "there are no shortcuts. (from Publisher's Weekly)

In his follow-up to Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire, elementary school teacher Esquith focuses on financially disadvantaged but scholastically ambitious fifth-graders from Hobart Elementary School, located in the middle of a critically poor Los Angeles neighborhood. Directed primarily at parents, educators and administrators, this volume offers anecdotes and suggestions for inspiring and encouraging each child to live up to his or her tremendous promise. Framed by the story of a Dodgers baseball game to which he brings a small group of students, Esquith notes the values of his students in contrast to many of the adult ticket-holders: punctuality, focus, confidence, selflessness, humility, and others. He then probes the meaning of each value, like the way being on time reflects a belief in control over one's destiny, as well as a sense of responsibility. Celebrating his young students' everyday accomplishments, Esquith outlines the struggles and stakes that face them all, while making teaching (and learning) look easy. (from Publisher's Weekly

This month his latest book, Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: No Retreat, No Surrender!, will be released. I am so excited to read it.

There’s no one teachers trust more to give them classroom advice than Rafe Esquith. After more than thirty years on the job, Esquith still puts in the countless classroom hours familiar to every dedicated educator. But where his New York Times bestseller Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire was food for a teacher’s mind, Real Talk for Real Teachers is food for a teacher’s soul.

Esquith candidly tackles the three stages of life for the career teacher and offers encouragement to see them through the difficult early years, advice on mid-career classroom building, and novel ideas for longtime educators. With his trademark mix of humor, practicality, and boundless compassion, Esquith proves the perfect companion for teachers who need a quick pick-me-up, a long heart-to-heart, or just a momentary reminder that they’re not alone. (from Amazon)

The other night I came across this interview on KPCC Radio's channel on YouTube. Even though it is just an interview, it's one of the most inspirational videos I have seen. Rafe talks openly and honestly about teaching in general and about his own successes and failures. This video a great introduction to him, but for me, it was a breath of fresh air and helped me to remember my purpose as a teacher. 

If you have time (it's a little over an hour long) I highly recommend finding yourself a yummy snack and a quiet comfy spot. You won't want to miss a minute of this interview. 

I often find myself asking, "What would Rafe do?" His passion and dedication inspire me to stay passionate and dedicated even on the most difficult days.

Who are your teacher idols? Who do you turn to for inspiration and guidance? I would love to hear from you!